<![CDATA[The Earth & I]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/libraryRSS for NodeSun, 03 Mar 2024 08:08:58 GMT<![CDATA[Rare Total Solar Eclipse to Cross Portions of North America on April 8]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/rare-total-solar-eclipse-to-cross-portions-of-north-america-on-april-865d17b9261f7218570e4ddeeThu, 22 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial Team2017 solar eclipse.

Portions of Mexico, the US, and Canada will experience a rare total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, an event attracting broad public interest and launching a host of scientific experiments to study such things as animal behavior during the short-lived daytime darkness.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has set up a special website for the eclipse to provide safety recommendations and important data to assist eclipse- watchers and residents within the narrow band of darkness as it travels northeast across the continent.

NASA reports that, with cooperating local weather conditions, Mexico’s Pacific coastline will mark the phenomenon’s North American debut at approximately 11:07 a.m. PDT.

After traveling northeastward across portions of Mexico, the eclipse will pass over portions of several US states from Texas to Maine prior to exiting the Atlantic coastline of Newfoundland, Canada, at 5:16 p.m. NDT.

Projected path of 4/8/2024 solar eclipse.

According to Scientific American, planned coinciding experiments include equipping volunteer citizen scientists with “small, microphone-equipped electronic devices” that will “listen for shifts in animal noises” during the brief period of “false night.”

NASA aircraft will take images during the eclipse in hopes of capturing enormous plasma eruptions arising from the Sun’s surface. Engineers and physicists will also be measuring effects on radio wave transmissions resulting from the drop in ionization that occurs when the moon’s shadow passes over an area.

 

Source:

https://science.nasa.gov/eclipses/future-eclipses/eclipse-2024/where-when/

]]>
<![CDATA[Good News for the Blues: Dietary Changes May Help Alleviate Depression ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/diet-can-improve-mental-health-outcomes65cfe31f222f396be6982e68Thu, 22 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTAlina BradfordBreakthrough Research Suggests Diet Can Improve Mental Health Outcomes

By Alina Bradford*

A healthy diet may improve mental health.

For anyone grappling with mental health challenges, particularly depression, there is a beacon of hope, and it just might be on the dinner plate. Dr. Christopher Palmer’s latest read, Brain Energy, connects how food choices influence brain health and, consequently, mental states. He is not alone in this thought; a harmonious choir of scientific voices is singing a similar tune about the bond between diet and mental well-being.

 

So, what are Dr. Palmer and others saying about this connection? Essentially, nutrients consumed—or lack thereof—can directly affect brain metabolism and, in turn, mood, energy levels, and overall mental health.

 

The Link Between Brain Energy and Mental Health

 

Palmer’s book, Brain Energy, can be boiled down into one overall concept. The body’s mitochondria and how well they function can affect a person’s health in almost every possible way. Throw off the function of these human cell powerhouses, and health can be negatively affected. When brain cells are affected, this can cause mental health issues.

 

What was the most surprising thing Palmer found when researching? “That all of the risk factors for mental illness relate directly to metabolism and mitochondria. As a scientist and clinician, that was shocking,” Palmer told The Earth & I.

 

Many different factors can throw off mitochondria, but the easiest to control—and one of the most researched—is what humans put in their bodies.

 

The Research Behind Diet and Mental Health

 

The turning point in Palmer’s research came when he decided to treat a patient with schizoaffective disorder using a ketogenic diet. Within months, the patient’s chronic auditory hallucinations and delusions began to subside, and eventually, by Palmer’s estimates, the patient went into 90% to 95% remission. This led Palmer to a theory that mental disorders are metabolic disorders.

The keto diet.

The success of the ketogenic diet may not be surprising to anyone who has lived with epilepsy. The diet has been a treatment for the disease for over 100 years, and many studies over the past decades have found that the diet is a useful treatment.

Scientists are looking into how gut health, vitamin deficiencies, fasting, and more can positively or negatively affect a person’s mental health.

Since epilepsy is a disease linked to the mind, it is not a large jump to suspect that diet may be able to treat mental illness, as well. Palmer is not the only one with this suspicion. Many other scientists are looking into how gut health, vitamin deficiencies, fasting, and more can positively or negatively affect a person’s mental health.

For example, a study in 2023 found that there may be a link between low riboflavin levels and poor mental health. Many studies have also found there may be a link between poor diet and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), though more research is needed to determine what diet may improve SAD symptoms. Dozens of studies have also found a link between the Mediterranean Diet and good mental health.

Additional Factors That Can Influence Mental Health

While diet can play a large role in mental health, it is not the only factor. Palmer points out in his book that many things can positively or negatively affect mental health, such as genetics, medications, drugs, alcohol, hormones, pollution, inflammation, sleep, physical activity, and stress. All of these can affect mitochondria function, which directly affects brain function.

Diets That Can Help Boost Mental Health

All of this research is great, but what can someone do to improve their mental health today? “The first thing I tell people is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution for all people,” says Palmer, who is the founder and director of the Metabolic and Mental Health Program and director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education, both at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

 

“Different people do well with different diets and different lifestyle choices, so it's important to understand the science, as I outline in Brain Energy, all of the treatment options, and then figure out what works best for you,” says Palmer. “If I tell everyone to eat more broccoli, I can guarantee you that that advice won't be all that helpful for most people. It's a little more nuanced than that.”

 

“If I tell everyone to eat more broccoli, I can guarantee you that that advice won't be all that helpful for most people. It's a little more nuanced than that.”

 

For anyone looking to fix their diet to aid their mental health, here are a few things that studies have found to be potentially helpful:

  • Give the keto diet a shot. This diet focuses on foods high in fat and low in carbohydrates (sugars). This diet breaks down fats and produces ketones that energize cells.
  • Try the Mediterranean Diet. This diet is centered on eating fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fish, white meats, and olive oil. “These foods bring a repertoire of nutrients with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, and several of these work together to support brain integrity and chemistry,” said Lina Begdache, a dietitian, nutritionist, and assistant professor of Health and Wellness Studies at Binghamton University in New York. “Research has also shown that the Mediterranean Diet supports resiliency, which protects from mental health decline,” she told The Earth & I.
  • Try to avoid processed foods, meat from animals injected with growth hormones, and other toxins that can be found in foods. “These factors affect brain health at different levels,” said Begdache. “Some of them work by inhibiting the production of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin, which regulates mood. Others promote inflammation by reducing the ability of the blood-brain barrier to control the entry of toxins into the brain. Another concern is that pesticides or their metabolites may later affect the functions of gene (expression) which eventually lead to several neurological diseases.”
  • Increase fiber intake, as this has been found to help with depression and anxiety.
  • Consume more polyphenols if struggling with depression. Some foods that contain polyphenols include legumes, citrus, grapes, tea, coffee, nuts, soy, and spices.

It turns out that diet can play a pivotal role in managing and possibly alleviating symptoms of depression. This idea is not just food for thought; it is becoming a substantial theory backed by growing evidence that suggests healthier eating patterns could lead to healthier mental states.

 

Imagine if tweaking what is on the plate could brighten a person’s mood and offer a new avenue for managing depression. This concept opens a new realm of possibilities for those seeking solace from the grips of this disorder. It is a reminder that sometimes, hope can come from the simplest changes, like switching up the menu. Exploring and understanding this link goes well beyond the topic of food; it is a potential lifeline for millions. So, here's to nourishing both body and mind, one meal at a time.


*Alina Bradford is a safety and security expert who has contributed to CBS, MTV, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, and more. She is currently the editorial lead at SafeWise.com.

]]>
<![CDATA[Chef Claire Vallée—France’s Vegan Food Force]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/chef-claire-vall%C3%A9e-france-s-vegan-food-force65d16d1217588fcde3171199Thu, 22 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTMark SmithCulinary Pioneer Pays Tribute to Nature

By Mark Smith*

Chef Claire Vallée

“In nature I find a friend, a companion, and a mother. My job is to pay tribute to her, to preserve her, and present her to the world.”—Claire Vallée

It can be hard to stand out in the culinary world when one hails from a nation synonymous with fine cuisine. But French chef Claire Vallée is a true gastronomic pioneer. 

Entirely self-taught, her restaurant, ONA, was the first vegan restaurant in France to earn a coveted Michelin star award, and she has become one of the world’s leading advocates for both vegan and sustainable cooking.

But her passion for vegan food transcends simple taste and ingredients. It is rooted in spiritualism, philosophy, and a wider fascination with nature itself.

A former archaeologist, it is perhaps no surprise that her love of the treasures buried in the Earth helped inspire her culinary creations. But it was a journey to the East that lit the fire of inner discovery that set her on the path to success.

Inspired by Temple Cuisine

After working as a chef on a catamaran, Vallée journeyed to Thailand in 2012—and things would never be the same again.

“It was a revelation,” she told The Earth & I.

“I discovered vegetarian cooking through the Buddhist culture. Herbs, roots, spices— nothing escaped my library of tastes, textures, and smells.”

“I discovered vegetarian cooking through the Buddhist culture. Herbs, roots, spices—nothing escaped my library of tastes, textures, and smells. I familiarized myself with umami, the famous fifth taste. And I realized that temple cuisine was just as tasty as that on offer in France.”

Port d’Ares, Gironde, France.

When she returned to France, she settled down in Arès, in Gironde, on the Arcachon Basin, and was hired as a chef in a traditional restaurant. But she quickly realized that that kind of cooking was no longer for her.

“I took a deeper interest in animal distress in farms, slaughterhouses, and during transport. I became aware that, in addition to the cruelty inflicted on these sentient beings, there is also the pollution of soil, rivers, and oceans caused by animal dejecta; the deforestation linked to the cultivation of soya to feed these animals; the methane released into the air which contributes to global warming; and the antibiotics and growth hormones injected and which we humans reciprocally ingest by consuming meat and dairy products,” she said.

‘Animal-Free Origin’

Fueled by a desire to do things differently, coupled with the skills she had picked up in the East, Vallée decided to open ONA— which stands for Origine non animale (animal-free origin)—in Arès near Bordeaux. But that would be easier said than done. Mainstream banks thought her dream was a “crazy idea,” so she went about funding things differently.

She started a crowdfunding campaign. Some 126 people helped raise €10,000 (about $10,753). That money was pooled with a loan from La Nef, a bank that specializes in lending for ethical projects.

She then mobilized a volunteer workforce of painters, masons, electricians, plumbers, gardeners, friends, future customers, strangers, helpers, and local businesses. In less than two months, ONA opened its doors to the public in 2016.

Not only did the restaurant serve vegan food from the onset, it used no animal products in its decorations or furnishings and won praise for its commitment to renewable practices.

Success soon followed. ONA was named in the Michelin Guide for 2021 and received a Michelin star—a first for a vegan restaurant in France. It was also one of 33 restaurants in France to receive a Green Star, a new Michelin Guide category awarded for sustainable practices.

Vegetable butte

Nature as Friend, Companion, Mother

When it comes to her culinary ideas, it is in the natural world that Vallée said she finds true inspiration.

“In nature I find a friend, a companion, and a mother. My job is to pay tribute to her, to preserve her, and present her to the world. I find her as fragile as she is strong, as moving as she is cruel, as beautiful as she is sometimes sad.”

She believes that plant-based cooking allows people to break free from traditional cooking constraints, get out of their comfort zones, and think more deeply about the living world and the plate.

“It offers an unrivaled playground for renewed creativity, thanks to the complexity and the thousands of plant varieties that exist,” she said.

Chef Vallée likes harmony on the plate.

People Eat with Their Eyes

People eat with their eyes, or so the saying goes, and as a former art historian, Vallée likes things to look good on the plate. But she doesn’t advocate any hard and fast rules for budding chefs when it comes to presentation.

“I don't really have any advice on culinary aesthetics. Personally, I'm a keen observer of nature and its changing colors over time. I also like to bring harmony to proposals and the positioning of food on and around the plate,” she said.  

Mycellium

The 'Stars' of Her Kitchen

In addition to her creativity and achievements with food, she is also known for her passion for using renewable materials. This is perhaps best illustrated by the relatively small and trusted team of suppliers she keeps around her.

“They are the stars of my kitchen,” she enthused.

“Carole my greengrocer; Claire my ceramist; Pierre my baker; Philippe my wine merchant; Benoît my grocer, and Cyril my horticulturist. Their work is sourced from organic, ecological, or sustainable agriculture. They all live within a 20 km (12 mile) radius of the restaurant.”

“Carole my greengrocer; Claire my ceramist; Pierre my baker; Philippe my wine merchant; Benoît my grocer, and Cyril my horticulturist. All six are passionate about their respective fields. Their work is sourced from organic, ecological, or sustainable agriculture. They all live within a 20 km (12 miles) radius of the restaurant and add value to the region through their know-how and techniques.”

Animals

Changing Seasons and Stories

Despite her reputation in the kitchen, chef Vallée is never one to rest on her laurels and likes to change things up when it comes to putting new creations on the menu.

“My cooking is rather unusual in that I regularly change the dishes according to the seasons and my inspirations,” she said. “What's more, my culinary approach focuses on the message and the story. All dishes are important in this sense and contribute to the narrative.”

Keep It Sustainable at Home

"I wrote my book, Origine Non Animale, Pour Une Gastronomie Végétale, published in 2023. So, my customers can easily draw inspiration from some of my recipes to cook at home.”

 When it comes to creating delicious vegan dishes and helping support sustainability at home, Vallée said it is the “small, simple gestures” that make a difference every day.

 

“Be careful not to let the water run for hours on end. With basins, you can reduce this impact by washing your vegetables, and then rinsing them in another, and the same goes for washing up. Even in an apartment, uneaten peelings can be fed into worm composters. Prefer bulk packaging to reduce packaging consumption. And, of course, give preference to local and seasonal produce—organic is even better,” she told The Earth & I.

Cooking as a Virtue

She added: “Cooking for yourself is also a virtuous act for yourself, others, and the planet. We spend less and pay more attention to what we eat when we cook. Making your own household products doesn't actually take much time, and it's frankly 1,000 times more environmentally friendly.

Also, people can stop wasting food “by drying your food, preserving it by fermenting it, salting it ... just like our grandparents did!” she advised.

From her self-taught beginnings and art history and archaeology background to her success in bringing people together to help realize a dream, it is clear Vallée is no ordinary chef. She has blazed a trail that is kinder to nature, inspiring many others along the way, and will hopefully continue to do so long into the future.


*Mark Smith is a journalist and author from the UK. He has written on subjects ranging from business and technology to world affairs, history, and popular culture for the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph, and magazines in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

]]>
<![CDATA[Green School Bali: Caring for Students, Connecting with Nature]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/green-school-bali-sustainable-education-immersed-in-nature65d4f1d955cb486ded784c7fThu, 22 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTMarion Warin MillerBy Marion Warin Miller*

Green School Bali’s students assemble in the all-bamboo ARC, with its 19-meter (62 ft) arches.

“Eco” or “green” schools have been around for decades, but an extraordinary international school on the Indonesian island of Bali is breaking new ground for environmentally oriented education. Green School Bali (GSB), founded near Ubud, on the island of Bali, is dedicated to building “a community of learners making our world sustainable.” 

Successful entrepreneur and visionary environmental activist John Hardy founded GSB in 2008 with his wife, Cynthia. Years earlier, he had moved to Bali from Canada to escape the harsh Canadian climate, and in 2006, he sold his shares in his eco-friendly Bali jewelry business.

Cynthia and John Hardy, founders of Green School Bali.

Hardy’s growing concern with the deterioration of the environment prompted him to take decisive action for the sake of his four children and future grandchildren. As a child, he had disliked school (he had undiagnosed dyslexia), so his vision for Green School Bali was to create a school with a hands-on, interactive, and fun-loving learning environment that would appeal to a wide range of students. 

Green School Bali has won awards and praise. GSB is the “most unique and impressive” school, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said when he visited the school in 2015, according to the Australian publication, The Age. British business billionaire Richard Branson [Virgin Group] also admired the school, saying he had “never been more jealous” of school kids in his life, the same article said.

Spectacular Bamboo Architecture

At first sight, the most striking aspects of GSB are its spectacular architecture and lush jungle environment. Most of the school’s more than fifty buildings are constructed from bamboo treated with boron to prevent insect damage and increase longevity. They showcase ways in which building materials and designs can be both environmentally responsible and aesthetically pleasing. The classrooms are wall-less, and many have their own permaculture garden attached.

Most of the school’s buildings are constructed from bamboo … [and] showcase ways in which building materials and designs can be both environmentally responsible and aesthetically pleasing.
The Millennium Bridge in Sibang Kaja, Bali, has a span of 23 meters (25 yards) over the Ayung River, which runs through Green School Bali’s campus.

In 2004, Hardy was fortunate to meet Jörg Stamm, a prominent German architect who specializes in building green structures made from bamboo instead of traditional lumber, concrete, or steel. When Hardy decided to open his ecologically oriented school, Stamm assisted him by constructing unique and astonishing structures on the Green School Bali campus. He used parabolic arches to create the largest bamboo bridge in Asia, the Millennium Bridge in Sibang Kaja, Bali. It has a span of 23 meters (25 yards) over the Ayung River, which runs through the school’s campus. He also employed spiral towers to create Heart of School, a stunning central campus building.

Other bamboo masterpieces on GSB’s campus include the Arc, a towering sports and community center; a wall-less and peaceful yoga pavilion next to the river; and a zero-waste Innovation Hub, all designed by Hardy’s eldest child, his daughter Elora, the founder of Ibuku, a futuristic bamboo architectural firm.

Commitment to Energy Efficiency and Waste Reduction

The school’s commitment to energy efficiency is evidenced by its use of solar panels and its giant hydroelectric vortex turbine power plant on the Ayung River. Combined, they provide 100% renewable electric energy.

Solar panels at the Green School Bali.

The school’s commitment to go completely for renewable energy won them the prestigious Zayed Future Energy Prize in 2017. This gave them the funding to complete “The Vortex,” their giant hydro-turbine power plant, and in 2019, they held a ceremony to announce that Green School Bali had gone “100% off the grid,” thanks to 23.7% solar power and 76.3% vortex power.

The school also boasts comprehensive waste reduction and water collecting initiatives. These include organic waste treatment toilets and a robust recycling program—they ingeniously reuse much of the recycled materials through their KemBali Recycling Center, which services the school and the local community.

[The school] ingeniously reuse[s] much of the recycled materials through their KemBali Recycling Center, which services the school and the local community.

GSB says its natural, green campus environment has a profound impact on the health and well-being of both students and teachers. As Principal Sal Gordon has written, “At Green School, a student’s well-being matters more than their grades.” The school believes that when the well-being of students is taken care of, they will function at their best.

Teaching in a wall-less classroom at Green School Bali.

Green Curriculum

The Green School’s curriculum has project-based environmental studies as a core component and integrates them in traditional subjects, such as mathematics, literature, and science. The students gain hands-on learning experiences with permaculture gardening (led by Hardy’s son, Orin, founder of the Kul Kul permaculture farm) and caring for the campus. They also initiated projects, such as the Bye Bye Plastic Bags movement, which is reducing plastic bag use on Bali and in 50 other locations around the world.

This project-based approach ensures that students not only learn about environmental issues but envision and plan meaningful actions to address them. Students are further taught about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty and inequality, ensure people’s health, and protect the planet.

[The school’s] project-based approach ensures that students not only learn about environmental issues but envision and plan meaningful actions to address them.

At the end of their schooling, students in the 12th grade undertake and present—in TED-style talks—a capstone project, called Greenstone, which helps them build their resumes. Those in 8th grade graduate after completing a similar year-long Quest project. Research has shown that these types of inquiry-based education are more effective because they engage the children and their interests.

GSB involves parents—many of whom move their families to Bali and work remotely so their children can attend the school—the local community, and indigenous culture in its programs. Students and faculty at GSB have developed the Bio Bus, a large vehicle powered by biodiesel produced from used cooking oil which students collect from restaurants. Three such buses are used to transport local students to and from school, and on weekends, the buses can be used by others in the community. This project provided interdisciplinary process learning for the students. The school also provides after-school programs and activities for students from local schools. Furthermore, they offer scholarships to local students.

As one teacher reports, “Our students aim to raise awareness among their peers outside Green School about the importance of cherishing Mother Earth and caring for our planet.” In a recent project with the Green School Foundation, the students learned “about waste management practices and organic gardening with SD 4 Sibang Gede [a school in Sibang Gede village] students and teachers.”

Students learning about organic gardening.

Training for Educators

Green School Bali’s impact and influence extends outside the school’s campus and even beyond Indonesia. The school offers a training program for educators from around the world, the Green Educators Program, enabling them to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to provide students with quality education and a path to sustainability leadership. Also, through The Bridge @ Green School, Green School for Grownups, GSB offers education for parents and other local adults.

Additionally, GSB is becoming a global movement. It has helped sister schools open in New Zealand, South Africa, and Tulum, Mexico (opening in 2026). These schools operate based on the same philosophy of holistic education and the three primary rules of GSB: “Be local, let your environment be your guide, and envisage how your grandchildren will be affected by your actions.”

Dr. Goodall’s Visit

In 2012, esteemed author and primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall visited GSB, where she gave the graduation keynote address and released two endangered Bali Starlings in a symbolic gesture of GSB’s efforts to protect wildlife.

Esteemed author and primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall (right) gave the 2012 graduation keynote address at Green School Bali.

“I think all the students here are incredibly lucky, because there is this great atmosphere of learning about the things you care about, interacting with the environment, and learning some of the core values of success in life, which is respect and kindness and understanding,” she said in her address.

“I have the impression of a community of people who care about each other and who care about the natural world, and I truly think that when the students graduate from here they will become leaders of the right sort to try and move this troubled world into a new phase which we so desperately need."

Editor’s note: GSB provides insights into their educational programs and vibrant campus through their online Virtual Open Days several times a year.


*Marion Warin Miller is a French bilingual researcher, writer, and editor now residing in Northern Virginia. She has master’s degrees in Business and Economics, and International Economics and Economic Development. She has also ministered for community development and world peace. As a grandmother of eight, she cares deeply about environmental stewardship and preserving natural wonders for future generations. She has traveled to many natural sites in countries around the world and now retreats to the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley National Park area whenever time allows.

]]>
<![CDATA[International Report on Invasive Species Sees ‘Major Global Threat’ ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/international-report-on-invasive-species-sees-major-global-threat65ca87f779eb06c8d75974e5Thu, 22 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamThe Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)*, founded in Panama in 2012 by the governments of 94 nations, has issued a report estimating that some 37,000 invasive alien species have been introduced worldwide, typically via human activity. The September 2023 report by the independent, 143-member state IPBES [the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides secretariat services to IPBES] calls invasive alien species a “major global threat” to the natural world and to human food security, economic development, and health. According to the IPBES’ Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control: 

Invasive Species
  1. Invasive alien species are one of the five major drivers of biodiversity loss.
  2. More than 3,500 of the 37,000 invasive alien species are “harmful” or “threatening to nature, nature’s contribution to people and good quality of life.”
  3. In 2019 alone, the global cost of invasive alien species exceeded $423 billion; costs have quadrupled each decade since 1970.
  4. To date, 1,061 alien plants are known to be invasive worldwide, as are 1,852 alien invertebrates (22%), 461 alien vertebrates (14%), and 141 alien microbes (11%).
  5. Prof. Anibal Pauchard of Chile, co-chair of the assessment, said that around 218 invasive alien species have been responsible for over 1,200 local extinctions, and 85% of the impacts of alien invasions on native species are negative.
  6. About 80% of the documented impacts of invasions on nature’s contributions to people are negative, with the report citing the impact of the European shore crab on commercial shellfish beds in New England as an example.
  7. In addition, an estimated 85% of documented impacts (3,208) negatively affect human quality of life, such as the health impacts of malaria, Zika, and West Nile Fever spread by invasive mosquito populations. (The remaining 15% or 575 had positive impacts.)
  8. The “world’s most widespread” invasive alien species is the water hyacinth. In Uganda’s Lake Victoria, for instance, the invasive weed has clogged shorelines; blocked access to fishing areas and reduced catches; interrupted electricity from hydropower plants; and encouraged mosquito populations.

Sources: 

  • https://www.ipbes.net/IASmediarelease 
  • https://www.ipbes.net/  
  • *The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an independent intergovernmental body established by states to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development. It was established in Panama City, on April 21, 2012, by 94 Governments. It is not a United Nations body. However, at the request of the IPBES Plenary and with the authorization of the UNEP Governing Council in 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides secretariat services to IPBES.   
]]>
<![CDATA[2024 Renewable Energy Industry Outlook for US ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/2024-renewable-energy-industry-outlook-for-us65ca8a7b2355688cef4d6a03Thu, 22 Feb 2024 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamReport Highlights Projected Growth in Solar, Storage, and Clean Hydrogen 

Deloitte Insight is a global provider (with offices in 134 countries) of advisory, audit, assurance, consulting, risk management, and tax services, along with propriety research. Their US renewable energy industry outlook report for 2024 sees growth in solar, storage, and clean hydrogen, with minimal growth in wind. The report, released in December 2023 by Deloitte’s Research Center for Energy & Industrials, projects around 100,000 new jobs will be created this year. 

Renewable Outlook
  1. A Deloitte survey found that only 2% of respondents saw no constraints on their renewable energy deployment plans for 2024. For others, the top concerns were costs (32%), permits (24%), and resilience during adverse weather events (18%).
  2. The same respondents said gas (46%) and nuclear (34%) were likely to be the most resilient to extreme weather events in their territories. Coal and solar (8% each) and wind (4%) were deemed less reliable.
  3. Current solar module capacity is 13.1 gigawatts-direct current (GWdc), and this is projected to increase to a total of 57.3 GWdc in 2024. Meanwhile, production of solar module components (polysilicon, ingots, wafers, and cells) are projected to increase by 4.5 GWdc (polysilicon), 3.3 GWdc (ingots and wafers), and 14.3 GWdc (cells), respectively.
  4. Current battery storage is 28.3 GWh/year. This is projected to increase by 212.0 GWh/year to a total of 240.3 GWh/year, more than an eight-fold increase.
  5. Clean hydrogen through electrolyzers is currently 1.0 GW/year, which is projected to double to 2.0 GW/year in 2024.
  6. Some 72,557 construction (five-year) jobs and 24,193 operations (permanent) jobs are expected to be created for solar, storage, wind, and clean hydrogen plants, for a total of 96,750 jobs. Among these, 30,088 will be for solar, 40,236 for storage, 8,059 for wind, and 18,367 for clean hydrogen.

Sources: 

]]>
<![CDATA[Nanoplastics Research Finds ‘10 to 100 Times’ More Particles Than Expected in Bottled Water ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/nanoplastics-research-finds-10-to-100-times-more-particles-than-expected-in-bottled-water65d17cbd6e259c3e6d4152d7Thu, 22 Feb 2024 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamA single bottle of drinking water typically contains tens of thousands of nanoplastic particles.

According to a Science Daily news brief, a recent study—published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a research team primarily from Columbia Universityhas used a new technique to count nanoplastic particles in bottled water for the first time. The technique, called “stimulated Raman scattering microscopy,” probes water samples with two simultaneous lasers that have been tuned to make targeted molecules resonate.

According to the study’s authors, the team’s technique, coinvented by Columbia University biophysicist Prof. Wei Min, found that an average liter of bottled water contained approximately 240,000 detectable plastic fragments. This, according to Science Daily, was “10 to 100 times greater than previous estimates.”

Scientists have shown that potable bottled water typically contains tens of thousands of tiny microplastic fragments (per bottle) and that microplastics break down further into smaller pieces known as nanoplastics (measuring one micrometer or less—1/70th of the width of a human hair). Little has been known, however, about what numbers, sizes, and types of the tinier nanoplastic particles are in bottled water.

That may be about to change.

"This opens a window where we can look into a world that was not exposed to us before,” Associate Professor Beizhan Yan, study coauthor and Columbia University environmental chemist, said in the Science Daily brief.

The team tested bottled water for seven common plastic particulates down to 100 nanometers in size, focusing on three popular bottled water brands sold in the US. Their findings ranged from 110,000 to 370,000 particles per liter, of which 90% were nanoplastics and 10% were microplastics. They were also able to distinguish between the seven types of plastic and determine their distinguishing shapes, a feat that could be helpful in future research.

Unsurprisingly, a plastic commonly found in the samples was the plastic used to make the water bottle, polyethylene terephthalate (PET). However, a type of nylon called polyamide, which is commonly used to purify water before bottling it, was found in greater quantities than PET.

Moreover, the seven targeted plastics only made up about 10% of the nanoparticles found in the samples, leaving 90% unidentified. This demonstrates "the complicated particle composition inside the seemingly simple water sample," the study authors wrote. “The common existence of natural organic matter certainly requires prudent distinguishment," they added.

What is next for the researchers? “There is a huge world of nanoplastics to be studied," said Min. He noted that the mass of nanoplastics is far less than the mass of microplastics, but "it's not size that matters. It's the numbers, because the smaller things are, the more easily they can get inside us." Indeed, compared with microplastics, nanoplastic particles can more readily make their way into body tissues—including lung tissues—with unknown, potentially serious health impacts.

 

Sources:

]]>
<![CDATA[Challenges of Using Natural Water Sources: How to Survive with Water in the Wild]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/how-to-survive-with-water-in-the-wild65cfdbe0775c1b4ca9178ef4Wed, 21 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTGordon CairnsBy Gordon Cairns*

The Big Sur Coast in California.

Survival specialists talk about the rule of threes: People can survive three minutes without oxygen, three days without water, and three weeks without food.

Oxygen is generally plentiful and most missing people will hopefully be rescued before 21 days, which allows them to focus on finding water—something human beings are remarkably resourceful at doing. Just ask Angela Hernandez and Harry Burleigh.

In July 2018, the 23-year-old woman’s Jeep swerved off California’s Highway 1 and plummeted 200 feet to land on the Big Sur shore. Incredibly, she survived seven long days, using only a small hose to catch water dripping from moss on the rocks, before being rescued.

As she lay sheltered below the cliff face looking out at the Pacific Ocean, she had time to consider the irony of the Earth being known as “The Blue Planet” for the amount of water it holds—water that she was unable to drink.

While it’s true this aquamarine world has seven-tenths of its surface covered by water, only 3% of that is fresh, and only a tiny amount of that fresh water, 0.06%, is easy to access.

New research is showing that it’s not only the waters of the oceans and seas that are not safe to drink. The purity of fresh water is also being degraded.

Man-Made Impurities in Water

A leading expert in water quality improvement, Dr. Satinder Ahuja, president of Ahuja Consulting, warns that human activity has reduced the amount of non-polluted water, making it more difficult to simply drink the water in its natural state.

“Our civilization has managed to pollute our surface water, and even groundwater; this necessitates purification of water for drinking,” he writes in his Handbook of Water Purity and Quality (Second Edition), 2021.

Even rainwater isn’t pure. “Rain is usually contaminated with various pollutants that we now put into the atmosphere,” Dr. Ahuja writes.

According to Dr. Ahuja, over 700 different chemicals have been found in United States tap drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies 129 of these chemicals as being particularly dangerous and has set standards for approximately 90 contaminants in drinking water, including inorganic arsenic.

Moreover, sanitized tap water is still not pristine. It may be “reasonably expected to contain at least small amounts of some contaminants” although not enough to pose a health risk, Dr. Ahuja writes.  

However, according to Dr. Ahuja, over 700 different chemicals have been found in United States tap drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies 129 of these chemicals as being particularly dangerous and has set standards for approximately 90 contaminants in drinking water. This includes inorganic arsenic, a known human carcinogen causally associated with cancers of the skin, bladder, and lungs.

Nature Also Contributes Impurities

In addition to man-made water pollution, nature also plays a large part in the quality of water. The vegetation it flows through, the rocks it runs over, the dust and salt that blows into it, the storms which add to it, and the droughts that evaporate it all impact water quality and give it a certain chemical signature.

Water reacts to the organic materials it flows through, such as leaves and roots, soil bacteria, and algae, and, when the balance in this material shifts, the ecosystem and water quality changes. Aquatic plants produce oxygen and consume carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and phosphorous through photosynthesis, while decaying plant materials almost do the opposite, consuming oxygen and producing carbon dioxide, changing the physical and chemical composition of the water.

Even spring water should be treated prior to consumption.

Natural water can contain dissolved salts and minerals, which are necessary components of good quality water and help maintain healthy organisms that rely on this ecosystem. There is a great variation in the number of dissolved materials that water carries—from 200,000 parts per million (ppm) in saline aquifers to as little as 50 ppm of total dissolved solids in spring water. Under EPA recommendations, drinking water should contain up to 500 ppm of total dissolved solids. Natural water can also contain a variety of contaminants arising from erosion, soil leaching, and weathering processes.

There is a great variation in the number of dissolved materials that water carries—from 200,000 parts per million (ppm) in saline aquifers to as little as 50 ppm of total dissolved solids in spring water.

Another contamination problem is caused by fluoride. Many rocks and minerals in the Earth's crust contain this substance; it can be leached out by natural weathering and rainwater. In some regions, natural geology or soils contain concentrations of phosphorus and low concentrations of arsenic that endanger human and ecosystem health.

Pathogens in the water, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites, remain a life-threatening problem. Should any of these be ingested, there is a risk of succumbing to a fatal disease, such as cholera, typhoid, or schistosomiasis, not to mention dysentery and other diarrheal diseases.

“Each year there are about 250 million cases of water-related diseases,” with roughly 5 million to 10 million deaths, Dr. Ahuja writes.

The specific number of people affected by waterborne diseases varies from year to year due to such factors as prevalence of environmental pathogens, public health infrastructure, and sanitation facilities. The World Health Organization (WHO) regularly provides estimates and updates on the global impact of various waterborne diseases, such as in their 2019 report.

Cleaning Public Water

With so many possible causes for making water undrinkable, public water treatment plants need to process water thoroughly through many stages to make it safe for the public.

Most of the globe has sanitation services; however, in 2022, 2 billion people still lacked access to “safely managed” domestic drinking water, or water that is “clean, uncontaminated, and accessible at home,” according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. [See Earth & I data brief of October 2022.]

The five-stage water treatment process begins with coagulation, where chemicals with a positive charge are added to the water to neutralize the negative charge of dirt and other dissolved particles.

This is followed by flocculation, where the water is mixed to form larger particles, and sedimentation, which separates the larger particles out of the water. The next step is filtration, where the clear water passes through different sized filters, and then the final step, disinfection. The treatment differs depending on the quality of the source water.

Survival Techniques in the Wild

If one has traveled off-grid—either accidentally or deliberately—without water, the best solution is to find a natural source of drinking water, according to The Survival University, based in Cripple Creek, Colorado [see map]. Look for lusher green vegetation, insects, or animal tracks, or listen for the sound of water to help locate this crucial resource.

A part of Calf Creek in Oregon.

It is best to search on lower ground like Harry Burleigh. The veteran outdoorsman, minus his usual supplies, went on an impromptu fishing trip in the Southern Oregon wilderness in 2021. Lost and injured, and stricken with malnutrition, hypothermia, and dehydration, he survived 17 days by drinking creek water.

If clear water can’t be found but there’s mud, this means groundwater should be available. Dig a hole about a foot deep and in diameter, and wait for it to fill with water. This might not look the most appetizing, but the water will be drinkable in an emergency, especially if it can be strained through some cloth. The Survival University cautions: “It's crucial to remember that any time you drink found water without purifying it, you're taking a risk.”

“It's crucial to remember that any time you drink found water without purifying it, you're taking a risk.”
Use of a survival water filter.

Additional bushcraft skills have been adapted from people in Australia to be used in all sorts of environments.

Rainwater is a lifesaving source and can be collected ideally in some sort of container and also a waterproof sheeting or jacket—even a cloth can collect enough moisture to slake a dehydrated person’s thirst. If the morning has heavy dew, this form of water can also be collected and may provide enough for a drink. Many types of vegetation can give water too. Depending on the location; fruits, coconuts, cacti, vines, palm trees, and bamboo can all be utilized for hydration.

If lost near a visible source of water, then it is possible to make drinking water safer by boiling it with some sort of container and a way of making a fire—one should first try to filter out the larger particles in the water by passing it through a cloth. Given sufficient time, the UV radiation and heat from sunlight can kill bacteria, protozoa, and viruses in water stored in the right type of container (such as clear or blue PET bottles or clear glass bottles). Therefore, keeping the water in the sun can reduce the number of pathogens in the water if it is impossible to start a fire. Using one or two purification tablets, such as sodium hypochlorite, in the water can also help make the water drinkable, as will using a portable water purifier or filter.


*Gordon Cairns is a freelance journalist and teacher of English and Forest Schools based in Scotland.

]]>
<![CDATA[French Artisans Use Local Renewables to Build Furniture that Lasts]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/french-artisans-use-local-renewables-to-build-furniture-that-lasts65cfe6e29e2b8b1358aefc0dWed, 21 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTNatasha Spencer-JolliffeAlki’s Oak and Clay Lines Bolster Basque Region Ecosystem and Economy 

By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe*

Alki’s furniture is crafted mostly from oak and natural clay.

Alki, a prospering furniture company in France’s hilly Basque Country, has found a way to bolster the region’s economy, communities, and ecosystems—by using local renewable stock to design and build furniture that can last for generations.

Alki artisans posing with their handiwork.

A cooperative of local artisans who believe that sustainable development is the only way forward, Alki crafts its lines from certified renewable local hardwoods known for durability, and stability. Their furniture has a distinctive, contemporary look, showcasing a unity of purpose and design—and of functional and natural beauty.

Concerned about increased atmospheric carbon, Alki’s primary resource is both natural and renewable. “Oak, Alki’s main material of choice, embodies our commitment to integrated sustainable development,” Eki Solorzano, Alki’s communications and press official, told The Earth & I.   

“We are able to trace the tree from the moment it is selected from reserved forests, with the focus being on sources certified for their sustainable management.”

Most of the company’s oak comes from French forests. Alki ensures that the wood is Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certified (Europe) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified (US). “We are able to trace the tree from the moment it is selected from reserved forests, with the focus being on sources certified for their sustainable management,” Solorzano said.

Alki works with European species of oak, a relatively plentiful, versatile wood that is hard, though fairly easy to work with. Oak also finishes beautifully for natural looks and is quite resistant to humidity and shrinkage, making it an ideal choice for luxury furniture or lasting goods. These include Alki’s Patrick Jouin-designed chairs at the National Library of France (Bibliothèque Nationale de France).

Alki furniture

The longer a piece of furniture lasts, the fewer trees are cut down to replace it.

 

Rejecting Planned Obsolescence

 

With both environment and user in mind, the furniture creator readily discards the age-old business strategy of “planned obsolescence,” whereby a manufacturer builds a product with its end in mind. In other words, products are sometimes made to become obsolete, unfashionable, or unusable in a relatively short period of time.

 

The furniture creator readily discards the age-old business strategy of “planned obsolescence.”

Alki’s mission, from its inception, was the opposite. 

Drawing on Talented Designers

Typically collaborating with some of the most talented regional designers, Alki partners with those aligned with its values of renewable local sourcing and enduring products. “Each designer is carefully selected for each project because each one is different, just as each designer has their ideas, experiences, and background,” Solorzano said.

Alki’s artistic director is French industrial designer Jean Louis Iratzoki. The brand also collaborates with designers and studios such as Ander Lizaso, Form Us With Love, Patrick Jouin, Samuel Accoceberry, and Patrick Norguet.

Sticking to its values for sourcing and design has paid off. In 2023, Alki took its designs to the prestigious Milan Furniture Fair.

Consistent Values from the Beginning

 

Inspired by working with metal in the Mondragon, the largest group of cooperatives in Basque Country, Alki’s five founders were friends committed to living, working, and building a viable business in the region’s western Pyrenees mountains. 

 

Launched in 1981, Alki’s initial aim was to stem the flight of local youth and support the Pays Basque, a cross border region of France and Spain that was mired at the time in economic, social, and political crises.

The group began by asking themselves which professions required the most human labor. “Working with metal required too much investment in machinery per workstation,” Eki Solorzano, Alki’s communications and press official, told The Earth & I. The founders settled on furniture, as manufacturing wooden furniture required less investment per workstation.

Alki’s workshop today.

Alki opened its first workshop more than 30 years ago in Itxassou, a small village in the heart of French Basque Country.

Alki’s cooperative roots have since attracted ideological and financial support, ensuring that its impact continues beyond economics.

Pursuing Sustainable Development

To start, Alki managers prioritized the local region. All of Alki’s products are manufactured in its workshop in the heart of the French Basque Country, while 80% of its suppliers are based within a radius of less than 100 km (62 miles).

“For many years, we have fostered alliances and joint efforts with local partners, whether they work with metal, clay, or upholstery,” Solorzano told The Earth & I. “The spirit of collaboration enables Alki to promote and preserve local expertise and techniques while strengthening our roots within our region,” she added.

Our ambition was, and still is, to craft a cultural and commercial project that would be a veritable catalyst for our environment, enabling it to flourish by encouraging cooperation between people and enterprises in order to offer our customers the very best,” said Solorzano. “With this [aim] in mind, Alki works alongside individuals, supporting initiatives and projects that bring added value and strive for the future of our region.”

Quest for Innovation

Although oak is ubiquitous in Alki’s products, the furniture makers use a variety of raw materials in their collections. “Our constant quest for innovation spurs us to explore new avenues and possibilities,” said Solorzano.

 Alki’s Kuskoa Bi chair with bioplastic seating.

This commitment led Alki to debut a chair line in 2015 called ,Kuskoa Bi, with seating crafted from a state-of-the-art, 80% plant-based material alternative to fossil-based plastics.

The furniture maker’s ,Lur Collection features natural clay planters and a matching bistro table with a terracotta base, a collaboration with Basque pottery maker, ,Poterie Goicoechea. 

 

In one of its latest creations, Alki has integrated recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a recycled and recyclable plastic. All these materials invariably come from local or European sources,” Solorzano said.

Expanding Operations

In September 2024, Alki will open its new zero-energy workshop in the heart of the Basque region. “The space has been designed so that it does not need heating or air conditioning, as it takes maximum advantage of natural light and fully operates with 100% renewable energy,” shared Solorzano.

Artist’s rendition of Alki’s proposed 2024 HQ.

Planning for the workshop’s design and construction enabled Alki to review and optimize its manufacturing processes, a step that will result in an 80% reduction in volatile organic compounds emissions. In addition, all wood waste generated in production will be used to manufacture by-products.

Alki’s XUME chair, designed by Ander Lizaso.

Looking ahead, Alki will continue to ensure that its extensive experience working with solid wood goes hand-in-hand with complementary trades, such as upholstery and wrought ironwork, to create timeless pieces, one heirloom at a time.


*Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe ,is a freelance journalist and editor. Over the past decade, Natasha has reported for a host of publications, exploring the wider world and industries from environmental, scientific, business, legal, and sociological perspectives. Natasha has also been interviewed as an insight provider for research institutes and conferences.

Sources:

]]>
<![CDATA[Estimated 2.34 billion Metric Tons of Rare Earth Minerals Discovered in US]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/estimated-2-34-billion-metric-tons-of-rare-earth-minerals-discovered-in-us65d3aa0e75714fe96ddaf4e2Wed, 21 Feb 2024 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamNeodymium is a magnetic chemical element with the symbol Nd, in solid state. It is a rare earth mineral used in the technology industry.

Known for its natural beauty, the US state of Wyoming may soon be known for something buried beneath its stunning topography: An estimated 2.34 billion metric tons of rare earth minerals (REMs), which make the world’s computing-dependent technologies possible, were recently discovered near Wheatland, a town in southeastern Wyoming.

According to American Rare Earths, the company’s wholly-owned deposits have a potential volume far greater than China’s estimated 44 million metric tons of the minerals, which could establish the US as the world’s largest supplier. At present, China supplies about 95% of the global supply of REMs, 74% of which are imported by the US.

In a technical report issued earlier this month, American Rare Earths—the US division of a Sydney, Australia-registered exploration company—disclosed that it had discovered 64% more REMs than it had originally speculated in a March 2023 land assessment. Donald Schwartz, CEO of American Rare Earths, explained the surprise upgrade to Cowboy State Daily: “Typically, you’ll see the resource decrease as infill drilling takes place—instead we’re seeing the opposite, with only 25% of the project being drilled to this point.” 

The upgraded estimate came from a Fall 2023 drilling conducted by American Rare Earths that reached a depth of 1,000 feet, about double the depth of the initial, more shallow exploration in March 2023.

 

The company expects to mine and process neodymium and praseodymium, in particular, from its Wyoming deposits, via its Wyoming Rare (USA) Inc. unit. 

 

Next month, they plan to disclose the value of the REMs that could potentially be mined over the next 30 years. 

 

But don’t expect a sudden, dramatic increase in REM supply. Schwartz told Cowboy State Daily that the annual global demand for REMs is about 60,000 tons. “If you build a really big mine, can the market take all of that material?” he said. “We’re trying to make something that’s modular and scalable, that can grow in the market over time.” 

 

Sources:

]]>
<![CDATA[Billion-Dollar Disasters in 2023 Broke US Records, Claimed 492 Lives ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/billion-dollar-disasters-in-2023-broke-us-records-claimed-492-lives65ca8b651bfe209eb62fdc37Wed, 21 Feb 2024 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamThe US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) released its 2023 Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters report at the end of 2023. It found 2023 a “historic year” for costly disasters and weather extremes in the US. 

Billion-Dollar Disasters
  1. The NCEI report identified 28 billion-dollar “weather and climate disasters” for the year, topping the prior record of 22 billion-dollar disasters set in 2020.
  2. The total estimated 2023 cost of these disasters is $92.9 billion. This may be adjusted upward when late-year East Coast storms are included.
  3. The 28 billion-dollar disasters in 2023 also took at least 492 human lives, either directly or indirectly. This makes 2023 the eighth most deadly for the contiguous US since 1980.
  4. The disasters of 2023 included the tragic wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, and two “tornado outbreaks” that pummeled central and eastern US.
  5. In addition, there were two tropical cyclones—Hurricane Idalia in Florida and Typhoon Mawar in Guam—and 17 “severe weather/hail events” in many areas of the country. 
  6. The US also recorded one drought/heat wave event centered in central and southern portions of the nation. This drought and heat wave event was the costliest 2023 disaster, totaling $14.5 billion.
  7. Since the initiation of such records in 1980, the US has recorded 376 “weather and climate disasters” with costs of $1 billion or more—with a total price tag of more than $2.660 trillion.
  8. The annual average from 1980–2023 is 8.5 events (CPI-adjusted); however, the annual average for the past five years (2019–2023) is 20.4 such events (CPI-adjusted).
  9. The last seven years (2017–2023) have seen 137 separate billion-dollar disasters with a total death toll of approximately 5,500 people.

Sources: 

]]>
<![CDATA[Start With the Low-Hanging Fruit—Protecting the World’s Endangered Bats]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/protecting-the-world-s-endangered-bats65cfd34c4123344f4817dcfaTue, 20 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTYasmin PrabhudasBy Yasmin Prabhudas*

A Mexican long-tongued bat feeding on agave.

There are 1,400 species of bats in the world, and they have been around for more than 50 million years, according to nonprofit Bat Conservation International (BCI), an organization dedicated to the conservation and survival of the world’s bats and their habitats. Found across six continents—all except Antarctica—bats are incredibly diverse. They contribute to the health of the planet by eating insect pests, acting as pollinators, and helping with seed dispersal.

 

But more than 200 species are in trouble—23 species of bats are critically endangered, 85 are endangered, while 113 are vulnerable.

 

There are many reasons why bat populations are shrinking. Bats in North America—in 35 US states and seven Canadian provinces—have been affected by a fungal pathogen called white-nose syndrome, which has led to millions of mortalities.

 

Other dangers stem from human activity, such as the destruction of bats’ forest and cave habitats and the proliferation of wind turbines. On the African island of Mauritius, many people believe fruit bats are damaging fruit harvests, and the government has ordered that 10% of the nation’s 80,000 fruit bats be culled every year, even though the species is endangered.

 

These creatures are also affected by climate change through tropical storms and drought conditions, for example.

Diversity

 

Mylea Bayless, chief of strategic partnerships at BCI, is fascinated by bats’ diversity. “Some of them eat insects, some of them eat fruit. There are bats with little suckers on their feet which allow them to hike up the side of leaves. There are bats that eat frogs and fish, and vampire bats are sanguivores, so they rely on blood. When you look at the diversity, they’re just incredibly amazing.”

 

According to BCI, they range from the bumblebee bat, the smallest bat in the world measuring up to 3 inches in length and weighing in at 0.071 ounces, to the giant golden-crowned flying fox bat, which has a wingspan of 6 feet.

 

Lifecycle

 

Uniquely, most bat species only give birth to one pup per year on average, which makes them the slowest-reproducing mammal when their size is considered. 

 

Bayless also says: “Bats are just this anomaly in terms of how long they’re living—some bats might live 40 years, which is crazy for a mammal of 15 grams [0.5 ounces]. So, scientifically, we have a ton to learn from their unique systems. They can also survive when exposed to a variety of viruses.”

 

They often also use a single roost (where bats live), sometimes for decades or longer.

 

Environmental Benefit

 

“In some places, [bats] eat so many insects that it makes an economic difference for our agricultural crops.”

 

Bats are valuable for the environment, especially when it comes to insect predation. “In some places, they eat so many insects that it makes an economic difference for our agricultural crops,” Bayless explains.

Mexican long-nosed bat drinks nectar

In addition, “the pollination services that bats provide in the tropics and the warmer regions of the world also become incredibly important for many of our agricultural varieties that are economically important,” she says.

 

They are also “re-foresters.” “One of the unique things about bats is that when they’re eating seeds and fruits, they’re able to fly across large open areas at night and deposit those seeds,” claims Bayless.

White-Nose Syndrome

 

The BCI carries out research into white nose syndrome … [that] threatens to wipe out two endangered species—the gray bat and the Indiana bat—as well as the northern long-eared bat, which is considered threatened.”

 

The BCI carries out research into white nose syndrome, a devastating disease that is prevalent across the US and Canada. It threatens to wipe out two endangered species—the gray bat and the Indiana bat—as well as the northern long-eared bat, which is considered threatened.

White nose syndrome on a cluster of little brown myotis in Canoe Creek Mine.

The disease attacks when bats are hibernating (or in torpor), as they shut down all non-essential functions to maintain a low metabolic rate to help them survive over the winter without feeding. While the bat’s immune system is suppressed, the fungus invades its skin tissues, resulting in tissue damage, increased metabolic rate, and water loss.

 

But there could be a solution. BCI is investigating whether it might be possible to create a “food buffet” as they enter hibernation “so that they can go into hibernation fatter,” states Bayless. “One of the things we’ve noticed is that […] bats that are really fat when they go into hibernation, have a higher rate of survival.”

 

Is it possible to create artificially or to augment the insect community outside the bats’ hibernacula before they go into hibernation, to promote a feeding frenzy? That is one of the questions being examined.

Wind Turbines

 

As green energy becomes popular, more and more wind farms are being developed. But they create problems for bats, particularly North America’s hoary bats.

During migration, they are attracted to the wind turbines and are struck by the spinning blades. Dr. Winifred Frick, BCI’s chief scientist, has claimed that without interventions, this species could decline by 50% by 2028. A paper on fatalities at wind turbines, to which Frick was a contributor, points to estimates that more than 500,000 bats could be killed by wind turbines every year across Canada and the US.

A bat killed by a wind turbine on Buffalo Mountain in Tennessee.

The BCI is working with the wind industry and US and Canadian governments to establish whether minimization measures can protect bats. Bats are most active at lower wind speeds—once the wind speed increases, it’s more difficult for them to fly. This means that “feathering” the blades to prevent them from spinning at lower wind speeds, when not much electricity is being generated, might help. This method has the potential to prevent 50% to 75% of bat mortality. The strategy is already being used, but research continues. [For more information on the effect of wind turbines on birds, see the article “Offshore Wind Energy Faces Headwind—Concern for Effects on Marine Life,” in this issue.]

 

This means that “feathering” the [wind turbine] blades to prevent them from spinning at lower wind speeds … has the potential to prevent 50% to 75% percent of bat mortality.

 

Meanwhile, BCI is also involved in collaborative data collection and information sharing to inform decisions on the best way to protect bats—which includes the North American Bat Monitoring Program.

Projects

 

The organization has a number of projects focusing on restoring habitat and protecting endangered species. For example, it works with local people in Mexico to cultivate sugar-rich agave plants across the landscape, which are a critical nectar resource and a key component in the diet of the Mexican long-nosed bat and the lesser long-nosed bat. The bats are the main pollinators of desert plants in Mexico and the southwestern US. Investments are made in community greenhouses, where the agave is grown.

Agave planting.

“We’re providing not only agaves for the bats, but creating a long-term partnership with these people to help us restore the landscape and also provide some economic benefit in terms of plants that they can sell or use for all their own purposes,” says Bayless. Agave is used in drinks and alcoholic beverages like tequila.

 

BCI is also involved in a partnership in Fiji with the National Trust of Fiji and NatureFiji-MareqetiViti to protect the “only known roosting site” of the endangered Fijian free-tailed bat, Nakanacagi Cave on the island of Vanua Levu. The cave has been disrupted and degraded through practices like tourism, mining, and logging. The program involves acquiring the land and putting in place conservation measures.

Education

 

BCI is a founding partner of Bat Week in the US, Canada, and Mexico, which takes place in the last week of October. A range of activities is organized to inform people about these animals and to encourage people to become involved in conservation.

 

Also aiming to inspire others to develop a love of bats, BCI has several education initiatives. The Bat Walks program, which involves trained volunteers leading nature walks, is popular. During the walks, bat species are identified and awareness is raised about the threats to their survival.


*Yasmin Prabhudas is a freelance journalist working mainly for non-profit organizations, labor unions, the education sector, and government agencies.

]]>
<![CDATA[Offshore Wind Energy Faces Headwind—Concern for Effects on Marine Life]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/offshore-wind-energy-offers-great-potential-but-faces-marine-environmental-side-effects65d39c9461ee967d8956397dTue, 20 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTRick LaezmanBy Rick Laezman*

Common and grey seals resting on a sandbank at low tide with offshore wind farm in the background, Waddensea, The Netherlands.  ©iStock/TasfotoNL

As the U.S. considers alternative sources of clean power to wean itself off fossil fuels, offshore wind energy (OWE) has emerged as a promising option with tremendous potential. However, like many other renewable energy sources, it faces its own unique set of challenges, some of which test the premise of “clean.”

OWE may not create greenhouse gases, aside from those generated during initial construction and maintenance, but it does negatively impact the environment in other ways. Environmental groups and scientists have voiced concern about how the development and operation of offshore wind farms can harm marine life in the waters where they are built.

Responding to that concern, multiple studies are examining this negative impact, such as those being conducted in the Mediterranean Sea, to confirm a pattern of disturbance and also to develop protocols for mitigating the impacts. Proponents hope these findings will provide guidance to the industry so that it can avoid the most harmful effects and continue its current trajectory of growth.

The Expanding Role of OWE

While wind power is commonly associated with land-based turbine farms, the offshore version has emerged with great potential. The American Clean Power Association (ACPA) describes OWE as “America’s next major energy source, representing a generational opportunity.”

OWE offers several advantages over other means of clean energy production. It is an abundant, relatively consistent, reliable source of clean and renewable power. In contrast, the variability factors associated with solar and land-based wind energy have always been their biggest drawbacks. OWE could help compensate for this.

The variability factors in solar and land-based wind have always been their biggest drawbacks. Offshore wind energy could help compensate for this.

OWE also offers logistical advantages. The greatest concentrated demand for electricity typically occurs in large urban areas; since many of these megacities are also located in coastal zones, they could be serviced readily by OWE.

Liverpool in Northwest England (UK) with offshore wind farm off its coast.  ©iStock/tupungato

Furthermore, OWE offers good economics. Because of its steady and sustainable nature, favorable prices can be locked in for many years.

All these factors have boosted interest in and enthusiasm for the industry. Reuters reports that total U.S. OWE capacity is set to jump from 41 megawatts (MW) in 2023 to almost 1,000 MW in 2024.

Much of this momentum is coming from the federal government. In 2021, U.S. President Biden set the goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind electricity generation by 2030—enough to power more than 10 million American homes.

Good But Not So Good

As is the case with so many other promising solutions, not everyone is sanguine about the prospects of OWE. Projects have drawn protesters just about everywhere. Their ranks include environmentalists, fishermen, coastal residents, and no small number of politicians.

They have cited numerous reasons for their opposition, but the negative impacts on sensitive marine animals seem to have attracted the greatest amount of attention.

Offshore wind energy farms can impact marine life in many ways, both from their development and operations.

Concerns are not unfounded. OWE farms can impact marine life in a variety of ways, both from their development and operations. While not necessarily aligning itself with the opposition, the French maritime data analysis company Sinay has identified several issues with OWE.

Ocean-based wind turbines are typically larger than their land-based counterparts. They are often built on huge towers that are anchored into the bedrock on equally substantial foundations. This construction is an efficient conduit of the noise that is generated by the turbine blades, even though they are spinning in the sky, over 100 meters (about 328 feet) above the water.

The largest wind farm installation vessel in the world and wind turbine installed off the coast of Balmedie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK.  ©iStock/iweta0077

The sound of the vibrating turbine travels down through the tower into the base and then into the sea floor. These unnatural or anthropogenic (generated by humans) sounds in the aquatic environment create "noise pollution" that interferes with the marine animals living in the area. These animals have developed ways of navigating, communicating, interacting, feeding, and reproducing that often involve the processing of naturally occurring ambient noise in their surroundings. The introduction of noise pollution from wind turbines may alter these sound-reliant behaviors.

Noise from heavy machinery, such as pile drivers that are used to drive the large [wind] towers into the sea floor, generate pronounced noise pollution that can harm wildlife.

Some of the most acute noise pollution comes from the construction of OWE farms. Noise from heavy machinery, such as pile drivers that are used to drive the large towers into the sea floor, generates pronounced noise pollution that can harm wildlife.

Sinay also notes that cables installed to carry the power from turbines to onshore distribution centers emit electromagnetic fields (EMFs) into the surrounding water. The issue of EMFs from land-based high-voltage transmission lines has been controversial, and similar concerns have been raised about the effect of EMFs from offshore turbines on marine life.

EMFs are naturally occurring in the ocean environment, and many aquatic species are naturally adapted to their presence. They are highly sensitive to these energy waves and use them to navigate, forage, hunt for food, and avoid predators. But the man-made EMFs generated by underwater cables can alter the behavior of these animals.

OWE turbines can generate other forms of pollution besides noise. The saltwater in the ocean is highly corrosive and breaks down the metal structures used to support turbines. This metallic breakdown can also become a source of pollution in the ocean environment.

Finally, wind turbines and their bases on the sea floor attract marine life looking for cover. This “artificial reef effect” has positive and negative outcomes. It can help compensate for the disruption of habitat caused by the construction of the wind farm, but it can also harbor invasive species and otherwise alter the natural balance in surrounding habitats.

Birds, Whales, and Turtles

In response to concerns voiced by various groups, including fishermen and environmentalists, studies have been conducted to assess the potential damage to marine ecosystems from the development and operation of OWE farms.

Seagull flying in front of offshore windfarm.  ©iStock/Ian Dyball

A few studies have found that some of the worst fears may be overblown. For example, a study conducted in 2019 on the effects of European and Danish OWE farms on birds found evidence of “widespread avoidance of offshore turbines by large-bodied birds.” In other words, the birds don’t die as feared because they simply fly around the turbines. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also has found that “there is no scientific evidence that noise resulting from OWE site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales.”

Recognizing the controversy and the potential problems with offshore wind energy technology, the U.S. federal government approved funding to conduct comprehensive studies of its effects.

However, concerns remain, and much of the research and knowledge about the effects of OWE on marine life is in its infancy. Recognizing the controversy and the potential problems with the technology, the U.S. federal government approved funding to conduct comprehensive studies of its effects on the natural marine environment and wildlife.

In October 2021, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced $13.5 million in funding to provide “critical environmental and wildlife data to support OWE development.” The funding went to four separate projects. Two of these were to support wildlife and fisheries monitoring on the East Coast. The other two focused on West Coast waters.

Breaching North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). Since 2017, the right whale has suffered elevated mortalities in Canada and the United States prompting an NOAA investigation.  ©NOAA Fisheries

On the East Coast, Duke University received $7.5 million to examine the effect of OWE development on marine animals, including birds, bats, whales, and turtles. The Coonamessett Farm Foundation received $3.3 million to survey changes in commercial fish populations and aquatic environments at an OWE development site.

On the West Coast, Oregon State University received $2 million to conduct acoustic monitoring of marine mammals and seabirds. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution also received $750,000 to develop robotic technology to monitor the effect of wind energy development on marine life.

In 2022, the DOE and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced an additional award. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) received $1.6 million to conduct bat acoustic monitoring at fixed and mobile (floating) sites along the West Coast.

These and other efforts are underway. While strong correlations have yet to be established, the goal is to develop a database of knowledge that can help guide the industry, so that as it grows, it takes the necessary precautions to minimize the effects of OWEs on the environment.

BOEM, the federal agency that grants leases, easements, and rights-of-way for OWE development, has developed measures to mitigate impacts.

Some of these measures are already being implemented. BOEM, the federal agency that grants leases, easements, and rights-of-way for OWE development, has developed measures to mitigate impacts. These include the selection of potential sites that will have the least amount of conflict with marine life and human activities, such as fishing. Seasonal restrictions are also designed to avoid conflict with the migration patterns of certain species.

One of the most consequential activities in wind farm development may be the pile driving of wind turbine towers, mentioned earlier. Construction can last between two and four years, and the noise is intense and may be harmful to resident marine life.

However, a so-called “bubble curtain technique” is being deployed to minimize its impact. This entails using steel-encased, perforated rubber hoses sunk to the seafloor in rings or circles around the base where the tower will be driven into the sea floor. Air is pumped into the hoses, where it escapes through the holes and rises to the surface. As it rises, it creates a “curtain” of bubbles that acts as a buffer that prevents the pile driving noise from escaping into the surrounding ocean environment and can reduce the sound generated by pile driving by as much as 80 to 90 percent.

Bubble curtain technique used during installation of monopiles at the German Borkum West-2 offshore wind farm.  ©Hero Lang (Photographer)/Hydrotechnik Lübeck - Trianel GmbH

Sustainable Offshore Wind Energy

The fight against climate change is not just about ending the nation's dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. All forms of energy generation have drawbacks, risks, and harmful impacts. In this sense, the challenge presenting itself to an energy-dependent society is to account for the harmful impacts of all forms of energy production and to sufficiently mitigate them. Just as scientists, innovators, engineers, and governments have demonstrated the ingenuity to develop alternative fuel sources, they have an equal capacity to refine and improve upon even the most seemingly clean and sustainable forms of energy generation.

As the U.S. strives to enlist diverse resources in the fight against carbon emissions, offshore wind has emerged as an energy alternative with potential. To fully meet the challenge of climate change, the OWE industry will have to mitigate the impacts of this very plentiful and otherwise sustainable fuel source.

Industry leaders and many policymakers have shown the will to address these challenges. In time, OWE may prove to be one of the nation's leading sources of clean energy with minimal impact on the aquatic environments whose resources it harnesses.


*Rick Laezman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, California, US. He has a passion for energy efficiency and innovation. He has covered renewable power and other related subjects for over ten years.

]]>
<![CDATA[Research Team Says Ocean Plastic Pollution ‘Much Worse Than Expected’ ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/research-team-says-ocean-plastic-pollution-much-worse-than-expected65ca8e72f5ab5c3c99f3c8d5Tue, 20 Feb 2024 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamAn international study led by the 5 Gyres Institute, published in March (2023) in the journal Plos One, reported on ocean plastic contamination data that included recent samplings and prior published data from 1979 to 2019. In a news brief published by Stockholm University’s Stockholm Research Centre (SRC), study co-author, Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, described the situation as “much worse than expected.” Lead author Markus Eriksen, of the 5 Gyres Institute, cautioned that cleanup attempts will be “futile if we continue to produce plastic at the current rate.” 

Ocean Plastic
  1. The team examined data from over 11,000 samplings of “floating ocean plastics.”
  2. Villarrubia-Gomez said, “In 2014, it was estimated that there were 5 trillion plastic particles in the ocean. Now, less than ten years later, we’re up at 170 trillion.” According to the SRC, the researchers found a “rapid increase” in both “mass and abundance” of floating plastics starting from 2005.
  3. The SRC brief says rates of plastic entering aquatic environments is “expected to increase approximately 2.6-fold from 2016 to 2040.”
  4. The study’s authors estimated the present accumulation of aquatic plastic at 82 trillion–358 trillion plastic particles, weighing approximately 1.1 million–4.9 million tons.
  5. The authors cited earlier samplings that showed increasing trends of microfiber presence since the 1960s, with an increasing trend of “microplastic entanglement” from the late 1950s.
  6. Also cited were reports of an increase of microplastics in the North Pacific between 1976 and 1985, and in the western North Atlantic from 1986 to 2015, with “a rate of increase paralleling global cumulative plastic production.”
  7. The authors called for "more standardization and coordination” to build more reliable reports on plastic waste trends.

Sources: 

]]>
<![CDATA[Reaching for Reality—The Rise of Consciousness ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/the-rise-of-consciousness65d172b8132b15a3c89e012eMon, 19 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTDean Radin, PhDBy Dean Radin*

People typically try to understand reality.

The following article is a revised version of a presentation given by Dr. Dean Radin at the Second International Conference on Science and God (ICSGII). The original title of the author’s presentation was “Revising Our Concepts about Reality: The Challenge of Consciousness.”

 

Scientific ideas about the nature of the universe radically evolved in the twentieth century. Advancements in many areas, from physics to psychology, caused major changes in how people thought about themselves, their place in the universe, and their understanding of the physical “fabric of reality.”

Science will continue to evolve in the twenty-first century, with some of the most revolutionary advancements coming from the study of consciousness. A growing number of scientists are asking, for instance, how the physical brain can account for nonphysical, subjective experience (qualia). They are looking at evidence of exceptional cognitive skills, as well, such as genius, and nonlocal forms of awareness, such as telepathy, and wondering how this evidence will influence our understanding of the mind-brain relationship.

Questions such as these not only challenge the established belief (in neuroscience) that the mind is solely a product of brain activity, but they also challenge the accepted scientific doctrine called materialism.

After twentieth century historian Thomas Kuhn wrote on the “structure of scientific revolutions,” it was better understood that unexpected phenomena (anomalies) encountered in a scientific field are strongly resisted by the status quo. Evidence supporting the existence of anomalies is seen as insufficient—or worse, labeled as pseudoscience.

Eventually, evidence improves and accumulates until it becomes overwhelming and forces a shift in thinking.

The scientific, technological, and sociological reverberations of such an ideological shift could dwarf all previous advancements in human knowledge.

As anomalous (unexpected) phenomena associated with consciousness are better understood, the materialistic foundations of science could experience a meta shift in thinking by the turn of the next century. Materialism may come to be seen as a special case within a more comprehensive worldview, one that sees consciousness as fundamental.

The scientific, technological, and sociological impacts of such a shift could dwarf all previous advancements in human knowledge.

Such a surprising turn of events—one of many found in the history of science—reminds us why unexpected phenomena deserve very close attention. Sometimes, like clouds on the horizon, they evaporate after slight revisions to existing ideas. But sometimes they persist like puzzles for decades or centuries. In such cases, their solutions may usher in startlingly new concepts, technologies, and even new forms of civilization.

Consciousness Clouds

Today, we are faced with two very persistent clouds, commonly known as qualia and quanta. The word “qualia” refers to the nature of subjective experience and “quanta” to the fact that quantum objects are exquisitely sensitive to being observed.

Both clouds raise questions about the nature and role of consciousness in the physical world. Both are major challenges to the scientific model called reductive materialism—the assumption that everything, including mind, consists of matter and energy, and that any system, no matter how complex, can be completely understood by reducing it to its basic physical components.

Some neuroscientists insist that qualia are a nonproblem because consciousness is an illusory side effect of brain processing (Churchland 1986; Crick 1994). 

Others propose that any physical system as complex as the brain will spontaneously develop conscious awareness through some yet unknown process.

Some physicists believe that the quantum observer effect is also a nonproblem because consciousness plays no role in physics or that the problem is already solved by concepts like decoherence (Schlosshauer 2007).

Many scientists today undoubtedly assume that these two “consciousness clouds” will eventually be understood in conventional terms.

I believe that sentiment is wrong.

These two clouds have stubbornly resisted orthodox explanations. Instead of fading away in the light of existing theories, qualia and quanta are omens of paradigm-shifting superstorms. They are also the leading edge of related clouds, each more challenging than the last.

These related clouds include the phenomena of genius, savants, near-death experiences, mediumship, reincarnation cases, and laboratory studies of psychic phenomena. All these phenomena suggest that the mind is not limited to the operations of the physical brain.

Genius 

No one who studies the lives and works of Mozart, da Vinci, Copernicus, Shakespeare, Einstein, or Ramanujan can doubt that genius is real, though rare.  

True genius is a persistent source of paradigm-shattering creativity that defies our understanding of mindless electrochemical activity in a brain that is strictly limited to ideas it has already absorbed.

The challenge presented by genius is to imagine how the mind, seen solely as a product of brain processing, could generate world-changing mathematical theorems, breakthrough scientific ideas, hypercreative inventions, and masterwork books and musical compositions, all seeming to appear out of the blue, often uninvited, and fully formed (Schwartz 2010, Heilman 2016).

If these ideas appeared once in a person’s lifetime, we might dismiss them as a fluke. But true genius is a persistent source of paradigm-shattering creativity that defies our understanding of mindless electrochemical activity in a brain that is strictly limited to ideas it has already absorbed (Lingg and Frank 1973; Pandey 2001).

Savants 

Autistic savants have little to no social skills and low IQs, and yet they can display supernormal capacities of memory, musical talent, artistic talent, or lightning-fast mathematical calculations (Dossey 2012; Cowan and Frith 2009; Welling 1994). 

The Academy Award-winning movie, Rain Man, was based partially on the life of savant Kim Peek, who among other things could correctly and instantly recall every word of the estimated 12,000 books he had read.

Psychiatrist Darold Treffert, discussing autistic savants, wrote that “Kim Peek possesses one of the most extraordinary memories ever recorded. Until we can explain his abilities, we cannot pretend to understand human cognition.”

Treffert also described the case of Leslie Lemke, who “is blind, severely cognitively impaired, and has cerebral palsy. Yet he played back Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 flawlessly after hearing it for the first time at age 14.”

If one were to test normally healthy pianists who had not previously heard this concerto, it is safe to say that none of them would be able to do this.

Treffert describes the phenomenon of acquired savants, in which case, as the result of an accident, a normal person suddenly gains savant skills.

There are also the completely astonishing cases of sudden savants, apparently normal people who spontaneously gain savant skills for no known reason.

How the brains of autistic savants work is a major problem for the neurosciences. Perhaps at some point such savants’ skills might be explainable via conventional concepts—but how similar skills can arise in acquired or sudden savants remains a baffling mystery.

Psychic Phenomena 

There are no broadly accepted explanations for the talents of geniuses and savants. Because they are so rare, they are easy for skeptics to set aside while they concentrate on understanding “ordinary” people. This is why commonly reported psychic phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis, are important to consider. These experiences have been reported by ordinary people throughout history, across all cultures, and at all levels of educational experience.

Commonly reported psychic phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis, are important to consider [because] these experiences have been reported by ordinary people throughout history.

Rather than having to rely on astonishing anecdotes for evidence, a wealth of strictly controlled experimental studies in this field can be found in the peer-reviewed scientific literature (Radin 1997, 2006, 2013, 2018).

Today, this topic is still regarded as controversial—but not because empirical data are lacking. The implications of these phenomena are so difficult to accommodate within a materialistic model that critics find it easier to imagine that the evidence is surely flawed in some unspecified way. Some insist on a suitable explanation before they will even look at the data.

Testing for Telepathy

To illustrate the kind of evidence that is available, we will briefly review one type of telepathy experiment.

Telepathy involves communications between minds without the use of the ordinary senses, and without regard to distance or shielding.

A ganzfeld experiment.

One of the most successful methods for testing telepathy in the laboratory is called the ganzfeld method (meaning “whole field” in German).

In this experiment, a “receiver” of telepathic information has a halved ping-pong ball placed over each eye, the face is illuminated by a soft red light, and white noise is played over headphones.

This state of mild, unpatterned sensory stimulus is thought to be conducive to sensing telepathic impressions.

While in this state, the receiver is asked to be open to any ideas or feelings gained while holding a distant “sender” in mind.

One photo is randomly selected out of a pool of four photos, where each image depicts a real object or scene with a clearly identifiable theme. The colors, shapes, and content of the four photos are as different from one another as possible.

The selected photo is given to a sender—who is strictly isolated from the receiver—and he or she is asked to mentally send that photo to the receiver. Note that the use of the words sender and receiver emphasizes that these terms are descriptive only; they do not suggest underlying mechanisms.

The sender now tries to mentally transmit the contents of the target photo to the receiver for 20 minutes. During that time, the receiver is relaxing in the ganzfeld state.

After the sending period, the receiver—still strictly isolated from the sender—is taken out of the ganzfeld state and shown all four photos, one being the chosen target along with the three nonchosen decoys.

If telepathy does not exist, then the chances of the receiver correctly selecting the actual target in this design is one in four, or 25%.

If telepathy does exist, and the experiment followed the strict isolation rules, then the hit rate would be higher than 25%.

Because chance is 25% in a single trial, performing this test just once would not provide confidence that telepathy does or does not exist. However, what if the same test were independently performed by dozens of laboratories around the world for a half-century, and during that time nearly 4,000 such tests were performed? The statistical power provided by that many trials would then provide strong evidence either in favor of or against the existence of telepathy.  

Meta-analysis 

A meta-analysis is a statistical method for combining the results of numerous experiments based on similar designs. It provides a way to tell if the effects studied in an experiment are repeatable and whether those effects are attributable to chance.

Meta-analysis is used in virtually all the experimental sciences today—but especially in the psychological, social, and medical sciences. Effects in those areas tend to be highly variable, so it is not possible to establish repeatability in a single experiment.

From 1974 to 2018, dozens of authors published 117 articles describing the results of their ganzfeld experiments. Meta-analyses of these studies were conducted seven times, spanning different time scales   Each of these seven meta-analyses resulted in independently significant outcomes in favor of telepathy. [See the following associated reference links: (Honorton 1985; Bem and Honorton 1994; Milton and Wiseman 1999; Storm and Ertel 2001; Bem, Palmer, and Broughton 2001; Storm, Tressoldi, and Di Risio 2010; Storm and Tressoldi 2020)].

Repeatable telepathic effects have been observed by dozens of independent investigators around the world for nearly a half-century.

This means that repeatable telepathic effects have been observed by dozens of independent investigators around the world for nearly a half-century.

Taking into account all 3,885 reported ganzfeld tests using four targets, there were 1.188 hits, for an overall hit rate of 30.6. 5% over the chance rate of 25 may not seem very impressive, but from a statistical perspective, the overall result is associated with odds against chance at 10,000 trillion to one (Figure below, left side).

One common critique of this result is that some ganzfeld experiments probably failed, which discouraged the investigators from reporting their studies. Selective reporting would indeed bias the overall result to make it seem stronger than it really was.

Critics who have studied the relevant literature in detail have agreed, however, that selective reporting cannot eliminate the overall positive results. In addition, meta-analytical estimates of the number of presumed unreported “failed” experiments that would be required to nullify the known results confirms that that explanation is implausible.

Other critics have questioned whether there might be flaws in the experimental design that would allow the receiver to somehow gain information about the target. Over the years, as critics suggested potential loopholes, each potential flaw was systematically eliminated, and yet the same results continued to be observed.

After fifty years of such critiques, skeptics familiar with these studies admit that they can no longer identify any plausible explanations other than telepathy for these results. Even skeptics who had disavowed belief in any sort of psychic phenomena, but conducted this experiment themselves, obtained the same results as found in the meta-analyses.

Conclusion

If reductive materialism does not easily accommodate the challenges presented by the existence of genius, savants, and telepathy—and many more examples—then what alternative model might be considered? A viable approach is the philosophical view of idealism, which holds that consciousness is fundamental.    

Explaining this proposal in detail would take more space than is available for this article, so it can simply be said that most physicists who founded quantum theory were idealists, and yet their worldview did not prevent them from developing the most successful physical theory in history. Their achievements demonstrate that science can advance perfectly well, even when based on a very different set of assumptions about the nature of reality.

Unlike materialism, from an idealistic perspective the various anomalies associated with consciousness are far easier to accommodate. This is because in idealism, consciousness is not constrained by physical concepts like space, time, matter, or energy.

If consciousness is not limited by such physical laws, then it is plausible that it is also not limited to gaining information through the ordinary physical senses—nor is it limited to the operations of the brain. This opens the door to understanding a variety of subjective experiences.

Despite the undeniable success of materialism as an ideology for understanding the physical world, the empirical and historical facts are that unexpected experiences do happen, even in controlled laboratory experiments. Thus, it is no longer a matter of whether materialism will be superseded by a more comprehensive worldview, but when.

NASA stars

[Image 009]


*Dr. Dean Radin is Chief Scientist, Institute of Noetic Sciences, Novato, California; Associated Distinguished Professor of Integral and Transpersonal Psychology, California Institute of Integral Studies; Founding Board Member, Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences; and Editor of the Elsevier journal Explore since 2009.  

References: 

Radin, Dean I. 1997. The Conscious Universe. San Francisco: HarperOne.

———. 2006. Entangled Minds. New York: Simon & Schuster.

———. 2013. Supernormal. New York: Random House.

———. 2018. Real Magic. New York: Penguin Random House.

]]>
<![CDATA[NOAA: 2023 Saw Record High Global Surface Temperatures and Ocean Heat Content ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/noaa-2023-saw-record-high-global-surface-temperatures-and-ocean-heat-content65ca8fdcab522990d4e8285bMon, 19 Feb 2024 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamIn a new report, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said 2023 had the highest average global surface temperature on record: The 20th century average was 13.9°C (57.0°F), and the 2023 average was 1.18°C (2.12°F) above that average. Other highlights of NOAA’s annual Global Climate Report for 2023

Record High Global Surface Temperatures and Ocean Heat
  1. 2023 was considered the warmest year since 1850 globally for the land and oceans with a few exceptions—land in the southern hemisphere ranked second, Arctic land and ocean ranked fourth, and Antarctic land and ocean ranked 40th.
  2. By region, 2023 was the warmest for North America (since 1850), South America (since 1910), Africa (since 1910), and second warmest (since 1910) for Europe and Asia. It was less warm in Oceania and Antarctica, being the 10th highest and 40th highest, respectively.
  3. Heavy rains brought flooding to Chile, Ghana, Pakistan, and India. As a result, 20,000 people were affected in Chile, nearly 26,000 people were evacuated in Ghana, and over 100,000 people were evacuated in Pakistan and India.
  4. Globally, there were 78 storms. These included 45 major storms, such as a cyclone in the Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar, and Cyclone Ilsa in western Australia.
  5. California experienced 32 trillion gallons of rain and snow in January 2023 due to nine back-to-back atmospheric rivers.
  6. Global ocean heat content (OHC) for 0 to 700 meters (2,296 ft) was warmest for the entire basin of the Atlantic, Indian, and “World,” with the Pacific being second warmest since 1955. Global OHC has been on a rising trend since about 1970.
  7. The annual global OHC for 2023 for the upper 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) was a record high, beating the previous record in 2021.

Sources: 

]]>
<![CDATA[Emerging Cement-Based Composites Secure Cities Against Disasters]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/emerging-cement-based-composites-secure-cities-against-disasters65d637a3f424e8f90631a6fcSun, 18 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTDhanada K. MishraBy Dhanada K Mishra*

The Pantheon in Rome, built in 128 CE, has the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome that still stands today.

Scientists have long been intrigued by the durability of Roman-built buildings. For instance, the famed Pantheon, which has the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, was built in 128 CE and still stands today. A Roman-era aqueduct, the Aqua Virgo, built of the same concrete, still supplies water.

A little over a year ago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Admir Masic and his Italian and Swiss collaborators published a startling discovery about the concrete used in ancient Rome. The researchers uncovered the presence of so-called lime clasts—granules of calcium carbonate that gave concrete self-healing properties—according to their paper published in the journal Science Advances.

The key was using hot mixing of quick lime (a reactive form of calcium that generates heat on mixing with water) instead of slaked lime (a cooler, slow-acting form). Because of the presence of the resulting lime clasts, cracks formed in concrete could heal themselves when they came in contact with moisture and pozzolanic materials, such as volcanic ash contained in the mix.

Ticking Time Bombs

 

Emerging knowledge like this could have incalculable value. Since English bricklayer Joseph Aspdin invented and patented Portland cement in 1824, reinforced concrete has been used worldwide in buildings, highway bridges, offshore platforms, dams, roads, etc. The typical service life of such structures is expected to be 50 years on average and up to 200 years if built with extra care and special provisions.

 

Compared to concrete used in the Roman period, the massive infrastructures built in the last couple of centuries are ticking time bombs.

 

However, compared to concrete used in the Roman period, the massive infrastructures built in the last couple of centuries are ticking time bombs. They require frequent repair and maintenance during their service lives. They will also eventually need to be demolished or rebuilt.

 

There is an environmental impact, too: The buildings and infrastructure construction sector is estimated to contribute around 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in terms of embodied and operational carbon footprint, according to the UN Environment Programme and its Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction.

 

The race is now on to use this new knowledge about “self-healing” concrete and modify modern-day concrete to mimic the longevity and much lower carbon footprint of the ancient construction material.

 

The Need for Resilience

 

Resilience is the ability of any structure to withstand extreme load events, such as an earthquake, typhoon, explosion, etc., and recover from it as quickly as possible. The frequency of extreme natural (see Figure 1) and man-made disaster events, such as hurricanes, storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, heat waves, fires, terrorism, etc., has been increasing in recent decades.

It has underscored the need for durable, safe, and securely built infrastructure. As a tragic example, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the Turkey-Syria region on February 6, 2023. More than 160,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged, and more than 53,000 people died. Some 2.7 million were left homeless.

 

War-torn Syria is estimated to have 40 million tons of cement rubble, in addition to the cement debris from the 2023 earthquake. According to a 2023 article in The Guardian, which cited a study in the Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering, efforts are underway that demonstrate how to prepare—and strengthen—local rubble to rebuild the nation.

Damage from the 2023 Kahramanmaraş earthquakes in Syria.

New Lower Carbon Footprint Material

 

In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to reduce the environmental impact of cement production as rapid urbanization occurs in Asia and Africa (see Figure 2).

Trend of urbanization of world population.

Traditional Portland cement contributes significantly to carbon dioxide emissions (around 5% to 8% of the global emissions). Its production requires an energy-intensive process to create clinker, composed of mostly limestone, that is then ground into cement powder. However, several lower-carbon alternatives to clinker are now available.

 

Pozzolanic Cement Concrete

 

Historically, supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) have long been used in construction. The Romans used volcanic ash, while other parts of the world used various forms of reactive clay, etc., as a supplement to the primary binder, such as lime and, more recently, cement.

 

Supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) have long been used in construction; the Romans used volcanic ash.

 

SCMs, or pozzolans, are materials with weak binding properties in the presence of water and calcium hydroxide resulting from the primary reaction of cement or lime. Modern industrial byproducts—such as fly ash (a coal combustion residue from thermal power plants), slag (residue from the blast furnace), and silica fume (residue from the ferro-silicon industry)—can be used as partial replacements for Portland cement.

 

Incorporating SCMs reduces the need for clinker production, resulting in lower carbon dioxide emissions. In countries like China and India, higher quantities of SCMs are incorporated directly in the cement-making process itself to make products like Portland Pozzolanic Cement (PPC), Portland Slag Cement (PSC), and composite cement (using both fly ash and slag). Besides reducing embodied carbon and reducing waste, SCMs improve the long-term performance and durability of concrete structures.

 

Despite their advantages and potential, these emerging SCMs do have their drawbacks and limitations when compared to Portland cement. For instance, there may be problems with incomplete dispersion of some composites throughout the mix, as well as increased water consumption requirements which can affect workability, among other issues. As these SCMs are relatively new, there is also an obvious lack of testing of some for their long-term mechanical properties

 

Geopolymer Concrete

 

One of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Portland cement manufacturing is the high-temperature process of producing clinker from limestone and clay.

 

If one can imagine a room-temperature process to make Portland cement without using limestone, then geopolymer cement would be that wonder material. It is produced by activating aluminosilicate materials, such as fly ash or slag, with a strong alkaline solution.

 

This alternative cementitious material offers comparable or even superior mechanical properties compared to Portland cement-based concrete. Geopolymer concrete has a significantly lower carbon footprint and exhibits excellent resistance to fire, chemicals, and fatigue. Unfortunately, Portland cement production approaches over 4 billion tons a year—making Portland cement concrete the second-most-used material by humans (after water). This leaves an insufficient amount of pozzolanic source material available to meet demands by geopolymer concrete alone.

 

Limestone Calcined Clay Cement (LC3)

 

In South Asia, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) last year released an exclusive Indian Standard (IS 18189: 2023) for a new type of low-carbon cement called LC3. This cement is produced from about 50% Portland cement clinker, 30% calcined clay, 15% limestone, and 5% gypsum. Among the various new cement formulations, LC3 has been the most successful emerging commercial product in several countries. Each ton of calcined clay produced saves 600 kilograms (1,322 pounds) of CO2. By the end of 2025, it is expected that LC3 will have saved 45 million tons, according to the Swiss-supported LC3-Project.

 

Real-Life Examples

 

High-volume pozzolanic concrete made from PPC, PSC, and composite cement is commonplace in every type of construction where ordinary Portland cement concrete is used. The same is increasingly the case with LC3 cement-based concrete.

 

New cementitious materials have undergone extensive testing and have also been successfully utilized in pavements, retaining walls, water tanks, and precast bridge decks.

 

The University of Queensland's Global Change Institute (GCI) has been constructed using geopolymer concrete. It is a four-story building for public use and is claimed to be the first of its kind. New cementitious materials have undergone extensive testing and have also been successfully utilized in pavements, retaining walls, water tanks, and precast bridge decks.

 

Ultra-High-Performance Concrete

 

Several cementitious materials show significant promise in terms of disaster resilience. Ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC), for example, is a material that has outstanding mechanical properties. It offers high strength, ductility (can be shaped without losing strength), and energy absorption capacities, making it suitable for blast-resistant structures. UHPC can withstand extreme loads and impacts. It is an ideal choice for structures exposed to potential terrorist attacks.

Iowa built the first ultra-high-performance concrete

UHPC consists of carefully chosen ingredients based on particle-packing principles to give a dense microstructure that is further reinforced with micro-steel fibers. It is also known as reactive powder concrete (RPC) or densified system of particles (DSP). Its dense microstructure provides impact resistance, high strength, and excellent durability properties, providing extended service life.

 

Fiber-Reinforced Concrete and Engineered Cement Composites (ECC)

 

As their names suggest, fiber-reinforced concrete (FRC) and engineered cement composites (ECC) are composites that combine fibers with cementitious materials with a range of strength, ductility, and durability properties. They can be designed to help resist impact and energy absorption capacities. By incorporating fibers, these materials can effectively distribute and dissipate energy during extreme load events, reducing the potential for structural failure.

 

ECC has resulted from the pioneering work of Professor Victor C Li and his co-workers at the University of Michigan, based on a design framework illustrated in Figure 3. Their approach considers multi-hazard extreme load conditions—such as a levee breaking apart in an earthquake or hurricane—and the future impact of climate change-induced increases in loading. The goal is to develop an optimal design that can justify the initial investment in high-performance materials such as UHPC or ECC, which can provide the desired level of resilience and sustainability.

Integrated Materials Design Framework for sustainable infrastructure combining Performance Driven Design Approach (PDDA) & Integrated Structures and Materials Design philosophy (ISMD).

While many real-life applications of UHPC and ECC are available in almost every type of construction project, their adaptation needs to be more widespread. The increased availability of these materials for use depends on various factors, including research and development, standardization, production scalability, and market demand. While some of these materials are commercially available, others are still in the research and testing phase. Advancements in these materials are expected to continue, and their availability is likely to increase in the coming years as their benefits are recognized and demand grows.

 

Towards a Safe and Sustainable Infrastructure

 

Developing and adopting new cementitious materials with a lower carbon footprint and enhanced disaster resilience are crucial steps toward sustainable and safe infrastructure development for the future. These materials offer superior performance during natural disasters, such as earthquakes, typhoons, and explosions, while reducing the environmental impact of traditional Portland cement.

 

Geopolymer concrete, limestone calcined clay cement (LC3) concrete, ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC), and fiber-reinforced composites (FRC) are promising materials. As awareness grows and regulations focus on sustainability and resilience, adoption of these materials is expected to increase, contributing to a more resilient and environmentally friendly construction industry.


*Dhanada K Mishra has a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Michigan and is currently based in Hong Kong, working for an AI start-up, RaSpect (www.raspect.ai). He writes on environmental issues, sustainability, climate crisis, and built infrastructure.

]]>
<![CDATA[UN Releases World Economic Outlook Report for 2024 ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/un-releases-world-economic-outlook-report-for-202465ca9094d93413638bd36ae5Sun, 18 Feb 2024 05:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamGDP Projected to Slow in Developed Countries, Grow in Developing Countries 

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs released its flagship annual economic report, World Economic Situation and Prospects 2024, on January 3. The report offers a somber economic outlook for the near term, citing high interest rates, instability and conflict, sluggish international trade, and increasing climate disasters.

GDP
  1. Global GDP growth is projected to slip from 2.7% in 2023 to 2.4% in 2024. The US is projected to see the largest percentage decrease, from 2.5% in 2023 to 1.4% in 2024. Western Asia has the largest projected increase, from 1.7% in 2023 to 2.9% in 2024.
  2. Global headline (total) inflation is expected to decline to 3.9% in 2024, a welcome change from the 8.1% inflation seen in 2022. However, food prices remain high: In 2023, acute food insecurity rose to an estimated 238 million people, an increase by 21.6 million people from 2022.
  3. Real gross fixed capital formation is expected to remain lackluster. It rose by around 1.9% in 2023, but this was far below the average 4.0% growth rate seen 2011–2019.
  4. Global trade decreased to 0.6%, significantly below 5.7% in 2022, but it is expected to recover to 2.4% in 2024. Services in tourism and transport continued to rebound, while exports from developing countries suffered setbacks.
  5. World energy investment is estimated to have increased by 7% to $2.8 trillion in 2023, while the share of clean energy in total energy investment increased from 60% in 2020 to 62% in 2022. Meanwhile, investment in fossil fuels surpassed pre-pandemic levels in 2022 and 2023.

Source: 

]]>
<![CDATA[Turning to AI to Mitigate Global Eco-Threats]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/turning-to-ai-to-mitigate-global-eco-threats65d3a294469b094cd806b009Sat, 17 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTRobert R. SelleBy Robert R. Selle*

Many Earth watchers believe that a global monitoring network is needed to assess the condition of the “Earth-body.”

Planet Earth is marvelously constructed of biological, geological, climatological, hydrological, and oceanic elements. Today, however, anthropological, or human, intervention is threatening to irreversibly sicken the delicately balanced terrestrial system.

To mitigate this threat, many Earth watchers believe that a global monitoring network is needed to assess the condition of the “Earth-body,” much as a human being in a hospital is hooked up to an array of digital monitoring devices.

Today, there is no such Earth-wide digital monitoring system to help “patient planet” get better. But efforts are now underway by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES), the latter having been co-founded in 2021 by UNEP and a variety of international environmental organizations.

Enter artificial intelligence (AI), which can be defined as computer systems or algorithms that can imitate the human ability to analyze data and make inferences and decisions. AI is fed by digitized data. All interactions in the world—whether related to business, government, science, sports, entertainment, or personal (social media)—are becoming ever more digitalized. This means that—once all environment-related data can be collected and funneled through AI-based analytics—a system can be created to monitor all of Earth’s vital signs—at once and in real time.

Once all environment-related data can be collected and funneled through AI-based analytics—a system can be created to monitor all of Earth’s vital signs—at once and in real time.

Despite the concerns about the increasing energy consumption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and AI infrastructures as well as the potential for in-built biases of data flows, “[t]here’s a lot of opportunities out there,” says David Jensen, coordinator of the Digital Transformation subprogram at UNEP, “but harnessing [them] will require unprecedented collaboration between public sector, private sector, civil society, and [subject matter experts]—everybody is going to have to collaborate to come together.” Jensen is also UNEP’s point man at CODES and one of the two chief authors of the CODES Action Plan for a Sustainable Planet in the Digital Age.

World Environment Situation Room

CODES and its associated UNEP program, the World Environment Situation Room (WESR), envision the vast array of platforms, apps, and algorithms in the world’s sprawling digital economy adopting a built-in orientation toward environmental-health sustainability.

The vast array of platforms, apps, and algorithms in the world’s sprawling digital economy could adopt a built-in orientation toward environmental-health sustainability.

WESR, launched in 2022, is much like the White House Situation Room, where senior White House officials gather in emergencies to analyze complex unfolding threats and decide how to address them. By contrast, WESR uses AI’s capabilities to crunch multifaceted climate datasets. The agency’s goal, through collecting and analyzing data from the leading Earth observation platforms, is to create a picture of Earth’s health in real time—from atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) to glacier mass, deforestation, and sea-level rise.

WESR’s goal is, through collecting and analyzing data from the leading Earth observation platforms, to create a picture of Earth’s health in real time.

“WESR is being developed to become a user-friendly, demand-driven platform that leverages data into government offices, classrooms, mayor’s offices, and boardrooms,” Jensen says in an article on the UNEP website. “It provides credible, trustworthy, and independent data to inform decisions and drive transparency. Over time, the goal is for WESR to become like a mission control center for Planet Earth, where all our vital environmental indicators can be seamlessly monitored to drive actions.”

Jensen, pointing to what he calls the “five hard problems” of climate action, is confident that solutions can be found through sustainability-driven digital transformation.

Monitoring at the Global Level

The first of these problems is monitoring and modeling environmental systems and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the global level. For example, to hold themselves accountable to the goals of the Paris Agreement, countries decided to create a global stocktaking process, which “is a two-year process that happens every five years.” However, to properly guide global environmental action, this really should be done annually or, better yet quarterly—a monumental task that can be handled by AI.

Pollution air detector.

Some examples of progress in this direction are Climate Trace and IQAir. Climate Trace is a digital analytics tool that is plugged into a global network of satellites and sensors. It tracks daily CO2 emissions. IQAir is a Swiss company that, together with UNEP, has built an international web of 80,000 air-quality sensors. The firm’s public dashboards, accessible online, can warn citizens about air pollution threats.

Achieving Full Supply Chain Transparency

The second hard problem, also a task for AI, is achieving full supply chain transparency, from procuring materials to manufacturing, advertising, and disposal or reuse. Moreover, there should be disclosure of every step’s impact on the environment, whether a benefit or a detriment. One company that is moving strongly in this direction is the German multinational software firm SAP SE. They have created what is known as enterprise resource planning software that now is part of 87% of all world commerce. SAP is poised to develop this sort of worldwide supply chain transparency, disclosing the details to the public, perhaps through a QR code for each product or service.

“[AI] can help calculate the [environmental] footprint of products across their full life cycles and supply chains,” Jensen says, “and enable businesses and consumers to make the most informed and effective decisions. … This kind of data is essential for sustainable digital nudging on e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon.com, Shopify, or Alibaba.”

“The use of information and communications technology, which is what feeds AI, can lead to 20% less production of CO2 from the transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, housing, and energy sectors.”

The third hard problem is all about automating and optimizing sustainability decisions. According to Global e-Sustainability Initiative’s SMARTer2030 report from 2015 , the use of information and communications technology, which is what feeds AI, can lead to 20% less production of CO2 from the transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, housing, and energy sectors. The development of “smart cities” is a notable example, where homes, vehicles, factories, farms, and the grid are digitally connected to use energy in the most efficient way.

Developing Environmental Governance

The fourth conundrum is how to develop environmental governance processes driven by citizen participation. An example in this direction is the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), which has mobilized more than 1 million people to observe fauna and flora around the globe and provide notes to GBIF on various species’ occurrence. AI analyzes and keeps track of all the input. This type of environmental crowdsourcing could be harnessed to get otherwise hard-to-obtain large amounts of information on many other ecological variables.

Eco-conscious Consumption

The fifth problem is enabling consumers to select green products and lifestyles. Amazon, for example, now stamps various products with seals of approval in 34 different climate-friendly categories, giving eco-conscious shoppers a guide to desirable purchases. And Alipay, the huge Chinese payment platform, with 1.3 billion connected consumers, is using incentives and gamification to encourage participation in reducing CO2-producing behaviors.

After all is said and done, Jensen exudes optimism that these five mammoth hurdles can be overcome through the use of digital innovations to accelerate worldwide sustainable development.


*Robert R. Selle is a freelance writer with a background in biochemistry and ecology who lives in Bowie, Maryland.

]]>
<![CDATA[From Bags to Riches—Upcycling Plastic into Viable Products]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/upcycling-plastic-into-viable-products65cfdeff2b89b843bc6bd2b1Fri, 16 Feb 2024 08:00:00 GMTRobin WhitlockBy Robin Whitlock*

Plastic bags ending up in water bodies and landfills could potentially be upcycled.

While advances have been made in plastics recycling technologies, it still faces many challenges. Plastic waste is now ubiquitous in our natural environment, and currently about 400 million tons of plastic waste is produced every year. An astounding 91% of plastics produced from 1950 to 2015 were not recycled, according to a 2017 study. Instead, 12% of these plastics were incinerated, while the bulk—79%—were sent to landfills or left in the environment, where it can take decades to millennia to degrade.

 

Also, only clean plastics (such as those without food residues) can be recycled, and the recycling process itself is energy intensive and costly. This means that, for a manufacturer, it is often more economical to buy new, cheaper plastic than it is to use recycled plastic.

 

Meanwhile, the global plastic market is expected to grow significantly at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% to 5% to 2030. This means the value of the global plastics market, which was $712 billion in 2023, could grow to more than $1.050 trillion by 2033, according to statistica.com.

 

Given the insatiable demand for plastic, there is keen interest in new recycling technologies. The Earth & I talked to Novoloop CEO Miranda Wang to discuss the Menlo Park, California-based company’s innovative approach to plastic waste “upcycling” and its potential impacts on the recycling industry once it is established at scale.

 

Thermoplastics versus Thermosetting Plastics

 

To understand upcycling, a brief review of the plastics landscape is in order. There are seven different types of plastics [see The Earth & I August 2023 article, "Keeping Plastics Out of Landfills and Public Spaces"], each with varying physical and chemical properties.

Plastics are advantageous from an industrial perspective, given their low production costs, light weight, high chemical stability, durability, high impact resistance, and good electrical insulation. Their versatility makes them ubiquitous in the production of a wide variety of manufactured goods and packaging.

Polyethylene plastic bag production.

Most plastics produced—around 75%—are thermoplastics, known for their malleability at high temperatures and stability once cooled. Thermoplastics include polyethylene and polystyrene (PS) in the form of single-use plastics, as well as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polycarbonate (PC). In theory, thermoplastics can be melted and remolded continuously to produce recycled plastic material.

 

Most plastics produced—around 75%—are thermoplastics, known for their malleability at high temperatures and stability once cooled; these include polyethylene and polystyrene (PS) in the form of single-use plastics, as well as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polycarbonate (PC).

 

In reality, however, thermoplastic pollution is proving to be a major environmental problem, particularly the prevalence of microplastics in the water cycle (as in the microplastic cycle). The incineration of thermoplastics can generate energy, although at the cost of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic substances in open field situations.

 

The remaining 25% of plastics are thermosetting plastics (thermosets), which generally cannot be recycled given how they typically burn when heated. Examples of thermosets include polyester, epoxy, and phenolic, and, given their durability and heat resistance, thermosets are found in cars and electrical appliances. There is also research underway to produce recyclable thermosets, such as through additives or photopolymerization. Thermosets are not thrown away as often into the environment as thermoplastics given their enhanced durability.

Epoxy resin is a thermoset polymer.

Types of Plastic Recycling

 

Currently, the recycling industry mostly considers mechanical recycling to be the foremost approach to recycling plastic waste. Mechanical recycling is used to recycle thermoplastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). This involves collection, washing, first and second sorting, shredding, and extrusion (reforming into plastic pellets). These pellets are then used to manufacture new products. Challenges in mechanical recycling include polymer scission, lack of sorting methods at scale, and inconsistent product quality, although it can be the most effective in terms of time, economic cost, and environmental impact.

 

Chemical recycling … utilizes a number of technologies in which the chemical structure of the plastic is altered, including pyrolysis, gasification, hydro-cracking, and depolymerization, such as for PET, nylon (PA), polyurethane (PU), and polypropylene (PP).

 

Chemical recycling is becoming more popular given its scalability of operations. This approach utilizes a number of technologies in which the chemical structure of the plastic is altered, including pyrolysis, gasification, hydro-cracking, and depolymerization, such as for PET, nylon (PA), polyurethane (PU), and polypropylene (PP). Dissolution of plastics in solvents (solvolysis) is also included in depolymerization, such as through hydrolysis, glycolysis (ethylene glycol), acidolysis (acids), and alcoholysis (methanol). Challenges in chemical recycling include potential toxic and hazardous byproducts being released into the environment.

 

Finally, organic recycling (or biological recycling) utilizes microbiological treatment, either in an aerobic environment (a composting process) or an anaerobic environment (utilizing biogasification). Challenges in biological recycling include high start-up costs, limited applications of enzymes, and potential risks of using enzymes.

Plastic Upcycling and Novoloop

 

Given the limitations of recycling alone, research is underway on upcycling (the conversion of “by-products or waste products into valuable and new materials”) to convert post-consumer plastic waste into valuable products—such as footwear, automotive materials, and sporting goods. In a review of chemical upcycling methods, there have been numerous examples of using metal catalysts for depolymerization under high pressure conditions.

Meanwhile, Wang has indicated that the company has been working on upcycling polyethylene over the past eight years and is now nearing completion of the planning phase for its first industrial facility. A proprietary four-step process called accelerated thermal-oxidated decomposition (ATOD) is used to produce materials for shoes and bonding products from polyethylene.

 

E&I: What is Novoloop’s innovation in upcycling plastic waste?

 

Miranda Wang: “Novoloop is the original developer of a novel chemical technology to transform hard-to-recycle plastic waste into performance materials. We oxidize polyethylene into chemical building blocks; then we harvest, purify, and build back up into a platform of materials that are indistinguishable from normal plastics made from fossil fuels. The formation of monomers is achieved through the addition of oxygen, which means that the mass of monomers produced can exceed the mass of plastic waste entering the process. Novoloop has demonstrated that we can reproducibly exceed 100% yields using the ATOD process.”“After monomers are created from digesting polyethylene, we implement a robust purification process that allows us to harvest virgin quality monomers for further processing. Because we build our intermediates and polymers out of virgin quality monomers, the quality of our products are high performance and consistent.”

 

E&I: How effective is ATOD?

 

Miranda Wang: “ATOD takes polyethylene and digests it over three to four hours and reliably makes chemical monomers for performance materials. We have successfully run this chemistry process more than a thousand times in the lab at various scales, and it has been successfully replicated by three separate contract manufacturers. We're now building a continuous integrated pilot plant for it and the support systems enabling cost competitive operations.”

 

“What sets us apart … is our ability to upgrade commodity plastic waste into virgin quality performance materials worth 40 times more. We offer chemically upcycled products at quality and price parity to fossil-based virgin materials while delivering a significant carbon reduction.”

 

E&I: What is unique about ATOD?

 

Miranda Wang: “What sets us apart from existing recycling solutions is our ability to upgrade commodity plastic waste into virgin quality performance materials worth 40 times more. We offer chemically upcycled products at quality and price parity to fossil-based virgin materials while delivering a significant carbon reduction. Novoloop holds 51 patents worldwide and is uniquely advantaged over other chemical recycling.”

 

“Novoloop offers a range of products from dicarboxylic acid monomers, polyol intermediates, and thermoplastic polyurethane resin. These are all made through Lifecycling post-consumer polyethylene using our ATOD technology. Our monomers and intermediates can be used to make products with total addressable markets of $140B, including various polyurethanes, coatings, and nylons.”

 

E&I: How will your process be implemented on an industrial scale?

 

Miranda Wang: “We are building chemical operations (plants) around the world to transform plastic waste from that region into monomers. Then, by partnering with a network of existing capacity in the industry, we build back up those monomers into various chemical and performance material products, which we sell around the world. We are in early stages of planning our first commercial factory. Tentative timelines point to a first project operational in 2027.”

 

E&I: What are environmental considerations you have made for your process and factory? What are the implications once the factory is up and running?

 

Miranda Wang: “Based on our ISO-compliant lifecycle assessment, each 20,000-metric-ton (plastic intake capacity) deployment increases our impact, diverting an additional 20,000 tons of plastic waste, preventing 120,000 tons of carbon emissions, and saving 66,000 L [about 17,435 gal] of water per year. Novoloop recovers and recycles the predominant waste products back into the system.”

 

A Pressing Challenge

 

Given the rate of the growth of the plastics industry and the relative ineffectiveness of current recycling approaches, it would be easy to become despondent about the idea of a waste-free world. However, Novoloop’s entry into the recycling industry with a new and innovative approach shows that humanity’s capacity to adapt and develop new ways of solving global trash problems isn’t exhausted.


*Robin Whitlock is an England-based freelance journalist specializing in environmental issues, climate change, and renewable energy, with a variety of other professional interests, including green transportation.

]]>