How to Address Climate Change 40 Times Better

I’m constantly amazed by teams all over the world tackling climate change. This week’s climate story brings us all the way to Hawaii. Are you thinking about lush forests with waterfalls and beautiful sand beaches? Today we are looking at a different scenery:

North Kohala had suffered two centuries of logging that destroyed the native tropical sandalwood forest, and subsequent cattle grazing had denuded the land and degraded the soil.

This is the area the startup Terraformation chose for their pilot project. The goal? Reforesting native forests all over the world to reverse climate change.

Their approach includes planning, training, equipment, and finding revenue opportunities with partner sites all over the world. Terraformation researched bottlenecks for forest restoration and developed a set of solutions:

On the left you see the off-grid seed laboratory. It can be used to dry, process and store seeds. In the center is a complete greenhouse with pots, trays and irrigation to grow seedlings. On the right side is a solar powered reverse osmosis system. It provides fresh water for young forest plants. And the best thing? They all fit in a shipping container and can be used off-grid, anywhere in the world. With these solutions Terraformation wants to assure long-term success:

Restoration means a lot more than putting trees in the ground. It’s about bringing back complex native ecosystems, starting with the right species and scaling up with the right tools.

What does all this have to do with climate change? We have to cut emissions in half by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. A new report from America All In outlines a roadmap: Drastically cut emissions for electricity and transportation. Lower emissions for buildings and industries such as steel and concrete. We have to limit the amount of new greenhouse gases going in the atmosphere.

At the same time we have to capture existing greenhouse gases. Nature based solutions such as re-growing native forests are on the forefront of these capturing efforts. Why native forests? They store carbon in leaves, tree trunks, roots, and in the soil. A study published in Nature found natural forests are 40 times better than plantations at storing carbon.

Terraformation’s goal to reforest native forests is a great approach. We need to re-create these thriving ecosystems at a large scale to draw in significant amounts of carbon.

Terraformation’s founder has a proven expertise in running and scaling successful companies. Combined with access to a huge amount of funding, their company sounds extremely promising. I hope they will be able to help locals all over the world grow and maintain native forests. This is yet another startup I can’t wait to hear more success stories from!

A Surprise Hero Taking on Global Warming

This week’s climate story brings us to Central Africa. Imagine walking through a dense rainforest. Suddenly you hear a cracking noise and between the tree trunks you detect movement. And then, from the protection of the trees, a majestic forest elephant emerges.

One of the natural ways to capture greenhouse gases and avoid more global warming are trees. Trees capture and store carbon in their trunks, branches and leaves, but also in their vast network of roots. Not all trees are equal when it comes to carbon capture. Big, mature trees in primary forests are able to capture the most amount.

Central Africa has the second biggest rainforest in the world. How can we protect it? And how can we regrow forests we have lost? Turns out, we have a superhero who specializes on this job: The African forest elephant. This amazing animal thins out forests, optimizing light and water supply for trees to grow bigger and stronger.

This week’s climate story features an IMF article by Ralph Chami, Connel Fullenkamp, Thomas Cosimano and Fabio Berzaghi. They describe how elephant activities increase carbon storage, what benefits they bring, and what value African forest elephants have. This is how it works:

While foraging for food they thin out the forest, creating a healthy forest environment. One forest elephant can stimulate a net increase in carbon capture of 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per square kilometer. That’s an equivalent of nearly 2000 passenger cars driven for a year.

What I like most about this article is that it connects environmental systems with a monetary value. The authors calculate the carbon value of a single forest elephant as $1.75 million.

Unfortunately, these elephants are fighting an existential threat, with poaching and deforestation pushing them to extinction.

So how does a monetary value help with protecting and increasing the forest elephant population? One example is a UN program that swaps debt for nature. Lenders agree to reduce a developing economy’s debt and in exchange the developing country protects specific natural resources. This sounds amazing! Let’s hope these programs gain traction soon and help protect and restore these vital ecosystems.

More Than Just a Snack – How Seaweed Tackles Climate Change

Imagine you are swimming in the ocean and something soft touches your leg. Startled you take a look and realize it was just some seaweed… You guessed it, this week’s climate story is about seaweed.

Did you know last Thursday was Seaweed Day? Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the United Nations Global Compact launched a seaweed manifesto. During the launch, short, inspiring talks from companies, non-profits, research institutions and UN agencies highlighted how important seaweed is.

Besides being a sustainable option for food and feed, packaging and even biofuels, seaweed could also play an important role in capturing greenhouse gases. One of the speakers at Seaweed Day was Jorunn Skjermo, a scientist at SINTEF Ocean in Norway. During her talk she covered three ways in which seaweed is beneficial to the climate.

The first way is replacing fossil-based products like fuel or plastics with seaweed-based fuels and plastic. By replacing fossil-based products with sustainable alternatives, a lot of greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided.

Her second point is about food. We need protein in our diet and meat production has a big carbon footprint. Vegetarian options such a soy protein have a much lower carbon footprint. Seaweed has by far the lowest carbon footprint. It grows in the ocean without the need of deforestation, watering, or fertilizing. Besides being an extremely sustainable food option, this superfood is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

The third way seaweed is beneficial to the climate is by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This is how it works:

On the left side you see how carbon dioxide gets absorbed by the ocean surface. In the water, seaweed transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen, just like land plants. On top of that, seaweed stores carbon dioxide in its biomass. Pictured on the right side is what happens when seaweed dies off. It sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where it stays for hundreds of years, storing the carbon dioxide.

During her talk Jorunn showed a map of Norway with a small rectangle off the coast. The size of that rectangle was a 20.000 square kilometer area. A seaweed farm that size could offset Norway’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions.

A restored ocean and seaweed farming forests should be considered carbon sinks to mitigate climate change

How would that work in practice? I envision offshore seaweed farms that produce seaweed for food, feed, packaging or other uses. Seaweed forests clean the ocean and make the water less acidic. If a percentage of the seaweed is cut so it can sink, big amounts of carbon dioxide could be stored.

Seaweed day was packed with insightful talks, from selling seaweed snacks in Japan to blue bonds in Portugal. What I liked most about the seaweed manifesto is how teams from all over the world worked together. It lists milestones and success criteria for a successful seaweed industry. Let’s hope we can accelerate pilot projects and build more seaweed farms soon so we can restore ocean health and mitigate climate change.

How Drones Help Tackle Climate Change

A while ago I wrote about an amazing project that uses drones to re-grow mangrove trees in Myanmar. The world urgently needs a range of solutions to offset carbon emissions, and trees play a major role. How do trees tackle climate change? Trees capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it in biomass, roots and soil. According to the Trillion Tree Campaign, global reforestation binds at least a quarter of the annual man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

I love the mangrove project in Myanmar! At the same time I have been reading about our yearly tree losses in North America and Europe. That made me wonder: What are we doing to replant trees closer to home? That’s where the Canadian startup Flash Forest comes into play.

Imagine you are walking through a big, green, majestic forest, breathing in the cool, fresh air. Can you hear the sounds of birds and other forest animals? This week’s climate story brings us to a forest in Canada. Actually, for now, it’s land that recently burnt down in a wildfire. With Flash Forest’s help, hopefully, it will be a forest soon. Flash Forest is a reforestation company that uses drones to reforest areas. This is how it works:

First, the land is mapped to identify where and how to grow a mix of native trees. Then drones drop seed pods in the soil. After planting, the drones monitor the progress and replant spots if necessary.

The seed pods are also designed to store moisture, so the seedlings can survive even with months of drought

What I like most about Flash Forest is their focus on offsetting carbon emissions. Their motto is if we automate deforestation, we should automate re-forestation as well.

All over the world, small startups such as Flash Forest are addressing different solutions to tackle climate change. I hope that adding up all these small projects will make a big difference!

How Whales Could Offset Global Warming

To stop global warming we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I have been writing about different ways to do this, from planting trees, restoring wetlands, to capturing carbon. Although I have been writing about the importance of seaweed, I haven’t looked at marine animals before. So here we go…

Imagine you are on a boat off the San Diego coast. The sun is shining, and you are looking over the calm water. Suddenly there is a splash and a huge whale comes out of the water and dives back in. What an incredible experience.

Turns out, besides being amazing animals, whales help to offset global warming. An article from the International Monetary Fund explains how they do this and what monetary value whales have.

Whales store carbon in their bodies and help phytoplankton growth. Wherever whales are, phytoplankton increases. What do these tiny microorganisms have to do with climate change? Let’s find out…

Basically, whales are natural fertilizers. They move from cold, nutrient rich water where they feed to nutrient poor water, such are surface waters, stimulating phytoplankton growth. They also migrate from cold, nutrient rich waters to warm waters for breeding and stimulate phytoplankton in the process.

Phytoplankton not only contribute at least 50 percent of all oxygen to our atmosphere, they do so by capturing about 37 billion metric tons of CO2, an estimated 40 percent of all COproduced

Before whaling there we 4-5 million whales, now there are only 1.3 million left. This is how whales could help tackle climate change:

Even a 1 percent increase in phytoplankton productivity thanks to whale activity would capture hundreds of millions of tons of additional CO2 a year, equivalent to the sudden appearance of 2 billion mature trees

Beside stimulating phytoplankton growth, whales themselves store massive amounts of carbon dioxide. When whales die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean where this carbon is stored for hundreds of years.

What I like most about the article is that they show the economic benefits of restoring whale populations. They value an average great whale at $2 million. Subsidizing whale’s greenhouse gas sequestration would be worth $13 per person a year.

Whales are helping to restore ocean health and capture massive amounts of greenhouse gases. What’s stopping us from helping whale populations to grow right now?