(From Food Mill)
In celebration or Earth Day, here’s 7 easy ways to celebrate your mother (Earth, that is):
- Avoid plastics. Water bottles, straws, and plastic cutlery may contain toxins. They are also harmful to the environment when they are not properly re-used or recycled. Click here for avoidance tips and plastic-substitution options.
- Plant a garden. Save money, and eat healthy by growing your own food. For the best growth, consider companion planting.This strategy involves placing two or more plants next to each other that will benefit each other. Learn more here.
- Eco-Construction. If you’re building a new kitchen or remodeling an old one, embrace green living techniques to make the room more sustainable and energy efficient. Check outthese tips.
- Natural Spring Cleaning. Consider cleaning with safe and all-natural supplies or productsto avoid harsh chemicals. If you are trying to save, make your own organic cooking spray.
- Do It Yourself! There are many home products that can be made from simple kitchen ingredients. If you are looking to go all-natural, try making your own deodorant or facial masks.
- Green Groceries. Buy organic, non-GMO, or fair trade for products that are healthy and made sustainably. Create budgeting strategies, or learn more about product labeling before your next trip to the store.
- Go Outside! Spring has finally sprung, and it’s time to explore the outdoors. Have a picnic, or play sports with friends or family. Make sure to stay hydrated, and avoid insect bites or ticks.
Engorged with $120 million in cash from top-shelf Silicon Valley venture-capital firms and declared the “coolest invention of 2016” by Goop, Juicero debuted last year, peddling pricey subscription bags of pre-chopped produce and a $700 contraption to crush them into juice.
What a difference a year makes. The company has slashed the price of its contraption to $400. Juicero founder Doug Evans—who once vowed to do for juicing what Steve Jobs did for personal computing—has been replaced as CEO by a former Coca Cola exec. And that fancy juicer? Turns out to be a bit extraneous. Bloomberg reporters Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski found that just squeezing the Juicero bag with one’s bare hands works nearly as well as popping it into the proprietary contraption—and is actually faster. (Their video is must-watch):
In Bloomberg’s squeeze tests, hands did the job quicker, but the device was slightly more thorough. Reporters were able to wring 7.5 ounces of juice in a minute and a half. The machine yielded 8 ounces in about two minutes.
Now, unlike human hands, Juicero’s juice machine connects to the internet and “reads a QR code printed on the back of each produce pack and checks the source against an online database to ensure the contents haven’t expired or been recalled,” the reporters note. But “the expiration date is also printed on the pack.” So….
On Thursday, that former Coke CEO, Juicero honcho Jeff Dunn, leapt to the defense of the company and its gadget in a Medium post. He announced that the “value of Juicero is more than a glass of cold-pressed juice. Much more.” Indeed, he revealed, it’s the vehicle that has “let me connect my work to my personal mission and passion: solving some of our nation’s nutrition and obesity challenges.” Apparently, overcoming those challenges requires everyone to shell out $400 for a machine that saves the trouble of squeezing a bag for 90 seconds.
Last year, I cast a skeptical eye on Juicero and cheekily suggested the unlikely scenario that it would emerge as the Uber of $7-per-pop home juices. The Bloomberg reporters write that investors were thinking more along the lines of Nespresso and Dollar Shave Club: “businesses that combine the one-time sale of hardware that ends up leading to repeat purchases of consumable packages.”
But their story suggests a different direction. Doug Evans has apparently revolutionized juicing after all, by unwittingly inventing a highly effective way of doing it by hand, without the need for an elaborate mechanical device: probably more artisanal and less lucrative than his what his Silicon Valley funders had in mind.
[ Pruitt visits East Chicago’s toxic neighborhoods – while slashing funding for lead control, cleanup ]
In his America First Energy Plan, President Donald Trump boasts that “protecting clean air” will “remain a high priority” during his presidency. But just a few months into his term, Trump proposed cutting funding to the Environmental Protection Agency and signed an executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation central to the enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Bad timing. According to a new report published today by the American Lung Association, nearly 4 in 10 Americans live in places where it is unhealthy for them to breathe.
The ALA’s “State of the Air 2017” report analyzed air pollution data collected by the EPA from 2013 to 2015 and found that 125 million people live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone (smog) or particle pollution. Though this represents a “major improvement” from the 2016 report, which placed the number at 166 million, or more than half of all Americans, the ALA is concerned that the recent progress could reverse. “Implementing and enforcing the Clean Air Act is responsible for the progress that we’ve seen so far, and it’s the tool to continue progress,” says Paul Billings, ALA’s national senior vice president.
The installation of modern pollution controls on power plants and retirement of old plants, the increasing reliance on renewable energy sources and natural gas over coal, and the creation of more stringent fuel emission standards have all contributed to the pollution declines, he says. Trump’s proposed cuts “would not only eviscerate programs at the EPA and at regional offices, but also dramatically cut the grants that pass through EPA to state and local environmental agencies”—a big chunk of which is used for air pollution control work.
The report also found an increase in dangerous short-term spikes in particle pollution, or the tiny solid and liquid particles mixed into the air we breathe. Breathing in smog and particle pollution can cause serious health problems, increasing the risk of asthma and infections and cancers of the lungs, and also possibly contributing to heart disease, obesity, and more terrifyingly, degenerative brain diseases.
Many of the cities that reported the worst number of unhealthy days are concentrated in the Western states, including California, Oregon, and Nevada, and experienced wildfire smoke. Given the strong link between climate change and the increasing frequency and intensity of droughts and wildfires, the report concluded that the data “adds to the evidence that a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health.”
Air pollution control is “a multifaceted problem, and it requires a comprehensive solution with many different strategies,” says Billings. “So we need to make sure things like the Clean Power Plan are implemented. If you don’t have strict enforcement, companies cheat and the consequences are dire.”
Look up the air quality of your city and county here.
What Jonathan Sanderman really wanted was some old dirt. He called everyone he could think of who might know where he could get some. He emailed colleagues and read through old studies looking for clues, but he kept coming up empty.
Sanderman was looking for old dirt because it would let him test a plan to save the world. Soil scientists had been talking about this idea for decades: farmers could turn their fields into giant greenhouse gas sponges, potentially offsetting as much as 15 percent of global fossil fuel emissions a year, simply by coaxing crops to suck more CO2 out of the air.
There was one big problem with this idea: It could backfire. When plants absorb CO2 they either turn it into food or stash it in the ground. The risk is that if you treat farms as carbon banks, it could lead to smaller harvests, which would spur farmers to plow more land and pump more carbon into the air than before.
Back in 2011, when Sanderman was working as a soil scientist in Australia (he’s now at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts), he’d figured out a way to test if it was possible to produce bumper crops on a piece of land while also banking carbon in it. But first, he needed to get his hands on that really old dirt.
Specifically, he needed to find a farm that kept decades of soil samples and precise records of its yields. That way he could compare the amount of carbon in the soil with the harvest and see if storing carbon kneecapped production.
Sanderman’s office was in the southern city of Adelaide, directly across the street from the Waite Agricultural Research Institute. The researchers there supposedly had the soil and records that Sanderman needed, dating back to 1925. But no one had any idea where to find the dirt. After numerous dead ends, a chain of clues led Sanderman into the basement of a big research building down the road, covered in greenhouses.
The basement was a big, dimly lit room full of floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with boxes in various stages of disarray. He walked the rows slowly, scanning up and down until they were in front of his nose: scores of gallon jars made of thick, leaded glass with yellowing labels. “Like something you’d find in a second-hand store and put on your shelf,” Sanderman says.
He felt a rush of excitement. Then he squinted at the labels. There were no dates or locations. Instead, each bore a single series of numbers. It was a code, and Sanderman had no clue how to crack it.
The question that Sanderman wanted to answer was laid out by the Canadian soil scientist Henry Janzen. In 2006, Janzen published a paper, “The soil carbon dilemma: Shall we hoard it or use it?” Janzen pointed out that since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have been breeding crops that suck carbon out of the air and put it on our plates, rather than leaving it behind in the soil.
“Grain is 45 percent carbon by weight,” Janzen told me. “So when you truck away a load of grain, you are exporting carbon which, in a natural system, would have mostly returned to the soil.”
Janzen has the rare ability to explain complicated things with such clarity that, when talking to him, you may catch yourself struck with wonder at an utterly new glimpse of how the world works. Plants, he explained, perform a kind of alchemy. They combine air, water, and the sun’s fire to make food. And this alchemical combination that we call food is, in fact, a battery—a molecular trap for the sun’s energy made of broken-down CO2 and H2O (you know, air and water).
Sugars are the simplest batteries. And sugars are also the building blocks for fat and fiber, which are just bigger, more complicated batteries. Ferns, trees, and reeds are the sum of those parts. Bury these batteries for thousands of years under conditions of immense heat and pressure, and they transform again—still carrying the sun’s energy—into coal, oil, and gas.
To feed our growing population, we keep extracting more and more carbon from farms to deliver solar energy to our bodies. Janzen pointed out that we’ve bred crops to grow bigger seeds (the parts we eat) and smaller roots and stems (the parts that stay on the farm). All of this diverts carbon to our bellies that would otherwise go into the ground. This leads to what Janzen dubbed the soil carbon dilemma: Can we both increase soil carbon and increase harvests? Or do we have to pick one at the expense of the other?
Sanderman thought he could help answer those questions if he could crack the codes on those glass bottles. But the codes on the labels didn’t line up with the notes that Waite researchers had made. After a flurry of anguished emails, Sanderman tracked down a technician who had worked at Waite 25 years earlier, and she showed him how to decode the numbers. Finally, after a year of detective work, he could run his tests.
In January, Sanderman and his colleagues published their results. Carbon wasn’t simply going into the ground and staying there, they found; it was getting chewed up by microbes and floating into the air again. Fields with the biggest harvests had the most carbon turnover: more microbes chewing, while carbon gas streamed out of the soil.
Bizarrely enough, these same fields with the biggest harvests also had the most carbon in their soils. How could this be?
To answer that, it helps to think of carbon like money. We have an impulse to hide our savings under a mattress. But if you want more money, you have to invest it.
It’s the same with carbon. Life on earth is an economy that runs on carbon—the conduit for the sun’s energy. You have to keep it working and moving if you want your deposits to grow. The more busily plants and microbes trade carbon molecules, the more prosperous the ecological economy becomes.
That’s the key—you’ve got to use carbon to store carbon. By amping up harvest and turning up the volume on the microbes, sure, you get higher carbon emissions, but you also get more vigorous plants sucking up even more carbon. That, in turn, gives the plants enough carbon to produce a big harvest with a surplus left over to feed the dirt.
“You can have your soil carbon and eat it, too,” Sanderman says.
Is all this too good to be true? Soil scientist Whendee Silver at U.C. Berkeley had some reservations about Sanderman’s methods. She wondered if the Australian soils that he studied might have changed during decades of storage, and if the results would have been different if researchers had looked at more than just the top 10 centimeters of soil.
That said, Silver thought Sanderman’s conclusions made sense: Grow more stuff, and you get more carbon left behind in the soil. Rattan Lal, director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State, also gave the study his seal of approval.
The implications are huge. The study suggests we can slow climate change simply by feeding people. But there’s a gap between discovering something and putting it to use.
Solving one puzzle often opens up many, many more. Humphry Davy invented the electric light in 1802, but lightbulbs weren’t available for regular use until Thomas Edison’s day, 75 years later.
In this case, Sanderman’s sleuthing provides a proof of concept. To apply it, farmers would have to get more plants turning carbon to sugars on every acre of land. Now scientists and policy makers just need to find the barriers that prevent farmers from putting this knowledge into practice.
One issue is that the high-yield Australian fields in Sanderson’s study were growing grass, not wheat or corn. Grass directs its carbon into roots that stay in the soil, while grains are bred to shove carbon into their seeds. That doesn’t compromise the point of the study; the grass was still able to produce tons of hay for harvest while also making the dirt carbon-rich.
But it does add a new riddle: How do we get food crops to act like grass and spend more of their carbon budget on their roots, while still producing bountiful harvests?
The simplest answer, Janzen says, would be to boost yields. Anything farmers can do to allow more plants to thrive—like improving nutrition, irrigation, and protection from insects—will mean more carbon flowing into the soil. And in the long run, breeding for more roots as well as more grain will be a key to getting carbon into the ground without losing food production. Ultimately, that requires improving on photosynthesis, which is as difficult as putting a man on the moon (yep, scientists are working on it).
Another approach is to grow plants on fields that would otherwise be bare. By rolling out a carpet of green during the winter, farms could suck more carbon from the air into the soil. Some farmers are already doing this—growing cover crops like clover and ryegrass and experimenting with a suite of techniques often called “climate-smart agriculture.”
But there’s yet another barrier here: money. For farmers, the costs of planting cover crops often outweigh the immediate benefits. That’s why Ohio State’s Lal argues that farmers should get some help. “We have to recognize that farmers are making an investment that benefits society as a whole,” she says. “They should be compensated. My estimate is $16 per acre per year.”
Some companies have already started paying farmers to employ these techniques, says Roger Wolf, director of the Iowa Soy Association’s environmental programs. These corporations see a trend toward sustainability, with more of their customers pushing for environmental stewardship, and are trying to get out in front of it. The food and cosmetics giant Unilever and the grain trader ADM offer farmers a premium price for adhering to practices that accrue carbon.
Ever since people began pushing seeds into the dirt, we’ve been eating away the carbon from our topsoil. Now we’re finally developing the knowledge necessary to pump that carbon back into the ground. We have a proof of concept and Sanderson has taken the next logical step: He’s working on creating the tools farmers need to put this knowledge into practice. It’s one more link in the chain humans are forging to hold back the worst ravages of climate change.