Post-Peak Meat

Hundreds of dairy farms across California have sold the rights to their manure to energy producers. Illustration: Ricardo Cavolo/The Guardian

We are always on the lookout for more reasons why reducing beef and dairy consumption makes sense:

Brown gold: the great American manure rush begins

The energy industry is turning waste from dairy farms into renewable natural gas – but will it actually reduce emissions?

Cows in a meadow at a dairy farm in Zundert, the Netherlands.

Have we reached ‘peak meat’? Why one country is trying to limit its number of livestock

On an early August afternoon at Pinnacle Dairy, a farm located near the middle of California’s long Central Valley, 1,300 Jersey cows idle in the shade of open-air barns. Above them whir fans the size of satellites, circulating a breeze as the temperature pushes 100F (38C). Underfoot, a wet layer of feces emits a thick stench that hangs in the air. Just a tad unpleasant, the smell represents a potential goldmine. Continue reading

Reducing Cement’s Carbon Footprint, Improving Its Longevity

PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES

Whether we want buildings to last longer or not, we now know that reducing the carbon footprint of the materials used is a consideration is important:

The Secret to Making Concrete That Lasts 1,000 Years

Scientists have uncovered the Roman recipe for self-repairing cement—which could massively reduce the carbon footprint of the material today.

ROME’S PANTHEON STANDS defiant 2,000 years after it was built, its marble floors sheltered under the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. For decades, researchers have probed samples from Roman concrete structures—tombs, breakwaters, aqueducts, and wharves—to find out why these ancient buildings endure when modern concrete may crumble after only a few decades. Continue reading

Kenya’s Libraries Get The Attention They Deserve

The archives of the McMillan Memorial Library are being digitized. Kenyans are also being invited to bring items such as photographs or letters to create an archive anchored in collective memory. Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Palace is a fine way to think about libraries, and Kenya has a movement to make this metaphor work:

Turning Nairobi’s Public Libraries Into ‘Palaces for the People’

A Kenyan nonprofit is restoring iconic public libraries, leaving behind a segregated past and turning them into inclusive spaces.

A project to preserve libraries such as this one is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay, said Lola Shoneyin, a Nigerian novelist. Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In 1931, the first library in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, opened its doors — to white patrons only. Continue reading

UK Plant Prospecting & iNaturalist

While once gardening was somewhat of a battle against nature, people are now working with native plants and animals. Photograph: Kathy deWitt/Alamy

We are happy to see citizen scientists putting this technology to such use anywhere, but particularly gratified to know that a large organization is encouraging its use for such an important initiative:

RHS asks gardeners to find interesting ‘weeds’ that may be rare plants

People urged to submit specimens to an app as private gardens may be fresh source of scientific discovery

Record the “weeds” that pop up in your garden because they could be a rare plant, the Royal Horticultural Society has said. Continue reading

Snowpack & Colorado River Recovery

Among the arid lands where water from the Colorado River makes agriculture possible is the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation, which serves Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo peoples. More than 70,000 acres of alfalfa, cotton, potatoes, and other crops are being produced on the reservation. (Image credit: Ted Wood/The Water Desk, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

The Colorado River holds our attention for many reasons, but mostly now due to climate impact. Our thanks to Bob Henson at Yale Climate Connection for this:

Wet winter won’t fix Colorado River woes

“One year of good flows doesn’t mean we have a trend,” noted one expert.

Snowpack has been running well above average this winter across the Colorado River watershed. It’s a rare bright spot after 23 years of grinding megadrought brought the driest conditions in 1,200 years to the basin that supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico. Continue reading

Seasonal King Tides

Washington’s seasonal king tides, shown here at Washaway Beach, are becoming more destructive as sea levels rise. Sarah Trent/High Country News

Our thanks to Sarah Trent, an editorial intern for High Country News based in southwest Washington, for the story and to Mother Jones for sharing it more broadly:

This Experiment Could Help Restore Eroding Coastlines

David Cottrell dropped $400 worth of rock on “washaway beach” to see what would happen. Now engineers are watching, too.

David Cottrell stood on what used to be a 14-foot-high cliff at the crumbled end of Blue Pacific Drive. Just a few years ago, this was the fastest-eroding shoreline on the US Pacific Coast; locals here in North Cove, Washington, dubbed it “washaway beach.” Continue reading

Collaborative Cataloging of Feathered Finery

Architect Esha Munshi and veterinarian Sherwin Everett, founders of the Feather Library

Over the years we talked about feathers from numerous perspectives, including scientific and artistic. Thanks once again to the Guardian for sharing this inspiring Citizen Science story.

Plucky idea: the feather library providing a visual A to Z of India’s birds

Finding a trapped silverbill during lockdown inspired Esha Munshi to create an invaluable record of species in an uncertain world

Esha Munshi, an architect based in Ahmedabad, has “breathed birds” as far back as she can remember. She has travelled all over India on birding trips and has, she says, spotted 1,060 of the 1,400 bird species in the country.

An Indian golden oriole feather, left, and white-throated kingfisher feathers

But it was at home, during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, that she saw an Indian silverbill caught in the protective netting on her balcony, attracting the attention of her cat. Although the bird escaped, some of its feathers were damaged. When Munshi saw the exquisite markings and patterns, she tried to identify the bird, but was struck by how little information there was online.

Continue reading

Seed Bank Futures

Hassan Machlab, a country manager with ICARDA in Lebanon, stands in the middle of a field with newly planted grains at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Protecting plant species’ futures with seed banks grows greater in importance as time passes, because challenges to the planet multiply. We appreciate updates like this one by Ruth Sherlock and colleagues at National Public Radio (USA):

How ancient seeds from the Fertile Crescent could help save us from climate change

Chickpea grains are tested for various diseases at the ICARDA research station, Dec. 21, 2022. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

TERBOL, Lebanon — Inside a large freezer room at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, tens of thousands of seeds are stored at a constant temperature of minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit. After being threshed and cleaned, the seeds are placed inside small, sealed foil packets and stored on rows of heavy, sliding metal shelves.

Barley grains stored at the ICARDA research station. Dalia Khamissy for NPR

Some of them may hold keys to helping the planet’s food supply adapt to climate change.

The gene bank can hold as many as 120,000 varieties of plants. Many of the seeds come from crops as old as agriculture itself. They’re sown by farmers in the Fertile Crescent region, where cultivation began some 11,000 years ago. Other seeds were deposited by researchers who’ve hiked in the past four decades through forests and mountains in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, searching for wild relatives of wheat, legumes and other crops that are important to the human diet. Continue reading

New York Waters Are Clean Enough For Fun Again

A pod of dolphins just outside New York harbor. Carsten Brandt/Getty

Our thanks to Oliver Milman, Mother Jones and the Climate Desk collaboration for this, and we hope the frolicking continues:

To New Yorkers’ Delight, Dolphins Return to the Bronx River

“We’ve come a long way.”

Dolphins have been spotted frolicking in New York City’s Bronx River, an encouraging sign of the improving health of a waterway that was for many years befouled as a sewer for industrial waste. Continue reading

The Remarkable Efficiency Of Heat Pumps, Explained

Heat pumps use electricity to compress a refrigerant, raising its temperature. IEA

Heat pumps have only been a passing reference occasionally in these pages, but today they are the focus, thanks to Paul Hockenos in Yale e360:

In Europe’s Clean Energy Transition, Industry Turns to Heat Pumps

With soaring gas prices due to the Ukraine war and the EU’s push to cut emissions, European industries are increasingly switching to high-temperature, high-efficiency heat pumps. Combined with the boom in residential use, the EU is now hoping for a heat pump revolution.

An industrial heat pump at the Mars Confectionery in Veghel, the Netherlands. GEA

The Wienerberger brickworks in Uttendorf, Austria, in the Tyrolean Alps, has always required a steady stream of 90 degree C (194 degree F) heat to dry its construction blocks. This process would have been an expensive proposition for the company after Russia cut gas exports to Europe, as it was for most of Europe’s energy-intensive construction industry. But four years ago, Wienerberger — the largest brick producer in the world — made an investment in the future that is now paying off: it replaced Uttendorf’s gas-fired boiler with an industrial-scale heat pump, which whittles the factory’s energy bill by around 425,00 euros a year. Continue reading

Good Chocolate

‘The only way to ensure that money is going into a farmer’s pocket is to buy directly from farmers.’

‘The only way to ensure that money is going into a farmer’s pocket is to buy directly from farmers.’ Illustration: Rita Liu/The Guardian

We have been avid readers on the topic of chocolate for almost as long as we have been sharing articles on this platform:

The sweet spot: is ethical and affordable chocolate possible?

It is possible to pay farmers a premium while selling single-origin chocolate at a cheaper price – but it means companies have to transform the way it’s made

Is it possible to make an ethical chocolate bar that’s also affordable? Tim McCollum, the founder of the bean-to-bar chocolate brand Beyond Good, says the answer is yes – but you have to transform the way it’s made. Continue reading

Aeon & The Rise Of Maize In Asia

On the outskirts of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwestern China, 6 November 2006. Photo by stringer/Reuters

Aeon was a regular source of excellent ideas and information during our first few years, and we are happy to see it again:

Maize is arguably the single most important crop in the world and is rivalled only by soybeans in terms of versatility. That said, it is, along with sugar cane and palm oil, among the most controversial crops, proving particularly so to critics of industrial agriculture. Although maize is usually associated with the Western world, it has played a prominent role in Asia for a long time, and, in recent decades, its importance in Asia has soared. For better or worse, or more likely for better and worse, its role in Asia seems to be following the Western script. Continue reading

Interview With Journalist Heriberto Araujo On His Book & Brazil’s Prospects For Change

A fire set to clear land for farming in Pará state in the Brazilian Amazon.

A fire set to clear land for farming in Pará state in the Brazilian Amazon. DANIEL BELTRÁ / GREENPEACE

We were very happy with the alternative resulting in a radical change of government in Brazil, but never expected an easy solution:

Amazon Under Fire: The Long Struggle Against Brazil’s Land Barons

Journalist Heriberto Araujo spent four years reporting on the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about his new book, which explores the complex web of issues underpinning the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest.

Heriberto Araujo.

Heriberto Araujo. HERIBERTO ARAUJO

Last October, when former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil’s national election, environmentalists around the world breathed a sigh of relief. Under Bolsonaro, who had weakened environmental protections and pushed to open Indigenous lands to commercial exploitation, deforestation in the Amazon had exploded. Lula has pledged to safeguard his country’s rainforests, but, as Spanish journalist Heriberto Araujo says in an interview with Yale Environment 360, the job won’t be easy.

Masters of the Lost LandFor his new book, Masters of the Lost Land, Araujo spent four years traveling from his home in Rio de Janeiro to Rondon do Pará, a town in the eastern Brazilian Amazon, to understand how, in less than 60 years, the largest rainforest on the planet has been transformed into an engine of economic growth. Tracing the story of land rights activist José Dutra da Costa, or “Dezinho,” who, before his assassination in 2000, led a revolution among landless peasants, Araujo comes to see how a handful of ranchers managed to grab huge swaths of pristine rainforest and why deforestation, violence, and lawlessness remain pervasive in the region. Continue reading

EV Boom

Ibrahim Rayintakath

At this point we should not be surprised but the momentum is still stunning:

Electric Vehicles Keep Defying Almost Everyone’s Predictions

It is striking that in the same year that Tesla’s stock price dropped by about two-thirds, destroying more than $700 billion in market value, the global market for electric vehicles — which for so long the company seemed almost to embody — actually boomed. Continue reading

American Prairie & American Bison

Scott Heidebrink, the director of bison restoration for the American Prairie Reserve in northeast Montana, checks on a herd. “There are ways that bison were impacting the landscape that we haven’t even thought about,” he said.

Bison restoration has been on our radar, primarily stories from the western USA, but also from the European context, where there has been considerable progress in recent years. Here is a good look at a conservation organization focused on habitat restoration, and the multi-species benefits:

Where the Bison Could Roam

Bison once numbered in the tens of millions in the United States. Now, a nonprofit is working to restore the shortgrass prairie, where the American icons and their ecosystem can thrive again.

MALTA, Mont. — Around 200 chocolate-brown bison raise their heads, following the low growl of a pickup truck slowly motoring across the sagebrush-studded prairie. Continue reading

Agnostics Thankful For The Sacred

The Futarasan Shrine in Nikkō, Japan. Ancient forests surrounding Japan's Shinto temples cover more than a quarter-million acres.

The Futarasan Shrine in Nikkō, Japan. Ancient forests surrounding Japan’s Shinto temples cover more than a quarter-million acres. NORTOPHOTO / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

We are agnostic when it comes to how conservation of nature is motivated, and how it is accomplished. Thanks as always to Fred Pearce:

Sacred Groves: How the Spiritual Connection Helps Protect Nature

From Ethiopia’s highlands to Siberia to the Australian rainforest, there are thousands of sacred forests that have survived thanks to traditional religious and spiritual beliefs. Experts say these places, many now under threat, have ecological importance and must be saved.

Governments from across the world made grand promises last month at the biodiversity conference in Montreal to save nature by protecting 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030. Continue reading

It’s Not About the Birds…

Maguri Beel, Assam – photo credit: Gururaj Moorching

The title of this post are the opening words to photographer Gururaj Moorching’s  website, where he expresses his love of India, and passion for the nature and culture within her boarders.

Gururaj and I have never met – not even when I lived in India – but we’ve known each other for over 6 years through his photographs.  Coincidentally, almost exactly 4 years ago I wrote about his Birding “Big Year” on this site, acknowledging that through his  photos we’ve been chronicling and sharing his adventures with our readers.

This current post is an introduction to a “Stories from the Field” series that will more directly share his birding experiences.

Stay tuned!

 

Lungs Of The Earth, The Amazon Calls Our Attention Again

Illustration by Max Guther

The Amazon is one of those big topics that we come back to again and again for a reason.  We all depend on these lungs of the earth, so it would be strange to not be obsessed with the subject:

Some Brazilian scientists fear that the Amazon may become a grassy savanna — with profound effects on the climate worldwide.

Illustration by Max Guther

One of the first times Luciana Vanni Gatti tried to collect Amazonian air she got so woozy that she couldn’t even operate the controls. An atmospheric chemist, she wanted to measure the concentration of carbon high above the rainforest. To obtain her samples she had to train bush pilots at obscure air-taxi businesses. The discomfort began as she waited on the tarmac, holding one door open against the wind to keep the tiny cockpit from turning into an oven in the equatorial sun. When at last they took off, they rose precipitously, and every time they plunged into a cloud, the plane seemed to be, in Gatti’s words, sambando — dancing the samba. Then the air temperature dipped below freezing, and her sweat turned cold. Continue reading

Time To Care About Climate Change

A pile of debris from Hurricane Ian rises behind a line of people waiting to vote in Fort Myers, Fla., in November 2022. Research suggests support for some climate policies increases immediately after climate-driven disasters such as Ian.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP

If you are not (yet) concerned about climate change there is no time like the present:

How our perception of time shapes our approach to climate change

Most people are focused on the present: today, tomorrow, maybe next year. Fixing your flat tire is more pressing than figuring out if you should use an electric car. Living by the beach is a lot more fun than figuring out when your house will be underwater because of sea level rise. Continue reading

Carbon Cowboys

Levi Sucre Romero at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal last week.

Levi Sucre Romero at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal last week. ANDREJ IVANOV / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Carbon credit brokers are busier than ever, and that is welcome news, but Levi Sucre Romero’s concerns give pause:

Forest Equity: What Indigenous People Want from Carbon Credits

To Indigenous leader Levi Sucre Romero, carbon credit markets have failed to respect Indigenous people and their key role in protecting their lands. In an e360 interview, he talks about how carbon brokers have taken advantage of local communities and why that must change.

Indigenous protesters at the opening ceremony of the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal this month.

Indigenous protesters at the opening ceremony of the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal this month. ANDREJ IVANOV / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In a world where carbon credit markets are taking advantage of Indigenous people and their forests, the United Nation is losing its leadership on combating climate change, says Indigenous leader Levi Sucre Romero.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Romero, who is from Costa Rica and is coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, calls out the “carbon cowboys” — the brokers who he says are wrecking efforts to allow Indigenous communities to have ownership of the carbon credits generated on their land, and who, by acting unscrupulously and secretively, are undermining global hopes of using nature to mitigate climate change. Continue reading