Surferbird News-links, 66th Edition
More images of fall, crazy CO₂ levels, risk of 3 degree increase in global temperatures by 2100, reforesting the Amazon, ancient corn, 2017 guide to green electronics, the meaning of happiness and an autumn earworm.
more fall images, (theatlantic.com)
I can't help but smile as I scroll though these photographs of autumn. If someone asked me to choose a favorite, I wouldn't be able to do it. Would you?
climate change and nature
crazy CO₂ levels, (e360.yale.edu)
According the the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO), average atmospheric CO₂ levels reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016. That's a significant jump from 2015 levels of 400.00 ppm. As E360 reports, it's "50 percent faster than the average over the past decade." The increase was due to human activities in addition to an El Niño event, which caused droughts and fires in the tropics.
Droughts decrease the amount of CO₂ that forests and other vegetation can sequester because plants don't grow much, if at all, during droughts. This causes a decline in photosynthesis, which uses atmospheric CO₂ in the process. On the other hand, decaying plant matter and fires emit CO₂. Yet, surprisingly, a new study shows that El Niño suppressed CO₂ release from tropical Pacific waters. Otherwise, atmospheric CO₂ levels would have been even higher.
It's important to point out that CO₂ levels haven't been this high since 3–5 million year ago, when temperatures on Earth were 2–3 degrees Celsius warmer (1°C equals 1.8° F) and oceans were 10 to 20 meters higher (32.8–65.6 feet) than present levels. As WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas indicates, we'll need to reduce greenhouse gases fast to prevent temperatures from reaching dangerous levels by the end of this century.
For more information, take a look at the report, here. It goes into further details about not only CO₂ but also methane and nitrous oxide, two other greenhouse gases. It's also important to note that according to Taalas, no matter what actions we take, "CO₂ remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer."
Another place to track CO₂ concentrations is the Earth System Research Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website, here. The numbers vary slightly from the WMO figures, but the NOAA website allows you to follow CO₂ levels over different time frames.
without vast changes, a 3°C increase in global temperatures is likely by 2100, (climatenewsnetwork.net)
According to a UN report, the Paris Agreement only gets us one third of the way to preventing a 3°C rise in global temperatures by 2100. Furthermore, in order to meet climate goals, we need to reduce CO₂ emissions by 2030 to prevent damage to "human health, livelihoods and economies across the globe."
But CO₂ isn't the only greenhouse gas mentioned in the UN report. It also recommends reducing shorter-lived pollutants, such as hydrofluorocarbons and black carbon. As defined in the article, hydrofluorocarbons are "chemicals primarily used in air conditioning, refrigeration and foam insulation." Black carbon (epa.gov) is the soot that results from burning fossil fuels in coal plants, gas and diesel vehicles and other sources. In light of our current political climate in Washington, I'm astounded that the EPA website includes a discussion of black carbon's negative health and climatic effects. But it does.
One final part of the report that's worth mentioning, though, is the need to phase out existing coal-fired power plants and to stop building new ones. This, along with supporting renewable energy projects in developing countries, would help put us back in line with 2°C Paris Agreement targets. We're still burning way too much coal.
reforesting the amazon, (fastcompany.com)
These are the kinds of stories that give me hope. And we could use a good dose of it, given rising CO₂ levels. But this story isn't about regular old reforestation, not that that's bad; this is a less expensive and faster way to convert pastureland back to tropical forests in heavily deforested parts of Brazil.
Rather than plant saplings, which require a lot of labor and resources, Conservation International is spearheading a project that plants a lot of native seeds in a small area. This planting technique is called "muvuca," which translated from Portuguese means "a lot of people in a very small space," notes Conservation International's vice president of the Brazil program, Rodrigo Medeiros. Interestingly, most of the seeds germinate, however, only the strongest plants survive. But these become mature trees that are more likely to survive drought and other environmental challenges without human intervention.
To learn more about this program and how it benefits indigenous communities, farmers and the environment, give this beautiful, short piece a read. If every country, city and community across the globe initiated similar projects, I think we just might solve climate change and be able to pass a planet worth living on to our children.
food and farming
heirloom corn tortillas available soon in the U.S., (civileats.com)
These are the real deal—tortillas made with heirloom corn that's been nixtamalized, the ancient tradition of cooking corn in lime to make the calcium, amino acids and vitamin B3 bio-available. Because most of Mexico grows GMO and hybridized corn in order to maximize yields, tortillas made with heirloom varieties aren't common in Mexico, today. But they're coming to a Whole Foods near you in addition to a few other retail outlets. They're also available on the Masienda website, here.
To learn more about the nixtamalization process and its importance in preventing pellagra, there's an interesting article about the history of pellagra in the rural South at Southern Foodways Alliance, here. But if you can afford to eat a variety of foods, unlike many poor families in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the South, the nixtamalization process isn't as important. Interestingly, archaeologists found equipment used for the nixtamaliztion process that dates back to 3,200 years ago. But as corn became a worldwide commodity crop, no one bothered to learn the traditional preparation method that made it more nutritious. How did ancient cultures figured this out?
the greenpeace 2017 guide to greener electronics, (triplepundit.com)
This is a timely piece at Triple Pundit because electronics are common gifts during the holiday season. Spoiler alert: Fairphone was the winner, followed by Apple. You might recall I wrote about Fairphone in an older Surferbird News-links. But as the article, above, notes, "none of the companies mentioned in the review received an 'A' in all three categories." If you're thinking about buying a new phone for yourself or someone else, follow the link above to the Triple Pundit article for more information along with a link to the 2017 Guide to Green Electronics, courtesy of Greenpeace.
How to be happy, (theatlantic.com)
What is happiness, and are you happy? Dan Buettner, author of the "Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest," traveled to Costa Rica, Denmark, Singapore and cities throughout the U.S. looking for answers to these questions. He shares his insights in his new book "The Blue Zones of Happiness." But what did he learn? James Hamblin interviews Buettner in this short, entertaining piece at the Atlantic, above, where Buettner talks about his findings on the meaning of happiness and how to go about creating it. I don't want to spoil the article for you, but I will give you a hint: "Happiness is not a coincidence."
"Without a hurt, the heart is hollow."—a famous line from "Try to Remember." Every fall, this song comes around to haunt me. Laura