The last year has been unprecedented in terms of climate change and climate news. President Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement while two other remaining holdouts signed on, making the United States now the only country in the world that is not a signatory. Not only that, but he rolled back environmental regulations on everything from oil drilling to pesticide use.
In the face of inaction from the U.S. government, it is up to states, cities, and individuals to step up and be even more active on behalf of the environment. Everything from being better about recycling to writing to your Congresspeople and Senators will be a huge help in the fight for the earth.
May the New Year be filled with positive news about the climate and newly energized climate activists who are shining a light on the things the current U.S. government is doing to destroy our climate. It’s time for us to get engaged, get active, and make the environment a priority, both individually and politically.
How do you take the remains of a nasty habit and turn it into something that benefits everyone? Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, may have a solution.
Every year, trillions of cigarette butts are produced worldwide, and most of those are discarded into the environment. Loaded with toxins, they take a very long time to break down, and when they do, all their poisonous chemicals are released into waterways.
But the team at RMIT University, led by Dr. Abbas Mohajerani, has shown that cigarette butts can be mixed with asphalt and lead to a product that not only tolerates wear and tear of daily traffic but also reduces thermal conductivity.
What this means is that the disgusting remains that some inconsiderate smokers leave behind can solve a big waste problem and could help to reduce the urban heat island effect common in large cities.
“I have been trying for many years to find sustainable and practical methods for solving the problem of cigarette butt pollution,” said Mohajerani, a senior lecturer in RMIT’s school of engineering.
“In this research, we encapsulated the cigarette butts with bitumen and paraffin wax to lock in the chemicals and prevent any leaching from the asphalt concrete. The encapsulated cigarette butts were mixed with hot asphalt mix for making samples,” he added.
About 6 trillion cigarettes are produced each year, resulting in more than 1.2 million tons of cigarette butts. As the world’s population—and the number of smokers—continues to grow, these numbers are expected to increase by more than 50 percent by the year 2025.
“Encapsulated cigarette butts developed in this research will be a new construction material which can be used in different applications and lightweight composite products,” Mohajerani said. “The only ways to control [the chemicals in the cigarette waste] are either by effective encapsulation for the production of new lightweight aggregates or by the incorporation in fired clay bricks.”
How’s that for an unlikely solution to a big problem? I think this idea is pretty darn brilliant, and I’ll be curious to see how the research plays out in real-world applications.
There’s a new charity in town—one whose goal is to launch a global reforestation project to counteract negative effects caused by the Trump administration’s policies and actions on climate issues.
Founded by two twenty-something activists in New Zealand who, according to the Huffington Post, “felt compelled to act after Trump’s executive order in March that essentially prioritized the fossil fuel industry over the environment,” the goal is for Trump Forest (tagline: “where ignorance grows trees”) to grow so large that it can offset the additional carbon released into the atmosphere if the White House rolls back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
The target of the campaign, called “Make Earth Great Again,” is to have more than 110 billion trees donated to local tree-planting organizations.
Dr. Daniel Price, a climate scientist and glaciologist based in New Zealand, is one of the three activists. He said, “We wanted something tangible that people could do that would actually have a physical impact on what the U.S. government is doing.”
Participants in Trump Forest can use the projects website to donate to Eden Reforestation Projects, a charity that plants trees in Madagascar, or make a donation in Trump’s name to a local tree-planting organization.
As of August 4, the number of trees pledged has hit the 50,000 mark since it launched in March of 2017.
Activist Adrien Taylor, also based in New Zealand, has paid about NZ$3,000 (about $2,100 US) to plant the first 1,000 trees along the Port Hills mountain range near Christchurch.
“We’re working with the nonprofit Trees for Canterbury, which specializes in planting native trees throughout the Canterbury region of New Zealand and the South Island, as well as the local city council,” Taylor told Fast Company. But, Taylor said, “We have no intention of making any money from this, or handling money in any way whatsoever. If you do make a pledge, we’ll link you to reputable local or international tree-planting organizations. You will make the donation directly to them.”
The Trump Forest team will ask for a receipt so they can visualize its global forestry efforts—a virtual map that will allow viewers to see all the trees planted in response to the Trump administration’s environmental policies.
“I think the real and exciting part of this is that there’s an actual benefit growing from Trump’s stupidity,” Taylor said.
While that loss was probably mitigated by mandatory water use restrictions that were imposed in 2014 in response to the severe drought in the area, the restrictions were lifted in 2017 after an abundantly wet spring. Will the loss of restrictions inspire Angelenos to keep dumping water into their lawns, or have the majority of them come to see that it’s important to plant native, drought-tolerant species?
It’s hard to know as of now, but since Southern California is primarily desert, we hope that more Los Angeles residents have gotten in the habit of xeriscaping—landscaping with drought-tolerant, native species.
The fundamental principles of xeriscaping revolve around water conservation. Landscape designers look for ways to reduce the amount of irrigation and maximize the use of what natural precipitation there is.
Soil improvement is a key in xeriscaping. The ideal soil in a water-conserving landscape drains quickly and stores water at the same time. This may seem contradictory, but for many species, increasing the amount of organic material in the soil and keeping it aerated serves this purpose. However, if your xeriscape includes a lot of cacti or succulents, don’t do the soil amendments; those species are designed to survive in the untreated native soils of the region.
Using drought-resistant native plants is important in any xeriscape. Most of these plants have small, thick, glossy, silver-gray or fuzzy leaves; the way these leaves are made helps them to save water. Also, if you must have a lawn, make it a small one to minimize water use. And don’t put plants with high and low water needs in the same area, so don’t plant your succulents next to your lawn or fruit trees.
By covering the soil around plants with mulch, you’ll help the soil retain water, prevent erosion, and block out weeds that compete with the plants you want. Mulch needs to be several inches thick in order to be effective, and it will need more applied (a practice called “top dressing”) as the existing mulch blends with the soil.
When it comes to irrigation, soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems work the best because they help you avoid overwatering and deliver the water right to the base of the plant. They also deliver water at a slow rate, which is ideal for the deep and infrequent watering needed for a xeriscape.
The best thing about a xeriscaped yard is that it’s low-maintenance. You don’t need to seed or mow the lawn, or use massive amounts of fertilizer or weed killer. In fact, the only thing you’ll really need to do is ensure that weeds aren’t growing through your mulch (if they are, thicken the mulch layer) and that if you are using grasses, you keep them taller so that they become a natural mulch that shades roots and helps retain water.
Do you xeriscape? What are your thoughts on the benefits and burdens of xeriscaping? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
With a lack of horizontal space for farming in urban environments, vertical farming could be the only plausible solution to food scarcity. As Lauren Hepler of GreenBiz notes, “with more reports sounding alarms about looming food scarcity issues, the urban agriculture sector is increasingly melding with the boom in agriculture tech, breeding companies offering everything from unorthodox growing setups to soil sensors, hydroponics and all manner of crop data analytics.”
The question of “how do we feed a growing global population?” has billion-dollar potential.
Unlike the dot-com boom, “the problem is so huge and broken in so many places that there are many billion-dollar markets you could just jump into,” Brad McNamara, co-founder of Boston container farming startup Freight Farms, told GreenBiz. “There are connections being formed and local food systems and food markets that people are hungry for.”
On a small scale, technology like hydroponic grocery stores can be seen as an opportunity for local retailers to grow indoors, on site, more efficiently. This could allow business owners to tap directly into local consumer demands, customize their shopping experiences, dramatically reduce the cost of shipping, and capitalize on buzz about food miles.
On a large scale, vertical farmscapers could profit from the consumer demand for multifunctional urban space. Some believe farmscapers might be able to produce enough food to feed greater and greater future populations.
Modular technology, built for moving the farms, is a consistent theme in both approaches. Not only can the farms be relocated easily, but also modular technology allows the farms to scale up or scale down efficiently to meet specific needs. Modular design can be seen throughout the commercial real estate, residential properties, and, most recently, tiny home designs. Modular designs in factories have allowed owners with unlimited flexibility to respond quickly and cost-effectively to changing business needs. It’s possible that this same flexibility could provide much needed adaptability to the farming industry.
On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump signed an executive order that rescinded Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The president lifted carbon emissions regulations in order to resume coal-mining operations.
“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump asserted. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy to reverse government intrusions and to cancel job killing regulations.”
Environmentalists saw this coming from a mile away. They tried to voice their concerns in the form of protests, but their collective cries fell on deaf ears. That’s because money appears to be the only language that the current administration understands. In other words, the time for talking about sustainability is over. It’s time to take action by investing in clean energy alternatives.
Some companies, such as private equity firm KKR, are already leading the way in this regard. KKR has invested an astounding $5 billion into ESG (environment, social, and governance) driven companies.
“Investors can play a central role in resolving some of the global challenges in a way that civil society or government organizations cannot do alone,” writes Ken Mehlman, Member and Global Head of Public Affairs at KKR. “Our portfolio company Afriflora is a good example. Located in Ethiopia, Afriflora cultivates and produces Fair Trade Certified, sustainably-grown roses.”
It’s like the old saying goes: money talks. And while the average citizen certainly can’t afford to shell out the kind of dough that KKR does, they can still make an impact by purchasing small shares of green companies.
So which companies should environmentalists invest in? According to Investopedia, the top four alternative energy stocks for 2017 are:
NRG Yield Inc.
Atlantica Yield PLC
Covanta Holding Corp.
If there’s anything that the current administration has taught us, it’s that climate change facts and statistics aren’t enough. Environmentalists will have to reach deep into their pockets if they want to influence the future of energy.
Landscape-based conservation aims to balance the needs of protecting wildlife with economic needs. So conservation groups deal with poachers or illegal logging, while logging companies work sustainably and provide jobs. In a perfect world, everybody wins.
But this isn’t a perfect world, and in these situations, some local people get left out. Take the Baka people, a group of hunters and gatherers who rely upon the forests for their livelihood. They aren’t getting jobs in conservation or logging, and their way of life is being threatened as they are cut out of access to the forest or forced to take up farming. However, farming is new to them, and is therefore not meeting their needs. As a result, they’re finding themselves more and more in poor farming regions without access to schools, meaning that they can’t even “better themselves” within the context of the societies that are telling them how to live in the forest.
According to Nathan Clay, who recently finished a study on how landscape-based conservation efforts are impacting local people in Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, there are some 100,000 people left behind by changing conservation methods. They’ve been dealing with loggers or conservationists for years, but recently, they’ve had to deal with both, and increasingly complex legal developments to make that system work, which is leaving them behind.
Clay argues that what is needed is a concerted effort by conservation and logging interests, as well as the governments which pass laws to build these systems, to work with local peoples. He proposes that tribes like the Baka be included in anti-hunting and anti-logging patrols, which would make them part of the process and allow conservation efforts to work with, rather than against, them.
“To me, the people who are best positioned to understand and effectively manage these changing socio-ecological conditions are the people who live there,” said Clay. “The people who are living there should be more involved in the management of these places because they’re the ones who best know the region.”