Around the world people are taking the initiative to mitigate climate change. Here are some good news briefs compiled by the Climate Issue group of the LWV of Bellingham/Whatcom.
The Mushroom That Could Replace Plastic
Fomes fomentarius — that’s the name of a fungus that researchers say could soon replace the plastic in our headphones, the memory foam in our shoes, and even the exoskeletons for airplanes, Justine Calma reports for The Verge. A new study published in the journal Science Advances tested the strength and viability of using products made from Fomes fomentarius, finding the material could successfully replace a number of plastic products. That could have huge environmental implications, considering plastic waste has become a global crisis. That’s not to mention plastics are made from oil, which isn’t something the oil and gas industry wants you to think about.
Washington state is the first state in the nation to put dollars into Climate Change K-12 education, focusing on helping teachers by providing them the knowledge and skills to engage students. The curriculum is named ClimeTime.
From the ClimeTime website:
“The Climate Justice League project was developed in response to several interconnected needs and opportunities. Teachers expressed interest in more in-depth and sustained professional development related to climate teaching and learning, particularly opportunities to collaborate, strategize, and reflect with other educators. This professional learning community also responded to a need in the ClimeTime network for innovative projects and practices focused on justice. Centering social, environmental, and climate justice topics in science education became a priority as youth activists called for classroom learning that addresses climate change and climate justice …”
Hopefully this initiative will receive additional funding in this Legislative session. This work intentionally empowers students with knowledge of the local impacts of climate change and the ways we can mitigate and prevent further damage.
Clean Hydrogen Possibility
A north Texas project hopes to be the first large-scale producer of clean hydrogen from water. Subsidies offered in the Inflation Reduction Act are helping to make “green hydrogen” technology more competitive with fossil fuels.
Until recently, green hydrogen fuel production cost too much to compete with gasoline or diesel. But, that is changing quickly thanks to steep subsidies offered in the Inflation Reduction Act passed in June 2022.
Carbon Capture Plus Geothermal Is a Win-Win
According to the IPCC, we need to draw down 100-1,000 billion tons of CO2 to achieve best-case climate goals. Natural methods of carbon sequestration (e.g. reforestation and regenerative agriculture) are currently the most economical, but they require both large amounts of land and cultural adaptation, which can be challenging. Capture of carbon from the atmosphere (DAC or direct air capture) requires a great amount of energy. When that energy is obtained by burning fossil fuels, the process is counterproductive.
Iceland has another way — they use geothermal energy. With geothermal energy, the heat remaining after generation of electricity is sufficient to release CO2 from DAC filters. Thus, with geothermal power plants, you can generate renewable energy and also draw net CO2 out of the atmosphere. Win-win.
Fervo Energy (based in Houston) is currently designing a geothermal plant purpose-built to draw down CO2. Funding for the project came from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. They expect to have a pilot ready to operate within 3 – 5 years. Carbon extracted from the atmosphere would be injected into rock formations that allow carbonate to form — essentially storing the carbon indefinitely underground as rock.
The five Catholic bishops of Washington state released a statement proclaiming the need to care for creation and recognize Native Nations as the principal dialogue partners when addressing the endangered salmon population of the Lower Snake River. The bishops’ statement is informed by Catholic social teaching and Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. This public act of solidarity was sparked by conversation with Native leaders from the Indigenous-led nonprofit, Se’Si’Le (saw-sea’-law), who are bringing Indigenous spiritual law into the mainstream environmental movement.
“We are the salmon people,” said Jay Julius, member of Lummi Nation and president of Se’Si’Le. “Our spirit and soul would be crushed if we have no salmon.”
New Hope for the Amazon
Marina Silva, Brazil’s new environment minister, served as environment minister from 2003 to 2008, and put in place policies and protections that ultimately reduced the rate of deforestation by 80 percent. Now, back in office under Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, there’s enormous hope that she can repeat that feat.
This time, the job will be harder. She acknowledges that the forest is in a much more precarious state than when she first took office almost two decades ago. The previous president, Jair Bolsonaro, undid many of the measures she helped to put in place to protect the Amazon. Deforestation rates rose sharply.
When asked what gives her hope, “I think what gives me hope is that a significant part of the Brazilian population decided to vote for a government platform that defends democracy, is committed to protecting the forest, Indigenous people and fighting climate change, while also curbing inequality.”
A “Light Bulb” Moment Turns Into Beach Restoration
Two Tulane University seniors in New Orleans, Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz, were drinking wine in their dorm when they started lamenting the fact that the bottle would end up in a landfill after they threw it in the trash.
“So we decided to do something about it.” Says Trautmann. They started collecting glass bottles from fellow students and friends. After a local paper reported on their mission, the heaps of glass in their backyard grew so fast that they soon crowdfunded $18,000 for a professional machine to pulverize glass into sand.
Fast forward from their humble start in February 2020 to today, Steitz and Trautmann, both 25 years old, recycle about 100,000 pounds of glass every month at Glass Half Full NOLA, a low-profit limited liability company whose primary purpose is to achieve a social benefit. So far, they have diverted 3.2 million pounds of glass from landfills with just eight employees.
They no longer collect the glass in their backyard — but moved into a professional 40,000-square-foot facility in August 2020, with its own processing systems, forklifts and containers where the glass is sorted into different colors. Cooperating with a local glass blower and a jewelry designer, Andrew Barrows and Travis Laurendine, they started a jewelry shop, NOLA Alchemy, that shows off the beauty of recycled glass that has been crafted into amulets and beads.
Much of the rest gets blasted into sand that can be used for landscaping and other purposes. “I didn’t even know at the beginning that the main component of glass is silica, essentially sand!” Trautmann says, shaking her head. “When a hurricane is forecasted, we give burlap bags filled with glass-sand to residents for flood protection.”
Glass Half Full has 12 glass collection containers throughout the city of New Orleans. They only ask the locals to clean the glass containers of food scraps before tossing them in; they don’t need to remove labels and caps, “because the machine is able to separate the caps from the glass,” Trautmann explains. Currently, 70 businesses have signed up, and 300 are on the waitlist as the young founders are scaling up. The enterprise does not turn a big profit, but according to Trautmann, they break even every month.
The founders of Glass Half Full, though, found a particularly urgent need: they are using the glass to restore New Orleans’ shrinking coastline. In the last decades, Louisiana has lost roughly the size of the state of Delaware, from its eroding beaches and marshes, and continues to lose the size of a football field every half hour due to erosion, hurricanes and rising sea levels.
Together with the Pointe au Chien Indian Tribe and Tulane University, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Trautmann and Steitz are working to restore some of the marshes at the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain as part of their ReCoast initiative with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL).
There is actually a global sand shortage, and efforts to restore coastlines often involve dredging, which impacts ecosystems. Bolstered by a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, scientists conducted tests to make sure the glass-sand is not harming the environment and no chemicals are leaching into the flora. Turns out that the natural sediment found along the Mississippi River Delta and most beaches along the Gulf Coast is mostly silica, just like the recycled glass.
So far, Glass Half Full has used 20 tons of glass each for two wetland restoration projects. The conservationists are now looking into other areas along the Louisiana coast that might benefit from sand restoration, as the first project nationwide to do coastal restoration with recycled glass.