Questions About Forests As Carbon Sinks

PEXELS

We have featured articles about forests so many times for multiple reasons. Even when we hint that we do so just out of pure love, it is almost always about the value of forests to our future on the planet. As always, when a Yale e360 article can help illuminate further on a topic, here goes:

This map shows the height of forests worldwide. Taller forests typically store more carbon. NASA

Climate Change Will Limit How Much Carbon Forests Take Up, New Research Shows

Governments are increasingly looking to forests to draw down carbon pollution, but worsening droughts threaten to stunt tree growth, while larger wildfires and insect infestations risk decimating woodlands, two new studies show. Continue reading

Critical Mass On Greener Steel

Getty

Greening the production of steel has been the topic of exactly one previous post, which linked to an article by Matthew Hutson from last September that made passing reference to the company featured in the article below. Maybe we are getting closer to critical mass:

Roughly a tenth of global carbon emissions comes from the steel industry. Doing something about that is easier said than done.

In the city of Woburn, Massachusetts, a suburb just north of Boston, a cadre of engineers and scientists in white coats inspected an orderly stack of brick-size, gunmetal-gray steel ingots on a desk inside a neon-illuminated lab space.

What they were looking at was a batch of steel created using an innovative manufacturing method, one that Boston Metal, a company that spun out a decade ago from MIT, hopes will dramatically reshape the way the alloy has been made for centuries. Continue reading

Microfauna, Microbiota & Other Wonders Of Soil

When a plant root pushes into soil, it triggers an explosion of activity in billions of bacteria. Photograph: Liz McBurney/The Guardian

I used the word microflora in the title of a post I wrote 3+ years ago, and today I learned something that serves as a correction. I used that word to distinguish from the better known charisma of megafauna. But there is a better word I should have used in that title, so I am using it in the title of today’s post. The word microbiota has made a few fleeting appearances in our pages, buried in the text of scientific explanations. This editorial by George Monbiot got me to look up the word microflora and from now on I will avoid the misnomer:

The secret world beneath our feet is mind-blowing – and the key to our planet’s future

Don’t dismiss soil: its unknowable wonders could ensure the survival of our species

Beneath our feet is an ecosystem so astonishing that it tests the limits of our imagination. It’s as diverse as a rainforest or a coral reef. We depend on it for 99% of our food, yet we scarcely know it. Soil. Continue reading

The Effects Of Fire Suppression

A controlled burn near the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. SARAH BAKER

We have linked to many stories about wildfires over the years, noting their relationship to climate change. Our working assumption seems to have been that fire is always problematic, but here is reason to reconsider that, thanks to Gabriel Popkin and Yale e360:

Bringing Back Fire: How Burning Can Help Restore Eastern Lands

For millennia, North American ecosystems benefited from fire, mostly set by Indigenous people. Now, a movement is growing, particularly in the eastern U.S., to reintroduce controlled burns to forests and grasslands and restore the role of fire in creating biodiverse landscapes.

It’s an apocalyptic scene that has become all too familiar in recent years. Continue reading

Personal Approaches To Carbon Footprint Reduction

Recycle to save the planet? Photograph: Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

A public service request for your input, from the Guardian:

What is the single most effective thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint?

The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific and philosophical concepts

What is the single most effective thing I could do to reduce my carbon footprint? Without dying, preferably. Andrew Hufnagel, Caithness

Post your answers (and new questions) below or send them to nq@theguardian.com. A selection will be published on Sunday.

Nature’s Energy Storage Potential

Decarbonization would be easier if we could bank clean energy for later. Illustrations by Hudson Christie

Thanks to Matthew Hutson for the article in the current edition of the New Yorker titled The Renewable-Energy Revolution Will Need Renewable Storage:

Can gravity, pressure, and other elemental forces save us from becoming a battery-powered civilization?

We need to vastly expand our energy-storage capacity if we’re to avoid climate catastrophe.

The German word Dunkelflaute means “dark doldrums.” It chills the hearts of renewable-energy engineers, who use it to refer to the lulls when solar panels and wind turbines are thwarted by clouds, night, or still air. On a bright, cloudless day, a solar farm can generate prodigious amounts of electricity; when it’s gusty, wind turbines whoosh neighborhoods to life. But at night solar cells do little, and in calm air turbines sit useless. These renewable energy sources stop renewing until the weather, or the planet, turns. Continue reading

Climate Policies To Cheer On

(Washington Post illustration; Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post; iStock)

I am heading to Ithaca tomorrow for family reasons, so the third item described in the story that follows is of particular interest. But every one of the items is worth reflecting on, in a news world without enough such stories. Our thanks to the Washington Post Staff who put this list together:

10 recent climate policies that could make a difference

Stories from the past six months that show what local and national policy change can look like

The most recent IPCC report makes it clear: There is no one silver bullet that can address global warming. Instead, nations, businesses, communities and individuals all have a role to play in helping to create a safer and more sustainable future. But without action from the world’s wealthiest countries, the nations and people who are least at fault for fueling climate change will be the ones who suffer the most, the scientists behind the report warn. Continue reading

Old Growth Forest Protection Schemes

Caryssa Rouser, a propagation specialist with Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, plants a sequoia tree in October, 2021, in Sequoia Crest, California. Noah Berger/AP

Old growth forests matter for so many reasons. Not least, biophilic reasons. But at this moment, we rightly pay more attention to their value with regard to urgent climate issues. Maddie Oatman makes a good case in this Mother Jones essay:

Why Old-Growth Forests Matter So Much in the Fight Against Climate Change

Biden’s executive order to preserve ancient trees is a big deal—but it could have gone further.

Few experiences have rendered me as awestruck as the winter morning I spent wandering through a grove of ancient sequoias, their sienna bark glowing against the snowy ground. Continue reading

Carbon, Sequestration & Hope

(Brandon Thibodeaux / The New York Times / Redux)

When I read about a promising new technology related to carbon sequestration, I am ambivalent based on the experience of many past false hopes. Carbon is a very large problem. Finding new methods of sequestration is a very challenging puzzle.

I track such developments every week by reading the newsletter that Bill McKibben posts on Substack. Most weeks I post something here from that, and do my best to balance the terrifying and enraging with the more hopeful news he occasionally shares there.

The only other newsletter I read regularly is Robinson Meyer’s newsletter for the Atlantic, called The Weekly Planet. Here is one of his worth reading for a bit of encouragement (when you click the hyperlink it will go to the current newsletter, which until April 20 is this one; after April 20 scroll to find this edition):

The Biggest Investment Ever in Sucking Carbon Out of the Sky

The world’s biggest tech companies are getting serious about carbon removal, the still-nascent technology wherein humanity can pull heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Yesterday, an alliance of prominent Silicon Valley companies—including Google, Meta, Shopify, and the payment company Stripe—announced that it is purchasing $925 million in carbon removal over the next eight years. In a world awash in overhyped corporate climate commitments, this is actually a big deal. Continue reading

When Diplomats Must Be Undiplomatic

Yesterday I posted about one of the easier topics among the many options I have to post about every day. Today, a topic increasingly frequent in my posts, but definitely not an easy one. So I look to one person to summarize our week-to-week progress or lack of it. As always, I recommend signing up for his newsletter:

The World’s Top Diplomat Has Had It Up to Here

The Secretary General of the UN models how to think about climate change

I can remember when some of us organized what may have been the planet’s first truly huge climate march, with 400,000 people descending on New York in 2014. Then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to walk with us for a few blocks, and it was considered remarkable: the world’s top diplomat had previously been too diplomatic to join in protests challenging the policies of his member nations. Continue reading

If SUVs Were An Individual Country

The Biden Administration is set to unveil a new set of fuel-efficiency standards on Friday. Photograph by David Paul Morris / Bloomberg / Getty

Elizabeth Kolbert’s essay offers perspective on how the SUV category has grown as a percentage of the global fleet, and what that has meant for fuel consumption. The point of the essay seems not to demonize owners of SUVs, but to suggest a mechanism to put the category on a level playing field with more fuel efficient vehicles. The humanist in me imagines that most SUV owners would own up, given the chance, and take responsibility for their footprint and pay their fair share:

A Better Idea Than Releasing Oil from the Strategic Reserve

It’s time to do away with the S.U.V. loophole.

On Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden announced that the federal government would release up to a hundred and eighty million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over six months. The move, aimed at bringing down gas prices—“Americans are feeling Putin’s gas price hike at the pump,” Biden tweeted—is obviously politically motivated. Continue reading

How Do We Love Thee, Forests, Let Us Count The Ways

Forests, such as this one in Indonesia, do lmore than just store carbon. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

It may sound obvious, but until now it was not quantified: The world’s forests do more than just store carbon, new research finds

New data suggests forests help keep the Earth at least half of a degree cooler, protecting us from the effects of climate crisis

The world’s forests play a far greater and more complex role in tackling climate crisis than previously thought, due to their physical effects on global and local temperatures, according to new research. Continue reading

Crypto, Pigs & Possibilities

Wind turbines next to Argo Blockchain’s new facility in Dickens County, Texas. The site would be fueled mostly by wind and solar energy. Carter Johnston for The New York Times

First thought upon seeing the headline of the story below: when pigs fly. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary. If you read to the end of the story, published in the New York Times (click through to read it in full there), you will understand that some at the cutting edge of crypto want to change the name of what they do to “validators” from the less environmentally-friendly sounding “miners.” So, second thought: lipstick on pigs. But, at least they are acknowledging the complaint. Plus, the author of this story has a remarkable track record of reporting on issues we care about. So let’s read their latest claims with an open mind:

Bitcoin Miners Want to Recast Themselves as Eco-Friendly

Facing intense criticism, the crypto mining industry is trying to change the view that its energy-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate.

Texas has become a hot spot for crypto mining, attracting more than two dozen companies, partly because of an unusual incentive structure with its power grid. Carter Johnston for The New York Times

Along a dirt-covered road deep in Texas farm country, the cryptocurrency company Argo Blockchain is building a power plant for the internet age: a crypto “mining” site stocked with computers that generate new Bitcoins. Continue reading

Close The Hose Of Fossil Fuel Cash

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said fossil-fuel funding ‘has been used to compromise leading academic institutions’. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Hats off to Michael Mann and colleagues for this determination:

Universities must reject fossil fuel cash for climate research, say academics

Open letter from 500 academics likens fossil-energy funding of climate solutions to tobacco industry disinformation

Universities must stop accepting funding from fossil fuel companies to conduct climate research, even if the research is aimed at developing green and low-carbon technology, an influential group of distinguished academics has said. Continue reading

McKibben’s Longform Power Pitch

The market for electrons is predictable, meaning that solar panels installed on farmland can provide a fairly stable income for farmers. Photograph by George Rose / Getty

Illustration by Álvaro Bernis

If you have not been reading Bill McKibben regularly, or at all, here is as good a place to start as you will find. It is a long, powerful pitch:

In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things

The truth is new and counterintuitive: we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.

In 2020, fossil-fuel pollution killed three times as many people as COVID-19 did. Photograph by Artur Widak / NurPhoto / Getty

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Continue reading

Jumpstarting System Change

So many things to change, so little time. If you are looking for a way to jumpstart a change to the system, consider these six lifestyle adjustments (thanks to the Guardian for the feature story on Jump):

From using smartphones for longer to ending car ownership, research shows ‘less stuff and more joy’ is the way forward

Founder of the Jump campaign Tom Bailey. Photograph: Andy Hall/The Observer

Research shows that people in wealthier, high-consuming countries can help avert climate breakdown by making six relatively straightforward lifestyle changes, creating a society of “less stuff and more joy”.

Experts say if enacted these “shifts” would account for a quarter of the required emissions reductions needed to keep the global heating down to 1.5C and increase pressure on government and the private sector to make the necessary far-reaching systemic change. Continue reading

As The World Burns

Heat waves have become hotter, droughts deeper, and wildfires more frequent, the I.P.C.C. report states, and the window of time for doing anything about it is fast closing. Photograph by David McNew / Getty

Even as a geopolitical crisis has our full attention, we cannot ignore other important information about our shared future. Click through to the magazine website where one of our favored interpreters of environmental news helps us understand how The Latest U.N. Climate Report Paints Another Grim Picture:

The Secretary-General cites a “criminal” abdication of leadership. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case that may hamper emissions regulations.

There were two front-page-worthy developments on Monday in the world of climate policy. Perhaps even more significant than either one was the fact that they were at cross-purposes. Continue reading

We Have Seen The Future, And It Is Youthful

Sunrise models itself on the civil-rights movement of the fifties and sixties. Photograph by Evan Jenkins for The New Yorker

In the current issue of the New Yorker, Andrew Marantz offers an inside view of The Youth Movement Trying to Revolutionize Climate Politics; we can only hope they succeed where previous generations have failed:

Sunrise has already shifted the conventional wisdom about climate change. Now it wants to create a mass movement, combining street protest with policy negotiation, while there’s still time.

On the evening of November 12, 2018, six days after being elected to Congress and six weeks before being sworn in, the socialist Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walked into an Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. Inside, more than a hundred activists in their teens and twenties milled around a font of holy water, wearing nametags on their flannel and fleece, eating pizza from paper plates. Continue reading

Subsidizing Environmental Degradation Must End

An electoral poster objecting to a proposed ban on subsidies for Swiss farms. A 2021 report found almost 90% of global farming subsidies are harmful. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

We missed this when it was first published a couple weeks ago, but it is still fresh and important:

World spends $1.8tn a year on subsidies that harm environment, study finds

Research prompts warnings humanity is ‘financing its own extinction’ through subsidies damaging to the climate and wildlife

The world is spending at least $1.8tn (£1.3tn) every year on subsidies driving the annihilation of wildlife and a rise in global heating, according to a new study, prompting warnings that humanity is financing its own extinction. Continue reading

Trees’ Wondrous Capabilities

Diana Beresford-Kroeger at her home in Ontario. “If you build back the forests, you oxygenate the atmosphere more, and it buys us time,” she said. Nasuna Stuart-Ulin for The New York Times

Another round of thanks to Cara Buckley for a vividly written snapshot. Using Science and Celtic Wisdom to Save Trees (and Souls) is about one person’s multi-talented capacity to inspire us in new ways related to trees, and the patience it has required:

Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a botanist and author, has created a forest with tree species handpicked for their ability to withstand a warming planet.

MERRICKVILLE, Ontario — There aren’t many scientists raised in the ways of druids by Celtic medicine women, but there is at least one. She lives in the woods of Canada, in a forest she helped grow. From there, wielding just a pencil, she has been working to save some of the oldest life-forms on Earth by bewitching its humans. Continue reading