Chemicals Climate Change Food & Agriculture

Hi-Tech Farming

This is the first in a series of three posts examining how we might adapt our food supply to the twin threats of climate change and peak oil. As much as I like to dream of world fed by small-scale regenerative agriculture, the reality is the Green Revolution largely solved world hunger. While the debate rages on about the limitations of the Green Revolution, there is no doubt that most plants benefit from fertilization and our commodified mono-crop agriculture depends on it.

Chart from Our World in Data.

The problem is that these fertilizers can also cause pollution and a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Production of nitrogen-based fertilizers is a power-intensive process, and these fertilizers break down easily to produce nitrous oxide, which has roughly 300 times the warming potential of CO2.

Our agriculture depends on fertilizers. Image credits: James Baltz.

Can we make more sustainable fertilizers?

In an article by their CEO, Mihai Andrei, ZME Science recently explored whether we can make more sustainable fertilizers. Andrei explores the work of Paolo Gabrielli from ETH Zurich, who is looking at ways the chemical industry can achieve net-zero CO2 emissions. In a recent paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters, Gabrieilli quantifies the food and energy implications of transitioning nitrogen fertilizers to net-zero CO2 emissions. Together with colleague Lorenzo Rosa, Principal Investigator at Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, US, he set out to explore ways in which net-zero fertilizers could be produced. Among the strategies they suggest moving fertilizer production to countries with surplus renewable energy so as to reduce reliance on fossil fuels in the production stage. However, making fertilizer with electricity requires 25 times the amount of power that current techniques using natural gas require. A second pathway is to use carbon capture and sequestration technology to store carbon produced when making nitrogen-based fertilizers. However, this method requires a lot of new infrastructure and wouldn’t reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The third pathway would be synthesizing hydrogen from biomass. Biomass requires a lot of arable land and water, often competing with agriculture, but it makes sense if the feedstock is waste biomass (crop residues). The hydrogen could be used for energy to produce new fertilizers. While none of these pathways is perfect, all are possible using today’s technology.

Credit: Patrick Ziegler / shutterstock

New food tech could release farmland back to nature

Researchers at University of York, UK, define the basic problem for conservation at a global level: food production, biodiversity and carbon storage in ecosystems are competing for the same land. Their assessment, conservation efforts are doomed to fail unless they address the underlying issue of food security. They see hope in new technologies that could release up to 80% of farmland from agriculture in the next century. Around four-fifths of the land used for human food production is allocated to meat and dairy, including both range lands and crops specifically grown to feed livestock. Add up the whole of India, South Africa, France and Spain and you have the amount of land devoted to crops that are then fed to livestock.

Beef and lamb might contain plenty of protein but they use vast amounts of land. Our World In Data (data: Poore & Nemecek (2018)), CC BY-SA

They propose cellular agriculture as an alternative. Sometimes called “lab-grown food”, the process involves growing animal products from real animal cells, rather than growing actual animals. Animal cruelty would be eliminated and, with no need for cows wandering around in fields, the factory would take up far less space to produce the same amount of meat or milk. Other emerging technologies include microbial protein production, where bacteria use energy derived from solar panels to convert carbon dioxide and nitrogen and other nutrients into carbohydrates and proteins. This could generate as much protein as soybeans but in just 7% of the area. The liberated land might be used for nature preserves, or to grow sustainable building materials. And the animal cruelty inherent in current meat production would be eliminated.

Longhorn cattle on a rewilding project in England: if we got most of our protein and carbs through new technologies, this sort of compassionate and wildlife-friendly farming could be scaled up. Chris Thomas, Author provided.

Cyanobacteria can help detoxify the environment on Mars. (NASA/Adam Arkin)

The food systems that will feed Mars are set to transform food on Earth

In Dinner on Mars, two Canadian scientists explore the technologies that might feed humans on Mars and how these might transform food production here on Earth. The basis of food systems on Mars would involve water harvested from the soil and cyanobacteria, which can use the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and grow on the sandy inorganic and toxic regolith to produce the basic organic molecules on which the rest of the food system will rest. Cyanobacteria is capable of growing in Martian conditions, which has the very real added benefit of neutralizing extremely toxic chemicals called perchlorates. Perchlorates are laced throughout the Martian regolith and are toxic to humans in minute quantities, so having cyanobacteria provide a double duty of neutralizing the toxins while producing organic material will be a huge boon to any Martian community. Once bacteria are happily growing away under a Martian sky, they will provide nutrients needed to support luxurious crops of plants. Advanced greenhouse technologies — like vertical agriculture — that create a suitable controlled environment will provide abundant leafy greens, vegetables, fruits and specialty crops such as herbs, coffee and chocolate. Imagining what agriculture could be like on Mars is a fascinating project, but it’s when we think about how these technologies may affect life on Earth that this topic becomes extremely serious. The “waste” products of one part of the system need to be deliberately used as inputs into another part, such as using the dead cyanobacteria as a growth medium for later parts of the food system. But more than the technologies themselves, it may be the mindset of building a Martian food system that will change how things are done here on Earth, where one-third of all food is thrown away.

Across the globe, startups are testing robots to pollinate everything from blueberries to almonds. Illustration: Justin Metz. From the Wall Street Journal.

Robotic bees and roots

If you think Martian food systems are a stretch – think again! The EU is already funding research into Miniature robots that mimic living organisms are being developed to explore and support real-life ecosystems. (See also: ROBOtic Replicants for Optimizing the Yield by Augmenting Living Ecosystems).

Photo of roots that contain different dosages of a family of genes that affects root architecture, allowing wheat plants to grow longer roots and take in more water. Credit: Gilad Gabay / UC Davis

A key to drought-resistant wheat

Elsewhere intensive research aims to solve some of the challenges plants will face under a climate changed future. An international team of scientists found that the right number of copies of a specific group of genes can stimulate longer root growth, enabling wheat plants to pull water from deeper supplies. The resulting plants have more biomass and produce higher grain yield, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

This image shows the autonomous robot, with multiple tiers of PhenoStereo cameras, that are part of the AngleNet system. Credit: Lirong Xiang, NC State University.

Wheeled robots help breed better corn plants

All new technologies start with data collection. Researchers from North Carolina State University and Iowa State University have demonstrated an automated technology capable of accurately measuring the angle of leaves on corn plants in the field. This technology makes data collection on leaf angles significantly more efficient than conventional techniques, providing plant breeders with useful data more quickly. “The angle of a plant’s leaves, relative to its stem, is important because the leaf angle affects how efficient the plant is at performing photosynthesis,” says Lirong Xiang, first author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at NC State. “For example, in corn, you want leaves at the top that are relatively vertical, but leaves further down the stalk that are more horizontal. This allows the plant to harvest more sunlight. Researchers who focus on plant breeding monitor this sort of plant architecture, because it informs their work. The paper is published open access in the Journal of Field Robotics.

Concept of a decomposition sensor where the rate of erosion of a biodegradable conductive trace correlates with the microbial activity in the soil. Credit: Advanced Science (2022). DOI: 10.1002/advs.202205785

Biodegradable soil sensors

We end this post with a story about an elegant bit of research from the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering. Their biodegradable sensors may change the way farmers track, measure, and respond in real time to their soil’s microbial activity with big implications for addressing global greenhouse gas emissions. The work, recently published in Advanced Science, was led by Madhur Atreya and professors Greg Whiting and Jason Neff at CU Boulder. It describes how a cheap and easily printed sensor can measure soil health by tracking it’s own decomposition in real time—all with little to no impact on its outside environment and through the use of easily available electronics.



Photo by Guido Blokker on Unsplash.

OK, so they’re not plants but every good gardener knows that mycorrhizae, the thread-like fungi that lace our soil, are of our best friends for soil health and plant growth. With that in mind, here are a few recent stories about fungi and mushrooms.

Renato Tomassetti and Bella after she found a truffle. “Black gold,” Mr. Tomassetti said. Photo credit: Stephanie Gengotti for The New York Times

The Perils of Hunting for Truffles

Jason Horowitz, the New York Times’ Rome bureau chief writes about the highly competitive business of truffle-hunting in Italy. Competition is so cut-throat that some have taken to poisoning the dogs of known truffle hunters. Horowitz’s article focuses on 80-year-old Renato Tomassetti and his dog Bella, an energetic Lagotto Romagnolo, a stocky, curly-haired breed also known as  Italy’s “Truffle Dog”. The article is lushly illustrated with photos by Stepanie Gengotti.

Mushrooms can live without us, but we can’t live without them. (Photo: Zahra via Unsplash.

No fungi? No forests, no food, no future!

David Suzuki with contributions from senior editor and writer Ian Hanington writes about the importance of fungi to humans. Cheese, bread, wine, beer, kombucha and chocolate would not exist without fungi. It makes all these tasty items possible. In fact, almost all food production relies on fungi. Most plants need it to obtain nutrients and water. Trees and other plants in a forest connect through intricate fungal, or mycorrhizal, networks of tiny mycelium threads that transfer nutrients, water and information between them, and that facilitate decomposition, without which life couldn’t go on. All fermented foods — including beer, wine, chocolate, cheese, bread, soy sauce and tofu — require yeasts, a single-celled fungus. Fungi have also been indispensable in preserving foods. And cows and other ruminants need gut fungi to break down grass. This Guardian article reports that fungi are also responsible for many important medical breakthroughs and for a lot of carbon sequestration.

For such an important group of organisms, we know almost nothing about fungi. Until the 1970s, fungi were classified as plants. We now know they are closer to animals. “They’re really weird organisms with the most bizarre life cycle. And yet when you understand their role in the Earth’s ecosystem, you realise that they underpin life on Earth,” said Kathy Willis, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which leads “State of the World’s Plants and Fungi” assessments.

Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.

Growing Mushrooms without Pesticides

Ali Jones reports in Horizon, the EU research and innovation magazine, on how La Rioja in northern Spain is both a centre for mushroom growing and research into greener growing strategies. Growing mushrooms commercially requires managing humidity, temperature and light to produce a regular, quality crop while contending with pest control. For now, pest control means relying on pesticides, which are becoming expensive and, of course, have environmental risks. Pablo Martínez, an agronomist, was drawn to the specialist mushroom sector after a chance conversation with a former colleague. Based at the Mushroom Technological Research Centre of La Rioja (CTICH), Martínez manages a Europe-wide project to tackle the environmental challenges faced by the industry.

Mushrooms are grown on a substrate, or base layer, made of straw and animal manure, then covered with a thick blanket of peat known as the casing. Made up of partially decayed vegetation, peat perfectly mimics nature’s forest floors that so readily yield mushrooms. The depletion of precious finite peatlands is a global concern. These wetlands store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined and their conservation is ever more important for countering climate change. “Mounting restrictions on peat extraction in European countries threaten the long-term continuity of peat supplies,” said Martínez. “We’re looking to develop a new product for growing mushrooms that could cut pesticide use by 90% while reducing the industry’s reliance on peat.” EU-funded research aims to to create a low-peat sustainable casing for cultivated mushrooms made from renewable materials sourced close to existing mushroom production. While the exact details are under wraps, it will combine with a substance known as a biostimulant to enhance the natural growing processes and strengthen the mushroom mycelium in their early phase, protecting them against disease without the need for chemical pesticides.

Meanwhile, in Norway, two mushroom enthusiasts have pioneered a project to explore whether the crop could be cultivated in food waste. The EU-funded initiative is called VegWaMus CirCrop.

The death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides), a small, green-tinged mushroom, sprouting from a forest floor. (Image credit: Pierre/Alamy Stock Photo)

How the world’s deadliest mushroom conquered California

Writing in Live Science, Ben Turner reports on the spread of the aptly-named death cap mushroom. The poisonous “death cap” mushroom (Amanita phalloides) is an invasive fungus whose fatal amatoxin accounts for more than 90% of deaths from mushrooms worldwide, but how it spread from its European origins to colonize every continent except Antarctica has long been a mystery. Now, a study published to the preprint server biorXiv, has found a reason why: the California version of the death cap can fertilize itself and produce perfect copies, sidestepping the need to mate before wafting its spores over an unconquered region.

“The diverse reproductive strategies of invasive death caps are likely facilitating its rapid spread, revealing a profound similarity between plant, animal and fungal invasions,” the researchers wrote in the preprint.

Photo credit: Tim Sandall

Adding fungi makes rosemary tastier

Finally, research from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), Vitacress Herbs and Royal Holloway has shown that the addition of mycorrhizal fungi to soil leads to increased production of essential oils in rosemary, making the plants more aromatic and flavorsome. Adding mycorrhizal fungi did not affect the shape or structure of the plant, just the production of the compounds that enhance the flavor and taste of rosemary. This means that home gardeners and trade growers will be able to produce rosemary plants with a consistent appearance but with the potential for extra flavor. The research was published in Life.

Food & Agriculture

2023 February Farming

Credit: Shutterstock

Better nitrogen management yields more than it costs

Better management on agricultural lands to reduce nitrogen losses to the environment costs only a fraction of what it provides. This could yield nearly $500 billion in societal benefits globally for both food supply and human health, ecosystems and the climate. And this at a net cost of nearly $20 billion. That’s according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis), at the grassy edge of a small field. Cornwall, England. June. Credit: RSPB

Farmland bird populations rise with nature-friendly farming

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, researchers from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) say a more strategic approach to wildlife-friendly farming schemes is required to recover England’s farmland bird populations after monitoring their responses to different agri-environment scheme implementation levels. The U.K. government has recently introduced a legally binding target to halt species abundance declines in England by 2030. However, tiered environmental management schemes have been in place on UK farms sometime. Higher tiered schemes devote an average of 11% of the farmland to bird-friendly measures, while lower-tiered schemes set aside an average of less than 4% of their land. This 10-year study measured changes in the abundance of farmland birds on land managed under bird-focused lower- and higher-tier agri-environment schemes, as well as land no bird-friendly farming initiatives. The results showed that when approximately 10% of a farm was devoted to bird-friendly farming practices under the higher-tier scheme, this benefitted over half of the farmland bird species in two of the three study regions. Although lower-tier provision generally failed to increase bird numbers, it helped to sustain populations of some species, which continued to decline in the absence of agri-environment support elsewhere. The second part of the study asked what proportion of the farmed landscape would need to be placed into higher-tier agreements to recover farmland birds by 10% over ten years. The answer was similar in the two regions—26% in the pastoral West Midlands and 31% in arable East Anglia. However, by targeting higher-tier agreements to farms that already hold higher numbers of priority farmland birds, this requirement drops to 17% and 21% respectively, which represents a significant cost saving. This is the first study to shed light on the amount of nature friendly farming that might be required to recover farmland birds at a landscape scale.

Sheep grazing at the Arnprior Solar Project. Photo by Chris Moore

Solar panels and sheep get along just fine

Pippa Norman writes in The National Observer about how farming and clean energy production can work together. Like many farmers, Chris Moore once doubted the practicality of solar panels and agriculture co-existing on the same land. He couldn’t quite believe the land would be productive while shaded by these large, metallic shields. About 12 years ago, a 200-acre solar farm sprung up in Arnprior and he passed it by on his daily commute. The more he looked at the grass growing beside and beneath the solar panels, the more it started to seem an ideal spot for a sheep pasture. His skepticism began to fade. The Arnprior Solar Project is one of the largest solar electricity sites in Canada, generating enough energy to supply about 7,000 homes. And for the past five years, it has also doubled as a summer home for hundreds of the couples’ ewes. It took Moore a long time to picture his sheep grazing in the shade of those solar panels. Ontario environmental regulations, farmers associations and farmers have, historically, been resistant to allowing land to be used for both agricultural and solar power. But Joshua Pearce, Western University’s John M. Thompson Chair in Information Technology and Innovation, was convinced that without a crop or animals, the shade of those solar panels was a missed opportunity. Pearce is an advocate and expert in the field of agrivoltaics — the dual use of land for solar electricity and agriculture. Allowing animals to graze is the most basic version. More sophisticated versions tailor the solar panel installations to the crop that grows underneath. “You shade the plant that you’re growing with a partially transparent solar cell. It provides a little microclimate underneath it, so it conserves water, and then you get more growth,” Pearce explained. Vertical or movable solar panel options allow for plants like corn or wheat to grow high or for tractors to manoeuvre around crops, Pearce added. Outside of fields, solar panels can also be attached to greenhouses roofs or potentially even floated on bodies of water.

(Thanks to Erwin Dressler for sharing the link to this story.)

Guy Singh-Watson Riverford, pictured at Riverford organic farm in Devon, began experimenting with hazelnut and walnuts trees after feeling guilty about how much he ploughed his fields for vegetable crops. Photograph: Joanna Furniss/Riverford

English farmers turning to cultivating nuts as climate heats

Helena Horton writes in The Guardian UK about one way farmers are adapting to warmer temperatures. Nuts are being grown more than ever by English farmers as the climate heats, making the products more economically viable, growers have said. Nut trees are also helpful for biodiversity on farms, improving soil health as their roots improve the ability and capacity of soil to absorb water, reducing the risk of wind erosion. Guy Singh-Watson has enjoyed his recent foray into growing nuts on his 150-acre Devon farm. He said they were easy to grow: “You don’t have to do anything, I spent 40 years trying to coax vegetables into life and they just die all the time, but hazels grow so well. There doesn’t seem to be any problem growing walnuts in our climate.” He has had success grazing cattle in the orchards, and now plans to grow kale among some of his hazel trees. England’s climate is heating up, with last year the hottest on record, with a long, dry summer. This is making many crops difficult to grow, and many farmers reported crop failures during the drought. Though they sometimes need irrigation when first planted, nut trees do well in warm weather and can survive dry summers. Singh-Watson said he had recently visited Piedmont in Italy, where hazelnuts are a major crop – it is home to Ferrero, the company that makes Nutella. Despite the hot, dry summer in Italy, the nuts were flourishing. The article also reports on the promising nut-growing experiences of a couple of other English farmers.

A row of field maples (Acer campestre) trellis grape vines, and are pollarded to harvest ‘tree hay’ fodder for livestock. Maize grows beside the row. The grapes are harvested to make wine. Source. Found on Shelterwood Forest Farm website.

European farms mix things up to guard against food-supply shocks

The EU is increasingly promoting mixed farming as a hedge against climate change and food insecurity. In just over a minute, this video explains what that means.

Citizen Science Pollinators, Molluscs and Other Invertebrates Uncategorized Weeds

2023 February Citizen Science

If there’s one thing I hope to accomplish with this blog, it’s that folks reading it will be inspired to become their own citizen scientists. Increasingly, the data collected by ordinary people, including gardeners like us is being used to inform science and policy. Here are some examples of how powerful citizen science can be.

Óðinn / CC BY-SA 2.5 CA (Wikimedia Commons photo). Image from The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Urban forest-mapping in Montreal

A Concordia project cataloging the diversity of the urban forest in a Montreal residential neighborhood is now complete, and the researchers behind it say the results highlight the importance of a diverse city tree population. The project found that private residences and institutions such as schools and places of worship usually had different tree populations from those planted by municipal authorities in city parks and roadways or sidewalks. While the city-planted trees tended to be bigger and more resilient to stressors like drought or salt, the often-smaller private trees served other functions such as providing fruit, flowers or aesthetic beauty. The full findings are published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. The researchers solicited residents and institutions such as schools and churches around Concordia’s Loyola Campus in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood. They asked them to measure the circumference of the trees on their property, photograph their bark and leaves and submit their data to the Montreal Tree Project website for analysis. Private residences were found to have the highest richness in species diversity while institutional lands—mostly schools and churches—were found to have the lowest. “From an ecological standpoint, having a diverse tree population leads to a more multifunctional landscape,” says Hutt-Taylor, now the project coordinator of nature-based solutions at Concordia’s Loyola Campus. “It can also provide a more resilient forest to events like climate change, changes in the environmental fabric of the city as well as to pests and disease.”

Drosera koikyennuruff. Credit: Thilo Krueger

Everyday Aussies help find missing plant species

Scientists have identified six new or rediscovered Western Australian plant species from photos taken and uploaded to the internet by members of the public, including a nature photographer from Jurien Bay, a pair of wildflower enthusiasts from Dongara and a farmer from near the Stirling Range National Park. Lead researcher, Ph.D. student Thilo Krueger from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences said the newly described species were carnivorous sundews and were identified through images shared on Facebook and to the iNaturalist website, highlighting the value of such platforms for contributing to advances in taxonomic research. The work was published in Biology.

Image from EU Observer article What Europe still needs to do to save its bees. Photo: Dearbhlaith Larkin & Felipe Guapo, Carolan Lab Research Group, Maynooth University, Ireland

Citizen science initiatives increase pollinator activity in private gardens

Have you made adjustments to your garden to make it more welcoming for pollinators? If so, you have probably made a valuable contribution, according to a new study from Lund University. The researchers evaluated the national “Operation: Save the Bees” campaign, and their results indicate that what private individuals do in their gardens really can make a positive difference. In 2018, The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation launched a campaign to save bees and other pollinators, aiming to get the public involved by creating more favorable environments in private gardens. The actions that were encouraged were to create a meadow, plant flowers or set up a bee hotel. Around 11,000 Swedes responded to the call, and now researchers from Lund University have evaluated the measures. The result show that the greatest positive effect on the number of pollinating insects was if you had a meadow with a higher number of flowering species in your garden. As for flower plantings, it was favorable if they were older and also covered a larger area. Bee hotels, in turn, were more often inhabited if they were located in flower-rich gardens, if they were older, and if the nest holes were a maximum of one centimeter in diameter. Since the researchers collected the data via peoples’ own estimates, there is a great deal of uncertainty in each individual data point, says Anna Persson, but adds that one can still be confident in the results given that so many responses were received. The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.

Canada Thistle (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

RHS asks gardeners to find interesting ‘weeds’

Helena Horton writes in The Guardian about a citizen science initiative by the Royal Horticultural Society. Private gardens in the UK may be an untapped source of scientific discovery, according to the RHS’s new ecologist, because “scientists can’t just go into people’s gardens”. Instead, Gemma Golding, who started working for the charity late last year, wants gardeners to look for interesting species and submit them to the iNaturalist app for scientists to analyse. What may be viewed as a weed could be a rare plant, or growing in an unusual place where it has not been recorded before. The quid pro quo is that gardeners will get feedback on the mystery plants they find. Armed with more knowledge, they will be better able to manage problems that crop up in their gardens.


2023 January Eye-Candy, Oddities and Miscellany

My monthly email newsletter always used to feature a section I called “Eye-Candy, Oddities and Miscellany”. It was where I collected interesting stories that had great photos, images or were just a bit off the beaten track. Since moving to the blog format, I haven’t published any of these stories so there is now a massive collection. The following are in no particular order. Here goes:

What doe ecolocation, new techniques for shock absorption and Velcro all have in common? These are among Five human technologies inspired by nature, as profiled in this article in The Conversation.

Fossil flower of Symplocos kowalewskii (Symplocaceae) from Baltic amber – to date, by far the largest floral inclusion discovered from any amber. Credit: Carola Radke, MfN (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)

Largest flower preserved in amber from over 33 million years ago: New images of the largest-known fossilized flower to be preserved in amber—which at 28 millimeters across is nearly three times the size of other preserved flowers—are published in the journal Scientific Reports. The preserved flower, encased in amber from the Baltic forests of northern Europe, dates from almost 40 million years ago and is thought to be from an ancient flowering evergreen plant originally called Stewartia kowalewskii. Eva-Maria Sadowski and Christa-Charlotte Hofmann reanalyzed the exceptionally large fossilized flower, which was originally described and named in 1872. The flower is dated to the Late Eocene, from between 38 million to 33.9 million years ago.

Chemin Errazu of cemetery Père Lachaise. Photo by Peter Poradisch on Wikipedia.

One of our most enduring memories from a long-ago holiday my husband and I enjoyed in Paris was visiting Père Lachasse Cemetery. This huge expanse of greenery is home to such luminaries as Rossini, Colette, Gertrude Stein, Honoré de Balzac, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison. A section is devoted to eery and moving monuments to those who perished during the holocaust. Constant Méheut writes in the New York Times how the cemetery is now home to a plethora of wildlife, including foxes and tawny owls. “Nature’s taking back its rights,” said Mr. Gallot, the cemetery’s curator, responsible for overseeing grounds maintenance and allocating burial plots, as he continued his trek among tombstones engulfed by vines and weeds. The greening of the necropolis stems from a decade-old plan to phase out pesticides and turn the cemetery into one of Paris’s green lungs, as the dense capital is redesigning its urban landscape to make it more climate-friendly in the face of rising temperatures.

Gayil Nalls, founder, director and editor of World Sensorium/Conservancy (WS/C), writes about the magic of Monet’s Garden in Giverny and how it inspired his work. The article includes enough mouth-watering images to have me planning a trip there!

Photo by RLast

WS/C also shares Five Japanese Haiku Poems with some rather gorgeous accompanying photos. This one seems appropriate for a snowy day in wintery Ottawa:

Come out! Come out with me!

‘Tis worth a tumble in the snow

The wondrous sight to see.

I Ramarri (Syracusa, Italy, 2012), terraced houses overlooking an agrarian landscape framed by the sea. Project by AION (Aleksandra Jaeschke and Andrea Di Stefano). Image courtesy of Aleksandra Jaeschke.

In Emergency Break Glass

The 2022 Wheelwright Prize Lecture: Aleksandra Jaeschke reflects on her journey through a world covered with glass and sealed in plastic. In the course of this journey of 3 years, 150 days spent on the roads of eight countries scattered across three continents, Jaeschke reflects on the nature of greenhouses, how they impact the communities and environments where they are located and the implications for humanity’s future. Her lecture is 93 minutes of profound and moving meditations on the nature of human’s ability to control our environments and what we lose from this control. Thanks to Rebecca McMakin for pointing us to this fascinating talk.

A man at CES tries out OVR Technology’s ION 3, which emits smells when a user interacts with items a VR environment. Image reproduced from article in TechExplore.

Each year, the CES tech megashow in Las Vegas highlights the latest and greatest in the tech world. This year’s show included a bit of Green tech. However, as NeoPlants co-founder Patrick Torbey points out, the gathering held annually just after the new year should not be thought of as “only about machine technology and electronics.” “It’s also about natural technology that we can leverage using these really cool engineering techniques,” Torbey told AFP. NeoPlants, a Paris-based startup, was showing off a bioengineered plant capable of purifying indoor air of toxic pollutants “by doing the work of 30 regular houseplants,” according to its website. (See also: Meet The Entrepreneurs Who Designed Pollution-Killing Plants).

In related news, the metaverse is growing a sense of smell. Some entrepreneurs at the annual CES gadget fest were eager to combine real and virtual worlds to help people stop and smell the roses. The company OVR Technology has created an accessory for VR headsets that treats users around a faux campfire to whiffs of smoke and toasting marshmallows.

A mixture of black peppercorns from the Malabar Coast, white Muntok peppercorns from Bangka, China, green peppercorns from Brazil, and pink peppercorns (berries of the Baies rose plant, Schinus terebinthifolius) from Réunion (France). Image by Ragesoss

In The Guardian, Anna Sulan Masing reports on how pepper changed the world. Her exploration of this essential spice is a voyage into colonialism and her personal family history – a fascinating read that will having you looking differently at the pepper mill on the dining room table.

Image by Pixabay on Pexels.

Meanwhile, concern over waste in agriculture has led the EU to fund research into other uses for olives. This short video illustrates how science is unlocking value from other parts of this plant, while also reducing waste. (See also: Olives, the source of “liquid gold,” offer more riches to unlock)