Farming A Healthier Diet

Our thanks to Brent Loken for summarizing some the possibilities of better farming for a healthier diet:

About 10,000 years ago, humans began to farm. This agricultural revolution was a turning point in our history and enabled the existence of civilization. Today, nearly 40 percent of our planet is farmland. Spread all over the world, these lands are the pieces to a global puzzle we’re all facing: in the future, how can we feed every member of a growing population a healthy diet?

Prospects For Green Hydrogen

Green hydrogen can be stored in a liquid form. WOLFGANG KUMM/PICTURE-ALLIANCE/DPA/AP IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360, as always, for news on innovative uses of water related to green energy:

Green Hydrogen: Could It Be Key to a Carbon-Free Economy?

Green hydrogen, which uses renewable energy to produce hydrogen from water, is taking off around the globe. Its boosters say the fuel could play an important role in decarbonizing hard-to-electrify sectors of the economy, such as long-haul trucking, aviation, and heavy manufacturing.

Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, making it a CO2-free source of fuel. SGN

Saudi Arabia is constructing a futuristic city in the desert on the Red Sea called Neom. The $500 billion city — complete with flying taxis and robotic domestic help — is being built from scratch and will be home to a million people. And what energy product will be used both to power this city and sell to the world? Not oil. The Saudis are going big on something called green hydrogen — a carbon-free fuel made from water by using renewably produced electricity to split hydrogen molecules from oxygen molecules. 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

If You Have IKEA Stuff, Note This

I am not a fan of IKEA. That said, I shopped there once, as a younger parent. There seemed no other choice at the time, and I did not regret it until I became more acutely conscious of the perils posed by this business model. Thanks to Olivia Rosane at EcoWatch for sharing this story, which I missed in the Guardian because I scan the Environment section and usually skip the Business section (note to self):

IKEA to Buy Back Used Furniture This Black Friday in 27 Countries

IKEA created the world’s longest outdoor bookcase on Bondi Beach, Australia to celebrate its 30th birthday and promote literacy on Jan. 31, 2010. James D. Morgan / Contributor / Getty Images News

Swedish furniture giant IKEA has a plan to make this year’s Black Friday a little greener.

As part of its bid to become more sustainable, the store will allow customers to sell back their used furniture for up to half of its original price.

Sustainability is the defining issue of our time and IKEA is committed to being part of the solution to promote sustainable consumption and combat climate change,” UK and Ireland IKEA retail manager Peter Jelkeby told The Guardian. 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

Milo, Mushroom Clubs & Mylo

Mylo, a material made from mycelium, in natural and black. Bolt Threads

Milo’s teen years convinced me of the wonders of fungi. The Mushroom Club of Georgia was in the right place at the right time for him to convert intense curiosity into something more powerful. On another day, more on what he has done with that in the decade since. For now a bit of thanks. We have had the privilege of hosting members of that Club in our home in Costa Rica, and intend to do so again now that travel restrictions have eased. This post is an overdue shout out to that Club and others like it. More kids in those clubs would be a good thing. Meanwhile, nice to see these folks making news again. It helps persuade me that fashion is of greater value than I have given it credit for up to now:

Fungus May Be Fall’s Hottest Fashion Trend

A surprising group of fashion rivals including Stella McCartney and Lululemon are joining forces to back Mylo, a new mushroom leather.

Bolt Threads mycelium mats in the grow facility. Bolt Threads

It may be fashion week in Paris, with showgoers in face coverings parsing runway looks from the latest designer ready-to-wear collections, but several thousand miles away from the French capital, out of the dank, dark belly of an industrial hangar, a potentially more momentous industry trend is … growing.

Mushroom leather might not sound stylish. But Bolt Threads, a start-up that specializes in developing next-generation fibers inspired by nature, is one of a growing number of companies convinced that the material is a viable replacement — in both form and function — for animal-sourced and synthetic skins. Continue reading

Upcycled Foods, Circa Late 2020

The first time I saw upcycling in action, I did not know the word. It became part of my vocabulary in 2012. And then I started seeing it more frequently, but only years later before I would see it in relation to food. Now it is more mainstream, but this PBS news segment shocked me anyway, with the revelation of how much waste there is in the production of tofu. In my experience growing up in the USA, tofu was one of the first “green foods” on the market. Little did we know. Shock is sometimes followed by awe. Case in point: Renewal Mill is providing solutions to tofu production waste and other forms of food waste that seem obvious once you see them do it. But first, someone had to do it. I have not tasted their products yet but I am confident I would savor it on multiple dimensions.

Paint Color: More Than An Aesthetic Choice

Image: Tyros.andi/Wikimedia Commons

Wind is a formidable renewable energy option, but the impacts on wildlife have long been discussed. It’s heartening that such a simple solution as paint has the potential to so drastically reduce the dangers to birds and bats.

A simple paint job can save birds from wind turbines

A small study in Norway showed that painting one blade of a wind turbine black reduced bird mortality by over 70%.

Wind energy is one of the world’s most popular renewables. It’s also one of the most promising—some calculations suggest that strategically placed wind turbines could conceivably power the entire planet. As more turbines go up worldwide, they’ll help us reduce pollution, water use and carbon emissions, along with the environmental degradation, habitat loss and human health risks that come with fracking and oil extraction.

But there are some who don’t benefit quite as much: flying animals. Each year, turbine blades kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats. As wind power becomes more prevalent, this number may rise into the millions—although it’s important to remember that other power generation methods likely kill far more birds than wind farms do.

This concern has led to a number of proposed interventions, from turning off wind farms during migrations to installing special whistles only bats can hear. A new study presents a relatively low-cost, set-it-and-forget-it option: just paint one of the turbine blades black.

Continue reading

Scaling The Urban Farm, In Paris

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Nature Urbaine. Photograph: Magali Delporte/The Guardian

The future of food: inside the world’s largest urban farm – built on a rooftop

In Paris, urban farmers are trying a soil-free approach to agriculture that uses less space and fewer resources. Could it help cities face the threats to our food supplies?

Thanks to the Guardian for keeping stories like this  coming:

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Urban farming on a Parisian rooftop. Photograph: Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

On top of a striking new exhibition hall in the southern 15th arrondissement of Paris, the world’s largest urban rooftop farm has started to bear fruit. Strawberries, to be precise: small, intensely flavoured and resplendently red.

They sprout abundantly from cream-coloured plastic columns. Pluck one out to peer inside and you see the columns are completely hollow, the roots of dozens of strawberry plants dangling into thin air.

From identical vertical columns nearby burst row upon row of lettuces; near those are aromatic basil, sage and peppermint. Opposite, in narrow, horizontal trays packed not with soil but coco coir (coconut fibre), grow heirloom and cherry tomatoes, shiny aubergines and brightly coloured chards. Continue reading

Bureo & Tin Shed Ventures

tsv-main-logoBureo is news to us, and we like good news. We are always on the lookout for fellow travelers, and while Tin Shed Ventures is by no means new it is news to us. And newsworthy based on the partners they have chosen:

Tin Shed Ventures is Patagonia’s corporate venture capital fund, which invests in start-ups that offer solutions to the environmental crisis. Originally launched as $20 Million and Change in May 2013, Tin Shed Ventures partners with businesses focused on building renewable energy infrastructure, practicing regenerative organic agriculture, conserving water, diverting waste and creating sustainable materials. Continue reading

Looking Again At Tegucigalpa, Seeing Why Place Matters

Starting in 1997 I got to know the entire country of Honduras over two years while working on a sustainable tourism development project for the government. I spent more time in Tegucigalpa than anywhere else because my monthly meetings with the Ministry of Tourism were held there. While poverty was visible, the city had a charm, unique in Central America, based on its particular history. At the time I also had many students from Honduras, most from Tegucigalpa, so it was more than a workplace for me. When hurricane Mitch descended on Central America in 1998, nowhere was more devastated than Tegucigalpa; by the time my project ended in 1999 I could not picture how or if the city would recover. I have not been back since, but continued to wonder. Nando Castillo has given me part of the answer, and I thank him for the clarity of his presentation on Medium, which I recommend taking five minutes to read:

Why Place Matters, Part I.

Can our cities evolve into the places we truly need?

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Image: Fuad Azzad Ham

At Raíz Capital our mission is sustainable urban revitalization. Our vision is for Tegucigalpa, a community with a neglected urban core, to become the creative capital of Central America and regain its glory as a prosperous city. We are still a ways from realizing it, but this is the story of how we found that vision and began to make it come true. Continue reading

Plants To Plastic To Progress

A mound of plastic bottles at a recycling plant near Bangkok in Thailand. Around 300 million tonnes of plastic is made every year and most of it is not recycled. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

We’re always happy to give credit when due. While beer isn’t the first beverage that comes to mind when thinking about the scourge of plastics in the world, bottled soda and water certainly are. So it’s heartening to hear that a company like Coca-Cola, which has contributed to the proliferation of the world’s plastic problem, is backing a bioplastic project that could help to control it.

What To Do With Expired Trees

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Dead trees in a California forest in August 2016. U.S. FOREST SERVICE

It sounds like the inverse of rewilding’s restorative approach, when there is a large patch of expired trees; decisions must be made. Thanks to Jane Braxton Little for laying out the questions:

In California, A Push Grows to Turn Dead Trees into Biomass Energy

As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests and reduce CO2 emissions.

Jonathan Kusel owns three pickups and a 45-foot truck for hauling woodchip bins. He operates a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant that burns dead trees, and he runs a crew marking trees for loggers working in national forests. Those are a lot of blue-collar credentials for a University of California, Berkeley PhD sociologist known for his documentation of how the decline of the timber industry affects rural communities. Continue reading

Crisis Inspired Pivots

The Strade Aperte plan includes temporary cycle lanes and 30kph speed limits. Photograph: Stefano De Grandis/REX/Shutterstock

Looking for silver linings during the current times isn’t always easy, but reviewing how cities strategize over plans to open economies while keeping the public safe is a possible place to start. (It can also be a source of discouragement, so we’re glad to highlight the enlightened…)

In Milan the concept of pivoting toward carbon-free commuting within the city was a far-reaching goal for a future decade. The current crisis has helped to create a thought shift toward action now.

Seriously working on solutions to both the health crisis and climate crisis together could be a silver lining, indeed.

Milan announces ambitious scheme to reduce car use after lockdown

Milan is to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe’s most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the nationwide lockdown, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport.

The city has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

The Strade Aperte plan, announced on Tuesday, includes low-cost temporary cycle lanes, new and widened pavements, 30kph (20mph) speed limits, and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets. The locations include a low traffic neighbourhood on the site of the former Lazzaretto, a refuge for victims of plague epidemics in the 15th and 16th centuries. Continue reading

New Activities For Community Developments

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This trend in real estate development is a breath of fresh air:

Taking the Golf Out of Golf Communities

Around the country, planned developments are adapting and reinventing in order to appeal to a wider range of buyers.

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Hilton Head Plantation is a gated golf community on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

MacDonald Highlands is a master-planned community of less than 1,000 units in Henderson, Nev., a wealthy suburb of Las Vegas within squinting distance of the Strip. For years, its main selling point was DragonRidge Country Club, a private 18-hole golf course sculpted out of the desert foothills, with emerald fairways that wind past multi-million-dollar homes.

But lately, the property’s owner, Rich MacDonald, has had more on his mind than golf.

Mr. MacDonald opened the club in 2001, sold it in 2014 and bought it back in 2016. When he did, he said: “I wanted to make sure we have the equivalent of a cruise director. Someone who does fun things, interesting events. We’ve had to adapt quite a bit because the social aspect seems to be the main focus for new residents.”

At existing golf communities around the country, a similar story of adaptation and reinvention is playing out. Continue reading

Chocolate Made Clearer

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Erin Lubin for The New York Times

I had planned to follow up on yesterday’s post today, but there is a better option. Even after years of learning, fun as well as more serious facts than I knew previously about chocolate, so that we would source excellent quality, and ethical, chocolate, there is always more to learn. Thanks to Melissa Clark, as always, for the enlightenment:

Everything You Need to Know About Chocolate

The beloved bar has come a long way in quality and complexity. Here’s a primer on how it’s made, and how to choose the best and most ethically produced.

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Erin Lubin for The New York Times

You probably think you already know everything you need to know about chocolate.

For instance: The higher the percentage of cacao, the more bitter the chocolate, right? The term “single origin” on the label indicates that the chocolate expresses a particular terroir. And wasn’t the whole bean-to-bar movement started by a couple of bearded guys in Brooklyn?

Wrong; not necessarily; and definitely not. Continue reading

Non-Gastronomic Mushroom Utility

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Thanks, as always, for the interesting news on creative use for mushrooms beyond the gastronomic, from the Guardian:

Mushrooms and orange peel: could biotech clean up the building industry?

A biotech startup is researching building materials that could revolutionise construction. Not only are they biodegradable – some also absorb toxins

Cocoa husks, dried orange peel, ground blue pea flowers: the ingredients read like a tasting menu. They are, in fact, waste products that are used to make Orb – a sustainable building material that is carbon neutral. It’s versatile enough to be used for furniture or as a substitute for a wood-based sheet material. Continue reading

When Life Gives You Lemons

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Juicer at Authentica, as seen in front of the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen

To make the best use of the citrus in your life, visit Authentica and find this item. You may already have a fancy electric gadget that can perform the same function as this juicer, and it may seem self-evidently superior.

I beg to differ. First, on the experience: the mix of metal, plastic and/or glass of the electric juicer, designed for speed, eliminates any inherent satisfaction that either the fruit or the tool might provide. Holding this wooden juicer is a form of time travel. It resembles one I first saw in 1969. And that one likely resembled juicers in use in that village for hundreds of years, typically made of olive wood.

Secondly, I beg to differ on utility. Electric juicers may get the job done quicker, but this juicer gets another, more important job done. Its carbon footprint is a tiny fraction of the electric one, starting with construction and finishing with the use of electricity. And this is made by a group of craftsmen in Costa Rica who work with wood that has been recycled from previous use–timbers or railings from old homes–or wood from trees felled by storms. Experience + utility + sustainability = an authentic Costa Rica takeaway.

Vacation Choices Make A Difference

We did not link out to Annie Lowrey’s article earlier this year, so thanks to her and the Atlantic for this brief summary statement; and with it, a recommendation to read the whole article Too Many People Want to Travel:

Mass Tourism Is Destroying the Planet

Last year, 1.4 billion people traveled the world. That’s up from just 25 million in 1950. In China alone, overseas trips have risen from 10 million to 150 million in less than two decades.

This dramatic surge in mass tourism can be attributed to the emergence of the global middle class, and in some ways, it’s a good thing. Continue reading

Mr. Trash Wheel Is Going Strong

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Since 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has collected approximately twelve hundred and thirty-three tons of trash and debris that otherwise would have flowed into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Photograph by Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty

Thanks to a writer who never disappoints for this update to an inspiring story we lost track of:

The Promise of Mr. Trash Wheel

By Carolyn Kormann

John Kellett, the former director of Baltimore’s Maritime Museum, used to cross a footbridge over Jones Falls, the largest tributary feeding into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, every day on his way to work. “When it rained, there was a river of trash flowing down,” he told me. He had spent twenty years working on the harbor, primarily in environmental education and shipbuilding, and had a deep knowledge of its hydrodynamics and history. City officials, he told me, “said they were open to ideas, so I started sketching.” He drew plans for a machine powered by an old-fashioned water wheel—a technology that had once been a staple throughout the city—designed to intercept trash at the mouth of Jones Falls, which is the main source of harbor pollution. A prototype was installed in 2008. By 2014, Kellett’s invention was reborn as Mr. Trash Wheel—a fifty-foot-long machine, weighing nearly a hundred thousand pounds, that resembles a friendly mollusk, with giant, googly eyes and its own Twitter account.

Five years later, Mr. Trash Wheel has spawned three replicas around Baltimore—Professor Trash Wheel, Captain Trash Wheel, and another that was announced last week but has yet to be named or installed in the water. Continue reading