Canada’s Best Tide Forward

As Brazil turns the tide to its better environmental self, the New York Times reporter Ian Austen explains how Canada harnesses its best tide for an environmental feat long dreamed of:

The Bay of Fundy’s funnel shape is part of the reason for its exceptional tides. Along its 96 or so miles of length, the bay dramatically narrows and its depth drops, from 765 feet to 147 feet. David Goldman for The New York Times

Who Will Win the Race to Generate Electricity From Ocean Tides?

The Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, has one of the world’s most powerful tides. Now, engineers and scientists hope to finally turn it into a clean energy source.

ABOARD THE PLAT-I 6.40 GENERATING PLATFORM, Nova Scotia — The Bay of Fundy, off the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, has long tantalized and frustrated engineers hoping to harness its record-setting 50-foot high tide to generate electricity. 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

On Those 20 Quadrillion+ Ants, Again

Ants in Escazu

The earthworm in the photo above had been in a bag of soil where a coffee seedling started germinating earlier this year. I was moving the seedling from its small “starter” bag to a larger one, and the earthworm jumped out, wriggling under the nearby supplies I was working with. I did not see it again until it was too late. Since earthworms are good for soil, and we are in the early stages of a soil regeneration project, I was sorry to see the worm lose its life. This particular species of ant is currently everywhere on the property where we are re-planting coffee. I have not seen so many of this type of ant at any point in the last 22 years on this property, and their shocking abundance made me think of that new ant study. Normally we do not repeat sharing of news stories here, unless new information has come to light. It has only been a couple days, but I must share more on the study because my planting work is keeping the subject in front of me, and the photos in this article are that good.

Leaf cutter ants in Costa Rica. The researchers sampled 1,300 locations around the world, estimating ant abundance in different environments in areas such as forests and steppes. Bence Mate/Nature Picture Library, via Alamy

Rebecca Dzombak, who authored this article for the New York Times, will be on our radar from now on:

Weaver ants engaged in teamwork. Sunthorn Viriyapan/Alamy

Counting the World’s Ants Requires a Lot of Zeros

There are 20 quadrillion ants worldwide, according to a new census, or 2.5 million for every living human. There are probably even more than that.

Male leaf cutter ants on the move over the Sonoran Desert in search of females and to make more ants. Norma Jean Gargasz/Alamy

Right now, ants are scurrying around every continent except Antarctica, doing the hard work of engineering ecosystems. They spread seeds, churn up soil and speed up decomposition. They forage and hunt and get eaten. You may not know how much you rely on them. 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

Ending Lawn Sprawl

Grow wild Ordinarily only academics can walk on the grass courts of Cambridge’s colleges. Peter Dench

Tom Banham’s article in 1843, a masterpiece of longform writing on the topic of lawns, is preaching to the converted (me, at least). I live in a location with abundant rain and grass is more of a pest than the mainstay of beautifully manicured sprawling lawns (for which I am a sucker as much as anyone is).

We just planted the first couple dozen of 1,000+ coffee saplings and the grass on the hills where they are being planted plays a role in soil retention but we want the soil’s nutrients focused on the coffee. But there are plenty of more important reasons to be concerned about grass sprawl elsewhere:

The going gets turf: do lawns have a future in the age of drought?

Our gardens are sterile deserts that guzzle water and chemicals. Perhaps it’s time to let them be

The harvesting in August 2021 of the wildflower meadow planted at King’s College, Cambridge. Peter Dench

The lawns at Tusmore House, a neo-Palladian mansion 15 miles north of Oxford, are so perfectly flat and exactingly shorn that they induce a kind of vertigo. Continue reading

How Important Is Plant-Based Meat?

Guardian graphic | Source: Boston Consulting Group

We were already convinced by testing (our own and others) that this product category would be important, but this study shows the importance to be practically off the charts in terms of reduced carbon footprint per dollar invested. Our thanks to Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, for bringing this to our attention:

Malte Clausen, a partner at BCG: ‘Widespread adoption of alternative proteins can play a critical role tackling climate change.’ Photograph: Nathaniel Noir/Alamy

Plant-based meat by far the best climate investment, report finds

Exclusive: Non-animal proteins can play critical role tackling climate crisis, says Boston Consulting Group

Investments in plant-based alternatives to meat lead to far greater cuts in climate-heating emissions than other green investments, according to one of the world’s biggest consultancy firms.

The report from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that, for each dollar, investment in improving and scaling up the production of meat and dairy alternatives resulted in three times more greenhouse gas reductions Continue reading

Alt-Leather, Vegan & Otherwise

Innovative vegan leather belt made from mycelium fiber, fungal spores and plant fibers. los_angela / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Our thanks to Linnea Harris for the latest news in alt-leather, which is best when vegan, except for when it is not:

The Future of Leather: How Pineapple Leaves, Cacti, and Mycelium Are Revolutionizing the Industry

Leather is everywhere – in our shoes, our purses and luggage, our winter jackets and stylish furniture – but its effect is seen globally.

To create the leather for our clothing, homewares, and other purposes, billions of cows are slaughtered each year. 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

Clever Climate Work Perk

(Adam Maida / The Atlantic ; CSA Images / Getty)

If you have not been reading Robinson Meyer’s excellent newsletter, take a look at this week’s and you might want to sign up over at The Atlantic:

Corporate Climate Action Is an Employee Perk

In February, Bank of America offered its employees a notable perk: If they had worked at the bank for at least three years, and made less than $250,000, then it would give them $4,000 to buy a new electric car. (Employees interested in merely leasing an EV could claim $2,000.) The move, attached to a company-wide round of salary increases, wasn’t the first time that the bank had made the offer; it had made a similar one in 2015, and again in 2020, although those incentives had also applied to gas-electric hybrids. Continue reading

Action Is The Thing

ILLUSTRATION: WIRED; GETTY IMAGES

Climate inaction is a theme bookending the first decade of our chronicling news stories and analytical essays. Why, we have stopped bothering to wonder, is inaction so persistent? Whether activism or other forms of action, there is not enough of it relative to the scale of the crisis. We thank Eleanor Cummins, a freelance science journalist and adjunct professor at New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program for these ideas as published in Wired:

‘Thinkwashing’ Keeps People From Taking Action in Times of Crisis

When it comes to issues like climate change, too many let the perfect become the enemy of the good, while the world burns.

LESS THAN A decade ago, “wait and see” arguments about climate change still circulated. “We often hear that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ about climate change,” physicist Steven E. Koonin wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2014. “But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences.” The idea was that the world needed more data before it could respond to the threat posed by global warming—assuming such research indicated a response was even necessary. Continue reading

A Bit About The Origins Of Clean The World

Shawn Siepler, the founder of Clean the World, with used hotel soap before it will be recycled for those in need. Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Reusing things versus wasting them has been a major theme in these pages, especially in relation to travel and hospitality. Looking back at posts about washing hands for a cleaner world and then another about soap making for the same, it is not surprising we had already featured Clean The World in a couple earlier posts. Thanks to Victoria M. Walker for this conversation with the founder:

Getting the World Clean, One Recycled Bar of Soap at a Time

Meet Shawn Siepler, the founder of Clean the World. The nonprofit recycles partially used soap left behind from hotel guests for those in need.

When hotel or motel guests check into their rooms, they expect at the very least to be greeted with a clean space, a made-up bed and in the bathroom, soap.

But what happens when you leave that soap behind? Continue reading

100% Renewable California Energy Milestone

Solar and wind power projects have been booming in California, like the Pine Tree Wind Farm and Solar Power Plant in the Tehachapi Mountains, but that doesn’t mean fossil fuels are fading away quickly. Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Recovery from a long-term addiction to fossil fuels was never going to be easy. Necessary? Yes. But it will still be a long haul even with milestones like this one in the western USA. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this news:

California just ran on 100% renewable energy, but fossil fuels aren’t fading away yet

On a mild Sunday afternoon, California set a historic milestone in the quest for clean energy. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing and on May 8th, the state produced enough renewable electricity to meet 103% of consumer demand. That broke a record set a week earlier of 99.9%. Continue reading

Plastic Rings, Bygone Things

Plastic rings hold together sets of beer cans. GHI/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Why did it take this long, you might ask? It is not clear from this article. But that it is happening at all is surprising, so we hope it is correct to say better late than never: Soda and Beer Companies Are Ditching Plastic Six-Pack Rings

In an effort to cut down on plastic waste, packaging is taking on different forms that can be more easily recycled or that do away with plastic altogether.

The plastic rings ubiquitous with six-packs of beer and soda are gradually becoming a thing of the past as more companies switch to greener packaging. Continue reading

Frederick Law Olmsted At 200

Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted (detail), 1895, by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925); The Artchives/Alamy Stock Photo.

From Hedgehog Review, a bit of scholarly reflection on a man whose impact on the landscape of cityscapes is still worthy of consideration:

The Man Who Built Forward Better

On Frederick Law Olmsted’s Bicentennial

Witold Rybczynski

What would Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) make of his works today, in the bicentennial year of his birth? No doubt he would be delighted by the survival and continued popularity of so many of his big-city parks, particularly Central Park and Prospect Park, but also parks in Boston, Chicago, and Montreal, as well as Buffalo, Detroit, Rochester, and Louisville. He might be surprised by the bewildering range of activities these parks now accommodate—not only boating and ice-skating, as in his day, but exercising, jogging, picnicking, and games, as well as popular theatrical and musical events. I don’t think this variety would displease him. After all, it was he who introduced free band concerts in Central Park, over the objections of many of his strait-laced colleagues. He would be pleased by the banning of automobiles; his winding carriage drives were never intended for fast—and noisy—traffic. Continue reading

Airborne Wind Energy

An airborne wind turbine at the SkySails Power’s pilot site in Klixbüll, Germany. AXEL HEIMKEN / PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Wind energy, as we have pictured it, was in a race between fixed and floating models. We did not know about the airborne model. Nicola Jones, writing in Yale e360, gives a clear picture of why it faltered and how it is recovering:

After a Shaky Start, Airborne Wind Energy Is Slowly Taking Off

This long-exposure nighttime photograph shows the figure-eight flight pattern of Kitepower’s airborne wind system. KITEPOWER

Numerous companies are developing technologies, such as large kites, that can harvest wind energy up to a half-mile above ground. While still in its nascent stages, airborne wind power could potentially be used in remote locations or flying from barges far offshore.

Look up over the white sand beaches of Mauritius and you may see a gigantic sail, much like the kind used by paragliders or kite surfers but the size of a three-bedroom apartment, looping figure-eights overhead. Continue reading

Nuclear Fusion’s Heat Feat

The interior of the JET, where an experiment generated 59 megajoules of heat, beating the 1997 record of 21.7 megajoules. Photograph: UKAEA

We have no expertise in this specific energy-related subject, but we know that new sources of energy are an important potential contributor to the reduction of global warming. So, we read this news about a new heat record from nuclear fusion as a qualified source of hope:

Nuclear fusion heat record a ‘huge step’ in quest for new energy source

Oxfordshire scientists’ feat raises hopes of using reactions that power sun for low-carbon energy

The prospect of harnessing the power of the stars has moved a step closer to reality after scientists set a new record for the amount of energy released in a sustained fusion reaction. Continue reading

Chile Has New Hands On Deck

The receding Santa Ines glacier in Seno Ballena fjord in Punta Arenas, southern Chile. Photograph: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty

Bringing experts into government does not sound like a news story, until you consider Chile. A country governed for decades by Chicago school economics–a strong invisible hand of market forces combined with a strong visible hand of military rule to keep leftists at bay–Chile’s most recent election led to some new hands in the governance picture.

With the climate crisis, Chile has an opportunity to set a new example for the world. The failure of markets until now to address a human-induced environmental catastrophe will be met with the combined force of expert scientific knowledge and public sector governance:

‘We need politicians and experts’: how Chile is putting the climate crisis first

President Gabriel Boric has brought renowned named climate scientist Maisa Rojas into government to help ensure a greener future

‘We need politicians and experts’: how Chile is putting the climate crisis first
President Gabriel Boric has brought renowned named climate scientist Maisa Rojas into government to help ensure a greener future

Hidden behind the Andes in a quiet corner of South America, a formidable generation of former student leaders are putting together one of the world’s most exciting progressive movements.

On 11 March, Gabriel Boric, 35, a tattooed leftist with a steely resolve to reform Chile from the bottom up, will become the country’s youngest ever president – and his green agenda is echoing across the world as time ticks away on an impending climate catastrophe.

“It is so exciting to see what these young people have done,” says Maisa Rojas, 49, a renowned Chilean climate scientist who has been named environment minister in a cabinet including several of Boric’s student protest generation. Continue reading

Senegal’s Plastic Recycling Entrepreneurship

Waste pickers searching for plastics at the main dump in Dakar, Senegal.

The article below, written by Ruth Maclean and accompanied with photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly, is a portrait in developing world green opportunism. It is not a pretty picture, per se, but it is a sight to behold after the market for recycled plastic seemed to implode in recent years. The photo above shows the gritty reality of the work. The photos below show some of the prettier, and more entrepreneurial downstream opportunities from that work:

Workers stripping reusable plastic from mats at the Sosenap factory, which recycles plastic to make mats and carpets in Diamniadio, on the outskirts of Dakar.

‘Everyone’s Looking for Plastic.’ As Waste Rises, So Does Recycling.

Plagued by plastic pollution, Senegal wants to replace pickers at the garbage dump with a formal recycling system that takes advantage of the new market for plastics.

The main event at the outdoor venue for Dakar Fashion Week in December, which had a theme of sustainability.

DAKAR, Senegal — A crowd of people holding curved metal spikes jumped on trash spilling out of a dump truck in Senegal’s biggest landfill, hacking at the garbage to find valuable plastic. Continue reading

Big Agriculture, Anti-Regulation & Antisocial Behavior

Click any image here to go to an op-ed video that takes just over 14 minutes to watch. You’ll get an inside look into what has happened to food production in the USA, and how, and why.

Summed up, it is all about the power of big-ag lobbying. They want no regulations. They want to decide on their own how to produce food. And it is making a big mess. This anti-regulatory ideology, which has the hallmark of antisocial behavior, is not unique to agricultural lobbyists, but is quite well illustrated by them.

Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet

American agriculture is ravaging the air, soil and water. But a powerful lobby has cleverly concealed its damage.

“We’re Cooked” is an Opinion Video series about our broken food system and the three chances you get to help fix it — and save the planet — every day.


The global food system is a wonder of technological and logistical brilliance. It feeds more people than ever, supplying a greater variety of food more cheaply and faster than ever.

It is also causing irreparable harm to the planet. Continue reading

Palm Oil Potential

An oil palm plantation encroaches on a rainforest in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. NANANG SUJANA / CIFOR

Palm oil’s problems, and potential solutions have been catalogued in these pages many times. In this recent story by James Dinneen, writing again for Yale Environment 360, a new potential solution is explored:

Can Synthetic Palm Oil Help Save the World’s Tropical Forests?

Christopher Chuck, a chemical engineer at the University of Bath, is working to produce yeast able to generate more oil from cheaper feedstocks. UNIVERSITY OF BATH

Numerous startups are creating synthetic palm oil in the lab, hoping to slow the loss of tropical forests to oil palm cultivation. But palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil, and producing a synthetic version on a large scale remains a daunting challenge.

Tom Jeffries and Tom Kelleher met at Rutgers University in the 1970s while studying industrially useful microbes. Jeffries went on to run a yeast genomics program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Kelleher spent decades in the biomedical industry, working with biologics like insulin, which are produced by genetically modified microbes in giant, fermenting vats. Continue reading