Sugar’s Greater Potential

The wily ways of the biggest petrochemical companies have been a concern since we started this platform, and when something seems like big news, but turns not to be so big, we share what we find.  We have previously shared a story or two about sugar’s potential as an energy source, but in its recent edition The Economist weighs in on what may be sugar’s bigger than big potential:

Better disposable coffee cups

They can be made with the waste from sugar cane

Sugar cane contains around 10% sugar. But that means it contains around 90% non-sugar—the material known as bagasse (pictured) which remains once the cane has been pulverised and the sugar-bearing juice squeezed out of it. World production of cane sugar was 185m tonnes in 2017. That results in a lot of bagasse. Continue reading

Does Planting A Trillion Trees Sound Implausible?

A nursery manager plants a whitebark pine at Glacier National Park in Montana in September 2019, part of an effort to restore vegetation following a wildfire. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Here in Iota-drenched Costa Rica there is damage from this hurricane and from the one that just ended a week earlier, but it is minuscule compared to what Nicaragua and Honduras have sustained. If you are scientifically inclined, then two complementary ideas are easy to digest: 1) the people suffering most from the effects of climate change are among the least responsible for causing it; and 2) they live in places that may be best-suited for mitigating it.  For our part, planting trees when coffee is purchased is a drop in the ocean of need. A story we missed from a few months ago gives some hope that this particular idea has a future:

Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate

Bipartisan backing for carbon capture tax credits, extensive tree-planting efforts

A majority of Americans continue to say they see the effects of climate change in their own communities and believe that the federal government falls short in its efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.

At a time when partisanship colors most views of policy, broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Continue reading

Major Marine Sanctuary, An Unexpected Gift Of 2020

The marine sanctuary off Tristan da Cunha will be the fourth largest in the world. Photograph: Andy Schofield/RSPB/PA

The Guardian shares some welcome conservation news from a lesser-known bit of land surrounded by plenty water-based wildlife:

Tiny Atlantic island takes giant leap towards protecting world’s oceans

UK overseas territory Tristan da Cunha’s new marine protected area will be fourth largest sanctuary of its kind

Rockhopper penguins on Tristan da Cunha will be among a wealth of marine life to benefit. Photograph: Trevor Glass/RSPB/PA

A community of 250 people on one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth has made a significant contribution to marine wildlife conservation by banning bottom-trawling fishing, deep-sea mining and other harmful activities from its waters.

The government of Tristan da Cunha, a volcanic archipelago in the south Atlantic and part of the UK’s overseas territories, has announced that almost 700,000 sq km of its waters will become a marine protected area (MPA), the fourth largest such sanctuary in the world. Continue reading

Protecting Peat Bog Is Big

Andrew Coupar, a NatureScot peatlands expert, at the Forsinard visitor centre. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

If you go to the home improvement center, or any gardening shop, you will see this stuff in plastic bags, ranging in size from small pillow to half-bale. If you purchase it you are buying into a destructive practice that goes beyond the destruction of amazingly beautiful landscape. If heritage status helps end that, we are all for it:

World heritage status for Scottish peat bogs could help UK hit net zero goals

Hopes rise that the Flow Country, the world’s largest carbon store, could become first peatland to win the status

Ecologists estimate that while peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth’s land surface, they hold 30% of the carbon stored on land. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Andrew Coupar has crouched down by a small pool, its surface peppered with the small stalks of bogbean. In autumn its dark green oval leaves echo the muted browns, greens and ochres of the surrounding peatland.

In spring, however, the bogbean’s pink-fringed white flowers put on a remarkable display, carpeting the cluster of pools that mirror the blue skies and light clouds above and, along the horizon to west, the mountains of Sutherland. Continue reading

Authentica & Sense Of Place

After completing our work in India and transitioning home to Costa Rica in late 2018, two properties came back to the forefront of my attention. The property above is set on a coffee estate in the Central Valley and the one below is set on a Pacific beachfront property that is 90 minutes from the Central Valley property. I knew both properties during their original construction and opening phases and ever since then believed that these were among the most special Marriott properties in the world.

They were going through renovations that started in 2018 and were to be completed in late 2019. My attention was drawn by a creative new focus on sustainability, the tiniest of examples being this one. Another example was that they invited proposals for how the gift shops in both hotels might be managed differently going forward. We submitted a proposal–with a focus on locally produced and design-forward products–and it was chosen for implementation. The rest is history that I have written about plenty in the last year.

Authentica has started its second year of operation, and Costa Rica has just re-opened its borders to receive international visitors again. These two Marriott properties have transformed operations to ensure maximum safety in response to the global health concerns. Our shops have transformed accordingly, and yet our original intent is as strong as ever: come in and sense the place.

Organikos coffee, our best-selling “taste of place” product, was joined in both shops last week by another way to sense the terrain of Costa Rica’s various regions. Pollen Keepers is a small family business whose bee colonies are placed to capture unique characteristics of a location. One of those is a coffee farm, and the honey produced there is unlike any I have had before. I am still learning the vocabulary for tasting notes for honey, which we have been sampling in recent weeks at home, so will keep it simple: Cafetal is my favorite, so far.

Foodways As Tangible & Intangible Heritage

In the 1960s, the Green Revolution placed a premium on high crop yields over factors such as crop diversity and soil preservation. Photograph: Rupak de Chowdhuri/Reuters

2010-2017, from our base in Kerala, India one of our primary activities was food heritage preservation. And it is a constant theme in these pages. Along the way it became clear that both foodstuffs, the tangible things that are used to make food, and foodways, the intangible knowhow for using foodstuffs to make food, are equally worthy of our attention. Thanks to the Guardian for sharing this:

‘Mind-boggling variety’: the food crusaders preserving India’s heritage

A rich range of native crops and seeds is being nurtured in an effort to halt the country’s rapidly vanishing food diversity

Babita Bhatt left a career in software to launch her own business in natural products grown in the Himalayas. Photograph: Handout

A small army of botanical heritage enthusiasts is spearheading a movement in India for the revival and preservation of the country’s rapidly vanishing food biodiversity by bringing back the rich crop varieties that thrived in the past, but are now on the verge of extinction.

Babita Bhatt, a 43-year-old former software professional, is just one of these crusaders, who are eschewing established careers and fat pay packets to become farmers, activists and entrepreneurs.

Fear of feeding her young daughter foods covered in pesticides was the trigger for Bhatt to move to the hills of Uttarakhand. Trading a steady income for the financial insecurity of an entrepreneur, she launched Himalaya2Home, a self-funded venture, in 2018. Continue reading

Uncommon Response To An Uncommon Ocean Spill

Replica Air Jordans, constructed by the artist Andy Yoder’s from trash gathered on dumpster dives, evoke the Great Sneaker Spill of 1990. Greg Staley

We shared another story years ago about a creative response to an ocean spill, but it was the frequent kind of spill, involving oil. More common in our pages are stories about creative responses to the plague of waste, especially that from plastic. Today’s story is in good company:

If the Shoe Floats

Over the decades, a mass of flotsam from a freighter accident has inspired scientific discovery, urban legend and, now, an art exhibition commemorating the Great Sneaker Spill of 1990.

Mr. Yoder wields a glue gun to create a sneaker replica for an installation that also stands as commentary on environmental destruction. Greg Staley

It seemingly happened so long ago that the event has assumed elements of urban legend — the saga of the Great Sneaker Spill.

Sometimes referred to as the Great Shoe Spill, the tale recounts an event on May 27, 1990, when, during a sudden violent storm in the North Pacific, five shipping containers were swept off the deck of the freighter Hansea Carrier somewhere between Seoul and Seattle.

Of the 40-foot steel boxes that broke loose and crashed into the ocean, one sank to the bottom and four broke open to spill out a stream of contents that included computer monitors, sex toys and 61,280 Nike sneakers destined for America’s basketball courts and city streets.

… cartons from McDonald’s takeout meals … Greg Staley

The incident went on to become a parable of environmental disaster, as well as a red-letter event in the history of sneakerheads. For months, the buoyant flotilla drifted, carried by wind and currents until, in early 1991, beachcombers reported coming upon batches of the sneakers off Vancouver Island in Canada, pushed north on the Davidson Current. That spring, driven southward by opposing breezes, more of them turned up along the coastlines of Washington and Oregon.

… and posters from a David Hockney exhibition. Greg Staley

The Great Sneaker Spill might have gone unremembered had it not been for the enterprising scavengers who washed and resold the flotsam and Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who, alerted to the spill’s existence by his mother, later used it as the basis for a study of little-known currents. Continue reading

Character & Entrepreneurial Conservation

A diadem sifaka, a type of lemur, in northern Madagascar. Erik Vance/The New York Times

Erik Vance, whose work I have not seen in more than three years, caught my attention again this week. Then it was in National Geographic and from my perch in Belize his story had an obvious connection to my location. This story, in the New York Times, is read from a perch in Costa Rica. My perspective, as ever, is influenced by the search for examples of entrepreneurial conservation. I am happy to read about this one full of interesting characters, in a country I have yet to visit, where there is resonance with some of my experience in Costa Rica. Creative people, knowing that the country’s public conservation commitments have their limits, achieve remarkable conservation goals through private reserves that add to the public good. The section describing a small park with big potential could have also been written about Seth’s workplace last year:

In Madagascar, Endangered Lemurs Find a Private Refuge

Climate change is shifting the habitats of endangered species and requiring conservation scientists to think outside traditional park boundaries.

Sambava, Madagascar — Madagascar has always been one of the best places on Earth to study the natural world. Continue reading

Biochar & Regeneration During The Dry Season

This is not the first time I am hearing of it, but this concept is counterintuitive to me because it involves combustion, which I associate with carbon emissions. On our hillside we are working to regenerate quality soil on what once was a fertile, productive coffee farm. When the sun rises over what we planted this year to help prepare the soil for next year’s coffee planting, I have been considering what we need to do differently during the dry season. October is the last month of rainy season, so we are almost there. It is clear that we need all the good ideas we can find in this effort. This seems worthy of consideration:

Loading soil with biochar allows farmers to cut way back on irrigation

At high applications levels, researchers found that biochar can not only soak up a lot of carbon, but also reduce the need for irrigation by almost 40%.

Biochar – the charcoal product used to enrich agricultural soil and trap carbon—may have a hidden commercial benefit for farmers: it could lock moisture in the soil and save on gallons of costly irrigation.

The coarse, black material, made by combusting wood, grass, and other organic materials under low-oxygen conditions, helps to sequester carbon in the soil. Continue reading

What’s In A Name?

Europe’s main farming lobby group says it is “cultural hijacking” to place a vegan burger, right, in the same category as a beef burger. Carsten Koall/EPA, via Shutterstock; Daniel Roland/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since 2011 we have looked far and wide for information as well as inspiration related to our primary interest, entrepreneurial conservation.  Sometimes, instead of inspiration we find its dark counterpart, and the result is exasperation. Reducing consumption of animal protein has been just one topical focus in our pages. We have been inspired by the innovations around meat alternatives.

We know that what’s in a name is important to how we think about a product.  How we should refer to plant-based meat alternatives is one of those cases. Thanks to Isabella Kwai, today we see some potentially exasperating news from a region of the world we normally are inspired by, not least for its regulatory muscle:

E.U. Debates Whether a Veggie Burger Is Really a Burger

The European Parliament is voting on proposals that would ban products without meat from being labeled burgers or sausages, drawing ire from environmentalists and manufacturers.

LONDON — When is a burger not a burger? When it contains no meat, according to a divisive proposed amendment on which the European Parliament is scheduled to vote on Friday, part of a set of measures that would ban products without meat or dairy from using associated terms in their labeling. Continue reading

Marine Ecosystem Restoration Success Stories

Seagrass beds off Virginia’s Eastern Shore went from barren sediment to abundant meadows in 20 years in the world’s largest restoration project. credit: JAY FLEMING

Thanks for Science News for this wonderful example of successful ecosystem restoration.

How planting 70 million eelgrass seeds led to an ecosystem’s rapid recovery

The study is a blueprint for capitalizing on this habitat’s capacity to store carbon

In the world’s largest seagrass restoration project, scientists have observed an ecosystem from birth to full flowering.

As part of a 20-plus-years project, researchers and volunteers spread more than 70 million eelgrass seeds over plots covering more than 200 hectares, just beyond the wide expanses of salt marsh off the southern end of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Long-term monitoring of the restored seagrass beds reveals a remarkably hardy ecosystem that is trapping carbon and nitrogen that would otherwise contribute to global warming and pollution, the team reports October 7 in Science Advances. That success provides a glimmer of hope for the climate and for ecosystems, the researchers say.

The project, led by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy, has now grown to cover 3,612 hectares — and counting — in new seagrass beds. By comparison, the largest such project in Australia aims to restore 10 hectares of seagrass.

The results are “a game changer,” says Carlos Duarte. Continue reading

A Few Attenborough Minutes

When he first appeared in these pages, and each of the dozens of times since then that David Attenborough has returned, it is worth at least a few minutes of attention. Click above to go to the video or below to go to the transcript:

Amid planet’s crisis, filmmaker Sir David Attenborough’s ‘vision for the future’

Filmmaker Sir David Attenborough has been documenting the natural world since the 1950s. In his latest book and film, “A Life on Our Planet,” he offers a grave and alarming assessment about the climate crisis Earth is facing. The 94-year-old Attenborough spoke with William Brangham recently as part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas. Continue reading

Know GEF Through Its New Leader

Mongabay‘s Rhett A. Butler offers an engaging conversation with the new leader of GEF, who we have confidence will lead this institution to the planet’s benefit. His realization at a young age about seasonal differences in bird abundance is a good example of why programs like Celebrate Urban Birds in places where migratory birds come and go are so important. It has been too long since we last sourced from Mongabay, but today we correct that with this recorded interview (click above) and the printed version (click below):

The post-COVID opportunity for the environment: An interview with the GEF’s Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

Tropical forests in places like Costa Rica (pictured) can be an important source of livelihoods by attracting nature-oriented tourists. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay: Congratulations on the new role at the Global Environment Facility.

Rodriguez: Well, I’m very pleased and honored. I’ve been working half my professional life in government and half within the civil society in Costa Rica. I have worked very close to the GEF, including in the early days of the GEF. I was a negotiator for CBD for the Rio convention and also had the fortune to work with the government of Costa Rica in the first implementation of GEF funding in Costa Rica. Those were very interesting times, the mid-1990s.

I’m really delighted that 25 plus years after that, I’m leading this very prestigious organization. I never thought I would have that opportunity, particularly for coming from a developing country, a recipient country. Continue reading

Common Octopus, Uncommon Story

My Octopus Teacher is available on Netflix

I was not avoiding it, exactly, but by night time my attention span diminishes. From a reluctant start at 7:30pm yesterday, assuming I would fall asleep less than half way through, my absorption became total from the first minute and remained so until the end. It was a compelling conclusion to a very long day. Film reviews rarely appear here, but New Scientist gives me good reason to share more than my own opinion:

My Octopus Teacher review: The strange lives of cephalopods up close

In many ways, the octopus is a tough proposition: a soft-bodied mollusc that carries the bulk of its brain in its arms, that can render itself solid without a skeleton or liquid despite its beak, that evolved separately from nearly every other organism on Earth. That otherness is at the heart of our fascination with octopuses: can we even aspire to understand something so foreign? A new Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, follows one man’s attempt. Continue reading

A Sober Consideration Of Fire

The Bobcat Fire burns through the Angeles National Forest in Southern California on September 17. KYLE GRILLOT/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Stephen J. Pyne, more than an expert on fire–if you have heard the term Pyrocene, thank him–gives a primer here worth your time if you want the scary stuff in perspective. Wonky in a powerfully good way, still accessible and clear:

Our Burning Planet: Why We Must Learn to Live with Fire

By suppressing all wildfires and incessantly burning fossil fuels, humans have upset the role that fire has historically played in providing ecological balance. We need to rethink our view of fire and accept its presence by changing how we manage lands and plan our communities.

There is a paradox at the core of Earth’s unraveling firescapes.

The fires are seemingly everywhere, and everywhere more feral. They are burning from the Arctic to the Amazon, from New South Wales to the West Coast. They are visible, and their smoke projects their presence in the form of immense palls well removed from the flames. But equally significant are the fires that aren’t happening.

The Earth is a fire planet, the only one we know. It has held fires as long as plants have lived on land. Removing fire from landscapes that have co-evolved or co-existed with it can be as ruinous as putting fire into landscapes that have no history of it. The fires we don’t see — the fires that should be there and aren’t — are an index of ecological loss, like imposing a drought on a normally lush landscape.

We have too many bad fires — fires that kill people, burn towns, and trash valued landscapes. We have too few good ones — fires that enhance ecological integrity and hold fires within their historic ranges. At the same time, with the incessant burning of fossil fuels, we have too much combustion on the planet overall.

How did fire’s presence on Earth become so deranged? Continue reading

Cambium Carbon’s Reforestation Hubs

When we started this platform for sharing news and experiences related to innovative approaches to conservation, Seth was in Nicaragua and wrote multiple posts on Simplemente Madera  It is odd not to find a more recent post about their One Tree initiative because in early 2019 while sourcing for Authentica we sought out products that supported tree-planting. Today I am reminded of all that from a link I followed to Cambium Carbon in this story:

Courtesy of Cambium Carbon. Cambium Carbon aims to turn cut or fallen urban trees into wood products that can be sold to fund tree-planting efforts. Currently, most trees removed from cities are either chipped for low-grade application or hauled to a landfill at a significant cost.

Reforestation Hubs, ‘Coming Soon’ to a City Near You

Cambium Carbon, an initiative founded by YSE students to combat climate change and revitalize urban communities by reimagining the urban tree lifecycle, has earned a $200,000 Natural Climate Solution Accelerator Grant from The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with The Arbor Day Foundation. Continue reading

Acacia Trees & Anti-Desertification

Credit: Getty

Thanks to the BBC for this:

The ancient trade holding back the Sahara Desert

For millennia, the gum of the acacia tree has been prized for its unusual culinary and medical uses. Now, the trees are part of a continent-wide effort to hold back the Sahara Desert.

In the Malian bush, a scattering of acacia trees grow through the wild grass and shrubs that spread for miles across the semi-arid scrub. Herders graze cattle nearby and local people fetch firewood. The acacias are among the taller and faster-growing trees of this habitat, with old individuals reaching high above the surrounding scrub.

Gum arabic spills out naturally from wounds in the acacia tree, but it can also be extracted by making deliberate incisions into the bark (Credit: Reuters)

This is the Sahel, a savannah that stretches across six countries in mainland West Africa. This dry strip of land between the tropical rainforests to the south, and the Sahara to the north, sees just three months of rain a year. It’s a region that is changing quickly. Climate change has seen the Sahara Desert grow around 100km (62 miles) southward since 1950, and is expected to continue the same trend in the coming decades. Continue reading

Postcards From Costa Rica

In early May I posted a “this I believe” kind of note, linking to an essay about the importance of the US Postal Service. Several months later Organikos launched its roasting and delivery service in the USA, putting that belief to the test, with dozens of coffee parcels going to all corners of the country’s continental borders as well as remote interior places. Flying colors. Thank you, postal carriers. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin and all those after you who have kept the institution moving forward. Other great institutions, having thrived for more than a century, demonstrate that even great ideas sometimes need help. So, in our own little ways, we support the mission. Costa Rica is one of the many places in the world inspired by both the National Park Service of the USA as well as its Postal Service. In recent months Correos de Costa Rica took the precaution of halting mail service to and from the USA. When it is back providing that service, our first little supportive action will be sending postcards to all those in the USA who ordered coffee.