By Sam Schipani
More and more, ecologically minded milk consumers are turning to nondairy products to minimize their carbon hoofprints. Sales of almond milk shot up by 250 percent between 2011 and 2016. Meanwhile, consumption of dairy milk has plummeted 37 percent since the 1970s, according to the USDA.
This is because animal agriculture consumes 2,422 billion cubic meters of water annually (about one-fourth of the global water footprint), 19 percent of which is related to dairy cattle. The Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that the dairy industry contributes 4 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions—52 percent of which is methane, which can trap up to 100 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
In recent years, however, popular milk alternatives like soy and almond have come under increased environmental scrutiny. Besides the controversy surrounding soy milk's health effects, many soy products are produced with high-spray, intensively farmed and genetically modified crops—some of which are grown in tracts of the Amazon Rainforest that were razed to meet demand for soy. Meanwhile, each nut in almond milk requires 1.1 gallon of water to grow, most of which is sourced from the drought-susceptible state of California.
The good news is, there are some exciting new milk alternatives in town. Sierra sampled the taste—and sustainability bona fides—of seven such alternative milk varieties: flax, macadamia, pea, coconut, cashew, hemp and oat. Each milk was tested according to the four ways in which it's most likely to be consumed: directly from a glass, swirled into coffee, dunked with a cookie (for the purposes of this taste test, Uncle Eddies Vegan Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies, recommended by the attendant at Whole Foods), and poured over cereal (Annie's Homegrown Organic Berry Bunnies).
A disclaimer: The data on the ecological integrity of alternative milk varietals is not robust, and much of what exists has been put forth by the producers themselves. Nevertheless, all plant-based options are more ecofriendly than dairy, and many new alternative milk products are sourced with eco-sustainability in mind. Whether you're a lifelong vegan looking to mix it up or a reformed dairy guzzler trying to reduce your carbon footprint, this taste test will guide you through the most cutting-edge milk alternatives on the market.
Good Karma Flax Milk
Though somewhat thinner in consistency than a glass of conventional dairy milk, Good Karma's Original Flax Milk had a pleasant, slightly sweet smell and taste. Flax milk blends nicely into coffee—it mitigates some of its natural acidity and leaves no discernible taste. However, it proved fundamentally incompatible with carbs—the dunked cookie could only be described as "damp," and mixed with cereal, this flax milk assumed a less-than-appetizing grayish tinge. We could, however, certainly drink a full glass of Good Karma's Vanilla Flax Milk, which is slightly more flavorful than the original and provides a complete daily dose of omega-3s. As for the company's Unsweetened Plus Protein version—an all at once chalky yet soapy concoction—not so much. However, the latter would, perhaps, be less offensive mixed into a turbo-charged protein smoothie.
Milkadamia Macadamia Nut Milk
Rich and thick, with just a hint of that creamy macadamia nut flavor, Milkadamia's Macadamia Nut Milk is the crème de l'alternative crème. Arguably the hottest new alternative milk to crack the market, it poured with an almost perfect, milklike consistency and appeared velvety white and slightly flecked, like a fancy vanilla bean ice cream. The dunked cookie was subtly softened and slightly sweetened; the cereal echoed its solvent's notes of vanilla. Milkadamia's Barista Formula is arguably better than regular milk in coffee—you'll enjoy the rich caramel hue, not to mention the hints of shortbread that linger on the tongue.
Even better, Milkadamia is especially focused on the sustainability of its product. The nuts are sourced from Jindilli Farms in Australia, which according to the company, boasts "abundant rainfall, ample sunshine, rich soil and low-impact farming." Milkadamia claims its focus is regenerative farming, which aims to rebuild soil health. Its macadamia nuts grow on so-called free-range trees that do not require irrigation. Transporting the product to California from Down Under, however, surely generated its own set of environmental impacts.
Ripple Pea Milk
Once you've stopped giggling over the phrase "pea milk," there are some serious environmental benefits to consider here. Yellow peas (cue stray giggles) grow in areas that get lots of rain (in Ripple's case, France, so some shipping considerations should be taken into account), meaning they need little or no irrigation. As legumes, they also naturally fix nitrogen in the soil, which helps set the stage for the next crop without the use of artificial fertilizers. Ripple, which also makes its bottles from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, is using venture capital to lead the pea milk revolution.
Unfortunately, these taste testers are not joining in. The viscous, beige liquid smelled musty and tasted mustier. If you can stomach those thick, slimy dregs, the burnt rubber aftertaste should be enough to put you off of pea milk. Its unfortunate taste came through even stronger on cereal—not even trusty Berry Bunnies could save our taste buds. The bunnies looked blissfully buoyant at first, but the gritty taste somehow permeated every one of their pores. In coffee, the pea milk separated like the oil and water in a grade-school science experiment. The milk begins marbled, and slowly floats to the top (not unlike your soul separating from your pea-milk-drenched taste buds). Somehow, it was least offensive on the cookie. It's hard to taste the pea milk in the spongy dipped bits—but where is the joy in dunking a cookie if you can't finish the glass?
So Delicious Coconut Milk
Not to be confused with canned coconut milk used in curries, the Unsweetened Organic Coconut Milk beverage from So Delicious comes in a carton nearly indistinguishable from its lactose-laden brethren in the supermarket's refrigerated aisle. Unlike dairy farming, coconut farming is relatively low impact, and coconuts may be able to sequester carbon in the soil and offset carbon dioxide production in the atmosphere, according to the Philippine Coconut Authority. Coconuts also require little water to produce, but they are often sourced from tropical areas and thus incur some impact from transportation.
If only this coconut milk could have transported us to a tropical island. Alas, this watery drink, which quickly separated into chalky particulates, has a flavor that can best be described as "aggressively neutral," and the milk itself leaves a dustlike coating on the glass—in lieu of "legs," an actual sommelier term for the streaks that form within drinking vessels. The cookie refused to retain any of the liquid from its dunk test. The strange metallic taste this milk bestowed on cereal rendered the Berry Bunnies nearly inedible. And it not only soured coffee, but also compromised its aesthetics by contributing sketchy-looking floating white flecks. Categorize this milk under "Does not play nicely with others."
Forager Cashew Milk
Cashews taste of salvation for awkward writers at fancy parties—"Oh good, a delicious snack for me to keep my hands busy"—but Forager's Unsweetened Plain Cashew Milk bucks the trend. It manages to be simultaneously smoky and bland, with a chalky aftertaste that coats the tongue. The blue-grayish tinge is amplified in the cereal, which became soggy and flavorless. Cashew milk made for a thin, watery, and flavor-compromising addition to a morning cup of Joe. The cookie escaped relatively unscathed, save for too-light saturation. But cashews, unlike almonds, grow in regions that are less water-scarce than California, and they thus exert less stress on the land. Also unlike the almond, the cashew is not technically a nut—it's a drupe. By this fact, and by once-lofty expectations for cashew milk, we feel duped.
Tempt Hemp Milk
The misguided mid-century disdain for hippies centered mostly on a perception of their outsized affection for trees, propensity for flower crowns, and sartorial predilection toward hemp. That cartoonish image is right in one regard: hemp's eco-credibility makes it a good choice for any tree hugger. Hemp does not require intensive farming. It is hardy, grows quickly, naturally suppresses weeds, resists many diseases, and requires little watering. This 20th-century hippie, however, couldn't stomach hemp it in its liquid form. Tempt Hemp Milk tasted slightly of grass (no, not that grass—hemp milk won't get you high) and leaves a lingering, sooty aftertaste. In coffee, without continuous and vigorous titration, it separates into a curdled, pock-marked suspension. The cereal and cookie are both overwhelmed by the taste. While we can't help but hug every tree we see (and who doesn't love a good flower crown?), we won't be adding hemp milk to our dairy-free rotation any time soon.
Oatly Oat Milk
"Wow, no cow!" boasts Oatly's expertly branded packaging. The marketing-savvy Swedish company combines humor and logic to tout the sustainability factor of its bovine-free milk—but can the taste compete with the cheek? Oat milk poured with the consistency of milk, but had a distinct and initially off-putting beige hue. Alone, oat milk tasted like the milk left behind at the bottom of a bowl of Cheerios. Naturally, it paired perfectly with cereal. It also complemented the cookie's sweetness. The barista version, which supposedly steams very well, was especially nice in coffee, with just a hint of wheat and a warm, coating taste reminiscent of hot oatmeal on a chilly morning.
We hope this guide has proven helpful for your quest to quench your ecofriendly milk fix. In any case, we propose a toast to celebrate the ever-expanding array of options to meet your alternative dairy needs. Cheers!
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.