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The Climate Win: Delta Is Going Carbon Neutral, and Urban Farms Rise Up

Sustainability News National Parks
by Tim Wenger Feb 28, 2020

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

The past couple of weeks have been busy on the climate-win front. There have been small victories, like French President Emmanuel Macron announcing restrictions on Mont Blanc ascent traffic due to a deteriorating ecosystem. We’ve also seen weird angles on depressing major news — Bloomberg reported on the massive decrease in Chinese air traffic due to the coronavirus keeping 100 million metric tons of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. Also, this happened:

Delta is going climate neutral

We skipped the kitschy headline because the news itself is attention-grabbing enough. On February 14, Delta CEO Ed Bastion announced that the company would commit $1 billion over the next decade to offset its carbon emissions, largely through buying carbon offsets and more efficient planes. Yes, Delta will continue to burn jet fuel and spew emissions into the atmosphere — there’s still no other viable way for an airline to operate — but the fact that it came out and made such a massive financial commitment is likely to spark a chain reaction amongst top-tier airlines that can afford to do the same. As the old saying goes, any press is good press. This happens to be really, really, good press. And before you regarded it as a PR stunt, this move makes Delta the first major airline to directly commit to doing something huge about its massive footprint. Bastion and Delta deserve massive kudos for standing up to address an issue that they directly contribute to.

Judge rules expansion of Heathrow Airport illegal on climate grounds

Also in air-related news, a proposed expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport has been blocked on environmental grounds. For nearly 50 years, a debate had been ongoing about adding a third runway to the airport, but an appeal court ruled that due to binding environmental commitments made by the country in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the expansion of the airport was outside any legal right to proceed. Reuters reported that while Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a longtime opponent of the expansion, will not challenge the ruling, the ownership of the airport will — though the odds of winning in an appeal are unclear.

Global progress on global food sustainability

In under-the-radar news, big things are happening in the global food system, even if it may be a while before we see them on a large scale. In the Netherlands, for example, floating farms in Rotterdam are helping to bring sustainable dairy and agriculture to the country’s second-largest city. It works like this: Pontoons the size of a massive suburban box house are constructed and set afloat, anchored tightly in order that the livestock onboard doesn’t become seasick. The cows graze, live, produce, and poop on board, and their manure helps to generate a self-sustaining ecosystem complete with feed for the cattle and fertilizer for the nearby fields that grow their grass.

Now, you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? There are already cattle everywhere!” The answer, in fact, is in the question: The land it takes to produce the world’s egregiously venal beef and dairy needs is largely responsible for such problems as the burning of the Amazon, and that’s without even looking at the manure issue at all. If we’re going to build a global circular economy and diminish waste — an absolute necessity for cutting carbon pollution — we’ve got to figure out a less impactful living situation for all those cows and all that poop. The farms could, theoretically, even be turned into full-on eco-systems that produce a variety of edible products for restaurants and markets.

According to a report in Wired, other major cities including Dubai, New York, and Singapore, have expressed interest in bringing buoyed farming to their docks — signifying that this could become a trend the likes of which we haven’t seen since Chez Panisse brought the farm-to-table food concept to Berkeley, California, back in 1971.

Also on the global food front, albeit more veggie-friendly this time, a company called AeroFarms in Newark, New Jersey, has brought that same circular model to growing produce in urban areas. Their thinking is that by farming vertically — and organically — in the heart of big cities, growing populations won’t need to continue tearing apart ecosystems to develop more farmland from which to feed themselves. Moreover, part of their vertical structure is made from recycled plastic bottles. The company is thriving on the East Coast, already producing massive tower gardens that grow food for the local economy. The coolest part about this is that through their retail brand DreamGreens, you can already find their produce at major outlets like Whole Foods. The future really is now — and it tastes damn good.

Spending less time on the sand

On Monday, a major fossil fuel deal abruptly collapsed after the project’s investors pulled out. For nine years, developers had been seeking to increase oil production on the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. The New York Times said Tuesday that developer Teck Resources nixed plans due to there being “no constructive path forward.” In short, low oil prices and concern over the “future of oil” have made deep-pocketed investors nervous about sticking their funds into long-term oil and gas projects in the area. This is great news for the boreal forest surrounding the oil sands, which would have been trimmed by a cool 24,000 acres in order to fulfill the proposed contract. But the big win here is actually what happened behind the scene: the signal from investors that big money is increasingly cautious about major new oil and gas developments, which follows news from one of the world’s largest investment firms that it is increasingly looking to cleaner projects in which to stockpile money.

We know where our bets are going. Have a green week.

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