Category Archives: Sprout

Mangrove forests protect coastlines. ‘Synthetic mangroves’ could do the same for cities.

Humans have lots of reasons to thank mangroves. These swampy, stilt-rooted trees store massive amounts of carbon on tropical shorelines, support nurseries for a wide variety of commercially important fish species, and protect coastal areas from storm damage. Besides these benefits for people, mangroves are unique among trees because they thrive in shallow seawater that’s too salty for most living beings to grow in. To better understand exactly how mangroves can grow in the ocean yet pump freshwater up to their leaves, engineers constructed what they’re dubbing “synthetic mangroves”, pressure-driven devices that can draw freshwater out of the saltiest seas — and have the potential to help manage stormwater in cities.

The synthetic mangrove they built resembles a large French press more than a tree, but it has some version of the most important parts of a mangrove: salt-excluding “roots,” a strong “stem”, and thirsty “leaves.” In a real mangrove, the pressure difference between the leaves and the rest of the tree acts like suction on a straw, pulling water up from the roots and through the stem. Natural membranes in the roots filter out the salt. For the synthetic mangrove, the big challenge was getting the fresh water pulled up the “stem” to the leaves without creating bubbles. The team landed on a silica-based layer for the stem and hydrogel for the leaves, and they found that their synthetic mangrove performed just like a real one, even with super-salty water.

Although the design helps engineers better understand how mangroves suck up water while leaving the salt behind, we shouldn’t expect to see fake mangrove forests sprouting up in place of desalination plants — treatment centers that turn saltwater into freshwater — anytime soon. The synthetic mangrove’s elegant pressure-driven desalination process works at small scales, but a large mangrove-inspired desalination plant would foot a hefty energy bill. Instead, the engineers who created the imitation mangrove have another idea for using their wannabe trees: incorporating them into the design of cities to make buildings more resilient in the face of storm surges.

In such a city, “the buildings themselves would soak up excess groundwater and evaporate the water from their walls and roofs,” they write in a recent Science Advances article explaining their invention. Like a mangrove, these buildings would rely on pressure differences to suck the water up, making them self-reliant buffers against storms flooding city streets. At least 30 so-called sponge cities using related technologies already exist in China, and the design may gain traction as storms and storm surges increase in intensity with climate change.

As people continue clearing real, living mangrove forests in alarming numbers, it’s worth remembering that synthetic mangroves don’t replicate all of real mangroves’ benefits. . Mangrove-inspired city design is promising for protecting people from the most extreme effects of storm surges and flooding, but in many places, the best way to do that will be leaving old-fashioned, living mangrove forests intact to do what they do best.


Mangrove forests protect coastlines. ‘Synthetic mangroves’ could do the same for cities.

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As Hurricane Dorian aid stalls, frustrated Bahamians take relief into their own hands

When the floodwaters of Hurricane Dorian receded, Crystal deGregory decided it was safe to step out of her mom’s home in Grand Bahama. Driving around, she spotted people drying out their drenched belongings, while others rummaged through the rubble and what was left of their homes after the catastrophe.

Hurricane Dorian is tied for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record, after battering the Bahamas with up to 220 mph winds for 40 hours straight last weekend. As of Friday morning, Hurricane Dorian’s official death toll was at 30, but thousands are still missing, and the islands’ health minister has warned that the final death count will be “staggering.”

The material devastation is staggering, too. According to a report by the insurance agency Karen Clark & Company, the Category 5 storm could cost the Bahamas a total of $7 billion in insured and uninsured losses.

As the death toll rises and Bahamians await food, water, and other supplies, there is a growing sense of frustration toward government officials. “The government is doing what governments do, what they think is best regardless of whether or not it is,” DeGregory, a historian and writer, told Grist. “But when you don’t tell the complete truth, you erode public trust.”

In the absence of a coordinated government response, many Bahamians, including deGregory, have turned to social media for help, promoting GoFundMe campaigns, looking for missing persons, and sharing information about available resources. “I’ve long been on Twitter to raise awareness on important issues,” deGregory, whose tweets summarizing the state of affairs in the Northern Bahamas went viral on Friday. “Today’s advocacy is for the most important issue, and that is human lives.”

Although Hurricane Dorian damaged electricity networks on Grand Bahama and Abaco islands, most phone networks have been restored since the storm subsided. And as one of the few people with any signal during the storm, she immediately turned to social media so that “people can be aware of what is happening in the Bahamas, and that it encourages them to give us aid.” For the past week, DeGregory has using her Twitter account to signal-boost other Bahamanians’ requests for aid, on-the-ground reports, complaints about government inaction, and expressions of strength and resilience

“Social media can be used for noble causes,” deGregory said. “The Bahamas is a great example of this. Other nations will be wise to learn from this, even if it was a painful example.”

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As Hurricane Dorian aid stalls, frustrated Bahamians take relief into their own hands

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How did Democrats fare at CNN’s climate town hall? We asked the experts.

For seven whole hours on Wednesday night, 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls talked about our overheating planet at length (not that they had much of a choice). Rather than arguing or talking over each other, the candidates actually had the time and space to speak substantively on this complex issue at CNN’s Climate Crisis Town Hall, discussing carbon taxes, geoengineering, lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry, and much more.

There’s no question that the future president will have the weight of the world on their shoulders when it comes to tackling climate change. So which Democratic candidates did the heavy lifting on climate policy and wowed us with their know-how?

Grist gathered experts who powered through the lengthy town hall (or at least some of it) and asked them to evaluate the candidates’ performances through the lens of science, politics, and environmental justice. Here’s what the 2020 hopefuls did well — and what they messed up — during the evening’s climate ultra-marathon. These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Grist / Leah Stokes

Leah Stokes

Assistant professor of political science, University of California, Santa Barbara

How much did she watch? All of it. (“I’m so f$#@ing tired.”)

CNN pushed candidates on sore spots, which I thought was impressive. We had Andrew Yang pushed on geoengineering — probably the first time that geoengineering has been talked about in any detail on national television.

We had Bernie Sanders pushed on nuclear, and he got fairly doomsday-ish. I mean, we have a lot of nuclear plants in this country. If it was as unsafe as he made it sound, things would be really bad!

Biden got pushed on the things that people have been trying to get him to clarify, and he really didn’t have great answers. Some of his answers sounded like Republican talking points: Yes, the U.S. only represents 15 percent of global emissions, and we must act with other nations, but it sounded like a reason to delay. And he ignored the fact that the U.S. is the driver of technology and innovation globally — so if the U.S. decarbonizes, it will affect every other country.

I think Warren was the best by far. She was so sharp. One point of weakness: her answer on nuclear was a little unclear. She sidestepped the issue of whether she’d extend the licenses of existing plants, which is what Sanders said he wouldn’t do. Nuclear is unpopular, so I think she was trying to thread a needle, but it left people saying she’s anti-nuclear. Otherwise, she knocked it out of the park.

Grist / Sylvain Gaboury / Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Jamie Margolin

17-year-old climate activist, cofounder of Zero Hour

How much did she watch? Snippets. “I was busy being a student and fighting the climate crisis so I couldn’t sit down more than 30 minutes at a time.”

The 2020 election is going to be my first voting election, and I am actually still undecided in terms of which Democratic candidate I’m voting for. It’s very historic that this climate town hall happened — you’re able to really dig deep and see who actually knows what they’re doing and who’s actually just talking and saying what sounds good.

There were answers where I could see that a politician still didn’t fully grasp the full gravity of the climate crisis and how radically fast we need to act on it. Pete Buttigieg does not fully understand the full extent of how urgent this crisis is. Joe Biden claimed that he’d never put fossil fuel money over children’s lives; that is so false on so many levels. And many candidates kept mentioning stupid late targets for net-zero carbon, like 2050, that are way, way past what we actually need in order to solve the climate crisis.

I’ll add that it was really refreshing to see young people in the audience asking questions. They did a really good job as people who are going to be seeing the worst effects of the climate crisis. That was a very powerful moment.

Grist / Chuck Kennedy / MCT / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Bob Inglis

Former Republican U.S. representative for South Carolina

How much did he watch? Not everything, but he followed the highlight reel.

I was struck by the angry tone of so many of the questioners and the divisive rhetoric worked into the questioning. It’s not a way to win people over to action. What I’m really concerned about is, the Democratic base is driving Democratic candidates to a place where they will not win the general election.

For example, take the question that morphed climate change into a discussion of abortion with Bernie Sanders. Just give me a break. That just caused us to lose so much ground on climate action all across the Southeast. It just brought up the cultural difference. We’re trying to solve climate change — why bring up abortion? That may be your favorite hobby horse, but it’s a rickety hobby horse. Most people would not get on and ride it.

I would ask, how can we bring America together to solve this? How can people on the left speak to their neighbors on the right and generate consensus on a solution? You know, hats off to Pete Buttigieg for speaking in a bipartisan way, realizing the need to bring America together. I think it’s born of his experience serving in the military and being a mayor.

Some of these answers went veering off the road on the left down into the ditch. Trump, meanwhile, has his car over in the right-hand ditch. Somebody needs to figure out a way to drive up on the pavement.

Gabriel Reichler

Sunrise Movement activist

How much did he watch? The whole event. He was actually there!

As I tweeted last night, it was extremely cold. I was joking that that must have had something to do with their attempt to use a very pathetic way of adapting to climate change: air conditioning.

A lot of amazing people were in the room. There was probably one of the largest collections of people I really look up to in one room at the same time. In the beginning, I was very excited but a little bit doubtful about what would come out of it.

Some of the candidates had really amazing responses, and I admired how they were keeping the energy up. But then there were some candidates who just couldn’t quite do that. Like having to sit through Joe Biden answering things was just anger and frustration.

Even with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, there were a few points where they weren’t giving completely satisfactory answers. Like Bernie had a somewhat unsatisfactory answer about the filibuster, and Warren had some not so satisfactory answers about things like nationalizing utilities and military things.

There were some moments when the moderate candidates gave shoutouts to Sunrise and the movement and the activists who are actually putting in the legwork. They were saying that the credit doesn’t really belong to them as candidates — it belongs to us.

Grist / Paul Archuleta / Getty Image

Mustafa Santiago Ali

Vice president for environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization at the National Wildlife Federation

How much did he watch? “I made it through all of it, except for about 10 minutes. There was a storm that came through, and I have a satellite dish, so it went out for a second on Buttigieg.”

I think the format was pretty good. Thankfully, they had a number of young activists and leaders who were part of that process. I would have liked to have seen more diversity in the room. I would have loved to have seen a moderator who has a background in climate or environmental justice. But compared to the previous presidential debates, this was light years ahead.

When Secretary Castro talked about the need for civil rights legislation, that was a transformational moment. Most folks don’t know there’s been some real difficulty at EPA around the utilization of civil rights laws to deal with some of these impacts in vulnerable communities.

Then you transition to Senator Klobuchar and her first seven days and what she would actually do. I think it was good for those who are in the middle part of the country to see themselves reflected. I really appreciated Senators Sanders and Warren talking about the economy, and a just transition, and how workers in Appalachia and on the Gulf Coast have to be a part of this process.

I thought that Mayor Pete, when he began to talk about DOD and the military and that they have already acknowledged that climate change is real and are thinking about it in their long-term planning, was also really important. I appreciated Senator Harris talking about the need for stronger enforcement, because for frontline communities, there has never been enough enforcement.

And then on Senator Booker, I really appreciated him helping to walk people through these different types of impacts that are happening throughout the country. When the candidates talk about their policies, I want them to anchor it in the reality that’s going on in different parts of the country. Theoretical conversations, they’re fine, but they’re 20th century. We need 21st-century solutions.

Reporting by Nathanael Johnson, Paola Rosa-Aquino, Claire Thompson, Zoya Teirstein, and Nikhil Swaminathan

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How did Democrats fare at CNN’s climate town hall? We asked the experts.

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Trump’s Hurricane Dorian map looks doctored with a Sharpie. We might know why.

The forecast maps that the National Hurricane Center produces can be confusing. What they attempt to show is a range of possible paths a storm’s center could take over the next few days. Presented without that context, it’s no surprise some people think the maps show hurricanes growing larger over time, or that they show all the areas that could conceivably be under threat. (In fact, people living outside the “cone of uncertainty” are still at risk.) Visual journalist Alberto Cairo recently explained what the cone means in a fascinating interactive for the New York Times that’s very much worth your time.

Donald Trump, surprisingly, seems to understand exactly what the cone of uncertainty means. He just doesn’t agree with the meteorologists whose job it is to know whatever is humanly possible to know about hurricanes.

If you were online Labor Day weekend, you may have seen Trump tweet about Hurricane Dorian, which had recently ravaged the Bahamas and was heading toward the East Coast. “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” he wrote in a now-deleted tweet. There was only one problem: Dorian was not, in fact, forecast to hit Alabama. To clear up any confusion, the National Weather Service office in Birmingham tweeted a fact-check:

But on Wednesday Trump had the last word, as Trump is wont to do. In a video update on Hurricane Dorian filmed in the Oval Office, Trump presented a probability map for Dorian that, lo and behold, showed the hurricane potentially moving toward Alabama. What accounted for this unexpected change of forecast? Well, Trump, or someone on his staff, had amended the map’s cone of uncertainty in what appeared to be Sharpie.

“It was going toward the Gulf, that was what was originally projected,” Trump explained with a straight face as he gestured toward the altered map, “and it took a right turn.” Ah yes, the massive hurricane took a sharp right turn! That’s a much more plausible scenario than a scientifically illiterate president making a mistake in a hastily composed tweet.

According to the Washington Post, Trump repeatedly said “I don’t know” when asked if the map had been doctored. Credit where credit is due — a man who’s not afraid to admit it when he doesn’t know something is a man worthy of our admiration.

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Trump’s Hurricane Dorian map looks doctored with a Sharpie. We might know why.

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Looking for a CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall drinking game? Bingo!

So you’ve decided to watch CNN’s Climate Crisis Town Hall on Wednesday evening. That means you’re either a climate wonk who’s willing to spend seven hours of your precious free time listening to politicians prattle about global warming, or you can’t figure out how to change the channel. Either way, hello and welcome!

The town hall’s rules of engagement are simple. Ten presidential candidates will have 40 minutes each to share their ideas for fixing humanity’s biggest and scariest problem ever. And what better way to prepare you to digest that marathon strategy-fest than a little climate action aperitif?

That’s right, we’ve come up with the ultimate drinking game to complement the delicate aroma of the world bursting into flames. (Though abstainers should feel free to stick with us and sub a couple of Marianne Williamson’s pre-debate yoga moves).

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If you follow our nifty drinking guide, our goal is to leave you sober enough to decipher Bernie’s thick Brooklyn accent but drunk enough to keep the TV on when Biden promises to unlock the power of “American innovation.” (Drink!)

Ready? Let’s go.

How to play

The game itself is simple: climate candidate bingo! Keep tabs on each presidential wannabe’s quotable quotes and take a sip for each phrase that gets mentioned. We’re sure the multiple hours of dense, environmental policy proposals will just fly by. (You can download a PDF version of the bingo board here.)


The games begin at 5 p.m. Eastern with former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. The “fun” won’t end until Cory Booker closes out starting at 11:20 p.m., so consider chugging some water at least every time CNN switches moderators or you’ll be Wolf Blitzer-ed by the time Amy Klobuchar rolls up.

5:00 p.m. Julián Castro
5:40 p.m. Andrew Yang
6:20 p.m. Kamala Harris
7:00 p.m. Amy Klobuchar
8:00 p.m. Joe Biden
8:40 p.m. Bernie Sanders
9:20 p.m. Elizabeth Warren
10:00 p.m. Pete Buttigieg
10:40 p.m. Beto O’Rourke
11:20 p.m. Cory Booker

Pregame idea: Raise a glass to the dearly (Democratically) departed.

Your brain (and liver) should probably be grateful that not all of the original 20-some Democratic candidates have made it this far in the election cycle. But a few drop-outs had some interesting climate ideas along the way. If you’re up for pregaming, consider pouring one out for the following candidates:

Jay Inslee — Ah, the original “climate candidate.” The Washington governor’s impressive environmental record and, um, crowd appeal will be sorely missed during this town hall. I would tell you to take a shot for every climate plan Inslee released during his run for president but there are six of them and I’m not trying to kill you. So slowly sip a sustainable beverage for dear old Jay as you scan the remaining candidates for your new “climate daddy.” (Google if you dare.)

John Hickenlooper — The former Colorado governor is gone from the presidential foray but not forgotten (because he’s running for Senate). His climate plan, however, which didn’t do much to offset his history of boosting fracking in his state, might merit a little forgetting. If you do drink to his memory, just make sure it’s not fracking fluid — that’s John’s job.

Kirsten Gillibrand — The #metoo candidate was the most recent campaign casualty in the rapidly thinning Democratic primary. She is survived by her impressive $10 trillion climate plan, which includes a tax on carbon pollution. Raise a glass of whiskey, Gillibrand’s “favorite comfort food,” to that.

Bonus doomsday dares

Need some additional entertainment? Spice up the evening with a few of the following challenges:

Phone your grandma when Joe Biden calls one of the other full-grown adults on stage “kid.”
Shotgun a Michelob Ultra every time Elizabeth Warren gets raucous applause for one of her six climate plans.
Have a friend go into another room and read last year’s entire 2,000-page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Whoever cries themselves to sleep first wins!
Scream “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” at the TV when someone uses JFK’s moon landing project as a metaphor for taking on climate change.

Seven hours of climate policy might feel like a poor substitution for, say, an official climate debate, but it’s a major step up for broadcast media. Last year, national broadcast networks spent only 142 combined minutes discussing the issue.

Ideally, an uptick in coverage would be spread out over the course of several months, not concentrated in one brutally long political masterclass. But the occasion seems to have prompted a number of 2020 procrastinators to release climate plans ahead of the event. On Tuesday, Warren, Klobuchar, and Booker unveiled proposals, and Buttigieg slid in just under the wire, releasing his climate plan Wednesday morning. Harris said she also intended to release a plan pre-town hall.

But you know what? We’ll take what we can get, even if it’s too little too — Ding dong! Who’s there? The delivery guy with the baked potato you drunkenly ordered in honor of Amy Klobuchar.

Go to bed.

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Looking for a CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall drinking game? Bingo!

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Companies don’t want Trump’s ‘business-friendly’ methane rollbacks

The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans late last week to eliminate an Obama-era rule that required oil and gas companies to monitor and control the release of the potent greenhouse gas methane during their operations.

The proposed standards would no longer require new natural gas wells, pipelines, and storage facilities to detect and limit leaking methane, the primary component of natural gas which packs at least 25 times the atmosphere-warming power of carbon dioxide.

A number of parties have spoken out against the regulatory change, including Democratic politicians, public health experts, environmental activists, and of course, scientists. But perhaps the most surprising opponents are those it ostensibly benefits: major oil and gas companies like BP, ExxonMobil, and Shell. It seems counterintuitive for big businesses to oppose regulatory cuts, especially since Trump has touted his rollbacks as business-friendly. Why would large oil companies would actually want to be regulated?

There are two main reasons. The first has to do with public relations. Many fossil fuel companies are trying to revamp their image as the public learns about how much and how early the fossil fuel industry knew about climate change (spoiler: a lot, and the 1970s, respectively). Part of their PR push is positioning themselves as part of the solution, by pushing natural gas as a “cleaner” fossil fuel that can be used alongside alternatives like wind and solar.

Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell’s U.S. division, which has fracking and refining operations in more than 70 countries, has said that methane leaks are “a big part of the climate problem, and frankly we can do more.” A study last year estimated that 13 million metric tons of natural gas is lost through leaks each year, about 2 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. On Thursday, Watkins announced Shell’s plans to reduce methane leaks from its own global operations to less than 0.2 percent by 2025. And Shell isn’t the only fossil fuel company going full-steam ahead with the “we’re part of the solution” message. More than 60 companies have already pledged to curb methane emissions independent of government regulations.

The second reason the biggest oil and gas firms oppose the rollback has to do with competition among oil and gas companies. Multinational companies like BP and Shell could easily afford to comply with the Obama-era methane rule. (The EPA has said the regulatory rollback will save the oil and natural gas industry $17 million to $19 million per year, a drop in the oil barrel for a $388 billion company like Shell.) The regulation basically just forced big companies to capture natural gas more efficiently, which is good for their bottom lines. But softening the methane rule will actually help smaller oil and gas companies, which have smaller profit margins and can’t as easily comply with regulations. So, from the perspective of fossil fuel behemoths, cutting the methane rule gives a leg up to the little guys.

This isn’t the first time President Trump’s “pro-business” plans have met a tepid response from the industry he was trying to boost. Some electric utility companies have opposed weakening Obama-era limits on toxic mercury pollution — many have already spent billions to comply with the Obama-era rule, so eliminating it does little to help them now. And automakers have continued to balk at the administration’s plans to roll back fuel efficiency standards. With California maintaining higher standards, automakers are caught in the middle and are increasingly siding with the Golden State (as is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), for the simple reason that they don’t want to produce different cars for different states. Just last week, the President furiously tweeted that Henry Ford was “‘rolling over’ at the weakness of current car company executives.”

Though the auto industry is protesting the regulation changes for different reasons from the oil industry, both are related to the fact that the Trump administration is woefully behind the times. The established regulations, along with consumers who are increasingly concerned about the climate, have set the market on a different path. New technologies are being implemented, and time and money have been invested in products that will meet new green demand. As a result, many fossil fuel, car, and energy companies would rather stick to the old plan than accept a regulatory gift from the Trump administration that’s more trouble than it’s worth.


Companies don’t want Trump’s ‘business-friendly’ methane rollbacks

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Can we stop stupid politics from ruining carbon farming?

It seems like every Democratic presidential candidate wants to get farmers sucking carbon out of the air and sticking it in the ground. Call it regenerative agriculture, carbon farming, soil carbon sequestration, but, boy have the candidates found an idea they love. Among the more popular names, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, and Joe Biden, have included it in their platform. Kristen Gillibrand, Tim Ryan, and Amy Klobuchar have also said they want to pay farmers to catch carbon.

The science is straightforward enough. Planting a cover crop after harvest, when the acres might be bare and vulnerable to erosion, helps capture carbon. Farmers can keep that greenhouse gas in the ground if they stop plowing, because turning over the dirt with a plow releases soil carbon. These are relatively simple practices that many farmers have already adopted.

We’ve treated soil-science like dirt for too long, so it’s nice that it’s finally getting the chance to star in shovel-ready (sorry) national policy proposals. But there’s still reason for caution: Politics has a way of distorting science.

Look back twenty years and everyone was excited about biofuels: Presidential candidates talked about how we could grow green fuel provide new markets for farmers, while freeing ourselves from foreign fossil fuels. And the plants would suck carbon from the air. What’s not to love?

Starting in 2005, the government enshrined market mandates to help people start turning crops into fuel. Farmers cut down rainforests in Southeast Asia to grow oil palm for biofuel. Although the new market for corn and soy beans was great for Midwestern farmers, it was awful for those trying to stop erosion, preserve prairie habitat, and shrink the deadzone in the Gulf of Mexico. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to tell if biofuels are any better or worse for the climate than gasoline.

So if we want to learn from history, rather than repeat it, we’ll tamp down the hyperventilation over soil carbon, make sure we get the numbers right, and look out for unintended consequences.

Right now, the presidential candidates are talking in vague terms. Sanders’s plan, for instance, says the government will “pay farmers $160 billion for the soil health improvements they make and for the carbon they sequester.” O’Rourke’s just says he wants to “allow farmers and ranchers to profit from the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions they secure.” But as these ideas morph from Iowa stump speeches to actual legislation, keep an eye out for some potential stumbling blocks:

It’s uneven. The amount of carbon you draw out of the atmosphere with, say, your winter cover crop depends on how long your fields are frozen, how sandy your dirt is, how many worms are squirming in your soil … and that’s just for starters. So if the point is to fight climate change, proposed policies should pay farmers for results (the amount of carbon dioxide they take out of the air), rather than paying for practices (like planting a cover crop), said Jonathan Sanderman who studies soil carbon and climate change at Woods Hole Research Center.

Returns diminish. As soils “fill up” with carbon it gets harder to add more. Soil gets saturated. Navin Ramankutty, who studies global food systems at the University of British Columbia, thinks of soil like a bathtub: If there’s more water coming through the faucet then leaving through the drain, the water rises. Replace “water” with “carbon” and you get the idea. Eventually the carbon is going to start spilling over the top of the tub. “So, while carbon farming is certainly a useful measure to mitigate carbon emissions, it’s a solution with a finite lifetime,” Ramankutty said.

Keep it in the ground. Once carbon is in the ground, it doesn’t just stay there. Soil is churning with worms, fungi, bugs, and bacteria that eat up, transform, and release carbon back into the air. It really is dynamic, like Ramankutty’s bathtub. If farmers decide to plow up fields after years of sequestration, it would release a lot of the stored carbon. “How you deal with this is clearly a tricky policy problem,” Sanderman said. Perhaps, when agreeing to take money for carbon sequestration, farmers would have to accept restrictions on their land for the next decade.

It could crowd out other ideas. How much will carbon farming cost taxpayers, and are there other ideas that — for the same cost — would take even more greenhouse gases out of the air? Expanding forests, growing seaweed, or scrubbing carbon from the air might make more sense in some cases. Could we replace a coal plant with clean energy for the same amount of money and prevent more emissions in the first place? The danger of the latest sexy policy is that it tends to take precedence in every context, not just the ones in which it makes the most sense.

Candidates break hearts. Some of the candidate’s proposals use unrealistically large numbers for the carbon that farming could suck up, said Mark Bomford, director of Yale’s Sustainable Food Program. “I suspect this overstatement has less to do with misunderstanding the science, and more to do with what inevitably happens to communication of the science when it enters the arms race of political rhetoric,” Bomford said.

It just sounds better to say that an acre of farmland can suck up 25-60 tons of carbon a decade, as ex-candidate Jay Inslee did, then to say 7.4 tons per decade, which is the consistent average, Sanderman said.

All this is to say we ought to be a little wary of ambitious soil-policy solutions for climate change. Anyone who says we’ve figured out carbon farming (or whatever your buzzword of choice) deserves your skepticism. But the nice thing about about these proposals is that minimizing tillage, planting cover crops, and the other practices that store soil carbon are generally good for the environment — even if they don’t do as much to stem the climate crisis as advertised.

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Can we stop stupid politics from ruining carbon farming?

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Midwest farmers take to Twitter to document flood disaster


Midwest farmers take to Twitter to document flood disaster

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Air: The Restless Shaper of the World – William Bryant Logan


Air: The Restless Shaper of the World

William Bryant Logan

Genre: Nature

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: August 20, 2012

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

In a sublime exploration of the most unpredictable element of the earth, William Bryant Logan opens our eyes to the astonishing physics, chemistry, biology, history, art, and even music of the air. Air sustains the living. Every creature breathes to live, exchanging and changing the atmosphere. Water and dust spin and rise, make clouds and fall again, fertilizing the dirt. Twenty thousand fungal spores and half a million bacteria travel in a square foot of summer air. The chemical sense of aphids, the ultraviolet sight of swifts, a newborn’s awareness of its mother’s breast—all take place in the medium of air. Ignorance of the air is costly. The artist Eva Hesse died of inhaling her fiberglass medium. Thousands were sickened after 9/11 by supposedly “safe” air. The African Sahel suffers drought in part because we fill the air with industrial dusts. With the passionate narrative style and wide-ranging erudition that have made William Bryant Logan’s work a touchstone for nature lovers and environmentalists, Air is—like the contents of a bag of seaborne dust that Darwin collected aboard the Beagle—a treasure trove of discovery.

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Air: The Restless Shaper of the World – William Bryant Logan

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Sustainable Road Trip: a Green Getaway to Carmel, California

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Some people feel that 3D movies offer the ultimate adventure. I beg to differ. A road trip up the Big Sur Coast of California? Now, there’s an actual reality that can put any virtual reality to multi-sensory shame.

While heading north along U.S. Highway 101 through the central California coast, many words come to mind, such as charming, nature, balance, and beauty. But adjectives are one thing and experiencing these qualities firsthand is truly another. There’s nothing quite like navigating the scenic stretch of California from Cambria to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Encompassing a winding, 100-mile span of jaw-dropping chartreuse-colored cliffs, sweeping ocean views, and lush, Cypress tree silhouettes, the voyage along Pacific Coast Highway will leave you breathless.

Since my husband, Ron, and I typically choose the road less traveled, I highly recommend traversing along Highway 101 versus Interstate 5 out of Los Angeles. Yes, this decision will cost you about 30 minutes of extra drive time, depending on traffic, but the memories will be timeless.

Healthy Eats

Just a few of the delicious offerings at the Hummus Bar and Grill in Tarzana, California. Photo: Lisa Beres

We departed Orange County, California, on Friday morning with full intentions to beat the LA traffic. It worked.

But hunger kicked in soon after the 101 merger, so we exited in Tarzana, where we stopped at Hummus Bar and Grill. This Israeli-inspired Middle Eastern-eatery was bustling at lunchtime. And it was quickly clear why. The vast menu offered a variety of vegan and non-vegan entrees and appetizers.

We devoured everything from marinated mushroom hummus, fresh Israeli salad, and tahini-drizzled falafel to fried cauliflower, babaganoush, and Baladi eggplant. Ron didn’t waste any time in ordering the very vegan donut holes with a creamy dipping sauce for dessert. Carnivorous friends, fret not — they offer fish, filet mignon, Kosher food, and kabobs, too.

Green Local Lodging With a German Touch

The Hofsas House hotel offers elegance, charm, and earth-friendly practices in Carmel, California. Photo: Lisa Beres

After we rolled back into our Jeep, bellies stuffed like two Greek grape rolls; we proceeded along our journey to the Big Sur Coast. The six-hour drive had us entering the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea at dusk, my favorite time of day; the azure-colored sky coupled with wood-burning fireplace aromas can soothe any soul. We checked into the Hofsas House, a Bavarian-inspired boutique hotel that offers European elegance with the charm of family-owned-and-operated hospitality.

The Hofsas House isn’t just another picturesque hotel in Carmel; the owners take sustainability seriously. The Hofsas House incorporates a rainwater catchment system and provides recycling bins in every room. The city of Carmel is also on the green bandwagon with a ban on Styrofoam, and being the first city on the Monterey Peninsula to ban plastic straws and plastic eating utensils (unless they are biodegradable or recyclable).

Everything about the Hofsas House is cloaked in warmth, including general manager and owner, Carrie Theis. Her family has served up comfort, style, and views of the Pacific Ocean for over 70 years. The Hofsas House is nestled smack dab in the center of town, making this a sustainable choice for lodging. From art galleries, pubs, restaurants, and coffee shops to wine and olive oil tastings, activities are a just a cobblestone’s throw from your room’s Dutch door. The Hofsas House offers 38 uniquely designed, spacious rooms that include fresh ocean air, sweeping views of the pines, free wi-fi, and wood-burning fireplaces in every room. Our room was well-appointed and donned with a king-sized bed, ocean view, and wet bar. You’ll instantly feel welcome and so will your four-legged friends.

Saturday morning, we met with third-generation owner Carrie, to hear tales of how her grandmother founded the Hofsas House and how she has checked in weary travelers since she was a teenager. While we chatted by the lobby’s copper-lined fireplace, we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast of French roast coffee and fresh fruit and muffins from the neighborhood bakery.

The village of Carmel-by-the-Sea offers a wide selection of restaurants and shopping, and quaint, “storybook” architecture. Photo: Lisa Beres

Eco-Friendly Shopping in Carmel

Next, we strolled to the quaint village of Carmel, which boasts a rich history and spectacular beauty. We wandered in and out of shops, including a visit to Eco Carmel, a self-proclaimed “general store for all things earth and people friendly!” We couldn’t agree more. Next, was a visit to Trio Carmel for some truffle oil tasting. (Yes, we left with a bottle of black truffle oil and let’s just say, plain popcorn will never be the same.)

After the oil indulgence, we hit the 5th Avenue Deli to grab a vegan picnic lunch: a salad for myself and veggie wrap for Ron. We proceed to the nearby gates to embark on 17-Mile Drive — a must if you are in the area. Everywhere you turn is a sight for sore eyes, from tranquil deer grazing on the Pebble Beach golf course to seagulls perched on rugged, ocean-lined rocks. The air is fresh, the grass green, and the ocean as blue as nature intended. The untouched beauty and respect for the environment are nowhere more apparent.

View of the Pacific Ocean from the side of 17-Mile Drive on California’s Monterey Peninsula. Photo: Lisa Beres

We proceeded to the at the Inn at Spanish Bay and walked out to the fire pits to enjoy our picnic. Carrie informed us a bagpipe player arrives on the lawn each evening to entertain, but in this case, the early birds did not catch the plaid-skirted worm.

Sustainable Wine Tasting

Author Lisa Beres and her husband Ron sample the wines of Scheid Vineyards.

Late afternoon, we headed back to downtown Carmel to do as any smart tourist would do in wine country — sniff, swish, sip, and savor. First up was the tasting room for Blair Wines, located on the lower level of Carmel Plaza. We met owner, Jeffrey Blair, who made us feel right at home. Jeffrey shared so much knowledge and enthusiasm about wines, and we both agreed that Blair Estate offers some of the best tasting wines we’ve ever had.

Next, we proceeded to the Scheid Vineyards tasting room. While neither of us was familiar with Scheid, it was hard to ignore the vast vineyards on the drive up. But what we didn’t know was that Scheid is a sustainable winery whose eco-efforts include:

The use of screw caps

Maintain the integrity of the wine and prevents loss of product
More consistent seal than cork

Reusable wine bags

Versatile, great for multiple uses
They return bags for new wine orders
Fabric bags reduce the need for paper products

Locally sourced products

Make efforts to sell locally sourced products


Transaction receipts and wine club signups are all paperless


The environmentally friendly pulp wine shippers are recyclable and biodegradable


All empty wine bottles and cardboard cases are recycled

Ocean-Front Dining

The Beach House Restaurant at Lovers Point offers a romantic setting for an excellent meal. Photo courtesy of Beach House at Lovers Point

Saturday night arrived, and so did a romantic visit to nearby Pacific Grove to dine at one of the most picturesque spots you’ll ever witness, The Beach House Restaurant at Lovers Point. If you don’t feel the romance here, candles and chocolates won’t help. The food was superb, the energy lively, and the views — spectacular. While the California-inspired cuisine offers something for everyone, we chose our standard vegan fare by sticking with the starters and proceeded to feast on chilled Castroville artichoke, charred Brussels sprouts (sans the chorizo), and arancini.

The Beach House Restaurant’s chilled Castroville artichoke. Photo courtesy of Beach House at Lovers Point

The night was not-so-young, so we waltzed a block from our hotel to the nearby Hog’s Breath Inn, formerly owned by actor, Clint Eastwood (who also happens to be a former mayor of Carmel). The Hog’s Breath Inn is rich in brick, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, and history. We sat by a cozy indoor fireplace (and tried to ignore the hog mounted on the wall above us). We enjoyed a nightcap, heard stories from the bartender, and reminisced about the day’s adventures.

Lisa and Ron enjoy the fire at Hog’s Breath Inn, Carmel, California

Local Artists

Sunday arrived much too soon, and we had one last stop: the Testerosa Winery tasting room in Carmel Valley Village to meet with local artist, Katrina Kacandes. We met Katrina on a past trip and loved her passion for all things creative, colorful, and Carmel. Her abstract, etheric, and vibrant art incorporates recycled pieces from old gloves to matchboxes and is inspired by the local landscape and ocean. From fairies, fireflies, and fish, Katrina wants you to interpret her pieces the way you see them with your mind’s eye. You can find her work online or locally at the Patricia Qualls Art Gallery in Carmel Valley.

Heading Home

The charming dining room at Café Rustica in Carmel Valley Village. Photo courtesy of Cafe Rustica

We enjoyed a farewell lunch at the oh-so-enchanting Café Rustica in Carmel Valley Village. The beet salad was superb, but the company and ambiance were the true icing on the cake.

It was time to head home and leave this dreamy adventure as a distant memory and sweet reminder. Life is beautiful. Nature is perfect. Beauty is everywhere. No matter what stresses or challenges life throws at you, don’t forget, there is a world of wonder right under your steering wheel ready to be explored, enjoyed, and experienced.

If you haven’t headed outside looking for adventure recently, it may be time to get your motor running. Even if you weren’t born to be wild, it’s time, my friend, to channel your inner nature’s child.

Author Lisa Beres

Feature photo courtesy of Lisa Beres

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Sustainable Road Trip: a Green Getaway to Carmel, California

Posted in alo, Aroma, eco-friendly, Everyone, FF, GE, LAI, LG, Monterey, Naka, ONA, Pines, PUR, Sprout, Ultima, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sustainable Road Trip: a Green Getaway to Carmel, California