As I write this post it feels like there is chaos all around me. As if a pandemic and global recession weren’t enough, cities in the USA now burn. To my many friends there, please know that my heart is heavy with the suffering occurring in your country. I sincerely hope you find meaningful resolution in the weeks and months ahead.
Despite the extreme societal and health issues that are occurring this year, there is still great beauty in the world if you know where to look. In California, the annual bloom of wildflowers was in full swing last month. Visible from space, the orange poppies have blossomed more vigorously and for longer than usual because of unusually high rainfall in the region. In the area around Lancaster in Southern California, rainfall was more than 10 inches (27cm) this spring, making the flowers blossom more vigorously and for longer than usual.
In the UK and other regions, the pandemic has restricted the amount of grass cutting that normally occurs in cities, and the wildflowers are taking advantage. The wild native plants and flowers of a region are often considered weeds by traditional groundskeepers but the benefits of wild plants are great and word is spreading. Keeping and nurturing them as part of the urban landscape is increasingly becoming mainstream. Resilient and strong, native plants require less water and fertilizer and have evolved in symbiosis with other native creatures such as insects and birds. A reduction in mowing and in the use of gasoline-powered maintenance equipment has reduced air and noise pollution, and a reduction in the use of harsh poisons such as the cancer-causing glyphosate herbicide commonly used to control “weeds” can only be a positive. Lastly, wildflowers and other plants are beautiful in their own way and provide valuable habitat for wild pollinators such as native bee and butterfly species. Certainly, we do not need to have manicured lawns everywhere we look and this is a positive step forward.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a famous architect named Buckminster Fuller created a revolutionary design for a new type of building. Named the geodesic dome, the design used a repeating pattern of one shape that could be increased or decreased depending on the desired size. The building could be the size of a single bedroom, or as large as the famous Science Center near my home in Vancouver, BC. Mr. Fuller was by all accounts a visionary and knew that the building materials available to him back in the day were lacking. He reportedly felt it would be 50 years or more until materials science created a product that was capable of providing the type of performance he envisioned. Now, 50 years later in 2020 that day has come and the material is called bioceramic. Bioceramic is a cutting-edge polymer ceramic that sequesters CO2 and is able to be formed into complex shapes in molds, curing at low temperatures. California-based Geoship is a company owned by Amazon subsidiary Zappos and is using bioceramic to build geodesic dome homes that don’t rot, last 500 years, and are carbon neutral. Their mission is to reduce homelessness and provide affordable, carbon-neutral homes to Americans across the country.
We have been hearing anecdotal stories about wildlife having a bit of a break during the pandemic. While the world population stays home and avoids travel, so too have the scientists. This has led to the analysis of common backyard species in ways that have not been done in any meaningful way until now. In What our best and brightest are pretty sure is happening with wildlife the writer uncovers what the scientists are actually finding out about native wild species in cities and suburban areas.
In the middle of a pandemic, renewables are taking over the grid, and signs are that it will last beyond the coronavirus. Renewable forms of electrical energy are cheaper than ever, and due to decreased overall energy demand during the pandemic, they are providing an increased proportion of the overall energy mix. When demand is down it only makes sense to reduce costs and coal is more expensive than renewables. We already know renewable energy production costs less for installation and ongoing operation but there is still lots of room to go lower. The renewable energy industry consists of many competing technologies that are quite new and it is expected that there are still many opportunities to reduce costs even further. With analysts openly speaking about the decline of fossil fuel-powered generation (for example the UK will close its last remaining coal plants by 2025), and the announcement of companies like Swedish government-owned Vattenfall divesting of the business entirely, the writing is on the wall.
In 2020, the world is more connected than ever. Internet, cellular data, affordable computers, and mobile phones have all combined to provide an opportunity to communicate without geographic or political boundaries. Many of us have unique skills that may be under-utilized and may be of great value to environmental organizations. Jointly is a service that helps match would-be volunteers who possess marketable skills, to environmental organizations that could use their help. A plea for online volunteering to restore our home planet explains that if you have a skill or ability that might be of use to a group, Jointly will connect you with the people who can use your skills to further a good cause. They are not for profit and benefit only the planet by helping the organizations that are working to protect it. You can find a list of volunteer opportunities on their projects page.
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