Thanks for reading the Top 5 happy eco news this week. With many of us in lockdown or a return to increased travel and community restrictions, we all probably need a dose of happiness right now. It may be dreary outside, but maybe a socially distant walk in a green space will help. If not, then the Happy Eco News is the next best thing. Enjoy.

Eco-Activism or Eco-Anxiety?

Blog Post by Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News.

Eco-activist. The name itself seems to conjure up images of protest – of people chaining themselves to trees, protesting pipelines, putting their physical bodies on the line to prevent a company or project from destroying a wild area dear to them.

There are many who truly are willing to pay the ultimate price to do what they believe is right. In 2019, more than 200 environmental activists were killed by their governments or trained paramilitary private security companies. Unlike soldiers fighting a war, these people are simply trying to protect their lands from being destroyed, usually by companies or people who live in cities far away and view a few people as simply collateral damage in their push to acquire more wealth… [read more]


The Happy Eco News – Weekly Top 5:

1) U.S. report bumper bee bonanza — Honeybee numbers on the increase in multiple U.S. states

In a piece of really great news, the number one spot this week belongs to the bees. Honeybees to be precise. Many insects are very susceptible to changes in climate and sensitive to chemical pesticides that are used on crops, including honeybees. They are very important creatures that most people don’t think much about. Different types of blossoms impart different flavours in the honey, and it is said that the sophisticated palate can differentiate them. But not only do bees provide honey for humans, but they also pollinate most of the food crops we need to survive. From corn to potatoes, apples to tomatoes, we need honeybees in a big way. Unfortunately, in recent years their populations have been crashing with no end in sight until this year. In 2019 the USDA honeybee colony report shows a significant increase in bee populations – up 14 percent over the last year.

Why it’s important: No bees to pollinate, no food for humans. It’s really that simple. Just like so many natural processes that have taken millions of years to evolve, the pollination of our crops is just about perfect. The bees take the pollen from plant blossoms and make honey to feed their offspring. But the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides for the control of pests on crops is having a secondary, less positive effect: it is killing bees. In 2018, France, after suffering huge honeybee losses, became the first country in the EU to ban the sale and use of five of these neonicotinoids. Other countries like the US and Canada, have been hesitant to ban the chemicals citing risk to industrial agriculture. Thankfully, it appears that the honeybees have bounced back a little and are on the rise again.

 

2) These 45 stunning pictures show what happens when Mother Nature takes over again

Even the biggest and most powerful things we humans build will eventually fall quiet and still. From the temples of Angkor at Seim Reap, Cambodia to Vachon Island, USA, from Kolkata, India to Chernobyl, Ukraine, these photos of nature slowly taking back the constructs of humans are both beautiful and haunting. It is a reminder that long after we humans are gone, nature will still be here, reclaiming the minerals and materials that make up our monuments. Rust never sleeps, and neither do vines and other plants. When combined with gravity, water, and lack of constant maintenance, these once-proud buildings and artifacts will eventually be lost forever, but the plants will still grow.

Why it’s important: We humans think of ourselves as all-powerful. That our machines and buildings are long-lasting testaments to our ingenuity and intelligence. And they are – when considered in terms of human lifespan. But the truth is, our ability to destroy and tame nature is only temporary. In geologic, or evolutionary terms, we have only been here for a very short time. Humans talk about destroying the planet through our industrial processes and resource consumption, but nature will always find a way to survive. Even in times of crisis and action on climate change, our hubris imagines that we somehow have the power to inadvertently destroy the planet. The reality is we aren’t destroying the planet itself; we are destroying its ability to provide sustenance and life for us and other animals like us. In our arrogance, we assume that we humans are life, that we are all the pinnacle of evolution. But nature doesn’t care and every once in a while, she will provide a clear wake-up call – if we care to observe and understand. When we leave an area alone, even for a short period of time, nature heals. She begins to regenerate and given time she will erase the monuments to our collective ego.

It is nice to see evidence that, nature will regenerate and repair itself, and rather quickly. Combined with modern efforts to live sustainably, there may soon be a time when more carbon is being stored than being emitted and that’s really encouraging.

 

3) All of South Australia’s power comes from solar panels in world first for major jurisdiction

In a country that has a huge fossil fuel industry in the form of coal and natural gas extraction, it is wonderful to see that they are also taking advantage of its huge solar power potential. Most areas of Australia have a significant number of days per year with intense sunshine. By many estimates, there is the potential to provide clean renewable power for all of the country’s population. The transition is happening quickly; private and public partnerships see a better way to serve the customers for a lower cost and are quickly positioning themselves to profit. It just so happens that the solar panels don’t pollute. Soon the heating and cooling of homes, businesses, cars, and even major industrial processes will all run from solar energy.

Why it’s important: The scale of this achievement has an importance that cannot be understated. Many areas of rural Australia are known for power scarcity and outages, but now south Australia has a surplus that is distributed to faraway locations like the city of Victoria.

But the achievement is not just about reliable power, it is also how the power is generated. 77% of it comes from solar systems on consumer’s rooftops, not huge solar farms. When combined with battery systems, this provides a reliance and redundancy that allows the consumers to avoid outages from storms or other impacts, because they are consuming their own power. There are fewer fragile and vulnerable long-distance transmission lines to maintain. Interestingly, large-scale solar farms provided the other 23 percent. Lastly, this 77/23 split shows that a distributed grid of rooftop residential and commercial owned generation and storage has the capability to work at scale.

This is true evidence of a natural transition to renewable, clean energy. It is not only cleaner, but it is cheaper and provides a higher level of service to consumers as well.

 

4) One Couple in India Is Buying Land — And Letting It Go Wild

Sometimes all it takes is time, and with it, nature will do the rest. In the number 4 spot this week, a story about a couple from India who, after visiting a wildlife sanctuary for tigers, bought a large plot of land adjacent to the preserve. The land was barren and largely lifeless, having been used for intensive logging and farming for many years. Over-grazing of livestock and the introduction of invasive species had taken their toll and the land was almost valueless. Because the land was cheap, Aditya and Poonam Singh bought as much as they could afford, but then did nothing with it. As the years passed, they continued to buy additional plots of land as they became available, constantly increasing the size of what was now becoming a forest, only occasionally clearing the invasive plants and limiting grazing.

That’s it. Nature did the rest. In just 20 years, their land has grown into a dense forest, supporting a myriad of wild animals and plants, including the tigers that brought them to the area two decades ago.

Why it’s important: The actions of Aditya and Poonam have started a trend in India and elsewhere, by showing what can be done by doing nothing. It is great evidence of the power of just leaving nature alone. The rewilding doesn’t take a lot of effort or intervention, it just takes a little time, a small amount of effort, and in most cases, nature will do the rest. Rewilding has a significant benefit to an area. In some cases, the plants and trees can provide food and shelter for other species such as humans, with some to eat and some to sell, these marginalized people can be lifted from extreme poverty and food scarcity to independence and stability.

Rewilding also has the potential to change the local microclimates near where it is occurring. These micro-climates are cooler in the summer and warmer in winter and more humid. The humidity increases rainfall, creating watering holes where humans and animals congregate and thrive. Reliable rainfall makes crops and trees grow better, helping the cycle of growth. Biologists studying trees and forests have found that the root systems of trees increase permeability and draw water from deep underground toward the surface, further benefitting those that call the area home. Lastly, a healthy forest captures carbon, sequestering it first through the growth of plants and trees, then into the soil as the leaves fall and trees age and die, completing the good cycle.

It is encouraging to see this trend growing throughout India. It is an idea whose time has come.  Beyond India and around the planet, individuals, families, and groups of concerned citizens are actively rewilding areas damaged by human activity. Many of these people would welcome help and are looking for more people to take action with them.

Just a few people with long term vision for their communities can have a big effect on the overall health of the planet.

 

5) Trees Go to ‘Sleep’ at Night, New Study Shows

There is increasing evidence to show that trees are interconnected in a so-called wood wide web consisting of interdependence and even communication of sorts. The concept is relatively new but when viewed as more about the interconnectedness of the natural world, makes perfect sense.

Often trees of a specific species will grow in large colonies, roots intertwined, providing food and shelter for specific creatures that depend upon them. Below the ground, fungi send out mycelium tendrils that help the trees absorb water and nutrients. Sometimes when a tree is sick or stressed, it will emit pheromones that further attract pests, such as bark beetles, but the pheromones are also somehow picked up by other trees, which strengthens their own defense as a reaction.

Now, there is evidence that trees “sleep” at night. While it is not necessarily sleeping such as what we are used to, the trees exhibit a change in size and shape at nighttime, drooping their branches in some cases up to10cm. This is not a tree’s central nervous system sleeping per se (they don’t have a central nervous system like ours), but it is a result of reduced water pressure in the tree’s circulatory system. This drop in pressure is likely caused by a lack of solar energy hitting the leaves. Photosynthesis cannot occur without sunshine, and the plant cannot suck up as much water as during the day, causing it to droop.

Why it’s important: Understanding how trees interact with each other, and how they absorb and use water may help climate scientists understand which species are more robust and able to withstand drought and other climate change and weather patterns. The information could be used to manage forests, plant species better suited to store carbon, or react more favourably in a variety of scenarios. The information may also help farmers or others who are invested in growing plants know the best time to harvest their crops with the highest efficiency and lowest impact to other adjacent plants.

I am convinced that the world has an interdependence that we humans are just beginning to understand. Research like this is helping with that understanding and will only help us to protect the forests, plants, and animals that we depend upon for our own survival.

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