Category Archives: Nature

They’re Healthy. They’re Sustainable. So Why Don’t Humans Eat More Bugs?

By Aryn Baker – Sylvain Hugel is one of the world’s foremost experts on crickets of the Indian Ocean Islands. So when he received an email from a fellow entomologist in March 2017 asking for help identifying a species in Madagascar that could be farmed for humans to consume, he thought it was a joke. “I’m working to protect those insects, not eat them,” the French academic responded tartly.

But the emails from Brian Fisher, an ant specialist at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco, kept coming. Fisher had been doing fieldwork in Madagascar when he realized that the forests where both he and Hugel conducted much of their research were disappearing. Nearly 80% of Madagascar’s forest coverage has been destroyed since the 1950s, and 1-2% of what remains is cut down each year as farmers clear more trees to make room for livestock. The only way to prevent this, Fisher told Hugel in his emails, was to give locals an alternative source of protein. “If you want to be able to keep studying your insects, we need to increase food security, otherwise there will be no forest left,” Fisher wrote.

His proposal was insect protein. More than two-thirds of Madagascar’s population already eat insects in some form, usually as a seasonal snack. If there were a way to turn that occasional snack into a regular meal by making it easily available, it could help ease pressure on the island’s threatened forests. Crickets, which are high in protein and other vital nutrients, were already being farmed successfully in Canada for both human and animal consumption. Surely Hugel, with his vast knowledge of Indian Ocean crickets, could help identify a local species that would be easy to farm, and, more importantly, might taste good? more>

Updates from ITU

GPS and garbage trucks: Mapping digital divides in U.S. cities
By Sarah Wray – Addressing the digital divide has become a top priority for cities around the world as COVID-19 has forced study, work and socializing online.

City leaders are increasingly recognizing the opportunity that remote work and technology can offer their citizens and local economy – as long as the right infrastructure is in place.

During a digital roundtable in a series organized by consulting company Ignite Cities and advocacy group the National League of Cities (NLC), Adrian Perkins, Mayor of Shreveport, and Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, Mayor of National City, detailed how closing the digital divide means not only getting residents connected but also helping them upskill for a changing job market. Perkins said:

“If our low-income communities don’t have access to reliable internet, you are cutting them off in so many ways,” including opportunities for remote work, high-paying jobs and educational tools.

He noted that mayors must work alongside the private sector and foster partnerships to close the divide but that leveraging public assets is also key.

“[Telecom companies] are private corporations and they have pushed for their bottom lines and people that could most afford [connectivity],” Perkins added.

“If you are a mayor that hasn’t started to yet work on the public side, on the public fibre that’s available and pushing your public agenda when it comes to bridging the digital divide, you are behind the power curve.” more>

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The Texas Power Grid Failure Is a Climate Change Cautionary Tale

By Justin Worland – For scientists, the havoc wreaked by the extreme winter weather that hit Texas in mid-February dropping several inches of snow and leaving millions without power did not come as a surprise. Ten years ago, in 2011, energy regulators warned the state’s electric-grid operators that they were ill-prepared for an unprecedented winter storm. And for decades before that, climate scientists had cautioned that a warming planet would cause climate chaos, raising the average global temperature while driving unusual weather events like this one. For Texas, it was always just a matter of time.

Despite these warnings, the state was unprepared—which Texans realized as soon as the storm swept in. Equipment froze at power plants, leaving about half of the state’s electricity-generating capacity offline. Natural gas wells iced over, slowing the fuel supply that heats homes. Millions were left without electricity, at least one city turned off its water supply, and Harris County, where Houston is located, reported hundreds of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning as Texans turned on their own generators to warm up. “This shows a disastrous level of underpreparation,” says Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston, speaking to TIME shortly after he had lost water pressure. “We knew this weather event was coming … What went wrong?”

The catastrophe can be linked to a string of planning failures that didn’t take that threat seriously. Much of the electricity infrastructure in Texas wasn’t hardened-think of insulation and other protections that allow it to function in extreme winter weather. Several power plants remained offline for scheduled maintenance, ignoring weather forecasters’ warnings of the fast-approaching storm. And the storm disrupted the supply of fuel needed to run other such plants.

The cascade of failures in Texas signals what is perhaps the greatest challenge ahead in this climate-changed world: accepting that business as usual isn’t working. Across the planet, humans have built civilization to withstand the vagaries of a 20th century climate. The extreme weather events of the 21st century will look nothing like those that came before—and hundreds of years of past preparation will not suffice. “The future is not going to be like the past,” says Melissa Finucane, a co-director of the Rand Climate Resilience Center. “If we could just plan a little better, we could anticipate some of these problems.” more>

Updates from McKinsey

America 2021: Renewing the nation’s commitment to climate action
To America’s leaders, innovators, and changemakers; here’s how you can help build a low-carbon economy that is resilient, competitive, prosperous, and fair.
By Dickon Pinner and Matt Rogers – The new federal administration has arrived in Washington with ambitious plans to address the climate crisis—and in so doing, revitalize the US economy and reclaim a leadership position on the international stage. During their campaign, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted “the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy—one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide by no later than 2050 […] and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs.”

Their vision recognizes that the global transition to a low-carbon economy is well under way. The cost of many clean-energy technologies fell significantly during the past decade—as much as 90 percent for some renewable-energy projects. The capital markets are funding the use of these technologies at historically low costs of capital, thereby accelerating scale-up investments. A climate-friendly policy tilt is taking hold in many places. With China, Japan, and the European Union having announced targets to achieve net-zero emissions, more than 110 countries, accounting for more than 70 percent of global GDP, have made net-zero pledges. Of the US states, 23 have established emissions-reduction goals and 12 have instituted carbon-pricing policies. Groups representing prominent American companies have endorsed the use of market-based mechanisms to promote emissions reductions. Some large businesses, along with four former Federal Reserve chairs (including the new treasury secretary), have voiced support for a nationwide carbon tax. These trends are creating possibilities for American leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, competitive advantage, and economic growth.

With the wind at their backs, government agencies and private-sector organizations can continue advancing the new national climate agenda that’s been set in motion already. The stimulus and government appropriations bill of December 2020, which received bipartisan support, set out tax incentives and funding for energy innovation and climate-related programs. And within days of his inauguration, President Biden signed executive orders initiating the process to reenter the Paris Agreement, positioning climate as a foreign-policy and national-security issue and calling on federal agencies to coordinate an all-government push to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, purchase clean-energy technologies, support innovation, conserve nature, and create economic opportunities across America. 1 Making good on these intentions will require new information, products, operations, and market innovations from public officials and business leaders. To inform their work, this memo highlights four sets of practices with notable potential to deliver the prosperity, security, and social-justice outcomes that the administration has prioritized. more>

EU vows to work with international partners to be climate neutral by 2050

New Europe Online/KG – The Europe Union can be a powerful promoter of climate ambitions also because it can offer a model of a socially just Green Deal transition, which leaves no one behind. “We can share our experience of tools such as the Coal Regions in Transition Initiative, and the Just Transition Mechanism. We can show that economic and energy diversification is possible and can create better jobs and growth for societies,” Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said on February 1 at the EsadeGeo Annual Energy Meeting “Geopolitics of the Green Deal Month”.

Europe accounts for around 8% of global emission. “So, to address global climate change, we need others to follow the same path – to become our partners in the clean energy transition,” Simson noted.

“Europe has two assets to advocate here: our high climate ambition and our just transition policy model. The European Union showed leadership announcing its climate neutrality goal for 2050. Last December EU leaders also agreed to step up commitment to reduce emissions by 2030. This is now the EU’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement,” the Commissioner said, adding that several other major international partners have announced as well net zero commitments. “We can look at 2021 with optimism. As a year of global climate action. Thanks to the COP 26 but also the actions of G20 and G7 led by the UK and Italy, Europe will be a driving force of this collective effort,” she said.

“So, as I said, we want to be leaders, but we have important work to do as partners. The Green Deal is not just an agenda to transform Europe’s economy and society. It has an impact beyond our borders, and most of all, on our closest partners and in our neighborhood. That’s why this must be a focus of our external energy action,” Simson stressed. more>

2021 Bond Market Outlook: Finding Yield in a Recovery

As global economic growth strengthens this year, bonds investors may find opportunities in high quality bonds, higher-yielding debt and assets that hedge against a declining U.S. dollar.
By Jim Caron – As fixed income investors, we expect 2021 to be a year of recovery. Many economic forecasts show U.S. GDP increasing by as much as 5%, or even 6%, and it begs the question: Won’t bond market yields rise in this environment? Rising yields of course mean falling bond prices—at least on paper for investors who own the debt. But yields will be rising for good reasons, based on economic growth and cash flow returning to markets.

Bond market movements will act as key indicators of the health of the recovery, as well as corporate performance and consumer confidence in 2021 and beyond. Compared to 2020, when global monetary and fiscal policies were focused on supporting solvency and bond investors benefited from flocking to safe-haven assets, such as U.S. Treasuries, this year may entail a more idiosyncratic environment for credit, which will make active portfolio management paramount.

As economic growth strengthens (most likely in inverse proportion to the severity of the pandemic this year) and variation in the fixed-income market broadens, so will the opportunities for bond allocators. For investors searching for higher yields and portfolio diversification to hedge against equities and U.S. dollar weakness, we see fixed income opportunities in five key areas.

We see value in taking a tactical barbell investing approach, which involves owning high quality and interest-rate sensitive fixed income to balance more risky credit. During the first half of 2021, investors can consider adding U.S. Treasuries and Australian and New Zealand government bonds amid an expected increase in yields. When it comes to investment grade corporate credit, we have some aversion to highly-rated bonds, including A-rated corporates with high cash balances because there’s risk that M&A activity in this cohort could weigh on valuations. We prefer a combination of triple-B corporate bonds with solid company fundamentals and U.S. Treasuries as a preferred risk allocation, as an example. more>

Updates from McKinsey

A new consultation paper from McKinsey and the World Economic Forum explores the role that natural climate solutions can play in helping to address climate change and the destruction of nature.
Why investing in nature is key to climate mitigation
By Daniel Aminetzah, Emily Birch, Julien Claes, Joshua Katz, Peter Mannion, Sebastien Marlier, Dickon Pinner, and Antoine Stevens – As the world looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, a consensus is emerging: certain measures to curb the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions will be central to global economic recovery. Awareness is also growing around the urgent need to slow the destruction of the natural world, and it is becoming clear that the two environmental crises—a changing climate and nature loss—are inextricably linked and compounding.

Natural climate solutions (NCS)—conservation, restoration, and land-management actions that increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse-gas emissions—offer a way to address both crises and to increase resilience as the climate changes. In fact, as argued in a new paper produced by McKinsey in partnership with the World Economic Forum, there is no clear path to deliver climate mitigation without investing in nature. Climate action requires both the reduction of emissions and the removal of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. NCS can help with both, starting today.

Private-sector commitment to climate action is gaining momentum, with companies increasingly adopting strategies aimed at reaching net-zero emissions and some pledging to invest in nature through the purchase of NCS-generated carbon credits (or “offsets”) as part of the effort. Based on current net-zero commitments from more than 700 of the world’s largest companies, there have already been commitments of carbon credits of around 0.2 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 by 2030. Some companies are even beginning to make commitments beyond carbon to biodiversity and water, which will be a growing trend over the next decade. As a core component of corporate climate mitigation, NCS are thus becoming mainstream, if not yet commonplace. While undersized overall, NCS now account for around 40 percent of retired carbon credits in voluntary carbon markets, up from only 5 percent in 2010. Leaders are also beginning to invest directly in nature through protecting and restoring large expanses of land and ocean. more>

Democracy’s biggest challenge is information integrity

By Laura Thornton – As the world watches the United States’ elections unfold, the intensity of our polarization is on display. This election was not marked by apathy. On the contrary – citizens turned out in record numbers, some standing in lines all day, to exercise their franchise with powerful determination and the conviction of their choice.

What is notable is how diametrically opposed those choices are, the divergence is not only voters’ visions for America but perceptions of the reality of America. It has long been said that Americans, like citizens elsewhere, increasingly live in parallel universes. Why is this? I believe quite simply it boils down to information.

While there are ample exceptions and complexities, in one universe, people consume a smattering of different news sources, perhaps one or two newspapers, some journals, television and radio broadcasts and podcasts. Many of the sources are considered left-leaning. These Americans tend to hold university degrees and vote for Democrats.

The other universe includes those who primarily get their news from one or two sources, like Fox News, and rely on Facebook and perhaps their community, friends, and family for information.  They lean Republican, and many are not university educated — the so-called “education gap” in American politics. The majority of Republicans, in fact, cite Fox for their primary source of news, and those who watch Fox News are overwhelmingly supportive of Republicans and Trump.  Both universes gravitate toward echo chambers of like-minded compatriots, rarely open or empathetic to the views and experiences of others.

There are obvious exceptions and variations. The New York Times-reading, educated Republican holding his nose but counting on a tax break. Or the low-information voter who votes Democratic with her community.

In the two big general universes, sadly the divide is not just about opinions or policy approaches.  They operate with different facts.  As Kellyanne Conway, former Trump advisor, famously put it, “alternative facts.” more>

Keep science irrational

By Michael Strevens – Modern science has a whole lot going for it that Ancient Greek or Chinese science did not: advanced technologies for observation and measurement, fast and efficient communication, and well-funded and dedicated institutions for research. It also has, many thinkers have supposed, a superior (if not always flawlessly implemented) ideology, manifested in a concern for objectivity, openness to criticism, and a preference for regimented techniques for discovery, such as randomized, controlled experimentation. I want to add one more item to that list, the innovation that made modern science truly scientific: a certain, highly strategic irrationality.

‘Experiment is the sole judge of scientific “truth”,’ declared the physicist Richard Feynman in 1963. ‘All I’m concerned with is that the theory should predict the results of measurements,’ said Stephen Hawking in 1994. And dipping back a little further in time, we find the 19th-century polymath John Herschel expressing the same thought: ‘To experience we refer, as the only ground of all physical enquiry.’ These are not just personal opinions or propaganda; the principle that only empirical evidence carries weight in scientific argument is widely enforced across the scientific disciplines by scholarly journals, the principal organs of scientific communication. Indeed, it is widely agreed, both in thought and in practice, that science’s exclusive focus on empirical evidence is its greatest strength.

et there is more than a whiff of dogmatism about this exclusivity. Feynman, Hawking, Herschel all insist on it: ‘the sole judge’; ‘all I’m concerned with’; ‘the only ground’. Are they, perhaps, protesting too much? What about other considerations widely considered relevant to assessing scientific hypotheses: theoretical elegance, unity, or even philosophical coherence? Except insofar as such qualities make themselves useful in the prediction and explanation of observable phenomena, they are ruled out of scientific debate, declared unpublishable. It is that unpublishability, that censorship, that makes scientific argument unreasonably narrow. It is what constitutes the irrationality of modern science – and yet also what accounts for its unprecedented success. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

There will be more innovation post-COVID. Here’s why.
By Harry L. Davis – Since the COVID-19 pandemic threw our lives into disarray, we’ve had to change how we do anything involving other people. Rather than counting on bumping into colleagues in the hall, we now have to schedule Zoom calls around the competing demands (childcare, a broken water heater) that everyone is dealing with. There isn’t time for the kind of small talk that often, unpredictably, leads to big ideas.

There are unquestionably benefits to handling some tasks over video conference. Last spring, I taught a class in which groups of students take on consulting projects with the guidance of Chicago-based Kearney. Consultants spend countless hours on airplanes to make face-to-face meetings with their clients possible, and it’s a big part of their culture. In past years, regular in-person meetings and schmoozing were built into the syllabus.

Of course, none of that was possible this year. Our students were thrust into a new world where even senior executives were caught off-guard and without webcams. Whiteboard brainstorming sessions became Zoom calls.

Curious about their experiences, we surveyed the students about the impact of remote work throughout the quarter. While pessimistic at first, by the end of the nine-week course, they later felt that their remote situation was actually helping them be more efficient and helped them do do a better job responding to their clients’ needs. I had a similar experience with teaching remotely—although daunted at first, I found that I was able to deliver my classes effectively, even if I was tethered to my desk chair.

Once the pandemic is behind us, we’ll have to choose what to return to and what to keep from our remote way of working. I think Zoom and its ilk will continue to have an important place for those situations where teams are geographically dispersed or there’s some urgent decision that needs to be made. But the type of work that delivers innovation—creative work—will still best be done in person. more>

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