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Alternatives For Healing


by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk: I heard we’re running out of so-called “tonewoods” for making acoustic guitars. Are there are alternative materials that eco-minded luthiers can switch to? – B.C., Montgomery. PA

Most guitars out there today are crafted out of some form of spruce, mahogany, maple or cedar. But increased demand and widespread mechanized logging around the world has decimated populations of many of these so-called “tonewoods,” leaving luthiers (guitar makers) with little choice but to start considering alternative materials.

Man-made materials are becoming popular as tonewood alternatives. The most pervasive non-wood guitar material out there now is carbon fiber. Enya, Emerald, KLOS and Lava Music are among the companies pioneering the use of carbon fiber as the base material for their guitars. It has many benefits such as durability—it’s 10 times stronger than steel—and light weight, but it’s hardly sustainable given that it’s made from a non-biodegradable petroleum-based polymer that cannot be recycled or melted down.

A better choice for the eco-minded strummer could be Flaxwood, made by breaking the grain structure of natural wood and injection-molding it into shape with an acoustically sensitive binding agent. The resulting composite is resists changes in humidity, and provides an eco-friendly alternative to tonewoods.

Another good option is a guitar made out of reclaimed wood. Whether the wood was salvaged from a barn, a table or a deck, it could be the perfectly aged tonewood of your dreams. And you’re saving living trees from being cut down to build a new guitar.

Believe it or not, bamboo is also a good substitute for tonewoods. Luna’s Woodland Bamboo Grand Auditorium Acoustic-Electric Guitar is a beauty made out of bamboo—and offers many features and great playability for a modest price.

There are also plenty of alternative tonewoods out there that are from less rare trees. Buying a guitar made of Agathis wood helps preserve the rainforests where the trees grow in Southeast Asia. Koa, basswood, khaya and sapele are all good stand-ins for spruce and mahogany without the conservation baggage. Some Martin models now feature wood from fast growing granadillo trees, native to Venezuela. And Fender has swapped out rosewood for more sustainably grown pau ferro on various guitars in its line.

In 2011, Taylor Guitars, a preeminent acoustic guitar maker, bought a controlling interest in Crelicam, an ebony mill located outside of Yaoundé, Cameroon. In the ensuing years, Taylor has worked with Crelicam on the sustainable sourcing of ebony for use by guitar builders and other craftspeople.

As our planet grapples with environmental challenges, guitar makers are on the cutting edge of harmonizing their craft with sustainability. Indeed, the quest for eco-friendly alternatives to traditional tonewoods has struck a chord in the luthier community.

CONTACTS: The Crelicam Mill in Cameroon, https://www.taylorguitars.com/about/sustainable-ebony; The hunt for alternative tonewoods: how guitar luthiers are looking to save the planet, https://www.guitarworld.com/features/the-hunt-for-alternative-tonewoods-how-guitar-luthiers-are-looking-to-save-the-planet.

Dear EarthTalk: How are researchers using wildlife to track environmental conditions and monitor climate change? -- Jane P., South Bend, IN

Scientists currently rely mainly on a complex network of satellites, ocean buoys, weather stations and balloons to help predict the weather and the effects of climate change, but it might not be the best solution. What if instead of using satellites and weather stations to study the planet, scientists used animals? Imagine a world where a pigeon could help gather information on air pollution.

That world already exists. In Mongolia, pigeons equipped with sensors fly around the capital city of Ulaanbaatar and help measure the air quality. Tagged elephant seals help provide nearly 80 percent of all available information on ice depth and ocean salinity in Antarctica. Geolocation sensors, often attached to animals via collars or tags, can provide scientists with near endless amounts of information on wildlife and the environment. The sensors, equipped with GPS and other advanced technology, offer a lens directly into the habitats that animals inhabit.

Using wildlife to track environmental conditions only highlights the shortcomings of current methods of collecting climate data. While satellites can gauge temperatures at the surface of a cloud-covered jungle canopy, they cannot reveal the conditions on the ground. Not the way that a monkey would be able to. Most weather stations are built on flat land and in developed areas, not in the mountainous regions that are heavily affected by climate change. However, mountain goats or birds with sensors can easily monitor the temperatures of the region. Wildlife geolocation sensors can help fill critical data gaps, particularly in more remote areas of the planet.

Equipping fish, birds, seals and other animals with sensors can offer highly localized and timely data that current tech cannot. The sensors can provide data on animal behavior and migration patterns along with data on environmental conditions impacted by climate change. They can improve scientists’ measurements on air temperature, ocean salinity, air pollution and biodiversity. Rather than using satellites to capture images of the planet’s surface, scientists can study animal decisions and preferred conditions to sense the quality and health of ecosystems. Studying the environmental conditions that drive animals’ movements can offer a lens directly into the habitats themselves.

Thanks to action by the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, thousands of birds and animals are already outfitted with sensors, but the opportunities that wildlife tracking presents have not yet been fully realized. To implement geolocation sensors on a wider scale there must be collaboration between government agencies and the science community. The data that the sensors could provide the scientific world would be more accurate, timely, cost-effective and non-invasive than the more popularized current methods. Wildlife tracking provides an opportunity for revolution in conservation efforts, environmental monitoring and research on climate change.

CONTACTS: Biological Earth observation with animal sensors, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169534721003165; Animals may be the best monitors of global climate change, https://www.mpg.de/20828038/0912-ornr-animals-may-be-the-best-monitors-of-global-climate-change-987453-x; Gauging the role animals can play in monitoring climate change, https://news.yale.edu/2023/09/18/gauging-key-role-animals-can-play-monitoring-climate-change.

Dear EarthTalk: How does better broadband access in rural areas help the climate? P.C., via email

Broadband is another term for high-speed internet. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), consumers should have access to download speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of three Mbps to meet this definition. That’s enough to browse the web, check email, and stream lower-resolution video. Giving more people access to broadband, especially in rural areas, has myriad environmental and economic benefits.

In rural areas, broadband access is limited by existing infrastructure and a lack of financial motivation for Internet service providers (ISPs) to offer services to a smaller number of subscribers. “A lot of times rural areas don’t have high priority because they don’t have the population threshold,” says Illinois State University geography professor John Kostelnick to The Daily Yonder. Approximately 3.6 billion people worldwide don’t have access to a stable internet connection, and an estimated 80 percent of those live in rural areas. The adverse effects of a lack of connection in a digital world go beyond missed social and professional opportunities. Lack of broadband access in rural areas is also harmful to the climate.

Better broadband access can reduce emissions from cars and public transit as people go online to fulfill various needs. An hour-long commute to the office is swapped for work from home. An online university allows students to study from anywhere. TeleHealth replaces a doctor’s office visit. Technologies such as smart thermostats and electric water heaters can reduce energy use, particularly in older buildings.

The benefits aren’t limited to individuals. Broadband is an essential tool for so-called “precision agriculture,” whereby collecting and analyzing on-farm data informs decision-making for improved resource use. Nitrogen fertilizer, for instance, releases nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide per ton. With precision agriculture, farmers can optimize their fertilizer application and reduce emissions, with the side benefit of improved water quality from reduced run-off. Likewise, broadband-enabled precision forestry can improve land management by sensing and deploying resources and people to minimize damage from wildfires, pests, and plant diseases.

Other options exist for increased broadband access, but choices may be limited where you live. Satellite internet is costly, spotty in bad weather, and has data caps. Mobile hotspots have data limits, too, and require cell towers. Some opt to join community networks for stable, reliable connections, where private entities collaborate with governments and communities to set up networks for underserved populations.

Barriers to broadband access include physical and regulation obstacles. Rivers and wooded regions complicate the set-up and maintenance of necessary equipment. Obtaining permits for laying cable is complex since their installation involves compliance with zoning, historic preservation, and other laws. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a non-profit that helps policymakers work across party lines to craft bipartisan solutions, calls for more attention and funding from policymakers. Federal and local governments have programs that offer incentives for ISPs in rural areas.

But continued advocacy is crucial. For instance, the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Plan provides discounts on broadband services for eligible rural households—and its future is not certain beyond 2024 unless Congress approves additional funding. Bridging the broadband access gap “creat[es] opportunities to lower net greenhouse emissions while bolstering rural economies,” reports the Bipartisan Policy Center. Individuals can narrow the digital divide by engaging with local groups, pushing for policy changes, putting their money into building more internet connections, and helping others learn how to use the internet. Together, these efforts will ensure everyone has access to the opportunities and benefits of digital connectivity while contributing to a greener future.

CONTACTS: Four Ways that Rural Broadband Fights Climate Change, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/four-ways-that-rural-broadband-fights-climate-change/;

Broadband Expansion Helps Address Climate Change, https://wcif.org/blog/environment/broadband-expansion-helps-address-climate-change/; Broadband access opens new doors for rural residents, Cox study finds, https://www.emergingtechbrew.com/stories/2024/02/06/broadband-rural-access-cox-study.

Dear EarthTalk: I hear that there are thousands of damaged and spent wind turbine blades piling up in Texas. Is this waste an issue for the wind industry? -- Bill Collins, Big Sandy, TX

In the West Texas town of Sweetwater, about 40 miles west of Abilene on Interstate 20, there is a field filled to the brim with unwanted wind turbine blades. The first of these blades were deposited in 2017 and over the years the blades have accumulated to cover over 30 acres of land. Each of the blades is between 100 and 400 feet in length and thousands cover the area. Residents of Sweetwater have protested the industrial landfill saying it is a hazard to residents. They worry about children playing in the garbage, swarms of mosquitoes breeding in the blades and rattlesnakes hiding in crannies of the unwanted blades.

Wind power has grown fast, making it the world’s leading renewable energy option behind hydropower. The wind turbine blades are built to withstand the power of the elements for decades, but once they are decommissioned, they generally become waste. By 2050, turbine blades are expected to become nearly 43.4 million tons of trash. While about 90 percent of wind turbines themselves are recyclable, the blades are not. They are made by binding fiberglass together with epoxy resin, so they are difficult and expensive to break down. Because of this most blades end up incinerated or in landfills like that of Sweetwater.

Decommissioned blades are difficult and expensive to transport. Because of their size, they need to be cut up onsite before they can be moved. Most U.S. landfills don’t have the space to take wind farm waste. Most of the time blades cannot be crushed either because most crushing equipment isn’t big enough.

Some companies have been trying to find solutions to the growing issue of unused turbine blades. Vestas, one of the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturers, has supposedly found a groundbreaking new method to recycle turbine blades. In 2023, the Danish company announced that it had found a way to break the plastic in turbine blades down into virgin-grade materials. This solution would allow blades to be recycled to make new turbines instead of cluttering landfills. While it sounds promising, Vestas has so far divulged little information about how this would work.

Another possible solution would be to grind old blades up and use the material in other manufacturing industries. The drawback is that the blades are huge and difficult to crush, plus the material isn’t really worth the hassle of crushing them. Veolia, a resource management company headquartered in France, shreds and blends blade materials to turn them into an ingredient for cement production. According to Veolia, using this technique reduces the pollution produced in cement manufacturing by 27 percent.

Implementing these types of solutions on a larger scale could help drastically reduce the amount of waste created by the wind industry. In the meantime, environmentalists are cheering on the wind industry to create new turbines that are easier to break down and reuse.

CONTACTS: Thousands of Old Wind Turbine Blades Pile Up in West Texas, https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/sweetwater-wind-turbine-blades-dump/; Unfurling The Waste Problem Caused By Wind Energy, https://www.npr.org/2019/09/10/759376113/unfurling-the-waste-problem-caused-by-wind-energy; Wind energy has a massive waste problem. New technologies may be a step closer to solving it, https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/28/world/wind-turbine-recycling-climate-intl/index.html.

Dear EarthTalk: How do different regions of the U.S. compare with regard to vulnerability to impending climate threats? -- Peter Greenville, Detroit, MI

Climate change causes rising temperatures, fluctuating rain patterns and other extreme weather phenomena. However, the effects of climate change are not equally distributed across the country.

Regional climate change experiences can be broadly divided into two categories: (1) geographical and climatic factors (i.e., the actual climate change); (2) and socio-economic factors (i.e., the vulnerability of the population to these changes). It is crucial to understand how different regions experience climate change in order to develop effective climate policies. Some regions, for example, rely on climate-sensitive industries such as agriculture, tourism and natural resource extraction, while others do not. Those that do tend to be home to vulnerable populations like people with low income, and marginalized communities.

The Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) recognized certain region-specific patterns. The U.S. Northeast is experiencing significant increases in extreme precipitation, with some areas seeing up to a 60 percent rise from the historical average. Also, warming water temperatures are impacting local wildlife. In the Southeast, lengthy coasts make the region particularly vulnerable to hurricanes and increasing sea levels. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the region's reliance on coastal ecosystems and tourism.

Climate change negatively affects the Great Plains' huge energy sector. Agriculture is disrupted through the depletion of a critical water source: the High Plain Aquifer. The region is also vulnerable to habitat loss, changes in food availability, and other unique problems. The Midwest, with its intense agricultural production, suffers extreme weather events and changes in precipitation patterns that dramatically impact crop yields. A severe drought in 2012 caused billions of dollars in losses to Midwest farmers.

The Northwest's vulnerable water resources are greatly impacted by higher temperatures. Snowpack, a critical water source, is declining. Also, the region's extensive forests face a higher risk of wildfires and insect infestations. The Southwest, characterized by a hot and dry climate, is also vulnerable to prolonged droughts, severe wildfires and water scarcity, further straining its already limited water resources.

Alaska and its large population of indigenous people is affected by melting permafrost, coastal erosion and loss of wildlife. Hawaii and the U.S. Caribbean's coastal communities suffer sea level rise, coral reef degradation and extreme weather events. And the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration reports that degradation of coral reefs due to rises in sea surface temperatures could incur coastal damages costing approximately $1.2 billion (in 2022 dollars) annually to Hawai?i and the U.S. Pacific territories.

While impacts of climate change vary, it is important to remember no region is immune. We will need to continue to collect and analyze data to fully understand this issue. Furthermore, we need to empower vulnerable communities and prioritize their needs. Finally, we need to make collaborative efforts at the local, state and national levels to truly combat this issue.

CONTACTS: The U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index, https://map.climatevulnerabilityindex.org/; The Fifth National Climate Assessment, https://nca2023.globalchange.gov/.

Dear EarthTalk: What’s causing the decline in U.S. wild turkey populations? – John Groveton, Alexandria, VA

Americans have always loved wild turkeys, perhaps too much. By 1900, we had nearly driven this close relative to the chicken to extinction as a result of unregulated hunting and habitat destruction. But thanks to conservation and relocation efforts, these big birds started making a comeback in the 1940s. Over the next several decades, thanks to a series of reforms and demographic changes, wild turkey numbers grew and the species hit its population peak in 2004 with as many as seven million of them across the U.S. All this made wild turkeys one of the biggest success stories in the history of American wildlife?

But will it last? Since that population peak, wild turkey numbers have fallen, declining some 15 percent between 2004-2014 and another 3 percent between 2014-2019. Biologists are struggling to determine why. Much of this decline has been in the South and the Midwest. Scientists have been investigating habitat loss, hunting, disease and climate change, as all possible causes of this population downturn.

One of the potential reasons causes for the decline is the rise in turkey-eating predators. Hawks, bobcats, coyotes and raccoons are among wild turkeys’ natural predators. Hawks and owls are protected species and have had significant rebounds since the federal government banned the use of the pesticide DDT. This protection has allowed populations of birds of prey to grow, but they are also key predators of turkeys. This increase in predators could be one of the sources of the turkey decline.

Turkeys have very specific requirements when it comes to their environment, so habitat loss could be another factor of their decline. Turkeys need areas of low, thick vegetation for nesting and raising chicks, and areas with mature trees to provide nuts to eat in the fall. As more natural areas are destroyed, turkeys may be having a harder time finding swatches of land that meets all of their needs.

Climate change is likely another factor. Turkeys may be experiencing a failure to respond to the environmental shifts of climate change. A study published in the journal Climate Change Ecology found that turkeys don’t shift nesting times much as temperatures and precipitation change. This has can cause newly hatched turkeys to miss out on plant cover and edible bugs if the spring bloom starts earlier. In turn, this could affect the likelihood that turkey chicks survive into adulthood. We already know that rising temperatures affect over 100 bird species in the Americas; they might be harming turkeys too.

There is more research needed to find a definitive answer to the decline in turkey populations. It is most likely that the answer is the combination of a number of problems. As scientists look for solutions, many states have started to scale back on turkey hunting seasons in hopes of bringing population numbers up again.

CONTACTS: Wild turkey population is declining rapidly, puzzling scientists: ‘It may be a bunch of things all adding together’, https://news.yahoo.com/wild-turkey-population-declining-rapidly-050000176.html; Wild turkeys are disappearing — but no one is sure why, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/11/23/wild-turkey-population-decline/; As the climate changes, wild turkeys aren’t keeping up - The Wildlife Society, https://wildlife.org/as-the-climate-changes-wild-turkeys-arent-keeping-up/

EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit HTTPS://WWW.EARTHTALK.ORG Send questions QUESTION@EARTHTALK.ORG

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