Is Cruise Travel Evolving In A Way That Is Good For The Planet?

Cruise ship tourism is unfortunately not disappearing as we might have hoped. Are the ships evolving to be more environmentally and socially responsible? Our thanks to Maria Cramer for asking and attempting to answer the question:

How Green is Your Cruise?

As cruise companies head into their busiest season, they say they have ambitious plans to curb greenhouse emissions and find cleaner sources of fuel. But critics say the progress is too slow.

In the Caribbean, many cruise companies have bought islands and turned them into private resorts for the exclusive use of cruise passengers who cavort in enormous wave pools, rush down 135-foot water slides with names like Daredevil’s Peak, and zip-line across wide beaches. Continue reading

Imposing On Pastoral Beauty To Capture Wind’s Power

Pinnacle turbines dot the skyline in Keyser, West Virginia, where, according to Andrew Cosner, a twenty-one-year-old technician, some residents remain hostile to the new wind farm: “They say it ruins the landscape and it’s ugly.”

It is to each of us whether we find the view attractive or not, and there was a time when I found large man-made structures an imposition on pastoral beauty.

Smith stands in the nacelle of one of the turbines just before daybreak.

As time passes I find myself drawn more to such a view as that in the photo above as a signal of progress.  It is not because the view is in a place far away from me– on the mountain ridge above where I live there is a row of such turbines and I am constantly gazing at that horizon. Published in the print edition of the November 28, 2022, issue of the New Yorker, with the headline “Blade Runners,” D.T. Max provides some context, but the photos do the heavy lifting:

THE BLADE RUNNERS POWERING A WIND FARM

In West Virginia, a crew of five watches over twenty-three giant turbines.

The Pinnacle wind-power plant extends for roughly four miles in the northeastern corner of West Virginia. Continue reading

Precision Fermentation’s Implied Potential

Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare/The Guardian

It is the first time we are seeing these two words together, and George Monbiot has this to say about the potential implied:

Embrace what may be the most important green technology ever. It could save us all

Never mind the yuck factor: precision fermentation could produce new staple foods, and end our reliance on farming

So what do we do now? After 27 summits and no effective action, it seems that the real purpose was to keep us talking. If governments were serious about preventing climate breakdown, there would have been no Cops 2-27. The major issues would have been resolved at Cop1, as the ozone depletion crisis was at a single summit in Montreal. Continue reading

Greenhouse By Joost

We have not heard news of Joost Bakker in over a decade, so Max Veenhuyzen’s profile and introduction to the documentary previewed above is most welcome:

‘We can have houses covered with biology, plants, ecosystems and waterfalls’: Greenhouse by Joost documents the green-thinking initiatives of Future Food System. Photograph: Dean Bradley/Madman Entertainment

Mushroom walls and waste-fuelled stoves: inside the self-sufficient home of tomorrow

Joost Bakker believes a house can be more than a place to live: it can be a self-sustaining weapon against the climate crisis. A new Australian documentary explores his bold blueprint

Future Food System is anchored by self-watering garden beds filled with 35 tonnes of soil. Photograph: Earl Carter Images

“The most destructive things we humans do,” says Joost Bakker, “is eat.”

In terms of sentences that grab your attention, the introduction to new Australian documentary Greenhouse by Joost is right up there. Then again, Bakker – a multi-disciplinary designer, no-waste advocate and the film’s eponymous protagonist – has long been something of a provocateur. Continue reading

Community Challenges To Going Solar

Farmer Norm Welker on his land in Starke county, Indiana, where a solar power field is being constructed. Photograph: Taylor Glascock/The Guardian

Our thanks to Oliver Milman, as ever, and the Guardian, as always, for this story from the front lines of getting it done in spite of opposition:

One of Connie Ehrlich’s anti-solar billboards in Winamac, Indiana. Photograph: Taylor Glascock/The Guardian

‘It’s got nasty’: the battle to build the US’s biggest solar power farm

A community turns on itself over the aptly named Mammoth solar project, a planned $1.5bn power field nearly the size of Manhattan

When proposals for the largest solar plant ever conceived for US soil started to gather pace – a plan that involves spearing several million solar panels into the flat farmland of northern Indiana – something in Connie Ehrlich seems to have snapped. Continue reading

Plus De Ce Méfait, S’il Vous Plaît

As an energy crisis looms, Paris officials have taken steps to reduce nighttime lights, as have conservation-minded Parkour practitioners. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

We cannot presume to cheer this type of mischief anywhere else, but considering the origin story of parkour, and the incentives for activism, it seems fitting for the City of Lights:

With Leaps and Bounds, Parkour Athletes Turn Off the Lights in Paris

As an energy crisis looms, nimble young activists are using superhero-like moves to switch off wasteful lights that stores leave on all night.

Kevin Ha extinguishing a store’s lights last month. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Paris— After taking a few steps back to get a running start, Hadj Benhalima dashed toward the building, pushed against its wall with his foot, propelled himself upward and stretched out his arm.

At the peak of his leap, he flipped off a light switch, more than 10 feet off the ground. A click sound rang out, and the bright lights of a nearby barbershop went off instantly.

“Oooh,” his friends cheered, as Mr. Benhalima, a thin 21-year-old dressed all in black, landed back on the sidewalk. It was the second store sign he had turned off on a recent nighttime tour across Paris’s upscale neighborhoods. Many more would follow as he soared up and dropped back down across the city. Continue reading

Reducing Emissions & Living Well

Gauchos at the Pintado wind farm in Corral de Piedra, Uruguay.

Gauchos at the Pintado wind farm in Corral de Piedra, Uruguay. Alessandro Cinque for The New York Times

We normally think of Costa Rica to answer this question, but it is in good company:

No greater challenge faces humanity than reducing emissions without backsliding into preindustrial poverty. One tiny country is leading the way.

Let’s say you live in the typical American household. It doesn’t exist, not in any sense except in a data set, but it’s easy enough to imagine.

“We learn to live with less here,” says a former bank analyst, Ignacio Estrada, who had decided to take a 75 percent pay cut to return home. “And it’s made my life better.”

“We learn to live with less here,” says a former bank analyst, Ignacio Estrada, who had decided to take a 75 percent pay cut to return home. “And it’s made my life better.” Alessandro Cinque for The New York Times

Maybe it’s your aunt’s, or your neighbor’s, or a bit like your own. Since more than half of us live outside big cities, it’s probably in a middle-class suburb, like Fox Lake, north of Chicago.

Uruguay’s national director of energy, Ramón Méndez, at home in Montevideo.

Uruguay’s national director of energy, Ramón Méndez, at home in Montevideo. Alessandro Cinque for The New York Times

You picked it because it’s affordable and not a terrible commute to your job. Your house is about 2,200 square feet — a split-level ranch, perhaps. You’re in your mid-30s and just welcomed your first child. Together with your partner you make about $70,000 a year, some of which goes toward the 11,000 kilowatts of electricity and 37,000 cubic feet of natural gas you use to heat the house, play video games and dry your clothes. You take six or seven plane flights a year, to visit your mom after her surgery or attend a conference, and drive about 25,000 miles, most of which you barely register anymore, as you listen to Joe Rogan or Bad Bunny. Maybe twice a month you stop at Target and pick up six or seven things: double-sided tape, an extra toothbrush, an inflatable mattress. Continue reading

Pushing Decarbonizing Technology Via Industrial Policy

The NLMK mill in Portage, Indiana, which uses a furnace powered by electricity and produces steel from recycled scrap. SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360:

Beyond Biden’s Climate Plan, a New Industrial Revolution Is Needed

The new U.S. climate plan is historic and will pump billions of dollars into advancing the transition away from fossil fuels. But a more far-reaching, innovative approach is needed to push forward the radically new technologies that will be required to decarbonize the economy.

Workers guide a hydrogen-powered truck, part of Anglo American Plc’s NuGen carbon-neutral project, during a moving demonstration at the Anglo American Platinum Ltd. Mogalakwena platinum mine in Mogalakwena, South Africa, on Friday, May 6, 2022. Anglo American unveiled the worlds biggest green-hydrogen powered truck at a platinum mine in northeast South Africa where it aims to replace a fleet of 40 diesel-fueled vehicles that each use about a million liters of the fossil fuel every year. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

For all the great news in the Biden administration’s massive new climate spending plan, the hardest work of transforming the economy to stop global warming lies ahead. That’s because nearly all the money in the $369 billion plan will be spent on technologies that American companies already know how to deploy, such as solar farms, making buildings more efficient, and developing networks of electric vehicle charging systems.

Doing a lot more of the same will undoubtedly bring down emissions faster. But deep decarbonization requires a transformation of the American economy that will demand a much more active effort to push the technological frontier and build new industries so emissions can be driven to zero. Continue reading

Essential Lithium & Essential Water

Brine pools at the Soquimich lithium mine on a salt flat in northern Chile. IVAN ALVARADO / REUTERS VIA ALAMY

On my one visit to the Atacama desert in 2009 I had a feeling unlike any I had previously experienced, and it was attributed to the lithium. There is so much, you can feel it. And to put it simply, it feels good. I knew it was being mined, but I assumed it was primarily for pharmaceutical use; no clue it would become so important for batteries. And this set up a sort of zero-sum game, which Fred Pearce helps to understand:

The Lithium Triangle region. YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Why the Rush to Mine Lithium Could Dry Up the High Andes

The demand for lithium for EV batteries is driving a mining boom in an arid Andes region of Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, home to half the world’s reserves. Hydrologists are warning the mines could drain vital ecosystems and deprive Indigenous communities of precious water.

What environmental price should the world be willing to pay for the metals needed to switch to electric vehicles? The question is being asked urgently in South America where there are growing fears that what is good for the global climate may be a disaster for some of the world’s rarest and most precious ecosystems — salt flats, wetlands, grazing pastures, and flamingo lakes high in the Andean mountains. Continue reading

Smart Cities, Japan Edition

A delivery robot makes its rounds at Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town in Japan.Credit: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/Alamy

Frustrated but determined leadership on environmental challenges facing urban constituencies is worthy of our attention and even admiration, even if “smart cities” can be problematic terminology. Nature magazine offers this snapshot from Japan:

Houses equipped with solar panels in Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town.Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty

Why Japan is building smart cities from scratch

Purpose-built sustainable communities can boost energy efficiency and support an ageing population.

By 2050, nearly 7 out of 10 people in the world will live in cities, up from just over half in 2020. Urbanization is nothing new, but an effort is under way across many high-income countries to make their cities smarter, using data, instrumentation and more efficient resource management. Continue reading

England’s Green And Pleasant Land

Solar farm in Wroughton, England. Planning permission for 23 solar farms has been refused across England, Wales and Scotland between January 2021 and July 2022. Photograph: Chris Gorman/Getty Images

Nature gets disrupted even by the most sensitively planned green solutions. Here is a parallel story to yesterday’s, with solar replacing wind and England replacing Western USA, illustrating the challenges facing renewable energy:

Exclusive: Projects which would have cut annual electricity bills by £100m turned down

Solar farms are being refused planning permission in Great Britain at the highest rate in five years, analysis has found, with projects which would have cut £100m off annual electricity bills turned down in the past 18 months.

Continue reading

Western Wind Power’s Impacts

Pads have been cleared in preparation for massive wind turbines at Overland Trail Ranch. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Wind power is part of our future. Full stop. But it is worth thinking about how the infrastructure for that power will change places of vast beauty and tradition.

A worker herds cattle at Overland Trail Ranch as a snowstorm moves in. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

This article by Sammy Roth, with photography by Robert Gauthier, is a worthy thought piece on what we gain, what we give up, and who decides how and where wind energy comes to town:

This power line could save California — and forever change the American West

PacifiCorp’s Ekola Flats wind farm has 63 turbines, most of them rated at 4.3 megawatts — almost six times as much power as some of the old steel-lattice wind towers in the California desert outside Palm Springs. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

I know the wind turbine blades aren’t going to kill me. At least, I’m pretty sure.

No matter how many times I watch the slender arms swoop down toward me — packing as much punch as 20 Ford F-150 pickup trucks — it’s hard to shake the feeling they’re going to knock me off my feet. They sweep within a few dozen feet of the ground before launching back toward the heavens, reaching nearly 500 feet above my head — higher than the highest redwood.

They’re eerily quiet, emitting only a low hum. But in the howling wind, the tips could be barreling past at 183 mph. Continue reading

Ever-Improving Solar Technologies & Techniques

Sheep graze alongside a solar array in Dubbo, Australia. JANIE BARRETT / THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD VIA GETTY IMAGES

Solar power, one of the renewables with the greatest promise, continues to improve:

A solar array in Madera County, California, with panels placed side-by-side on the ground. ERTHOS

More Energy on Less Land: The Drive to Shrink Solar’s Footprint

With the push for renewables leading to land-use conflicts, building highly efficient utility-scale solar farms on ever-smaller tracts of land has become a top priority. New approaches range from installing PV arrays that take up less space to growing crops between rows of panels.

Farmers grow hay between solar fences in Donaueschingen, Germany. NEXT2SUN

From the ground, the new solar farm shimmers like a mirage oasis on a hot summer day. Instead of row after slanting row of shiny panels stretching taller than corn, this array, mounted directly on the earth, lies flat as water. Continue reading

Air Conditioning 2.0

The new mechanism (pictured) could replace traditional vapor-compression cooling technology, which has remained largely unchanged since the early 20th century.

Oddly, we have only mentioned air conditioning twice before in our pages since 2011. So much of the human population is in need of it, and its carbon footprint is so problematic, it presents a significant challenge to efforts to mitigate climate change. Here is reason to mention it again:

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jarad Mason (left) and co-author Jinyoung Seo have developed a new class of solid-state refrigerants that could enable energy-efficient and emission-free cooling. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Keeping cool without warming the planet

A summer dilemma worthy of Solomon: how to stay cool in days of high heat and humidity without turning to traditional air conditioning, which consumes vast amounts of electricity and emits potent climate-changing greenhouse gases.

The answer potentially involves a new class of solid-state refrigerants that could enable energy-efficient and emission-free cooling. Continue reading

Net Zero’s Three Major Flaws

The flaws of Net Zero campaigns have been linked to several times in our pages. So have some of the inspirational yet problematic proposals like tree-planting initiatives and direct air capture. I recommend taking five minutes to read and view this to get a clearer view on the three major flaws with the latest buzzwords:

New Climate Promises, Same Old Global Warming

In what seems like a rapid shift of gears, corporations are finally jumping into action on climate change. Continue reading

Agrivoltaics Advancing

Solar panels on Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Mass. Cattle will graze below the panels, which rise to 14 feet above the ground. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The concept of agrivoltaics has been an occasional topic in our pages over the years, most recently as we have prepared to plant thousands of coffee saplings. Ellen Rosen focuses our attention on how the advances in technology, and entrepreneurship in this space, are addressing the challenges:

Can Dual-Use Solar Panels Provide Power and Share Space With Crops?

Companies like BlueWave are betting on it. But the technology has its critics.

Mr. Knowlton preparing the soil between the panels before he plants butternut squash and lettuce. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

In its 150-year history, Paul Knowlton’s farm in Grafton, Mass., has produced vegetables, dairy products and, most recently, hay. The evolution of the farm’s use turned on changing markets and a variable climate. Recently, however, Mr. Knowlton added a new type of cash crop: solar power. Continue reading

Two Wheels Good, The People’s Nag

The historian Jill Lepore has only been linked to twice before in our posts. Not more, because her topical variety is constantly beyond the scope of topics we focus on.

But her most recent essay is on topic for us. Bicycles might have been the invention that kept us part way out of the climate crisis, but then came the car.

She uses the publication of the book to the right as a launch pad for an excellent history of the bicycle, combined with personal history:

Bicycles Have Evolved. Have We?

From the velocipede to the ten-speed, biking innovations brought riders freedom. But in a world built for cars, life behind handlebars is both charmed and dangerous.

My first bicycle was not, in fact, a bicycle. I rode it in 1968, when I was two years old and as tubby as a bear cub. It had four wheels, not two, and no pedals: strictly speaking, it was a scooter. But Playskool called it a Tyke Bike, so I say it qualifies, and aside from the matte-black, aluminum-alloy number that I’ve got now, which is called (by the manufacturer dead seriously, and by me aspirationally) the Bad Boy, the Tyke Bike may be the swankiest bicycle I’ve ever ridden. Continue reading

Adaptation Was Better Than Doing Nothing, But Nowhere Near Good Enough

Katharine Hayhoe warns that if we continue emitting greenhouse gases no adaptation will be possible. Photograph: Courtesy of Dr Katharine Hayhoe

We have been promoting adaptation for about as long as we have been posting here.  Fiona Harvey the Guardian’s Environment correspondent, interviews a scientist who will not soft peddle how far gone we are from those options:

We cannot adapt our way out of climate crisis, warns leading scientist

Katharine Hayhoe says the world is heading for dangers people have not seen in 10,000 years of civilisation

The world cannot adapt its way out of the climate crisis, and counting on adaptation to limit damage is no substitute for urgently cutting greenhouse gases, a leading climate scientist has warned. 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