Coral Lives. Oil? Not so much – Top 5 Happy Eco News – 2020-12-21

Thanks for reading the Happy Eco News Weekly Top 5 newsletter. This week we have a Q&A with California based author Melina Sempill Watts. Melina is an accomplished environmental administrator, coordinator and writer. She provides a clear understanding and vision for the world and for our collective futures. She shares her understanding of human nature and what we can do to affect positive change. We also have a story about scientists in Costa Rica rehabilitating coral reefs, pollinator-friendly solar farms, how an entire country turned its back on oil, an off-grid sustainable Scottish island, and a 14 country sustainable ocean agreement that protects 40% of the world’s coastlines.

Enjoy!

10 Questions with Writer Melina Sempill Watts: Tree and Biodiversity

Melina Sempill Watts’ first novel Tree is the story of 229 years in the life of a California live oak from the point of view of … the tree. Last year, Tree won best new fiction in the Beverly Hills Book Awards. Watts’ first book event was on a panel at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. Her work appears in Earth Island Journal, Sierra Magazine, New York Times motherlode blog, and elsewhere.

Why did you write Tree?

Koyaanisqatsi translates from the Hopi as “life out of balance.”

By 2003, I embodied that word:  my screenplays had not sold, my relationship had foundered, I pined for my young son who seemed to be at school or daycare all the time, and my job underutilized my abilities and underserved the world, located in Los Angeles, in an office on the seventh floor, in a cubicle with no windows.

The thing is, I knew it. 

I had had a series of mystical experiences with plants that made me experience the natural world in a startling unique way; though I kept this intensely private, something in me felt that someday I should somehow share and celebrate what felt like a gift of raw magic. Instead, I spent 9 to 10 hours at the office and drove forty-five minutes each way to my son’s school… [read more]


The Happy Eco News – Weekly Top 5:

1. Scientists in Costa Rica are growing new corals to save reefs

Scientists in Costa Rica have been developing new techniques to help regenerate the coral reefs found there. The team uses a variety of techniques developed elsewhere in the world, as well as their own newly developed techniques – to grow coral and then replant it in areas damaged by human activity. Their findings are helping to restore local ecosystems and could help researchers who hope to revive other reefs in countries near and far.

Why it’s important: Coral reefs are diverse and valuable ecosystems supporting more species than any other marine environment. This biodiversity in turn supports commercial and subsistence fisheries as well as jobs and businesses through tourism and recreation.

Their biodiversity is not only good for local people who harvest fish for food; coral reefs are considered key to finding new medicines for the 21st century. Similar to the rich biodiversity of rainforests, many beneficial drugs for humans are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants and it is believed they may contain cures for cancers, viruses, and many other diseases.

Coral reefs also provide shelter for other living creatures in the water and on land. Just as the name “barrier reef” implies, the waters behind a reef are calmer and the shorelines protected from storms. Similar to so many of the natural living structures near shore, like healthy mangrove forests and oyster beds, the structure of coral reefs helps buffer shorelines against the energy from waves, storms, and floods, preventing loss of life and property damage. When these buffers are destroyed, their absence increases the damage to coastal communities from normal wave action and violent storms.

By understanding how coral grows and identifying the types that adapt most readily to changing conditions, we stand a very good chance of reversing their loss and maintaining them for the future. [read more]

  1. Pollinator-Friendly Solar Could be a Win-Win for Climate and Landowners, but Greenwashing is a Worry

Pollinator-friendly solar is the next step in a growing trend to mitigate the loss of useful land to the growing demands of renewable energy. Many of the new solar plants in the world are being built on arable land – land that may potentially be used to produce food crops. Recently we have seen a trend toward planting food crops in and around solar plants. The panels provide shade and reduce extreme temperature fluctuations, reduce moisture loss, and shelter the plants from hail and frost.

But there is a second, almost more important element here; the same land that would be used in large mono-crop type agriculture would have historically contained a wide variety of diverse plants and flowers, all providing food and shelter for pollinators and other creatures. Planting or letting natural plants grow in between the solar panels gives pollinators a welcome sanctuary and may even provide a migratory corridor for the insects – migratory species such as monarch butterflies are important pollinators but require habitat for rest and feeding along their route.

Why it’s important: Globally there has been a rapid and dangerous decline in pollinator species. Our own survival is tied to them, yet they have been pushed further and further into the danger zone by largely unregulated industrial use of pesticides and habitat loss. A full 35% of food crops are created by pollination, and due to their decline, farmers have been planting fields of wildflowers and other pollinator-friendly plants adjacent to their food fields to encourage pollinator presence and reap the benefits of increased yields. For nature, up to 85% of wild plants require pollinators to create seeds. Without them, the cascading effects of their loss would lead to food and habitat loss for wildlife.

The fact that companies building solar installations and traditional food farmers both understand the value of protecting these important yet very fragile creatures gives hope for their survival. [read more]

 

  1. The Danish climate minister closing down the oil industry for good

Once again, Denmark leads the way in climate action. In 2019 the Scandinavian country adopted laws that require the nation to set binding climate reduction targets. The 2019 Climate Act sets a target to reduce their emissions by 70 percent in 2030 (compared to 1990) and to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. They are looking at all options to reduce and eventually eliminate the production of carbon or carbon-intense industries, including shuttering one of the most obvious ones, the oil industry. Denmark’s oil production is the largest in the EU, and because the industry contributes a great amount of revenue to the country, divesting is no small feat. As an early harbinger of the changes to come, the privately-held Danish company DONG Energy (Danish Oil and Natural Gas) divested all of its oil and coal holdings in 2017 and changed its name to Ørsted, after the Danish scientist Hans Christian Ørsted, citing that DONG was now inappropriate considering they no longer owned any oil and natural gas assets.

Why it’s important: The fact that a small country like Denmark, with oil reserves of 570 million barrels turned its back on such a huge potential revenue source is of great significance. Other countries that depend on oil for their economy would be wise to take note and begin to prepare for a future where this dirty product is no longer in demand. Where I live in Canada, the economies of some Western provinces historically have been driven by oil revenue. Despite evidence to show that it is an industry in decline, the federal government continues to support it with costly infrastructure programs. The rationale? They say we must develop oil reserves in order to pay for a transition to a clean economy!

Despite the obvious irony, it is also likely a poor business decision. With oil in decline, large investments in it may result in stranded assets that cost billions of – in this case – taxpayer dollars. Most of the larger oil companies have already pulled out of the area citing the high cost to produce, the low quality, and the low value of the product on the open market. Canada and others would be wise to look to Denmark for a blueprint of how to divest.

It is evident that as the global economy shifts to clean energy, more and more countries will follow Denmark’s lead and divest from fossil fuels altogether. [read more]

 

  1. Meet the World’s First Island Powered by an Off-Grid Renewable Energy System

After decades of using expensive diesel generators, the residents of the Scottish island of Eigg switched to their own renewable electricity supply, becoming the world’s first community to launch an off-grid electric system. The 12-square-mile island, with its small population of around 100 residents, gets 24-hour power via a combination of hydroelectric generators, wind turbines, a photovoltaic array, and a bank of batteries. On the rare days when renewable resources are low or during maintenance, two 80kW diesel generators provide backup.

Why it’s important: Many island and off-grid communities are beholden to the governments, companies, and organizations that supply them with fuel to power their generators. Not only is the practice of burning fossil fuel dirty in terms of local pollution (soot, particulate, and spilled oil), it is also expensive. The cost to deliver oil to off-grid locations can result in the cost of energy being many times that of a grid utility powered by renewable energy. In many cases, these communities are cash poor, and a huge proportion of their income goes toward feeding the generators.

The predatory lending and financing practices of large organizations further this inequity and in some cases push these communities and nations into a cycle of never ending debt. When an island or off-grid community transitions to self-reliance this cycle is broken. The only costs are to maintain and eventually replace equipment as it ages. In many cases, the local citizens obtain technical training and are able to fund, install, deploy, and maintain the systems themselves, often creating ancillary industries in support along the way.

If a small island with only 100 citizens can do it, so too can an off-grid community. For that matter, so too could any country – of any size. [read more]

  1. 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative

Governments responsible for 40% of the world’s coastlines and 20 percent of global fisheries announced a series of new commitments that comprise the world’s biggest ocean sustainability initiative. The countries – Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau, and Portugal have pledged to end overfishing, restore dwindling fish populations and stop the flow of plastic pollution into the seas in the next 10 years. Of particular note was the pledge to remove subsidies to the fishing industries which in turn contributes to the problem of overfishing.

Why it’s important: The new sustainable ocean agenda, if achieved worldwide, would dramatically increase food and renewable energy production, and contribute a fifth of the greenhouse gas pollution reductions required to stay within 1.5°C of global warming. Research has found that if oceans were sustainably managed, they could provide six times more food than today when many species are fished up to and beyond their recovery limits. Economists also calculate that for every $1 invested in sustainable oceans, there is about $5 return in economic, social, environmental, and health benefits and that sustainably managing the world’s oceans would create about 12 million new jobs.

If we can make multilateral agreements that represent 40% of the world’s coastlines, then there is no reason we cannot get even more jurisdictions to commit to this change. Slowly, almost imperceptibly the tide is changing, and the world is beginning to transition to sustainably managing resources, energy, and waste. This agreement, and the many others like it in recent years, is evidence that maybe the tide has already changed, and now we begin to see the full force of its power. [read more]

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