Want to make your barren yard lush again? Just add a bit of soil from your local meadow. A new study reveals that the addition of foreign soil—and more importantly, the organisms it contains—can shape which plants will grow in the future. Such “inoculations” could even help bring back fallow farmlands and turn deserts green.”This is a really cool and remarkable study,” says Harsh Bais, a root biologist at the University of Delaware, Newark, who was not involved in the work. “Dirt matters.”Soil isn’t as simple as it seems. It contains microscopic bacteria and fungi, as well as tiny worms called nematodes and other invertebrates. Ecologists have long known that these underground communities build critical partnerships with the plants growing nearby. But many of these partnerships remain a mystery. Small-scale studies in greenhouses have shown that adding the right soil can promote the growth of a particular plant community, and some researchers have even tried soil transplantation—replacing one soil with another—to get certain endangered plants to grow.Such need is great across the globe, where many once-fertile lands are turning into desert, and a significant amount of agricultural land is lost every year. What’s more, when governments and nonprofit organizations try to bring back grasslands, forests, and other ecosystems destroyed by agriculture and other human uses, they are often disappointed: Restoration can take decades. It sometimes fails altogether.E. R. Jasper Wubs, an ecologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Wageningen, hoped to find a better way. But instead of doing wholesale transplantation of soil—which can be expensive—he wanted to see what would happen with a booster shot.He and colleagues set up a series of 2- to 5-hectare plots on abandoned, degraded farmland in the Netherlands. They removed about 60 centimeters of top soil from part of each plot and spread a 1-centimeter-thick layer of soil in others. The soil was taken from either a heathland—rolling hills dominated by heather and small shrubs—or a grassland. They then added seeds from 30 plant species from a variety of habitats and waited—for 6 years.When their waiting was up, they compared the seeded areas with and without the added soil layers, looking at which species were thriving and which were not. The source of the added soil greatly influenced what grew where, they report today in Nature Plants. Plots with heathland soil were covered with heather and gorse, whereas plots with grasslands soil were overflowing with a variety of grasses. The added soil made the existing land richer—as the researchers found more nematode worms, more bacteria, and more fungi in those sections of the plots. Those with heathland soil also had a greater diversity of springtails and mites.
The Obama Administration said yesterday that it will invest up to $4.5 billion to build electric-car charging stations in a major push to create comprehensive charging infrastructure in the U.S.Officials hope this will lead to the construction of enough new charging stations to quell “range anxiety” and enhance the appeal of electric cars for consumers.The program will use Department of Energy (DoE) loan guarantees, and promote partnerships between Federal, state, and local governments and automakers.DON’T MISS: CA issues $9 million in grants for electric-car fast charger installationsAmong the goals of the program are a national network of DC fast-charging stations, and the creation of a coalition among 50 carmakers, utilities, and charging-network operators that will work together to ramp up charging infrastructure.State and local governments will also be encouraged to buy electric cars for their fleets.The DOE believes increased charging infrastructure will pave the way for widespread electric-car adoption.
Ask Americans which state is the greenest, most unspoiled, most eco-conscious place in the country, and a lot of people would probably say Hawaii. So it may come as a surprise to learn that Hawaii is actually the most oil-dependent state in the nation. Because it’s unreachable by trains or pipelines, the state spends $5 billion a year importing oil. As recently as 2003, more than 90 percent of their electricity came from foreign oil. That’s not just bad for the environment; it’s bad for consumers: Hawaii residents pay the highest electricity rates in the nation.That could all soon be changing, however. Thanks to sweeping legislation adopted last year, Hawaii has set a goal to become the first state in the country to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy resources. If it’s successful — the 100 percent goal has a deadline of 2045 — Hawaii would move from worst to first on clean energy. To call the plan ambitious would be an understatement. Getting to a completely renewable portfolio requires not only new investments and new technologies, but also a complete overhaul of the energy industry in the state. But the truth is that Hawaii has already made notable strides in reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. Thanks to a committed effort over the past 15 years, the state has decreased its dependence on oil by about 20 percentage points from that 2003 high.
About a third of the planet’s food doesn’t get consumed, here’s how you can help stem the tide from farm to landfill.It appears that food waste is having its moment, not only in terms of its rampancy, but in the mainstream media attention that it’s receiving. And from campaigns imploring us to love the ugly vegetables to supermarkets dedicated to selling surplus food, people seem to be understanding that the time to tackle the issue has come.Why is it such a big issue? I’ll tell you in mommy-lecture style (to be read in guilt-inspiring mom voice): 800 million people globally suffer from hunger; meanwhile, we trash enough food (2.9 trillion pounds a year) to feed every one of them twice over. This is why you should stop complaining and eat your vegetables.The statistics above are from National Geographic magazine, the March cover story of which addresses the topic of food waste. In it Elizabeth Royte writes of the moral issue of taming our wasteful practices, as well as pointing out the environmental toll created by producing food that no one eats. Amongst some other truly mind-boggling numbers, she notes that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gas in the world, after China and the United States. Growing the 133 billion pounds of food in the U.S. that markets and people throw away annually uses the equivalent of more than 70 times the amount of oil that was lost in the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. Oy.
Founded in 1988 by Laura Andreini, Marco Casamonti, and Giovanni Polazzi, who were joined by Silvia Fabi in 1999, Archea Associati is now a network of about 100 architects who come from different regions and worldwide universities and operate from six different offices in Florence, Milan, Rome, Beijing, Dubai, and São Paulo. The group’s interests and research activities range from landscapes to cities, from buildings to design, and while primarily focused on architecture, their projects cover graphics, publishing, exhibitions, and events. The complementarity and scaling from assessment to building site allows integrated operations which are able to intervene in the different types of components of the projects. In addition to their research in the field of design, each founding partner has a parallel activity at the architecture faculties of Florence and Genoa. The most important projects include the Public Library in Nembro (Bergamo, Italy); the new Cantina Antinori in San Casciano Val di Pesa (Florence); the UBPA B3-2 Pavilion at World Expo 2010; GEL, Green Energy Laboratory (Shanghai); the enlargement and renovation of the Perfetti Van Melle site in Lainate near Milan; the CDD Center for Disabilities in Seregno (Milan); the Yanqing Expo Grape near Beijing; the Li Ling World Ceramic Art City (China); and the Colle Loreto residential complex in Lugano (Switzerland). Under construction are Forevergreen Tower in Tirana (Albania); and Changri-La Winery in Penglai (China).