A good news column for the last six months of 2020
November 22 – Project Learning Tree
“Project Learning Tree is an environmental education program that gets children from prekindergarten through 12th grade out into nature to explore and learn about their environment — with a focus on trees. It’s part of the nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The program, offered in all 50 states, aligns with Common Core State Standards in science, social studies, language arts and math. Just in time for fall, they learn why leaves turn yellow…The kids choose a tree to ‘adopt’ and they learn about that species; from the bark to the type of leaf, and watch how it changes through the seasons.
They pretend to be trees and gather the nutrients they need for them to survive, collecting different colored squares for each element. Students also learn about pollinators and how bees help produce the food we eat. They learn how seeds travel through the wind and grow in the soil where they land. They create nature journals — like so many scientists have from John Muir to John James Audubon.” – CNN.com
“If we give kids the opportunity to get outside to learn in nature, to engage with nature and others within an outdoor space, they’re really going to learn to preserve nature and and just kind of fall in love with it,” said Michele Mandeville, a facilitator for Project Learning Tree in Colorado.
November 15 – Australian Outback Cattle Station Will House World’s Largest Solar Farm, Powering Singapore
A $20bn Australian cattle station located halfway between Alice Springs and Darwin will house the world’s largest solar farm, with sufficient generated energy projected to power all of Singapore. Consuming about 12,000 hectares, the project referral was submitted to the Northern Territory’s Environmental Protection Authority – the first stage in a lengthy approvals process that is expected to permit construction to begin in late 2023, energy production by 2026 and solar energy exports by 2027.
November 7 – Plastic that Does Not Pollute
According to bioplasticsmagazine.com, “Newlight has spent over a decade perfecting the production of AirCarbon: a material made by life from the ocean using air and carbon from greenhouse gas. To make AirCarbon, Newlight uses naturally-occurring microorganisms found in the ocean, and recreates ocean conditions on land with saltwater, air, carbon from greenhouse gas, and renewable power.
“These ocean microorganisms use air and carbon from greenhouse gas to grow a material inside of their cells: an ocean-degradable, carbon-negative material called AirCarbon, which can replace conventional petro-based polymers in numerous applications. Because AirCarbon is made by life, like paper and wood, if it ends up in the ocean, AirCarbon degrades as fast as cellulose; but, unlike paper and wood, AirCarbon stands up in hot and cold conditions, never gets soggy, and is dishwasher safe for reuse—so that it never needs to go to waste.” (And it only took a century or so, but finally!)
November 1 – Rewiring America – Renewable Energy Will Save over $32 Billion
According to Rewiring America, a complete switch to clean energy sources could save the U.S. over $32 billion in energy costs, while also dramatically reducing planetary heating emissions. An energy policy organization, ReWiring America reports that a complete switch to clean energy such as solar and wind could affect more than 40% of energy emissions caused by appliances in and around the home, including heating, electricity, refrigeration and car use.
October 25 – Japanese Companies Invent Bags Made from Rice Bran & Milk Cartons
Japanese companies have developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the stomachs of deer and other animals. When deer wandering the capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers left by tourists, several companies collaborated to produce bags made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran that safely pass through the complex digestive systems of deer and other animals. – TheGuardian.com
October 18 – Preventing a Future Eruption of Vesuvius
A team of Italian researchers discovered “intact” brain cells of a young man who died almost 2,000 years ago in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The remains were first uncovered in the 1960s in Herculaneum, a city buried by ash during the volcanic eruption in AD 79. Lead researcher Pier Paolo Petrone, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Naples Federico II, stated: “The brain exposed to the hot volcanic ash must first have liquefied and then immediately turned into a glassy material by the rapid cooling of the volcanic ash deposit.”
Guido Giordano, a volcanologist at Roma Tre University who worked on the study, explained that “perfectness of preservation” found in vitrification was unprecedented. “This opens up the room for studies of these ancient people that have never been possible,” he said. The research team – which includes archaeologists, biologists, forensic scientists, neurogeneticists and mathematicians – plan to analyze proteins from the remains and their related genes. According to Petrone, this task is “crucial for the evaluation of the risk by the relevant authorities in the event of a possible future eruption of Vesuvius, the most dangerous volcano in the world, which looms over 3 million inhabitants of Naples and its surroundings.” – CNN.com
October 11 – Once in a Lifetime Experiment
The 2021 Convention on Biodiversity in Kunming, China hopes to set new biodiversity goals and actually achieve them. To build momentum, several countries – including Canada, the UK and EU – vowed to expand protected natural areas, and more than 70 countries signed a 10-point pledge to prioritize the environment in post-pandemic reconstruction. China, India, the US, and Brazil have not not yet signed the pledge. The pandemic is “this once in a lifetime event” to evaluate the effects of our behavior on nature, says Richard Primack, a Boston University biologist and member of a global effort to compile research about Covid-19’s impact on conservation for the Biological Conservation journal. “We going to see these enormous changes in human activity.” – CNN.com
October 4 – Plastic & Fabric Eating Enzymes
Plastic bottles constitute nearly one sixth of the world’s annual plastic production. Scientists at the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) in the UK have developed a super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than any form of recycling previously available. Derived from bacteria that naturally evolved the ability to eat plastic, it can also be combined with enzymes that break down cotton, potentially eliminating millions of tons of clothing either dumped in landfills or incinerated.
“When we linked the enzymes, rather unexpectedly, we got a dramatic increase in activity,“ said Prof John McGeehan, director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI). “This is a trajectory towards trying to make faster enzymes that are more industrially relevant. But it’s also one of those stories about learning from nature, and then bringing it into the lab.” The super enzyme could be available within two years.
September 27 – The Presidency
The best news this week is that Joe Biden is leading the current president in crucial battleground states and in all major polls. Under the current administration, environmental regulations have been gutted or rolled back. Our water/air/land/destiny is for sale and at stake. If you care about the environment – and I assume you do if you’re reading this column – vote for Joe Biden. And vote early!
September 20 – Vertical Farming Launches in Arizona
“We came together to look for an out-of-the-box solution and that’s where the idea to go up came from,” said Nona Yehia, CEO and co-founder of the Vertical Harvest, describing a 1/10 of an acre lot abutting an existing parking garage. Yehia announced that Vertical Harvest will launch a second vertical farm in Westbrook, Maine in 2020 – five times larger than the original farm. The produce from the first farm is distributed to 40 local restaurants and four grocery stores. – UpFarmer.com
September 13 – Florida Scientists Save Atlantic Corals from Extinction
Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation in Apollo beached spawned the corals through lab-induced techniques. The historic breakthrough could ultimately save Florida Reef Tract corals from extinction. “When history is made, there is hope, and today’s scientific breakthrough by The Florida Aquarium’s team of coral experts gives us real hope that we can save the Florida Reef Tract from extinction,” said Roger Germann, The Florida Aquarium President and CEO. “And, while many coral experts didn’t believe it could be done, we took that challenge to heart and dedicated our resources and expertise to achieve this monumental outcome. We remain fiercely committed to saving North America’s only barrier reef and will now work even harder to protect and restore our Blue Planet.”
The Florida Aquarium and the Horniman Museum and Gardens, based in London, spent months mimicking the natural environment of corals using advanced technology to reproduce the timing of sunrises, sunsets, moonrises and moonsets to trigger the animals to spawn.
“The massive and fully synchronized spawning at The Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation, which occurred exactly at the predicted wild spawning time, indicated perfect aquatic conditions for pillar corals in our Project Coral system,” said Senior Coral Scientist Keri O’Neil. “When you have great husbandry, great water quality, and all of the right environmental cues, this is what you can do, you can change the game for coral restoration.” – FloridaAquarium.org
September 6 – Energy Storing Bricks
Chemists have demonstrated that conventional bricks can be transformed into energy storage devices powerful enough to turn on LED lights. “Smart bricks” can turn the walls of a home into a battery storage for renewable energy..”sufficient enough for you to light up emergency lighting that’s in a hallway or sensors that could be embedded inside the walls of a house,” said study co-author Julio M. D’Arcy – Washington University assistant professor of chemistry in St. Louis, Missouri. “The next step is trying to store more energy, so that you can power bigger devices – like maybe a laptop – directly from the walls of the house.” He explained that using bricks to store heat and hold electricity has never been tried before. “We took advantage of what bricks offer, and what they offer is a porous network and a very strong material.” However, he clarified that “smart bricks” are technically supercapacitors, which differ from batteries in that they cannot hold onto a charge or deliver sustained energy over long periods of time. – NatureCommunications.com
August 30 – Flint Water Crisis – Justice for Victims
Michigan will pay $600M to settle the groundbreaking Flint water crisis class action suit. “The residents of Flint were victims of horrendous decisions by the state, its employees, and other defendants that have resulted in tragic and devastating consequences,” said Florida attorney Ted Leopold, who led the class-action suit along with Michigan attorney Michael Pitt. “While we can never undo the damage that occurred to the citizens and community of Flint, we are pleased that today we were able to secure a measure of justice.”
August 16 – Thin Triple-pane Windows
Thin triple-pane windows save even more energy while being comfortable and bright. “Windows are how we connect to the outdoors,” says Robert Hart, principal scientific engineering associate at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, noting that they have a great impact on energy use and occupant comfort. But windows used today are typically the “poorest thermally performing part” of the building envelope, potentially resulting in drafts, condensation, or overheating. Hart is part of a Department of Energy-funded team working with organizations and manufacturers (including makers of the new thin triple-pane windows — Anderson Corporation, Ply Gem, and Alpen HPP) to develop better windows, scale production, and reduce costs. – aceee.org
August 9 – Hope for Neglected National Parks
“The House passed, and the president has said he will sign, the Great American Outdoors Act, which includes full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and addresses the National Park System’s long-delayed $12 billion maintenance backlog…The preservation of treasured outdoor spaces accomplished through LWCF funding has been achieved using less than one half of the $900 million per year originally intended by Congress. The remainder has been siphoned off for non-outdoor projects. Today we are on the verge of having a fully funded LWCF at a time when it’s needed most.” – USAToday
August 2 – Saving Endangered Tigers & Reviving 100-million-year-old Microbes
With only 3900 tigers left in the world, sightings of engendered tigers in western Thailand have rekindled hope that the tigers are returning to the country’s forests after being poached nearly into extinction. – CNN.com
Also reported this week: Scientists have revived 100-million-year-old-microbes collected from the deepest depths of the ocean. “It’s the least-explored large biome on Earth, because it covers 70 percent of Earth’s surface,” says the University of Rhode Island’s Steven D’Hondt, who co-led the expedition and coauthored a new paper in Nature Communications describing the findings. Ggeomicrobiologist Fumio Inagaki, director of JAMSTEC’s Mantle Drilling Promotion Office, who co-led the expedition and coauthored the new paper, declared. “I think it provides some crucial information for understanding the habitability of life on Earth, of course, but also the other planets, such as Mars’ subsurface. ” – NatureCommunications.com
July 26 – Carbon Pollution-Free Power by 2035
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced a $2 trillion climate plan for “an irreversible path” to a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. Biden plans to upgrade 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes for increased energy efficiency. The proposal shifts major cities toward public transportation and, according to the Biden team, will “create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure.”
July 19 – Metal Eating Bacteria
Breaking News: California Institute of Technology (Caltech) microbiologists discovered a type of bacteria that eats and gets its calories from metal – using a chalk-like type of manganese, a commonly found chemical element. Reported in Nature journal on July 14, the scientists note that these are the first bacteria to use manganese as an energy source. This research can result in a better understanding of groundwater and water systems clogged by manganese oxides.
July 12 – Keystone Pipeline & Grizzly Bears
The Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Keystone XL pipeline project by refusing to exclude the project from an arduous permit and regulation process – thus jeopardizing the project under a Biden presidency. Further, the 9th circuit court ruled that grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem will remain federally protected and not be subjected to sport hunting – a huge victory for environmental groups, citizens and tribal entities that sued the Fish & Wildlife service to restore the highest level of protection to grizzlies.
July 5 – Drive Less/Eat More
State Farm is providing a first-ever dividend to auto customers in the form of a policy credit. State Farm’s Good Neighbor Relief Program is reducing payments due by nearly 60 percent for the period March 20 through May 31. Other auto insurers may be following suit. Driving less is not only reducing pollution, but is putting food on the table for many. Imagine that.
June 21 – Countdown for the Eco-Destroyer-in-Chief
The best news this week: According to all leading polls, environment destroyer in-chief Donald Trump is failing miserably in his bid for re-election. Bravo to Joe Biden!
June 14 – Soap Bubble Pollination Replaces Vanishing Bees
“The researchers found that a soap bubble solution with an optimized pH, calcium, other minerals and chemicals was the most effective concentration for germination and for retaining pollen grains on the thin film of the bubbles and transporting them to the targeted flowers.” – CNN.com
June 7 – Unimaginable Forest Growth
“Tiny, dense forests are springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis….based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who has planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere.” – TheGuardian
“In just 2 years the forest growth is unimaginable. Miyawaki forest is [an] answer to cities which are turning to concrete jungles. Small patch of forests in multiple locations within the city will act as carbon sink for the city.” – SayTrees.org