Bananas, Maturity & Gravity

I had the intuition: if I do not harvest these bananas on my schedule, they would do it on their own. And so they did. I came home, looked out the kitchen window, and there was the entire story laid out. Maturity. Gravity pulled them down.

In these two images you can see what maturity means to a banana plant. The bananas are not ripe, but they are heavy enough to pull the entire plant down to the ground.

Normally I would have supported the bunch of bananas with a bamboo pole, then carefully chop the bottom of the trunk so the entire structure slowly makes its way down. Even then, no matter how careful I might be, the structure might come crashing down. And thankfully the bananas are still firm enough that almost no damage is done to them. A few got knocked off, but even those will be fine in a couple weeks when they all start turning yellow. Until then, that entire bunch sits in the dark of a tool shed.

Blacksmithing The Zero Waste Knife

I have mentioned more than once about my brief blacksmithing experience. I have a respect for the profession. I have a new level of respect for this particular blacksmith featured in Matthew Weaver’s article below, so would encourage you to visit his website by clicking the image to the left:

Tim Westley making a zero-waste knife at his forge. Photograph: Xavier D Buendia/XDBPhotography

‘My customers like zero waste’: the blacksmith recycling canisters into cult kitchen knives

Tim Westley takes up chef friend’s challenge to transform laughing gas litter

Discarded nitrous oxide gas canisters. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The little steel bulbs that litter parks, roadsides and city centres – the discarded canisters from Britain’s second favourite drug, laughing gas – cause misery to many communities. But now one blacksmith has found an innovative use for them: turning them into handmade kitchen knives.

The prevalence of the canisters has prompted some councils to impose local bans, while the home secretary is keen to outlaw them nationally. But Tim Westley’s handmade kitchen knives are gaining a cult following among environmentally conscious foodies after being endorsed by chefs committed to low waste. Continue reading

Birds, Habitat & The Value Of Ecosystem Services

Fruit-eating animals spread the seeds of plants in ecosystems around the world. Their decline means plants could have a harder time finding new habitats as the climate changes. Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

From the time we started managing lodges in biodiversity hotspots, bird habitat became an important sub-component of my professional life. Later, when Seth was working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I learned to appreciate a bit more about the ecosystem services birds provide their habitats. I think more frequently about the protection of bird habitats now due to our coffee work,  as well as the conservation benefits that bird watchers might provide to bird habitats.

The importance of the ecosystem services birds provide their habitats will become more obvious as a result of disruptive rising temperatures. Thanks to Lauren Sommer and National Public Radio (USA) for one more way to think about birds’ services as the planet adapts:

To get by in a changing climate, plants need animal poop to carry them to safety

Evan Fricke knows exactly how long it takes, after a bird on the island of Saipan eats a piece of fruit, for it to come out the other end (Answer: as little as 10 minutes).

“There’s always this poop angle to my research,” says Fricke, an ecologist with Rice University. “PhD in bird poop basically.” Continue reading

Too Much Hype About Too Much Stuff

The Economist recently promoted a notion:

Rags to riches – fashion as an asset class HOW DID second-hand clothes become fashion’s hottest buy? Online resale and rental firms are changing the calculus on what it means to buy fashion “as an investment”

Hype? We will see. The “trapped” value of fashion items in our homes might get liberated as discussed, but what about the fundamental trap of fashion?

Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Kenneth P. Pucker shares an important lesson from his time in industry, and kudos to Harvard Business Review for giving him the platform to explain The Myth of Sustainable Fashion:

Few industries tout their sustainability credentials more forcefully than the fashion industry. Products ranging from swimsuits to wedding dresses are marketed as carbon positive, organic, or vegan while yoga mats made from mushrooms and sneakers from sugar cane dot retail shelves. New business models including recycling, resale, rental, reuse, and repair are sold as environmental life savers. Continue reading

A Question Worth Asking, Again And Again

Photograph by Matthew Porter for The Atlantic

Surprising the question needs asking, but after reading HOW BAD ARE PLASTICS, REALLY? you will understand the rhetorical purpose. The author, Rebecca Altman, has written plenty on the topic, and here in the Atlantic her perspective is clear:

They’re harmful to health, environment, and human rights—and now poised to dominate this century as an unchecked cause of climate change.

This is hardly the time to talk about plastics is what I think when Dad, hovering over the waste bin at a post-funeral potluck, waves me over, his gesture discreet but emphatic. He has retrieved from the trash a crystalline plastic cup, with fluted, rigid sides. “Polystyrene,” he grins, inverting the cup to reveal its resin code (a 6 stamped inside the recycling symbol). “But not my kind.” Continue reading

Yakutia’s Outsized Impact

“The problem is, you can’t just turn off, let alone reverse, permafrost thaw,” one scientist said. “It won’t be possible to refreeze the ground and have it go back to how it was.” Photographs by Alexander Gronsky for The New Yorker

Joshua Yaffa reminds me, vividly, that my work in Yakutia 16 years ago was an exercise in futility:

The Great Siberian Thaw

Permafrost contains microbes, mammoths, and twice as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere. What happens when it starts to melt?

Flying over Yakutia, in northeastern Russia, I watched the dark shades of the boreal forest blend with patches of soft, lightly colored grass. Continue reading

Postscript On Leaky

Over the decades, Leakey inspired countless scientists and activists through his books and talks. Photograph by William Campbell / Getty

We do not normally link to obituaries, but since I felt compelled to recently, this one seems a must also. Nearly two years ago we linked to a profile of Richard Leakey and the author of that profile has written a moving postscript:

On the night of January 2nd, I got a text from Paula Kahumbu, the Kenyan conservationist. “Dear friends, sad news,” she wrote. “Richard Leakey just passed away at his home in Kona Baridi.” Leakey, the renowned paleoanthropologist and wildlife conservationist, had been her mentor—a mercurial, controversial advocate for African wildlife, whose tumultuous career was central to Kenya’s history in the past half century. Continue reading

2022 Harvest Is Upon Us

January is harvest time for most edibles growing on our property, mangos being the exception that comes mid-year. Near the top center of the image above there is a cluster of bananas. Roughly a hundred on that bunch. Bananas come in many varieties, I learned while living in India. To my surprise, just in recent months I learned that while banana is a fruit, it is botanically in the berry family. Large herbaceous flowering plants that have served as shade for coffee on this property for most of the last century, just a few feet to the right of those few banana trees are a few coffee trees. Continue reading

Juliet Eilperin’s Sprawling, Soaring Sitka Story

The trunk of the Sitka spruce marked to be cut down.

The soaring, centuries-old Sitka spruce with its blue spray-paint blaze is spared, for now.

A story about a tree, its history intertwined with five centuries of human history, this article earns your time. And it earns respect for the Washington Post, which assigned a star reporter to oversee its climate change coverage.

Juliet Eilperin features this tree’s significance from multiple angles, and accompanied by the stunning photography and video of Salwan Georges, her words are leveraged artfully with images and dramatic arc into a question you want the answer to: This tree has stood here for 500 years. Will it be sold for $17,500? Definitely worth reading on a large monitor rather than a phone screen. It may get you thinking about graduate school:

The Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, Alaska — The Sitka spruce soaring more than 180 feet skyward has stood on this spot on Prince of Wales Island for centuries. While fierce winds have contorted the towering trunks of its neighbors, the spruce’s trunk is ramrod straight. Standing apart from the rest of the canopy, it ascends to the height of a 17-story building.

This tree’s erect bearing — a 1917 publication called the Sitka species “the autocrat of timbers” — is what helps give it such extraordinary commercial value. Musical instrument makers covet its fine grain, as do builders whose clients want old-growth wood that’s increasingly scarce. In a world whose ancient forests have largely disappeared, this grove holds a sliver of what remains. Continue reading

France Liberates Produce From Plastic

From Saturday cucumbers, leeks, carrots and about 30 other fruits and vegetables will no longer be sold in plastic in France. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP

We know that there is too much plastic in our lives and that something must be done about it. Over the weekend, in France, the most obvious thing was done:

That’s a wrap: French plastic packaging ban for fruit and veg begins

Law bans sale of carrots, bananas and other items in plastic as environment groups urge other countries to follow

A law banning plastic packaging for large numbers of fruits and vegetables comes into force in France on New Year’s Day, to end what the government has called the “aberration” of overwrapped carrots, apples and bananas, as environmental campaigners and exasperated shoppers urge other countries to do the same. Continue reading

Legacies & Possible Futures

Toward the end of his life, E. O. Wilson called for setting aside half of the world’s surface as untouchable.Photograph by Steven Senne / AP

When I read the obituary of E. O. Wilson published in the New York Times, written by one of the science writers we link to the most frequently, it was full of surprises–I had not been aware of the many controversies cited.

I was also surprised to see no mention of biophilia, the concept that first drew my attention to the scientist’s work.

Tom Lovejoy spent most of the past forty years trying to preserve the Amazon rain forest.Photograph by Lev Radin / Shutterstock

Then, this morning, I read the tribute by another of our favorite writers, and had a different surprise: we have featured stories referring to conservation biologist Tom Lovejoy only four times previously. It seems a fitting way to start a new year by correcting an old mistake.

Thanks to Elizabeth Kolbert for Honoring the Legacy of E. O. Wilson and Tom Lovejoy:

The two naturalists helped to pioneer the field of conservation biology and remained determinedly hopeful that humanity would make better choices.

Over the weekend, two of the country’s leading naturalists, E. O. Wilson and Tom Lovejoy, died a day apart. Wilson, who was perhaps best known for his work on ants, was a pioneer in the field of conservation biology; Lovejoy was one of the founders of the field. Continue reading

Making Things, Giving Things & Keeping Things

A northern fulmar in flight near Boreray, an uninhabited island in the archipelago of St. Kilda. Photograph by Philip Mugridge / Alamy

Last week I read an essay explaining the allusive power that human-made objects can have. It got me thinking about St. Kilda. Reading four years ago about that place and its people spurred my imagination sufficiently that the following year I committed to a challenge. The challenge was created by the speed of change impacting travel culture, and the tendency of travel retail to homogenize over time.

Things you might see in the Authentica shops

Local artisans all over the world were finding their goods displaced in shops oriented to travelers by things made in faraway factories.

Specifically, the commitment was to support local artisans by creating a venue for selling their goods to travelers. Perhaps utopian is a concept too big to apply to this commitment; anyway, maybe the word quixotic is more apt. Authentica offers human-made things for travelers to take home with them, within the context of a travel-retail complex that operates with very different resources and intent.

We understand why the replicas are made, and why people buy them. We refuse to confuse understanding with acquiescence.

The scoop and the bird clip in the image above, two such things I also wrote about two years ago, are examples of local culturally relevant artifacts that we hope will not be outsourced to a factory in another part of the world. The coffee in that image is another example, with a twist. What I like about coffee as a memento is that it is at the intersection of tangible and intangible. It is quintessentially Costa Rican, but once you enjoy the entire bag you no longer possess that thing. As you consume it, it tells you something about Costa Rica. When it is finished you possess a memory of the coffee, and of Costa Rica.

Full Circle, With Birds

A holiday tree made of recycled wood, displaying ornaments made from recycled other materials

Yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, I posted on themes that are central to our work with Authentica and Organikos. Recycling creatively is a focal point of that work, as is more careful management of natural resources. The tree in the photo above, and the ornaments adorning it are examples tailored for the holiday season. The bottle full of birds in the image to the right is another example, as are the images below.

There was an article I posted a couple weeks ago that has been on my mind constantly, wondering how so much plastic can be generated per person. Which raises the question of what we can do about it, apart from the obvious need to reduce the plastic we each are responsible for generating in our daily lives.

One answer comes from the woman who single-handedly brings plastic waste full circle with her love of birds, for others who love birds. She makes these in a little workshop, and we display them with the same affection with which she crafts them.

She cleans up her community, removing plastic waste. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, metaphorically speaking, she celebrates the part of nature she cares most about with these striking reminders of our need to reduce. And what’s still leftover, re-use. Creatively.

Wooden Pebbles, Stone Soup & Managing Resources

Linda Xiao for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Sophia Pappas.

In yesterday’s post I shared a photo that offers a kind of poetic symmetry to the photo above, which accompanies Gabrielle Hamilton’s column below. Our urn of wooden pebbles is a twist on the more common offering of polished stones for people to take home from their vacation. First, polished stones do not qualify in any way as sustainable–a non-renewable resource mined in another part of the world becomes a pretty shiny thing that has no connection to the place where it is bought, except that it was bought in that place. The wooden pebbles are a recycled and renewable resource that serves as a reminder not only of Costa RIca, but of the wonder of trees.

The essay, and the fable it is drawing from, talks about villagers adding to the pot what they can spare. Our woodworkers add to the urn what they can spare–leftovers from their woodworking–that made me think of the symmetry. And I just noticed that the only other time we featured one of Gabrielle Hamilton’s essays, the same thing happened with photo symmetry:

What Stone Soup Means to a Seasoned Chef

For Gabrielle Hamilton’s final Eat column, she considers what it takes to feed a village.

Everyone here remembers the story of stone soup. It starts with just a pot of water, and it ends with a flavorful, mighty caldron of soup. There is always a stranger — the one who has nothing but a stone — and some manner of village, with villagers who at first refuse the stranger but who then, finally, make their own contribution to the miraculous, tasty, satisfying end. Continue reading

Tamil Nadu, Rice, Identity

In the early days of our posting here south Indian rice was a staple in our meals, and we knew that this now global foodstuff had a long history in other cultures. But it looks like the state neighboring where we lived may have found a clue to how much longer they have had rice in their diet:

An ancient rice bowl complicates the story of civilisation in India

In Tamil Nadu, archaeology is part of a contest over history and identity

Rarely can a spoonful of rice have caused such a stir. When M.K. Stalin, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, addressed the south Indian state’s legislature on September 9th, he celebrated a musty sample of the country’s humble staple. Carbon dating by an American laboratory, he said, had just proved that the rice, found in a small clay offering bowl—itself tucked inside a burial urn outside the village of Sivakalai, near the southernmost tip of India—was some 3,200 years old. This made it the earliest evidence yet found of civilisation in Tamil Nadu. The top duty of his government, the chief minister triumphantly declared, was to establish that the history of India “begins from the landscape of the Tamils”. Continue reading

Gifts That Give

How can you gift in a way that does not generate waste, that reduces waste, or that regenerates ecosystems? Sara has a fun and practical list in her Yale Climate Connections column, which I have linked to below. It got me thinking of what I would add to her list. Yesterday I reached back to a couple of posts from two years ago when we were preparing to open the Authentica shops, mentioning products we carry from artisan groups that recycle heavy plastics, in one case, and wood in the other. We have other products made from recycled materials, but our best selling product is Organikos coffee, all of the proceeds of which are invested in ecosystem regeneration. Laura’s question about gifting toward climate action is one we all should be asking:

ASK SARA

Eco-friendly gifts for every budget in 2021

Holiday cheer that’s good for the planet, too.

Hi Sara!

I’m trying to find a gift for my mother for Christmas, and I like the idea of gifting toward climate action. Might you have recommendations?

Thank you for your time

— Laura

Hi Laura,

Sure thing. Here’s a list of climate-friendly gift ideas for every budget.

A board game, puzzle, houseplant, or other item from your local “Buy Nothing” group (Price: Free)

Why it’s climate-friendly: Manufacturing stuff requires consumption of energy and natural resources, so it’s better for the climate to reuse products rather than buying new. Continue reading

287 Pounds Of Plastic Per Person Each Year?

Plastic and other debris is seen on the beach on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2019. (Caleb Jones/AP)

It is clear to me now, after two years of our two Authentica shops offering products made from recycled plastic (among other recycled materials), we will need to be at this for a long time to make a dent. Of all the amazing capabilities we humans have, our ability to generate plastic waste is among the most remarkable. Our thanks to Tik Root for reporting on this finding:

U.S. is top contributor to plastic waste, report shows

Scientists reveal the U.S. role in the ‘deluge’ of plastic littering the world’s oceans in a congressionally mandated report

The United States ranks as the world’s leading contributor of plastic waste and needs a national strategy to combat the issue, according to a congressionally mandated report released Tuesday. Continue reading

Rehabilitation Of Antitrust Law

Starting seven years ago I have been paying attention to monopoly power mostly in the context of Amazon. One of the clearest articles on the topic focused on a young person’s breakthrough idea. So I was very happy to read about Lina Khan’s Battle to Rein in Big Tech by rehabilitating antitrust law:

As monopolies and other large companies gain increasing control of our daily lives, Khan is Joe Biden’s pick to do something about it.

In the spring of 2011, a recent Williams College graduate named Lina Khan interviewed for a job at the Open Markets Program, in Washington, D.C. Open Markets, which was part of the New America think tank, was dedicated to the study of monopolies and the ways in which concentration in the American economy was suppressing innovation, depressing wages, and fuelling inequality. Continue reading