When Is Organic The Worst Option?

Some 28% of the world’s land is used for grazing. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

We favor organic, for our coffee, for just about everything, almost always. And yet George Monbiot offers a fully obvious answer to the counterintuitive question in the title:

The most damaging farm products? Organic, pasture-fed beef and lamb

You may be amazed by that answer, but the area of land used for grazing is vast compared with the meat and milk produced Continue reading

Good Journalism, Excellent Environmental Coverage

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. A white ibis flies over the Everglades, where many bird species nest each year. Restoration efforts in Florida’s “river of grass” have begun to show signs of progress.

The CS Monitor was the newspaper delivered to our home when I was growing up. Lucky me. These days it still offers good journalism, but is no longer a paper. They made the switch to digital-only in 2008. In earlier years of my monitoring dozens of news sources for this platform it was the source of numerous stories of environmental interest in our pages. But in the last few years, for no particular reason, I failed to monitor their website for stories. And then today, this:

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. Birds look like white flecks from the air.

‘River of Grass’: Inside the quest to restore the Everglades

Richard Mertens Special contributor

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff. Three eggs sit in a nest in the Everglades.

Eight hundred feet up, the helicopter banks hard to the left. The horizon disappears. Mark Cook, an avian biologist, peers out his side window at a small irregular patch of water below. It’s hardly distinguishable from innumerable other patches that lie in every direction, dark and shining amid a ragged expanse of brown marsh grass and green tree islands. 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

Desalination’s Discontents

The commissioner of the panel said: ‘The ocean is under attack … I cannot say in good conscience that this amount of damage is OK.’ Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

Desalination, which we celebrated multiple times over the years, might not be all as good we thought it was:

Joy for environmentalists as California blocks bid for $1.4bn desalination plant

Poseidon Water sought to turn seawater into drinking water but activists said plan would devastate ecosystem on Pacific coast

California coastal panel on Thursday rejected a longstanding proposal to build a $1.4bn seawater desalination plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water as the state grapples with persistent drought that is expected to worsen in coming years with climate change. Continue reading

The Effects Of Fire Suppression

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

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

Bringing Back Fire: How Burning Can Help Restore Eastern Lands

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

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

Lawns Gone, Good Riddance

Jaime Gonzalez of Par 3 Landscape and Maintenance removed grass at a condominium complex in Las Vegas. The lawn is considered “nonfunctional” under a new state law.

In case you have been to the city, or even just heard about how water is flaunted as a key attraction, and wondered how they can justify such use of a limited resource, then Is That an Outlaw Lawn? Las Vegas Has a New Approach to Saving Water may be worth a few minutes of your time. We recently shared news of a voluntary initiative to reconsider lawns for reasons entirely different from those in the story below. Henry Fountain‘s text accompanied by Joe Buglewicz’s photos, tells the story of Las Vegas lawns, where water resources are so limited, this seems a long time coming:

Mr. Donnarumma documented water running off a sidewalk into the curb from sprinkler overspray.

With drought and growth taking a toll on the Colorado River, the source of 90 percent of the region’s water, a new law mandates the removal of turf, patch by patch.

LAS VEGAS — It was a perfectly decent patch of lawn, several hundred square feet of grass in a condominium community on this city’s western edge. But Jaime Gonzalez, a worker with a local landscaping firm, had a job to do. Continue reading

Stewart Brand In Perspective

Stewart Brand Ted Streshinsky/Getty Images

He has been mentioned in our pages three times before today. Now, on the fourth occasion, it is about Stewart Brand’s Long, Strange Trip:

In 1966, Stewart Brand was an impresario of Bay Area counterculture. As the host of an extravaganza of music and psychedelic simulation called the Trips Festival, he was, according to John Markoff’s “Whole Earth,” “shirtless, with a large Indian pendant around his neck … and wearing a black top hat capped with a prominent feather.” Four decades later, Brand had become a business consultant. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Forests

LET TREES
GROW
PROTECT THE CLIMATE

Last week’s epic essay by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker was followed up by his weekly newsletter, in which he mentions the organization above. Visit and see what they are doing. And the newsletter is a useful footnote to the essay:

…It argues that the time has come for us to end—after 200,000 years—the central place of combustion in human affairs, and rely instead on the fact there’s a flaming ball of gas hanging 93 million miles away in the sky. I won’t repeat the argument here, but I do want to extend it a little. Continue reading

The Force Of Law, On Top Of Information & Protest

A protest in Marseille against the French supermarket chain Groupe Casino for allegedly selling meat products linked to deforestation. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty

What can we do when commercial interests damage our collective future? The identification of and protest against companies doing business in ways that cause environmental destruction are two important forces, but the force of law is another. Thanks to the Guardian for its ongoing coverage of these:

Legal eagles: how climate litigation is shaping ambitious cases for nature

Plans for an airport in the Tagus estuary have failed to take into account its impact on the wetlands, lawyers argue. Photograph: Handout

Environmental lawsuits are nothing new but now lawyers are turning their attention to cases that address the loss of biodiversity

The Tagus estuary near Lisbon is Portugal’s largest wetland, a vital habitat and stopover for tens of thousands of migratory birds, including flamingos, black-tailed godwits and glossy ibis. Continue reading

Big Win On Climate, Says McKibben

Early offshore action in Texas. the rigs are bigger now—so big that a federal court found yesterday that they’re endangering the climate.

His first book was an early harbinger that we wish had changed the world. Now, decades later, his newsletter is worth subscribing to. When Bill McKibben says something has gone right, we cannot wait to read it:

Something went right!?

Through no fault of its own, Biden’s team gets a big win on climate

Last summer the Biden administration granted the largest set of offshore oil leases in American history. The ironies abounded—Biden had insisted during his campaign that he would not be doing this (“And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” he’d explained during the New Hampshire primary); it was the Interior Department that officially sold the leases, headed by a secretary, Deb Haaland, that environmentalists had fought like crazy to get confirmed. 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

Costa Rica, Never Old

A tapir in Braulio Carrillo national park, near San José. Costa Rica’s policy of paying citizens to protect and restore ecosystems is credited with reversing deforestation rates, which threaten the species. Photograph: Michiel van Noppen/2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The stories we use the title Really to highlight are among the heavies. Too much malfeasance, too often. Reading stories about Costa Rica‘s remarkable achievements related to the environment never gets old:

Billionaires, princes and prime ministers are among those keen to learn from the Central American country, which has long put nature at the heart of its policies

If there had been a popularity contest at Cop26, the Costa Rican president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, would have been a clear winner. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeff Bezos, Boris Johnson and Prince William all wanted to speak with the leader of the tiny Central American country, eager to bask in its green glow. Continue reading

The Nutmeg’s Curse, Reviewed

The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis
by Amitav Ghosh
Hachette
352pp
Published October 2021
ISBN: 9781529369458

Amitav Ghosh, appearing in our pages only once before, has a new book. The title of this review of the book, A Dazzling Synthesis, says plenty, as does the endorsement from Naomi Klein:

We have been aware for centuries that we are responsible for the earth’s denudation: its ‘cold staring spaces’, as English writer John Evelyn called them in 1706, mourning the trees chopped down on his estate.  Around a hundred years later, the Prussian explorer Alexander Von Humboldt worried over ‘mankind’s mischief’, conjecturing that if humans ever ventured into outer space, they would carry with them a tendency to leave everything ravaged and barren.  (The closer they resembled man, he also observed, ‘the sadder monkeys look’).  ‘Are the green fields gone?’ asked the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published fifty years after Von Humboldt’s 1801 diary, as he watched his fellow Manhattanites staring dreamily out to sea.  Continue reading

David Attenborough’s Green Planet

Mike Gunton, creative director of the BBC Natural History Unit and a long-time collaborator with David Attenborough.PHOTOGRAPH: BENEDICT REDGROVE

David Attenborough has been a frequent feature in our pages over the years. Each conversation with him repeats something we already knew but shares something we had not previously known:

David Attenborough’s Unending Mission to Save Our Planet

“We tend to think we are the be all and end all—but we’re not. The sooner we can realize that the natural world goes its way, not our way, the better.”

David Attenborough’s Green Planet is his latest series in a career that began in the 1950s and is as notable for its variety of firsts—pioneering 16-mm film in TV; first to film a Komodo dragon; first to use drone cameras—as it is for his long-standing commitment to bringing wildlife and environmental issues into the homes of viewers around the world. PHOTOGRAPH: NADAV KANDER

WE MAKE LOTS of programs about natural history, but the basis of all life is plants.” Sir David Attenborough is at Kew Gardens on a cloudy, overcast August day waiting to deliver his final piece to camera for his latest natural history epic, The Green Planet. Planes roar overhead, constantly interrupting filming, and he keeps putting his jacket on during pauses. “We ignore them because they don’t seem to do much, but they can be very vicious things,” he says. “Plants throttle one another, you know—they can move very fast, have all sorts of strange techniques to make sure that they can disperse themselves over a whole continent, have many ways of meeting so they can fertilize one another and we never actually see it happening.” He smiles. “But now we can.” 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

More Trees Now

A hazel sapling (Corylus avellana) in the ditches of the tree hub at Amsterdamse Bos. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

The trillion trees concept, which inspires but has had its share of legitimate questions, has a scrappy cousin with a novel approach:

‘Every tree counts’: Dutch come up with cunning way to create forests for free

More Trees Now aims to give away 1m unwanted saplings to farmers and councils with hope idea will spread across Europ

Hanneke van Ormondt saves a sapling at the tree hub in Amsterdamse Bos, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

In a clearing in the Amsterdamse Bos, a forest on the outskirts of the Dutch capital, is a “tree hub” where hundreds of saplings, among them hazelnut, sweet cherry, field maple, beech, chestnut and ash, are organised by type.

The idea behind it is simple: every day unwanted tree saplings were being cleared and thrown away when those young trees could be carefully collected and transplanted to where they are wanted. Continue reading

BioInvention Is The Thing

Recycling Is Not Sufficient

We just attended an event that has been held each recent (non-pandemic) year in November, in Spanish called ExpoPYME. Small and medium sized companies are invited to show their products, and we like the messaging that this artisan had on a couple t-shirts.

Take Care Of The Environment

BioInventate is not an actual word in Spanish, yet. But if this campaign catches on it will be because more and more people are aware of the need to invent solutions to ecological problems.

What Are You Willing To Do To Protect The Environment?

ILLUSTRATION: PABLO HURTADO DE MENDOZA

Elizabeth Flock has written the most unusual article I have ever read published by The Economist (in this case its 1843 magazine, which offers longform stories). The question in the title of her article below gives the reader permission to draw their own conclusion on the ethics of destruction of private property in the interest of environmental justice. It is the second time I have been surprised in such a way (this conversation was even more surprising since it was the first time a mainstream publication raised such a question). This article poses the question in the context of a very human story, well-told:

Two environmentalists sabotaged an oil pipeline in America. Are they terrorists or heroes?

As the devastating effects of climate change became impossible to ignore, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya took matters into their own hands

ILLUSTRATION: PABLO HURTADO DE MENDOZA

When Jessica Reznicek walked into a courtroom in Des Moines, Iowa, last June, her sun-weathered face was the only clue that she’d lived rough: that she’d camped at the edge of an oil-pipeline construction site for months; that she’d camped night after night all over the country when she and Ruby Montoya, her co-defendant, were on the run; that she’d camped simply because, as far back as she could remember, she loved being in nature.

Reznicek, dressed in a black trouser suit and white blouse with her blonde hair hanging neatly, hoped that the federal judge deciding her sentence might show her some sympathy (Montoya was due to be sentenced later in the summer). Continue reading

Beware of LEAF’s Possible Exclusions

Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always:

A Big New Forest Initiative Sparks Concerns of a ‘Carbon Heist’

Major funding to finance forest conservation projects is set to be announced at the UN climate summit next week. But some environmentalists contend the LEAF program could exclude the Indigenous people who have long protected the forests that the initiative aims to save.

Indigenous lands on the western end Brazilian Amazon have seen far less deforestation than surrounding areas. WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE

After a decade of disappointing failures, UN-backed schemes to fight climate change by capturing carbon in the world’s forests are set for a comeback. Big new funding will be announced at next week’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland that would deliver billions of dollars in private finance for conservation projects in tropical forests, with governments and companies being able to use the carbon offsets from those projects to achieve their net-zero emissions pledges.

But concerns are growing that these new mega-offset projects will happen at the expense of forest communities. Continue reading