Olives, Farmers, Beauty & Beastly Heat

Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times

My thoughts today start with the people who farm olives in this location deprived of the water needed to sustain their livelihoods. Because my mother was born on an olive-producing farm in an olive-privileged region of Greece, my eye is always drawn to stories about olive farmers.

Jaén, a province of Andalusia, has over 67 million olive trees. Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times

When there are photos of olive trees, I am in for the whole story. My strongest, earliest memories are of the olive trees surrounding the terrace of the farmhouse my mother grew up in. Stories about olive farmers challenged by climate change are more difficult to read without sympathy pain, but I do so knowing that olive trees are survivors.

Panacite, a store in Ubeda, sells a range of variants of oil production from the region. Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times

David Segal and José Bautista have reported this story with compassion and clarity:

Spain’s Jaén Province, home to one fifth of the world’s supply of “green gold,” copes with climate change and threats to its way of life.

The branch, plucked from one of thousands of trees in this densely packed olive grove, has browning leaves and a few tiny, desiccated buds that are bunched near the end. To Agustín Bautista, the branch tells a story and the story is about a harvest that is doomed. Continue reading

Fall Flowers At Cornell

I am at Cornell University today and tomorrow, to lecture in the Hotel School, my onetime academic home. Last year I did the same, but later in the year, introducing one of our coffee varietals during the lectures. This time, flowers on campus convince me that earlier is better.

This flower in particular strikes me as worth the visit.

I have no clue what type of flower it is, but even when the petals are gone the interior is spectacular.

Unintended Consequences Of A Green Energy Strategy

This multimedia story explains powerfully how one of Europe’s green energy strategies went awry:

Europe Is Sacrificing Its Ancient Forests for Energy

Governments bet billions on burning timber for green power. The Times went deep into one of the continent’s oldest woodlands to track the hidden cost.

Burning wood was never supposed to be the cornerstone of the European Union’s green energy strategy.

When the bloc began subsidizing wood burning over a decade ago, it was seen as a quick boost for renewable fuel and an incentive to move homes and power plants away from coal and gas. Chips and pellets were marketed as a way to turn sawdust waste into green power. Continue reading

Heat-Beating Strategies For Birds

Splooting works for some species but birds can use our assistance with other strategies:

How to Help Birds Beat the Heat

Extreme temperatures add stress to already-fragile ecosystems. Here’s how you can help birds stay cool.

Extreme weather events like heat waves remind us of how urgent the climate crisis really is. Continue reading

Splooting To Beat The Heat

A squirrel in full “sploot” posture. Credit: Debra L Tuttle/Getty Images

Funny as it sounds, it is worth considering how animals deal with heat:

During a Heat Wave, You Can Blast the AC, but What Does a Squirrel Do?

Although recent spikes in temperature affect all of us, our urban critters have had to find their own ways to beat the heat. Sometimes they “sploot.”

It’s summertime in New York City–birds are chirping, insects are scurrying, and everything feels alive! While recent heat waves have pushed a lot of us indoors to the respite of air conditioning, the critters of this city were left to fend for themselves. Continue reading

The 150 Most Consequential Years

Amanda Northrop/Vox; Getty Images

Our thanks to Vox for this conversation with one of the great economic historians of our time:

Humanity was stagnant for millennia — then something big changed 150 years ago

Why the years from 1870 to 2010 were humanity’s most important.

“The 140 years from 1870 to 2010 of the long twentieth century were, I strongly believe, the most consequential years of all humanity’s centuries.”

So argues Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, the new magnum opus from UC Berkeley professor Brad DeLong. It’s a bold claim. Homo sapiens has been around for at least 300,000 years; the “long twentieth century” represents 0.05 percent of that history.

But to DeLong, who beyond his academic work is known for his widely read blog on economics, something incredible happened in that sliver of time that eluded our species for the other 99.95 percent of our history. Continue reading

Lionfish, Competition & The Big Tournament

“What you’re hunting isn’t prey,” a lionfish diver told me. “It’s the enemy.”Illustrations by Johnny Dombrowski

D. T. Max has vividly sketched humans in competitive mode, harnessing tournament rules to address the aggressions of this introduced species. In the decades-long perspective, lionfish are winning the bigger tournament by adapting and expanding their range; but we admire the drive to end that success:

Killing Invasive Species Is Now a Competitive Sport

In the Panhandle, where swarms of lionfish gobble up native species, a tournament offers cash prizes to divers skilled at spearing one predator after another.

Rachel Bowman is a diver who specializes in the hunting, catching, and killing of lionfish, a species native to Indo-Pacific waters. 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

The Philosophers’ Stone In Appalachia

Illustration by Leif Gann-Matzen

Our gratitude to Eliza Griswold, writing in the New Yorker this week, for a look at research hinting at a potential solution to myriad challenges, that has the ring of alchemy to it:

Could Coal Waste Be Used to Make Sustainable Batteries?

Acid mine drainage has long been a scourge in Appalachia. Recent research suggests that we may be able to simultaneously clean up the pollution and extract the minerals and elements needed to power green technologies.

On a recent afternoon, near the headwaters of Deckers Creek, in West Virginia, Paul Ziemkiewicz, the biological scientist who directs the Water Research Institute at West Virginia University, squatted by a blood-red trickle seeping from a hillside. Continue reading