Read This Book: The Optimistic Environmentalist

The Optimistic Environmentalist is a new book by environmental lawyer Dr. David R. Boyd. Much like this website, the book is also about taking a positive look on the otherwise endless onslaught of bad news we get in the mainstream media.

David has worked in environmental law for many years, and he’s the first the admit that it can be very difficult not to get bogged down by all the bad news media we hear about the state of our planet. In fact, the inspiration for this book came from his 6-year old daughter. When she came home from school one day in tears because her well-meaning teacher had told her that we were melting ice caps and killing polar bears, he decided that it was time the innovations and successes of the environmental movement got their fair share of attention.

As David says, “The belief that something positive is possible is an essential step towards making it happen.”

The Optimistic Environmentalist tells a new story about the environment, one that’s hopeful and inspiring, but honest. Yes, the world faces substantial environmental challenges – climate change, pollution, and extinction. But the surprisingly good news is that we have solutions to these problems. A leading expert on environmental law and policy, David Boyd has been called one of the most important voices on climate change. He is hopeful about our future, and has filled a book with surprising statistics, entertaining anecdotes about different technological advances, and heart-warming stories about introducing his young daughter to our bright green planet.

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Small Algae Canopy Produces as Much Oxygen as a Forest

Algae is amazing and as we find more ways to use the powerful, small, creatures we’ll improve our carbon footprints. Already algae is used to clean sewage, clean landfills, and so much more.

This week at the Milan Expo EcoLogics Studio revealed their algae canopy for urban centres. The canopy provides shade while cleaning the air in a very efficient way!

Created by EcoLogics Studio and demonstrated in Milan, Italy, this “world’s first bio-digital canopy integrates micro-algal cultures and real time digital cultivation protocols on a unique architectural system,” with flows of water and energy regulated by weather patterns and visitor usage. Sun increases photosynthesis, for example, causing the structure to generate organic shade in realtime. In addition to CO2 reduction, the canopy as a whole can produce over 300 pounds of biomass daily, all through a relatively passive system that requires far less space and upkeep than conventional civic greenery.

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Infrastructure That Cleans the Air

Barcelona is going to build a road bridge which may be the cleanest bridge yet. Of course it’ll have pedestrian walks and bike paths, however, what makes the bridge really noteworthy is that it will clean the air.

Concrete is notoriously energy-intensive to create so any carbon offset is beneficial. The Barcelona bridge will make use of photocatalytic concrete.

But the real prize of this thing is its basic building material, photocatalytic concrete. The principal of photocatylitics is that ultraviolet light naturally breaks down dirt, both natural and synthetic. It’s that old adage about sunlight being the best disinfectant. Photocatalytic concrete is used with titanium dioxide, which helps accelerate the natural UV-breakdown process, turning the pollution into carbon dioxide, and oxygen and substances that actually belong in the atmosphere.

The actual process has to do with semiconductors and electrons and other things that you may or may not care to read about. (At any rate, the Concrete Society of the United Kingdom does a better job of explaining it.)

An air-cleaning bridge makes for a neat news story and a sci-fi-ish novelty that environmentalists can blog about. But the important point is that Barcelona has taken a piece of infrastructure that exists solely to accommodate car culture, and re-invented it to partially offset the effects of car pollution.

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Ontario Joins California and Quebec’s Cap and Trade Program

Ontario is launching a cap and trade carbon program that matches with the existing programs in Quebec and California. This is a good thing for adoption of carbon-conscious economics even if the system isn’t perfect. The program is being praised by Greenpeace and other environmental NGOs.

And this program is happening despite the obvious incompetence of Canada’s federal government, including their support of the shameful tar sands.

The plan would increase the scope of the market to 61 million people and half of Canada’s economy.

Premiers and territorial leaders are poised to meet in Quebec City Tuesday to discuss an environmentally responsible Canadian energy strategy, which they agreed to in Charlottetown last August. Their goal is to flesh out the strategy before UN climate talks in Paris in December.

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Faster Than Oil, Clean Energy on the Rise

Economists are really bad at predictions, but their views carry sway over large amounts of capital. Their most recent inaccuracies have been in the energy sector. Clean, renewable, energy is making faster progress than previously predicted.

Renewables have seen faster implementation, more investment, and quite massive technical gains in the past few years. And all of these gains have happened despite the fact that oil is so cheap (in terms of money, not carbon).

Each of these trends — cheaper batteries and cheaper solar electricity — is good on its own, and on the margin will help to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, with all the geopolitical drawbacks and climate harm they entail. But together, the two cost trends will add up to nothing less than a revolution in the way humankind interacts with the planet and powers civilization.

You see, the two trends reinforce each other. Cheaper batteries mean that cars can switch from gasoline to the electrical grid. But currently, much of the grid is powered by coal. With cheap solar replacing coal at a rapid clip, that will be less and less of an issue. As for solar, its main drawback is intermittency. But with battery costs dropping, innovative manufacturers such as Tesla will be able to make cheap batteries for home electricity use, allowing solar power to run your house 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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