While tossing orange peels and coffee grounds in the garbage might seem inconsequential, sending food waste to landfills has a real impact on climate change. When trapped without air, decomposing food in landfills produces methane: a greenhouse gas that's at least 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term.
As much as we try to cut down on food waste in our kitchens, there will always be leftover banana peels, apple cores and other things that can't be used – much of which can be diverted from landfills by composting.
Composting recycles organic material and allows for the natural processes that decompose food, yard waste and other organics to create a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer. Compost piles heat up as microorganisms break down leaves and kitchen scraps in the presence of oxygen, giving them a second life as "black gold" to fertilize gardens, houseplants and yards. Of the waste created by the average person – generally about nine times their body weight every year – more than 30% of it can be composted.
Luckily, composting isn't only for those with spacious backyards and large outdoor composting systems; there are plenty of options for composting with limited space, even in your own apartment.
Compost tumblers are a common composting solution, and are ideal for lucky apartment-dwellers with access to a yard, patio, or balcony. These outdoor, airtight containers don't attract pests (a point of concern for many urban composters) and trap heat, allowing decomposition to occur much faster. Unlike traditional compost bins or piles that require shoveling, tumblers can be easily turned with a crank and are attractive and discrete for common spaces.
Add yard and kitchen scraps to the tumbler over time, giving it a few turns each week. Once the tumbler is full, stop adding new material and continue turning once every few days for two to three weeks until the contents have completely decomposed. Some people even maintain two tumblers: one to which scraps are added, and one that's in the process of decomposing.
Ideally, to allow the compost to heat up properly and prevent undesirable odors, a composter should have a healthy ratio of "brown" (carbon-rich) and "green" (nitrogen-rich) waste. Brown waste can include leaves, shredded newspaper, nut and egg shells,and twigs, while green waste encompasses all fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, grains and soil. On a molecular level, an optimal carbon:nitrogen ratio is about 25-30:1, although some argue that when judging by sight, following a 3-4:1 ratio is sufficient.
Also known as vermicomposters, worm composters are small, efficient, odorless, require little money and effort, and result in rich, nutrient-packed compost. A DIY-worm composter can cost less than $30, requiring only a few plastic storage bins, organic matter for bedding, and worm castings, and can live out-of-sight in a closet or under a countertop.
Darkness, drainage and ventilation are the main components of a healthy worm composter. Start by drilling a few holes in the sides and on the bottom of a medium-sized plastic bin, and placing it inside a shorter bin or one of equal size. The smaller bin should be slightly raised, which might require stacking a few plastic bottles or containers underneath to allow for optimal airflow.
Inside the smaller bin, create the bedding for your worms; soil mixed with shredded paper or cardboard should be layered and dampened before adding in the worms. A good guideline for adding worms – generally red wigglers, which can be ordered online or bought in fishing stores – is one pound (about 1000 worms) per square foot.
Worm composters have some limitations based on what the critters can digest, and the amount of food waste that should be added at once. Freezing food scraps and adding them gradually will give the worms time to do their work without overloading them with food, especially when just starting out.
For those with very limited space, countertop electric composters are small, odorless and can process food waste within hours, producing a rich, dry fertilizer. While not exactly composting, these machines aerate, heat and pulverize food scraps, mimicking the process of traditional compost piles on a much tighter timeline – and, unlike traditional at-home compost piles, can safely process meat and dairy products.
While many electric composters can cost upwards of $300, their compact and user-friendly design makes them an attractive option for apartment-dwellers. Unfortunately, given the electricity needed to run them, the environmental impact of these composters is higher than more natural methods.
Government-Run Composting Programs
Some cities have taken food waste reduction into the own hands: San Francisco, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon all have their own government-run composting initiatives. City-wide composting programs take different forms, but are often free or entail a small fee similar to trash and recycling. Residents usually fill a container with food scraps throughout the week and leave it on the curb to be replaced with an empty bucket, or bring scraps out to a designated bin alongside trash and recycling that's collected at regular intervals. Seattle and San Francisco have even made composting mandatory for all homes and businesses.
As you begin composting, it's a good idea to check whether your city already has a program in place for its residents.
Community Composting and Privately-Owned Collection Services
In the absence of city-wide composting programs, many non-profit and privately-owned organizations have stepped up to the plate.
In New York City, where curbside compost collection was suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19-related budget cuts, Big Reuse – a local non-profit – partners with community organizations to host free weekly drop-off sites. If tumblers and worm composters aren't for you, research compost drop-off locations in your city where you can bring your scraps for free. Some community gardens and farms might accept composted materials as well.
Composting has also become a lucrative business, especially in cities without government-run programs. CompostNow in North Carolina, Bootstrap Compost in Boston and WasteNot Compost in Chicago all charge a fee for pick-up services, offering a very convenient option for those without the time or space to compost at home.
Between trips to the compost tumbler or drop-off site, you'll need somewhere to store your scraps.
While a simple Tupperware container or glass jar would do, many countertop compost bins are attractive and discrete while controlling odors. Some are even dishwasher safe or use replaceable filters to prevent any smells from escaping.
When the pail fills up, scraps can be stored in the freezer until drop-off or pick-up day. Designating a container in the freezer specifically for compost can also keep things tidy and organized.
Adene Sanchez / E+ / Getty Images
As you begin your composting journey, make sure you know what items can be composted. To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, meat and dairy products should be kept out of most small-scale composting systems, although larger composting facilities – where compost piles reach very high temperatures – might accept them.
Once your food scraps have completed their journey from "trash" to fertilizer, you'll have plenty of black gold to use. If you have limited outdoor space, or no garden on which to spread your finished compost, use it to fertilize house plants or window boxes, or offer it to friends and neighbors who might need it for their own gardens.
Apartment-composting requires some creativity! Consider all of the options in your area – whether it be a drop-off location, pick-up service, or city-run program – as well as your personal limitations and desires. Even with limited space, you can lower your environmental impact and give your waste a second life through composting.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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By Sean Fleming
What thrives in poor soil, can tolerate rising temperatures and is brimming with calories?
The cassava – sometimes referred to as "the Rambo root." This plant could potentially help alleviate world hunger, provide economically viable agriculture and even put an end to soil erosion, according to research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice.
Also known as yuca (but distinct from the ornamental yucca plant) the root of the cassava is a staple of many Caribbean and South American meals – and it will thrive in conditions too difficult for many other plants.
A Gateway Crop
"Evidence suggests (cassava) could potentially revive degraded land and make it productive anew, generating numerous positive socioeconomic and environmental impacts with proper crop management," said Maria Eliza Villarino, the report's lead author and a researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in the science publication, PhysOrg.
An estimated 40% of land in Colombia suffers from degradation, according to the alliance. It, therefore, "serves as a good testing ground for exploring the different possibilities that farming cassava could lead to."
The cassava could become a gateway crop, helping farmers bring once unproductive land back into use. Soil that has been revived could then be used to grow commercial crops like coffee or chocolate, corn or soy.
But Cassava Mustn't Tread the Same Path as Soy
The global market for soy is estimated at around $150 billion, and around 80% of all soy production comes from the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. Making space for soy farms has resulted in significant deforestation in parts of the Amazon rainforest, with the WWF estimating that "an area roughly the size of California" was lost to deforestation around the world between 2004 and 2017.
"We acknowledge that scaling up production of any commodity risks an increase in deforestation and biodiversity loss, and we need to do more research," Augusto Castro Nunez, a land-use and climate specialist at the alliance, said in the PhysOrg article. "But what we know is that we need something new; what has been done to prevent deforestation is not working, and this is something new."
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Growing Cannabis Indoors Produces a Lot of Greenhouse Gases – Just How Much Depends on Where It’s Grown
By Jason Quinn and Hailey Summers
The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
The Big Idea
The lights used to grow weed indoors use a lot of electricity, but facilities require a lot of energy to maintain a comfortable environment for the plants. That means air conditioners or heaters to maintain proper temperatures. Producers also pump carbon dioxide inside to increase plant growth. This accounts for 11% to 25% of facilities' greenhouse gas emissions.
But the biggest energy use comes from the need to constantly bring fresh air into growing facilities. All of this outside air needs to be treated so that it is the correct temperature and humidity. This is a very energy-intensive process since the air exchange rate is typically so high.
All of these inputs contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, a lot more in some regions than others.
Using Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and industry data, we found that growing pot indoors leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions in the Mountain West, Midwest, Alaska and Hawaii than compared to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. This is because climates are milder on the coasts, so you need less heating or air conditioning and because the electric grids use more clean energy.
Cannabis grown in Southern California has the lowest emissions, at 143 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per ounce of dried cannabis. Meanwhile, eastern O'ahu in Hawaii has the highest emissions, at 324 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per ounce. That's roughly equivalent to burning 16 gallons of gasoline.
Places with more extreme temperatures and fewer renewable energy sources had the highest greenhouse gas emissions. Jason Quinn / CC BY-ND
Why It Matters
Policymakers and consumers aren't paying much attention to environmental impacts of the cannabis industry. In Colorado, the weed industry accounts for 1.3% of the state's total annual emissions. This is similar to emissions from coal mining and trash collection for the entire state.
Currently, there is little to no regulation on emissions for growing cannabis indoors. Consumers aren't thinking about the environmental effect either. As a whole, this industry is developing and expanding very quickly without consideration for the environment.
What Still Isn't Known
The cannabis industry is so new that researchers don't even know how much is grown indoors. Additionally, every indoor operation is unique. Some are old warehouses using outdated equipment, while others are much more energy-efficient.
Growing cannabis outdoors or in greenhouses could be one way to remove the need for lights and environmental controls. However, researchers don't know the greenhouse gas emissions associated with these growth methods either. All these unknowns make it hard to develop polices or best management practices.
Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND. Source: Jason Quinn. Get the data
Our team's goal is to better quantify and communicate the environmental impact of cannabis production so that those who want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be better informed.
We aim to show greenhouse gas emissions per serving of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that produces the "high." Our preliminary results show that one serving of THC – roughly 10 mg of dried flower – is likely to have higher greenhouse gas emissions than a serving of beer, wine, spirits, coffee or cigarettes, regardless of the location the weed was grown.
Our team is also interested in understanding where weed could be grown if federal legalization happens. Legalization might allow policymakers and producers to grow weed in places and in ways that are much more environmentally friendly, but they need the knowledge to do so.
Jason Quinn is an associate professor in mechanical engineering and director of the Sustainability Research Laboratory, Colorado State University.
Hailey Summers is a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering and sustainability, Colorado State University.
Disclosure statements: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Sam Baker
What really makes this reporter's stomach churn thinking about climate change? Thawing permafrost. A scenario where it all melts, releasing copious amounts of CO2 and methane (it holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere holds right now), and there's no going back.
But what's at the top of the list of concerns for those who study how climate change is unfolding – on ice sheets and urban street corners, in oceans and farm fields – the climate scientists themselves?
DW asked a dozen experts spanning climatology, entomology, oceanography and yes, permafrost research, what keeps them up at night when it comes to the climate.
The Greatest Unknown – People
Nana Ama Browne Klutse studies changing weather with climate models at the University of Ghana. While she says tipping points like permafrost thaw worry her, she also worries how individuals will handle changing climates.
"What can you do as an individual to avoid the impact of climate change?" she asked. "We need government policies for resilience, building of community, city resilience. Then we need that global action."
Climate scientist Ruth Mottram studies the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rise for the Danish Meteorological Institute, but it's not the science that worries her.
"I'm less concerned that there are unknown processes going on that we don't understand, and there could potentially be some unforeseen catastrophe on the way," she said. "We know what a lot of the impacts are going to be. I think what keeps me awake at night in a metaphorical sense is really the interaction between the physical system and how human societies are going to handle it."
Giving the example of sea level, she says we will see a meter rise this century — in our lifetimes or that of our children — and will have to make tough decisions about our coastal cities. But she says it won't end there.
"I think that human societies have not really grasped what that means and that adaptation to sea level rise is going to be a long process and we are going to be doing it for hundreds of years," said Mottram, suggesting that we start thinking in terms of the lifetimes of cities (hundreds of years) rather than just human lifetimes.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Permafrost Laboratory, said that while he thinks about how what happens in the Arctic will affect the rest of the world, his concerns are much more local.
"We should remember that there are still some people living in the Arctic," he said. Around 4 million people in fact who would have to deal with the real-life consequences of solid ground thawing beneath their feet and houses. "Changes in these local or regional kind of climates and environments, they impact these people and some of these impacts could be very severe."
Closer to the planet's other pole, Carolina Vera fears that existing inequalities will only be exacerbated by climate change.
"Climate change is already impacting the most vulnerable sectors of our planet," said Vera, who studies climate variability as a principal researcher for the National Council of Science of Argentina, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and chief of staff for Argentina's Ministry of Science and Technology. Her work has led her to incorporate local knowledge and data collection into studies, involving communities that are balancing the problems of deforestation with their need to farm.
Heat and New Extremes
Perhaps not surprisingly, global heating is a key concern for many researchers, like Dim Coumou, who studies extreme weather at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Of most concern to him are heat and humidity extremes in the tropics – especially highly populated parts like West Africa, Pakistan and India – which will make it unbearable to be outside. When cooling down by sweating is no longer possible, people can't work outside and therefore can't grow food. The likely result being mass migration.
But it's not just the tropics.
Closely related to heat is the increase in extreme weather brought on by a warming climate. Coumou and his colleagues' research shows how changes to the jet stream will lead to more extreme weather in Europe, including floods and droughts.
This increase in extreme weather is climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker's biggest climate concern.
"A warmer atmosphere can hold more water in it and when it rains, it rains heavily leading to floods. A warmer ocean can lead to stronger tropical cyclones," said Babiker, who works for the East African Climate Center ICPAC in Nairobi. He explained that cyclones gain more energy from warmer water.
"We have seen evidence of all these events," he said. "The strongest tropical cyclones to impact the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, and Mozambique occurred in the past 20 years!"
Science for Solutions
Pests, drought and flooding are on Esther Ngumbi's mind too.
An entomologist and professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she said that what keeps her up at night is the thought: "How can my science truly help?"
Ngumbi's work on pest and drought-resistant crops is driven by her concerns for vulnerable farmers who live in countries lacking social safety nets, where one season of crop devastation due to insects can mean going hungry and being unable to pay for their children's education.
"That truly makes me wake up every day and go to the lab to understand how my research can contribute to solutions that we need," she said.
Natasha Picone – an urban climatologist at the National University of Central Buenos Aires – says it's the solutions that occupy her thoughts too.
"With the pandemic, I realized that we are not doing enough for changing our cities to be more livable," she said. Her research informs urban planners about phenomena such as the urban heat island effect, air pollution and urban run-off that can lead to flooding. "If we don't change the path now, it will be really difficult to go back."
Weighing on the mind of oceanographer Renata Hanae Nagai at the University of Parana in Brazil is her four-year-old nephew and what his life will look like in a warmer world, but he also gives her hope. During a recent trip to the beach to watch nesting turtles, he warned others to leave the turtles alone.
She sees this same care in her students – learning about problems and coming up with solutions.
"People are the solution," she said. "We try, even under the hardest conditions."
'Scientists are Humans' Too
"For me, that's like morally totally unacceptable what they do – they lie," said the climate physicist from Maynooth University in Ireland, reflecting on encountering such people at public talks. "I mean, you can't argue with climate."
But this only pushes Caesar to better communicate what the science shows.
They Worry About Us
A common thread of this (rather unscientific) survey is that while we laypeople might be worrying about what the science says, climate scientists are often worrying about us.
"Scientists always think about what are the results of their studies, how are they important for, you know, for usual people, for normal people," the permafrost scientist told me. While doing his research, Romanovsky said he's always thinking about "how this could be used to make life of people easier or more predictable."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
What Is Climate Change? Is It Different From Global Warming?
Climate change is actually not a new phenomenon. Scientists have been studying the connection between human activity and the effect on the climate since the 1800s, although it took until the 1950s to find evidence suggesting a link.
Since then, the amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases) in the atmosphere have steadily increased, taking a sharp jump in the late 1980s when the summer of 1988 became the warmest on record. (There have been many records broken since then.) But climate change is not a synonym for global warming.
The term global warming entered the lexicon in the 1950s, but didn't become a common buzzword until a few decades later when more people started taking notice of a warming climate. Except climate change encompasses a greater realm than just rising temperatures. Trapped gases also affect sea-level rise, animal habitats, biodiversity and weather patterns. For example, Texas' severe winter storms in February 2021 demonstrate how the climate isn't merely warming.
Why Is Climate Change Important? Why Does It Matter?
Marc Guitard / Moment / Getty Images
Despite efforts from forward thinkers such as SpaceX Founder Elon Musk to colonize Mars, Earth remains our home for the foreseeable future, and the more human activity negatively impacts the climate, the less habitable it will become. It's estimated that Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius, or two degrees Fahrenheit, since the start of the Industrial Revolution around the 1750s, although climate change tracking didn't start until the late 1800s. That warming number may not sound like much, but this increase has already resulted in more frequent and severe wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts and winter storms, to name some examples.
Then there's biodiversity loss, another fallout of climate change that's threatening rainforests and coral reefs and accelerating species extinction. Take rainforests, which act as natural carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But as rampant deforestation is occurring everywhere from Brazil's Amazon to Borneo, fewer trees mean that rainforests are becoming carbon sources, emitting more carbon than they're absorbing. Meanwhile, coral reefs are dying as warming ocean temperatures trigger bleaching events, which cause corals to reject algae, their main food and life source. Fewer trees, coral reefs and other habitats also equate to fewer species. Known as the sixth mass extinction, a 2019 UN report revealed that up to a million plant and animal species could become extinct within decades.
It can be easy to overlook climate change in day-to-day life, or even realize that climate change is behind it. Notice there's yet another romaine lettuce recall due to E. Coli? Research suggests that E. Coli bacteria are becoming more common in our food sources as it adapts to climate change. Can't find your favorite brand of coffee beans anymore? Or that the price has doubled? Climate change is affecting that too. Climate change is also worsening air quality and seasonal allergies, along with polluting tap water. Not least, many preliminary studies have also drawn a line between climate change and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that is still gripping much of the world. Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently until the root causes, such as deforestation, are addressed.
Speaking of larger-scale issues, global water scarcity is already happening more frequently. The Caribbean is facing water shortages due to rising temperatures and decreased rainfall; Australia's dams may run dry by 2022 as severe wildfires increase and Cape Town, South Africa has already faced running out of water.
As touched upon earlier, it's one thing to be inconvenienced by a lack of romaine lettuce for a couple of weeks or higher coffee bean prices, but reports warn how climate change will continue to threaten global food security, to the point of triggering a worldwide food crisis if temperatures surpass two degrees Celsius.
Many of these factors are already contributing to climate migration, forcing large numbers of people to relocate to other parts of the world in search of better living conditions.
Unless more immediate, drastic action is taken to combat climate change, future generations will have to contend with worst-case scenario projections by the end of the 21st century, not limited to coastal cities going underwater, including Miami; lethal heat levels from South Asia to Central Africa; and more frequent extreme weather events involving hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, droughts, floods, blizzards and more.
What's Happening and Why?
Fiddlers Ferry power station in Warrington, UK. Chris Conway / Moment / Getty Images
The Earth's temperature has largely remained stable until industrial times and the introduction of greenhouse gases. These gases have forced the atmosphere to retain heat, as evidenced by rising global temperatures. As the planet grows warmer, glaciers melt faster, sea levels rise, severe flooding increases and droughts and extreme weather events become more deadly.
The Greenhouse Effect
In the late 1800s, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius studied the connection between the amount of atmospheric carbon and its ability to warm and cool the Earth, and while his initial calculations suggested extreme warming as carbon increased, researchers didn't start to take human-induced climate change seriously until the late 20th century.
But proof of human-led climate change can be traced to the 1850s, and satellites are among the ways that scientists have been tracking increased greenhouse gases and their climate impact in more recent years. Climate researchers have also documented warmer oceans, ocean acidification, shrinking ice sheets, decreased snow amounts and extreme weather as among the events resulting from greenhouse gases heating the planet.
Numerous factors contribute to the production of greenhouse gases, known as the greenhouse effect. One of the biggest causes involve burning fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas, to power everything from cars to daily energy needs (electricity, heat). From 1970-2011, fossil fuels have comprised 78 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Big Ag is another greenhouse contributor, particularly beef production, with the industry adding 10 percent in 2019. This is attributed to clearing land for crops and grazing and growing feed, along with methane produced by cows themselves. In the U.S. alone, Americans consumed 27.3 billion pounds of beef in 2019.
Then there's rampant deforestation occurring everywhere from the Amazon to Borneo. A 2021 study from Rainforest Foundation Norway found that two-thirds of the world's rainforests have already been destroyed or degraded. In Brazil, deforestation reached a 12-year-high in 2020 under right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. As it stands, reports predict that the Amazon rainforest will collapse by 2064. Rainforests are important carbon sinks, meaning the trees capture and remove carbon from the atmosphere. As rainforests collapse, the remaining trees will begin emitting more greenhouse gases than they're absorbing.
Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking more methane than previously believed, with U.S. wells contributing up to 20 percent of annual methane emissions.
Not least is the cement industry. Cement is heavily used throughout the global construction industry, and accounts for around eight percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
Natural Climate Change
Granted, natural climate change exists as well, and can be traced throughout history, from solar radiation triggering the Ice Ages to the asteroid strike that rapidly raised global temperatures and eliminated dinosaurs and many other species in the process. Other sources of natural climate change impacts include volcano eruptions, ocean currents and orbital changes, but these sources generally have smaller and shorter-term environmental impacts.
How We Can Combat Climate Change
Participant holding a sign at the climate march on Sept. 20, 2020, in Manhattan. A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images
While the latest studies and numbers can often feel discouraging about society's ability to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening, there's still time to take action.
As a Society
In 2015 at COP 21 in Paris, 197 countries came together to sign the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty agreeing to limit global warming in this century to two degrees Celsius, and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels; it's believed that the planet has warmed one degree Celsius since 1750. Studies show that staying within the two-degree range will prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. Achieving this goal requires participating parties to drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later. However, there have already been numerous setbacks since then, from former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in 2020 to world leaders, such as China, the world's biggest polluter, failing to enact aggressive climate action plans. Yet many of the treaty participants have been slow to implement changes, putting the world on track to hit 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century even if the initial goals are met. However, it's worth noting that U.S. President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement in 2021, and pledged to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2030.
Then there's the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global agreement to phase out ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals that were commonly used in air-conditioning, refrigeration and aerosols. Recent studies show that parts of the ozone are recovering, proving that a unified commitment to combatting climate change issues does make a difference.
On a smaller scale, carbon offset initiatives allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental programs that offset the amount of carbon that's produced through work or lifestyle. For example, major companies (and carbon emitters) such as United Airlines and Shell have pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in part by participating in carbon offset programs that remove carbon from the atmosphere. The problem is that these companies are still producing high levels of fossil fuel emissions.
While individuals can make a small impact through carbon offsets, the greater responsibility lies with carbon-emitting corporations to find and implement greener energy alternatives. This translates to car companies producing electric instead of gas vehicles or airlines exploring alternative fuel sources. It also requires major companies to rely more on solar and wind energy for their energy needs.
In Our Own Lives
While it's up to corporations to do the heavy lifting of carbon reduction, that doesn't mean individuals can't make a difference. Adopting a vegan lifestyle, using public transportation, switching to an electric car and becoming a more conscious consumer are all ways to help combat climate change.
Consuming meat relies on clearing land for crops and animals, while raising and killing livestock contributes to about 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization. By comparison, choosing a plant-based diet could reduce greenhouse gas footprints by as much as 70 percent, especially when choosing local produce and products.
Riding public trains, subways, buses, trams, ferries and other types of public transportation is another easy way to lower your carbon footprint, considering that gas-powered vehicles contribute 95 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Electric cars and trucks have come down in price as more manufacturers enter the field, and these produce far lower emissions than their gas counterparts. Hybrid vehicles are another good alternative for lowering individual emission contributions.
Buying locally produced food and items is another way to maintain a lower carbon footprint, as the products aren't shipped or driven long distances. Supporting small companies that are committed to sustainability is another option, especially when it comes to clothes. Fast fashion has become a popular option thanks to its price point, but often comes at the expense of the environment and can involve unethical overseas labor practices. Not least, plastic saturates every corner of the consumer market, but it's possible to find non-plastic alternatives with a little research, from reusable produce bags to baby bottles.
Those interested in becoming even more involved can join local climate action organizations. Popular groups include the Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, to name a few. Voting, volunteering, calling local representatives and participating in climate marches are additional ways to raise your voice.
It's taken centuries to reach a climate tipping point, with just a matter of decades left to prevent the worst-case climate scenarios from happening. But there's still hope of controlling a warming climate as long as individuals, companies and nations make an immediate concerted effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions. As the world already experienced with the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapid unified response can make all the difference.
Meredith Rosenberg is a senior editor at EcoWatch. She holds a Master's from the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in NYC and a B.A. from Temple University in Philadelphia.
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The recycling industry in America is broken. With unsellable scrap materials and already-burgeoning landfills, many consider the entire industry confusing and complex, at best, and a lost cause, at worst. Nevertheless, some local governments are trying to address program shortfalls with various policies.
Over the last 20 years, as more and more scrap materials were diverted from landfills, recycling rates increased, RTS reported. Still, several factors have complicated and even stalled serious progress. First, the U.S. recycling program is less-than ideal. The single-stream system means that consumers put all recyclables (and anything else they hope can be recycled) into one bin. This has created "imperfect recycling habits" and general consumer confusion about what is and isn't recyclable. It's easier on the consumer, but the result has been a contamination rate of about one-fourth of U.S. recyclables, Columbia's State of the Planet reported.
The mixed-stream of materials in residential bins is subsequently trucked to a waste management facility, where it is cleaned, separated and processed into saleable bales of plastic, aluminum, paper and cardboard. These are the actual products that recycling facilities sell to other countries or to companies for processing into eventual new products, a Miami recycling facility representative told EcoWatch. The more contamination that a batch of recyclables has, the harder and more expensive it is to clean. Higher contamination rates result in a lower price for the product. At some point, it becomes more economical to landfill contaminated batches of recyclables rather than clean them.
In 2018, China threw a wrench in the U.S.'s already-precarious system when it decided to stop accepting most recyclables from the rest of the world. The goods were often too contaminated for proper recycling and would end up in landfills, oceans or polluting the countryside. The U.S. had previously shipped over half of its plastics and paper recyclables to China, and loss of this market meant that recycling facilities had nowhere to sell the increasing amounts of recyclable trash being created daily.
Having been so reliant on the Chinese market and without a federal recycling program, this forced recycling facilities to give cities and municipalities two choices: pay more for recyclables to be processed or send them to the trash, The Atlantic and State of the Planet reported.
In the years since, some states and cities have tried to regulate and legislate their way towards a third option: waste management policies that could work.
Here are some of the innovative local recycling policies:
1. San Francisco
According to the EPA, the West Coast city diverts 80 percent of its waste from landfills – the highest rate of any major U.S. city. A city ordinance requires both residents and companies to separate their waste into three streams – blue for mixed recyclables, green for compostables (including food scraps, food soiled paper and yard waste) and black for trash intended for the landfill. The system helps to protect the integrity of recyclables and allows for the diversion of 80 percent of food waste into compost for local farmers and wineries.
San Francisco also enacted a variety of aggressive regulations to support its goal of zero waste by 2020, including bans on single-use plastic checkout bags and polystyrene to-go food containers, construction debris recovery requirements, mandatory recycling and composting at all events in the city, and a government-private industry partnership with the city's waste removal company, Recology, to ensure that the latter will remain profitable while it gets the city to its zero waste goal, reported the EPA and Busted Cubicle.
2. Los Angeles
As of 2019, California's other major city recycled almost 80 percent of its waste, Busted Cubicle reported. LA went from voting against recycling in the early 1960's to having a goal of recycling 90 percent of waste by 2025 and 97 percent by 2030, RTS reported. Compelled by statewide goals for waste recovery and mandates for recycling, LA used related state grants to build up its recycling infrastructure and better public education surrounding recycling.
In a public-private partnership, the city collects curbside collection and transports it to private recycling facilities. Sub-programs include requiring restaurants to compost their scraps and giving companies tax breaks based on the amount they recycle, Busted Cubicle reported. The report estimated that the local recycling industry added $1.2 billion annually to LA's economy.
According to RTS and Busted Cubicle, forward-thinking Seattle adopted a mandatory food scrap recycling program in 2009, a zero-waste policy in 2010 and a mandatory commercial recycling program in 2013. In particular, the city hopes to eliminate landfilling and incineration of trash.
As of 2017, Seattle recycled 56.9 percent of its waste, with a goal to reach 72 percent by 2025. A three-year phase-in program for mandatory recycling allowed for better education of residents and creation of processes for effective enforcement, Busted Cubicle reported. Individuals are incentivized to reduce waste because, while recycling is collected for free, residents pay a per-bag fee for regular garbage, The New York Times reported. Individuals are further motivated to reduce waste because smaller trash cans incur a lower monthly rate for disposal. Penalties and even fines are levied against non-compliant residents. Private companies hired by the city to process trash are similarly "handsomely compensated" when they send less to landfills.
According to the city, 98 percent of Boise residents recycle, a credit to their extensive educational programs, Busted Cubicle reported. When China's recycling ban disrupted the city's recycling, Boise came back with an innovative recycling initiative for previously non-recyclable plastic films.
In partnership with Hefty® brand bags and Renewlogy, a company that converts plastics into diesel fuel, Boise encouraged residents to collect their plastic films in orange bags provided to them by the city, RTS reported. The lightweight plastics, which include grocery store bags, food packaging and even candy wrappers, are bagged and put into normal blue recycling bins for pickup. At local processing centers, they are sent to Renewlogy in Salt Lake City for conversion into a diesel fuel that has 75 percent lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels at one-third the cost, Busted Cubicle reported.
5. San Jose
Just south of San Francisco, the Bay Area hub committed to 75 percent waste diversion by 2013, zero waste by 2022 and zero landfill or incinerator waste diversion by 2040, Busted Cubicle reported. A three-way partnership for commercial waste management between the city and two private companies has been critical to San Jose's success.
Republic collects recyclables and organics from more than 8,000 businesses in the city. It processes the former and sends the latter to Zero Waste Energy Development Company for processing into energy or compost, the news report said. Residential curbside recycling continues to improve through various sub-programs including street sweeping, curbside junk pickup and cleanup events.
Colorado's capital city currently has a low diversion rate – 22 percent as of 2017 with a modest goal of 34 percent by 2020 – but it has an advantage in housing Alpine Waste & Recycling. This cutting-edge waste management company uses technology to simplify single-stream recycling even further. Rather than asking customers to correctly figure out what is recyclable, Alpine finds ways to increase what types of items can be recycled in Denver.
The company has paved the way in new processes to recycle materials that traditionally were confusing or impossible to recycle, including paper coffee cups, juice and milk cartons, styrofoam and large, rigid plastics, Busted Cubicle reported. Their new facility employs state-of-the-art technology to quickly process many tons of waste per hour.
7. New York City
As recently as January 2020, The New York Times reported on "7 Reasons Recycling Isn't Working In New York City." The metropolitan "lagged' behind other major cities, only recycling around one-fifth of its trash, The Times reported. Reasons included lack of recycling and composting bins, political reluctance and fiscal challenges to implementing additional recycling policies and the local culture built around hyper-consumerism, Amazon deliveries and takeout food.
Despite these shortcomings, the big apple makes this list because of a new proposed bill hoping to force manufacturers to pick up the tab for recycling paper, plastic, glass and metal. The extended producer responsibility (E.P.R.) bill would compel manufacturers to pay for the end-waste their products produce, another New York Times article reported. This could incentivize companies to create more sustainable packaging and products to lower fees. The municipality could use collected fees to offset recycling expenses. Proponents could also write in an anti-price gouging provision to ensure manufacturers don't pass the new costs onto consumers. The profits from such a program would be infused back into New York's struggling recycling programs, with the goal of upgrading technology and even creating more jobs, The Times reported.
While ambitious and innovative, many of these local programs are still far from reaching their lofty goals. As they work to become sustainable and profitable, the global market for high-quality recycled materials is actually growing, State of the Planet reported.
For the U.S. to take advantage of this, domestic recycling processes must be reformed, the news report emphasized. Whether through better technology at facilities like in Denver and Boise, innovative public-private partnerships like in the three California cities or in precedent-setting legislation like in New York, cities must lead the way in order to modernize and save the U.S. domestic recycling industry.
Tiffany Duong is an avid ocean advocate. She holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and is an Al Gore Climate Reality Leader and student member of The Explorer's Club.
She spent years as a renewable energy lawyer in L.A. before moving to the Amazon to conduct conservation fieldwork (and revamp her life). She eventually landed in the Florida Keys as a scientific scuba diver and field reporter and writes about the oceans, climate, and the environment from her slice of paradise. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @lilicedt.
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By David Shiffman
As we enter what's hopefully the home stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's time to take stock of how it affected every aspect of our world, to consider what happened, what could be done different to avoid those problems in the future, and what's next.
That might mean confronting some of our earlier conclusions. For example, at the start of the pandemic we were bombarded with often false stories about suddenly quiet cities and waterways experiencing animals reclaiming what was once their habitat. "Nature is healing" stories like this seem to have created an overly rosy picture of the pandemic's impact on the natural world.
The reality is much more complicated, and I'm not just talking about things like the well-publicized millions of inappropriately discarded plastic bags and protective masks ending up in the ocean. Many other changes to the world's waters, including some potentially harmful ones, are taking place beneath the surface.
"Protected and conserved areas and the people who depend on them are facing mounting challenges due to the pandemic," says Rachel Golden Kroner, an environmental governance fellow at Conservation International. Indeed, for the past two decades a sizable chunk of global biodiversity conservation has been funded by ecotourism, a funding source that dries up when international travel slows down, as it did this past year.
While any global complex event has many impacts including some that we almost certainly can't predict at this point, many of the medium and long-term effects are likely to be bad.
And You Thought Your Virtual Meetings Were Bad
It's not just your workplace that's been meeting online this past year. It's every meeting, including international wildlife conservation and management meetings.
Some of these important events have been postponed, stalling critical political momentum that scientists and activists have been building for years. Others have met virtually, with notably less effectiveness.
The highest profile example of this was the December 2020 failure of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. The IATTC is an international gathering that governs a multi-billion-dollar series of global tuna fisheries, and meetings include representatives from all over the world who hammer out fishing quotas and other rules. The 2020 meeting closed without reaching an agreement on 2021 quotas. If allowed to stand, this would have meant that starting on January 1 of this year, a multi-billion-dollar global industry would have had absolutely no rules governing it. Imagine if your city council failed to agree on a policing budget, and this meant that "The Purge" was suddenly real — that's what nearly happened in the world of tuna management this past winter.
The pandemic didn't create the problem of tuna management politics, but experts believe that the virtual meeting, which precluded "schmoozing" in the hallway during coffee breaks and added an element of multiple time zone chaos, contributed to this year's unprecedented breakdown in negotiations.
"These meetings are often difficult to get through, but usually they keep working until they get it done, until there's at least a decent solution," says Grantly Galland, a global tuna conservation expert with Pew Environment. That's hard enough in person, but this year "the meeting started at 6 p.m. for me in D.C., which was midnight in Europe, and early morning in Japan. People were often frustrated. As discussions dragged into the night the incentive to keep going disappeared, and the meeting ended without rules."
Fortunately, after receiving intense pushback from environmental groups and the concerned public, the commission met for an emergency meeting a few weeks later and fixed this problem by just carrying over the 2020 rules to 2021 — hardly an ideal solution given existing problems with the 2020 rules, but a lot better than open ocean anarchy.
Still, this near-disaster shows how dependent our system of environmental management is on face-to-face meetings.
Whenever there's any economic crisis, industry will ask for a temporary (or even permanent) rollback of environmental protection regulations that they find economically burdensome. Marine and coastal protected areas, long a priority for science-based conservation and long opposed by elements of the fishing industry, have been no exception.
For example, a fisheries management council asked then-President Trump to allow fishing in currently protected areas, and the Trump administration did roll back fishing protections in the Atlantic around that time.
NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition
Marine protected areas also face other threats stemming from the pandemic. Rachel Golden Kroner, who also authored a recent paper on the impacts of the pandemic on protected areas, says: "Key challenges for marine protected areas include budget cuts, declines in tourism revenue, disruption of seafood supply chains and challenges in implementing management activities."
Golden Kroner shared examples of the near-collapse of the tourism-associated hospitality industry in Kenya, the Galapagos, Indonesia and Australia, noting that some of these industries employed former members of the fishing industry who had been persuaded to work in tourism instead.
While some coastal communities and protected areas face these serious issues, the good news is that this problem is far from universal.
"While the shutdowns, restrictions, and closures of coastal areas disrupted access and temporarily interrupted stewardship and harvest activities across Hawai'i, the connections between humans and nature forged over generations ensured that marine management actions never lost momentum," says Ulu Ching, the program manager for community-based conservation for Conservation International's Hawaii office. "Well-established community networks in collaboration with government resource management agencies continued to advance the work of mālama i ke kai (caring for the ocean) through the development and establishment of community-driven marine managed areas across the islands during the pandemic."
A young monk seal underwater in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. NOAA/PIFSC/HMSRP
Additionally, Golden Kroner points out that while some momentum for creating protected areas has stalled and some industry groups have called for rollbacks, there is good news in the form of expanded protected areas in a handful of places around the world. But it's clear that despite some positive signs, momentum in creating new marine protected areas has stalled in many places, tourism that funded their operations has slowed to a crawl, and some industries have been successful in rolling back protections.
Threats Continue, But Monitoring Has Stalled
One of the primary tools in the conservationist's toolbox for making sure that the commercial fishing industry follows the rules is observer coverage: independent people on board fishing vessels who monitor and record the catch. Due to COVID-19 safety regulations, observer coverage in much of the world has been reduced or eliminated — but fishing continues.
"For countries with fewer management resources, I can imagine that less observer coverage could lead to more rules being bent," says Simon Gulak, a fisheries consultant with Sea Leucas LLC who used to coordinate fisheries observers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"Fisheries observers provide fisheries management with accurate information on all discards/bycatch at sea, not just the cuddly protected species," he says. "They're a bit like a fisher's auditor and are liked about as much."
The problem with a lack of observers means that we generally have no way of knowing if bad things are happening on the water, but there are certainly cases of fishing vessels who only follow the rules because they'll get fined if they don't.
Gulak notes that in fisheries subject to electronic monitoring — including GPS trackers and cameras that document all catch and bycatch — observers may be less important because all relevant data is recorded automatically and it's harder to get away with breaking the rules.
Galland, the tuna conservation expert, also stressed the importance of ramping up electronic fisheries monitoring efforts. If the pandemic leads to an increase in e-monitoring, that may be a long-term good. In the meantime, we just don't know what's going on in many fisheries that were previously monitored by human observers.
It's not just fisheries observing that's stalled due to workplace safety concerns, but also fish market surveys, an important scientific tool for monitoring catch from boats too numerous and small to have observers or electronic monitoring equipment. In large parts of the world, fish market surveys are the only data we have on local catch composition. Without them, we wouldn't know how many endangered species are caught, or if formerly common species started to disappear.
Monitoring of things like sea turtle nests has similarly slowed down. These nest surveys are a critical way for scientists and managers to keep track of population trends of iconic endangered species, and to protect the nests themselves by marking them so beach drivers of off-road vehicles know to not crush the hidden nests.
A recently emerged sea turtle hatchling. Becky Skiba/USFWS
So what does the pandemic mean for ocean conservation? Experts caution that it's probably too early to tell. However, it's not all stories of dolphins frolicking in suddenly quiet rivers. Environmental planning meetings, funding schemes for protected areas, and monitoring of fisheries and endangered species populations were all disrupted, giving us good reasons to fear that the story is far more complicated, and far less happy, than many of us have been led to believe.
David Shiffman is a marine biologist specializing in the ecology and conservation of sharks. He received his Ph.D. in environmental science and policy from the University of Miami. Follow him on Twitter, where he's always happy to answer any questions anyone has about sharks.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
By Michael Svoboda
For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.
The earliest Earth Days raised awareness, led to passage of new laws, and spurred conservation. But the original problems are still with us. And now they intersect with climate change, making it impossible to address one problem without affecting the others.
The 12 books listed below remind us about these defining interconnections.
The first three focus on biodiversity and on humanity's fractured relationships with the animals we live with on land.
The second trio explores the oceans and, at the same time, considers social and cultural factors that determine what we know – and don't know – about the 75% of our planet that is covered by water, perhaps the least well understood part of the climate system.
Agriculture and food security are examined by the third tranche of titles. This set includes a biography that may challenge what you think was/is possible, culturally and politically, in the American system.
Finally, there is the problem of waste, the problem of single-use plastics in particular. These three titles offer practical advice and qualified hope. Reducing litter might also reduce emissions – and vice versa.
As always, the descriptions of the works listed below are drawn from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are included, the latter is for the paperback edition.
A Life on Our Planet My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future, by David Attenborough (Grand Central Publishing 2020, 272 pages, $26.00)
See the world. Then make it better. I am 93. I've had an extraordinary life. It's only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its bio-diversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.
Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction, by Michelle Nijhuis (W.W. Norton 2021, 352 pages, $27.95)
In the late 19th century, as humans came to realize that our industrializing and globalizing societies were driving other animal species to extinction, a movement to conserve them was born. In Beloved Beasts, science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the movement's history. She describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson; she reveals the origins of organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund; she explores current efforts to protect species; and she confronts the darker side of conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism. As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change escalate, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species – including our own.
How to Be an Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human, by Melanie Challenger (Penguin Random House 2021, 272 pages, $17.00 paperback)
How to Be an Animal tells a remarkable story of what it means to be human and argues that at the heart of our existence is a profound struggle with being animal. We possess a psychology that seeks separation between humanity and the rest of nature, and we have invented grand ideologies to magnify this. In her book, nature historian Melanie Challenger explores the ways this mindset affects our lives, from our politics to our environments. She examines how technology influences our relationship with our own animal nature and with the other species with whom we share this fragile planet. Blending nature writing, history, and philosophy, How to Be an Animal both reappraises what it means to be human and robustly defends what it means to be an animal.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret, by Jess Keating, Illustrated by Katie Hickey (Tundra Books 2020, 34 pages, $17.99)
From a young age, Marie Tharp loved watching the world. She loved solving problems. And she loved pushing the limits of what girls and women were expected to do and be. In the mid-twentieth century, women were not welcome in the sciences, but Marie was tenacious. She got a job at a laboratory in New York. But then she faced another barrier: women were not allowed on the research ships (they were considered bad luck on boats). So Marie stayed back and dove deep into the data her colleagues recorded. At first the scientific community refused to believe her, but her evidence was irrefutable. The mid-ocean ridge that Marie discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet, and she mapped it all from her small, cramped office.
Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don't Know about the Ocean, by Naomi Oreskes (University of Chicago Press 2021, 744 pages, $40.00)
What difference does it make who pays for science? After World War II, the US military turned to a new, uncharted theater of warfare: the deep sea. The earth sciences – particularly physical oceanography and marine geophysics – became essential to the US Navy, which poured unprecedented money and logistical support into their study. In Science on a Mission, historian Naomi Oreskes delves into the role of patronage in science, what emerges is a vivid portrait of how naval oversight transformed what we know about the sea. It is a detailed, sweeping history that illuminates the ways funding shapes the subject, scope, and tenor of research, and it raises profound questions about American science. What difference does it make who pays? A lot.
Dark Side of the Ocean: The Destruction of Our Seas, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do About It, by Albert Bates (Groundswell Books 2020, 158 pages, $12.95 paperback)
Our oceans face levels of devastation previously unknown in human history due to pollution, overfishing, and damage to delicate aquatic ecosystems affected by global warming. Climate author Albert Bates explains how ocean life maintains adequate oxygen levels, prevents erosion from storms, and sustains a vital food source that factory-fishing operations cannot match. Bates also profiles organizations dedicated to changing the human impact on marine reserves, improving ocean permaculture, and putting the brakes on heat waves that destroy sea life and imperil human habitation at the ocean's edge. The Dark Side of the Ocean conveys a deep appreciation for the fragile nature of the ocean's majesty and compels us to act now to preserve it.
The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revolution, by Stephen Heyman (W.W. Norton 2020, 352 pages, $26.95)
Louis Bromfield was a World War I ambulance driver, a Paris expat, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist as famous in the 1920s as Hemingway. But he cashed in his literary success to finance a wild agrarian dream in his native Ohio. There, in 1938, Bromfield transformed 600 badly eroded acres into a thriving cooperative farm, which became a mecca for agricultural pioneers and a country retreat for celebrities like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This sweeping biography unearths a lost icon of American culture. While Bromfield's name has faded into obscurity, his mission seems more critical today than ever before. The ideas he planted at his utopian experimental farm, Malabar, would inspire America's first generation of organic farmers and popularize the tenets of environmentalism years before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, edited by Charles C. Ludington and Matthew Morse Booker (University of North Carolina Press 2019, 304 pages, $32.95 paperback)
What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today's America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today's methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food – from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.
Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need, by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman (Comstock Publishing Associates 2021, 264 pages, $21.95 paperback)
Our Changing Menu unpacks the increasingly complex relationships between food and climate change. In it, Michael Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, and Danielle Eiseman offer an eye-opening journey through a complete menu of before-dinner drinks and salads; main courses and sides; and coffee and dessert. Along the way, they examine the escalating changes occurring to the flavors of spices and teas, the yields of wheat, the vitamins in rice, and the price of vanilla. Their story ends with a primer on the global food system, the causes and impacts of climate change, and what we can do. Our Changing Menu is a celebration of food and a call to all – from the common ground of food – to help tackle the greatest challenge of our time.
Plastic Free: The Inspiring Story of a Global Environmental Movement and Why It Matters, by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and Joanna Atherhold Finn (Columbia University Press 2020, 272 pages, $28.00)
In July 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz challenged herself and some friends to go plastic free for the whole month. Since then, the Plastic Free July movement has grown from a small group of people in the city of Perth into a 250-million strong community across 177 countries. Plastic Free tells the story of this world-leading environmental campaign. From narrating marine-debris research expeditions to tracking what actually happens to our waste to sharing insights from behavioral research, Plastic Free speaks to the massive scale of the plastic waste problem and how we can tackle it together. Interweaving interviews from participants, activists, and experts, it tells the inspiring story of how ordinary people have created change in their homes, communities, workplaces, schools, businesses, and beyond. Plastic Fee offers hope for the future.
Can I Recycle This? A Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single Use Plastics, by Jennie Romer (Penguin Books 2021, 272 pages, $22.00)
Since the dawn of the recycling system, men and women the world over have stood by their bins, holding an everyday object, wondering, "Can I recycle this?" This simple question links our concerns for the environment with how we interact with our local governments. Recycling rules seem to differ in every municipality, leaving average Americans scratching their heads at the simple act of throwing something away. Taking readers on an informative tour of how recycling actually works (setting aside the propaganda we were all taught as kids), Can I Recycle This gives straightforward answers to whether dozens of common household objects can be recycled. And it provides the information you need to make that decision for anything else you encounter.
Zero Waste Living: The 80/20 Way: The Busy Person's Guide to a Lighter Footprint, by Stephanie J. Miller (Changemaker Books 2020, 112 pages, $10.95 paperback)
Many of us feel powerless to solve the looming climate and waste crises. We have too much on our plates, and so may think these problems are better solved by governments and businesses. This book unlocks the potential in each "too busy" individual to be a crucial part of the solution. Stephanie Miller combines her climate-focused career with her own research and personal experience to show how relatively easy lifestyle changes can create significant positive impacts. Using the simplicity of the 80/20 rule, she shows us those things (the 20%) that we can do to make the biggest (80%) difference in reversing the climate and waste crises. Her book empowers busy individuals to do the easy things that have a real impact on the climate and waste crises.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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That's what cities in Sweden are trying to answer through a new project called Street Moves that works with local communities to transform urban parking spaces into "one-minute cities" for sitting, storing bikes, growing plants or whatever else the neighborhood feels it needs. The end goal? To make every street in Sweden "healthy, sustainable and vibrant by 2030," according to Street Moves material reported by Bloomberg CityLab.
"What we really aspire is to slow down the pace on streets for them to work more as the public spaces they are," Daniel Byström, project manager at ArkDes Think Tank, told Fast Company. "We believe that streets can be more optimized considering the needs of humans and nature. Today, streets are mainly designed for cars, leaving little or no space for other activities. It's not sustainable."
The project is a collaboration between ArkDes and Vinnova, a Swedish government innovation agency, The Guardian explained. Vinnova funded ArkDes, which is the country's architecture and design museum. ArkDes worked with designers to create wooden furniture that can be fitted into parking spaces to transform them, depending on the needs of the community, Fast Company explained.
The design "draws inspiration from things like Lego or IKEA — or Minecraft — where you have a consistent system that can be adapted or hacked, remodeled, added to," Vinnova director of strategic design Dan Hill told CityLab.
The idea is that the furniture can be shaped by communities into "one-minute cities," an expansion of the concept of the 15-minute city that allows residents to meet all their basic needs within a 15-minute radius of their homes.
"It's a lovely idea in terms of having all of your everyday needs within that timeframe, but actually, the 'one-minute city', the space outside your front door, outside your apartment block or house or whatever, that's where you can have a very intimate and engaged relationship. That's your neighbourhood, really," Hill told The Guardian.
The project was piloted in the summer of 2020 in four blocks in Stockholm. Each block was close to an elementary school, so children played a role in designing the spaces to include elements like swings and dance platforms, Fast Company explained.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. About 70 percent of the 322 people surveyed about the redesigns were in favor of them, and ArkDes says use of the streets around the spaces has increased 400 percent, according to The Guardian.
The project has now moved on to Gothenburg, where a couple of parking spaces outside a sausage shop were transformed in early February into a seating area with a bench, picnic tables and racks for bicycles and e-scooters.
"When the sun was out on Friday and Saturday, it was absolutely full of people, just having a takeaway coffee and a sausage," shop owner Malin Henriksson Talcoth told The Guardian.
Talcoth said she was originally nervous that the loss of the parking spaces would mean fewer customers, but also noted that driving in Gothenburg had gotten so hard that fewer people were doing it.
Of course, moving away from cars is partly the point. Sweden has said it wants its cities to be carbon neutral by 2045, according to CityLab.
"As most greenhouse gas emissions occur in cities, by far, we need to demonstrate how — in a show-don't-tell kind of way — we can switch out old systems and cultures for new ones, retrofitting our existing environments," Hill told Fast Company.
The next one-minute city will be installed in Helsingborg, according to The Guardian. It will be outside a secondary school and include planters, seats and LED lighting. Other Swedish cities have also shown interest in the project.
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Portable generators allow you to power your devices and certain appliances, even away from home or when your primary power source is taken offline. These devices are also perfect for camping or outdoor adventures. A portable solar generator can give you the power you need with a smaller ecological footprint by using solar panels. In this article, we'll outline some of the top options available in 2021.
Our Picks for the Best Portable Solar Generators
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Goal Zero Yeti 1500X
- Best High-Capacity - MAXOAK Bluetti EB150
- Best Expandable Power - EcoFlow RIVER Pro
- Best Compact Design - Renogy PHOENIX 300
- Best Portability - Suaoki S370
- Best for Camping - Jackery Explorer 300
- Best Price - Westinghouse iGen200s
How We Reviewed Portable Solar Generators
A good portable generator will offer you backup power in a convenient and reliable way. We have reviewed some of the top models on the market today, and arrived at a few that we think stand out from the rest.
To rank the best solar generators, we considered the following criteria:
- Size and weight. Smaller, more lightweight units offer much greater ease of use. We sought portable solar generators that aren't too challenging to lug around your home, or take with you when you go camping.
- Battery storage capacity. While your generator absorbs light through a solar panel, that energy is ultimately stored in a battery. The battery storage capacity, measured in watt-hours (Wh) determines how long you can use the generator before it requires a recharge.
- Inverter rating. Basically, inverter rating refers to the total number of watts that the solar generator can extract at any given time. Inverter rating, along with battery capacity, determine the wattage and power output of your generator.
- Expandability. Some generators come with a predetermined number of solar panels, while some allow you to add more solar panels as needed. This is an important feature to consider when looking for generators.
- Price point. Naturally, when looking for a new solar generator, staying on budget is always going to be a factor. We chose generators that are competitively priced.
The Best Portable Solar Generators
With these ranking factors in mind, here are our picks for the best portable solar generators available in 2021.
Goal Zero's line of Yeti portable power stations are well-suited for a wide range of off-grid uses, including emergency power, camping trips, and more. The Goal Zero Yeti 1500X is their most-popular large power station with enough power for everything from cell phones and laptops to medical devices like CPAP machines and even full-size refrigerators.
Why buy: The Goal Zero Yeti 1500X includes a 2000W AC (3500W Surge) inverter giving you the equivalent of a wall outlet power supply on-the-go. It also has seven different port options and a top-of-the-line app that makes it easy to monitor and manage your solar powered generator, no matter where you are.
For a high-capacity power station, check out the Bluetti EB150 from MAXOAK. Though it's not the most affordable option, you'll get a lot of features and utility for your investment. It includes a lithium ion battery capacity of 1500 Wh. When connected to three 150W solar panels, it can be recharged in about 3.5 to 4 hours.
Why buy: For a portable solar generator designed to power most household appliances under 1000W, the high-powered Bluetti EB150 is a great choice. MAXOAK also backs their product with a 24-month replacement or maintenance warranty.
EcoFlow boasts an impressive catalog of portable power stations, as well as reliable solar panels. We like the EcoFlow RIVER Pro power station because its technology enables incredibly fast recharging; you can connect it to two 110W solar panels to recharge in as little as 4.5 hours.
Why buy: The EcoFlow RIVER Pro includes a wide range of best-in-class technologies. Offering 720 Wh of power with three pure sine wave AC outlets, and weighing only 15.9 pounds, these units are well-suited for camping and hiking, as well as use around the house. You can also add an additional EcoFlow battery pack to upgrade the power of your generator as needed.
Renogy produces several different power stations and chargers, but we especially like the PHOENIX 300, a solar power solution that's extremely lightweight and compact. It comes with an easy-grip handle and only weighs 6.4 pounds, making it one of the most portable solar generators around while still offering up to 200W of AC power for off the grid activities.
Why buy: The PHOENIX 300 can provide 337 watt-hours for up to 8 hours of AC continuous power without the noise or fumes associated with gas generators. It includes a number of the most common charging ports like two AC adaptors, a USB-C, USB-A, USB, and a D-Tap port for photography equipment.
Suaoki is a company that's known for simple, functional, reliable technology. Their S370 portable solar generator isn't necessarily flashy, but it's an extremely lightweight option, perfect for camping, hiking, and other outdoor adventures. It includes 14 outlet ports and a pure sine wave inverter, making it a versatile power option.
Why buy: This is one of our top picks for camping and hiking, though it may also serve your needs as a backup power station for small appliances and electronics. A lithium-ion battery gives this generator an incredible capacity battery life, particularly in relation to its compact size.
Jackery's portable power stations are ideally suited for camping and hiking. The Explorer 300 offers great portability and fast rechargeable power at an affordable price. It includes two AC outputs, a USB-C, USB-A, USB ports, and a 12-volt car port.
Why buy: The Explorer 300 generator is a good option for those who are new to solar power, thanks to its low price and easy-to-use controls. Jackery offers a number of portable solar panel options, and the power station's MPPT technology means that it can be recharged from the sun in just 5.5 hours.
There are plenty of reasons to consider the Westinghouse iGen200s portable generator. This is one of the more affordable options on the market today, which makes it a good entry-level solar power solution. The unit offers four charging options. You can recharge with solar panels, with the power from your vehicle, with a household power outlet, or with a separate generator.
Why buy: For a simple and inexpensive solar power generator, Westinghouse makes an outstanding product. You can charge up to nine devices at a time; and, depending on how you use it, you can potentially get more than 40 hours out of your generator.
What Types of Batteries Do Solar Generators Use?
It's important to note that solar power generators may employ different kinds of batteries. The most common option is the lithium-ion battery. These tend to be more expensive than lead-acid batteries, at least on the front end. With that said, a lithium-ion battery will prove more durable, which usually makes it the smarter investment in the long run. Solar generators include charge controllers, which regulate the volts of energy coming from the solar panels to the battery to make sure the battery isn't overcharged and damaged.
The energy stored in the battery is converted from DC power into AC power using an inverter or adapter.
What Can You Power With a Portable Solar Generator?
There are different types of solar generators. A backup generator is primarily used to power your home, should your electricity go out. In this article, we focused on portable generators, which are mostly used for hiking and camping. With that said, a portable generator can also be really useful during power outages, potentially keeping your lights, electronic devices, and small devices or appliances on for several hours. Depending on the watts of power your solar system generator kit can support, you can use it to power things like phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, coffee makers, a mini-fridge, certain medical devices, and most anything you would plug into a car charger.
Some of the generators we've listed here can be charged by solar energy or via other sources, including vehicles and power outlets. These different charging solutions make a generator more versatile, though of course, solar energy is what you'll want to use if staying away from fossil fuels is your goal.
What are the Benefits of a Portable Solar Generator?
There are a number of reasons why you might consider a portable solar generator:
- These units are ideally suited for camping and hiking. The ones on our list range in weight from under 10 pounds to over 50, but they are all fairly easy to cart around as needed, or to keep in your camper or RV.
- Though they are not primarily intended to be emergency backup generators, they can certainly be used in that capacity. In particular, they can provide emergency power to important medical devices as well as phones and computers.
- Unlike gas generators, portable solar generators offer power without making a lot of noise or creating a lot of fumes. This makes them much more appealing for campsites.
- Portable solar generators are better for the environment, since they don't rely on gas or diesel fuel to run.
- Using a solar generator is ultimately more cost-effective as you will never need to purchase fuel to recharge it.
Solar Power Can Take You Further
Solar power is one of the best options for dependable, renewable energy. Not only can it help power your house, but you can use these portable generators to carry that power with you, wherever you may go.
There are clearly lots of options on the market today. We hope our guide is helpful to you as you assess our own backup power needs, and as you determine which portable solar generator will give you the greatest value. Note that you can find many of these solar power options through third-party retailers like Amazon. Do your due diligence as you seek the perfect, portable solar solution for you and your family.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
The irony hit Katherine Kehrli, the associate dean of Seattle Culinary Academy, when one of the COVID-19 pandemic's successive waves of closures flattened restaurants: Many of her culinary students were themselves food insecure. She saw cooks, bakers, and chefs-in-training lose the often-multiple jobs that they needed simply to eat.
"The pandemic has leveled the most marginalized members of our society—the people working two, three jobs at minimum wage," Kehrli says. She knows the statistics by heart: FeedingAmerica.org says 50 million people may experience hunger and food insecurity this year. "Its tendrils," she adds, "are nasty."
Kehrli knew she wouldn't be able to make the entire U.S. food system more equitable and just, but she did have an idea to help her local community. Six years before, after spending time in the culinary school's bake shop, she'd gotten hooked on the alchemy of flour, water, yeast, and salt. She took workshops with master bakers and built a library of cookbooks on bread. Kehrli even started a regional network of people who shared her hobby: Northwest Bread Bakers. She loved to bake, and during the pandemic, other homebound Americans were beginning to feed sourdough starters by the millions. Kehrli wondered: Could a trending private hobby help meet wider needs?
A little policy research showed that, in Washington, bread was one of the few homemade foods the state health department allowed to be donated to food banks without needing to be made in a licensed commercial kitchen. And so in April, from Kehrli's home—where giant bags of flour eventually displaced the family car from the garage—the Community Loaves initiative was born. She called on a hive of baking friends to develop a sandwich-friendly, easy-to-execute sourdough recipe, the "honey oat pan loaf." The group found a food bank in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland called Hopelink that agreed to take the bread if they could make and package it in a standardized way. That first batch, the initiative donated 19 loaves.
Ten months later, the numbers have mushroomed. Nearly 700 volunteer bakers, drivers, and flour packers have contributed to the donation of nearly 15,000 loaves to 11 food pantries around Seattle. Two Sundays a month, the individual bakers each make four loaves (three to donate, one to keep) that get distributed among 36 neighborhood hubs. Community Loaves is on track to give away more than 30,000 loaves before the end of 2021.
The initiative has already expanded to three locations in Oregon, and Kehrli expects to inspire other cities. She's already gotten calls from bakers in Connecticut, California, and Minnesota wondering how they can replicate the idea.
The proud but visibly fatigued founder is braced for more in early January when she beams in for a virtual interview. Kehrli had been up until 3:44 a.m. the night before, she reports wearily, then up again at 7 and back in action with no shower or makeup. "I can't sleep anymore," she says."I have stuff to do."
One of her two college-age sons slips in a veggie bowl for her to snack on, because she hasn't had time for lunch. Things will only intensify from here. The Today show is scheduled to air a national segment on Community Loaves in two days, and the project's new website needs to be ready. In the middle of it all, someone shows up at the door needing labels, which had been delayed in shipping. Kehrli's supportive, operationally involved husband, Tim, makes a quick decision: "I'm going to give her bags and twist ties," he declares, "because that's all I have."
The work continues, because demand isn't letting up.
Inspiration and Limitations
During the pandemic, mutual-aid societies have cropped up around the country, reviving an old concept with roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The idea was that everyone had something to contribute, and everyone had something they needed. By 1920, a presidential report estimated that one in three adult men in the U.S. was a member of a fraternal society. During the 1918 flu pandemic, mutual-aid societies organized by and for women also multiplied. New Orleans, in particular, developed a strong mutual-aid tradition, with an estimated 135 organizations dedicated to supporting Black people, nearly one-third of them for women.
For today's mutual-aid societies, the catch line is often "solidarity, not charity."
Community Loaves, too, draws on the model of neighbors helping neighbors. And Kehrli took inspiration from an earlier time as well. Her grandmother, Ruth Wiesen, was known for making cookies, pies, or fudge for every bake-sale fundraiser, neighborhood social, funeral luncheon, or other community need. And she participated in the interfaith CROP Walks against hunger for as long as she physically could. When Kehrli told Wiesen about Community Loaves, her grandmother said, "I would've loved to have [baked for] that." Wiesen died in 2020, at 105—but not before helping Kehrli put labels on Community Loaves bread bags, marshaling her frail 85-pound body and still-powerful will to help even from her nursing home.
Sourdough donation isn't widespread yet, but related efforts are out there. Kehrli drew on one Midwestern model, Neighbor Loaves, that uses commercial bakeries. And celebrated artisanal baker Guy Frenkel has started a similar initiative in L.A., Cast Your Bread, that has inspired chapters in Baltimore and Israel. Kehrli gets calls from around the country—she logs them on a "New Cities Interest" spreadsheet—and she's expecting more. By April, she hopes to have expansion support in place, including a training session for others wanting to start something similar.
Still, Kehrli is dissatisfied with a food system that leaves people hungry—and is ever-conscious of her project's limitations. "It is just one piece of work on a scale that is extremely large in terms of what's needed," she says. "Yes, we're doing our part, and yes, I want us to feel good about it, and yes, it's still not enough."
Still, recipients who learn that volunteers are doing the baking appreciate the effort. Teresa, a Hopelink client in the Kirkland area who preferred that her last name not be used, says she was touched when she found out that fellow community members made the loaves. "This to me is the representation of community, people stepping in and learning and sharing love by trying to help the community," she says. "Baking is a special genre. There's no guarantees. But when the loaves are perfect, they're amazing."
Despite its limited scale, Community Loaves has a range of impacts, even beyond addressing hunger. One of them: expanding the market for locally grown, locally milled grains. The initiative uses high-extraction and whole grain flour. It's bought wholesale from two regional mills, Cairnspring Mills and Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill, and then purchased in smaller units by bakers as part of their contribution. "Flour has been relegated to the commodity market for a long time. Just like coffee and craft beer have gone through their days, flour is having its moment," Kehrli says. "We are helping to educate and share that not all flour is the same. I think we are helping support an improved foundation for choosing local ingredients that have been minimally processed."
The high-extraction flour has higher nutritional content, Kehrli asserts, including fiber and protein. People with celiac disease and gluten intolerance still can't eat bread—but anecdotally, many with gluten sensitivity have reported the Community Loaves iteration doesn't disagree with them. "We attribute that to the longer sourdough fermentation process and the quality of the flour," she says.
Then there's the effect on bakers, who not only give to others, but also benefit from connecting and contributing, safely and from home, during a pandemic. They come from a range of ages and backgrounds. Kinsley Ogunmola, for instance, a millennial software engineer, leads a hub in Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood. Up to 20 volunteers, ranging from 20-somethings to retirement age, drop off their loaves with him biweekly (he wrote a special code to let them into the building). From there, he coordinates transportation to the food pantry. "Our lobby smells like a bakery every other Sunday," he says. "My neighbor keeps asking me about bread now whenever I see him. I hope it spreads."
Community Loaves starts volunteers off with an online introductory session, which Kehrli leads. She's done more than 50 to date. At one orientation, in September, the range of the bakers' experience was apparent. There was Diane Moore, who had celebrated her 50th birthday with a weeklong baking course in France. And there was Clare Chan, who had zero baking experience but wanted to volunteer along with her teenage sons Caelen Yoong, 16, and Lucien Yoong, 14.
By January, Moore and Chan were both still involved and loving it. Chan reported that her family hadn't missed a single bread-donation Sunday since they started. In her native Singapore, she used to volunteer in senior homes, but she loves that the whole family can be involved in this service, and she hopes they'll keep it up even after the pandemic. "It's a humbling and rewarding experience for us to put in the time to make the bread and know that it's going to families in need," she says. "When you take the loaves out of the oven, that's the best part."
Moore had thought she might get bored making a sandwich loaf over and over, but found that consistency is its own challenge. "It turns out it's hard to perfect the pan loaf. It's not as forgiving in some ways as an artisan loaf. I feel like each time I'm learning more," she says. "This project nourishes me. It's been a gift. I was just ready to hand off bread, but there's a lovely connection to a community of bakers who share resources and recipes. It's a joyful project, and rewarding."
LYNN FREEHILL-MAYE writes about sustainability and related topics from her home in New York's Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, CityLab, Civil Eats, and Sierra, among other publications.
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
For anyone looking to harness the clean, renewable energy of the sun, a portable solar generator is a great option. In order to use this power source, however, you will need portable solar panels to charge your power station. Our review will explain the different types of solar panels to pair with the best solar generators and recommend the top brands to purchase.
What is a Solar Panel?
At its most basic, a solar panel is simply a device that absorbs the rays of the sun and turns that energy into usable electricity. Most residential and portable solar panels work using photovoltaic solar cells made of silicon that send that energy through an MPPT charge controller to be stored in lithium-ion batteries or lead-acid batteries. An inverter can take the solar energy stored in the battery and transform them into electrical current, which you can use to power devices, run appliances, or even keep an air conditioner running.
Not all solar panels are created equal, however, and consumers are encouraged to do their homework. In this article, we'll outline some of the best solar panels available today, particularly for use with portable solar generators for outdoor activities or emergency power.
Our Picks for the Top Portable Solar Panels
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Goal Zero Nomad 100
- Most Powerful - Renogy 200W Eclipse Suitcase
- Best for Easy Setup - Nature's Generator Power Panel
- Best Conversion Efficiency - Jackery SolarSaga 100W
- Best Expandability - ACOPOWER 120W Mono Solar Suitcase
- Best Compatability - Suaoki Foldable 120W Solar Panel Charger
How We Reviewed Solar Panels
Before we get into specific recommendations, it's important to understand some of the factors that cause one solar panel to stand out from the next. Here are just a few of the criteria we used to assess the best solar panels for use with portable solar generators.
Type of Solar Panel
Solar panels come in three basic types: monocrystalline; polycrystalline; and thin film.
- Monocrystalline solar panels tend to be sleek and highly efficient, but they are also the most expensive.
- Polycrystalline panels, on the other hand, are a little bulkier and less efficient, but can be obtained for a lower price point.
- Thin film solar panels are the cheapest of the bunch, but also the least efficient. And, they require the most space.
As you consider purchasing solar panels, knowing what type you want is one of the first things you'll need to think about.
If you plan to use your solar panel with a portable generator, then you'll naturally want something that you can transport with relative ease. Note that solar panels can vary greatly in their size and weight. Some are so small that they can be folded into briefcases, which is obviously a boon for those seeking portability for an off-grid power supply.
Another crucial factor is power output. Different panels can produce varying amounts of energy, or wattage, which can, in turn, determine things like how many devices you can charge at one time, how long your solar generator will last between charges, and how quickly you can recharge your solar power generator.
The conversion efficiency rating tells you how much of the sunlight that hits the solar panel is actually converted into usable energy. This number is always given as a percentage. So, for example, if you have a solar panel with an efficiency rating of 20 percent, it means that about 20 percent of the sunlight that hits the surface will ultimately be turned into energy that you can use. Typically, any panel with a conversion efficiency over 20% is considered high-efficiency.
Some solar panels include a built-in charge controller. A charge controller, or charge regulator, helps to moderate the voltage/current of your solar system. Basically, the charge controller is what prevents your battery from overcharging. This is an important part of any solar system, as it helps extend the battery life of your system and prevent accidents. Look for systems that use MPPT charge controllers.
When you first start getting into solar power, you may not know exactly how many panels you need. That's what makes expandability such an important concern. Expandability tells you how easy it will be to add more panels to your solar configuration, especially with modular systems that can easily connect more panels.
Naturally, your budget is going to be a major consideration as you look for a new solar panel. Solar panels can vary in their price point, but it's not enough to look for the cheapest model. Make sure you're getting the best overall value, paying a reasonable price for a solar panel that will help you achieve your clean energy goals.
The Best Solar Panels for Portable Solar Generators
Based on these criteria, here are the solar panels that we most heartily recommend for use with your portable solar generator.
Goal Zero has a comprehensive suite of solar products, including both mountable and portable panels. For powering a portable generator, we recommend the Nomad 100 solar panel. It offers a power output of 100 watts, and is can be chained together with additional Nomad panels for faster charging of solar generators like the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 or the Goal Zero Yeti 400.
Why buy: If you're looking for a powerful yet easily transportable solar panel configuration, Goal Zero's products are resilient, reliable, and offer more than enough power for mini fridges, laptops, medical devices, and more. The Nomad (true to its name) is designed to be rugged and portable, perfectly suited for camping trips and outdoor adventures.
Renogy is another line of solar products that provides you with plenty of choices. We like the Renogy 200W Eclipse foldable suitcase model, which gives the perfect balance of power and portability. It includes Renogy's highest-efficiency solar panels in a durable, protective casing.
Why buy: For plenty of solar power that you can literally fold up and carry with you, look no further than to this outstanding option from Renogy. The Eclipse suitcase provides excellent low-light performance with enough power for recharging electronic devices on-the-go with the Renogy PHOENIX solar generator.
There's a lot that we like about these solar panels from Nature's Generator. For one thing, these panels are pretty easy to transport and are made with lightweight aluminum frames and durable wheels. They also feature summer and winter tilt positions to help you maximize the amount of sunlight the panels capture each season.
Why buy: For basic power needs, Nature's Generator produces well-made products that are lightweight and easily transportable. One panel can provide up to 100W of of solar charging power output, and they are reinforced with safety glass that is also anti-reflective.
Jackery offers foldable, portable SolarSaga solar panels that are well-suited for on-the-go adventures. You can choose between a 60W and 100W unit. We like the power output of the SolarSaga 100W option. These panels are made with high-efficiency monocrystalline solar cells.
Why buy: For camping and outdoor adventure, Jackery is the way to go. Their SolarSaga solar panels are rugged, convenient, and extremely intuitive and easy to use. Plus, they offer a conversion efficiency of 23%, making them an excellent choice to use with a rechargeable solar powered generator.
ACOPower is another company offering major portability, in the form of a foldable, suitcase-sized solar panel. One major plus to ACOPower is that they have a wide range of products, allowing you to pick the solar panel that best fits your needs. The 120W lightweight solar suitcase is a great option if you're looking for something a bit heftier to help charge a backup power solar generator.
Why buy: Looking for lightweight and foldable solar panels with lots of power output? Look no further than the ACOPOWER 120W solar suitcase. This solar panel option can also easily expand to 240W by connecting an additional ACOPOWER panel to power your emergency backup solar generator.
Suaoki has a great portfolio of advanced solar technology. We especially like their 120W foldable solar panel, which provides a very decent 120 watts of power output. Made with durability in mind, Suaoki's solar panel is backed with a generous 24-month warranty. And, it's compatible with most brands of generators. A great all-around option.
Why buy: Suaoki combines many of the most important factors that consumers look for when seeking solar panels: power, portability, versatility, and excellent value. This solar panel also comes with a DC outlet and quick-charge USB ports for USB and USB-C. We especially like that these panels are designed to work with most of the top solar generators from other brands.
The Benefits of Portable Solar Panels
Portable solar panels offer a range of benefits.
- Solar panels can be paired with portable solar generators to provide you with emergency backup power in case of a power outage. Unlike gas generators, these are quiet and environmentally-friendly. Plus you will never have to purchase fossil fuels to run them as a backup generator.
- Portable solar panels can be ideal for living "off the grid," or for extended camping or RV excursions. With a good generator and the right types of solar panels, you can enjoy plenty of electrical power for cell phones and small appliances even when you're outside and far from any power outlets.
These are just a few reasons why switching to portable solar power can be beneficial, though again, you'll want to ensure you select the right solar panels to meet your goals.
Solar Chargers vs. Portable Solar Panels vs. Rigid Solar Panels
We already elaborated on some of the key differences between monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film solar panels. Now, let's turn our attention to another important area of distinction: solar chargers, portable solar panels, and rigid solar panels.
A solar charger is a small device that uses sunlight to generate electricity. These are usually used to power smaller devices, like phones or tablets, or anything you would plug in to a car charger.
Portable solar panels, like the ones we mentioned above, help absorb and capture sunlight, which you can use to power a portable generator or battery bank. These are ideally suited for camping or for an off-grid lifestyle. They can offer the same amount of energy that you get from an AC outlet.
Rigid solar panels are designed for rooftop installation to provide power to homes and buildings. Generally, these provide the most energy when connected to high-capacity battery storage.
Types of Solar Inverters
The inverter is an important component of any solar panel system because it's the component that actually takes stored solar energy as DC power and turns it into more usable AC power. There are two primary types of solar inverters used for portable solar generators.
- Pure sine wave inverters are designed to produce smooth, reliable, and quiet electric AC currents and work best at providing continuous power to delicate or sensitive electronic devices.
- Modified sine wave inverter provide a bit choppier and nosier current and are primarily meant for simple devices and appliances.
Knowing your inverter types is another important way to make an informed decision about your solar panel and solar generator purchase.
What Devices and Appliances Can You Charge With Solar Panels?
As you contemplate your solar energy needs, it's important to think about the specific devices and appliances for which you need power.
Some portable solar panel options come with 12-volt and USB ports that allow you to directly connect and charge certain devices. These can include things like smartphones, tablets, and computers. Alternatively, you can connect your panels to a generator or battery to power certain appliances that you would plug into a wall outlet like a mini-fridge, CPAP machine, or coffee maker. The specific devices you can power with energy from solar panels will depend on your system's output, run time, and battery capacity, typically measured in watt-hours.
We recommend using an online calculator to tell you roughly how much energy you'll need from your solar panel. Try this calculator to see what types of devices you can use.
Choosing the Best Solar Panels
The right portable solar panels can completely change your relationship to renewable energy. In addition to serving as a clean energy emergency backup in case of a blackout, they can also empower you to enjoy the adventurous lifestyle you crave.
As you seek the best portable solar panels, make sure you weigh all the important factors, from power output to price point. Use this guide to start your search, but also be sure to carefully assess each product according to your own energy needs.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.