<![CDATA[The Earth & I]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/libraryRSS for NodeSat, 30 Sep 2023 22:05:00 GMT<![CDATA[Does Artificial Intelligence Have Energy and Water Costs? Early Studies Say ‘Not Zero’ ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/does-ai-have-energy-and-water-costs64dfb3b3ce9893ad335a42e7Tue, 22 Aug 2023 23:59:52 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamAccording to ,The Guardian, new AI models such as ChatGPT are raising important questions about how much energy and water they consume—questions that these AI brainchildren, apparently, cannot answer. (The information is tightly guarded). But science does offer some educated guesses.

Artificial Intelligence Have Energy and Water Costs
  1. A non-peer-reviewed research paper calculated the energy consumption used to train Hugging Face’s language model, Bloom, on a supercomputer over a 118-day period, plus its energy consumption over its lifecycle of 1.08 million hours. Included in the calculation were “the energy used to manufacture the supercomputer’s hardware and maintain its infrastructure; and the electricity used to run the program once it launched.” The answer: around fifty metric tons equivalent of carbon dioxide emissions, or “the equivalent of an individual taking about sixty flights between London and New York.”
  2. The researchers estimate that Bloom’s final training emitted approximately 24.7 tons equivalent of CO2 if “only the dynamic power consumption” (electricity used to power the program) is included.
  3. According to the researchers, limited available data suggests perhaps 500 metric tons equivalent of CO2 were produced in training ChatGPT’s GPT-3 model, or more than a million miles driven by “average gasoline-powered cars.”
  4. Another non-peer-reviewed study estimates that training GPT-3 in Microsoft’s data centers in the US could have potentially consumed 700,000 liters (184,920.45 gallons) of freshwater.
  5. That is enough, say the researchers, “for producing 370 BMW cars or 320 Tesla electric vehicles.”
  6. For now, educated guesses will have to suffice. When asked about its energy consumption, Google’s Bard answered, “My carbon footprint is zero.”


<![CDATA[The ‘Cover Cropping’ Renaissance ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/cover-cropping-benefits64da8cbe976643383bc2b631Tue, 22 Aug 2023 17:39:15 GMTRay Weil, PhDUsing Crops as Ground Cover Over the Winter Months Improves Agricultural Yield, Soil Health, and Helps the Environment

By Ray Weil, PhD*

The following article is an edited summary of Professor Ray Weil’s Poster Session remarks for the Twenty-Fifth International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS XXV) in Seoul, Korea, February 12–14, 2019. His remarks were titled: “Cover Crops for Soil Health, Environmental Quality, and Farm Profitability.”

No till cover crop emerging from plant residue, South Dakota (US).  ©USDA/Wikimedia. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Using cover crops—plants grown for the protection and enrichment of soil—in agriculture is nothing new, but the steady march of science is showing farmers new ways to use these crops to improve yields, profits, and the environment.

The Soil Quality Lab at the University of Maryland (UMD) started conducting cover crop research in the 1980s. It has spent the last two decades studying how cover crops can improve soil health compared to the common practice of leaving soil bare (and vulnerable to runoff and loss of nutrients) during part of the year.

One of the guiding principles of the lab’s research has been that cover crops can offer multiple benefits to the farmer, soil, and environment. In addition, the combination of several benefits allows cover crops to provide a positive return on investment.

Different cover crop species provide different ecosystem services, so the choice and mixtures of species are critical. The following is a summary of highlights from two decades of research.

Brassicas, Grasses, and Legumes

The Soil Quality Lab at UMD pioneered Brassica cover crops (such as cabbage, radish, and mustard), documenting their ability to alleviate soil compaction as well as send roots rapidly down to the subsoil to capture nutrients before they leach away during the winter.

These Brassica species, especially daikon radish, proved valuable in reducing fertilizer requirements by pumping the nutrients nitrogen (N), sulfur, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and boron up from deep soil layers and making them available in the surface soil.

Daikon radish penetrates deeply into subsoil and brings nutrients to the surface.  ©okugawa/iStock.

Cover crop species in the grass family (e.g., ryegrass, rye, wheat, oats, and barley) also proved to be valuable for capturing nutrients, protecting the soil from erosion, improving soil structure, and sequestering carbon.

Species in the legume family are generally slower growing and less able to provide the above-mentioned benefits, but they have the distinct advantage of biological nitrogen fixation, which can add additional nitrogen to the cropping system. In temperate humid regions, this nitrogen addition occurs principally in spring before cash crops are planted.

Multiple Species Create Synergies

In addition to the performance of individual cover crop species, the soil lab examined interactions among species and found that there were many synergies that could be harnessed to improve cropping systems. For instance, it was discovered that mixing a small amount of a cereal with a legume improved biomass production and nitrogen fixation.

Another example of synergy is that early planting of a mixture of radish, clover, and cereals produced excellent fall Brassica growth, weed suppression, and nutrient capture, while promoting the growth of the legume in the spring, thus maximizing the amount of nitrogen fixation.

Intercropping of oat and rye in Sweden.  ©W.Carter/Wikimedia. Public Domain

Timing is Key

Much of the scientific literature on the effects of cover crops is based on single species, often with very low levels of cover crop productivity. Low cover crop performance is often due to poor timing of both planting and crop termination. This prevents the species from achieving its full potential. That is why, over the past several years, the lab’s research has focused on the timing part of cover crop management, both for planting in late summer/early fall and for termination in the spring.

Low cover crop performance is often due to poor timing of both planting and crop termination.

Maryland [where the lab is located] has a unique subsidy program to encourage farmers to grow cover crops. Its goal is to reduce the nitrogen that makes its way from farmland to the Chesapeake Bay estuary where dense plant growth kills marine animal life from lack of oxygen. The dense plant growth is caused by too much nitrogen in the water.

Although adoption of cover cropping has been widespread in Maryland, cover crops could be much more effective if the rules required earlier planting and later termination. UMD’s soil lab research shows that nitrate leaching over the winter is not significantly reduced if the cover crop is planted too late for growth before winter dormancy sets in or death occurs. This discovery challenges farmers to adapt and plant cover crops much earlier than in the past. This may require using earlier-maturing cash crops or changing crop rotations to include winter small grains that allow cover crop planting in late July or early August.

Inter-seeding and ‘Planting Green’

Other soil lab research involves inter-seeding (planting seeds where a crop already exists) with airplanes [and helicopters and drones] or machines that can drive over a standing cash crop of, say, corn or soybean, and seed the cover crop several weeks before the cash crop is harvested. The soil lab researchers have looked at what cover crop species and mixtures perform best under these inter-seeded conditions.

Many cover crops are underperforming because they are killed too early in the spring. One problem with allowing cover crops to grow late into the spring is that cash crops must be planted early to achieve high yields. Typical agricultural practice is to kill the cover crop with herbicide about three weeks ahead of cash crop planting.

An innovation that solves this problem is a practice called “planting green,” by which a no-till planter seeds the cash crop into a living green cover crop. In this way, biomass and carbon sequestration can be quadrupled by allowing cover crops to grow up to, or even a week or two beyond, the planting of the cash crop. [See video here: …]

Although this idea seemed quite challenging because of the tall and heavy cover crop growth that would be present at planting time, the experience of farmers and the UMD Soil Quality Lab research group shows that the practice of “planting green” works very well in terms of both the mechanics of the no-till planter and the growth of the cash crop.

A seeding helicopter.  ©BLM/Wikimedia. Public Domain
High biomass, multi-species cover crops also provide habitat for beneficial insects and arachnids, as well as for a wide range of wildlife species.

An added benefit of this late termination management is that many of the cover crop species will go to flower and provide pollinating insects with early spring food resources. This kind of high biomass, multispecies cover crop also provides habitat for beneficial insects and arachnids, as well as for a wide range of wildlife species.

Why There’s a Cover Cropping Renaissance

Although not a new concept, cover cropping is experiencing a renaissance, especially among conservation tillage farmers in North and South America. Annual cash crops keep the soil permeated with living roots and covered by foliage for only three or four months of the year. Cover crops give annual crop rotations many of the advantages of perennial vegetation, including carbon sequestration, weed suppression, and nutrient cycling. Adding cover crops to a crop rotation also changes everything about the soil-plant-water-atmosphere system. The heavy residue protects the soil from erosion, overheating, and evaporative water loss all summer.

Cover crops can also be used as soil improvement tools. One major mechanism is called bio-drilling, by which cover crops with strong roots growing during the wet, cool time of the year penetrate compacted soil layers, leaving behind permanent root channels that later cash crop roots can follow when the soil is dry and hard. Thus, bio-drilling gives crops with weaker roots, such as soybean, access to the great water and nutrient stores in the deeper layers.

Cover crops such as forage radish (FR), rapeseed, and rye roots have differing abilities to penetrate compacted layers into the subsoil. Corn crop roots permeate the compacted subsoil in proportion to the number of cover crop roots that had grown there during the previous winter. The effect can be extended to next year’s soybean crop as well.

Cash crops stop taking up N from the soil a month or more before harvest maturity, and residual nitrate commonly leaches out of the soil between fall and spring in the humid, mid-Atlantic region.

Cover crop of tillage radish.  ©Ethanstuckey/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Over half of the remaining N was found to be 90–210 cm (35–82 in) deep, which is likely to be out of reach for next year’s summer crop. The residual mineral N comes from both fertilizer and soil organic matter and may be even greater following soybean than following corn, due to more mineralization.

Research by the UMD soil lab and others shows that properly managed cover crops can clean up nearly all the soluble N from the soil profile in the fall. Ideally, the cover crop will cycle that N back to the surface soil so it becomes available for the following cash crop, thus reducing fertilizer requirements. However, grass cover crops tend to keep the N in unavailable forms because of microbial immobilization.

In order to evaluate the ability of cover crops to capture N remaining deep in the soil profile before it leaches away over winter, UMD soil lab researchers buried stable isotopes (non-radioactive forms of atoms) in the soil to act as a nitrate tracer. They buried the tracer at various depths at the end of the cash crop N uptake season.

Next, they planted various cover crops over the buried tracer on various dates. When planted in early September, both radish and rye cover crop roots could reach the nitrate tracer buried at 180 cm (70 in) deep. Cover crops planted a month later were able to reach only the 60 cm (23 in) deep tracer. If cover crops are planted early enough in the fall, they can greatly reduce the concentration of nitrate in the leaching water all winter.

Research at many sites revealed that planting cover crops after the cash crop harvest is usually too late for effective reduction in wintertime N leaching. Cover crops planted by early October, common in Maryland, were not much more effective than no cover crop.

The planting date also influences the type of cover crop vegetation produced. The species that dominates a mix of cover crops changes dramatically with just a few weeks’ difference in planting date in the fall. It is frustrating that many research papers simply state that a cover crop was used, but not the planting dates and biomass achieved. Extending cover crop growth in spring is just as important as planting early in the fall. Both the fall planting date and spring termination date affect the nature of the cover crop.

In summary, research is advancing cover crops technology using multiple species, early planting, late termination, and no-till management to enhance ecosystem services while using fewer inputs, maintaining high profitability, and increasing yields of cash crops. This innovation is part of what is sometimes referred to as the “no-till cover crop revolution.”

Maryland USA “no till” method—Soybeans planted in wheat residue.  ©USDA/Wikimedia. Public Domain

*Ray Weil, PhD, is Professor of Soils, Department of Environmental Science & Technology, University of Maryland, USA.

<![CDATA[How to Protect Against Smoky Air ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/how-to-protect-against-smoky-air64da93b4d68c361f9a33c50eTue, 22 Aug 2023 17:38:24 GMTAlina BradfordIn 2023, Canadian Wildfires Filled Northeastern US Skies with Smoke, Which Even Traveled to Spain and France

By Alina Bradford*

June 7, 2023. Canadian wildfire smoke blankets NYC.  ©Anthony Quintano/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Hot, dry summers and autumns—and forest fires—seem to go together. In fact, there are “fire seasons” in many parts of the world.

This shows that no matter where people live, they need to know how to protect themselves from wildfire smoke.

In the US’s arid western lands, for instance, wildfires have been common occurrences for “thousands of years,” says the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Many are caused by lightning and other natural causes, but “approximately half” of wildfires are caused by humans, notes the BLM, which is dedicated to preventing both kinds of wildfires.

But today’s wildfires are also affected by the longer periods of drought, says the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Wildfires require the alignment of a number of factors, including temperature, humidity, and the lack of moisture in fuels, such as trees, shrubs, grasses, and forest debris. All these factors have strong direct or indirect ties to climate variability and climate change,” says NOAA.

Experts do not expect annual fire seasons to shorten or moderate anytime soon, based on 1984–2015 data, so it is a good idea for people to learn how to protect themselves from the negative effects of breathing in smoky air.

This precaution is important for people in regions that are not prone to wildfires. For example, many of the northern US states in the Midwest and Northeast were blanketed by smoke from the Canadian wildfires in the summer of 2023. Eventually, the smoke traveled across the Atlantic to Spain and France.

June 27, 2023. Canadian wildfire smoke reaches Europe.  ©NASA/Wikimedia. Public Domain

Wildfires Are Becoming More Common

Climate change has made droughts more common, which means dryer forests and grasslands.

Studies have found that the dry conditions from climate change doubled the number of wildfires since 1984 based on data in forested areas in western US. Wildfire seasons are also longer and more active based on 1979–2013 data, says NASA, and the dryer conditions make these wildfires harder to extinguish, allowing them to eat up more precious woodlands and forests, homes, and even towns. Since 2016, 1.2 million acres have been burned due to wildfires.

If temperatures worldwide continue to rise, more wildfires are expected. Just a 1-degree Celsius temperature change is projected to increase the areas burned per year by as much as 600% in some types of forests, says the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

In response, the US Forest Service is promoting healthy forest restoration, with a focus on fire resistance, as part of the global Trillion Trees global initiative.

However, as of August 2, sixty-seven large fires and 388,245 acres were already burned in eleven U.S. states by wildfires so far in 2023.

As of August 2, sixty-seven large fires and 388,245 acres were already burned in eleven U.S. states by wildfires so far in 2023.

Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that the smoke plumes from wildfires can worsen climate change by affecting the atmosphere. Thus, more climate change is expected to create more wildfires, and more wildfires are expected to create more climate change. It is a vicious cycle.

May 2023. Western Canada from space.  ©NASA/Wikimedia. Public Domain

How Wildfire Smoke Can Affect Your Health

While someone may think that a bit of smoke is no problem, they may be damaging their lungs by breathing in particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and various toxic compounds found in wildfire smoke.

“The short-term effects depend on your lung health and any underlying health conditions,” says Michael Green, MD, an OB/GYN and cofounder at Winona. “For example, someone with asthma might experience worsened symptoms while breathing in contaminated air. Breathing in smoky air can also increase the risk of cardiovascular issues, such as heart attacks.”

“You may be damaging your lungs by breathing in particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and various toxic compounds found in wildfire smoke.”

Over time, says Green, breathing in smoke can contribute to chronic lung health issues and decreased function and capacity. Long-term exposure to particulate matter specifically can increase the risk for severe health conditions like COPD, strokes, and heart disease. [See ,The Earth & I, August 2021]

People who are most affected by wildfire smoke include young children, older adults, and those with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions like asthma, according to the New York State Department of Health. Some symptoms of smoke exposure include:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Tiredness
  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Asthma attacks

Just a few days of exposure to wildfire smoke can have severe health consequences, including:

  • Reduced lung function
  • Bronchitis
  • Increased risk of worsened asthma or other lung diseases
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Increased risk of premature death

How To Protect Against Wildfire Smoke

Staying indoors is good, but it’s not always enough, say experts like Tony Abate.

"Most of our homes are not totally sealed from outdoor air; this is why you feel drafts in the winter. This also means air laden with contaminants from Canada's wildfire smoke will find its way into our homes and our lungs,” says Abate, certified indoor environmentalist and vice president and chief technology officer at AtmosAir Solutions, an air purification and monitoring technology company.

Still, “the best thing you can do for yourself is to stay inside,” says Green. From there, work to keep the indoor air as clean as possible. Limit indoor pollutants, such as smoke from candles, smoking, or using a gas stove since it is not safe to ventilate a home when it is smoky outside. From there, add additional steps to keep smoke out the lungs.

Running an air purifier can help. When shopping, be sure to look for air purifiers that can trap PM 2.5-sized particulate matter. Also, pay attention to how many square feet it can cover, as it may take several air purifiers to clean larger homes. Stock up on filters so there is a ready supply since smoky conditions can arrive without warning.

Proper maintenance of a home heating and air conditioning system is key, too. “The average air in a home can be a breeding ground for mold, dust, odors, bacteria, and airborne viruses,” says Abate. “Now, add wildfire smoke entering your home, and that can cause illness or discomfort.”

“The average air in a home can be a breeding ground for mold, dust, odors, bacteria, and airborne viruses,” says Abate. “Now, add wildfire smoke entering your home, and that can cause illness or discomfort.”

One way to deter smoke is to have a heating and air conditioning professional add bipolar ionization tubes to a home’s HVAC system, advises Abate. These devices continually emit ions into the air that attach to and neutralize airborne contaminants, including smoke, making the air cleaner.

Also, use a high-efficiency air filter with an HVAC that has a rating of MERV 13 rating or higher to keep the air clean. Then, set the air conditioner to “On” instead of “Auto” to keep the air circulating and continuously filtered.

If it is necessary to go outside, Green recommends wearing an N95 mask. Also, try not to breathe in deeply, since this can add damage to the lungs. That means no jogging, biking, skateboarding, or running to the bus stop.

Know When Air Conditions Aren’t Safe

Keeping an eye on the Air Quality Index (AQI) scores for the area is a good way to stay informed of smoky conditions.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of these AQI scores in the news recently. The Air Quality Index basically provides the public with the shorthand it needs to understand more complicated data on the concentrations of harmful pollutants in the air; in this case, the pollutant of concern is PM2.5,” says University of Richmond landscape ecologist Todd Lookingbill, professor of biology and geography, environment and sustainability.

An N95 mask. OSHA/Wikimedia  Public Domain

The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. If a person is a member of a sensitive group—like someone with asthma, an older adult, or someone suffering from lung disease—it is best to avoid prolonged outdoor activity when the AQI hits 100, explained Lookingbill. At 150, everyone should be paying attention and consider limiting intense outdoor activity and/or consider wearing a protective N95 mask. Once the AQI reaches 300 or more, the air is considered hazardous, and everyone should minimize outdoor exposure during these health emergencies as much as possible.

The best way to keep up with the AQI is to check the official government site AirNow.gov in the U.S. Just type in a location and the site will tell the AQI and if the air is safe. The site will also show maps of wildfires in the area.

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

<![CDATA[Keeping Mother Cows with Calves for Better Milk]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/cow-with-calf-farming-method64da9648eb799fc0631e62b9Tue, 22 Aug 2023 16:01:42 GMTMark SmithThe Ethical Dairy believes people care about ‘how their food is produced, its impact on the environment, and animal welfare.’

By Mark Smith*

The Ethical Dairy founders David and Wilma Finlay employ “cow with calf” dairy farming.  ©Courtesy of David and Wilma Finlay

Nestled away in a southwest corner of Scotland lies the historic town of Gatehouse of Fleet. It got its name as the “Gait House,” or toll booth, on the late 18th century stagecoach route from Dumfries to Stranraer.

These days, the picturesque location contains a waystation on an altogether different journey—a journey towards a kinder, more ethical way of dairy farming.

Not far from town lies Rainton Farm. Run by couple David and Wilma Finlay, the farm differs from more traditional methods of dairy farming in that it keeps calves with their mothers—or dams as they are known—to suckle for several months.

Under the name The Ethical Dairy, the couple’s venture has gone on to become the first commercial dairy in the UK to follow this “cow with calf” method of farming.

David tends to cow and calves together at The Ethical Dairy.  ©Courtesy of David and Wilma Finlay

Not only has it been a success—despite early “financially disastrous” setbacks—the Ethical Dairy is fast becoming a blueprint for others to follow. The couple say that not only is it the right thing to do, but with fluctuating commodity prices, it makes sound financial sense too.

So, What’s Not to Love?

For observers, consumers, and those who are not farmers, keeping a cow with its calf sounds like a nice thing to do. Why would anyone want to separate them?

As with most things, it is not quite that simple.

Separating the calf shortly after birth is very much the norm on dairy farms all over the world. Newborn calves are taken away within a few hours, housed separately, and fed artificially. Backers of this method say it stops the cow and calf from forming a strong bond, which reduced the stress of separation when it eventually comes.

Cow-calf contact (CCC) backers say it produces emotional benefits for both animals. Some research has also shown biological benefits for calves, including improved weight gains.

But there are arguments for keeping cow and calf together, too. Known as cow-calf contact (CCC), backers say it produces emotional benefits for both animals. Some research has also shown biological benefits for calves, including improved weight gains.

The Ethical Dairy

A firm believer in the latter way of doing things, The Ethical Dairy keeps calves with their dams for between five and six months, milking the cows just once a day. It produces organic milk and cheese.

The Ethical Dairy’s cheese.  ©Courtesy of David and Wilma Finlay

“Cow-with-calf ecological dairying is a system,” David told The Earth & I. “It requires system change, not least a change in management mindset. The cow and her calf are part of a complex ecological interaction of carbon, nutrients, insects, wild mammals, microbes, and us.

“Once we learn to stop interfering in these natural processes but [learn] to better understand and facilitate them, we can begin to harness the power of nature without all the toxic downsides from the use of fertilizers and pesticides.”

“The cow and her calf are part of a complex ecological interaction of carbon, nutrients, insects, wild mammals, microbes, and us.”

He said their method has seen several benefits, which go beyond what they produce, including:

  • Cutting greenhouse gas emissions by more than half.
  • Reducing energy use by more than half.
  • Cutting antibiotic use by 90%.
  • Cutting agrochemical use by 90%.
  • Doubling the productive life of cows.
  • Increasing farm biodiversity five-fold.
  • Increasing the net amount of food in its food system by 80%.

Apart from the pros and cons debated by the scientific and farming communities is public perception—and that is increasingly in favor of what consumers perceive to be kinder and gentler methods, eschewing practices such as zero-grazing, tethering, dehorning, and euthanizing male calves.

Consumers increasingly favor better treatment of animals.  ©Courtesy of David and Wilma Finlay

“There is no doubt that people’s concern of how their food is produced, its impact on the environment, and animal welfare has increased in recent years,” said Wilma. (For a further discussion of animal welfare see the article “A Labor of Love—How an Animal Sanctuary Heals Animals and People” in this issue.)

“Many people will buy ‘less but better’ meat and dairy products; others will move towards more plant-based diets.”

Can the Cow and Calf Method be Financially Viable?

Beyond benefits to the animals and the environment, financial issues are a hot topic of debate.

Proponents of cow and calf separation say it enables farmers to harvest the maximum amount of milk available for sale. In contrast, keeping cows with nursing calves can reduce the amount of milk available for human consumption by up to 20%.

This is a major consideration given the financial pressures on the industry. In the UK where The Ethical Dairy operates, many dairy farmers are quitting due to production costs.

The Finlays understand this dilemma. They first built a dairy designed to house calves with their mothers in 2012, and while it taught them a lot, they admit it was “financially disastrous.”

In 2016, they committed to trying again and gave themselves three years to see if it could succeed. In late 2019, they made it a permanent shift.

But David said there are two big challenges.

“Firstly, it takes time—years—for the [grazing] soil to heal and begin the process of regeneration.

“Secondly, there is an entire industry that makes a lot of money from the mess and misery of industrial agriculture. That feeds right through to our educational and research and development institutions and, ultimately, as all this generates a lot of tax, to government.”

But David said their model makes financial sense in an era of unstable commodity prices. The Ethical Dairy model is organic, so it does not use artificial fertilizer. Instead, it has an anaerobic digester that produces fertilizer from the dung of the cows. The dairy is also registered as 100% pasture-fed, so it does not buy soya or cereals. David said this brings the cost of production much closer to the cost of producing conventional milk.

“From a business perspective, the model is resource-efficient and financially resilient, being relatively unaffected by global commodity price volatility and how that feeds into the cost-of-living crisis,” he said.

“This approach favors the family farm scale dairy and insulates them from competition from large scale dairy—as the management challenges make this way of farming difficult to operate at large scale.”

Spreading the Message

The pair say The Ethical Dairy is a model for others in the industry to follow in their footsteps.

David said: “Cow-with-calf dairying has been our latest and, probably, our final step in a decades-long journey of growing awareness in the challenges facing humanity and how we, within our limited sphere of influence, might help find solutions.”

“Cow-with-calf dairying has been our latest and, probably, our final step in a decades-long journey of growing awareness in the challenges facing humanity and how we, within our limited sphere of influence, might help find solutions.”

The couple have spoken at several events, including several connected with COP26, and were co-recipients of an Outstanding Achievement award at Vibes, Scotland's Environment Business Awards in 2021.

And they are continuing to spread their message. Part of that process is opening their business to the public and other farmers to learn how they do what they do.

Wilma said that in the last twelve months, they have seen a lot more farmers visiting to decide how to convert their farms to a similar model.

“For us,” she said, “it is vital that more farms convert to nature-based, high-welfare systems.” 

“Just like organic dairy farming forty years ago, a nucleus of farms operating a cow with calf system is needed, so that it is viable for a dedicated milk tanker to collect all the milk in order for it to be processed in a central factory to benefit from economies of scale and a much wider range of dairy products available,” she said.

Driving a Permanent Shift 

Money, ethics, doing the right thing—all those factors play into a more ethical way of farming. But for the team at The Ethical Dairy, there is also the firm belief that a deeper and more fundamental shift must be undertaken to address several crises.

“Tweaking existing systems isn’t going to be enough to tackle the crises of biodiversity loss, climate change, and human health,” said Wilma.  

“Our food systems are vital in producing the changes that we need—healthy food, healthy soils, and increasing biodiversity. Natural methods are much more likely to produce these triple benefits than technological solutions with their unintended consequences.”

The cow and her calf are part of a complex ecological interaction.  ©Courtesy of David and Wilma Finlay

*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.

Editor’s Note: David and Wilma Finlay’s book is available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BTDHN23C

<![CDATA[Sanctuary Farm Heals Animals, Changes People's Hearts]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/how-animal-sanctuary-heals-animals-and-people64e380a4b0865128775bba5eMon, 21 Aug 2023 17:38:49 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamThe Earth & I spoke with Terry Cummings, founder of the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland.
Rescued horses at the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary.  ©The Earth & I

E&I: ,What does a typical day for you at the animal sanctuary look like?

Terry Cummings: Well, we have over 250 rescued animals—horses, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and a few other animals: a peacock, peahen, two alpacas—a little bit of everything. We get up early and start feeding and watering them. We have a couple of baby animals still on bottles—they need care around the clock.

This morning I took some sutures out of a wound on a goat’s udder and trimmed some hooves, and bottle-fed my little baby piglet that I’m taking care of. So, we’re pretty busy. I don’t even really get a whole night’s sleep right now.

Usually at about 8 a.m., the staff comes in. We have about fifteen paid staff working here. Volunteers arrive at 9 a.m.

During the day, we get twenty or thirty phone calls from people looking for homes for animals, and for advice about how to take care of their animals. We are limited by our barn space and funding, so we really don’t take in a lot of new animals every year because we keep them for their whole life. Since we don’t adopt them out, our turnover is low. We never want to take more animals than we can properly care for, so we network with other groups to help find homes for the ones we can’t take.

Poplar Springs Animal Sanctury's founder Terry Cummings holding Evie, one of several special needs goats.   ©Photo courtesy of Terry Cummings.

We work with humane societies and other organizations. They take stray animals or [those] from cruelty cases, and they ask us if we can help. If we can, we do.

Recently, we are getting a lot of calls from people who are keeping pigs as pets, and a lot of backyard chickens, which has become legalized in many suburban areas—although most of the communities allow only hens. Of course, if people are hatching baby birds, 50% of those will be boys. But they’re not allowed to keep them. People try to keep them, but then neighbors complain about crowing.

Humane societies will tell them they have to find another place for them, and so they call us. Unfortunately, roosters fight with each other, so we can’t take very many. That has become a real problem.

E&I: ,How did you start all this? What motivated you to do this?

Cummings: I’ve always loved animals. I majored in animal science at the University of Maryland in College Park and got a lot of exposure—I worked with cows, pigs, goats, and sheep.

When I graduated, I was looking for a job that didn’t involve harming animals. All the animal science careers that I looked into involved using and then killing animals in some way.

I went back to school and got my degree as a vet tech also. I ended up working at the [Smithsonian National Zoological Park] in DC for twelve years as a veterinary technician because that seemed to be the least harmful to animals at the time.

I really enjoyed it, but then started feeling bad about zoos because I really got to know wild animals in captivity.

Tristan Holmes, animal caretaker staff, at the sanctuary's pig barn. ©The Earth & I

Then I thought, maybe, I could help animals that are domesticated like farm animals. During the time I was working at the zoo, my husband Dave and I started renting the little farmhouse in the middle of this 438-acre farm. It was next to where a farmer was keeping about 200 cows just roaming the property. We thought, “Oh, that seems like a good life for them. They get to do whatever they want.”

But after the first couple months, I saw that “maybe it’s not a very good life for them” because the farmer just rented the land and would come here only once a week. In the summertime, the cows had lots of grass to eat, but in the wintertime, the farmer wouldn’t bring enough hay, and the cows were starving.

We had started making friends with the cows. We named them, we watched them having their babies. We saw their social relationships with each other—how the mother cows all knew their babies and would all go out together and leave some of the younger female cows to babysit.

Rescued cows resting and feeding on the meadows of the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary.  ©The Earth & I

I was shocked to see them being starved to death. If one of them got too weak and fell on the ground, the farmer would just put a chain on a leg, use his tractor, drag it into the barn behind us, and leave it there to die, slowly, with no food and water. I called the Montgomery [County Maryland] Humane Society and reported him for cruelty to animals.

I was shocked when they told me that farm animals are exempt from anti-cruelty laws, not only in Maryland but in all states. Back in the fifties and sixties, when anti-cruelty laws were created, farmers lobbied to be exempt because so many of their common practices would be considered cruel.

Farm animals are exempt from anti-cruelty laws, not only in Maryland but in all states.

All these things were coming into my awareness. I could not live in a place where someone was torturing animals. So, Dave and I told the owner of the farm that we just can’t live in a place like this. She said, “Well, I don’t like it either. I didn’t know this was happening.”

She told the farmer to leave and said to us, “I will let you [the Cummings] rent the whole farm, if you could do something agricultural so that my taxes will be lower.”

We said, “What about an [animal] sanctuary?” She said, “Well, as long as that qualifies, yes.” The tax people said, “Yes.” That’s how we started.

I quit my job at the zoo; we made up some brochures, sent them out to the local humane societies, told them if they ever took in any farm animals that we would be available to give them a home.

We incorporated as a non-profit organization and started getting donations as people heard about us. Volunteers started to come from our local high school and our local elementary school. The students were getting service-learning hours for coming here.

Rescued goats with Terry Cummings, the founder of Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.   ©The Earth & I

E&I,: So, this was a new beginning for you?

Cummings: One day before all this [starting an animal sanctuary] happened, I had observed men with baseball bats and electric shockers taking the [cow] mothers away from their babies. The babies were crying, the mothers were crying. … The men said, “What do you think we’re doing? We’re taking them to the slaughterhouse. That’s what they’re here for.” When I pleaded, “Please don’t take them,” they just laughed and kept putting the cows on the truck.

That was the day that Dave and I both became vegetarian. A couple years later, we became vegan. … We started thinking: “We changed because of meeting the animals.” … We thought, if we start a sanctuary, then other people can get to know them, too, and maybe care about them more. If nothing else, these animals deserve better treatment. We hope … that people maybe reduce the number of animals they eat even if they don’t become vegetarian or vegan.

“After … about ten years, the owner of the property donated the whole farm to us.”

That was our goal in starting a sanctuary for farm animals—not only to rescue the ones that we could, but to also open our sanctuary and let people see how wonderful these animals are, how they all have personalities, how they all deserve our care and compassion. That is how we started Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.

Then, after we’d been doing it for about ten years, the owner of the property donated the whole farm to us.

We feel so lucky. We started filling up in a hurry. We started getting calls from all over the country because there weren’t—and still aren’t—very many places that can take these types of animals.

E&I: ,When you see the children and adults interacting with the animals, what’s their reaction?

We open our doors to school groups. We do internships. Children are the future, so, we want them to learn about compassion for—and better treatment of—animals, to experience interacting with them because most kids and adults never had an opportunity to do so.

I think deep down, our instinct is to care for and love these animals, but we have been taught, “No, don’t feel that way about them because it’s too difficult.” At least for me, growing up I was told, “Don’t think about them like that because you have to eat meat.”

“Our instinct is to care for and love these animals, but we have been taught, ‘No, don’t feel that way about them because it’s too difficult.’ ”

When I see these young people coming through ... we’ve seen a lot of change in the children. At first, they’re all excited, noisy, and loud, just thinking it’s like a petting zoo—they’re just going to have fun.

But then we tell them about where the animals come from, and how they were treated before they came here. Sometimes, the parents would say, “I don’t want my children to hear terrible stories.” I would respond, “Watch the kids. They don’t cry because of the stories. They are concerned, they want something to be done.”

Rescued domestic geese (foreground) who are bred for consumption and are not able to fly. A wild goose forages in the background at the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.   ©The Earth & I

I used to visit schools before COVID-19 and show pictures of the animals: for example, a turkey who had her toes and her beak cut off because that’s what they do at turkey farms. The farms keep them very close together and don’t want them scratching or pecking each other. So, when they first hatch, they de-toe and de-beak them.

One little boy raised his hand. “The persons who did this, they’re in jail, right?” I thought, “As they should be.” The children understand this is wrong; it shouldn’t be legal. I said, “No, it’s totally legal, the farmers are allowed to do that.”

Nobody cried, but these little kids just said, “No, this is bad. This is wrong. The man should go to jail.” I thought, “This is really encouraging—that’s their instinct.” I love having children come here so we can talk to them, and they really understand.

Obviously, we talk to them age specific. ... It’s planting a seed, if nothing else. They’re learning, they’re understanding a different perspective they didn’t have before.

We’ve had some groups visit with children who themselves had been abused, some of them had been taken out of their parents’ home because of child abuse. These kids say they really relate to the animals who have also been abused. They say, “Yeah, I understand like why that animal doesn’t want to be touched.”

“These animals are so gentle, they don’t judge, they are calm and loving, and they’ll come up to the kids and let them put their arms around them and let them pet them.”

Many children groups from the inner city in Washington, DC., also visit. They have never worked with or seen these farm animals before—they’re not used to walking on grass, they’re overwhelmed by everything. It’s a very good experience for anybody to spend time with the animals, interacting with them. Because these animals are so gentle, they don’t judge, they are calm and loving, and they’ll come up to the kids and let them put their arms around them and let them pet them. I think it’s just a very peaceful, wonderful experience for them.

Rescued alpaca resting at the Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary.  ©The Earth & I

Many children groups from the inner city in Washington, DC., also visit. They have never worked with or seen these farm animals before—they’re not used to walking on grass, they’re overwhelmed by everything. It’s a very good experience for anybody to spend time with the animals, interacting with them. Because these animals are so gentle, they don’t judge, they are calm, and loving, and they’ll come up to the kids and let them put their arms around them and let them pet them. I think it’s just a very peaceful, wonderful experience for them.

E&I: Obviously, it takes a lot of effort and staff to take care of the animals. How are you funded?

Cummings: We’re funded totally from donations from the public. We don’t get any county, state, or federal funding. We do about four fundraisers a year. We have a “race” for the animals in the spring, a 5k-run, and a 1-mile “fun walk.” We have an open house and a “Thanksgiving with the Turkeys,” where the turkeys are the guests of honor.

We do tours and charge a small fee for the tour. We also do animal sponsorships: Instead of adopting an animal, people pay a monthly donation, they get a framed photo of their animal, they get the animal’s story, and then they get to come and visit their animal when they want to.

E&I: ,When you summarize your experiences, what do you plan for the future?

Cummings: We’d like to grow our community involvement. There’s a new program just coming out educating high school students called “leap4animals.” It stands for Leaders for Ethics, Animals, and the Planet (LEAP), a compassionate agriculture program for students. It is sort of on the lines of 4-H, but it’s about teaching compassionate treatment of animals.

Hopefully, we will do more educational outreach to the community—also using social media. … We started in 1997. So, we’ve been doing this for about twenty-seven years now.

E&I: ,What has been your experience with interns and volunteers that have come?

Cummings: It has been a really great experience with those we have worked with. As part of their Global Ecology program, Poolesville High School allows some students to get school credit for coming here and doing an internship during the school year. They get to come here for a couple of hours a day as part of their curriculum.

They work with the animals here, and really benefit—how to care for the animals, how to medicate, how to interact with them. A lot of our students have gone on to become veterinarians and doctors.

E&I: ,When you look at all your experiences throughout your life and look at the general society, the trends you see, what will be the alternative? What would be necessary to change?

Cummings: Well, it’s so easy now to be vegan that people could start [being vegan] maybe one day a week? Just to try. It’s scary to think of doing it all at once. …

I didn’t know how to make one thing vegetarian when I decided that I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. I had to figure it out. But it’s so much easier now. I think a lot of people even for health reasons are looking to more plant-based diets. It’s better for the planet, it’s better for the animals, it’s better for the people.

E&I: Thank you very much.

Editor’s Note: For The Earth & I, Christoph Wilkening spoke with Terry Cummings. For more information visit the sanctuary’s website at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary.

<![CDATA[Colombians Dive Deeper to End Plastic Pollution ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/colombians-dive-to-end-plastic-pollution64da9bec813d5e536f2d3655Mon, 21 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamLocal Freediving Club Draws Attention to Sea Trash
Baru, Colombia. Felipeortegag/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

A club of Colombian freedivers has found a deeper way of doing their part to reduce plastic pollution in the Caribbean, according to a news report in La Prensa Latina.

A local freediving club in the northern port city of Barranquilla meets from Monday to Friday to dive for trash in shallow pools and then on to deeper waters on weekends, not only to clean up the seabed of their beloved diving zones, but to draw attention to one of Earth’s most pressing environmental problems: marine pollution.

Most of the items the divers bring to the surface are plastic—things like straws, cups, bags, and food wrappers. Freediving is a popular tourist attraction in Colombia’s coastal waters.

In addition to their cleanup work, club members raise awareness on social media and do different activities to reduce the use of single-use plastics. “We’re looking to raise awareness that this is so beautiful (and) must be protected,” said one of the freedivers, Elkin Castro.

Diving for trash is “a way of pushing ourselves,” said another diver, describing their work as a message to their bodies to give back some of the generosity they have received from the sea.

Colombia has several seadiving spots near the major seaport city of Cartagena, the Archipelago of San Bernardo, and Isla Baru, among others, and ranks second among nations for biodiversity. [See The Earth & I, April 2021]


<![CDATA[The US Averages Eighteen ‘Billion Dollar’ Natural Disasters Per Year ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/the-us-averages-eighteen-billion-dollar-natural-disasters-per-year64dfd11ff4e8471cf2047a4fMon, 21 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamForbes Advisor recently reported disaster-related data for the US in 2022. These include hurricanes and tropical storms, tornados, severe storms, hail, flooding, extreme heat and drought, extreme cold, and wildfires.

Natural Disasters
  1. A total of eighteen weather disasters, which killed 474 people, cost the US ​​$175.2 billion in damage last year.
  2. In the past ten years, the US had 166 billion-dollar weather disasters, costing $1.28 trillion in damage and resulting in 5,871 deaths.
  3. Over the past five years, the US has averaged eighteen billion-dollar natural disasters a year.
  4. For the past ten years, tropical cyclones ranked first in total disaster-related costs at $744.3 billion. “Severe” storms ($218 billion) and droughts ($112.9 billion) ranked second and third;
  5. From January 2013 through January 2023, 95% of the 200 most populated US counties declared a natural disaster.
  6. In 2021, 95% of catastrophic losses resulted from weather-related water impacts, hail, or wind.
  7. About 90% of US natural disasters involve flooding.
  8. By February 2023, approximately 3,500 wildfires had burned 28,700 acres for the year.
  9. Last year (2022) the US had 68,988 wildfires, burning a total of 7.57 million acres (2.83 hectares). Over 40% of those acres were in Alaska.


<![CDATA[Dealing with Climate Anxiety ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/dealing-with-climate-anxiety64e377871d39f34b89c37ef0Mon, 21 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTNatasha Spencer-JolliffeCreating Hope and Progress During Climate Crises

By Natasha Spencer-Joliffe*

As climate change impacts millions of people around the globe, terminologies such as eco-grief, climate anxiety, and solastalgia, a combination of the words “solace” and “nostalgia,” have emerged to describe the distress over their broken relationships with the planet.

Climate and girl

Yet, dedicated grassroots-to-global climate actions spur hope, and citizens may find reassurance in the collective consciousness committed to combating climate change and its impact on mental health.

How Environmental Crises Affect Mental Health

The relationship between mental health and people’s environmental attitudes and actions are “intimately related and inseparable,” says Michael Goodman, professor of environment and development/human geography at the University of Reading in the UK.

As climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, and floods become more frequent and intense, more people are exposed to potentially traumatic events.

As climate-related disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, and floods, become more frequent and intense, more people are exposed to potentially traumatic events, such as by witnessing injury or death, often of family members, friends, or neighbors.

“With an increase in such exposure, many people will experience higher levels of psychological distress,” says Gary Cohen, co-founder and president of Health Care Without Harm, a US-based organization focusing on environmentally responsible healthcare.

“There is growing recognition that our safety, health, and ability to thrive—as individuals, families, and communities—is in danger because of the increasing instability of our climate,” Cohen says.

Climate-related disasters affect the social determinants of health because these events can lead to unemployment, homelessness and displacement, food and water insecurity, and loss of social support. As a result, these conditions can detrimentally affect people’s mental health.

Expand Research and Public Awareness

The growing number of studies on environmental disasters and their impacts on personal well-being reflect an elevated awareness of the relationship between climate change and mental health.

In 2022, University of Cambridge researchers found a link between gender-based violence during or after extreme climate events. A 2018 study predicted that unmitigated climate change could lead to as many as 40,000 additional suicides in the US and Mexico by 2050. Scientific studies have also found connections between climate change and its effects on anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and aggression.

UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index estimates that half of all the world’s children—over one billion—are at risk of climate impacts in their lifetimes. A May 2023 study in ,Nature Mental Health said that “[u]nlike previous generations, whose awareness of climate change was largely abstract and unlinked to daily life, contemporary young people are more aware of the results of climate change and the dearth of answers surrounding how this will impact their futures.” It cited a study of 10,000 youth in 10 countries that found that 59% were “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change and 84% were moderately worried.

Urban green space in Stockholm, Sweden, during the evening sun.  ©Yelizaveta Tomashevska
Research shows that the more access people have to green spaces and outdoor environments, the better mental health and physical health they have overall.

Research shows that the more access people have to green spaces and outdoor environments, the better mental health and physical health they have overall. Green spaces and outdoor programs that focus on improving mental health convey the vital role of a healthy environment.

At the Imperial College of London, UK, the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment formed a team of researchers, policy-makers and educators called “Climate Cares.” Together with international partners, they are engaged in a year-long project, Connecting Climate Minds, to initiate dialogues on climate change and mental health, exploring ideas on how to connect communities and pursue global research.

Support Vulnerable Populations

Survey data details the psychological distress experienced by people in contemplating the loss of a habitable planet and environmental destruction. Dr. Alison Hwong, researcher and postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, states that this distress may be disproportionately shouldered by children and adolescents, indigenous communities, low-income populations, and already vulnerable groups (such as those with serious mental illness).

“While climate change affects everyone’s ability to thrive, underserved populations are more vulnerable to climate impacts—including mental health impacts—and have fewer available resources to adapt to the changing climate,” says Cohen.

“We need healthy, happy, and supportive people who have access to the environment, who cannot just see the value of nature but also in preserving it for current and future generations in light of the climate emergency.”

“We need healthy, happy, and supportive people who have access to the environment—whether poor, middle-class, or well-off, and living in the city, the suburbs or the countryside—who cannot just see the value of nature but also in preserving it for current and future generations in light of the climate emergency,” Goodman emphasizes.

Following research exploring the effects of climate change on child and adolescent mental health, Hwong reports “on the power of youth climate activism, particularly, as a proactive and powerful response to climate change.” However, there are caveats, Hwong says: People need to ask about who is engaged in protecting the environment, what resources do they need, and what are the top priorities to address.

A sense of the intrinsic value of nature is particularly critical for children and young people to support them in a time of climate emergency and crisis.  ©Nastco/Earth image by NASA

A sense of the intrinsic value of nature is particularly critical for children and young people to support them in a time of climate emergency and crisis, Goodman says. It also promotes the development of an environmental ethic crucial for maintaining the planet’s health.

Combatting Despair

Around the globe, organizations are working collaboratively to help heal communities and the planetary environment.

Health Care Without Harm believes health care needs to move upstream to address the social and environmental conditions affecting people’s health. The Climate Psychiatry Alliance is a group of mental health providers who educate about the climate change crisis and its impacts on mental health.

The Carbon Almanac, a collaborative book project by 300 writers, strives to help combat climate despair and promote positive well-being. Community organizations, such as Toronto's shared space, The Bentway, create a shared sense of action through community events.

“Collective climate action comes from those who have the mental and physical capacity to work for and support changes, so positive mental and physical health is crucial to the climate movement,” Goodman concludes.

*Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe is a freelance journalist and editor. Over the past 10 years, 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.

Editorial notes

Sources: Interviews with Michael Goodman, Professor of Environment and Development/Human Geography, University of Reading, UK. Interview insights from Gary Cohen, cofounder and president of Health Care Without Harm. Interview insights from Dr. Alison Hwong, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco.

<![CDATA[Nigeria VP Upgrades Africa’s Great Green Wall Project to “Emergency” Status ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/nigeria-great-green-wall-project64da9a581947b01cc536e03fSun, 20 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamThe Sahel region of Mali.  ©Ferdinand Reus/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0

In the sixteen years since a massive anti-desertification program started in the Sahel region of northern Africa, only 20% progress has been accomplished, and there are calls for more efforts and international funding.

To reach the Great Green Wall’s restoration target of 100 million hectares of land [247 million acres] by 2030, “an average of 8.2 million hectares of land [20 million acres] per year would need to be restored at an annual financial investment of US $4.3 billion,” the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification said in a February 2023 progress report.

While $16 billion has already been pledged to the wall, some $33 billion will be needed to complete it by 2030, E&E News reported late last year.

Vice President Kashim Shettima ©Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Recently, Nigeria Vice President Kashim Shettima addressed the inaugural “Great Green Wall Day Celebration.” held in mid-July at the State House Conference Centre in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. He called on all Nigerians and environmental stakeholders to regard the stalled Great Green Wall Initiative as an “Emergency Rescue Operation.”

As reported by The News Chronicle, Mr. Shettima urged listeners not to relax on the Great Green Wall Initiative despite the Sahel’s temperature extremes, desertification, drought, and other challenges.

“The completion of the Great Green Wall was a promise made by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in his campaign manifesto because the cost of doing otherwise threatens our collective existence. We are, therefore, pleased to share that this inaugural Great Green Wall Day is both an exercise in demonstrating our commitment to this initiative and an act of self-preservation,” Mr. Shettima said, according to Daily Trust.

Resolutions made one year ago on June 16 in Abuja at the 8th Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of Member Countries have yet to be implemented, adding to the sense of urgency.

Launched in 2007 by the African Union, the Great Green Wall initiative is regarded as one of the world’s most ambitious land-reclamation projects. Backers believe the wall, which will stretch from the Senegal coast to the Red Sea, will help restore the continent’s forests, lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs, and sequester hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, as well as bring other human and biodiversity benefits.


<![CDATA[Deep Energy Retrofit—Total Residential Makeover Raises Energy Efficiency ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/deep-energy-retrofit-benefit64dfd742c0a046487d1caf3cSun, 20 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTDavid Dodge How to Climate-Ready A Home, Reduce Emissions, and Save Money

By David Dodge*

The idea of home energy retrofits has come a long way.  ©David Dodge

The idea of home energy retrofits has come a long way. Remember the programs that encouraged people to caulk the cracks, change light bulbs, and add a little insulation here and there?

That was then; this is now.

Today, wildly fluctuating energy prices, severe weather patterns, and rapidly evolving technological expertise make it indispensable as well as possible to radically improve homes’ energy efficiency, produce one’s energy, and divorce from the vagaries of energy utilities.

It’s called deep energy retrofitsa holistic, whole-home approach to improving homes' energy efficiency, comfort, and operational affordability.

Save Money, Reduce Emissions

Buildings are responsible for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions—around 28% comes from “operational emissions (such as the energy needed to heat, cool, and power them), and 11% from materials and construction known as embodied carbon.” (See “Decarbonizing the Building Sector,The Earth & I.)

The good news is that there is a growing body of knowledge about how to raise the energy efficiency of homes, heat and cool them with electric heat pumps, and power them with solar.
Harold Orr was one of the pioneers of the passive house concept, which involves super-insulated homes that require very little energy to heat.  ©David Dodge

The good news is that there is a growing body of knowledge about how to raise the energy efficiency of homes, heat and cool them with electric heat pumps, and power them with solar.

Housing engineer Harold Orr figured this out in the 1970s during the so-called “oil crisis.” He and his colleagues at the Saskatchewan Research Council, Canada, were asked to build a solar-powered home. But they realized it couldn’t be done without overhauling the home's insulation. Orr became one of the pioneers of the passive house concept. Today, there are numerous strategies to retrofit homes to become super energy-efficient.

Moving From ‘Dabbling’ to ‘Deep’ Energy Retrofit

At first, Canadian energy expert Jim Sandercock, PhD, who owned an energy inefficient 1951 bungalow, did what many people do: He dabbled in energy efficiency, upgraded his insulation a little bit, replaced his roof, and added solar panels.

But these improvements didn’t make much of a difference, and then he was burdened with those sunk costs. It was after doing the minor retrofits that Jim Sandercock realized he really wanted a Deep Energy Retrofit to take his home all the way to net-zero. The term net-zero refers to a home that produces all its energy on a net annual basis.

Sandercock viewed his home as having “great bones” and well worth the retrofit effort. He became aware of a pilot program in Canada that was using the EnergieSprong concept from the Netherlands. It performed deep energy retrofits by laser scanning the home and literally dropping new walls and a roof over the old ones.

The Sandercock home was renovated to net-zero by building new walls in a factory and craning them over top of the old walls to create super-insulated walls.  ©David Dodge

It would allow Sandercock to double down on insulation, tighten up the home, and bring it to net-zero. So that’s what he did. New wall panels were built in a factory, delivered, and craned in, right over the top of the old 2x4 R12 walls, bringing the walls to an amazing R40 level of insulation.

How to Do a Deep Energy Retrofit

Here are the steps to do one’s own Deep Energy Retrofit.

1. Home Energy Evaluation

The blower door test reveals how leaky the home is.  ©David Dodge

A good home energy evaluation will check the insulation, windows, and mechanical systems, and, most importantly, a blower-door test will be done to find out how leaky the current home is. Most older homes are very porous, allowing four, five, six, or more air exchanges per hour due to cracks, electrical outlets and holes in the house, bathroom vents, chimney stacks, and other things. By comparison, a net-zero home typically allows one air exchange per hour.

The evaluation will show how much energy a home requires, and a good evaluation will itemize the improvements one can make and the benefits of each.

2. Building Envelope

Insulation levels are the most critical factors in making a home much more efficient. Deep energy retrofits often target R35 or R40 walls, about R80 in the roof, and insulation is added down the wall underground right down to the home's foundation to form an unbroken blanket of insulation. (The R-value indicates a material's ability to reduce heat flow, with a higher number meaning better insulation.) Often, a new wall is built with space between the old and new wall that can be filled with insulation. Windows are the weakest link in the home, so triple-paned windows are often used to cut down on heating/cooling losses.

3. Net-zero ready heating and cooling

Net-zero builder Peter Amerongen with the double-studded wall system that he and many others use to produce R35-R40 walls.  ©David Dodge

One of the significant benefits of a super-insulated home is that it will require 70%–90% less energy to heat it. For this reason, most deep energy retrofit projects replace gas furnaces with heat pumps. Air source heat pumps are up to 300% efficient and are rated to be operational at -31 °F (-35 °C). A geothermal ground source heat pump is even more robust but more expensive. Heat pump water heaters are also very efficient, and the best part is both of these systems run on electricity, allowing homeowners to potentially cut the gas line and, more importantly, the gas bill.

Finally, a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) is added to provide plenty of fresh air to the new super-tight home. These devices recover more than 70% of the heat from exhaust air, saving even more energy.

Heat pumps are a very efficient way to warm the home, create hot water, and even dry clothes. ©David Dodge

4. Generating one’s renewable energy

Net-zero homes produce all their own energy on a net-annual basis using solar modules.  ©David Dodge

Solar is now one of the cheapest ways to generate electricity on the planet, and solar is the coup de grâce of the deep energy retrofit to get to net-zero. Alberta, Canada, homeowners Darcy and Darren Crichton did their DIY (do-it-yourself) deep energy retrofit using geothermal heating and cooling, and their utility bill last year ended with a positive balance. They cut their gas line and only have an electricity bill these days.

Solar is now one of the cheapest ways to generate electricity on the planet, and solar is the coup de grâce of the deep energy retrofit to get to net-zero.

5. ‘Icing on the Cake’

Induction cooktops are twice as efficient as electric stoves.  ©David Dodge

Those first four steps can easily deliver a net-zero home, but a few other cool things can further improve a home. Speaking of baking cakes, an induction range is twice as energy efficient as a standard electric stove and performs better than any other kind of stove. Heat pump dryers are much more efficient, and many come in ventless models, thus eliminating another hole (the vent) in a wall. And, of course, homeowners can use LED lights, low-flow water devices, and smart home technologies to make the home even more efficient and functional.

Whom to Call?

A deep energy retrofit done all at once can cost $100,000 or more. It will pay for itself in time, but it’s important to work with contractors who have already done similar work and can provide references.

State, local, and national incentive programs often provide a homeowner with incentives for various components.

State, local, and national incentive programs often provide a homeowner with incentives for various components, so explore these options. Some areas also have Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing programs that provide loans with payment plans that are synced to the paybacks of the investment, so one does not pay out of pocket. In Canada, a federal interest-free loan is available, but it’s capped at CAD 40,000.

Canadians Jesse and Jena Tufts have a 1953 bungalow in Edmonton. The home needed some work anyway, and they wanted to transform their story-and-a-half home into a two-story home. According to a February 2023 article by the City of Edmonton, they transformed their old home into a dream home with R44 insulated walls by adding most of the features described above. They replaced their roof with a solar-optimized south-facing roof with a rooftop deck surrounded by the roof’s solar panels. Jesse is an engineer, and after the renovation, he took a job with the company that did the renovation. He is now one of the most knowledgeable deep energy retrofitters out there.

What about DIY?

Staging one’s project DIY over time for budgetary reasons, the key is doing it right the first time, one step at a time. Sandercock, for instance, had to remove his solar panels from his home and reinstall them after his deep energy retrofit.

For a DIY renovation, one must do the homework. It’s better to do one thing right rather than dabble in half measures. The results will be better, and there won’t be any regrets when one decides to take the home to the next level.

That’s what the Crichtons did. They began their deep energy retrofit 20 years ago before anyone knew what deep energy retrofit or net-zero even meant!

In their inspiring story, the couple researched their options and added double walls, replaced the roof, added a geothermal ground source heat pump and solar panels, and make money on their utilities today.

One year ago, the Crichtons still had a gas line, a gas stove, and a gas heater in the workshop. They were so inspired after adding the geothermal system that they ditched the gas stove, bought an induction stove, added even more solar panels, and cut the gas line. They benefited from a bevy of incentives and grants and are very happy with the result.

Whether DIY or hiring a contractor, doing it right will pay dividends for the life of the home and add value to it as well.

*David Dodge is an environmental journalist, photojournalist, and the host and producer of GreenEnergyFutures.ca, a series of micro-documentaries on clean energy, transportation, and buildings. He’s worked for newspapers and published magazines and produced more than 350 award-winning EcoFile radio programs on sustainability for CKUA Radio.

<![CDATA[Urban Air Quality—Who’s Up and Who’s Down?]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/urban-air-quality64dfb660f4e8471cf204691dSun, 20 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial Team,Forbes, issued a recent global report on which cities are currently winning (or losing) the war for cleaner air.

Urban Air Quality
  1. Topping the “good” air-quality list of 480 global cities is Zurich, Switzerland, with PM2.5 levels of just 0.5 µg/m3.
  2. In the US, Omaha, Nebraska, has seen a list-topping decrease of 1.1 µg/m3 in PM2.5 levels since 2019.
  3. Globally, Ulan Bator, Mongolia, has seen the greatest air quality improvements in the world since 2019, thanks in part to a government ban on burning coal. The capital city of Mongolia, Ulan Bator has seen PM2.5 levels decline by 23.4 µg/m3.
  4. In Europe, North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, has gone from most polluted European capital city to having the biggest decrease in PM2.5 particles, falling by 12.4 µg/m3. Skopje’s Green City Action Plan helped it achieve this positive ranking.
  5. On the other hand, among national capitals, Baghdad, Iraq, has experienced the worst increase in air pollution, with PM2.5 levels rising by 31.6 µg/m3.
  6. Since 2019, the city of Dammam, Saudi Arabia, has seen the worst air quality declines of any city in the world, thanks to hosting the world’s largest airport (King Fahd International). Dammam has seen PM2.5 levels rise by 111.1 µg/m3.
  7. For Europe, the Spanish city of Salamanca has seen PM2.5 levels increase the most by 5.1 µg/m3.


<![CDATA[Going Global with Gazpacho]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/how-to-make-gazpacho64df952dc2f84fe2f66af853Sun, 20 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTJulie PetersonThis Zesty Cold Soup Can Light Up Any Meal

By Julie Peterson*

Gazpacho, a Spanish favorite, is a cooling puréed vegetable soup topped with extra virgin olive oil for a smooth finish.   ©myplate.gov.

Each year, harvest season brings loads of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to market. One way to enjoy this short-lived summer pleasure is to add a healthy and delicious cold soup called gazpacho to the menu.

Thought to have originated in Spain, zesty, raw, and vibrant gazpacho helps cleanse the body before moving into autumn and winter— the cucumbers, red bell peppers, and tomatoes used in the soup are filled with fiber. Since gazpacho doesn’t require cooking, the raw veggies also retain their nutrients for optimal human health. Besides, any opportunity to avoid cooking lessens the energy burden on the planet.

It’s as simple as chopping, blending, chilling, and enjoying a refreshing and nourishing meal, and it’s enjoyed the world over using available produce and regional seasonings.

Moreover, if the flavors and options aren’t intriguing enough, researchers at the University of Barcelona, Spain, found that “the consumption of gazpacho, a Mediterranean vegetable-based cold soup rich in phytochemicals, is associated with lower blood pressure and/or reduced prevalence of hypertension in individuals at high cardiovascular risk.”

They surmised that the association between gazpacho intake and reduction of blood pressure is likely due to “synergy among several bioactive compounds present in the vegetable ingredients” of gazpacho.

Anyone who has eaten gazpacho knows that making a quick and delicious gazpacho and then slurping it up provides the healthful benefit of joy.

Get That Gazpacho Going

The following super simple gazpacho recipe can get anyone started on the road to loving this revitalizing and wholesome soup. It’s easy to experiment with variations using the veggies on hand or that are found at a farmers' market. Imagine adding zucchini, pattypan squash, bell peppers, chives, tomatillos, or radishes to this recipe. Chopping, dicing, shredding, or pureeing provides a dish with different textures, colors, and flavors.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings

©Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center, U.S. Dept. of HHS.


  • 1 15½-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup (236 ml) tomato juice
  • small cucumber, peeled (optional) and chopped
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper


  1. Mix the chopped tomatoes, tomato juice, cucumbers, onions, garlic, vinegar, hot sauce, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Cover and chill one to two hours before serving.

Source: Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center, U. S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Fresh and Organic for Nutrient Density

For optimal health benefits, the ingredients should be fresh and organic, although subbing in canned tomatoes or dried herbs is fine as well.

Follow these basic proportions for four servings and experiment from there.

Proportionate Gazpacho Ingredients

A gazpacho variation from Portugal.  ©Jos Dielis/Wikimedia CC BY 2.0
  • 3 tomatoes or 1 avocado (or maybe both)
  • 2 or 3 cucumbers
  • 1 red, green, or yellow bell pepper
  • 1 serrano or spicier pepper (optional)
  • ½ to 1 red, yellow, or white onion
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic
  • ½ to ¾ cup fresh herbs (basil, parsley, dill, mint)
  • ¼ cup oil
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions (version one)

Rough chop or dice everything. Toss in a bowl. Chill until ready to serve.

Instructions (version two)

Rough chop everything. Toss in a blender. Pour in a bowl. Chill until ready to serve.


Gazpacho can be thrown together in less than ten minutes using what is at hand, making the varieties virtually endless. Here are some common variations on the gazpacho theme.

  • Smoothie: Pulse the ingredients together in a blender and then strain out the seeds and skins. This provides a smooth consistency that can be served in a glass as a refreshing drink (get fancy with a salted rim, a stick of celery, or a mini umbrella stuck into an olive). It can also be served in a bowl with a crusty piece of buttered bread for dunking (another piece of bread will probably be needed to soak up all the goodness). The smoothie gazpacho is great for kids who may tend to avoid certain veggies.
Salmorejo—tomato-based Spanish cousin of gazpacho.   ©P.Lechien/Wikimedia CC0
  • Toppings are a fun addition to any gazpacho recipe for flavor and presentation. Examples include shredded cheese, croutons, nuts, seeds, chopped prosciutto, sardines, oysters, shrimp, hard boiled eggs, herbs, toasted edamame, fresh berries, or edible flowers.
  • Vinegar gives gazpacho tanginess. Switch it up with red or white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. There are all sorts of raw organic vinegars available (pomegranate, grape, etc.) that can be used in gazpacho recipes to add extra taste, enzymes, and sparkle to the finished product. Lemon or lime juice can be used as a substitute for vinegar and will give gazpacho a sour zest and pick-me-up.
  • Oil: Most traditional gazpacho recipes call for ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and/or a drizzle of oil on top before serving. Oil gives the soup flavor and texture. Try substituting avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or make an herb oil by infusing basil, cilantro, or oregano in a mild salad oil.
Gazpacho with avocado. ©Pixabay
  • Green gazpacho might become a favorite. Simply omit the tomato and use avocado. It’s easy being green with cucumbers, green chiles, parsley, dill, mint (any favorite herbs will do). Add the proportionate amounts of onion, garlic, vinegar, or juice. This version is particularly “cool” to look at when blended.
  • Bitterness: If gazpacho is too bitter, stir in a spoonful of honey or sugar to balance it out. Salt can also balance bitterness.
  • Creamed soups are popular in winter, and cold gazpacho can also be creamy. Add ¼ to ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt to the chopped or blended variety for another level of tanginess and a beneficial dose of probiotics.
  • Fruit? Yes, fruit! Try an incredibly simple gazpacho with cantaloupe, tomatoes, cucumber, oil, basil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend it up and keep guests guessing on who came up with the amazing flavor blend. Or, get fancy with this Blueberry Gazpacho recipe designed by sous chef Josh Riach from Rabbit Hill Inn in Vermont.
Simple and elegant: Gazpacho in a glass.  ©Renato Rocca/Pexels

Farmers Market Gazpacho

Garlic, cumin, and lemon juice give a zesty flavor to this cold, blended vegetable soup. Cilantro added at the end leaves a refreshing pop of flavor.

©USDA’s MyPlate Kitchen

Makes 4 servings.


  • 2 cucumbers (diced into ¼ inch pieces)
  • 3 red bell peppers (seeded and diced into ¼ inch pieces)
  • 3 green peppers (seeded and diced into ¼ inch pieces)
  • 4 celery stalks (diced into ¼ inch pieces)
  • 2 tomatoes (diced into ¼ inch pieces)
  • 1 onion (medium, diced into ¼ inch pieces)
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 cups (473 ml) tomato juice, low-sodium
  • 3 garlic cloves (fresh minced)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin (ground)
  • 1 cup (236 ml) cilantro (fresh chopped)
  • salt and pepper (to taste, optional)


  1. Combine all ingredients except salt, pepper, and lemons in a bowl.
  2. Remove 2 cups (473 ml) of the mixture and reserve.
  3. Using a blender or food processor, puree the remaining mixture in the bowl.
  4. Add 2 cups (473 ml) of reserved mixture to the pureed mixture.
  5. Season with salt, pepper (optional) and the juice from the lemons.
  6. Cover mixture and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
  7. Serve cold, garnished with chopped cilantro.

For nutrition information, please visit Farmers Market Gazpacho at USDA’s MyPlate Kitchen.

*Julie Peterson is a freelance journalist based in the Midwest region of the US who has written hundreds of articles on natural approaches to health, environmental issues, and sustainable living.


<![CDATA[May 2023: Earth’s Third-Warmest May on Record ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/may-2023-third-warmest-may-on-record64dfb51856ef6782a0bd9bb0Sat, 19 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamThe US National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) compiled the following about key measurements for May:

May 2023: Earth’s Third-Warmest May on Record
  1. May 2023 was the third-warmest May since records began to be kept in 1850, or 174 years ago inclusive.
  2. The year-to-date (January–May) surface temperature of Earth was the fourth warmest of “such period” on record.
  3. The US National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) is “virtually certain (> 99.0%)” that 2023 will rank as one of the top ten warmest years on record with an 89% chance of ranking in the top five.
  4. Ocean temperature hit a record global high for May, marking its second consecutive record-breaking month, when compared with 1985–1993.
  5. Amid unusually high May temperatures in North America, Canadian wildfires burned more than 6 million acres in late May and early June, causing widespread deterioration of Canadian and US air quality.
  6. Though Africa, Asia, and Europe each had a “top-20 warmest May,” Oceania’s May was cooler-than-average—the coolest May for the region since 2011.
  7. Antarctica, too, had a “cooler-than-average May.”
  8. The Arctic, on the other hand, experienced its fifth-warmest May on record.


<![CDATA[Sweet, Salty, Ultra-Processed Food Products on the Move ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/concerns-of-ultra-processed-food-products64dd1a98afa4555c30632c50Sat, 19 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTYasmin PrabhudasScholar Raises Concerns About ‘Junk Foods’ Entering Markets in Developing Nations

*By Yasmin Prabhudas

An increasingly familiar scene in the developing world.  ©JackF/istock 

Consumers in the Western world are increasingly aware that eating too much “junk foods”—aka “ultra-processed” foods—isn’t healthy. Now there is concern that food giants are expanding into new markets in the developing world, and this will help bring health and even environmental problems to new populations. 

That’s what Professor Eduardo Gómez discusses in his new book, ,Junk Food Politics: How Beverage and Fast Food Industries Are Reshaping Emerging Economies.

Gómez, a political scientist, is professor and associate chair at the Department of Community and Population Health and director of the Institute of Health Policy and Politics at the College of Health at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, US.

He has worked in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa for many years, looking at “contested” epidemics (epidemics for which the government debates whether to intervene) such as obesity and diabetes.

Telling the Story

Dr. Eduardo Gómez.  ©Courtesy of Eduardo Gómez

Gómez became interested in food companies’ attempts to expand into emerging markets while studying obesity in Brazil and the US, and more recently in Mexico.

“I realized one day that despite all the policy innovations in Brazil and Mexico and trying to increase awareness about obesity and the foods that contribute to it, there was still an ongoing increase in obesity—among children and the poor especially—but in the population in general,” he explains.

“Maybe there’s some kind of industry interference […] because big industries want to make money,” he says. “And oftentimes they’re not fully aware of—or they’re aware but they’re not really concerned about—the possible health implications of their foods.”

Writing his book provided Gómez with the opportunity to “really get behind the juicy details of what’s driving these ongoing contested epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”

Writing his book provided Gómez with the opportunity to “really get behind the juicy details of what’s driving these ongoing contested epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”

Gómez has discussed his book on National Public Radio, and his book has been reviewed by the medical journal, ,The Lancet. He has also spoken about the ultra-processed food industry on podcasts, such as Junk Food Politics: the price of outsized corporate influence.

“Colleagues in the medical schools and public health schools have really appreciated that I've gone into depth on an issue that needs a lot of explanation,” he says.

What is ‘Ultra-processed’ Food?

The term refers to food products that have been significantly changed (processed) from their original states, using a variety of additives including salt, sugar, fat, preservatives, and/or artificial colors. They are usually low in fiber and high in calories but taste good.

Candy, soft drinks, most breakfast cereals, packaged food products, ice cream, chicken nuggets, and chips and other “snack” foods are just a few of the tens of thousands of ultra-processed products for sale.

In the United States, ultra-processed food products are ubiquitous: Researchers at the Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute estimate that 73% of the US food supply is ultra-processed, according to a 2022 article in Nature Food.

Gómez describes ultra-processed foods as ones “that are often packaged, frozen, made from ingredients that are made by manufacturers. So [they’re] not necessarily in their natural state, such as an apple or an orange.”

“An ultra-processed food is a food that's often manufactured in an industry with added ingredients taken from other kinds of foods—sugar added, salt added, fat often added, colors [added]—and all these foods are often packaged, to be stored in our cupboards, in our refrigerators, and our freezers,” Gómez says.

Health Problems

Ultra-processed food is linked to several serious health concerns. [See ,The Earth & I, August 2022]

Gómez explains: “High consumption of ultra-processed highly sugary foods [...] is associated with diseases like type 2 diabetes. Other kinds of foods high in fats and ultra-processed ingredients are often associated with gaining weight and a rise in obesity.” 

He notes that adolescent type 2 diabetes has been increasing when it has typically been a disease associated with older adults. “Type 2 diabetes is the next global pandemic, if it isn't already,” claims Gómez. [See ,The Earth & I, February 2022] 

Gómez writes that growing awareness of these problems in the US has led to a 25% decrease in per-capita consumption of sugary drinks between 1998 and 2014. Meanwhile, there is evidence Mexicans are now drinking more sodas and sugary drinks—and the number of obese people in Mexico has jumped from 23% in 2005 to 29% in 2016.

Soda consumption has increased considerably in Mexico.  ©Holgs/istock 

Environmental Implications

Gómez worries about the environmental implications of expanded markets for ultra-processed food products.

“A lot of these processing plants require a lot of water to process their foods. […] Manufacturers are contributing to air pollution issues. There's a lot of usage of plastics and packaging. So there are many environmental factors,” he says.

Increasing Access and Sales

Trade liberalization agreements have opened the door for food and beverage corporations to promote all their products more easily in emerging economies, notes Gómez. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which came into force in 1994–2020 (now currently the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement), eliminated all tariffs on imported goods between Canada, the US, and Mexico. Elsewhere, in India and China, access to markets is also more open than ever before. 

Some governments, such as Chile, place restrictions on advertising targeted to children, but others do not, Gómez notes.

Influencing Policy from Within

In his book, Gómez reviews how corporate partnerships with government and other agencies, including scientific institutions and non-governmental organizations, are affecting policies.

Some companies are engaged in “corporate social responsibility” programs that promote exercise and physical fitness; during COVID-19, many companies provided testing sites, explains Gómez. They also participate in education and programs on environmental responsibility. 

In his book, Gómez reviews how corporate partnerships with government and other agencies, including scientific institutions and non-governmental organizations, are affecting policies.

In China, for example, snack food giant, Mondelez International, works with the Chinese Youth Development Foundation, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and local governments to improve school kitchens and children’s nutrition.

In South Africa, Coca-Cola has joined with the government to organize public exercise events, while Nestlé offers nutritional education training, better school meals and school exercise programs, in partnership with the state. 

Another example includes the Indian government’s partnership with PepsiCo to improve children’s nutrition.

“I think every major multinational corporation that is concerned about their global reputation, always wants to be involved and have some positive things to say about health and the environment,” Gómez observes.

“Many people have argued that it's for legitimacy and to avoid regulations and public scrutiny,” he claims. “It creates incentives for governments not to regulate these companies because they're often perceived as being a solution to the problem.”

But there is concern about ultra-processed food products flooding new markets. In Mexico, for example, non-governmental organizations have raised awareness of processed products that are harmful.

A citizen gathering on the future of food and farming in Europe.  ©European Union 2012 - European Parliament CC BY NC ND 2.0 

Gómez applauds academic researchers who are focusing on ultra-processed foods and bringing issues into the public square. “As more politicians understand that their constituents are concerned about these issues, then more can happen. Now we have to really convince congressional members or parliamentary members that their constituents are really concerned,” he says.

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

<![CDATA[How Plant Roots Know to Grow—During Heat, Drought ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/how-plant-roots-know-to-grow-during-heat-drought64da9b28e4a96ef66c522e98Sat, 19 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamStudies Break New Ground Amidst Climate Worries

According to ScienceDaily, two separate studies have broken ground—and altered previous concepts—about how plant roots know to grow deeper during heat and associated drought. Researchers hope their discoveries can assist plant breeders with efforts to help plants cope with rising global temperatures.

A team of scientists at the Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University (SLCU) in the UK has discovered a molecular signaling-pathway that is activated when leaves are exposed to low humidity. This causes plant roots to grow towards water.

Meanwhile, a team led by researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany, succeeded in demonstrating that roots are equipped with a temperature sensing and response system of their own.

Exposed tree roots in dry terrain.  ©Pixabay

The team’s study, published in The EMBO Journal, provides new information on how roots themselves both detect and react to higher temperatures.

As reported by ScienceDaily, Professor Marcel Quint from the Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences at MLU said, “Until now, it was assumed that the plant shoot controlled the process for the entire plant and acted as a long-distance transmitter that signaled to the root that it should alter its growth."

Prof. Quint and team discovered that root cells increased production of the growth hormone auxin, which was sent to root tips to stimulate cell division, enabling roots to grow deeper into the soil. "As heat and drought usually occur in tandem, it makes sense for the plants to tap into deeper and cooler soil layers that contain water," Quint explains in the ScienceDaily report.

The SLCU researchers, on the other hand, found that when the leaves of a plant are exposed to low humidity, they signal the plant's roots using the drought stress hormone abscisic acid (ABA) to direct them to continue growing. This was surprising because ABA is thought to be a growth inhibitor, rather than a growth promoter.


<![CDATA[Taking a Closer Look at Carbon Credits ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/unintended-consequences-reducing-carbon-emissions64e3792a8d502820f50b569bFri, 18 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTDhanada K. MishraPolicies for Reducing Carbon Emissions Can Have Unintended Consequences

By Dhanada K Mishra*

Reducing carbon emissions is critical for progress in combating climate change.   ©subjob

From “global warming” to what some international leaders call “global boiling,” the Earth appears increasingly off-balance. Dramatic wildfires, floods, heat waves, sea temperature rise, and polar ice melting, which are expected to increase in “frequency and ferocity," as the World Economic Forum says, keep climate crises at the forefront on people’s minds.

As countries worldwide strive to reduce their carbon emissions, there are potential unintended consequences that could threaten any progress made in combating climate change. Policymakers need to be aware of these unintended consequences that impact the economy and environment.

For example, green policies pushing for efficiency and renewable energy have helped develop renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, hydropower, and green hydrogen, succeeding in generating energy mostly without greenhouse gases—except during initial construction and maintenance. From 2019 to 2020, renewable energy grew from 27% to 29% of the global electricity supply. Power from sun and wind alone increased from 7.8% to 10.1%. The use of fossil fuel coal decreased from 36.6% to 35.4%.

However, some policies have increased energy consumption and created more, often hidden, emissions rather than reducing them. As a result, alternative, market-driven mechanisms—such as carbon credit policies—are also expected to play an important role in addressing climate change.

Carbon Credits to the Rescue?

Carbon credits, or cap-and-trade or emission trading systems (ETS), constitute a market-based approach to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. They provide financial incentives for individuals, companies, or countries to reduce their carbon footprint by funding projects that reduce or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Carbon credits, or cap-and-trade or emission trading systems (ETS), constitute a market-based approach to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon credit policy refers to the use of carbon credits for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as a way to mitigate climate change. Carbon credits are certificates representing quantities of greenhouse gases that have been kept out of the air or removed from it, either by avoiding emissions (for example, refraining from cutting down rainforests), reducing emissions (by improved energy efficiency), or enhancing removals (carbon capture and planting forests). Carbon credits can be traded or sold in voluntary or compliance markets, depending on whether the buyers are motivated by their environmental goals or regulatory obligations.

Carbon scale

One good example of the earliest functioning carbon credit system is the California Cap-and-Trade Program, which covers about 85% of the state’s emissions from various sectors, such as electricity, industry, transportation, and natural gas. Another example is the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the world’s largest carbon market that covers more than 11,000 power plants and industrial facilities in thirty-one countries.

How Do Carbon Credits Work?

Each carbon credit represents 1 ton of carbon or CO2eqv. Each identified emitter is assigned a certain number of credits representing its emission limit. As the company or organization reduces its emissions below the assigned limit, it generates credits that can be retained for future use or traded in the compliance carbon market overseen by a regulatory body.

The CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017 found that 71% of all global emissions from 1988 to 2015 came from just 100 companies worldwide. Carbon credits primarily focus on reducing emissions rather than addressing the root causes of climate change. The need for transformative changes in energy systems, industrial practices, and consumer behavior is often overlooked. When companies rely heavily on carbon credits, they divert attention and resources away from efforts to reduce emissions at the source.

Carbon credits primarily focus on reducing emissions rather than addressing the root causes of climate change.

The Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM) estimates an increase of demand for carbon credits by a factor of fifteen or more by 2030 ($50 billion) and by a factor of up to 100 by 2050 (more than $300 billion).

While carbon credits effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there are also some potential unintended consequences of market-oriented carbon credit policies. Here are a few examples:

Carbon leakage occurs when companies move their operations to countries with lower environmental standards to avoid emissions regulations and take advantage of cheaper carbon credits. This can lead to an increase in emissions in the relocation countries, offsetting the emissions reductions achieved by other companies in the country of their origin.

Carbon markets can be volatile, with prices for carbon credits fluctuating based on supply and demand. This can create uncertainty for companies and organizations relying on carbon credits to offset emissions.

Carbon markets can be volatile.  ©Khanchit Khirisutchalual

Some companies may use carbon credits to create the appearance of environmental responsibility without reducing their emissions. This is known as greenwashing and can undermine the effectiveness of carbon credit policies.

It's important to note that these unintended consequences are not inherent to carbon credit policies but rather can arise due to the way these policies are designed and implemented.

The Good and the Bad

An example of an effective carbon credit project is the Renewable Biomass Project developed by Sustainable Carbon in Brazil. This project aims to replace non-renewable biomass (such as native wood) with renewable biomass (such as sawdust or rice husk) as fuel for producing ceramic bricks and tiles. By doing so, the project reduces greenhouse gas emissions, preserves native forests, improves air quality, and supports local communities.

On the other hand, one of the most egregious examples of a carbon credit project gone awry is the HFC-23 destruction project in China and India, registered under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol. This project involved the destruction of hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23), a potent greenhouse gas that is a byproduct of chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22) production, which is used as a refrigerant and a feedstock for other chemicals. The project claimed to avoid emissions of more than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually and generated millions of carbon credits that were sold to European countries.

However, several studies have revealed that the project had serious flaws and negative impacts, such as:

  • Creating perverse incentives: The project paid more for destroying HFC-23 than for producing HCFC-22, which encouraged the expansion of HCFC-22 production and increased the consumption of ozone-depleting substances. This is a perfect example of the cobra effect, where a policy achieves the opposite of its intended outcome.
  • Overestimating emission reductions: The project assumed a high baseline emission factor for HFC-23, which was not representative of the actual performance of the chemical plants. This resulted in inflated emission reductions and excess carbon credits that did not reflect real environmental benefits.
  • Undermining climate goals: The project flooded the carbon market with cheap and dubious carbon credits, which lowered the carbon price and reduced the incentives for other emission reduction actions. The project also allowed European countries to meet their emission targets without making domestic abatement efforts.

What Can Be Done?

The role of climate policies such as carbon credit has its strong supporters and detractors, and the results so far have been mixed at best. What can be done?

At the individual level, consumers and investors can demand more transparency and accountability from carbon credit providers and projects and choose high-quality credits with clear environmental and social benefits. They can also educate themselves and others about the role and limitations of carbon credits and advocate for more ambitious and effective policies at the national and international levels.

Consumers and investors can demand more transparency and accountability from carbon credit providers and projects and choose high-quality credits with clear environmental and social benefits.

At the society level, civil society organizations, media outlets, academic institutions, and other stakeholders can monitor and evaluate the performance and impact of carbon credit projects and markets and expose cases of fraud, corruption, or malpractice. They can also promote best practices and standards for carbon credit accounting, verification, and reporting, and foster dialogue and collaboration among different actors in the carbon credit value chain.

Dubai on a dusty summer day with temperature crossing 50 degrees Celsius. It will be the venue of the COP28,    the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, where global climate policies will be discussed.  ©Photo courtesy of Dhanada Mishra

At the global level, governments, intergovernmental organizations, and industry associations can harmonize and strengthen the rules and regulations for carbon credit markets and ensure that they are aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They can also support innovation and development of new technologies and methodologies for measuring, reporting, and verifying carbon credits, and facilitate access to finance and capacity building for carbon credit projects in developing countries.

In conclusion, it is critical that policymakers consider both short-term and long-term impacts of each decision they make to assure that progress is not reduced by its sometimes-unintended consequences, either economically or environmentally. Only careful consideration and planning will mitigate damage caused by current human activity so that future generations will live on a habitable Earth.

*Dhanada K Mishra has a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and is currently based in Hong Kong. He writes on environmental issues, sustainability, climate crisis, and built infrastructure.

<![CDATA[World Seafood Consumption at Record Level ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/world-seafood-consumption-at-record-level64dfb5fa78153f0211cc3c06Fri, 18 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamThe World Economic Forum (WEF) has found that global seafood consumption (per capita) has more than doubled since the 1960s and reached a new record high.

World Seafood Consumption at Record Level
  1. Average global consumption of seafood set a record in 2019 at 20.5 kg (45.19 lbs) per capita.
  2. This per capita seafood consumption measure has been trending higher since the 1960s, when it was 9.9 kg (21.83 lbs).
  3. Iceland has the highest national seafood consumption per capita at 91.19 kg (201.04 lbs).
  4. The second-highest seafood-loving nation is the Maldives, with consumption at 84.58 kg (186.47 lbs).
  5. Portugal and South Korea come in third and fourth, respectively, at around 57 kg (125.7 lbs) per person.
  6. Conversely, Afghanis only consume 0.24 kg (0.53 lbs) of seafood per person per annum, far below any other nation on the list.
  7. Also at the bottom of the fish-eating list were Germany, Brazil, and India.


<![CDATA[Keeping Plastics Out of Landfills and Public Spaces ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/recycling-and-reusing-plastics64df8b517760bc8d4ca0f89fThu, 17 Aug 2023 08:00:36 GMTRobin WhitlockAn Introduction to Recycling and Reuse

By Robin Whitlock*

Plastic pollution on Accra beach, Ghana.  ©Muntaka Chasant/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The world was introduced to plastics in 1907, when Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland created the first synthetic plastic with two ingredients (formaldehyde and phenol).

Its popularity has been phenomenal—by 2021, some 391 million metric tons of plastics were produced worldwide, according to Statista 2023.

Unfortunately, the constant demands for plastics—which were created to be durable—have led to a world that is literally awash with plastic pollution, on both land and sea.

The first plastics recycling plant opened in 1972 in Pennsylvania, US, and, today, UK-based ENF Recycling keeps a global directory of 26,300 plastics recycling plants.

But, as the UN Environment Programme describes it, with 7 billion metric tons of plastic waste created every year and less than 10% of it recycled, “Our planet is choking on plastic.”

The sheer variety of plastics remains a major barrier to effective recycling. Plastics require specific recycling methods to deconstruct their molecular structures, and although some public education has been done about plastics recycling, there are many questions about how to sort the types and what can be done to improve the recycling success rate.

The realities of plastic recycling and what can be done to reduce plastic pollution are examined below.

The Various Types of Plastic

Most plastic packaging is labeled with a number from 1 to 7, identifying what the type of plastic is. Each type has unique properties with varying degrees of recyclability, as given below:

1 - Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) (e.g. water bottles, plastic trays)

Polyethylene terephthalate is commonly used for water bottles.  ©Adoscam/Wikimedia  (CC BY-SA 4.0)

PET is a thermoplastic polymer resin related to polyester and thus is often used for clothing fiber. It is also used for single-use bottled drinks because it is lightweight, easy to recycle, transparent, and has a reduced risk of leaching harmful substances into the environment as the plastic breaks down.

More than 82 million tons of PET were produced globally in 2021, and, because of this, PET is one of the largest sources of plastic waste. However, it is also the most commonly recycled type of plastic. Fifty-two percent of PET is recycled in Europe compared with just thirty-one percent in the US.

Most recycled PET (from bottles) in Europe does not become material for more PET bottles, according to a report produced in 2022 by Zero Waste Europe. Instead, it is turned into plastic trays, fibers, film, or strapping. Only thirty-one percent of recycled PET plastic becomes more bottle material, with sixty-nine percent being allocated to the manufacture of other PET products.

2 - High-density polyethylene (HDPE) (e.g. milk cartoons, shampoo bottles)

A milk bottle made of HDPE.  ©Pkgx/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

HDPE is a thermoplastic polymer obtained from ethylene (or sometimes called “polythene” when used for HDPE pipes). This material has a high strength-to-density ratio and is often used for the production of plastic bottles, shopping bags, corrosion-resistant pipes, geomembranes, and plastic planks as an alternative to wood. It has a high melting point and so is resistant to heat until high temperatures are reached. However, when the melting point (about 130 °C or 266 °F) has been reached, it is very malleable and can be quickly and efficiently molded for a variety of purposes.

It is easily recycled and is often accepted by recycling centers across the world, but the necessity of sorting it from other types of plastic means that only about ten to fifteen percent of it is recycled in Europe currently. This reuse rate needs to increase because HDPE is not biodegradable, and, worse still, constituent pollutants can leach out into the environment when it is landfilled.

Because HDPE can hold large volumes of goods without breaking, it is commonly used for retail and grocery shopping bags. While some US communities are seeking to ban these “plastic bags” or penalize users (charging them a nickel a bag, as in Baltimore, Maryland), there are also many retailers that offer collection points where the bags can be deposited and recycled.

3 - Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) (e.g. piping)

PVC pipes.  ©NRCS Oregon/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is another widely produced synthetic polymer, available in both rigid and flexible forms. The former is suitable for constructing pipes, doors, and windows and also for plastic bottles, packaging, and credit and debit cards. Meanwhile, the latter form, with the addition of plasticizers, becomes softer and more flexible and can be used in plumbing, electrical cable insulation, flooring, signage, inflatables, and rubber substitutes. When fibers, like cotton or linen, are blended with PVC, it can be used for producing waterproof tarpaulins, canopies, and vehicle and furniture covers.

There is a common misconception that PVC cannot be recycled, but this is erroneous as there are a number of ways in which the material can be recycled. These include reuse, regrinding, melting, and repeated extrusion. However, it must be recycled separately from other plastic waste because of its high chlorine content and the high levels of hazardous additives it contains.

4 - Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) (e.g. food bags)

LDPE is used for transparent bags.  ©The E&I

LDPE is made from ethylene and was first produced in 1933 by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). It is often used to produce transparent plastic film, such as food plastic wrap; bubble wrap; and plastic bottles. The more rigid forms of LDPE are often collected by curbside recycling operatives. Its low-density forms can also be recycled, but not as easily since it can be contaminated by the substances it was used to wrap.

5 - Polypropylene (PP) (e.g. margarine tubs, ready-meal trays)

PP is used for transparent containers and bags. ©Gmhofmann/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

PP is similar to polyethylene, but it is slightly harder and more heat resistant with a high chemical resistance. It can be recycled to produce a wide variety of products, but polypropylene bags must be collected, sorted, shredded, separated based on color, and then it needs to be compounded before it can be recycled effectively. Not all local recycling centers can handle PP, so there are particular companies that do this.

6 - Polystyrene (PS) (e.g. plastic cutlery)

PS (known as Styrofoam) is made from the aromatic hydrocarbon styrene and can be either solid or foamed. Its solid form is usually clear, hard, and brittle. It is not an effective barrier to oxygen or water vapor and has a low melting point, despite being one of the most widely used plastics. It is commonly used for protective packaging but is not biodegradable and, especially in its foam form, presents a serious source of litter pollution. Furthermore, while expanded polystyrene (EPS) can be recycled, classic polystyrene cannot, due to its origins as a product of hydrocarbon styrene.

Foamed polystyrene (such as Styrofoam) is used in packaging.  ©Ian Hughes/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

7 - Others—such as polycarbonates (PC)

PCs are usually viewed as the plastics that are the hardest to recycle—if they can be recycled at all. However, PCs are translucent and resistant to impacts, which make them popular among manufacturers, especially as alternatives to glass. They are less likely to be used for food packaging due to evidence showing that they can release harmful bisphenol A (BPA). Some countries have even banned PCs for use in baby bottles for this reason.

There is a large group of additional plastic types, many of which either cannot be recycled or can be recycled only by specialist recycling companies. This group includes materials such as nylon, polycarbonate, melamine, and other substances.

Current Practices of Recycling, Reusing and Repurposing Plastic

Plastics recovered by curbside recycling teams are sent to either a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF), which separates plastic waste from other non-plastic materials, or a Plastic Recovery Facility (PRF), which sorts plastic waste by type. An optical sorter is used to distinguish the different types of plastic.

The plastics are then sent to a reprocessing plant, where they are washed, shredded, and subjected to further sorting. The third stage in the process is melting them down into plastic pellets, which are then sold for use in manufacturing other plastic products.

According to a 2017 study, only nine percent of plastics produced from 1950 to 2015 were recycled due to the complexity of the processes involved. Furthermore, a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that global plastic use will nearly triple (to 1,230 Mt) by 2060, meaning that global plastic pollution will more than double (to 1,014 Mt) from 2019 levels.

Another update, published by Greenpeace in 2022, lists five main reasons for the low rate of plastic recycling:

  • Plastic waste is difficult to collect.
  • Mixed plastic is difficult to sort.
  • Plastic recycling poses environmental risks.
  • Recycled plastics have toxicity risks.
  • Plastic recycling has poor economics.

Reusing Plastics at Home or Out and About

A bag made from single-use plastic bags.  ©Sally/Flickr.  (CC BY-NC 2.0)

At home or out and about, there are a number of ways in which plastic can either be avoided or reused. Many people, for example, are now carrying their own reusable straws or drink containers around with them, which can be used in cafes and restaurants instead of plastic items. Likewise, sturdy canvas or plastic bags that have been kept for reuse can be used for shopping instead of accepting new plastic bags from a retailer.

When actually buying products, consumers can be selective, choosing only those goods that are packaged in truly recyclable containers, such as glass, paper, or cardboard.

Many plastic containers can be reused in the garden, for example by making hanging planters out of them. Simply fill them with soil, insert a plant or seeds and hang from a suitable location using garden twine.

Coasters made from recycled plastic bags.  ©Alyssa/Flickr.  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A Clever Approach to Recycling

Given the low rate of recycling currently, the best thing for reducing plastic waste is to think foremost about personal consumption patterns and approach.

Perhaps the first stage in this process would be to find out from local authorities exactly what materials they recycle.

A second step would be to avoid, as far as possible, buying products using plastic packaging.

The final step would be to reuse, as far as possible, the plastics at home in various ingenious ways.

*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.

<![CDATA[Seven ‘Green’ Business Trends to Watch in 2023 ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/green-business-trends-to-watch-in-202364dfb1598c8f64e9d016a1a1Thu, 17 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamInvesting issues were dominant in a recent report, “7 Sustainability Trends that Will Shape Business in 2023,” based on public data and published by AccountAbility, a leading consultancy and standards firm.

Green Business Trends
Trend 1: Achieving Net Zero
  1. More than 40% of the largest global corporations have set net zero targets, an increase of 20% from December 2020.
  2. However, only about half of companies with net zero targets include “interim GHG [greenhouse gas] emission reduction targets” in their plans.
Trend 2: Stakeholder Activism
  1. Globally, of some 20,000 adult and teen Gen Zs surveyed by Edelman, 57% think that brands have more power than governments to “solve social ills and societal problems.”
  2. A record number—282—of US corporate shareholder votes were held on Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) issues in the 2022 proxy voting season.
Trend 3: Geopolitics
  1. Almost all (94%) of global business executives agreed their company was impacted by “unexpected geopolitical risks” in 2021.
  2. Globally, about 25% of boards “regularly” consider geopolitical risk.
Trend 4: Building “Future-Focused” Boards of Directors
  1. About 27% of board seats globally were held by women as of May 2022.
  2. More than 70% of newly elected board members come from a professional background “versus 15% from blue collar backgrounds.”
Trend 5: ESG Disclosure Reports
  1. Some 96% of the world’s largest companies report on “ESG matters.”
  2. About 49,900 companies are expected to report under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, up 422% from “current levels of sustainability disclosure.”
Trend 6: Sustainable Supply Chain
  1. Some 74% of companies surveyed globally had supplier codes of conduct in 2021, compared with 64% in 2019.
  2. Globally, about 51% of companies surveyed had a “sustainable procurement policy” in 2021, compared with 38% in 2019.
Trend 7: Ecosystem Services
  1. Over half of global GDP ($44 trillion) is “moderately or highly dependent on ecosystem services.”
  2. Exposure to risk due to nature loss is highest in India and Indonesia, where “highly dependent sectors respectively comprise 33% and 32% of national GDP,” respectively.


<![CDATA[Breakthroughs Fuel Growth in Hydrogen Technology]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/hydrogen-technology-future64e37428c80951974701fe09Wed, 16 Aug 2023 04:00:00 GMTRick LaezmanInnovations in Production, Storage, Power, and Transport are Expanding the Hydrogen Economy Worldwide

By Rick Laezman*

Hydrogen tech

Recently, hydrogen has emerged as a leading candidate to help the world shed its dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Numerous breakthroughs around the globe favor an expanding market for this ubiquitous resource.

Why Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and plentiful on Earth. It is also clean: The only byproduct of a hydrogen fuel cell is water. Effectively harnessed, it could fuel a clean power transformation around the globe. Entire industries, like transportation, as well as electricity generation and power storage, would have a vast fuel source to help them become “green.”

Nevertheless, hydrogen faces many challenges: Reliable, clean, and safe methods for extracting, transporting, and consuming hydrogen must be developed, refined, and commercialized on a mass scale.

Mining for Hydrogen

In May of this year, a French energy producer that focuses on those challenges, La Française D’Énergie (FDE), announced the discovery of “significant concentrations” of natural hydrogen, so-called “white hydrogen.” It is naturally occurring hydrogen found in geological underground deposits.

FDE discovered the deposit in one of its previously drilled wells in Lorraine, a region in the east of France. The company confirms that fluids within the mining basin measure a hydrogen concentration of 15% at a depth of 1,000 meters (0.6 mi) and 98% at 3,000 meters (1.8 mi).

According to researchers at the University of Lorraine, who collaborated with the company on the measurements, the deposits “could be the largest potential natural hydrogen ever discovered in Europe.”

According to researchers at the University of Lorraine the deposits “could be the largest potential natural hydrogen ever discovered in Europe.”

According to those same researchers, the Lorraine basin could contain 46 million tons of natural hydrogen—equivalent to half the world’s current hydrogen production.

The company has now applied for an exclusive permit to extract the hydrogen from the mining basin.

Gaining access to this volume of naturally occurring hydrogen would solve one of the greatest challenges energy producers face when considering hydrogen as a potential fuel source. In most instances, it must be separated from its natural state as a molecule that attaches to others. The process can be very energy and resource-intensive and is not always “clean.”

Extracting raw hydrogen from deep wells underground eliminates this challenge. Hydrogen occurs naturally on Earth through various processes. For example, serpentinization, a geological process that forms minerals known as serpentines, produces hydrogen-rich fluids when ultra-basic rocks (with less than 45% silica by weight) react with water. Biological processes involving bacteria or algae also release hydrogen, and natural degassing (removal of dissolved gases) releases hydrogen from the Earth’s crust and mantle. These and other processes offer a tremendous renewable resource, just like the wind and the sun, that will replenish itself after consumption.

Forsterite, an olivine mineral. Groundwater interacting with olivine can result in hydrogen building up in the surrounding rock layers.  ©Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

However, these deposits are not easily discoverable because hydrogen is an odorless and colorless gas, and the underground element is typically masked by naturally occurring microbes that eat it. So, the first challenge is to figure out where to find the hydrogen.

Once it is found, it must be extracted. This poses the next big challenge because geologic hydrogen is found in extremely remote and deep locations. That has not deterred some from pursuing this resource. For example, several large oil companies, including Shell, BP, and Chevron, are part of a consortium with the US Geological Survey and the Colorado School of Mines to study the potential of geological hydrogen.

Meanwhile, the energy sector will have to rely on other less convenient separation methods to tap into this tremendous resource's potential.

Shipping Hydrogen

Within those methods, other challenges remain. One of the greatest challenges is transport. Unlike other fuels, hydrogen must be highly pressurized or liquified when transported. For the fuel to be available on a scale supporting mass consumption, existing infrastructure would have to be modified to accommodate these unique needs.

Public and private enterprises are teaming up across national boundaries in the South Pacific to find innovative solutions.

How is green hydrogen produced

Last year, the Australian government announced what it described as the “world's first shipment of liquified hydrogen.” The specially built Suiso Frontier vessel transported super-cooled, liquid hydrogen from Victoria’s Port Hastings in Australia to Kobe, Japan. The 116-meter (380 ft) vessel is the world’s first purpose-built liquefied hydrogen carrier.

Last year, the Australian government announced what it described as the “world's first shipment of liquified hydrogen.”

The milestone is part of the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) pilot project between the two countries. As part of that project, a consortium of Australian and Japanese companies built a hydrogen production plant in Australia's Latrobe Valley, producing 99.99% pure hydrogen. This hydrogen was then trucked to a different facility to be cooled to -253 degrees Celsius to liquify it. It then was loaded with less than 800 times of its gaseous volume onto the Suiso Frontier for transport.

The Australian government estimates that the HESC could produce an estimated 225,000 tons of carbon-neutral liquefied hydrogen when it reaches commercial scale.

Following the success of last year's maiden voyage, the hydrogen economy is poised to grow. Last June, Japanese, Singaporean, and Australian companies joined in a project investing $117 million AUD to build one of Australia’s largest green hydrogen production facilities at Gladstone in Queensland.

The project will use renewable energy to produce green hydrogen. It is designed to generate 200 tons of green hydrogen per day by 2028, with a production capacity of up to 800 tons per day by 2031. The green hydrogen will then be liquefied and exported to Japan and Singapore.

Hydrogen from the Sea

Hydrogen can be shipped over the sea, and someday soon, it may be extracted from seawater, too.

Hydrogen can be acquired from water through a chemical process known as electrolysis, separating hydrogen atoms from oxygen atoms in water.

Water can be a plentiful source of hydrogen. However, fresh, clean water is in high demand. Using it to produce hydrogen on the scale that would be needed to supply the world's insatiable appetite for fuel could, at the same time, put a severe strain on the water supply.

Using seawater could solve this problem. According to the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Water Science School, 96.5% of all Earth's water is found in the oceans as salt water. 2% of the Earth’s water is stored as fresh water in glaciers, ice caps, and snowy mountain ranges. Only 1% of the Earth’s water is available for daily water supply needs.

These numbers make a strong case for seawater as a source of hydrogen. However, seawater poses its own challenges, typically requiring desalination and purification, which are expensive and energy-intensive processes that would otherwise make seawater an impractical choice.

Researchers announced they achieved near 100% efficiency in extracting hydrogen from untreated seawater using a specially designed electrolyzer.

Publishing their findings in the scientific journal ,Nature Energy in January, the researchers at the University of Adelaide have found a way to overcome these obstacles. They announced in their article that they achieved near 100% efficiency in extracting hydrogen from untreated seawater using a specially designed electrolyzer that incorporates a low-cost catalyst made of cobalt oxide coated with chromium oxide.

The researchers say they are working on a larger version of their electrolyzer that can be used on a commercial scale.

Hydrogen Valleys

As hydrogen continues gaining momentum, the industry will need more than the occasional breakthrough to carry it to the mainstream. Concentrated and sustained innovation is required to guide researchers and developers toward a unified and expanded marketplace.

The European Clean Hydrogen Partnership (formerly known as the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking) defines hydrogen valleys as “a geographical area, such as a city, a region, an island or an industrial cluster, where several hydrogen applications are combined into an integrated hydrogen ecosystem that consumes a significant amount of hydrogen, improving the economics behind the project.”

In June of this year, a Finnish consortium of energy companies announced they had come together to develop an industrial hydrogen valley in the Uusimaa region of Finland. It would combine green hydrogen infrastructure, storage, and fuel transmission. It would serve those that produce hydrogen as well as its consumers. (The consortium comprises the Finnish energy companies Neste Corporation, Helen, Vantaa Energy, and Gasgrid, Finland.)

Hydrogen valleys are catching on in other parts of the world, too. This month, the North Adriatic Hydrogen Valley (NAHV) project, a transnational project by Slovenia, Croatia, and the Italian Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, received the official green light for its implementation on September 1, 2023.

Closer to home, “at least twenty groups from across the US have submitted final applications this year to the Department of Energy (DOE) hoping to receive up to $1.25 billion in federal funding to become one of six to ten clean hydrogen hubs,” according to S&P Global Commodity Insights.

The applicants are vying for Funding from the DOE's Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program–or H2Hubs. It includes up to $7 billion to establish regional clean hydrogen hubs across America. Funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (H.R. 3684) passed in 2021.

A Future Fueled by Hydrogen

Hydrogen has the potential to be the clean fuel of the future. Like other sources of green energy, it faces many hurdles and challenges in entering the mainstream. Recent developments demonstrate a strong commitment from investors, researchers, and energy providers that hydrogen can overcome those hurdles. With continued commitment, a future powered by hydrogen may not be far off.

*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.