The many ways fungi are saving our planet

April 10, 2020 by  
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Fungi are living organisms that support the ecosystem of the entire planet. Most people associate mushrooms with fungi, but in reality, mushrooms merely make up the ‘flower’ portion of some species of fungi. Up to 90% of the fungi associated with the mushroom is underground as part of a web called mycelium . Scientists are continually discovering ways fungi enhance the circle of life. The mushroom and mycelium components of fungi are currently a hot topic in the research world, because there are already over 100,000 identified varieties with thousands more being discovered annually. Together, these fungi species are unlocking solutions for cleaning up the environment, developing greener construction and product materials and contributing significant medicinal benefits. What are fungi? Fungi are basically the digestive tract of the planet. As a carbon-based substance, fungi work in conjunction with all living or decaying things. Whether that is a tree that has fallen in the woods or an animal that dies along the side of the road, mycelium works below-ground to facilitate decomposition. Mycelium is a massive filter that removes toxins from the soil , improving water quality as a result. Related: How fungi made Earth’s atmosphere livable This network also cycles nutrients from one location to another, essentially transporting food and water from one plant to another. It’s also believed they send messages throughout the forest that support the success of other fungi as well as overall plant life. In scientific papers reviewed as recently as two months ago, evidence has come to light indicating fungal fossils may date back at least 715 to 810 million years and possibly even over one billion years ago. Whether that can be proven or not, most scientists accept that fungi have survived on the planet since at least 400 million years ago. Further, researchers give credit to fungi for their critical role in facilitating the continued existence of the planet. Fungi and climate change In addition to supporting the entire plant kingdom, fungi are recognized as a promising weapon in the fight against climate change . While some of these discoveries happen in a lab, others are happening in nature as we go about our daily lives. As outlined in a new documentary, Fantastic Fungi , fungi are indiscriminate in their consumption of organic material. As an example of this cycle, fungi can break down carbon-based diesel oil, growing mushrooms in its wake. Then birds, bees and bugs feed, spread seeds and pollinate as a result, supporting more than just the surrounding area. In fact, many scientists believe mushrooms might be one solution to ending the crisis bees are facing, because mushrooms’ antiviral characteristics may offer protection from damaging chemicals in other plants. Fungi can likely clean up other aspects of the environment, too. According to the State of the World’s Fungi 2018 report , the mushroom Aspergillus tubingensis has the ability to grow directly on the surface of plastic and has properties that actually deteriorate the material. Yes, apparently some mushrooms can eat plastic . Even more amazing is the discovery that fungi were found consuming radiation off the walls of the abandoned Chernobyl plant. In fact, three species were found to be absorbing the radiation and turning it into energy for growth. In essence, they were feeding off radiation. Mushroom waste becomes biofuel Natural waste from mushroom production can also be converted into biofuel . According to research published in Science Advances , the research team revealed that a naturally occurring bacterium called Thermoanaerobacterium thermosaccharolyticum (TG57), isolated from waste generated after harvesting mushrooms, is capable of directly converting cellulose (a plant-based material) to biobutanol, leading to a much cleaner way to produce biofuel and reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Products made from fungi Product manufacturers are also looking toward fungi in material development due to properties that allow them to naturally decompose at the end of their life cycle. Fungi are being used as a substitute for environmental nemesis polystyrene foam , animal leather and chemical-laden building materials. One company, Coeio, has even created a mushroom-infused burial suit, explaining that a human body will break down faster and give back to the Earth sooner while the fungal properties filter out any toxic chemicals the body has acquired while living. Fungi for health Fungi are also in the spotlight for exciting medical advancements, such as treating anxiety and depression with psilocybin . Fungi could also help fight against cognitive decline, according to a recent study . Plus, fungi are already part of our everyday life in ways you may not even recognize. In addition to the mushrooms on your pizza , fungi are important for fermentation, which creates alcohol, leavened bread and much more. The list of possible ways fungi are saving our planet is nearly as long as the list of species themselves. With an increasing interest in research, the possibilities for finding innovative ways to use fungi in the future are exciting and promising. Images via Pixabay

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Is almond milk bad for the environment?

March 30, 2020 by  
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Almonds are a nutritious and satisfying food source. Not only are the munchable nuts a popular snack , but they are also used in a variety of other consumable products, such as almond butter and almond flour, and can be used in a milk alternative for people with dairy allergies or vegan preferences. Almond milk, a supermarket staple, is used in everything from coffee to baking. But like many other crops, the spotlight has been on whether almonds and the increased demand for almond milk are damaging the environment. How is almond milk produced? It’s important to first understand that almond production is a regional issue. In the United States, California grows nearly every almond in the country and also provides more than 80% of almonds shipped around the world. Needless to say, that level of production affects a significant part of the state’s land, economy and resources. The result is an industry criticized for extreme water consumption and pesticide use. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative Water use in the almond industry The main headline on almonds echoes fears regarding excessive water use. The truth is that farming uses water and a lot of it; almonds are no exception. In fact, a single almond takes about 1.1 gallons of water to produce. However, to put this in perspective, a single pound of beef requires a whopping 1,800 gallons of water , proving that raising cattle is much more resource-intensive than growing almonds. Collectively, meat and dairy production in California uses more water than that of all homes, businesses and government buildings in the entire state. Those figures make choosing almond milk over dairy milk much easier. Farmers realize water is a precious resource, and it’s been a topic of conversation for decades. As a result, California almond producers have spent two decades reducing the amount of water it takes to grow one pound of almonds by 33%. Additionally, they are dedicated to further cutting water usage by another 20% by 2025. Farmers achieve this by targeting water usage where it is needed rather than spraying large areas. Technology is helping, too, with computer-programmed water probes that measure moisture levels in the soil and respond accordingly. Pesticides for growing almonds Another concern centers around the use of pesticides in almond production, as pesticides then end up in the soil and water supply. The answer to this problem is a basic one; simply buy organic . Although the transition has been gradual, an increasing number of almond farmers in California are converting to organic growing methods.  Is our obsession with almond milk killing bees? Then there are the claims that almond milk is killing bees , but almonds are important to bees. Not only is almond nectar the first feast bees have early in the year, but the almond groves support roughly 2 million hives from across the country, making it the world’s largest managed pollination event. With the good comes the bad — pesticides are indeed credited with contributing to colony collapse, enforcing the need to grow and buy organic almonds along with other nuts, fruits and vegetables. Almonds and the economy While California remains cognitive of the potential negative impacts of almond production, the benefits appear to outpace those concerns. As far as the economy goes, The California Agricultural Issues Center says the California almond community delivers significant economic value to the state, including providing 104,000 jobs in the state and boosting GDP by $11 billion. Almond milk’s overall impact on the environment While the discussion of almond production is important to whether almond milk is bad for the environment or not, it’s also critical to realize that most almond milk uses very few almonds. Most almond milks are high in added ingredients, like sugars, artificial flavors and thickeners. Almond milk packaging and transport both have a negative impact, and all of the added ingredients make the nutrition benefits of almond milk questionable at best. You can curb the environmental impact of prepackaged almond milk by making your own at home. There are recipes all over the internet that explain how to do so and even offer twists on the traditional almond flavor by using spices and natural flavorings. So to address the question, “Is almond milk bad for the environment?” the answer is somewhat, but the benefits of a healthy snack producing a healthy economy and a healthy bee population outweigh the water consumption issues. Also remember that almonds offer the same environmental benefits of any other tree, cleaning the air by removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Plus, the branches offer shade to the soil allowing for better water retention and less evaporation. When the leaves drop, they add nutrients to the soil through natural composting. In all, the carbon footprint is somewhat small, especially compared to conventional dairy, while the economic, nutritional and environmental rewards are high. Images via Pixabay

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Is almond milk bad for the environment?

7 tips for a sustainable Thanksgiving celebration

November 25, 2019 by  
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Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate abundance, health and family, so it is the perfect time to focus on the health of the environment — the land that sustains us and makes the holiday possible in the first place. Enjoy your celebration and give back to nature at the same time with these sustainable tips for the upcoming holiday. Remember that each small step has an impact, so look for ways you can make easy, eco-friendly swaps throughout your Thanksgiving festivities. Decorate naturally It’s fun to bring out the fall decor, bursting with color and scents of the season. But before you head down the pumpkin spice aisle at the local store, consider ways you can decorate naturally instead. Pick up gourds and pumpkins for the porch as well as a hay bale and corn stalks to complete the vibe. Everything can go into the composter later in the season for zero waste . Related: 5 tips for beautiful, sustainable Thanksgiving decor Inside the house, craft some homemade grapevine wreaths embellished with mini pumpkins, pinecones, nuts or berries. Take the kids out to collect colorful leaves, acorns and rocks. Press the leaves or put together a Give Thanks paper banner, with each letter spelled out in natural materials . For centerpieces, carve out pumpkins and insert candles or fill a traditional cornucopia of edible goodness. Alternately, use colorful, clear or reflective metal bowls of produce such as lemons and limes, squash or apples. Travel less Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel holidays of the year. The impact of those trips leaves a heavy carbon footprint on the planet. With the fuel emissions of planes and cars, the easiest way to celebrate the day sustainably is to remain close to home. Use the holiday as an opportunity to volunteer at a soup kitchen or gather coworkers and friends without plans for a friendly feast. Get outside Electronics put a drain on natural resources , too, so skip watching the football game (or at least the third one) in favor of playing your own game outside. If you do not prefer contact sports, take the crew out for a nature hike or bike ride. Tour a local park, go for a paddle or cue up the cornhole in the backyard. Not only does time outside mean you’re not consuming electricity, but it’s also good for your health, both physically and mentally. Skip single-use dinnerware One of the simplest ways to reduce waste and pollution is to set the table with reusable plates, utensils and cups. You don’t have to put out china, but skip the plastic foam and plastic-covered plates in favor of the real thing. The same goes for silverware and glasses. Yes, this means you’ll have more dishes, but consider it quality bonding time with family when you work together to clean up everything. Ditch plastic With natural decor and reusable dinnerware, your plastic consumption will be low, but also look out for packaging on the food products you buy, fill water pitchers instead of using bottled water and reuse small cottage cheese, yogurt or butter containers to send leftovers home with your guests. Plan your meal carefully The Thanksgiving feast is a central component of the holiday, with Grandma’s famous yams and your aunt’s homemade pumpkin pie taking the spotlight. Keep looking forward to the favorite family recipes during the holiday, and supplement those must-have items with earth-friendly choices. Make several sides of fruits and vegetables. Also, lessen the quantity of meat, a leading cause of methane pollution for the environment. If skipping the meat isn’t an option for your family, reduce portion sizes and dish out bigger servings of fruits and vegetables. Related: How to host a zero-waste Thanksgiving dinner When it comes to planning the feast, look to your local market or fruit stand. Invest in organic produce and be rewarded with wholesome food that didn’t add toxins to the planet in its journey to your plate. In short, buy local, organic foods as the best choice for the planet. Freeze and reheat leftovers Many of us correlate the holiday with overindulgence, and it’s sometimes hard to avoid when everyone brings their favorite foods. Try to avoid waste upfront with realistic quantities of foods, and do your part to practice self-control when it comes to overeating. Once the meal wraps up, make use of leftovers with a second dinner. Invite friends or colleagues over on Friday for a Friendsgiving. You could also take leftovers to work to share. If everyone is burned out on turkey, throw it into the stock pot along with the leftovers from the vegetable tray for a delicious soup. Another option is to freeze leftovers for a later date. Celebrate the season and the planet with a plan to reduce plastic consumption, limit the impacts of travel and avoid food waste . Happy Thanksgiving! Images via Debby Hudson , Jill Wellington , Nel Botha , Terri Cnudde , Roman Boed and Shutterstock

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Exploring the business case for carbon removal

November 11, 2019 by  
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New approaches, from CO2-sucking materials to regenerative agriculture, were in the spotlight at VERGE 19.

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Exploring the business case for carbon removal

Behind those hookups between carbontech firms, oil and gas majors

October 29, 2019 by  
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In the spotlight: the burgeoning relationship between direct air capture firm Carbon Engineering and Oxy Low Carbon Ventures.

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Behind those hookups between carbontech firms, oil and gas majors

Twisting brick facade fronts an innovative courtyard house near Chicago

June 12, 2019 by  
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In a Chicago suburb full of traditional gabled rooflines, California-based architectural firm Brooks + Scarpa has inserted a modern dwelling that puts a sculptural twist on a humble and overlooked building material: Chicago “Common” brick. Historically considered unattractive and only fit for unseen areas such as chimney flues, Chicago “Common” brick is given renewed attention in a recently completed courtyard house , dubbed the Thayer Brick House. Not only does the contemporary home use the brick for almost its entire facade, but it also shines the spotlight on the local resource with a sculptural, street-facing facade that’s made with twisting columns of stacked brick. Made from indigenous Michigan clay, Chicago “Common” brick has long been considered undesirable and cheap due to its variations and irregularities. Instead of the classic red color, the prosaic material takes on a more yellow hue and has been traditionally used for areas hidden from the street, such as the side and back walls, chimney flues and structural support behind the facades. In making Chicago “Common” brick highly visible in the Thayer Brick House, Brooks + Scarpa is celebrating a local material and inviting passersby to reconsider unexpected uses for everyday materials and concepts. Related: A mountain refuge in Spain is brought back to life with brickwork “By using the familiar in an unfamiliar location and application, the material becomes perceptually both old and new at the same time,” the firm said. “This makes one more aware of not just the building, but also our sense of place. There is a sense of discovery, something spontaneous and unexpected. The object is important, but it’s the experience that has a profound impact and leaves something that lasts well beyond the mere physical and visual existence of the building. This gives us the opportunity to not only learn about design but also about ourselves, our collective cultures and our place in society.” The use of Chicago “Common” brick helps contextualize the building and gives the building an unexpected appearance. The street-facing facade is made up of columns of brick rotated at varying degrees to make the courtyard look open or closed depending on where the viewer stands. Passersby can see the full effect of the facade, which has a moire-like pattern that appears to move as one walks past it. The sculptural facade also has the added benefit of reducing glare and providing privacy to the fully glazed interior volume. + Brooks + Scarpa Photography by Marty Peters and Brooks + Scarpa

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Twisting brick facade fronts an innovative courtyard house near Chicago

Are electric bikes the future of transportation? We tested one to find out

April 10, 2018 by  
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At first glance, it might seem like the standard bicycle doesn’t have much you could improve on. It gets you to your destination faster, provides a great workout, and doesn’t pollute the air. And, of course, once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. However, in sprawling modern day cities—Los Angeles, we’re looking at you—bikes are sometimes less than ideal as a form of transportation. Cyclists can certainly brave the crowded streets and longer commutes, but they’re far more likely to be exhausted, or at least uncomfortable, at the end of their ride. That’s where the electric bike comes in. Electric bikes, or e-bikes, have been around for a few years, but a recent increase in popularity has thrust them into the spotlight—and for good reason. As more and more people move to urban areas, we’ll have to find new ways of creating urban mobility if we want to stop problems of traffic congestion and air pollution from becoming worse. The electric bikes provides an excellent solution to this problem: by making commutes less intensive, it serves as a viable alternative to cars and lets riders enjoy their time outside and explore their city. Related: Copenhagen now has more bikes than cars Here at Inhabitat, we decided to test out an e-bike for ourselves to see just how different it was from a standard bicycle. On a typically sunny SoCal day, I headed down to Electric Bikes LA in El Segundo, a small suburb south of LAX, and picked up a Porteur Faraday bike . The bike itself was gorgeous, painted bright white and mint green, with sleek bamboo fenders above the wheels. The battery, which can last 25 miles when fully charged, was cleverly integrated into the frame of the bike. At the very least, I thought as I wheeled the bike out the shop’s front door, I would be riding in style, and nobody would know the bike was electric. I took the e-bike to a nearby park, then started out on a rutted dirt path. At first, I found I had to pedal a little harder than usual. Electric bikes weigh more than standard bikes, though, at 40 lbs, the Faraday models are much lighter than other brands. Once steady, I reached down with my thumb and switched the motor to full speed. And even though I had read about electric bikes and what they could do, I was not at all prepared for what happened next. Imagine flooring it in a car—the way the vehicle leaps forward, the landscape on either side turning to a blur. It was a little like that, except all I had to do was pedal, and instead of going from zero to sixty, I felt the bike comfortably pull me forward as I went from zero to twenty. Even so, I let out a whoop as I shot effortlessly through the park, then slowed down with ease and turned onto the street. Once I joined traffic, I dropped the motor speed down a notch, but that didn’t stop me from outpacing the cars beside me. I even spotted a few of the drivers giving me incredulous glances as I sped past. Granted, I was on residential streets, but I could understand—it’s not often that you see a cyclist pass a car without even breaking a sweat. As I navigated around El Segundo, I toggled between speeds, testing out various combinations. The motor essentially functions as a gear shift, allowing you to pair each setting with gears one through eight. The bike itself uses a Gates carbon drive belt that not only means less long-term maintenance, but also no greasy pant legs and a quieter ride. I found that the bike shifted seamlessly based on whatever speed I desired, which allowed me to pedal less while maintaining momentum. But I knew there needed to be one more test: the hill. El Segundo’s elevation changes aren’t exactly staggering, but still, I figured getting a 40-pound electric bike up a hill might take some effort. I tried it twice, only turning on the motor the second time. The first time, I have to admit that I was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the top. The next time around, I flipped on the motor and went up two gears, and I ascended the hill in about half the time, pedaling with ease. Once I got back home, charging the bike was a simple process. The adapter is about the size of a typical laptop charger and plugs straight into the battery pack. From a completely empty battery to full charge took around two and a half hours. The verdict? Faraday’s electric bike handles and rides like a dream, and it’s easy to imagine using it to commute in L.A., or any city, really. In fact, Los Angeles is just one among many cities where it can be faster to ride a bike than drive . An electric bike isn’t exactly cheap—the average retail price in 2016 was $3,000, and Faraday’s two models go for $3,499 and $2,499—but, as an alternative to other forms of transportation, it makes sense. Faraday itself offers a 24-month financing plan that knocks the price down to $104 a month, which is about the same price as a bus or metro pass in most major cities, and far less expensive than paying for gas and insurance. Plus, you have the added benefit of appreciating and experiencing your city rather than seeing it through a car window. While the concept is still relatively new, I don’t doubt that electric bikes could be on the rise as a transportation alternative —one that’s greener, faster, and much, much more pleasant than sitting in traffic. + Faraday Bikes Photos by Angela Molina and Kimberly Keller Additional images via  Faraday Bikes

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Are electric bikes the future of transportation? We tested one to find out

Major supermarket chain is the first in the UK to remove palm oil from all its food

April 10, 2018 by  
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Over half of products in supermarkets contain palm oil , according to United Kingdom (UK) grocery store chain Iceland , and demand is contributing to deforestation . Iceland plans to do something about it by becoming the “first major UK supermarket” to eliminate palm oil from its own label products by the close of 2018. BREAKING NEWS: We're the UK's first supermarket to commit to removing #palmoil from our own label products by the end of this year! Watch here to find out why… #PalmOilAlarmCall pic.twitter.com/hfGvH2QRDW — Iceland Foods ?? (@IcelandFoods) April 10, 2018 Palm oil is one of the largest causes of deforestation in the world, according to Iceland , which specializes in frozen foods. So they plan to remove it from their own brand products. “By the end of 2018, Iceland will stop using palm oil as an ingredient in 100 percent of its own brand food production, reducing demand for palm oil by more than 500 tonnes per year,” head chef Neil Nugent said in Iceland’s video above. Iceland said Nugent is working to replace palm oil with fats and oils that aren’t destroying rainforests — The Guardian said this includes oils like vegetable or rapeseed oils. Related: UK researchers are developing an orangutan-safe alternative to palm oil Iceland quoted their managing director Richard Walker on their website as saying, “Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying ‘no to palm oil.’ We don’t believe this is such a thing as sustainable palm oil available to retailers, so we are giving consumers a choice about what they buy.” Deforestation is threatening many species, including the critically endangered orangutan — their population “has more than halved in the last 15 years,” according to Iceland. The World Wildlife Fund describes the animals as gardeners of the forest, “playing a vital role in seed dispersal.” They’re vulnerable in part due to their low reproductive rate — since females only give birth to one infant around every three to five years, it can take a while for the species to recover from declines in population. + Iceland Foods on Twitter + Iceland Environment Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 )

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Major supermarket chain is the first in the UK to remove palm oil from all its food

Is energy productivity the missing link for the Paris Accord?

September 27, 2016 by  
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Renewable energy often steals the spotlight for advancing sustainability, but Climate Week showed movement in another crucial area.

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Is energy productivity the missing link for the Paris Accord?

Amazon, Google and the White House team up to visualize climate risk

September 27, 2016 by  
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A new public-private climate resilience effort is using open data to double down on localized adaptation planning.

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Amazon, Google and the White House team up to visualize climate risk

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