…and 11 other ways consumption is getting greener
Welcome, dear readers! I'm hoping you're reading this because you want an anxiety-free update of the climate crisis.
I want this newsletter to be a thoroughly enjoyable 5-10 minute read. A read that inspires and leaves you happy and with a sense of hope and possibility.
When you have a moment: take a pause.
Grab a cuppa, take a deep breath.
Now you're ready to enjoy this lovingly-crafted edition of Reasons for Hope.
Let's begin with this edition's focus: consumption.
Consume, grow, and consume some more.
That's basically humanity in a nutshell.
So if we want to keep doing this, we need to be rather more clever about how we do this.
The past couple of weeks I've discovered an extraordinary number of improvements to how we can produce food and clean water. For example:
better water retention (new gels mixed with sand)
better water sourcing (advances in desalination and purification)
better food growing (densification and verticalisation)
better placement of food growth (in your home, next to restaurants)
Image creditThe Edge Of The Petri Dish
Natural Resources: where land, sea and air are used well
"it’s one piece of a strategy to become “climate positive” by 2030, meaning that the company will reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than it emits through its value chain. As the company slashes emissions directly by using renewable energy, shifting to electric delivery vehicles, rethinking materials, and implementing new business models such as taking back old furniture and repairing it for resale, it’s also turning to trees to suck CO2 from the atmosphere."
"the part of the Sahara that the study covered, roughly 10%, “where no one would expect to find many trees”, actually had “quite a few hundred million”."
"Dryland trees grow in isolation without forming forests (marked in green, top), making them invisible to conventional satellite systems. Scientists used new sensors and AI to map individual trees within the rectangle over west Africa, showing that millions of trees grow in desert and grassland areas."
"Canopy has packaged the raw data and satellite imagery into an interactive tool called ForestMapper, to help companies switch to sustainable supply chains. They can scan the map, which includes information on forest carbon density, endangered species, tree loss so far and projected deforestation over the coming decade."
Policy: enabling change at scale
“Barcelona has followed Vancouver in endorsing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, which was started last year in B.C. The Spanish city is the first in Europe to back the plan.”
“As part of the treaty initiative, Berman’s team plans to create the first global registry for fossil fuel production and present it to governments and the United Nations.”
“the ways in which climate is tied to national security. At the top of the list is the immense strain that responding to climatological events puts on the Pentagon’s resources. The military has responded vigorously, domestically and internationally, to forest fires, hurricanes, typhoons, flooding and the civil unrest that often follows such crises. Most scientists attribute the increase in severity of humanitarian disasters to the impact of global warming.” "An additional climate-induced threat is the kind of resource scarcity, notably water shortages, that plagues Africa and the Middle East. As agrarian economies falter in drought and higher temperatures, fighting breaks out" “Finally, the Defense Department is concerned about rising sea levels, which threaten crucial ports in the US and overseas”
“by mobilizing his entire administration to take on the challenge from every angle in a strategic, integrated way.”
Activism: voices to listen to
I cover activism as a reason for hope because sometimes the actions of a few can inspire changes in many others.
“We are nature. We need to let go of the idea that nature is an object for exploitation.”
“You don’t have to be a perfect environmentalist to join the movement — if everyone had to be perfect, we would have a very small movement. You still have a right to fight for a future we can live in.“
“Start with steps instead of leaps."
Finance & Investment: funding positive change
"Trees" -- Grady Booch joked.
But are trees good at carbon capture? It's fair to say yes.
Where are investment institutions putting their money? BlackRock one year on: A year ago, BlackRock (manages $1tn+ in investments took a strong sustainability stance on what they invest in. This has helped catalyse a general movement of funds into sustainability investments. Companies with strong Environment, Social & Governance (ESG) policies, aka the triple bottom line, saw 4x more investment cash into them than the year before.
Consumption: how we use the planet's resources
"A team of scientists has come up with a genetically-engineered tomato plant that is more a bush than a vine, with fruits that grow like a bunch of grapes."
"Not only are they more compact, but the plants also mature with the fruit ripening enough for harvest in less than 40 days, which is another plus for urban farming.
"This demonstrates how we can produce crops in new ways, without having to tear up the land as much or add excessive fertilizer that runs off into rivers and streams," says Lippman. "Here’s a complementary approach to help feed people, locally and with a reduced carbon footprint."
Tomato shrub looks more like a bunch of grapes
“The label by the zucchini said they cost a little more than normal: 6¢ extra per kilo for their carbon footprint, 5¢ for the toll the farming takes on the land, and 4¢ to fairly pay workers. “There are all these extra costs to our daily life that normally no one would pay for, or even be aware of,” she says.”
“Instead of equating a growing GDP with a successful society, our goal should be to fit all of human life into what Raworth calls the “sweet spot” between the “social foundation,” where everyone has what they need to live a good life, and the environmental ceiling.”
“By and large, people in rich countries are living above the environmental ceiling. Those in poorer countries often fall below the social foundation. The space in between: that’s the doughnut.”
“Raworth says DEAL has received an avalanche of requests from municipal leaders and others seeking to build more resilient societies in the aftermath of COVID-19. Copenhagen’s city council majority decided to follow Amsterdam’s example in June, as did the Brussels region and the small city of Dunedin, New Zealand, in September, and Nanaimo, British Columbia, in December. In the U.S., Portland, Ore., is preparing to roll out its own version of the doughnut, and Austin may be close behind. “
The Vertical Field urban farm pod can be installed in parking lots or inside warehouses
“The Vertical Field setup retains many of the advantages of hydroponic vertical farms, but instead of the plants growing in a nutrient-packed liquid medium, the container-based pods treat their crops to real soil, supplemented by a proprietary mix of minerals and nutrients. The company says that it opted for geoponic production "because we found that it has far richer flavor, color, and quality."
“The vertical urban farms are claimed capable of supporting the production of a wide range of fruits and veggies – from leafy greens and herbs to strawberries and mushrooms, and more. And it's reported to use up to 90 percent less water than a traditional farming setup.”
"Super moisture absorbent gels (SMAGs)" can make farming in very arid parts of the world more practical when added to sandy soil.
The supermoisture absorbent gel-soil irrigation process courtesy The University of Texas at Austin
"For certain crops, it is claimed that 0.1 to 1 kg (0.2 to 2.2 lb) of the SMAG-soil can provide enough moisture to irrigate about 1 square meter (10.8 sq ft) of farmland."
"In tests performed in outdoor planter boxes, it was found that after four weeks, the SMAG-soil retained about 40 percent of the water that it started with. By contrast, a control box of regular sandy soil retained only 20 percent of its water after just ONE week."
"Most soil is good enough to support the growth of plants," says postdoctoral researcher Fei Zhao, who led the study along with Xingyi Zhou and Panpan Zhang. "It’s the water that is the main limitation, so that is why we wanted to develop a soil that can harvest water from the ambient air."
One of Xochimilco's remaining chinampas credit:jflo23
"Chinampas are raised fields built on artificial islands sound almost too good to be true. Often fed by a network of canals and dykes, they apparently afford "extremely high" productivity in exchange for relatively modest irrigation needs, thanks in part to the capillary action of the plant roots."
"Other benefits to farming include "better drainage, soil aeration, moisture retention during the dry season, and higher and longer-term soil fertility than in conventional outdoor production," according to a press release accompanying the research. More far-reaching benefits are thought to include regulation of water levels and microclimate as well as boosts to biodiversity and carbon storage."
"Computational agriculture is a discipline in which advanced hardware, software and sensors will allow farmers to tap into the genetic diversity of the 30,000 edible plant species around the globe. This could allow them to identify and grow more resilient crops in certain environments, and lessen reliance on fertilizers, chemicals and water."
Modern indoor gardening solutions that make gardening easy https://flip.it/RC8OE6
"SOLE, a home gardening system, poses first as a small coffee table only to reveal a hidden, self-maintained, miniature garden for city dwellers who want to fill their homes up with some natural greens, but not the fuss that typically comes with them"
This desalination breakthrough could make clean water cheaper https://flip.it/hThIwO
"Researchers have solved a complex problem with water desalination that had baffled scientists for decades, until now."
"Desalination membranes remove salt and other chemicals from water, a process critical to the health of society, cleaning billions of gallons of water for agriculture, energy production, and drinking"
The new process shows "an increase in efficiency in the membranes tested by 30%-40%, meaning they can clean more water while using significantly less energy."
On a personal note, I had the great privilege of living in Barcelona for a few years.The original design of more modern inner areas such as Eixample had more open space: not every block was intended to have housing, but, to have more open areas. Corruption and greed meant they were all filled in, leaving a dense, noisy city.
The plan aims to put children, women and the elderly at the heart of the design. Image: Credit: Ajuntament de Barcelona
"The 38 million-euro ($46.5-million) plan aims to turn one in three streets in the densely populated residential and commercial area into green zones."
Waste: what we do with consumption leftovers
"Recent research has found that underwater seagrass collects up to 900 million plastic items in the Mediterranean Sea each year. Seagrass is vital in collecting and purging plastic waste into what are known as Neptune Balls. These balls of plastic pollution form naturally as the seagrass collects and traps plastics before releasing them in clumps, some of which wash back to shore."
“The findings of this study now add yet another benefit of seagrass. Seagrass has long been known to balance its ecosystem. The seagrass absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen into the water, improving the water quality in the process. Further, it plays the role of a natural nursery for hundreds of species of fish, and seagrass is the foundation of the coastal food web.”
“The build-up of marine plants and animals on ship hulls is an age-old problem. This ‘biofouling’ can increase fuel consumption by up to 40% and boost emissions. It can also transport species to new environments where they cause havoc in the local ecosystem. But now a robot has been invented that cleans ship hulls every time they anchor. Its makers say it will bring huge environmental benefits.”
“The company is achieving this through two application prototypes for the batteries:
"One, following the closed-loop recycling process, Ziptrax dismantles Li-ion cells and extracts metals such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese to use for manufacturing batteries for consumer electronics and powering EV storages, renewable energy grids.
"Two, it repurposes discarded Li-ion batteries for subsequent use in EVs and Energy Storage Systems (ESSs). Ziptrax claims to extend the life of Li-ion batteries by up to 40 per cent longer by combining it with its patent artificial intelligence engine and IoT enabled hardware. Further, the company’s tech also reduces the battery costs significantly, benefitting not just manufacturers and distributors but also end-users.”
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Hungry for more great news? Check out The World Economic Forum's article on 14 innovative projects helping to save the planet.