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The Waggle

The Waggle - Issue 36

Project Regeneration

 Benjamin Felser

Regenerating the Indus: This fall Pakistan announced an ambitious restoration project in a bid to conserve one of the world’s largest river systems. Pakistan’s parliament approved the project following the worst flooding season in a decade linked to both climate change and massive infrastructure projects left over from the British Raj. The Indus sustains 90% of Pakistan’s population, in addition to 668 bird species, 150 fish, and the critically endangered Indus River Dolphin. The Living Indus initiative is composed of 25 projects that focus on climate-adaptive agriculture, managing glacial lake outbursts, more than doubling Pakistan’s existing protected areas and creating urban forests along the river. The previous environmental minister has voiced skepticism about its implementation vis-a-vis federal overreach, but the federal government along with the UN and FAO are united in their support of the project.

 Claire Krummenacher

A Win for Forests: This week, the European Parliament and European Council have agreed to ban the importation of goods linked to deforestation, with strict regulations enacted throughout the European Union that target palm oil, coffee, lumber, cattle, cocoa, rubber, and soy as well as related products like beef, furniture, and chocolate. Companies will now be required to conduct stringent supply chain inspections to track product origins, avoid those sourced from land deforested after 2020, and ensure that imports do not violate local community or Indigenous rights. Although the law will likely not take effect until 2023, companies that do not meet the new standards within 18 months will face fines worth up to 4% of their annual revenue. The move has been lauded by conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace and signifies a crucial step given deforestation's toll on the planet–it is estimated that deforestation is responsible for the release of over 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, approximately 10% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

 Courtney White

Mass Timber on the Rise: This week Bowdoin College announced that it is nearing completion of two buildings made entirely from mass timber, the first ones in Maine. Mass timber is a way to glue or nail strips of wood together into super-strong combinations that can replace steel and cement, substantially reducing the carbon footprints of buildings. It’s becoming a popular construction material. The architectural magazine DeZeen has an article about a 25-story residential complex in Milwaukee that is the world’s tallest mass timber building and a UN office in Geneva that uses mass timber beams. Here is a list of Dezeen’s top picks in 2022 for mass timber buildings. Research indicates that substituting conventional building materials for mass timber reduces construction phase greenhouse emissions by 69%. Critics, however, point out that wood used for mass timber needs to be harvested as part of regenerative forest management or risk negating its climate benefit.

 Kate Furby

Healing (in) Nature: Research is increasingly showing that climate change disasters are leaving psychological wounds. However, spending time in nature and looking at nature, has been found to have significant positive effects on us humans. A program in California is working to help forest fire victims heal through nature therapy walks. One of the tools they're using is a Japanese mindfulness exercise called shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing. The very landscapes where the people were harmed are the same ones that can help them heal–nature and humans healing together. I have my own tradition of peering at moss wherever I go and can also personally vouch for the soothing effect of immersing yourself in the tiny green landscapes.

 Kavya Gopal

Canada Steps towards a Fossil-Free Future: Canada has announced that it will end new direct subsidies for fossil fuel investments and projects abroad—including those owned by Canadian companies. The policy applies to the entire value chain relating to crude oil, natural gas, and thermal coal and will take effect starting Jan 1, 2023. Although there are certain exemptions in the policy, the criteria defined are fairly strict and if implemented with rigor and integrity, can really rule out any future state-led fossil financing internationally. Unfortunately, the policy does not apply to domestic projects, which continue to be just as destructive. Despite this, it still is an important step towards a fossil-free future and my hope is that other wealthy nations choose to follow suit.

 Nick Obradovich

Biofuels and Aviation: Air travel is one of the largest contributors to global carbon emissions. But unlike forms of ground-based transport, the technology to electrify the aviation industry just isn't there yet. Another long-standing potential solution to this challenge involves the use of biofuels to supplant existing jet fuels. A team of researchers recently estimated that meeting the required biofuel demand would be doable by growing one particular species of grass on large swaths of "marginal agricultural lands". On one hand, this is promising: it indicates the aviation emissions problem is theoretically solvable even without electrification. On the other hand, it's a really bad idea to address a technological emissions problem in one sector by intensively cultivating vast monocultures of a novel crop. A more integrated—and regenerative—approach would make much more sense.

 Paul Hawken

Biodiversity is being Left Behind: The UN Convention on Biological Diversity has been called an attempt to create a 2015 Paris-type agreement for nature. Not one national leader attended the Montreal conference except host Justin Trudeau of Canada. This is emblematic of the delusional nature of the climate movement that continues to act as if the atmosphere is separate from the biosphere. In fact, there is nothing we can do about a warming atmosphere except create more life in the biosphere, which requires a cessation of the harm and damage being done to every ecosystem on Earth. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity has been ratified by 196 out of 198 nations, which is heartening until you look closer. The two abstaining nations are the US and the Vatican. George Monbiot has it right that the US is a rogue nation, not a leader.

 Robert Denney

2030 Winter Olympics without a Host: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has delayed a decision on where the 2030 Winter Olympics will be held for at least 13 months, citing concern over which cities will be cold enough to support the games. Two of the original finalists for the games include Salt Lake City and Sapporo, Japan, but because of climate change, the IOC is considering requiring hosts to show average minimum temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit at snow sports venues over a 10-year period. Sapporo may be the only possible host city to remain cold enough through the 2080s if greenhouse gases are not reduced, and Salt Lake City will only be suitable in that timeline if emissions decline in accordance with the Paris Agreement. While the underlying reason for the delay is to ensure safe competition, maybe the threat will push some winter sports athletes (like Shaun White) to become climate activists.

 Tim Treuer

Lithium Mining in Bolivia: Momentum is building for lithium mining in Cerro Rico, which produced 80% of the world's silver in the 16th-18th centuries, and is now the epicenter of a new mining bonanza for electric car batteries. A story this week in Mongabay takes a look at the environmental and social impacts of lithium mining and its troubled history in the region. There are signs of hope that this time around the concerns of local residents about health and well-being impacts will be taken into consideration. However, the hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of indigenous Bolivians that died mining the silver of Cerro Rico stand as a stark reminder of the potential costs of mining. One topic not covered in the piece is the possible role of direct lithium extraction, a method that promises to dramatically reduce freshwater requirements, and the need for expansive evaporation ponds that have been the flashpoint of conflict in the past. One positive sign is that Lilac Solutions, a Bay-Area technology company and pioneer in environmentally-friendly lithium mining, is one of the six companies bidding for mining rights.

 Amy Boyer

Climate-Resilient Housing Models: Community Land Trusts are leading the way in climate resilience for low-income homeowners. Community land trusts typically buy a piece of land, then make houses available to people who buy the buildings and lease the land, making home ownership and consequent wealth-building more affordable. Some go further, building houses that are more storm-worthy, ensuring affordable housing in climate-safe areas, constructing fire-safe buildings, and creating energy-efficient homes. Community land trusts can give communities control over their housing. It can be challenging to finance land purchases while competing with developers like Blackstone, but innovative models are enabling success even in tight markets like legendarily high-cost San Francisco. 

 Juliana Birnbaum

World's First Solar City Car: I visited Europe recently and saw some adorable tiny cars, perfect for the narrow, cobbled streets in many towns dating back to antiquity. But the world has not yet seen a fully solar-powered car.... until now! The Squad Solar City Car will launch in the U.S. in the first week of 2023 and is roughly the size of a golf cart, but with more capability.  Three of them can fit in one typically-sized parking space.  Priced at $6250, the two-seater with removable doors features rooftop solar panels that can charge up to 19.2 miles.  It comes with four battery packs that bring the range up to 62 miles, and it can also plug in at EV charging stations when needed if the sun isn't shining.  Another step forward for vehicles run on renewable sources—electric vehicle use has skyrocketed in the past decade, as we report on our EV Nexus Action page.

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