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  • Single-Use Nightmare: How COVID-19 Protective Materials are Trashing the Environment

    *AUTHOR BIO For the last eighteen months, humanity has been trapped between two existential crises. On one side, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s lives, national health systems, and economies around the globe, while, on the other side, relentless damage to the environment continues to have devastating real-world consequences. The two issues, however, are not unconnected. The widespread use of personal protective equipment (PPE) has become a necessity in order to minimize the spread of coronavirus infections. This means masks, gloves, and other protective gear which were once mostly used in healthcare settings are now used widely by the public in many nations around the globe. Along with vaccines and social distancing, PPE has been one of the three principal forms of defense against the spread of the potentially deadly disease. But extensive use of disposable PPE has brought with it unintended consequences—contributing significant damage to the environment—particularly in terms of the amount of plastic pollution entering oceans. This is occurring just when it seems that the message about the long-lasting damage plastic was doing to the planet was finally being heard. “Before the pandemic began, the tide seemed to be slowly turning in the fight against plastic pollution,” said Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK. “But the dramatic rise in single-use plastics during the pandemic, which can be seen in the form of discarded PPE and plastic bags on our beaches, in our rivers and oceans, and on our streets, risks undermining so much of the progress that has been made in recent years.” The Scale of the Impact When it comes to how much PPE the world goes through every day, the numbers are astronomical. One study estimates that 3.4 billion face masks are thrown away every day. Another estimate 190 billion face masks per month (4.3 billion per day) and 65 billion gloves. In England alone, the use of PPE in the first six months of the pandemic added an additional 1% to the country’s carbon burden according to a study by Brighton and Sussex Medical School. The report’s lead author Chantelle Rizan, a doctor and sustainable surgery fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in Oxford, said, “Our research looked at the carbon footprint of PPE supplied to health and social care in the first six months of the pandemic, and we were shocked that this equated to the equivalent of flying as a passenger from London to New York 244 times each and every day.” Where Does the PPE Go? The surge in demand for disposable PPE as the pandemic unfolded was so massive that waste disposal systems were simply unable to keep up. In China’s Hubei Province for example, infectious medical waste increased by 600% from 40 tons per day to 240 tons per day, overwhelming the existing medical transport and disposal infrastructure around hospitals. The sheer amount of PPE and the lack of places to dispose of it have led to it increasingly being discarded on the streets and finding its way into the world’s waterways. Last year, the Great British Beach clean by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) found gloves or masks on 30% of all beaches surveyed. And because of the materials used in its construction, once the PPE is there, it is not disappearing anytime soon. According to Teale Phelps Bondaroff, director of research for OceansAsia, single-use face masks are often made with polypropylene plastic, which can take as long as 450 years to decompose. Along with increased production of PPE and a lack of waste infrastructure to manage growing demand, there are a number of other factors that contribute to littering PPE in such high quantities, from a lack of available disposal bins to simple carelessness. Steve Hynd, Policy Manager at the environmental organization City to Sea, identified that part of the problem was also communication. “There is a clear lack of messaging or guidance for people about the responsible way to interact with PPE,” he said. “It should be part of any official guidance on PPE what is best to do with it after use.” Devastating Impact on the Environment Using plastic in PPE is problematic, because 79% of all plastic produced globally has not been recycled, typically ending up at landfill or entering our oceans where they break down into toxic microplastics. The French environmental organization, Opération Mer Propre (Operation Clean Sea) has released footage of PPE littering ocean floors, with their founder, Laurent Lombard, warning that there could soon be “more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean.” Hynd said, “These single-use plastic masks are finding their way into our natural environment where they are entangling wildlife, breaking down, being consumed by wildlife, and therefore entering the food chain. It is significantly contributing to the wider problem of plastic pollution.” It is not just the unsightly nature of PPE and its physical impact on wildlife that are the problem either. Sunlight and heat cause plastic to release greenhouse gases which accelerate climate change. As that speeds up and the planet gets hotter, the plastic breaks down into more methane and ethylene, increasing the rate of climate change and causing something of a feedback loop. The problem is likely to get worse too, according to Rizan. “If we use traditional PPE at the rates we have seen over this last year, we will continue to have significant detrimental impact on the environment. This in turn has a detrimental impact on human health, alongside contributing to species loss and resource depletion.” Health Risks with Discarded PPE Of course, by its very nature, discarded PPE is not just a problem for the environment but a potential health hazard too. “There is potential infection risk associated with handling PPE litter if it has been recently discarded, although this can be minimized using a no-touch technique such as using a litter grabber,” said Rizan. Taking Action When it comes to reducing the impact of PPE on the environment, action can be taken at the governmental and individual levels. Rizan said, “Our research highlights a number of key areas that can help reduce the environmental impact whilst maintaining safe levels of protection for patient and staff.” She said these strategies included shifting to domestic manufacture of PPE, rationing glove use (such as by using hand washing where clinically appropriate), using reusable alternatives where available, as well as recycling. McCallum added that, throughout the duration of the pandemic, lawmakers in Great Britain had a big role to play in getting the message across that PPE does not have to be non-reusable. “While it was correct to be cautious at the beginning of an unprecedented global pandemic, the (British) Government could have made it clearer from the outset that reusable face masks and food packaging are just as safe and effective for members of the public as single-use alternatives and far less harmful for the environment.” For individuals, minimizing the use of non-recyclable PPE and utilizing reusable protective gear when appropriate are keys to staying safe, while also helping reduce the impact on the environment, according to Rizan. “We feel that awareness is key, so that individuals have the knowledge to make the decision to take responsibility for their PPE waste and, better still, to transition to reusable PPE solutions.” Hynd agreed. He said the most important thing that most ordinary people could do was carry a reusable mask, wash it regularly, and use it time and time again. “This would hugely cut down on the number of single-use plastic masks used and thrown away.” “If you invest a small amount into buying a few reusable masks you will save money very quickly and reduce your environmental impact significantly.” Hynd also hailed the introduction of new mask recycling schemes in some stores, but warned, “This isn’t a silver bullet. It’s really just a drop in a very plastic polluted ocean. We are being flooded with single-use plastics and the only way to stop this flood is by turning off the taps. And for masks, this means promoting the use of reusable masks wherever appropriate.” *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.

  • Easy Affordable Charging Is Key for An Electric Vehicle Rollout

    *AUTHOR BIO It has been observed that the best science fiction is predictive. Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of transit. While 1960s cartoon dad George Jetson and his flying car may not be in our future, other forms of imaginative and innovative transportation certainly are. For example, take electric vehicles, or EVs. There is no question about it. EVs are surging. What was only a few years ago considered by many to be a futuristic possibility (i.e., fantasy) is very quickly becoming an everyday reality. And it’s not just for the rich and famous or those who live in a space bubble. While Tesla made EVs attractive for the well-to-do, there are options for the everyday driver on an everyday budget. And electrification is taking over more than just passenger cars. Vehicle fleets, buses, and trucks are all going electric. Electric scooters are revving up, too. All these electric vehicles on the road have one thing in common. They need to be charged. The surge in electric vehicles has fueled an equally rapid expansion of charging infrastructure around the globe. Growth will continue, and more needs to be done. Whether governments and other stakeholders are poised to keep up with the rising demand is an issue that warrants a closer look. Electric Vehicle Popularity Continues to Skyrocket Electric cars and the charging infrastructure that supports them make up a growing industry. As it continues to expand, we can wonder: Does the availability of chargers increase the demand for consumers to go out and buy EVs, or does the rising demand for electric cars create a need for more chargers? A true causal relationship may be hard, if not impossible, to determine. According to the Fuels Institute’s 2020 Electric Vehicles Adoption report, "There is no single ratio that accurately captures the relationship between EV charging stations and EVs." Although it may be difficult to characterize the nature of the relationship between the two, there is no disputing that one exists. First, there is the matter of EVs and their rapidly growing numbers. According to the BloombergNEF Electric Vehicle Outlook October 2021, "There are 12 million passenger EVs on the road globally today." This is an increase from just 170,000 in 2010. That's an average of more than one million new EVs on the road per year over the last ten years. Analysts expect this growth to continue. Varying scenarios forecast anywhere from 145 million to 230 million EVs on the road globally by the year 2030. That's a tenfold to twentyfold increase over the next decade. Demand for Chargers Is Met by Three Main Types As EV numbers grow, so does the volume and diversity of chargers that serve them. There are a variety of chargers to support the needs of EV owners. Currently, there are three types of chargers which are distinguished by how fast they can charge up a car's battery. A Level 1 charger uses (in the United States) a standard 120-volt outlet. The same kind of plug you would use for your household appliances, like a television or a toaster. It is the slowest kind of charger and adds about three to five miles of driving range per hour of charging. Level 2 chargers are significantly faster and must be installed separately in the home or office. They can deliver between 12 to 80 miles per hour of charging depending on the output of the charger and the charge rate of the car. An EV plugged into a Level 2 charger will almost certainly be fully charged overnight, even if the battery was empty when charging began. Level 3 chargers, also called fast chargers or superchargers, can deliver a whopping 3 to 20 miles per minute. Unlike Level 1 and 2 chargers, which rely on Alternating Current (AC), a Level 3 charger relies on Direct Current (DC) to deliver a charge to the EV's battery. In slightly more technical terms, Level 1 chargers rely on a 120-volt setup. Level 2 utilizes a 208-volt to 240-volt circuit. Level 3 chargers rely on a setup that delivers 400 to 900 volts of current. There is also the question of standards. In North America, all EVs use the standard J1772 or "J-Plug" for Level 1 and Level 2 chargers. Level 3 charging has more options. Most EV manufacturers use the Combined Charging System, CCS or “Combo” plug. Some manufacturers use the Asian standard called CHAdeMO. Tesla uses its own proprietary charger for all three levels of charging. Price and Efficiency Can Make EVs a Better Deal Than Gas Cars Part of the cost of keeping an electric car running is determined by the price of electricity where it’s charged. That can make a difference depending on where the owner lives. For example, charging up an EV in California, which has almost half of the EVs in the entire country, requires drivers to pay one of the highest average rates for electricity. The calculation will also reflect the fuel efficiency of the car, or how much electricity is used to drive a certain distance. One way to make the calculation is to measure the number of kilowatt-hours (kWh) per 100 miles driven. In California, in the United States, for example, electricity rates average 16.89 cents per kWh. If an EV in California consumes 33 kWh to travel 100 miles, or .33 kWh per mile, that's a cost of about $0.05 per mile. At a cost of $6.75 per charge, a driver would pay about $400 per year to charge an electric car. That’s easily a fraction of the typical amount spent on gasoline for a standard car. Making a similar calculation for a gasoline-powered car shows the difference between the two. For example, a gasoline car that gets 22 miles per gallon and fuels up in California, where fuel prices average more than $4.00 per gallon, will cost about $.20 per mile. Another way to evaluate the cost of an electric car is to calculate how much it costs to charge the vehicle. Take for example, a typical EV with a 40-kWh battery. If this car were to be charged in California, with its average rate of 16.89 cents per kWh, the owner will pay about $6.75 every time the car is charged. According to the American Automobile Association, U.S. drivers average about thirty-one miles of driving per day. The range of EVs varies from less than a hundred miles to over 250 miles per charge. Taking an average of 200 miles, that equates to about six days of use per fully charged battery. That means an EV owner would have to charge up his or her car about sixty times per year. At a cost of $6.75 per charge, that equates to about $400 per year to charge an electric car. That's easily a fraction of the typical amount spent on gasoline for a standard car. There is No Place Like Home for Charging These days, everyone is doing things from home. EV charging is no exception. Studies show that over 80% of EV owners prefer to charge their vehicles at home, where they can plug it into the wall using the standard outlet or that dedicated 220-volt station they paid an electrician to install. Installing a Level 1 or Level 2 charger can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $2,000. Level 3 chargers will cost tens of thousands of dollars, making them impractical to install for most homeowners. Despite the preference for powering up at home, charging away from home is still an important consideration. According to Eric Wood, Team Lead, Decarbonized Vehicle Systems for the National Renewal Energy Lab (NREL), there is a psychological component to owning an EV. He calls it "range anxiety." Although most drivers are taking those relatively short, thirty-one-mile trips on a daily basis, they all plan to go on a road trip someday. "The value of public investment in EV charging," says Wood, "is in providing charging for long-distance trips." Everyone takes a trip out of town eventually. Wood says those trips will be at least 200 miles and sometimes more. Federal Investments Multiply Charging Stations Across the World All of this begs the question, what is being done to build up the charging infrastructure for electric cars? Like so many new technologies, when it comes to a public EV charging network, government has stepped in to charge up the industry. In countries around the globe, federal government has invested heavily in the charging infrastructure, and it has paid off. For example, last year the government of the United Kingdom announced its Rapid Charging Fund, part of a five-year, £500 million plan to support the rollout of a fast-charging network for electric vehicles, ensuring that drivers will never be further than thirty miles from a rapid charging station. The goal of the plan is to have 2,500 high powered charge points across England’s motorways and major roads by the year 2030, and 6,000 by 2035. Government spending on EV infrastructure yields results: Recent reports show that electric cars make up over 80% of new cars sold in Norway. Similarly, the Norwegian government launched a program in 2017 to finance the establishment of at least two multi-standard fast-charging stations every fifty km on all main roads in Norway. The country is a world leader in EV adoption. Recent reports show that electric cars made up over 80% of new cars sold. China is also a global leader in the EV industry. The central government set a goal in 2015 to build 12,000 centralized charging stations with 4.8 million EV charging plugs by 2020. The plan appears to have been a success with over 17,000 new charging plugs installed per month in 2019 and over 800,000 total charging points installed by 2020. The United States is also committed to building out this country's charging infrastructure. The Biden Administration's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would invest $7.5 billion to build out the first-ever national network of EV chargers in the U.S. The bill will provide funding for deployment of EV chargers along highway corridors. Expansion Hopes to Keep Up with Demand By all accounts, continuing investment in charging infrastructure is needed. Growing demand from consumers and continuing pressure from government in the form of zero emission standards will only lead to more electric cars on the road. The projected rapid and continuing increase in the number of EVs over the coming years will be dependent on an expansive public and private charging network. The challenge is not small. For example, the NREL estimates that the United States needs a total of 27,500 DC fast chargers and 601,000 Level 2 chargers to meet the country's charging needs by the year 2030. That's a 40% and 86% increase, respectively. If the past decade is any indication, government and the private sector, with support from the consumers, are up to the task. *Rick Laezman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, California, US. He has a passion for energy efficiency and innovation. He has been covering renewable power and other related subjects for more than ten years.

  • Using Probiotics in Aquaculture: Farming Fish for a Sustainable Future

    *AUTHORS BIOS Every year the world eats more and more fish. In fact, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, global fish consumption is increasing by over 3% annually. To meet the growing demand, the world’s aquaculture sector is also booming. In 2020, fish farming contributed almost 46% of global fish production. As with other farming sectors, the aquaculture industry has faced concerns about its use of antibiotics and feed. Specifically, questions have been raised about whether intensive aquaculture is harmful to marine ecosystems and to seafood consumers. In response, the aquaculture industry is turning to the use of probiotics to lead its practices toward a more sustainable future. Probiotics: A Boon for Health In 1905, Bulgarian physician and microbiologist Stamen Grigorov discovered a probiotic in yogurt. Decades later, in 1953, German bacteriologist and food scientist Werner Kollath introduced the term, “probiotic,” referring to active, beneficial microorganisms that are “essential for a health development of life.” Today, consumers around the world view probiotics as “live” microorganisms that offer health benefits, especially in the digestive system when eaten or in other ways when applied to the body. Probiotics have also found a purpose in a wide range of industries, including aquaculture. In fish farming, probiotics are mainly used as microbial fish feed supplements to benefit the intestinal microbial balance of the host fish as well as having other benefits. Types of Probiotics: Bacterial and Non-Bacterial In aquaculture, a wide range of bacteria are nurtured for use as probiotics, including gram-positive bacteria—bacteria with thick cell walls—(Bacillus, Carnobacterium, Enterococcus, Lactobacillus) and gram-negative bacteria (Vibrio and Pseudomonus). Non-bacterial probiotics such as bacteriophages—viral parasites of bacteria—are also used in aquaculture. They can alleviate the need for antibiotics while doing no harm to the host. Other non-bacterial probiotics include yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Yarrowialipolytica), various microalgae (Tetraselmissuecica, Isochrysisgalbana, and Dunaliella salina), and fungi (Debaryomyces), used primarily to supplement protein, lipids, and nutrients in fish feed. These have all been produced and promoted to global markets as environmentally friendly choices for supplementation in aquaculture. Probiotic Sources and Delivery Systems The main source of probiotics for aquaculture is the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of aquatic animals where diversified types of microbes naturally live and colonize. These microbes can be cultured at an industrial scale using what is called batch fermentation in a growth media. The end products are commercially available probiotics in liquid, powder, or microencapsulated form that can be administered as feed additives or added directly to the water in which aquatic species are cultured, or raised. Probiotics are also available in combination with prebiotics—non-digestible beneficial nutritional additives—as well as with immunostimulants or natural plant products. Probiotic-enriched live aquaculture feed—brine shrimp, zooplankton, and small crustaceans—is also regarded as a viable option. The Environmental Effects of Aquaculture Should Not Be Overlooked The growing production of aquatic species, particularly in tightly packed conditions, can have substantial environmental impacts if not managed effectively. Excess and uneaten feed gradually deteriorate the surrounding water quality as microorganisms decompose the uneaten feed, removing oxygen from the water and releasing carbon dioxide in the process. Additionally, when other nutrients including phosphate are released into the water, detrimental algal growth can increase. Antibiotic overuse is another growing problem in aquaculture which produces survivor pathogens that are increasingly difficult to control due to antibiotic resistance. Scientists have estimated that about 80% of the antibiotics applied in aquaculture remain active in the environment, including in waterway sediment. To make matters worse, the guts of aquatic animals contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistant genes in water. The ease of horizontal gene transfer in water allows antibiotic resistant bacteria—the ones that are harmless to humans—to transfer their resistant genes to human pathogens. Probiotics Clean Up Aquaculture in Many Ways Waterways permeated with nitrogen pollution can also suffer from choking algal growth. Organic nitrogen is formed when excess fish feed, feces, and dead fish accumulate in bodies of water as waste from aquaculture. This organic nitrogen is converted by fungi or bacteria to ammonium and ammonia, which are then converted to nitrites, and subsequently from nitrites to nitrates. Through the process of denitrification, these nitrates are converted to nitrogen gas by probiotic fungi or bacteria, thereby returning nitrogen to the atmosphere. Probiotic Bacillus species provide several key benefits for aquaculture. They play an especially important role in this nitrogen cycle through ammonification, nitrification, and denitrification, thereby effecting the elimination of various forms of nitrogen from aquaculture waste water. Additionally, Bacillus species use mineralization and nitrification to modulate pH and dissolved oxygen levels in water. They can even improve fish appetite by increasing the digestive enzymes of fish which results in less feed waste. Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus, have been shown to effectively protect aquatic species against heavy metals. Probiotic Bacillus also converts organic matter effectively into carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is then utilized by β- and γ-proteobacteria—a type of gram-negative bacteria—as a carbon source. Whereas other bacteria convert organic matter into slime or bacterial biomass, probiotic Bacillus, in removing organic matter from aquaculture, reduces sludge accumulation. Additionally, as microorganisms decompose excess feed and fish waste and release phosphate that fuels eutrophication, probiotic Bacillus, Saccharomyces, Nitrosomonus, and Nitrobactor reduce phosphate levels in water bodies. Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus, have also been shown to effectively protect aquatic species against heavy metals. Probiotics and Their Contribution to Fish Health The health benefits of probiotics begin in the fish gut, where give-and-take occurs between probiotics, epithelial cells, and the gut immune system. Probiotics actively safeguard against pathogens in the gut by competing for pathogen food sources and by changing the pH in the gut to reduce pathogen growth. Moreover, probiotics enhance the immune system of fish by modulating different immune cells in the fish, including B lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies), T lymphocytes, and natural killer-cells that kill cancerous tumors and viruses. Probiotics also activate phagocytic cells, types of immune cells that can kill microorganisms, eat foreign material, remove dead cells, and boost immune response. Respiratory burst—an important immune response—can be increased by probiotics. Probiotics can also raise levels of lysosomal enzymes (proteases, amylases, and lipases), thereby removing cell-ingested biomolecular waste and debris from the serum and skin mucosa of fish and allowing nutrients to be absorbed more easily. Probiotic supplementation promotes fish health by producing essential nutrients—like Vitamin B12, biotin, and fatty acids, and may also improve nutrient availability to the fish by increasing the villi size populating the absorptive area of the gut. Furthermore, probiotics have been shown to increase muscle development and growth rate in fish by upregulating growth-related genes and key metabolic enzymes. In addition, probiotics like B.circulans improve flesh quality in fish and increase their protein and beneficial oil content. Probiotic Benefits Far Outweigh the Cons As with any supplement, the benefits of probiotics depend upon dose, duration of feeding, mode of supplementation and environmental conditions. A prolonged or excessive application of probiotics could create immune suppression in fish, making them more susceptible to disease. For instance, recurrent usage of Bacillus subtilis in shrimp aquaculture has been linked to the development of bacterial white spot syndrome (BWSS). Although it is a rather harmless phenomenon, BWSS is difficult to distinguish from white spot viral syndrome, a deadly disease that afflicts shrimp. Having the right knowledge and awareness about the use of probiotics in aquaculture is crucial for probiotics to have the desired effects. Mislabeling or misreading of labels on probiotic products may lead to misuse. Further clarification through research as well as better guidance for producers, middlemen, and farmers is essential; this includes proper instructions for probiotic storage and the monitoring of results. In the long term, whether trying to destroy or encourage microbes via probiotic use, it is important to achieve overall microbial homeostasis, while keeping in mind human, animal, and plant ecosystem health. Future Projections for Probiotics in Fish Farming The ultimate destiny of probiotics is still unknown and requires more study. Ongoing research is working to establish the proper combinations of microbes for the trending aquaculture production systems of today, such as recirculating aquaculture systems and biofloc systems. Specific probiotics are under development to include higher levels of plant materials in aqua feed which may help fish feed more efficiently, grow larger, and stay healthier. Going forward, researchers will need to better classify probiotic strains according to their specific actions, thus permitting a fuller range of products for use. One cutting-edge technique would be to develop specific probiotics or a “cocktail” of probiotics to use with a particular fish species. Finally, having real-time data on pathogen adhesion and colonization in the fish gut as well as applying next-generation sequencing to identify microbes would be helpful in discovering more viable aquaculture probiotics for sustainable food production. *Indrajit Kar, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at West Bengal University of Animal & Fishery Sciences in Kolkata, India. His areas of professional interest include heavy metals in environments, pathology, use of probiotics, and phytomedicinal plants, especially mint. Srinibas Das is an assistant professor in the Department of Fish Nutrition at West Bengal University of Animal & Fishery Sciences in Kolkata, India. He works mainly in areas related to Animal and Fish Nutrition.

  • More Than a Career: A Life Dedicated to Saving Manatees

    *AUTHOR BIO It’s hard to know that an animal is endangered when, to you, it’s seemingly everywhere. That was the case for Jamal Galves growing up in Gales Point Manatee, Belize. He grew up watching manatees lounge in the water off his grandmother’s lawn. Belize has the highest known density of manatees in the world after all. “My life has been surrounded and intertwined with manatees,” Galves says. It wasn’t until a large research vessel showed up when Galves was eleven years old that he realized how threatened the manatee population was. The vessel was run by James “Buddy” Powell, the executive director of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute out of Clearwater, Florida, in the United States. Young Galves charmed his way onto the manatee rescue boat that day with his wide-eyed curiosity, and the trip quickly turned into the beginning of his career. It was one thing to see the manatees relaxing in the shallows but quite another to see them sliced up by ship turbines near cruise ports. This experience grew a fierce need in Galves to protect these sweet sea cows. “I wake up in the morning knowing that I’m doing something to save a species’ life, knowing that I’m going to be contributing to something—saving a species that can’t save itself,” Galves says. He started doing small jobs around the boat to help the rescue efforts before being officially recruited as a field assistant with Sea to Shore Alliance at the age of sixteen. Being a field assistant allowed him to work closely with the manatee health assessment processes. He eventually worked his way up to becoming their program coordinator. Then, in 2019, he took on the position of program director of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s Belize Manatee Conservation program. Protecting Manatees Requires Public Education and Outreach This program conducts “countrywide community-related education and outreach programs” with the Belize Marine Mammal Stranding Network, according to the program’s website. They track and monitor Belize’s manatees and work with government officials and local communities to increase protections for the creatures. “We pair scientific research with education and awareness because you can collect data for twenty years, but, if you do not put that data out to people to learn and understand what the problems are, you’re wasting time and money while the species is dying away,” Galves says. While Galves was earning an undergraduate degree in natural resources and conservation from the University of Belize, he decided that furthering his education will make his conservation efforts more effective. Just recently he has started his Master of Science in Conservation Science and Policy at the University of Santa Cruz. “[I’m going to school] to have the skills to think more scientifically to make sure my arguments and my suggestions regarding safeguarding specific areas are backed up by academia from a reputable institution that would be respected by politicians and lawmakers and the general public as well,” Galves explains. Manatees: Gentle Giants that Support Their Ecosystems Manatees are niche creatures, only living in shallow marshy tropical coastlines and rivers where they eat primarily different fresh and saltwater plants, earning them the nickname sea cows. “They’re one of the largest herbivores in the waterways, and it’s the only marine mammal that is eating seagrass at the magnitude it does, keeping the seagrass in the oceans low and keeping the ecosystem balanced,” Galves explains. Manatees eat nine to ten percent of their body weight per day, maintaining the marshy ecosystems for other species that live there. Their poop then fertilizes the area and feeds the local small fish and crustacean populations. Each growing to about 10 feet in length and weighing around 800 to 1,200 pounds, manatees come in three species: Amazonian, West Indian, and West African They locally migrate throughout the year, but they’re very slow, only moving about five miles an hour. They usually come up for air every thirty seconds, but they can stay underwater for twenty minutes. Manatees are very shy and gentle creatures that can live for up to sixty years. They start birthing calves around five years of age, and usually only have one calf every two to five years, which they nurse for a few years. Despite having the lowest brain-to-body ratio, they’re very smart creatures, rivaling dolphins and their closest relatives, the elephant. Ships and Tourism Cause the Most Harm To Manatee Populations Manatees have no natural predators, yet all three manatee species are considered vulnerable due to human activity. The West Indian manatee that Galves grew up around has seen particularly sharp declines in recent years. This species is being pinched from all directions. In Belize, cruise ships dock in the little natural manatee habitat that remains. Manatees are often injured or killed from getting caught beneath the giant ships and ripped by their turbines. Ships can also scare mother and baby in opposite directions, resulting in babies being stranded. The tourism cruise industry in Belize City represents eighty percent of unnatural manatee deaths in Belize—around fifty per year—which is a hard blow to a population that’s only between 700 and 1,000 individuals. Tourism represents forty percent of Belize’s GDP as people come to see the world’s second-largest barrier reef and, ironically, the diverse marine life, including the manatees. But, when the pandemic hit, it stalled the nation’s tourism industry, a horrible thing for Belize’s economy, but a great thing for the environment. The tourism cruise industry in Belize City represents eighty percent of unnatural manatee deaths in Belize. The Belize manatee population only lost twenty individuals in 2020, a huge drop in deaths from prior years. “We had the lowest numbers [of manatee deaths] that we’ve seen since we started recording,” Galves says. However, he’s already noticed that the tourism industry is starting to bounce back and the investors are hungry. One new cruise port by Royal Caribbean is already under construction in Belize City, and two more are awaiting government approval only ten to fifteen miles from each other. In addition, the city is proposing to build a causeway through the only manatee habitat left in the area so that tourists can be shuttled across from the island to the mainland. The construction would require dredging the area. “Those are the pressing problems we’re facing right now. The development, the destruction of the coastal habitats, destroying the environment, digging up the ocean floors. It’s unprecedented. These things are reaching to the point of ridiculousness,” says Galves. And while the pandemic slowed the manatee death count in Belize, an influx of water pollution and a resulting toxic algal bloom has killed a record number off the coast of Florida. As of September 10, 2021, 942 manatees have died, and that number is expected to rise to 1,100 to 1,200 by the end of the year. That would be about fifteen to twenty percent of the Florida manatee population. This is a huge step backward, especially since Florida was already having the same problems as Belize from ship-related deaths. New Policy and Programs Address Threats to Manatees The Clearwater Aquarium announced in September that they will add an exhibit called Manatee Springs that will act as a needed rehabilitation center for sick and injured sea cows. They also announced in July that they were speeding up plans to build a manatee rehab center at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Back in Belize, manatee protections recently received a facelift. Manatees were being protected by an act from 1981 that was outdated in properly addressing conservation needs. This new comprehensive fisheries reform law enacted in 2020 made it illegal to “feed, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, kill, annoy, or molest manatees.” Galves says this is a good development. “I think we have more opportunities to pass more stringent measures and be able to keep up with the change,” Galves says. “As you know, government processes are very slow. The government needs to move along with the world as things change.” Clearly, with the new development projects, there is more work to be done to get the government, businesses, and communities to prioritize manatee lives. And that is where continued outreach and engagement efforts matter. Social Media Spreads the Message of Conservation Galves can’t stop talking about manatees. He is recognized around Belize as the Manatee Man, a title he wears with pride. His Instagram account, which has over 42 thousand followers, is @therealmanateeman. He has been on television, YouTube, published in articles, and been invited to speak everywhere from schools to the Embassy of Belize in the United States. He has earned praise from National Geographic, the World Wildlife Foundation, Oceana, and The Dodo, among others, for his work. Using social media outlets is particularly useful for reaching the next generations. Galves doesn’t take a break and says he cannot afford burnout. Luckily, he is surrounded by support from members of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, who have become his family over the years. In fact, he attached his mission statement to his door at home to remind him what he is fighting for every day. “I have to look after [the manatees]. I am my best friend’s keeper. And if I’m going to keep them well, I’m going to have to keep a positive mindset, despite the drawbacks, despite the negativity, despite discouragement. I have to be able to push forward,” Galves says. “We don’t live in a bubble. Conservation should be the most mutual foundation that we all stand on...” — Jamal Galves He recognizes that not everyone can devote their whole being to conservation like he has, though, so when he talks to new people, he tries to meet them where they are at. “My goal is to make every single person in the room feel like I’m talking to them individually, directly, because it’s the one thing that will make them change,” Galves explains. For fishermen, that means talking about how manatees maintain the food chain and ecosystems. For tourism companies, they can’t advertise seeing manatees if there are no manatees. For lawmakers, it means showing them the economic impact of manatee tourism. “We don’t live in a bubble. Conservation should be the most mutual foundation that we all stand on, the real no man’s land that belongs to every single person on this planet,” Galves says. One way for a message to go global in this digitized world is by utilizing social media outlets like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. It is especially helpful to reach the next generations. Galves tells his origin story a lot, a good reminder that one can start without even having a high school diploma (though education helps, which is why he’s still furthering his). *Becky Hoag is a science writer with a special interest in climate change communication. You can find her work on her site beckyhoag.com or through her YouTube channel Beckisphere at https://www.youtube.com/c/Beckisphere.

  • Nature Walks Improve Mental Health Outcomes

    *AUTHOR BIO Many people go on nature walks to ease tension, worry, or stress. There’s something soothing and calming about a walk in the woods or by the ocean that brings reflection and relief. Why is that? What does nature have that we need? What have we learned from science that can answer these questions? People Feel Better When in Nature The science of nature walks and their impact on mental health is attracting increased attention and research these days. Especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has been a growing concern throughout the world. In addition, global sensitivity towards humankind’s relationship with and effect on the environment also continues to increase. For many, walking in nature is an accessible, affordable way to reduce mental distress, thus improving one’s overall mental health. As is the case with most forms of exercise, walking is already beneficial to human health. However, research suggests that when we walk out into nature positive effects are maximized. Exposure to nature is associated with diverse health benefits that include, for instance, the reduction of allergic and respiratory diseases. Over Millions of Years, Humanity Became Attuned to Nature’s Presence But why is it so different to take walks in nature? Yoshifumi Miyazaki who helped pioneer the field of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” claims that for over seven million years of human history, people have spent 99.99% of their time in nature. From Miyazaki’s perspective, we, as a species, are significantly more used to being in nature than in urban settings, hence why we feel better in nature: it is our “natural” environment. Over a period of seven million years, he proposes, our genes have developed to live better in natural settings. Professor Miyazaki’s hypothesis is joined by many theories that elucidate the relationship between nature and human health. Attention Restoration Theory, for example, holds that getting in touch with nature helps us recover our concentration through effortless attention: we tend to pay attention to environmental stimuli effortlessly in nature, such as sunlight between leaves, the sounds of streams, the smell of mud and so on. Nature Calms Anxiety and Stress In 1991, Roger Ulrich and other researchers developed Stress Reduction Theory, which claims that looking at nature reduces human stress, augments physiological functions such as heart rate and blood pressure, and creates positive emotions. Similarly, more recent studies found that spending time in nature improves our immune system and helps us regulate our emotions by stimulating our “Soothing System”. Being in nature helps us feel safe and content via the parasympathetic system, instead of triggering fear or arousal via the sympathetic system. Modern science has noted the diverse effects of getting in touch with nature. My recent meta-analysis, which evaluated nature’s effect on the reduction of negative mental health outcomes, identified that anxiety was the symptom reduced the most, followed by depression and anger. Various types of natural settings can impact mental health differently, with urban woodlands having more positive effects than urban grasslands. Nature walks can help soothe the anxiety that results from temporary stress, but do they also help long-term anxiety? A 2018 study by Song et. al., reported that participants who display high trait (long-term) anxiety demonstrated a greater reduction in depression after walking in nature. Though this result indicates some relevance of nature walks to ease trait anxiety, longitudinal evaluation—observing changes in individuals over time—is necessary to assess how nature impacts mental health traits. How various types of natural settings impact our mental health differently needs to be understood, as well. Maes et al. reported, for instance, that urban woodlands had a more positive impact on mental health than did urban grasslands. Woodlands, after all, surround individuals with nature, whereas grasslands do not. Woodlands are more likely to enable effortless attention. Their findings align with Attention Restoration Theory—wherein nature improves our ability to focus or direct our attention. Being in Nature Triggers Unique Feelings of Awe In one study, Piff et al. evaluated a sense of awe—a reaction to a greater object—that enables a visitor to nature to transcend their frame of reference. Awe is an effect associated with various pro-social behaviors, such as generosity and compassion. According to their research, looking up at a tall tree was associated with a sense of awe, whereas looking up at a building of the same height was not. Their findings suggest that there is a special power in nature for enhancing our mental health. Knowledge gained from nature research can inform professionals in a variety of sectors including urban planners and mental health professionals. Urban planners can design a city with better access to nature and walk pathways. For example, Nagoya, the fourth most populous city in Japan with 2.3 million residents, maintains the presence of nature relatively well. There are green-rich parks and areas in the city that allow visitors and employees who work there to have a nature walk. Likewise, in Tokyo, where 13.9 million people live, awareness of nature—and its emphasis in urban policy—are both increasing. Meguro Sky Garden is a good example of this trend: a rooftop garden with more than 100 trees, offering a paramount view of Tokyo and beyond. Mental health professionals can actively use nature to help their clients. The degree of the patient’s belief in nature may impact the effects of professional help, but nature can be one good source of recovery. As research findings in this area of mental health continue to increase, their applications will also need to be encouraged and refined. Harmonizing with Nature is a Personal Journey As a professor and researcher of mental health, my advice for those who wish to heal their mental health with nature-treatment techniques is to find your own way to harmonize with nature. In Japan, the process of learning is often described as shu-ha-ri: “Shu” means “to protect,” therefore, to learn, you first follow the fundamentals principles. “Ha” means “to break,” so next you break the basics to fit yourself. “Ri” means “to leave,” so, finally, to take ownership of what you learn, you leave the doctrine to create your own. Nature-treatment methods, including nature walks, can follow this path of mastery. Ultimately each person wants to feel good through their interactions with nature, so a sense of fun, curiosity, and harmony is essential. Try to learn the basics and conduct research, then practice what you learn. As you do so more and more, adjust the practices to your mental health. That will lead you to your own way of healing yourself with nature. *Yasuhiro Kotera, Ph.D. is currently the Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy, and Psychology at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom. As an Accredited Psychotherapist, he has been working with clients internationally, offering psychological support. As a researcher, he has more than 100 peer-review articles and several books published regarding mental health and cross-culture. One area of focus in his research and practice relates to nature-based interventions to reduce negative mental health symptoms. He is moving to the University of Nottingham as Associate Professor in Mental Health, where he will further explore mental health recovery and cultures.

  • Conference Introduces Applications of New 3D Wave Theory that Claim to Overcome COVID-19

    On September 16, 2021, an academic conference was convened in Seoul, Korea, under the title, “The Possibility of New Paradigm Science to Overcome COVID-19.” Hosted by the Hyo Jeong International Foundation for the Unity of the Sciences – Korea (HJIFUS) and chaired by Dr. Jin Choon Kim, Professor Emeritus of SunHak Universal Peace Graduate University, the conference brought together about twenty scholars and scientists to consider and discuss a presentation by the conference’s main speaker, Dr. Won H. Kim, Professor of Biochemistry at Yonsei University’s Wonju College of Medicine. Dr. Kim’s presentation, titled “Pandigm (Pan-paradigm) Science and COVID-19,” was followed by commentaries from distinguished scholars and a roundtable discussion with all participants. Kim’s presentation opened with a challenge to conventional scientific exploration. “The purpose of science is to pursue truth,” Kim stated. He suggested, however, that today’s scientific quest for truth is largely confined within the framework of a materialist paradigm. Kim’s research explores what he coins “Pandigm” (Pan-Paradigm) science, or science that goes beyond materialism. There are many phenomena, he declared, that cannot be explained by a materialist paradigm. Kim proposed that a new scientific paradigm is needed to explain, for instance, the phenomenon of “water memory”—the concept that a substance can be dissolved and diluted by physical stimulation into water, which then acquires properties of the original substance. The practice of homeopathy, which utilizes water memory (through dilution of a substance until none of its molecules remain), has a long history of practitioners but cannot be explained by the current materialist scientific paradigm. According to Kim’s hypothesis, matter consists of a physical aspect and an “imaginary” aspect. Further, all substances emit three-dimensional (3D) waves: a 3D field in physical space which comes from a non-physical superluminal (faster than the speed of light) wave, or information, in “imaginary space.” The 3D wave of the substance can be separated from the original substance by physical stimulation, such as violent shaking or strong pounding in the case of homeopathy, or by electrical stimulation via Schumann waves (the resonant frequency of the Earth). Separated 3D waves, which can be expressed as water memory, still function like the original substance even after separation. According to physicist Paul Dirac, space is full of particles with negative energy and negative mass, which Kim identifies as imaginary space. The imaginary aspect of matter, or 3D wave, that Kim discusses is similar to the concept of Chi found in Asian traditions, which posits that every piece of matter has its own intangible Chi. Kim's theory suggests that interactions between different 3D waves form the basis of every biological reaction. Kim asserts that water memory can also be digitized. The late Dr. Jacques Benveniste claimed that passing white noise through water was one method for digitization. Kim digitized water memory using visual imaging. A visual image is captured by a light sensor as laser light is passed through water containing the 3D waves of a substance. The captured image can be copied and changed into a visual shape in a graphic program. Kim conducted experiments which indicated that digitized 3D waves can be stored in a computer and expressed in a variety of tangible ways. Such digitized 3D waves also function like the original substance. Kim claims that 2D images of digitized 3D waves expressed on a flat surface—such as on a card, in clothes, or even in wallpaper—form a 3D field around the object. These fields, in theory, can produce healing environments with specific properties, depending on the wave being expressed. Kim has already developed what he calls a “UN” card ("yu" from the Korean word "to heal" and "en" from “energy”). A specific healing environment can be provided by harnessing different 3D waves. For example, a UN card that expresses P53, a tumor suppressor protein, functions as a tumor suppressor. Kim goes on to explain that a digitized 3D wave can also be modulated to electricity using an electrical plug called a UL (“healing electricity”) plug. By plugging the UL plug into an electrical outlet, one can, in theory, eliminate the effects of harmful radiation from the Earth and “purify” electricity by making it free of harmful electromagnetic waves. Kim further states that specific digital 3D waves of “medically effective substances” can also be put into the UL so that the space where electricity flows can protect people against specific diseases. Kim claims the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can be suppressed by a specific anti-COVID-19 UN card and an anti-COVID-19 UL plug. They contain specific digital frequencies which are calculated from the amino acid sequence of the proteins of the coronavirus. They also contain digital 3D waves of known remedies for COVID-19 such as remdesivir as well as 3D waves for ivermectin, niclosamide, hydroxychloroquine, and nafamostat. The mechanism of the remedy for COVID-19 is to prevent viral invasion of the cell and replication. Thus, a digital 3D wave of the remedy should, according to Kim, be effective both for preventive and therapeutic purposes. So far, Kim has distributed almost a million anti-COVID UN cards in Korea and is observing the results. Kim’s presentation was followed by a rigorous discussion among the participants. One commentator, Dr. Gun Woong Bahng, Leading Professor of State University of New York – Korea, said that Kim’s viewpoint, with further testing and experimentation, could lead to a new understanding of the fundamental nature of matter. “Existing science based on a materialistic worldview does not have a deep understanding of the information (internal nature) of matter.” Concerning COVID-19, Dr. Wangjae Lee, Professor Emeritus at the Medical College of Seoul National University, pointed out that the function of innate immunity in a person's upper airways could be enhanced by taking high-potency doses of Vitamin C. Dr. Douglas Joo, chairman of HJIFUS, closed the meeting by describing the purpose of the conference and HJIFUS’s vision for future environmental efforts. “Solving today’s myriad of environmental problems requires harnessing the best research and technology of conventional scientific fields and opening the door to the possibility of solutions from new paradigm sciences.” He continued, “In addition to scientific solutions, a global cultural shift towards genuine concern for nature is also critical for overcoming the environmental crisis. If we as the human race can improve our relationship with the natural world through character education, ending the misuse and overuse of natural resources caused by selfishness and greed, and, ultimately, work in alignment with the principles of interdependence, mutual prosperity, and universally shared values to preserve the natural environment, we can build a truly sustainable future for the benefit of the entire planet."

  • Next-Generation Concentrated Solar Power Energizes Renewable Possibilities

    *AUTHOR BIO The US Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that renewables will be the fastest-growing US energy source for the next thirty years. Additionally, concentrated solar power (CSP), which has remained on the back burner for at least a decade, could become an important part of the energy mix. Despite the forecasts, there are formidable challenges to this promising energy technology. While there are a variety of designs in use, CSP plants generally work by using mirrors to focus and direct solar radiation onto thermal receivers. This concentrated thermal energy can be used immediately, channeled into turbines to produce electricity, or stored (as molten salt, for example) for later use, such as when the sun is down. Key Challenges to Building CSP Plants However, while the CSP operating principle is relatively straightforward, engineering full-scale commercial plants needs to take several factors into consideration. For starters, size is an issue. CSP systems tend to require a significant amount of land to concentrate enough sunlight. Because of their scale, they are more suited to providing power to the grid and industries than to residential homes. In addition, they require direct access to sunlight. This means they are best suited to regions with strong radiation such as Southern Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, South Africa, parts of India, China, Southern US, and Australia. Another limiting factor is cost. CSP technology is more expensive than solar photovoltaics, both in terms of the cost of installation and the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), or the cost over time to produce energy. New Technologies Promise Cost Reduction However, work is underway to develop technologies that can reduce the costs of CSP. There are several pathways to achieving higher temperatures for CSP plants using either liquid, solid particle, or gaseous materials. The key is to increase the temperature at which the receiver material is heated to enable more efficient electricity production. Ideally, this would require the development of new salts or other materials that can withstand temperatures of up to 1,300°F (705°C). In 2018, the DOE announced a $72 million budget for new projects to advance high-temperature CSP technologies. Three teams—Brayton Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories—were selected to compete using three different pathways: alternative liquid, gas, and solid media. Each competitor’s task was to design a next-generation CSP system that could economically and reliably deliver temperatures above 1,300°F for advanced power cycles. Another goal of the project was to lower the cost of a CSP system by approximately $0.02 per kilowatt-hour. This is forty percent of the way to the DOE’s 2030 cost goals of $0.05 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for baseload CSP plants. DOE Awards Sandia $25M for CSP Research After three years of evaluating the work of the three competing teams, the DOE announced in March 2021 that it was going to back the solid particles pathway over the other two alternatives. Solid particles, it said, “provided the most promising pathway to achieving higher temperatures in CSP plants to meet 2030 cost targets.” The following month, it awarded $25 million to the New Mexico-based Sandia to build, test, and demonstrate a next-generation concentrating solar thermal power plant at their National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF). Cliff Ho, project leader of the Sandia team, told The Earth & I: “The new third generation Particle Pilot Plant (G3P3) is designed to tackle some of the engineering challenges of providing carbon-free reliable electricity with long-duration energy storage. We’re planning to break ground on the pilot plant this fall and expect it to be completed in late 2023.” Next-generation concentrated solar power plants could store large quantities of energy overnight less expensively than large photovoltaic arrays with lithium-ion batteries, according to Sandia’s project leader. Regarding what makes Sandia’s CSP system unique, Ho shared that it “stores energy from the sun in the form of heated sand-like ceramic particles rather than in the form of molten salts. This allows the system to get much hotter—more than 1,300°F (700°C)—compared to conventional molten-nitrate-based systems which can only reach approximately 1100°F (600°C).” Higher temperatures improve the conversion of solar energy into electricity which, in turn, can benefit heavy industries. “Particle-based concentrated solar power technologies could also be applied to a wide range of industrial heat processes such as drying, chemical and materials synthesis, and petroleum refining,” according to Ho. Consistent, high-energy production even overnight is another significant benefit. “Particle-based concentrated solar power also allows for storage of these hot particles to produce electricity overnight. In fact, particle-based concentrated solar power plants could store large quantities of energy (approximately 1GWh) overnight—for over ten hours—less expensively than, say, a photovoltaic array with lithium-ion batteries,” Ho continues. CSP Growth Could Exceed Expectations An increase in government support for the adoption of renewable technologies, coupled with a rise in energy demand and the capability to supply power without CO2 emission, is expected to drive the growth of the CSP market in the coming years. GE Power's forecast, which predicts a 10.8% growth rate for CSP over the next seven years, is just one of a number of forecasts that predict a positive outlook for CSP. A new report from Rethink Technology Research, entitled “Last Chance Saloon for Gen 3 CSP,” suggests CSP will also benefit from new technologies developed in the West that could provide temperatures of “1,800°F (1,000°C) and even higher.” This is way more than the 1300°F (705°C) temperature goal that is currently being proposed and will enable CSP technology to play a role in the decarbonization of the cement, steelmaking, and mining industries By the end of this decade, the Rethink Technology report expects annual CSP development to be an over $10 billion global industry. And although the DOE favors the development of solid material technology, CSP is advancing across a broad front, taking in all three technologies that utilize traditional thermal oil and molten salt as well as ceramics and other materials. Chinese developers, for instance, have chosen to move ahead with molten-salt plants, which are providing cost-effective, overnight energy storage to the grid in locations ranging from Greek islands to Thailand. CSP Offers a Stable Energy Future CSP technology has a promising future as a cost-effective option for the supply of renewable energy. Cost reduction is already well underway with recent figures showing a 16% decline in the price of electricity from utility-scale CSP plants in 2020. As GE Energy points out, the use of thermal energy storage tanks, which enables CSP to be dispatched even when the sun isn't shining, is much easier than storing electricity using batteries. Further, with growing concern around battery supply chains, CSP may prove to be even more essential going forward. Kerry Rippy, a researcher at the US NREL, recently said that one of the biggest obstacles to the development of high-capacity battery storage is the limited supply of lithium and cobalt. According to some estimates, about 10% of the world’s lithium and “nearly all of the world’s cobalt reserves will be depleted by 2050,” she said. The forecasted shortfall in the global supply of lithium and cobalt should help put CSP technology in the driver’s seat of renewable energy and enable it to deliver on its promise of clean and affordable electricity. *Nnamdi Anyadike is an industry journalist specializing in metals, oil, gas, and renewable energy for over thirty-five years.

  • Study Shows Plant-Based and Seafood Diets May Improve COVID-19 Outcomes

    *AUTHOR BIO Throughout the second year of the global COVID-19 pandemic, public attention has primarily been focused on vaccination as the protocol for prevention, in addition to slowing the spread of the virus by wearing masks, contact tracing, testing, and lockdowns. Now, additional hedges against severe COVID-19 symptoms may be as close as the next meal. “Plant-based and plant-based-pescatarian diets” may lower incidences of moderate to severe COVID-19, according to a peer-reviewed study published earlier in 2021. The study, published in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health in June 2021, describes itself as the first to have “investigated the association between dietary patterns and COVID-19.” Plant-based (vegetarian) diets are high in foods such as vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and low in poultry, red meat, fish, and processed meats. Such a diet has plentiful nutrients, especially phytochemicals. Plant-based pescatarian diets are similar, with the addition of fish as a source of protein. Healthcare Workers Surveyed on Diet and COVID-19 Symptoms Frontline healthcare workers with a high frequency of exposure to COVID-19 patients in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States were surveyed between July and September 2020. The 2,884 participants provided information on demographic characteristics, past medical histories, medications, lifestyle, diet, and COVID-19 status and symptoms. COVID-19 cases, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, were self-reported by participants as Very Mild, Mild, Moderate, Severe, or Critical, with specific criteria for symptoms within each category. Participants who reported following a “plant-based diet” and a “plant-based or plant-based-pescatarian diet” had 73% and 59% lower odds, respectively, of contracting moderate to severe COVID-19 compared with those who did not follow those dietary patterns. These associations held true when weight and coexisting medical conditions were factored in. No association was found between diet and either the risk of contracting COVID-19 or the length of the illness. “The trends in this study are limited by study size (small numbers with a confirmed positive test) and design (self-reporting on diet and symptoms), so caution is needed in the interpretation of the findings,” said Shane McAuliffe, deputy chair of The Need For Nutrition Education/Innovation Programme (NNEdPro) Nutrition and COVID-19 Taskforce. “However, a high-quality diet is important for mounting an adequate immune response, which in turn can influence susceptibility to infection and its severity.” The Unique Protection Offered By Plant-Based‌ Diets‌ Plant-based eating as a lifestyle has already been shown to provide benefits for a multitude of ailments. Documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, and PlantPure Nation have brought the benefits of vegetarian diets to the forefront, backed by a plethora of research. In a 2019 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Johns Hopkins University researchers reported that, in a thirty-year period, people eating a mostly plant-based diet were 32% less likely to die from a cardiovascular condition and 25% less likely to die from any cause. A 2017 report published in International Journal of Epidemiology suggested that eating at least 500 grams of fruit and 800 grams of vegetables per day is associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases. The benefits of plant-based diets come from the fact that they are replete with nutrients, especially phytochemicals, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. Previous studies have reported that these nutrients, specifically vitamins A, C, D, and E, decreased the risk and shortened the duration of the common cold, pneumonia, and other respiratory infections such as COVID-19. Pescatarian diets offer unique benefits because fish is a source of vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Intake of Omega-3s provides anti-inflammatory effects and suppresses the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, among other benefits, providing more favorable outcomes for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome. While the 2021 BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health study showed evidence that fish intake can have favorable impacts on respiratory illness, future research is needed to confirm this association specifically to COVID-19. Fortify Your Plant-Based Diet By Eating a Variety of Colors Putting a plant-based diet in place is as simple as eating fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of vibrant colors. This ensures the consumption of a variety of phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The U.S. federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends consuming two and one-half cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit each day. Lisa McDowell, director of lifestyle medicine and clinical nutrition at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor, Michigan, suggests including “deeply pigmented fruits and veggies in at least five different colors.” This ensures getting all the micronutrients, which work synergistically. It is not necessary to eat five colors per day; the goal is to include a couple of different foods from each of the following color groups through the week. Infographics and charts are available for download from the American Heart Association, Vegan Easy, and other nutrition-centric organizations. Apps such as Eat the Rainbow Food Journal, Eat Five, and VegHunter also help to track vegetable and fruit intake. While it’s not necessary to eat five colors per day, try to include a couple different foods from each of the following color groups throughout the week. Green: Dark greens contain folate for healthy cells and calcium for stronger bones, muscles, and heart regulation. Get plenty of asparagus, avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green tea, kale, kiwi, spinach, and green herbs. Blue and purple: Anthocyanins wipe out free radicals, reduce inflammation, and boost brain health. Resveratrol can delay cellular aging, protect the heart, and reduce the risk of cancers. Blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, elderberries, figs, grapes, plums, raisins, eggplant, and purple cabbage are good choices. Red: Rich in lycopene, a potent scavenger of gene-damaging free radicals, red plants boost heart, brain, eye, and bone health and reduce cancer risk. Try apples, beets, cherries, cranberries, raspberries, red peppers, tomatoes, and watermelons. Yellow and orange: Contains vitamin C, hesperidin, and carotenoids such as beta-carotene to boost the immune system, detoxify the body, reduce inflammation, and protect the heart. Add apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, carrots, mango, oranges, pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tangerines, and yellow peppers. White and brown: The onion family contains allicin and beta glucans, which can help lower cholesterol. Nuts contain healthy fats. Other foods in this group contain blood pressure-regulating potassium and antioxidant flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol. Choose beans, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, nuts, onions, parsnips, and whole grains. Meal Prep Makes Switching to a Healthier Diet Easier William Li, M.D., author of Eat to Beat Disease, advises people to “practice health care at home every day in our own kitchens.” But breaking old habits and incorporating new ones isn’t always simple. For those with busy schedules, meal prepping can make switching to a new way of eating easier. Sites such as She Likes Food, Sweet Peas and Saffron, Running in a Skirt, and Budget Bytes focus on recipes and time-saving tips to prepare a week’s worth of healthful meals. Where is the Media Attention on Diet and COVID-19? While plant-based and plant-based-pescatarian diets appear to cultivate a compelling defense against the likelihood of suffering severe COVID-19 symptoms, the mainstream news has continued to focus primarily on the medical and political issues of the pandemic. Rates of vaccination, infection, hospitalization, and death fill the news reports. Sadly, the angle of how eating a healthy, plant-based diet as a way to fend off COVID-19 has yet to be properly covered. However, as many functional medical practitioners and nutritionists are saying, the story of one’s future with COVID-19 may be written by the food on one’s plate. Further studies are needed to confirm the findings, but, for now, the authors of the June 2021 study conclude, “Our results suggest that a healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods may be considered for protection against severe COVID-19.” *Julie Peterson is a freelance journalist based in the Midwest region of the U.S., who has written hundreds of articles on natural approaches to health, environmental issues, and sustainable living.

  • Vertical Farming Grows Up in Europe

    *AUTHOR BIO While vertical farming (VF) enjoys opportunities and rapid growth—bringing the sector significant investment, hype, and hope as a potential provider of global food security—widespread concerns remain about energy costs, taste, nutrition, and VF’s adaptability to a broad range of crops. Will the VF sector expand to fill a niche or burgeon to successfully feed the world? Vertical farming—a rapidly growing sector of indoor agriculture—primarily produces hydroponically grown greens and herbs near a densely populated customer base. The sustainable agricultural practice gets its name from stacking multiple rows of growing plants, thus creating vertical indoor towers that cultivate far more produce per acre than a traditional farm. Automated climate controls provide optimal growing temperatures, artificial lighting, and nutrient-dense water inputs that allow for a steady, year-round yield that can be produced and customized with fewer workers. One UK Firm Has Its Eye on Europe One UK-based vertical farming brand, Vertical Future, focuses on manipulating light to improve taste, plant longevity and plant quality. To further achieve its goals, the company is closely monitoring the European region’s regulatory framework and developments to plan its next move in this advancing area of agriculture. “The vertical farming sector is still very much in its infancy relative to where it can and will get to, both in terms of market share as a percentage of total fresh produce production and in terms of capital investment,” says Jamie Burrows, Founder and CEO of Vertical Future, describing the status and potential of vertical farming in the company’s domestic market— the UK—and in wider Europe. “This being said, the amount of growth within the sector itself is quite astounding—with growth being driven by many factors, including population growth, environmental factors, and wider supply chain and health concerns as a result of COVID-19,” adds Burrows. As technological innovation in vertical farming evolves, growth in the European sector has come mostly from the rapid development of small-scale vertical farms which generally focus on servicing local populations with higher-margin crops. “There has been less ‘large-scale’ activity in the UK and EU vertical farming sectors, but this has been mainly due to a less developed or sophisticated investor ecosystem, especially when compared to the US, where the focus is on growth, initial public offerings, and special purpose acquisition companies, irrespective of evidence (or lack thereof) of profitability,” says Burrows. The Vertical Farm is an Ecosystem Having operated its own farms since 2016, Vertical Future’s Burrows says, “We quickly realized that there is a massive lack of innovative thinking in this sector regarding both hardware and software solutions.” Focused on environmental renewal from the beginning, Vertical Future started by learning how to grow crops and how to service different customer types. Innovation grew from seeing the vertical farm as a “system”—an integration of various parts—with energy utilization, utility, and space optimization being front and center. Vertical Future built on this concept, investing heavily in developing hardware and software solutions of its own that are suitable for the mass market. Vertical Future is rolling out these technologies across the UK today within different customer archetypes. Burrows described, “Our plans are also far greater, with a number of large-scale partnerships set to be announced this quarter.” Scaling Vertical Farming to Meet European Market Demands There are a number of challenges facing the vertical farming sector in Europe. According to Burrows, questions around the availability of capital, the lack of evidence of proven success over time, and the narrow crop focus, which is driven by technological and biological barriers, are particularly daunting. “Evidently, like any new market, it will take a number of years, some large-scale successes, and probably many (smaller) failures to properly prove the market for vertical farming,” Burrows emphasizes. Another challenge is meeting customer taste and quality expectations. A research study published in March 2021 details concern from Russian consumers surveyed about the taste and quality of vertically farmed vegetables. Some respondents reported positive attitudes, perceiving vertically-farmed vegetables to be safe, tasty, and of good quality, whereas others considered them to be unnatural, less nutritious, bad-tasting, and even dangerous—potentially due to misconceptions or lack of knowledge. Increasingly, vertical farming innovators are focusing on how to address consumers’ taste and nutritional quality concerns. Vertical Future does so by concentrating on the inputs needed to grow a plant. To meet consumer expectations for taste and nutritional quality, Dr. Jen Bromley, Head of Plant Research and Development at Vertical Future, identifies three major factors to consider: The quality and quantity of light provided; The composition of the nutrients delivered to the crop and the mechanism by which these are delivered, such as hydroponics versus aeroponics; and The crop variety. Vertical Future’s plant research and development (R&D) team focuses on these three variables, among others, to understand how each impacts taste and nutrition and to make recommendations for which crops to grow and how to grow them. Various industrywide approaches are being taken to improve taste and nutritional quality. “The critical aspect to being able to fully address these is a system that is sufficiently flexible to allow appropriate changes to be made to light and nutrient delivery,” says Bromley. Regulatory Guidance on Organic Status Varies by Region Questions exist within the European vertical farming community about whether or not regulators are allowing vertically-farmed produce to be certified as organic. In the UK, the Soil Association is the primary certification body for organic produce. “At present, vertically farmed produce is not classified as organic since it is grown with hydroponic or aeroponic nutrient delivery,” says Bromley. In the UK, to be certified organic, plants need to be grown in soil. “In Europe, the situation is similar with vertically farmed produce currently excluded from organic certification, as much of the certification is around the land upon which the crop is grown as well as the production method,” says Bromley, referring to European legislative guidance. “We are also told by colleagues in Italy that they are unable to certify vertically farmed produce as organic,” notes Bromley. In the US, where growth in the soil is not a requirement for organic certification, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken a different view from that of the UK’s Soil Association. “In the US market, we see that vertically farmed produce is certified and labeled as organic,” says Bromley. “However, what is important to realize is that organic farming is about production practices that seek to minimize the use of environmentally harmful agrochemicals such as herbicides and pesticides,” adds Bromley. In Vertical Future’s R&D center, for example, the company has demonstrated that its technology can operate without pesticides or herbicides, even those that are certified for use with organic growing methods. Maximizing Nutrition through Vertical Farming Inputs Consumers and the farming community want to know what nutrients are in the water used in vertical farming, as well as how these nutrients are sourced and whether they can replicate or even surpass the nutrition present in regenerated soil. “The nutrients we supply to the plants are exactly those that are needed and so the makeup of the fertigation (injecting fertilizer into irrigation systems) medium varies depending on the plant,” says Bromley. “The key three macronutrients are nitrogen, phosphate and potassium (NPK) and a whole host of micronutrients such as manganese, calcium, boron, and iron among others.” The macronutrients and micronutrients used in vertical farming can be inorganic or organic in origin, reports Vertical Future. Inorganic nutrients are synthetic, artificial forms of plant nutrients or naturally occurring mined minerals, whereas organic fertilizers are derived from plant or animal sources and contain nutrients in a purely organic form. To proponents of vertical farming methods, supplying nutrients independently of soil provides no downsides to the quality of the plant produced. “There is even the opportunity to improve the quality,” says Bromley. For example, it is possible to supply mineral nutrients that are not typically available in regenerated soils that are important for human health. “One such mineral is selenium which has low bioavailability in soils but is readily taken up by plants if made bioavailable,” says Bromley. By providing selenium in a bioavailable form through hydroponics or aeroponics, it is possible to fortify plants with this and other minerals. Sharing Knowledge for a Vertical Farming Future Looking ahead, with the expected growth of vertical farming ventures throughout Europe and the world, vertical farms will collectively accumulate information, knowledge, and insights that can be shared across the international VF sector. “The more farms we roll out, the greater the amount of data we are able to amass. Our view is that this data and associated learning will play a vital role in growing the sector in future years,” says Burrows. *Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe is a freelance journalist and editor. Over the past ten years, she has reported for a host of publications, exploring the wider world and industries from environmental, scientific, business, legal, and sociological perspectives.

  • IPCC: Profound Changes are Underway in Earth’s Oceans and Ice

    *AUTHOR BIO Two of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) new report explain how global warming is affecting the ocean—and all of us. The whole planet is observing drastic, unprecedented changes in the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and polar regions that are unequivocally a result of human activities. In fact, some of these changes that have already been set in motion—such as continued sea level rise—are irreversible. This is just a sampling from the main conclusions of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, released last August, 2021, in which 234 scientists from around the globe summarized the current climate research on how the Earth is changing as temperatures rise and what those changes will mean for the future. Some of the most concerning conclusions of the report relate to the impacts of global warming on the oceans, which cover almost three-quarters of Earth’s surface, and the cryosphere (frozen water portion of the Earth covering another 10%). According to climate researchers, the global sea level has been rising at an accelerating rate since about 1970, and, over the last century, it has risen more than in any other century in at least 3000 years. These changes are already affecting all people on Earth, but especially those in the Arctic, low-lying coastal zones and high mountain regions. As a result of impacts to the ocean and cryosphere, communities around the world are already seeing their water resources disappear, experiencing floods and landslides, facing changes in food supply, and witnessing the degradation of ecosystems, infrastructure, recreation, and culture. According to IPCC projections, the intensity of these and other impacts will depend on what actions the global community takes today to reduce emissions. Jaqueline Sordi, on behalf of The Earth & I, interviewed Dr. Aimee Slangen** and Dr. Helene Hewitt***, two of the lead authors of the report’s chapter on Earth’s oceans, ice, and sea level rise, about the profound changes underway. Could you describe the IPCC report’s latest assessment on the state of the ocean? Dr. Helene Hewitt: The ocean has warmed, which has contributed to sea level rise since water expands as it becomes warmer. The ocean has become more acidic and the area of sea ice in the Arctic is reducing. We have also seen an increase in extreme events in the ocean including marine heat waves and coastal flooding. Ocean warming, ocean acidification, and sea level rise are all projected to continue over this century. Dr. Aimee Slangen: The global heat content of the ocean has increased since at least 1970 and will continue to increase over the 21st century. The Greenland ice sheet, the Antarctic ice sheet, and the glaciers around the world have lost mass over the observed period, and this will continue throughout this century. The sea level will continue to rise through 2100 because all contributors (including ocean warming and the loss of ice mass on land) will continue throughout this century. How and why are these assessments different from previous reports? Dr. Hewitt: In this report the assessment shows that the changes we have seen in recent decades are unprecedented. The report has a greater focus on changes in extremes and assesses the regional changes that have been and will be experienced. Dr. Slangen: There is again more evidence showing the changes, and we have better models to project future changes. As a result, this report is a refinement with more details than the previous report. What's the report's most important overall message in terms of ocean changes? Dr. Hewitt: The latest IPCC report confirms that the climate system, including the ocean, has experienced widespread, rapid, intensifying, and unprecedented changes. While deep and rapid reductions in emissions will limit climate change in the near surface, the deep ocean responds slowly, so some changes in the ocean that have already occurred will be irreversible for centuries to millennia. Dr. Slangen: We know that the ocean is warming and that sea level is rising. The rate of sea level rise in the 20th century was faster than in any century in the past 3000 years, seeing as it has risen over 20 centimeters (almost 8 inches) since 1900. Sea level will continue to rise, but the speed is strongly determined by the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and how fast they can be reduced. At the current rates, how much sea level rise is now considered unavoidable? Dr. Slangen: Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced completely and quickly, we expect a sea level rise of about 40 centimeters (almost 16 inches) by the end of the century. This is because the processes that cause sea level rise, such as ocean warming or ice sheet melt, will not respond immediately. It will take time before they adjust and find a new equilibrium. On the other hand, if there are no emission reductions, we expect a sea-level rise of about 80 centimeters (over 31 inches). It could even be more than a meter (over 39 inches) if accelerated ice mass loss on Antarctica takes place. So, what we do right now will impact the sea level rise in the long term and, specifically, the rate of sea-level rise. We have to ask the question: Will it be the current rate of 4 millimeters per year, or will it be much more? What are you most concerned about occurring, avoiding, or preventing in regards to changes to the ocean or ice as a result of global warming? Dr. Slangen: We are most concerned about Antarctica, because there is a gigantic amount of freshwater stored in the ice sheet. To give a sense of the scale, if the Antarctic ice sheet were melted completely, that would translate to 58 meters or 190 feet of sea-level rise. While a complete melt is not something that could happen on a human timescale, parts of the ice sheet may experience a ‘runaway’ effect due to ice sheet and ice cliff instabilities if we keep warming the climate. It is however a very difficult place to do research in, so we don’t yet have all the knowledge we would like about [the state of the ice in] Antarctica in order to exactly say how much, how fast, and when we would expect large contributions [towards sea level rise] from Antarctica. Is there a “maximum” sea level rise scenario if global warming continues unabated? Dr. Hewitt: In the assessment, we look at a worst-case scenario. This would only occur if the world followed a high emissions pathway, eventually leading to a large loss of ice from the Antarctic ice sheet over the next centuries. We can’t exclude the possibility of sea level rise approaching 2 meters (over 6 feet) by 2100. Is it still possible to avoid a catastrophic scenario? If so, what could we do? Dr. Hewitt: The science is clear: while some sea level rise is unavoidable, deep and rapid reductions in emissions will limit the warming of the ocean and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers—all of which contribute to sea level rise. This is our best chance of limiting sea level rise over this and future centuries. Dr. Slangen: I agree with Dr. Hewitt. What the planet needs is rapid, strong, and sustained greenhouse gas emission reductions. *Jaqueline Sordi is a Brazilian journalist and biologist, specializing in science and environmental journalism. She has a master’s degree in environmental journalism at UCLA and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in communications at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. **Dr. Aimee Slangen is a researcher at NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Department of Estuarine and Delta Systems, and Utrecht University Netherlands and one of the lead authors of Chapter 9 of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report on “Ocean, cryosphere, and sea level change.” ***Dr. Helene Hewitt is a coordinating Lead Author of the Ocean, Cryosphere and Sea Level Change chapter and Science Fellow at the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom.

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