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Will glow-in-the-dark materials someday light our cities?

Will glow-in-the-dark materials someday light our cities?


Photoluminescent substances could be applied to sidewalks, streets, and buildings.


Around the year 1603, Italian shoemaker and amateur alchemist Vincenzo Casciarolo tried smelting some especially dense stone he had found on the slopes of Mount Paderno, near Bologna. No gold, silver, or other precious metals resulted as he had hoped. But after the stone had cooled, Casciarolo discovered something interesting: if he exposed the material to sunlight and then took it into a dark room, the stone would glow.

That “Bologna Stone” was the first artificially prepared, persistently luminescent substance. Many more were to follow—and today, persistent luminescent materials are used for decorations, emergency lighting, pavement markings, and medical imaging.

Someday they might give us glowing cities that stay cooler and use less electricity.

new generation of luminescent materials has the potential to cool cities by re-emitting light that would otherwise be converted into heat. They might also cut down on energy use, since luminescent sidewalks, glowing road markers, or even glowing buildings could replace some street lighting. Already, some cities in Europe have installed glowing bicycle lanes, and some researchers have studied using glowing paint for road markings.

The Van Gogh bike path in Eindhoven is inspired by the artist’s painting The Starry Night. Similar glow-in-the-dark paths and roads could eventually save energy for lighting while cooling cities.

“It’s better for the environment,” says Paul Berdahl, an environmental physicist now retired from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. “If the technology can be improved, we can use less energy… It’s a worthwhile thing to do.”

The Bologna Stone, a form of the mineral baryte, fascinated natural philosophers at the time,] but was never especially useful. But in the 1990s, chemists developed new types of persistent photoluminescent materials, such as strontium aluminate, that maintained a strong glow for hours after exposure to light. Most of these new materials give off a blue or green glow, although a few glow yellow, red, or orange.

Such photoluminescent materials work by “trapping” the energy of a photon and then re-emitting that energy as lower-wavelength light. Sometimes the light is emitted immediately, such as in a fluorescent light bulb. Other materials, which are called persistently luminescent, store the energy longer and emit it more slowly.

More than 250 kinds of luminescent materials have been identified. Above they are grouped by a) the trace materials that act as the luminescent center; b) the host compound; and c) the color the material emits.
More than 250 kinds of luminescent materials have been identified. Above they are grouped by a) the trace materials that act as the luminescent center; b) the host compound; and c) the color the material emits.

These materials that glow strongly for hours open possibilities, such as “glow-in-the-dark” cities lighted by luminescent pavements and buildings. Since 19 percent of all global energy use is for lighting, and in Europe about 1.6 percent specifically for street lighting, the potential energy savings are large, write building engineer Anna Laura Pisello and colleagues in the 2021 Annual Review of Materials Research.

One problem with the approach is that most luminescent material won’t glow all the way through the night. Better materials could help solve that problem, says Pisello, of the University of Perugia, who studies energy-efficient building materials. In the meantime, existing materials could be combined with electric lighting that would come on long enough to recharge the road markings before switching off again.

Luminescent paint could also provide outdoor area lighting. Pisello’s lab developed such a glow-in-the-dark paint and, in a 2019 report, simulated what would happen if they painted a public path near a railway station with it. By glowing throughout the night, the paint would reduce energy needed for lighting by about 27 percent in the immediate area, the scientists found.

If this conjures worries of entire cities glaring throughout the night and adding to harmful light pollution, Pisello says that is unlikely. Luminescent materials would likely only replace existing lighting, not add to it. The color of the glowing materials could be chosen to avoid the blue frequencies that have been found especially harmful to wildlife.

Luminescent materials could also help fight what is known as the urban heat island effect. Rooftops and pavements absorb energy from the Sun and emit it as heat, driving city summer temperatures an average of 7.7 degrees Celsius higher than in the surrounding countryside. The high temperatures are a potential health hazard and also result in more energy being used to cool buildings.

One increasingly common solution is to use “cool” materials that reflect light, such as white paint and light-colored asphalt. It turns out that adding luminescent materials can help even more.

Anna Laura Pisello and colleagues at the University of Perugia are trying to create practical pavements that glow in the dark. They are experimenting with different luminescent substances and testing how to add them to pavement material to get the best performance and durability. Above are samples of luminescent materials and a paving stone in which they have been embedded.
Anna Laura Pisello and colleagues at the University of Perugia are trying to create practical pavements that glow in the dark. They are experimenting with different luminescent substances and testing how to add them to pavement material to get the best performance and durability. Above are samples of luminescent materials and a paving stone in which they have been embedded.Anna Laura Pisello

At the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Berdahl and his team experimented with synthetic ruby, a material that is luminescent while in sunlight, to make colored coatings that stayed cool. In an early experiment, they reported that a ruby-pigmented surface stayed cooler in the Sun than a similarly colored material without the special pigment.


Pisello’s lab went one step further and added several persistently luminescent materials—ones that stored light energy and gave it off slowly—to concrete. Compared with non-luminescent surfaces of the same color, the best of them lowered the surrounding air temperature on sunny days by up to 3.3° C.

“You can make [a surface] as reflective as possible. But can you go beyond that? The idea is that maybe you can go a little bit beyond that using persistent luminescence as another way to transfer energy out… It is interesting,” says Patrick E. Phelan, a mechanical engineer at Arizona State University who co-authored a paper on the urban heat island effect in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources.

There are 250 known luminescent materials, many of them not yet studied for practical applications. Pisello says there is a potential for glowing paints and pavements that last longer and shine brighter in more colors.

“In the short term, the best and easiest solution is to improve what we already have,” she says. That includes tweaking materials so that they give out light longer, more strongly, or in different colors, and making sure they continue to work in real-world environments.

In the longer term, she adds, new classes of engineered materials could work even better. For instance, one could turn to “quantum dots”—tiny semiconducting particles that can be made to glow and that are already used in biological imaging—or perovskites, materials used in solar cells that are also being studied for their luminescent properties.

Source:

Kurt Kleiner at Knowable Magazine



Krill: The Disappearing Backbone of Marine Ecosystems

Krill: The Disappearing Backbone of Marine Ecosystems


Are we that close to krill-ing off biodiversity as we know it? Apparently so, because keystone species are feeling the pressure with every passing day.


When humans think of the “great deep,” outlandish, alien sea creatures come to mind: National Geographic images of anglerfish, vivid apparitions straight out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, timeless sea shanties depicting the fearsome giant squid. Not often is it that some of the most vital organisms in marine ecosystems, keystone species, are at the forefront of our attention. One such linchpin, krill, is a miniscule, hardly visible, invertebrate that often passes for a shrimp look-alike. These finger-sized crustaceans tend to go unnoticed in modern society, their tangerine hue not bright enough to attract the interest of humans. Despite not being one of the more appetizing types of seafood for mankind, krill are a crucial main dish for animals of the Antarctic. For decades, krill has been harvested by humans without a care for the vital role they hold within the Southern Ocean food webs. Now a new threat has been recognized, as climate change threatens the existence of Antarctic sea ice which krill rely upon for nesting grounds. The key to their gargantuan presence on Earth, krill risk losing more than ever before.

Krill dominate the Antarctic Ocean from the shadows with their massive numbers, grouped together in swarms so dense they can be spotted by satellites in space. With eighty-five currently identified species, researchers estimate that the combined biomass of krill — which are individually no larger than a paper clip — worldwide could range from anywhere between 125 million and 600 million tons. Such swarms can drift through the waters at lengths of four miles, boasting densities of over 10,000 krill per square meter. Naturally, as with any resource present at such a scale on Earth, you’d be inclined to think that the statistical stability of krill would be able to overcome any threats to its population size; how could humans even attempt to jeopardize an organism of such a scope? Unfortunately, even the most abundant organism on the planet hardly stands a chance of escaping the all-encompassing nature of climate change. Direct and indirect anthropogenic influences — reflected in commercial fishing practices and the accelerated melting of sea ice — have developed into two, potent sources of stress for krill populations, signifying the greater doom that awaits these crustaceans.

What exactly makes these pinky-sized invertebrates so irreplaceable within the vast oceans of this planet? To answer this question, we must step back into one of the most fundamental topics of ecology: ecological efficiency. Within a food chain, trophic levels quantify the different stages of energy movement between categories of lifeforms, separated into producers and consumers; notably, only 10% of energy is passed from one level to the next. Sub-categories place primary producers (organisms with photosynthetic capabilities) at the bottom-most level, while top predators take the spots of tertiary or quaternary consumers.

In a typical marine food web, phytoplankton replace terrestrial plants as primary producers, and are considered the most energy efficient. As one of the few species capable of directly feeding upon phytoplankton, krill — categorized under zooplankton — take the spot of primary consumer within the food chain. What makes krill so potent as a food source for all predators alike is (1) sheer numbers, making it available to every Antarctic predator, and (2) its tendency to swarm in densely packed groups, which makes feeding much less work for large predators. Krill is a superfood, allowing even normally tertiary consumers to adopt an energy efficient food source into their diet and essentially gain more for less.

A food web depicting the role of Antarctic krill in Southern Ocean ecosystems. (Image Courtesy of Cool Antarctica)

The most populous species of krill, Euphausia superba, serves as a primary source of food for not one, but seventeen different marine animals, such as baleen whales, seals, penguins, fishes, birds, squid, and cephalopods. If they manage to evade the predation tactics of nearly every Antarctic organism larger than them, krill can persist in the Southern waters for an impressive lifespan of up to ten years. To prevent the rapid depletion of a common food source, the species’ predators have likewise taken steps to ensure that their feeding patterns do not overlap. Baleen whales, for example, stop by plankton blooms in polar waters over the summer before continuing their migration towards warm, tropical regions of the ocean.

With so many organisms dependent on krill for sustenance, what does krill, in turn, depend on? That would be phytoplankton–microscopic, buoyant algae which photosynthesize using chlorophyll at the ocean’s surface. During winter months, live phytoplankton form layers within and underneath Antarctic sea ice, which doubles as both a shelter and constant food source for larval and juvenile krill. Fast forward six months, and the bright polar summers create the perfect set of conditions for phytoplankton blooms: a combination of nutrient-rich waters brought up from the deep via Antarctic upwellings, 24-hour sunlight, and ideal ocean temperature. When the surface sea ice melts, both phytoplankton and krill are free to multiply endlessly. The result? An explosion of krill clouds overtaking the sub-Arctic and Antarctic Oceans, and the perfect rest stop for migrating consumers.

Krill feeding on phytoplankton located on sea ice, grazing the underside of the ice cap to collect the phytoplankton as they go. (Image Courtesy of Ice Stories)

As much as they provide shelter, the presence of sea ice is a figurative Achilles heel for our star organism. In addition to the multitude of predators waiting to eat them, that is. Temperature especially stands out as a weakness in that a fraction of a degree Celsius can make a significant difference for these tiny creatures. In fact, krill provide a concrete example of what exactly the implications of “rising ocean temperatures” — a term loved by media coverage — are. The ideal conditions for phytoplankton survival require ice cover to protect them from the harsh, stormy oceans of the South, as well as cold water, which is richer in nutrients. If the surface of the ocean were to be warm instead of cold, upwelling — the phenomenon in which nutrient-rich water rises from the deep to the surface via ocean currents — would not occur and nutrients would be locked below the surface. The following summer, phytoplankton blooms would be smaller in size, and krill would emerge from the melting ice to a noticeable lack of food and a significant difference of 1-2°C. Though researchers have found it difficult to track increases and decreases in Antarctic krill population due to the sheer scale of the endeavor, studies have theorized that krill populations may have dropped 80% since the 1970s.

Krill are not the sole bearers of this insufferable fate that threatens the collapse of entire ecosystems. Sea otters — regulators of the sea urchin population in coastal marine habitats — have been deemed “climate change warriors”, tasked with keeping kelp and seagrass ecosystems in check and promoting carbon sequestration. Starfish, when removed from their ecosystem, directly resulted in the widespread takeover of the unrestrained mussel population. Alarmingly so, recent research has established a direct connection between the warming of the oceans and sea star wasting syndrome, a term for cases of sea stars dying of hypoxia due to aerobic bacteria buildup at high temperatures.

The effects of the presence and lack of presence of starfish in its ecosystem.(Image Courtesy of Institute for Research for Development, Montpelier)

Looking back on history, it’s always been our old, persistent habits that produce the greatest consequences, and it’s past time we pull the plug on this one — once and for all. Krill serve as a dark example for the extent of influence humans have on this planet. One of the most extensive species in the world, research now shows that krill may one day face the same endangerment as many other species. It’s up to us to ensure that climate change is mitigated before it can topple entire ecosystems and sweep biodiversity from the face of this planet.

In some ways, these global phenomena feel so far from us, a disconnect heightened by sheer distance and the differences between nature and civilization. That doesn’t mean, however, that we get to pretend they are not happening. Spreading awareness is always a safe and easy first step, making sure these issues are felt within the bubbles we place ourselves in before breaking out of them entirely. Climate change communication is difficult, unfamiliar, but so incredibly necessary if anything is to be accomplished. Otherwise, humanity’s insatiable greed and sheer disregard for the Earth’s required natural balance causes us to willfully blind ourselves to the impacts of the climate on the world around us — impacts inherently caused by us. It is essential that we open our eyes and face our actions, before their consequences grow to a size much too large to control.

Source:

Karthy Sajeev at The Climate Change Review



UMD Researchers Unlock the Potential of Trees for Managing Environmental Impacts in Cities

UMD Researchers Unlock the Potential of Trees for Managing Environmental Impacts in Cities


Individually grown urban trees capture, store, and release more stormwater back to the atmosphere at a rate of 3x compared to trees grown in clusters or patches


As the global climate change conversation intensifies and nations look to minimize environmental impacts in their own backyards, nature-based solutions are garnering new levels of interest. Trees are widely recognized for their role in sequestering carbon, and capturing and storing rainfall in their canopy to manage stormwater runoff, but to date there has been minimal research and clarity around how urban forests in particular can be used as practical stormwater management tools. Members of the academic community speculate that urban trees can help mitigate stormwater flows, but the actual amount of stormwater that trees remove through functions like transpiration, infiltration, and storage is not well established. To address this gap, University of Maryland researchers have conducted an empirical field study and concluded that single urban trees, such as street trees, function differently than trees grown in clusters featuring significantly greater transpiration rates. This result offers a new understanding of how to manage the landscape in urban settings to reduce the harmful effects of stormwater runoff. 

The findings are published in Scientific Reports, with authorship from Mitch Pavao-Zuckerman and Sarah Ponte in UMD’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology in partnership with the Center for Watershed Protection and the United States Forest Service.

“This work is important because urban trees are increasingly being considered as a stormwater management practice, but we don’t have much information about how trees function in different parts of the landscape,” explains Deb Caraco, senior watershed engineer with the Center for Watershed Protection. “Quantifying the impacts of urban trees affect different parts of the water balance, such as the evapotranspiration component discussed in Mitch and Sarah’s paper, gives us a better understanding of the benefits of urban trees, and knowing where and how to plant and preserve them to achieve the greatest benefit.”

To better understand how the relationships between transpiration and environmental influences change within different tree management contexts, Pavao Zuckerman’s team evaluated three distinct urban settings — single trees over turfgrass and a cluster of trees over turfgrass in Montgomery County, and a closed canopy forest with a leaf litter layer in Baltimore, Md. They built and used sap flux sensors – which give a clearer picture of how trees access groundwater – installed in 18 mature red maple trees to continually monitor transpiration rates during the growing season. They also measured soil water content, air temperature, relative humidity, and precipitation at each site. Single trees had a much greater transpiration rate, and were more responsive to climate influences than closed canopy or cluster trees. This data presents important implications for the future.

Aerial view of Johannesburg, South Africa – the largest man-made urban forest in the world

“This work explores how trees function in different urban contexts, say street trees vs. a forest patch, where their environments are very different than non-urban trees,” explains Pavao-Zuckerman. “Cities can be hotter and drier for example. Our data can help make tree crediting policies better reflect the actual benefits of trees in urban landscapes because they interact with water and their environment differently in cities than they do outside cities. Our next step is to take this data set on how each tree functions and scale it up to see how an entire stand or patch of trees mitigates stormwater flows.”

Some may envision a tree having the same characteristics regardless of where it is growing but due to Pavao-Zuckerman’s work, we now see that the same tree species will function differently in different urban settings, and can help mitigate stormwater in cities which affects flooding and water quality which are becoming increasingly important public-facing issues. 

“This work emphasizes the importance of thinking about cities as not a homogenous thing that we’re trying to manage, but that environmental outcomes and benefits are going to vary within a city,” says Pavao-Zuckerman. “A tree along a street isn’t the same as a tree in a patch or woodlot. Considering this variability is important in our future research – we are now modeling how these different settings may mitigate runoff from different sized rain storms for example.”   

Project Field Site – Image Credit: Tuana Phillips

Pavao-Zuckerman emphasizes that these findings can serve as helpful guidelines for those managing urban stormwater runoff. And that the current method of relying on data gathered from non-urban locations should be put to rest.

“Practitioners are now able to better integrate urban trees into their stormwater green infrastructure network. These findings suggest that approaches to use urban trees and forests to mitigate urban stormwater runoff should rely on data that is derived from urban settings, rather than non-urban locations.” 

The Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Pooled Monitoring Initiative that provided funding for this project supports research for key restoration questions such as this study to guide future restoration efforts.

“The importance of trees to clean water, clean air, and provide shade resonates now more than ever as we look for ways to reduce urban heat islands, clean stormwater before it enters streams, and provide habitat for our wildlife,” said Jana Davis, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust. 

This paper, titled “Transpiration rates of red maple (Acer rubrum L.) differ between management contexts in urban forests of Maryland, USA” is published in Scientific Reports.



Electric cars aren’t enough to hit climate targets: we need to develop better public transport too

Electric cars aren’t enough to hit climate targets: we need to develop better public transport too


Transport is responsible for 24% of energy-related carbon emissions worldwide. Half of those emissions are from carrying goods and services, and the other half are from carrying people from A to B – also known as “passenger transport”.


Passenger transport has a huge impact on our surroundings, and it’s one of the biggest factors in determining where we live and work. It can be bumper-to-bumper LA traffic, bike-filled Danish cities, Japanese bullet trains, buzzing Vietnamese mopeds, taxi ranks lined with India’s famous three-wheeled rickshaws, or bustling London subways.

Introducing electric vehicles (EVs) on a massive scale has often been framed as the solution to reducing passenger transport emissions – witness the UK’s plans for all new homes and upgraded buildings to have EV charging points from 2022.

However, recent research from the US has shown that the electrification of cars alone will not be enough for the transport sector to reach ambitious global climate action targets aiming to prevent more than 2 °C of global warming.

In addition, a population that continues to depend on cars poses significant problems for growing cities. With urbanisation on the rise and space at a premium, we must reduce car ownership in cities if we are to keep them as affordable and accessible as possible. Huge amounts of land which could otherwise be used to house people or be dedicated to nature are still reserved for roads and car parks.

Although EVs certainly help address increasing transport emissions, simply focusing on replacing conventional cars with EVs is a missed opportunity for countries to develop alternative means of transport beyond car dependency.

A person drives a rickshaw
Many Indian cities are famous for using three-wheeled rickshaws as a popular transport method. Adam Cohn/FlickrCC BY-NC-SA

Climate action funds – including the Adaptation Fund, a UN-backed international fund helping developing countries to adapt to climate change – are projected to reach £74 billion of funding by 2023. Much of this money is channelled towards sustainable infrastructure projects, which could help developing countries to build efficient and sustainable mass-transit systems.

The UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change advocates for an approach to passenger transport planning called “Avoid, Shift, Improve”, which is adapted from a framework first developed in Germany in the early 1990s:

Avoid

“Avoid” refers to reducing the need for transport in the first place. This involves planning new urban areas and redeveloping old ones to be as well organised as possible, so people will not have to travel far for their working, shopping, education and recreational needs. While years of investment into roads have made it very difficult for some cities to move away from car use, the future is still unwritten for many of our growing cities.

Xinzhuang Flyover in Nanjing, China
Many cities have been designed with widespread car ownership in mind, but newer cities don’t have to follow this pattern. Damian188/Wikimedia

This approach also involves connecting homes and rural towns to the internet so that people can easily and cheaply work from home, leaving road space free for people – like doctors or teachers – who cannot.

Shift

“Shift” means switching necessary travel to more sustainable, active and higher-occupancy modes of transport. Instead of single-occupancy cars, for example, we can use buses, trains, bikes, scooters, skateboards or walking paths. Across the world, we can see exciting examples of how countries have managed to make this shift away from carbon-intensive car dependency.

The TransMilenio bus system, operating in the cities of Bogotá and Soacha in Colombia, is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Transporting between one and two million people daily, its broad range of stops, dedicated bus lanes, and affordable ticketing stations create an easily accessible service.

Increasing the uptake of active modes of travel is another way to encourage this shift. E-bikes are among the fastest growing types of transport in China. The motor-assisted travel encourages cycling longer journeys in hilly areas, warmer areas and among people who are less fit. Studies from Sweden and Norway show that cyclists who switch from conventional bikes to e-bikes increase their number of journeys and the distances they travel on average for each journey.

A red and yellow bus on a road
The TransMilenio bus service has been widely recognised as a shining example of sustainable mass transit. Felipe Restrepo Acosta/Wikimedia

Recently, residents of Berlin voted to expand car restrictions in the German city to cover 88 sq km of the city – a proposal which would create the world’s largest car-free urban zone. Actions like these can address the safety concerns of pedestrians and cyclists, who fear navigating alongside fast-moving, heavy vehicles, by providing segregated active travel routes. Importantly, researchers have noted that without measures to restrict car use, other measures to encourage the uptake of public transport, walking and cycling have little impact.

Once unnecessary travel has been cut from things like poor urban planning and employer policies requiring workers’ presence in offices, and once safe public transport systems or active travel options have been provided, we can focus on making the vehicles we currently have more sustainable.

Improve

Although fuel efficiency has slightly reduced the fuel consumption per kilometre of car transport, passenger transport demand continues to grow – meaning that overall, increased emissions from passenger transport outstrip efficiency reductions. As a result, the “improve” part of the UN’s framework involves switching bus, rail and car transport from fossil fuels to electric.

The key to reducing passenger transport emissions is enabling access to and use of electric cars only where there are no other reasonable travel options. If we do this, we have a chance to end car dependency while still helping as many people as possible to travel.

Source:

Vera O’Riordan at The Conversation



EU wants to ban imports linked to deforestation — beef, coffee, and chocolate are included

EU wants to ban imports linked to deforestation — beef, coffee, and chocolate are included


Companies will soon have to prove that the products they sell to the European Union haven’t been contributing to deforestation, according to draft legislation introduced by the European Commission.


The EU is one of the main importers of global deforestation, only exceeded by China, according to a report on trade by WWF, and this move could send a strong signal worldwide for producers to be more environmentally conscious. 

Wanted: only deforestation-free products

The regulation will focus on six commodities: wood, soy, cattle, palm oil, coffee, and cocoa, as well as derived products such as chocolate, leather, and oil cakes. Imports of commodities in the EU have been linked to the loss of 3.5 million hectares of forests between 2005 and 2017 and to the release of 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

“Our deforestation regulation answers citizens’ calls to minimize the European contribution to deforestation and promote sustainable consumption,” EU Commission VP Frans Timmermans said in a statement. “It ensures that we only import these products if we can ascertain that they are deforestation-free and produced legally.”

When approved, the new law will create due diligence mandatory rules applicable to commodity exporters to the EU market. They will have to implement a strict traceability control, collecting coordinates of the land where the commodities were produced. This will ensure that only deforestation-free products enter the EU market.

The EU Commission will operate a benchmarking system to classify countries with a low, standard, or high risk of producing commodities or products that aren’t deforestation-free. The requirements for companies and government authorities will depend on the level of risk of the country, from simplified to enhanced due diligence. 

With the new system, the EU hopes to prevent deforestation and forest degradation. The EU Commission estimates the bloc will reduce at least 31.9 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year due to the EU consumption of the targeted commodities. This would also mean savings of up to $3.6 billion per year, the commission estimates.

“If we expect more ambitious climate and environmental policies from partners, we should stop exporting pollution and supporting deforestation ourselves,” the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said in a statement. “It’s the most ambitious legislative attempt to tackle this worldwide.”

Will it pass?

The draft will now have to be approved by the EU Parliament and by each EU member country, something that might take a while. It follows recommendations included in a Parliament report last year but it has a more limited scope, not addressing human rights abuses and not creating civil liability for companies that export goods to the EU.

As it is now, it only targets recent deforestation due to its 2020 cut-off date. But this could change as lawmakers discuss the details at the EU Parliament, with some suggesting an earlier starting at 2014 – which is the earliest satellite images are available. The regulation also gives commodity exporters a 12-month transition.

Strong opposition is expected from forested countries that rely on export to the EU. This is the case of Brazil, for example, which exports beef to several bloc member countries. Deforestation rates have been on the rise in the country amid lax policies by President Bolsonaro. Recent data showed higher deforestation in October this year and many see beef imports from places like Brazil as an important contributor to deforestation.

Source:

Fermin Koop at ZME Science



Road to hell for marine life: Shell’s Wild Coast seismic assessment plans meet mounting public protest

Road to hell for marine life: Shell’s Wild Coast seismic assessment plans meet mounting public protest


‘Hell no, Shell must go’ — activists protest against the arrival of the Amazon Warrior in Cape Town on Sunday. This is the ship’s last stop before it carries out a seismic assessment in search of oil and gas off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December.


Waving banners, beating drums and chanting, an array of protesters — including members of Extinction Rebellion Cape Town, Oceans Not Oil and the Green Connection — awaited the arrival of the Amazon Warrior, a 130-metre seismic blasting vessel hired by oil giant Shell, at Cape Town Harbour on Sunday morning. From the outset, their message was clear: “Shell can go to hell”.

“Hell no, Shell must go!” the protesters chanted. Placards with defaced Shell logos on them bobbed above the crowd.

Shell has appointed Shearwater GeoServices to conduct the survey, which will last from four to five months, and cover more than 6,000km² of ocean surface. The survey area is located more than 20km from the coast, with its closest point in water depths ranging between 700m and 3km, Daily Maverick reported.

Activists protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan along the Wild Coast at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. Shell’s announcement that it will conduct a seismic survey to probe for oil and gas along the Wild Coast has drawn outrage from the public (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

During this time, the seismic airgun blasts will increase the cacophony of sounds in the ocean, adding to those made by whales, dolphins and other marine life. Scientists and environmentalists alike have raised serious concerns about the “disastrous effects” of seismic assessments on the marine environment.  

shell protest
People protest at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 against Shell’s offshore exploration plan to probe for oil and gas along the Wild Coast. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cape Town has said that there is increasing evidence that seismic blasting harms marine life. “Environmentalists are extremely concerned that seismic blasting of this scale will hurt our whales during breeding seasons, possibly separating mothers from their calves. But also fishing communities are sounding the alarm since the shockwaves will also scare off and harm their catch for unknown periods,” said XR Cape Town press coordinator, Michael Wolf.

In a statement on Saturday, XR Cape Town demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa urgently intervene and withdraw the exploration licence from Shell and its partners, and send the Amazon Warrior home. 

People protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan off the Wild Coast and the arrival of the Amazon Warrior at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Shell’s announcement has spurred widespread public outrage and ignited a petition campaign to stop the survey. 

The Oceans Not Oil coalition started a petition calling on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy to withdraw approval of Shell’s application to probe for oil and gas off the Eastern Cape shoreline. By Sunday morning, the petition had received more than 147,500 signatories. 

About 100-150 protesters and activists were at the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront when Daily Maverick arrived at around 5.30am on Sunday. From there, the demonstrators marched through the Silo District, eventually arriving at the edge of a pier near Shimmy Beach Club. 

Protesters demonstrate at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 against Shell’s offshore exploration for oil and gas along the Wild Coast. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

For about three hours the protesters waited to “unwelcome” the Amazon Warrior to Cape Town. The ship eventually arrived in the bay at about 8.15am, but remained outside the harbour.

“The reason why we’re here today is because we’re telling Shell to go to hell. We do not approve of their want to do seismic activity across the Wild Coast because it will not only affect marine life but will affect individuals and marginalised communities,” protester and youth coordinator at the African Climate Alliance, Gabriel Klaasen, told Our Burning Planet.

Klaasen said Shell’s plans for the Wild Coast will not only affect marine life, but will have social and economic impacts on communities in the area. 

“This needs to come to an end if we want to make sure our marine life is secure for future generations to benefit from. The ocean is one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world and if we don’t protect it, we are screwing humans over,” he said. 

Strategic lead for the Green Connection, Liz McDaid addresses protesters at Sunday’s action against Shell’s plan to carry out a three-dimensional seismic survey in search of oil and gas deposits from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Addressing protesters on Sunday, strategic lead for the Green Connection organisation Liz McDaid said that while there are currently groups of environmental lawyers trying to find ways to stop the project, public pressure on Shell is the way forward.  

“It’s us on the ground who have the best chance of public pressure building to stop them and to shut them down,” said McDaid.

McDaid said Sunday’s action was the first in a series of rolling actions planned before 1 December. There have been protests along the Wild Coast and pickets outside Shell petrol stations across the country, she said. 

A silent march from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay harbour to raise public awareness also took place at midday on Sunday. 

People gather at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 to protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan along the Wild Coast. Demonstrators gathered to ‘unwelcome’ the ship commissioned to conduct the survey, which docked in Cape Town on Sunday. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

“What we are also planning to do — if we can raise the money — is hire a research vessel to shadow and monitor” the Amazon Warrior’s activity on the Wild Coast, said McDaid. 

“What we also think will put public pressure on Shell is to call on all the holidaymakers who are driving around to boycott Shell,” she said. 

“We were at the Paradise Motors Shell garage yesterday and it was very inspiring to see people look at the posters, drive in and then drive out without getting petrol,” she said.

“As long as we can resist and they know we are resisting, it makes their lives harder.”

Source:

Victoria O’Regan at Daily Maverick



England will be first country to require new homes to include EV chargers

England will be first country to require new homes to include EV chargers


The British government has introduced legislation that will require all newly built homes and offices to feature electric vehicle chargers in England.


November 22 update: “New homes and buildings such as supermarkets and workplaces, as well as those undergoing major renovation, will be required to install electric vehicle charge points from next year, under new legislation announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson today,” according to the UK government website.

Up to 145,000 extra charge points will be installed across England each year thanks to these regulations, in the run up to 2030 when the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will end in the UK. This builds on the over 250,000 home and workplace charge points the government has already supported to date.

Home and EV chargers in England

Specifically, all new homes and offices will have to feature “smart” charging devices that can automatically charge vehicles during off-peak periods. New office blocks will need to install a charge point for every five parking spaces.

The new law will make England the first country in the world to require all new homes to have EV chargers.

It will also boost confidence in helping those who transition from gas cars to overcome range anxiety, as so many homes in England don’t have off-street parking or garages.

The proposal is part of the movement to rapidly boost the number of chargers across England ahead of the UK’s 2030 ban of new fossil-fuel vehicles. The government originally announced a proposal to mandate that all new homes have a charge point with a parking space in 2019, as Electrek then reported.

Nigel Pocklington, CEO of clean energy company Good Energy, said [via Business Green]:

Flexible charging at home and at workplace during the day is going to be crucial to decarbonizing not just transport but the UK’s entire energy system.

As will better energy efficiency, electrified heating and solar power on 13.5 million homes – we hope to see all these as part of the plans for new homes, too.

The home and office EV charger mandate is expected to start in 2022.

Further, the UK government announced a free app called EV8 Switch yesterday, on World EV Day:

It calculates how much money UK drivers could save by switching to an EV compared to their current petrol or diesel vehicle, along with details on the carbon dioxide (CO2) savings and air quality improvements they could achieve.

Drivers can also see which electric vehicles would be the most suitable for them based on their current vehicle and how switching to electric could fit in with their current lifestyle. Those with the app can also see how close their nearest charge points are, and which journeys can be completed without the need to top up en route.

Source:

Michelle Lewis at Electrek



Billionaire Buys 15% of the Planet to Protect It

Billionaire Buys 15% of the Planet to Protect It


Wyoming billionaire pledges to purchase around 15% of the planet, doubling the amount of protected lands and waters on Earth


Since the creation of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872, 15 percent of the earth’s lands and 7 percent of its oceans have been protected in a natural state.

But some scientists have concluded that at least half the planet needs to be protected to save a large majority of plant and animal species from extinction.

A multi-billionaire has pledged $1 billion to get us closer to that goal.

The money will be used to “create and expand protected areas” with the goal of protecting 30 percent of the planet’s surface by 2030.

The 83-year-old Swiss-born steel magnate Hansjörg Wyss — who’s now an avid outdoorsman living in Wyoming — has already donated $450 million to protect 40 million acres of land and water across the globe since the establishment of the Wyss Foundation in 1998.

Wyss has also supported anti-poaching efforts, river restoration projects, African national park improvements, rails-to-trails initiatives and land conversation in his beloved adopted home, the American West.

He’s also pulled a handful of high-profile maneuvers to stop fossil fuel industries from degrading protected lands.

The new Wyss Campaign for Nature adds $1 billion more toward those efforts.

“Already, the campaign has identified nine locally led conservation projects spread across 13 countries — 10 million acres of land and 17,000 square kilometers of ocean in total — that will receive $48 million in assistance,” Mother Nature Network reports.

The first nine conservation projects to receive grants are:

1. Aconquija National Park and the National Reserve Project in Argentina

2. The Ansenuza National Park Project, also in Argentina

3. Costa Rica’s proposed Corcovado Marine Reserve

4. The multi-country Caribbean Marine Protected Areas initiative

5. The Andes Amazon Fund, which impacts Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Guyana

6. Romania’s Fundatia Conservation Carpathia, which spearheads conservation efforts in the Carpathian Mountains

7. The Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area in Canada’s Northwest Territories

8. Australia’s Nimmie-Caira Project

9. The Gonarezhou National Park Project in Zimbabwe

Funds will be granted to additional projects over the next 10 years.

“I believe this ambitious goal is achievable because I’ve seen what can be accomplished,” Wyss writes in an editorial for the New York Times.

“We need to embrace the radical, time-tested and profoundly democratic idea of public-land protection that was invented in the United States, tested in Yellowstone and Yosemite, and now proven the world over.”

Source:

Sara Burrows at Return To Now



How This Vertical Farm Grows 80,000 Pounds of Produce per Week

How This Vertical Farm Grows 80,000 Pounds of Produce per Week


Bowery Farming uses technology to prioritize accessibility and sustainability in their produce growing operations


Bowery Farming is a network of vertical farms based in NYC. Here, innovations in light, water, and other growing technologies enable the multi-level operation to use 95 percent less water, zero pesticides, and to grow produce optimized for flavor versus bulk or insect resistance.

To some, the pristine growing conditions and perceived mechanical interference of a vertical farm can seem unnatural, but at Bowery Farming “interference” is actually not the goal at all. “We don’t really think about how people are involved in the growing process, but how to take people out of the growing process” says chief science officer Henry Sztul. “Our goal is actually to have as few people walking around our plants as possible.”

Bowery Farming is a network of vertical farms working to reengineer the growing process. Using a system of light and watering technology, Bowery is able to use 95 percent less water than a traditional outdoor farm, zero pesticides and chemicals, and grow food that tastes as good as anyone else’s.

Bowery Farming uses vertical farm-specific seeds that are optimized for flavor instead of insect resistance and durability. Seeds are mechanically pressed into trays of soil, and sent out into growing positions, or racks within the building that have their own lighting and watering systems. Each tray gets its own QR code so that they can be monitored and assigned a customized plan for water and light until they’re ready to be harvested.

Irving Fain, Bowery Farming’s founder and CEO contemplates the prediction from the United Nations that 70 to 80 percent of the world’s population will be living in and around cities in the next 30 years. “Figuring out ‘how do you feed and how do you provide fresh food to urban environments both more efficiently as well as more sustainably?’ is a very important question today, and an even more important question in the years to come.”

Source:

Terri Ciccone at Eater



The Farmer Trying to Save Italy’s Ancient Olive Trees

The Farmer Trying to Save Italy’s Ancient Olive Trees


A fast-spreading bacteria could cause an olive-oil apocalypse.


In early 2016, Giovanni Melcarne, an agronomist and the owner of an extra virgin olive oil farm in Gagliano del Capo, walked through the southern Italian countryside of Puglia. He was with a fellow olive-oil farmer who had called and told him there was something he had to see.

The two approached a centuries-old olive tree growing at the edge of the street along a traditional stone wall. All around, the old olive trees that covered the red clay were either dead or in an advanced state of decay, filling the landscape with an unnatural greyness. Melcarne was not surprised: At least 2 million olive trees in Puglia looked this way, including many of his own.

The cause of the blight was Xylella fastidiosa, a bacteria that researchers believe arrived around 2010 from Latin America, possibly from Costa Rica on an imported ornamental plant. Today, Xylella has infected at least one-third of the 60 million olive trees in Puglia, which produces 12 percent of the world’s olive oil. The bacteria leaves no chance of survival: Once a plant is infected, it’s doomed to die in a handful of years. Today, Xylella is spreading fast across Puglia, crossing into other Italian regions and Mediterranean countries, and upending the production of olives and olive oil, the symbols of the Mediterranean.

Agronomist Giovanni Melcarne invested his life savings to find a way to stop Xylella.

When the two reached the tree, the olive farmer pointed at a live, green bough on the otherwise dead trunk.

“The man told me that his father had grafted the tree with a Barese olive variety, which is good for eating,” Melcarne says. Grafting is common practice in the area: People take a twig of a different variety and insert it on the trunk of an older tree, where it will grow and bear the kind of olives of the tree it came from. Melcarne immediately suspected that the grafted branch was resistant to Xylella. It seemed to be keeping the olive tree alive.

“And then I thought, ‘Could it be that grafts could save the oldest and grandest olive trees’?” Melcarne says.

At the time, efforts to contain the Xylella blight were going poorly: Italian media and politics was dominated by vicious fights, accusations, and conspiracy theories that prevented a coordinated response. But seeing that bit of green, Melcarne felt hopeful. The agronomist was already exploring ways to fight the disease with a team of scientists, and that visit showed that there might be some hope against the olive-tree apocalypse.

“If today we don’t try to save at least some of the monumental olive trees,” Melcarne asks, “what identity will be left to this region?”

A tree with centuries-old roots recently infected by Xylella.
A tree with centuries-old roots recently infected by Xylella.

Whether you are in New York, London, or Melbourne, chances are good that the extra virgin olive oil you use to dress your salad, finish a fresh mozzarella, or sear a sea bass comes from Puglia. It is either explicitly labeled as such or, in many cases, disguised under the branding of other estates that didn’t quite yield the harvest they were expecting.

In Puglia, olive trees are everywhere. They have populated these lands since 1,000 BC, when the ancient Greeks brought them. Some trees still growing today saw ancient Romans passing by or welcomed Emperor Frederik II on his way to the Sixth Crusade, while many more were already old when Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Americas. The trees have always been present in their corrugated fairy shapes, and they are an inherent part of the local culture. Each family owns a few olive trees and treats them like family, like immortal grandparents. Pugliesi have taken their presence for granted for a long time, but Xylella is now crushing that timeless, idyllic reality.

Xylella fastidiosa is carried by a sap-feeding insect, a spittlebug called Philaenus spumarius. When the insect bites an infected leaf, it involuntarily takes the bacteria on its saliva, giving Xylella a free ride to the next plant it feeds on. Through the bite, the bacteria enter the xylem––the plants’ vascular tissue, where water and nutrients flow––traveling countercurrent towards the roots. As the bacteria reproduce, they create a gel that clogs the channels, preventing water and nutrients from passing through. Once the plant is infected, it slowly starts dying.

The disease’s symptoms first appeared around 2010, but Italians didn’t know what was killing their trees. In 2013, scientists realized that it was Xylella. It was the first detection in Europe, and the European Union and Italian government immediately pushed for containment measures that implied the eradication of the infected trees. Speed was crucial: Stopping the spread would only get harder as it dispersed across Italy.

A recent harvest in northern Puglia, where the disease has not yet arrived (top), and dead olive trees in Scorrano, Italy (bottom).
A recent harvest in northern Puglia, where the disease has not yet arrived (top), and dead olive trees in Scorrano, Italy (bottom).

But many Pugliesi could not believe that a bacteria could kill these eternal trees. So thousands of people campaigned to stop the uprootings. Farmers chained themselves to infected trees, stopped railways, protested in city centers, and got full support from TV personalities, singers, and politicians, including Michele Emiliano, the region’s governor.

Much like the millions of people who would later resist pandemic lockdowns or call Covid-19 a hoax, the protesters believed that what was happening was part of a conspiracy. Some believed it was Monsanto’s fault and that the agrochemical company wanted to sell seeds for immune, genetically modified olive trees to farmers. Others said it was entrepreneurs and the Mafia, who wanted to build indiscriminately where the trees stood. A few more blamed chemtrails. The enraged public opinion led by an anti-science movement got so much momentum that in December 2015, government prosecutors from the city of Lecce started investigating the scientists studying the disease, blaming them for having brought it to Puglia. (After four years of investigations, all charges were dropped.)

“I do not expect to be thanked, but being pilloried by the media for having done my work with passion is a paradox,” says Donato Boscia, a plant pathologist and head researcher for Xylella at the National Research Council of Italy (CNR).

While conspiracies flourished, the disease advanced north at a speed of 30 km (18.6 miles) a year. Xylella is present in several countries worldwide, including the U.S., where it has been known for more than a century for attacking grapevines. But before arriving in Puglia, Xylella had never been detected on olive trees before.

“We could not wait for somebody else to deal with it,” says Pierfederico La Notte, an agronomist and researcher working on Xylella at CNR with Donato Boscia. While they studied how Xylella impacted the olive trees, Boscia and La Notte met with Giovanni Melcarne, the olive oil producer from Gagliano del Capo. Melcarne had noticed that in Salento, the lower tip of Puglia, certain olive trees were still alive between an ocean of death. It was 2016, and Melcarne brought the scientists to Gallipoli to check the green and thriving graft his fellow farmer had shown him, which later turned out to be Leccino––one of the only two olive varieties known to be resistant to the bacteria.

“That plant lightened up lots of lightbulbs,” La Notte says. Grafting, a technique as old as agriculture, seemed to show promise, just like it did a century ago when it saved European grapevines from Phylloxera, a tiny aphid that nearly destroyed the continent’s wine industry. If a resistant variety of olives could be grafted on the millenary trunks, the plant appeared to have a chance of survival.

In April 2016, while local politicians were delaying scientific research by withholding funding, Melcarne invested 130,000 euros––around $156,000, his lifetime savings––to graft 14 hectares of his olive trees. His family had been in the olive business since the 1500s, so Melcarne took the enormous financial risk not only to save his company, but to maintain his family’s tradition. He and the CNR researchers wanted to see if the varieties known to be resistant to Xylella––Leccino and Favolosa––could be grafted on older trees, and if other types had some resistance too. Lanotte called on greenhouses, collections, and producers from every corner of the globe, and this international community of scientists and farmers responded by shipping samples of their olive varieties to Puglia. In a short time, they grafted 270 different olive varieties on Melcarne’s fields.

Melcarne points out a graft that failed.
Melcarne points out a graft that failed.

While still solely funded by Melcarne’s life savings—due to the chaos and conspiracies paralzying the government response—their work advanced with trial and error. Grafts died from disease, broke during inclement weather, and were vandalized: One morning Melcarne found that dozens of his grafts had been snapped during the night. He suspected conspiracy theorists were behind it.

Word of the group’s experiment spread. Vanzio Turcato, a northern Italian who had decided to build his house in Puglia, on land home to a few dozen olive trees, became an early adopter of Melcarne’s grafts. He and his wife couldn’t stand the idea of seeing their 54 monumental olive trees die, so, in 2017, Melcarne grafted them all with patch grafts of Favolosa. But only two grafts out of 250 worked. It took two more years of trials to understand that crown grafts––chopping the old branch clean and inserting the grafts on the mutilated extremity––was the way to go. They had finally perfected a grafting protocol.

“I’d be happy if we manage to save even just 50 percent of the trees,” Turcato says. Today, though, his trees are vegetating luxuriantly, surrounded by his neighbors’ endless fields of grey, dead olive trees.

Ninety miles (150 km) from Turcato’s fields, Armando Balestrazzi, the owner of Masseria Il Frantoio, a boutique hotel and olive-oil farm, was well aware of the problem that was about to hit. And according to La Notte and Melcarne, olive trees have a higher probability of surviving if they are grafted before getting infected. The more advanced the infection, the less likely the grafts will work.

This tree has, for now, escaped infection.
This tree has, for now, escaped infection.

“When I heard about the grafts, I decided to run a test,” Balestrazzi says. It was 2019. His area was part of the disease’s buffer zone, and Balestrazzi had in his property 300 Leccino trees resistant to the disease. So he used their twigs to graft 50 of his 2,300 trees, all at least 1,000 years old. “I couldn’t stand with my arms folded while the scourge hit my home. I had to try to save them. And after two years, I know that it works.”

Balestrazzi says that 70 percent of his grafts have survived and are flourishing, and he has 2,250 more trees to graft. The region of Puglia recently issued a 5-million-euro incentive—advised by the work of La Notte and Melcarne—to push farmers to graft their oldest trees. But Balestrazzi is skeptical: “We still haven’t received any money from the damages of the 2016 flooding. Multiply $120 [the cost to graft a tree] by 2,250. How can I advance that amount of money knowing that probably I will never be reimbursed?” Many farmers are stuck in limbo: They want to save their trees, but bureaucracy and pandemic-related financial difficulties prevent them from doing so.

Grafting cannot save every olive tree of Puglia, though. It would take decades, as well as money that residents and the region do not seem to have. The researchers know that the grafting technique can only save the oldest trees and their beauty.

According to Melcarne, what’s needed to save Puglia’s olive groves is a long-term, coordinated plan led by politicians and scientists that stops the northward spread of the disease while investing in finding resistant varieties and grafting the oldest olive trees.

Harvesting olives in northern Puglia.
Harvesting olives in northern Puglia.

After three long years, the region’s administration recognized the value of Melcarne and La Notte’s work. They granted them 2 million euros to continue grafting and uncover new resistant, local varieties. Besides leading the grafting crusade, Melcarne is currently looking to reproduce wild Puglian olive trees that are still alive where Xylella has killed any other olive tree. The quality of local olives is what distinguishes the region’s extra-virgin olive oil from others, and local farmers are wary of planting resistant varieties such as Favolosa that do not belong to that territory and taste different. While they have found a grafting technique to save the region’s grandest trees, it is this search for local, resistant varieties that could protect Puglia’s beloved olive oil and the industry and food culture it supports.

Thanks to the thousands of tips he receives on social media, Melcarne has checked about 30,000 wild olives trees, covering 600,000 kilometers (372,822 miles) in his car in the process. He dreams of finding a local olive variety to replant the orchards destroyed by the bacteria. He picked 30 of them for reproduction, and he says he has found good candidates.

“I think we found one,” Melcarne says proudly. The future of the olive tree in the Mediterranean might well be in his hands.

Source:

Agostino Petroni at Gastro Obscura