These Renewable Energy Companies Are Feeding Hungry Families
By Meg Wilcox
As U.S. food assistance programs grapple with overwhelming demand during the coronavirus pandemic, some in New England are finding support from unusual partners—renewable energy companies.
Scratch the surface of these partnerships, however, and the connections begin to make sense. The renewable energy companies are already engaged with the food system, and they're joining with food relief efforts to connect more deeply with the communities where they do business at a time of crisis.
Take Vanguard Renewables, which has sponsored five milk donations events, donating more than 17,000 gallons of milk to Massachusetts and Rhode Island families in need, in partnership with Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), HP Hood, Guida's Dairy and various political leaders.
Vanguard Renewables develops novel on-farm systems that recycle organic food waste and manure into renewable energy that it converts to electricity or sells as gas. The company takes food waste from food manufacturers and grocery stores, and uses it to fuel its six anaerobic digester facilities in New England, which also produce organic fertilizer and bedding for animals.
When dairy's main markets shuttered in April, Vanguard Renewables Chairman and CEO John Hanselman noted a sudden large influx of raw milk coming into his company's facilities straight from farms. Hanselman, who'd never before seen that, reached out to DFA to ask, "Hey what can we do?"
DFA was already focusing on milk dumping, and through its charitable arm, DFA Cares, it raised the money needed to purchase milk from farmers to make the donations. Vanguard Renewables contributed $15,000, as well as time and logistical support. Hood HP and Guida's Dairy processed the milk into gallon jugs, and got it out to the points of distribution. The National Guard helped hand out the milk jugs.
"It was a hell of an effort, but it really felt good in your soul as people were pulling up and we were putting gallons of milk in their trunks," said Hanselman. "You know that so many families are just a few paychecks away from not having their nutritional needs met, and that's devastating in a country that has such abundance."
BlueWave Solar, a certified B Corporation and developer of community solar projects, is taking a different tack to help feed families in need. It's donating a portion of the subscriptions it receives to two new community solar projects—in Hudson Valley, New York and in Massachusetts—to area food banks.
Community solar provides homeowners and renters an opportunity to tap into clean energy, at a reduced rate on their monthly electric bills, without installing solar panels on their homes. BlueWave Solar's projects are typically developed on low-value land, such as along a highway, but they're also developed on farms, which helps stabilize farmers' income. Recently, the company began developing innovative dual use solar farms which Marsch, calls the "holy grail," because the farmer is able to continue farming the land around the solar array.
For each new subscriber to the community solar projects, BlueWave Solar contributes $50 to area food banks. The company has also donated more than $10,000 to four food banks since the pandemic started, according to Mike Marsch, principal, community solar at BlueWave Solar
"When COVID hit, it was such a clear need. It's such a hard-hit region, food insecurity being what it is," said Marsch. "As a company, we've supported the food bank. A lot of us have volunteered there. We thought a natural extension was to combine that with community solar."
Donating to food banks to attract new subscribers is also a creative way for the company to gin up business while sales are low—but local food banks are grateful for the support.
Paul Stermer, director at Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, said he's seen roughly 50 percent more people in the area who are food insecure and need help since the pandemic struck.
Stermer is concerned that once the coronavirus relief programs phase out—the increased unemployment benefits, rent forgiveness, expanded SNAP, Paycheck Protection Program—people will struggle even more.
"Even once we get past the pandemic, … the impact of what we're seeing today is going to be with us for a while," he said.
Indeed, a recent analysis by Feeding America found that progress made in the past decade on food insecurity will likely be wiped out by the pandemic.
Vanguard Renewables is trying to keep its effort going, said Hanselman, noting "we've got 40 million unemployed Americans and it takes a long time to get those folks back to work."
But he says, it's gotten harder now to get interest, especially now that the dairy supply chain disruption is over.
Regardless of whether the companies can maintain food relief efforts, both will continue building on-farm clean energy systems that support farmers and help make their operations more regenerative.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
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By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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By Andrea Germanos
Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.
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By James Shulmeister
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to email@example.com
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?<p>The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14145" target="_blank">four million years ago</a> during a geological period known as the <a href="http://www.geologypage.com/2014/05/pliocene-epoch.html" target="_blank">Pliocene Era</a> (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.</p><p>We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annals-of-glaciology/article/enclosure-of-air-during-metamorphosis-of-dry-firn-to-ice/09D9C60A8DA412D16645E6E6ABC1892F" target="_blank">samples of the atmosphere at the time</a>. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.</p><p>Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095968369200200109" target="_blank">related to atmospheric carbon dioxide</a>, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.</p><p>Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.</p><p>The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010PA002055" target="_blank">carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then</a>.</p>
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica<p>During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/679.abstract" target="_blank">120 meters lower</a> than they are today.</p><p><span></span>Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2004PA001071" target="_blank">research</a> shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07867" target="_blank">significantly smaller</a> and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.</p><p>This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/jcli/article/23/14/3888/32547" target="_blank">polar amplification</a> of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.</p>
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia<p>In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02537376.pdf" target="_blank">smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia</a>. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.</p><p>One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/tellusa.v54i5.12161" target="_blank">temperature contrast</a> between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.</p><p>It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that <a href="http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/521027/" target="_blank">West Antarctica is already melting</a>.</p><p>Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.695.7239&rep=rep1&type=pdf" target="_blank">raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters</a>. Even smaller increases raise the risk of <a href="https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/preparing-new-zealand-for-rising-seas-certainty-and-uncertainty" target="_blank">flooding in low-lying cities</a> including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.</p>
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