Civic Responsibility, Palm Oil & Change

Forest clearance in Indonesia. Palm oil production in the country, which is one of the world’s largest producers, has been linked to deforestation. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Greenpeace

Smouldering peatland following a suspected land clearance fire in Kampar, Sumatra, in 2019. Photograph: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Palm oil has a dirty history. It causes havoc, to put it politely. May we all do our part to elect civic leaders with a keen sense of responsibility for devastation in other parts of the world, and get them to take action to reduce it. We thank Patrick Greenfield for his reporting in this article titled The UK city taking a stand on palm oil in the fight against deforestation:

A growing number of towns and villages are following Chester’s lead in helping local businesses to eradicate deforestation-linked oil from their supply chains

Orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species are affected by habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict that stems from palm oil plantations. Photograph: Vier Pfoten/Four Paws/Rhoi/REX/Shutterstock

From mince pies and biscuits to lipstick and soap, palm oil grown on deforested land in south-east Asia will have been hard to avoid this Christmas. The vegetable oil is found in almost half of all packaged products in UK supermarkets, according to WWF.

But a growing number of towns and cities are trying to use only sustainable palm oil, helping orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species. Continue reading

Broadening Birding’s Benefits

The writer, left, with Nadeem Perera and Ollie Olanipekun. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

When we managed our first lodge I came to understand that widening the audience of bird appreciation could strengthen commitment to conservation. A dozen years later, when Seth began working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, focused on celebrating urban birds, I knew that when he returned to work with us he would be bringing valuable knowhow.

When we started this platform for sharing news and personal stories related to our work, birds became a daily feature.

Olanipekun’s favourite bird is the ‘beautifully majestic’ barn owl. Photograph: Fletch Lewis/Getty Images

So Rebecca Liu’s story ‘It’s not just a white thing’: how Flock Together are creating a new generation of birdwatchers has various meanings for me. I can relate to the author’s novice sense of wonder as much as I can to Mr. Olanipekun’s decisive mention of the barn owl, featured frequently in our pages, as a favorite:

The nature collective was set up to encourage more people of colour to enjoy nature. Here, they take our writer on a spotting trip through the wildlands of north-east London

Through birding, Ollie Olanipekun (left) and Nadeem Perera are hoping to encourage children and young people to deepen their understanding and love for the environment. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

I have lived in cities all my life. My childhood did not involve any education in the outdoors. It would be fair to say my knowledge of birds doesn’t go much further than the varieties mentioned in Old Macdonald Had a Farm. So when I arrive at east London’s Walthamstow Wetlands on a cloudy November day to meet Ollie Olanipekun and Nadeem Perera for an afternoon of winter birdwatching, I am already apologetic for all that I do not know. Continue reading

Extraction, Adaptation & Opportunity

The former coal miner Gary Webb, right, with his cousins Darrell Davis and Ernie Dials, in Lovely, Ky. Mr. Webb supports the planned solar farm. “It’s good for climate change,” he said. “Anything that helps is good.” Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

The photograph above speaks to the humanity of coal mining culture in a time when the world is trying to wind down its use of coal. It is not fair, in so many ways, that miners seem to have so few options; but a way forward will be found. The billboard in the photo below may suggest otherwise, but opportunities for those miners are not likely to include coal.  Thanks to Cara Buckley for this vivid portrait of a place historically focused on extraction, its people who are in need of a better future, and the tensions that come with making that better future happen:

Coming Soon to This Coal County: Solar, in a Big Way

In Martin County, Ky., where coal production has flatlined, entrepreneurs are promising that a new solar farm atop a shuttered mine will bring green energy jobs.

A billboard advertising mining jobs in Inez, Ky. By last count, the county had just 26 miners left. Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

MARTIN COUNTY, Ky. — For a mountain that’s had its top blown off, the old Martiki coal mine is looking especially winsome these days. With its vast stretches of emerald grass dotted with hay bales and ringed with blue-tinged peaks, and the wild horses and cattle that roam there, it looks less like a shuttered strip mine and more like an ad for organic milk.

The mountain is poised for another transformation. Hundreds of acres are set to be blanketed with solar panels in the coming year, installed by locals, many of them former miners. Continue reading

AgEc Revolution In Puerto Rico

Francisco Diaz Ramos, 44, Marissa Reyes, 32, and Jan Paul, 29, run the Güakiá Colectivo Agroecólogico, an 11 acre farm in Dorado, Puerto Rico. Photograph: Angel Valentin/The Guardian

When we look at these young farmers and the work they are doing we see a greener future.

A farmer prepares the land at the El Josco Bravo argoecology farm in the Toa Alta mountains. Photograph: Nina Lakhani/The Guardian

Thanks to Nina Lakhani and The Guardian for this story:

‘An act of rebellion’: the young farmers revolutionizing Puerto Rico’s agriculture

The island imports 85% of its food but these three farms are part of the agroecology movement that seeks food sovereignty and climate solutions

A hydroponics greenhouse at Frutos del Guacabo is used to grow a range of herbs and greens quickly and without soil. Photograph: Nina Lakhani/The Guardian

Puerto Rico was once a thriving agricultural hub thanks to its tropical climate, rich biodiversity, and sustainable farming traditions.

Today, less than 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture and tens of thousands of acres of arable land sit idle. Meanwhile 85% of the food eaten in Puerto Rico is imported, grocery prices are among the highest in the US and last year two in five people experienced food insecurity. “Unemployment is brutal, prices are brutal, migration from the island is brutal,” said Denise Santos, who runs Puerto Rico’s food bank. Continue reading

Points For Creativity

Edward Constance and Brian Souyana race on Rasta Rocket, made from plastic drain pipes and fishing buoys that washed up on Aldabra. About 68 tonnes of marine litter a year is washed ashore

Do not ask yourself whether this will change anything; just smile and acknowledge that it is probably not hurting anyone to have some creative fun with environmental disasters:

Recycled regatta: world heritage site highlights plastic pollution crisis

When environmentalists on a Seychelles atoll decided to race boats made from ocean litter, they had 500 tonnes to pick from

Photographs: Anna Koester/Seychelles Islands Foundation

Martin van Rooyen, a researcher, and Luke A’Bear, a science coordinator, prepare to set sail on Red Lion, buoyed by discarded oil drums

Red Lion is the kind of boat you would not see in most regattas. Its frame is made of bamboo, sourced from washed-up fishing equipment, and it uses two old oil drums for buoyancy.

Equally strange is Rasta Rocket – made from old plastic drain pipes, washed-up floats and fishing buoys.

These were two of the boats in the inaugural Aldabra Regatta: an ironic attempt to draw attention to marine plastic pollution by racing boats made from marine debris. Continue reading

In The UK, Trees Say I Love You

One of the National Trust’s tree-planting projects, at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Its Plant a Tree appeal has topped £1m. Photograph: James Dobson/National Trust/PA

Planting trees is part of our business model. So, we love this news:

Forget flowers – poll shows third of people prefer to say I love you with a tree

National Trust says tree giving growing in popularity but only 7% know best season to plant

A National Trust ranger, David Smith, preparing saplings for planting at Hafod Garegog in north Wales. Photograph: Paul Harris/National Trust/PA

For centuries people have said it with flowers but research suggests a new tradition is gaining popularity in the UK – expressing love, thanks, perhaps even regret with the gift of a tree.

A third of people said they would consider saying it with a tree rather than a bouquet and more than one in 10 had already done so, according to the research commissioned by the National Trust.

However, the conservation charity also said only 7% of people in the UK knew the best time of year to plant, and it was launching a drive to improve “tree literacy”. Continue reading

Solar Canopy + Bellwether Roaster = Interesting Option

As we consider new canopy options, a switch to electric roasting of Organikos coffee also seems clearly worthy of consideration. I just found out about this company, and its sustainability report from last year puts it high on my list of roasters to consider:

Letter from Bellwether

We would be remiss to start our Sustainability Report without acknowledging what a crazy year 2020 was. A global pandemic forced many of our customers, like other businesses across the world, to close their doors. Continue reading

Quirky, Old-School Enterprise Versus Doom

Powell’s anticipated that every part of its business would need to be closed, but then quickly realized that it could continue operating the warehouse. Amanda Lucier for The New York Times

We have used the word doom in a post title on four previous occasions, most recently this one. Doomsaying is not our goal here, but when it comes to the environment, particularly climate change, sometimes no other word will do.

A customer in Powell’s flagship store downtown. Amanda Lucier for The New York Times

On this fifth occasion I use the word just as seriously, but without reference to environmental challenges.  This book retailer has been on the front lines of one of the other big dangers I have had my eye on, and I am thankful to Peter S. Goodman for this account of their approach to survival:

Powell’s Books Survived Amazon. Can It Reinvent Itself After the Pandemic?

As much as any city, Portland, Ore., has been through hell. Its landmark store, Powell’s Books, must finally build a viable online business while recapturing its downtown success.

Powell’s anchors a once dicey neighborhood now dotted with glass-fronted condos and furniture boutiques. Amanda Lucier for The New York Times

PORTLAND, Ore. — Over its half-century in the heart of Portland, Powell’s Books has survived an unending array of foundational threats — the oft-anticipated death of reading, the rise of Amazon, the supposedly irretrievable abandonment of the American downtown.

None of that provided preparation for the tumult of the past two years. Continue reading

Admiring A Horticultural Refuge

Stella Kalinina

Community gardens have been a regular topic in our pages over the last decade. We never tire of the subject. I personally have a soft spot for roses, especially those found in unexpected places. So, Raúl Laly Fernández, you are my hero. I hope that the next time I am in Los Angeles I will find you in this garden and bear witness to the rose wonders I see in these photographs. Kudos to the writer/photographer Stella Kalinina for capturing this intersection between immigrant culture, working class refuge, and horticultural knowhow:

Mr. Fernández decorates a sitting area in his plot with roses that he grows.

In Los Angeles, Glimpses of an Oasis With Deep Immigrant Roots

The San Pedro Community Gardens have provided physical and spiritual nourishment for the past half a century to multiple generations of immigrant Angelenos.

Kimberly Mentlow received a plot in San Pedro after three years on a waiting list. “Being able to plant something or see something grow — it’s extremely therapeutic,” she said.

Ten minutes from my home, next to a decommissioned landfill, a freeway and the largest port in the country, sits an unlikely hillside oasis of vegetables and fruit trees.

Emerging like a mirage from its surroundings, the San Pedro Community Gardens occupy a six-acre parcel of city-owned land in the otherwise highly industrialized area of the blue-collar harbor community of San Pedro, in Los Angeles. Continue reading

The Taste of a Place

It’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the case of the image above, we peer into the poro trees we have mentioned numerous times. This particular poro, whose thick diagonally oriented trunk is situated at the uppermost point on the land where our coffee grows, is home to several orchids, both wild and cultivated. And in the foreground of the image a young cecropia tree is making its way upward, with a reddish top.

Next to the cecropia, out of the frame, is a mature coffee tree. Next to that is a young lime tree, and surrounding are various flowers and mano de tigre, aka monstera deliciosa. Just downhill from the trees and flowers in this image are bananas, plantain and sugar cane. The best coffees enjoy diverse company as they grow.

A Bit Of Merlin’s Backstory

Heather Wolf. Illustration by João Fazenda

Five years ago David Owen wrote a short article that fit well with the recycling and upcycling themes we frequently cover so we linked to it. Since then his writing caught my eye again on a related theme, and then earlier this year wrote one of my favorite profiles of recent years. This week I am drawn to his work again. Seth first introduced us to Merlin, after his three years working at the Lab of Ornithology. Merlin has been improving, and we have given it a few more looks since then. But today I am happy to learn more about the app’s backstory:

Meet Merlin, the Bird-Identifying App

How Heather Wolf, a part-time juggling impresario, turned her birding habit into an app that pegs species—even on the Brooklyn Bridge—using both images and birdsong.

Heather Wolf earned a degree in sociology at U.C.L.A., then spent six years playing electric bass in a travelling band. She earned a master’s degree in information science, moved to Brooklyn, and worked as a software developer for a company based in Manhattan. Continue reading

Alternative Incentives For Living With The Rainforest

Eliane Lima Oliveira, 30, learned how to collect rubber with her family of traditional rubber tappers

We have been neglecting excellent reporting in the Food & Environment Reporting Network over the last four years. Here is a good correction to the oversight. Our orientation to entrepreneurial conservation makes us cheer this on:

Can fashion help small farmers preserve the Amazon?

Many downplay capitalist solutions to conservation. But they could spark the wealth transfer needed to save the world’s largest rainforest.

By Brian Barth and Flávia MilhorancePhotography by Flávia Milhorance

Small farmer and rubber tapper, Rogerio Mendes, 23: “I have an inexplicable feeling inside the forest. Because it’s a feeling of happiness, but with agony and concern.”

On a rainy March afternoon, Rogério Mendes strides through the dripping vegetation of a tract of virgin Amazonian forest and stops at a tree with scars arranged in neat diagonal rows across its trunk. From his back pocket he produces a wood-handled tool with a blade on one end, called a cabrita, and cuts another diagonal line though the bark, beneath the others. A milky white goo—raw liquid latex—begins to trickle down this tiny canal and into a metal pail below. Continue reading

Restor & Correcting The Trillion Tree Mess

Crowther says Restor is his ‘life’s vision’, mapping the latest data and thousands of conservation projects. Photograph: Courtesy of Restor

I have been on a tree-planting spree in the last couple years. So I am constantly on the lookout for resources that help me see this work in a larger context. Here is a great one I have just learned about. Restor’s macro-level organizing of conservation through geographic information systems requires skills and ambitions that few have in such capacity as the scientist featured in the following story. Maps like the one shown above are less inspirational, but more powerful in other ways, than scenes of effective restoration like the one below.

The former A3 London to Portsmouth road at Hindhead, after being restored back to heathland. Photograph: Tony Watson/Alamy

T. W. Crowther has featured in our pages for years, starting with our link to his work on how many trees are on our planet and what this implies with regard to climate. We lunged forward to share the idea that planting a trillion trees was the key implication, and also lurched back a bit when it seemed worthy of more consideration. This article does much to clear up “the mess” that Mr. Crowther acknowledges resulted from the trillion tree findings, and which I was captivated by:

‘I’ve never said we should plant a trillion trees’: what ecopreneur Thomas Crowther did next

Thomas Crowther understands more than most the danger of simple, optimistic messages about combating the climate crisis. Continue reading

Balancing Power On Climate

The main way to counter the malign power of vested interest is to meet organized money with organized people. Photograph by Nicole Neri / Bloomberg / Getty

For the entire run of his newsletter McKibben made this point over and over again, and now one final time from his unique platform at the New Yorker:

The Answer to Climate Change Is Organizing

Dealing with global warming is always going to be about the balance of power.

Amore personal note than usual this week, because this will be the last of these Climate Crisis columns I’ll write (though it’s not the end of my work for the magazine). I’m incredibly grateful to The New Yorker for letting me do them—and especially thankful for Virginia Cannon, who has edited them each week with grace and aplomb. Our run has overlapped almost perfectly with the course of the pandemic, and for me it’s been the perfect moment to sit back and appreciate and highlight the work of so many across the wide universe of activists, scientists, economists, and politicians who are taking on the deepest problem that humans have ever wandered into. I can’t overstate the comfort of that universe: it didn’t exist thirty-two years ago, when I started writing about climate change; its slow but inexorable rise has given me not just welcome company but real hope. I’ve particularly enjoyed “passing the mic” to many members of that gathering throng. Continue reading

A Taste Of Matthew Raiford’s Heritage

The last food book we featured was not a cookbook, but had plenty of food for thought. Thanks to the Kim Severson (again, after a couple years of our not seeing her work) for bringing Matthew Raiford, his family heritage, his farm and his cookbook to our attention in her article: A High-Summer Feast to Forge Connections in the Deep South. And if time is short, click through just for the exceptional photography:

Rinne Allen for The New York Times

Matthew Raiford swore he’d never return to his family farm in coastal Georgia. But in breaking that vow, he found a sense of community worth celebrating with a lavish spread.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — It’s not a stretch to say there may have never been a party for a cookbook like the one Matthew Raiford threw on his family farm a few weeks ago.

Rinne Allen for The New York Times

The book’s title is “Bress ‘n’ Nyam” — “bless and eat” in the English-based Creole spoken by the Gullah Geechee people who live along the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida. Their ancestors were captured in West Africa and enslaved. Nowhere else in America has the cultural line from Africa been better preserved. (Mr. Raiford’s people call themselves freshwater Geechee, which means they are from the mainland of coastal Georgia. Saltwater Geechees are from the barrier islands.) Continue reading

The Unalloyed Joy Of Given Plants

Being a gardener has an odd way of attracting the kindness of strangers. Illustration by Daniel Salmieri

Charlotte Mendelson addresses a topic that we can relate to as we repopulate a one-time farm, primarily with coffee but plenty of other goodies as well, most of them gifted to us:

Give Me All Your Cuttings

Free stuff is the zenith of the gardener’s life, the soil tender’s greatest thrill.

I may tell myself that I chat up my neighbors out of a post-quarantine craving for connection. I can pretend that I haul myself outside for a swift ten thousand steps because I’ve finally learned the value of tending myself, body and spirit. But the truth is that I have one motivation for every social interaction, city walk, or strenuous cycle ride: free stuff. Continue reading

Nature, Intervention & Protection

Discovery inspires.

Participation motivates.

Discovery + Participation + Organization =

Results

Click any of the images above to go to the website of this organization featured once before in our pages and now again in the article below. It will make more sense after reading the article. But do visit the site and consider volunteering. Take some kids along.

In New York, Kate Orff will use oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges. Photograph by Thomas Prior for The New Yorker

Eric Klinenberg‘s work on the topic of libraries provided a sense of common cause. After featuring so many stories about libraries and librarians (my more recent personal anecdote was purposely brief so did not relay how many ways my local library impacted my young life, a topic for another day), his book summed up much of why the institution matters to us. And then some. Advocating for libraries was something a talented academic could do on a larger scale than we could in these pages, especially with publications like those. Bravo. And now this.

After lots of attention to rewilding in these pages, plenty of it related to urban landscapes, the same author that further illuminated our understanding about the value of libraries has convinced me of how much more there is to learn on this topic:

The Seas Are Rising. Could Oysters Help?

How a landscape architect is enlisting nature to defend our coastal cities against climate change—and doing it on the cheap.

On a windy afternoon in April, the landscape architect Kate Orff stood on the open walkway of a container crane, some eighty feet above the Red Hook Terminal, in Brooklyn, and the Buttermilk Channel, a tidal strait on the southeast side of Governors Island. Continue reading

Practical Advice From Erik Vance

My first link to the work of Erik Vance came when I was re-writing the welcome to Chan Chich Lodge section of the property’s website. On another occasion his work took me to Madagascar, offering me a much-appreciated journey seven months into the isolation of pandemic. Today, I thank him again for a graphic feature with practical advice on the kinds of steps any of us can take to get some relief from the cataclysm that overshadows even the pandemic. Local variations to the steps he recommends, depending on where you live, might apply; the point is to find them and act on them.

Canopy Equity

The number of urban trees is shrinking due to storms, construction and insects: at the moment, the US is facing a projected loss of 8.3% in urban tree cover by 2060. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

Regardless of the viability of tree-planting as a solution to climate change, the need for more trees in some locations is overwhelming:

US needs 30m new trees to combat shade disparity, study finds

First ever nationwide tally of trees reveals how communities of color and poorer neighborhoods lack canopy

With vast swathes of the American west baking under a record-setting heatwave, a new study has revealed how unevenly trees are spread throughout cities in the United States and how much it disadvantages communities of color and the poor. Continue reading

Year 9, Day 365

Seth’s photo of the view from the hill at Morgan’s Rock in Nicaragua

Today marks ten years since the first post on this platform. Seth’s description of a crab-eating little possum wandering by as he was reading, and a sloth-sighting together with two people visiting Nicaragua from the USA, reads like an entry in a travelogue. A later post about boarding down a volcano was the most viewed post of the first year.

Seth sandboarding down Volcán Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

A man named Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru, was on a hunger strike to protest corruption when Michael, a senior at Amherst College, landed in India to begin an internship

Michael’s first post likewise starts as a travelogue, but veers into different territory as he reads the news about two men who are sacrificing comfort, and even life, for causes they believe in. The post goes on to identify drinking water as a cause worthy of the reader’s attention. Over the course of his time with us in India he wrote some of my personal favorites. He helped me better understand that the value of the internships we offered were as much about personal growth as about work experience.

Within a few years, permits could be issued for commercial miners hoping to harvest the submerged wealth of the sea. Illustration by Sophi Miyoko Gullbrants

A decade was set in motion. This is our 10,286th post. Whatever meaning might be drawn from statistics, such as 827,462 views of our posts as of this writing, I find reasons to continue what those two started. Every day a bird is featured, thanks to Amie’s network of bird photographers. And every day I scan the news to share something enlightening, or I jot a note about a new idea we are trying out, always related to causes we care about. Today, on this rounding out of a decade, I mark the occasion by sharing the latest publication of a writer whose work rarely makes me happy but who I nonetheless link to often as a head-out-of-the-sand gesture:

The Deep Sea Is Filled with Treasure, but It Comes at a Price

We’ve barely explored the darkest realm of the ocean. With rare-metal mining on the rise, we’re already destroying it.

June 14, 2021

The International Seabed Authority is headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, in a building that looks a bit like a prison and a bit like a Holiday Inn. The I.S.A., which has been described as “chronically overlooked” and is so obscure that even many Jamaicans don’t know it exists, has jurisdiction over roughly half the globe. Continue reading