Warming Trends: A Song for the Planet, Secrets of Hempcrete and Butterfly Snapshots

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

Argyronome laodice lands on a flower at a wetland in Sangu, South Korea. Credit: Seung-il Ryu/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Argyronome laodice lands on a flower at a wetland in Sangu, South Korea. Credit: Seung-il Ryu/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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SCIENCE

Crowd-Sourcing Butterflies

Photographed a butterfly lately? If so, you could send your pictures in to contribute to a global database of butterfly sightings.

Since launching in January, Friend of the Earth, an environmental advocacy organization, has gathered nearly 1,000 timestamped and geolocated photos of butterflies from five continents. The organization is asking people to send their butterfly photos via WhatsApp, to be included in the database. Friend of the Earth will respond with some details about it if their experts can identify the butterfly.

There are more than 230,000 species of butterflies and moths around the world, according to the organization, although scientists only know the status of about 1 percent of them. Many butterfly species face threats from habitat loss, especially from agricultural practices like the use of herbicides and pesticides, Friend of the Earth director Paolo Bray said.

“Butterflies are very important, they are pollinating insects,” said Bray. “They’re a good way to estimate the health of an ecosystem, and they can be an important mental medicine. Seeing them flying, it’s such a pleasure, it gives you relaxation and peace.”

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The data collected from citizen scientists around the world will be used to see if any species are outside their normal range or in areas where they wouldn’t normally be during that time of the year. 

“We hope to gather bigger numbers, because statistically to be reliable you need bigger numbers, then we can also have an idea of the trends of the populations,” Brey said. “And also, who knows, maybe we can find some species which are thought to be extinct.”

SOLUTIONS

Waste Not, Want Not

An app that connects uneaten food at restaurants and grocery stores with people willing to buy the food at a discount is becoming available in cities across the United States.

Too Good To Go, an app that allows food retailers to sell “surprise bags” of surplus food to nearby customers, was launched in Denmark in in 2016, but in the last nine months its reach has expanded to the United States, with operations in New York City, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. Austin and Chicago are soon to come.

Participating restaurants can post the availability of food at any time. Customers can browse nearby businesses and buy a surprise bag to pick up later in the day. 

In the United States, 35 percent of food is wasted, contributing to 4 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, the food-waste nonprofit ReFED has reported. In the food supply chain, 28 percent of excess food comes from consumer-facing businesses like grocery stores and restaurants, according to ReFED.

Claire Oliverson, the U.S. head of marketing for Too Good To Go, who said she often uses the app to get bagels from her neighborhood bakery in Brooklyn, called the app an easy, daily way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. “It feels positive and it is exciting and as easy as eating six bagels,” she said.

CULTURE

A Musical Prayer for the Planet

When Robin Hairston, lead singer of the Blue Mountain Tribe band, was asked to craft a song about the problems facing the planet by Arvol Looking Horse, a spiritual leader in the Lakota tribe and prominent environmental activist, it was not something he could say no to.

For inspiration, Hairston, a member of the Chiricahua Apache Nation, said he walked barefoot on sacred mountain land on his property in California to increase his connection to the Earth. Then he started beating his drum and chanting, and lyrics began to form in his mind. 

“It hit me like a thunderbolt,” he said. “I smudge myself with sage and I just ask the creator for wisdom and knowledge and a vision.”

From that experience, Hairston wrote “Pray for Our Planet,” a song that has won him and his all-Native American band several awards, including best music video at the Vegas Movie Awards, the Latino and Native American Film Festival and the Indo-French International Film Festival.

“I cannot believe what’s happening to us,” Hairston said. “It’s perfect timing for what’s going on with our environment and what’s going on in the world.”

The song addresses not just the environmental destruction that the planet is facing, but also the pandemic, the growing violence in the country and threats to Native lands, like the sacred Oak Flat land in Arizona that a company wants to mine for copper.

Although the topics of the song are heavy, Hairston said that in this and the other songs his band sings, he tries to keep the message uplifting. Interspersed with the dire circumstances and desperation described in Hairston’s lyrics for “Pray for Our Planet,” are low mumbles of, “It’s gonna be all right.”

“I’m always saying there’s hope,” Hairston said. “Raise your feather, look to the sky. Even though things are going bad, they’re tearing up the environment, never give up hope.”

CULTURE

Destroy Your Enemy and Save a Coral Reef

An esports team is linking its success in this season’s competitions to climate action.

FlyQuest, one of 10 professional esports teams that competes in the League of Legends Championship Series, a five-on-five battle to destroy the enemy team’s base, says it will donate money to the American Solar Energy Society for players’ points and other in-game achievements in this summer’s competitions. FlyQuest CEO Tricia Sugita expects to raise around $10,000 from the campaign.

The game consists of two teams of five players, with each player controlling their own character and battling from opposite ends of a symmetrical map. Since Sugita was promoted to CEO in January 2020, she said she has devoted the company to raising money for green causes, like tree planting and protecting coral reefs and bee populations. 

“When you have an esports organization, you have a platform,” she said. “I want us to be a company that stands for something and uses our platform to do good, because I care so truly about our planet.” 

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Sugita has seen that passion grow among her team’s fanbase. Fans have donated money to the causes FlyQuest supports and often talk about environmental issues together on broadcasts and on social media through memes. 

“It’s more than just awareness,” Sugita said. “It’s an invitation for people to be a part of our movement.”

SOLUTIONS

Hempcrete? A Hemp Historian Explains Why it’s Good for the Climate

There are 25,000 potential products worth $1 trillion waiting to be made out of hemp. Or so claims entrepreneur and hemp historian Matthew Harmon in a new book, “Marijuana Hater’s Guide to Making a Billion Dollars From Hemp.” They include “hempcrete,” a concrete-like, carbon-negative material that he believes could be incorporated into every single home in the country.

The book dives into the history of the crop, from British colonies that grew hemp for use in ropes and ship sails, to the legalization of hemp for agriculture in the United States in the 2018 farm bill. 

As for hempcrete, the lightweight concrete substitute has been used in France as a nontoxic replacement for insulation in historical buildings, and homes from Slovenia to California have been built using the material. The woody cores of hemp plants are mixed with lime and water to create a substance that hardens like concrete and can be formed into blocks. Not only does the hemp plant sequester carbon while it grows, the hempcrete also absorbs carbon from the atmosphere as it hardens. That makes it carbon negative and a much more climate friendly alternative to concrete, which generates massive amounts of carbon dioxide.

Hempcrete isn’t a complete replacement for concrete, however. It can’t bear weight like concrete can. Yet Harmon argues it could still displace some uses of concrete and other building materials.

“It’s not a replacement, but now we have choices that are carbon friendly,” Harmon said. “Industrial hemp is only going to continue to grow, it’s not just this and the construction industry.” He added that just about  anything in a house could be built from hemp, “except glass and steel, the hard material. But your fabrics, upholstery, frames in couches, even the wallboard.”