Environmental Progress News Blog

Our intent is to shine a light on the positive steps that are being taken to reverse climate change.

We will continue to share interesting articles and videos, with an added bit of editorial.

Our focus is on developing solutions, and sharing advances that others are making towards actively cleaning up our environment.

(Everyone can have an impact, check out Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World )

June 1, 2018

Brilliant Solution

Our Unsustainable World

This recent headline caught my attention: “California has a recycling crisis. The only way to solve it is to stop making so much trash“.

Since China stopped accepting recyclable materials, California is not the only place that is accumulating excess garbage, it is becoming a problem everywhere.

While recycling can help put a dent in the problem, it is not a solution. The Los Angeles Times Editorial has it right when they say we need to stop making so much trash.

Take a look at something as simple as plastic bags. The plastic bag problem continues to grow, they litter our environment, kill land animals and endanger marine life. All in the name of convenience.

They have become so convenient it is hard to break the habit.

What would happen if stores stopped providing plastic bags? If you are going shopping, you know you are going to need to carry home your purchases, so why not get in the habit of taking reusable bags to carry your items home? You know you are going to have to pay for what ever it is you buy, so you take your wallet with you. Just take it one step further and bring what you need to transport your purchase.

If stores stopped providing plastic bags, but had available for purchase reusable bags, how long do you think it would take for people to remember to bring their own reusable bags?

In Dr. Shafer’s article How We Think About Green his description of how the Cambodian countryside “presents a picture perfect example of a land drowning in the toxic excrement of its own rush toward a better life” is how the whole world will eventually be if we do not get our act together and “stop making so much trash”.

May 1, 2018

Smoke Gets in My Eyes

by Carol Culver De Leo

This is a chulah, the basic cooking stove in rural India. It is fueled with dung, fuelwood, and trash. It is estimated that over 100 million households use these stoves to prepare their meals 2 – 3 times a day, every single day.

As you can imagine, it is a major source of air pollution in India. For the families that live in this environment they are subjected to air pollutants at concentrations 5 times higher than coal.

Due to poor rural highways and limited energy generation infrastructure this is their only choice.

Or is it?

What if every community had a biochar system in place, where they could create their own biochar charcoal? How much would it cost to set up a clean cooking fuel program? How many lives would be saved by removing this known health hazard? How much cleaner would the air in India be?

Seems to me that this would be a priority for a government that is trying to combat global warming and environmental issues, a way to help the people and reduce pollution at the same time.

Making biochar is easy, inexpensive, and will hopefully one day replace open field burning of crop waste. Turning that biochar into cooking charcoal would provide these families a smoke-free cooking fuel that is cheap, burns hotter and lasts long.

April 14, 2018

Smoke is not healthy for you or me

by Carol Culver De Leo

I live in Chiang Mai, also known as the “Rose of the North”. It is located in Northern Thailand, offers lush landscape, a city full of culture and friendly people. It is a wonderful place to live.

Until smoky season erupts, much like a volcano, the skies are filled with a deadly haze, obscuring the mountains that surround the city. Reminds me of living in Los Angeles as a child when the smog would get so bad the foothills disappeared.

This year Chiang Mai “won world recognition for the dubious distinction of having the worst recorded air quality during peak conditions“. In fact, we have won that title several times this year.

Recently on a day already thick with haze, I looked out my window and saw a brush fire burning, adding to the polluted air that we are breathing. I was struck by the amount of smoke rising from that one small fire.

The haze that fills our skies and our lungs comes from 2 main sources, agricultural burning of crop waste and forest fires. Small brush fires like this one just add to the problem.

Agricultural fires

Anyone living in an agricultural area in Asia is probably familiar with the haze I am talking about. In today’s world, farmers simply set their fields on fire after reaping the crop, burning the remaining stubble to clear the field, to get ready to plant the next crop.

In the process, they are creating a health hazard not only for their own families living in the immediate area, but for everyone in the community. But it goes far beyond the local community. Crop burning is also a major contributor to global warming, which affects everyone.

If the farmers realized the value of the crop residue, that rather than “going up in smoke” it can be turned into a cash profit, perhaps they will change their ways. Warm Heart is working on a solution for that.

From smoke to biochar

When I first was introduced to Warm Heart, I was drawn to all the projects they were involved in. For a small non-profit operating on a shoestring, they were having a huge impact on improving the lives of many people in the community. I was impressed, and wanted to get involved.

I have always seen that our climate is going through changes, but until I became involved in Warm Heart’s Environmental Program, I had no idea how serious a problem climate change really was. Nor had I connected the dots in my mind that we were responsible for the global warming that was changing our climate.

Once getting over an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom, I began to see the solutions that Warm Heart was pursuing to help turn global warming around. Needless to say, I have become a fanatical supporter of the biochar program. Teaching farmers how to turn their crop waste into biochar is a huge step in combating global warming. Not only does making biochar clean our air, provide extra income for farmers, when biochar is put back into our earth it cleans and replenish our soils and improves our food production. A win-win proposition, the kind I like.

Forest Management

Forest fires are a whole different story. Fires are often set intentionally by arsonists (at least that is what we call them in the US) so they can harvest the mushrooms that come up after a fire. The thought of someone intentionally setting fires for this purpose makes my blood boil. How can anyone be that stupid, that selfish, to ignore the huge consequences they are inflicting on the world around them?

Managing the forests falls under the government’s domain. Quite frankly I do not know what solutions they are working on the solve this problem. But I have seen where communities have stepped up to maintain their forests with a positive impact.

Led by a local monk, Baan Omlong in Samoeng District has been working to stop wildfires in the local forest. Villagers have taken ownership of their forest. They have dammed local streams to preserve moisture, planted trees, and created firebreaks. Fire-watch teams monitor the forest during the vulnerable summer months.

Their efforts have paid off. Baan Omlong has not had a forest fire for 3 seasons. Mushrooms and wild plants are thriving in the regenerated forest, creating more income for local residents.

Protecting our forests is vital to our survival on this planet. Our forests absorb and hold the co2 that we produce in our everyday lives. Part of the problem with our industrial world is we are producing more co2 than can be absorbed, and add in the loss of forests to deforestation, the rising imbalance is causing global warming. As comedian George Carlin once pointed out “The planet isn’t going anywhere. We are! We’re going away.”

Los Angeles was able to clean up their smog. We can do it too. There are solutions, people just need to care enough to be willing to act on them.

One way to help is to support Warm Heart’s “Stop the Smoke” campaign.

April 6, 2018
by Dr. D. Michael Shafer

Putting it all together: The Plastic Bank

I like solutions that solve several problems simultaneously. That’s why I fell in love with The Plastic Bank

The Plastic Bank is a sustainable way to stop ocean plastic pollution before it happens by helping the world’s poorest people help themselves. What are the keywords here?

• Sustainable: The Plastic Bank program will go on by itself because it is self-supporting. It is profitable for all stakeholders who therefore have personal incentives to keep it going.

• Before it happens: Cleaning anything the size of the ocean is a chump’s game. The Plastic Bank program deals with ocean plastic before it becomes “ocean” plastic.

• Help themselves: Altruism is great, but doesn’t last. Charity is demeaning. By giving people the opportunity to help themselves, the Plastic Bank program is fundamentally better than contingent and temporary handouts.

So why did I fall in love with Plastic Bank, an organization dedicated to eliminating ocean plastics?

First, Plastic Bank makes a good case that ocean plastics are really bad for the global environment, which means for me and mine.

All that plastic gets into the food chain and ends up in my kids’ food. Bad.

Boy, did they make the case that there is a lot of plastic to get into the food chain.

Second, it was how they go about eliminating ocean plastics.

Most programs to clean up the world are well intentioned, but hopelessly unsustainable and therefore useless.

Assembling people to collect trash is a great way to spend time with your kids and bond with neighbors, but no way to clean the ocean. There is too much plastic and it just keeps coming. How much can you clean up? How many weekends are you willing to devote? Your weekends times that volume will do how much to solve the problem?

Right.

So the people at Plastic Bank asked, “What if plastic were money, real money, exchangeable for real stuff like food and shoes and school notebooks?” After all, if you live in the right place, you can recycle plastic bottles. What if we made the bottles equivalent to cash?

So the Plastic Bank created the concept of plastic money that can be spent at any participating store just like other currencies – except that the storekeeper has to weigh it instead of looking at the denomination printed on it. The shopkeeper “pays” the plastic up the supply chain to a central point where the Plastic Bank purchases it for cash and sells it for recycling.

Who uses the Plastic Bank’s plastic money? Not people like you. You are probably required to sort plastics from glass and cans anyway. Even if you recycle plastic bottles, you are probably rich enough not to need the pennies per bottle.

In Haiti, however, no one has jobs and no one has cash, but there’s lots of plastic lying about. Being able to monetize plastic trash to buy necessities is huge. It means food, clothing, school supplies. It means business for small shopkeepers, for local manufacturers of household necessities. It means increased sales for wholesalers in Port au Prince. It means the creation of an entire economy and broad-based participation.

And plastic trash disappears from the landscape leaving nothing for the first powerful storms of the rainy season to wash into the ocean. Ocean plastic has been averted at the source.
April 1, 2018 - The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
By Carol Culver De Leo

Beyond the 3 R’s

Where did we think our garbage was “going”?

When I was a kid I had the unfortunate experience of visiting landfills with my dad a couple of times.

The garbage was piled in disgusting mountains, the stench was awful. My father told me the garbage would eventually be buried to decompose back into dirt.

Sounded like a reasonable plan, and would have been a great solution if all the materials we were gathering and burying were decomposable!

But that is not the case, the wonderful world of plastics that we have created does not breakdown so easy.

Which means the amount of garbage continues to grow due to the lengthy breakdown process. It does eventually breakdown, after leaching chemicals into the ground, reaching our groundwater. Hmm, not good.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Landfills are not the only garbage dumps, the ocean has become one of the largest collectors of garbage. Even today, 8 million tons of plastic continues to be dumped into our oceans every year, even knowing that action is creating a problem, not providing a solution.

Plastics are overflowing our landfills, and polluting our oceans, rivers and coastlines. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most notorious.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or to refresh your memory, this 3 minute documentary by Robert Palmer, will enlighten you.

The Ocean Cleanup

The first time I saw this video I cried, I was so moved by the commitment, and the perseverance of Boyan Slat and his foundation The Ocean Cleanup.

I was inspired by the brilliance and simplicity of their solution to reducing the mass of plastic known as The Great Garbage Patch. It is encouraging to know that progress is being made by people who are committed to finding solutions.

I hope you are as inspired by this 30 minute presentation as I was, I enjoyed every minute of it. In fact, I have watched it numerous times (and yes, each time I end up crying at the end, but they are tears of relief, and joy, and hopefulness)

To understand the magnitude of coming up with the solution watch this final video. Boyan Slat (one of my heroes) explains the process they went through to get to where they are today. Visit their website The Ocean Cleanup for current news on the progress of this incredible project.