This Week Outside: Tree Hugger

Photo by Sergey Shmidt on Unsplash

Welcome to This Week Outside, a weekly round-up of environmental and climate news. This week, we’ll be discussing flowers, spacemen, and poop.

The past couple weeks felt like a blur to me. Part of that might be my allergies, but also my campus buzzed all week in anticipation of last night’s historic showdown between Duke and UNC. Even I — me, Zack, who could not have told you how long a college basketball game was until last night — got roped into covering the hype.

Despite the increased pace of life recently, I took breaks to stop and smell the flowers. Literally. Earlier this morning, I walked around my parents’ front yard and smelled all the flowers that had bloomed. Personally, I liked the lilacs the most. The tulips I found cloyingly sweet and made me think of an overripe, wet honeydew. Earlier this week, when my brain ran out of gas and my fingers couldn’t type anymore, I sat by the daffodils and watched a blue-tailed skink scurry down a tree into the fallen leaves. The daffodils smelled like a happy medium between the lilacs and tulips.

The flowers aren’t the only plant to have provided me respite this past week. I followed the advice of Dr. Diana Beresford-Kroeger and leaned against a tree before writing this article. Cara Buckley profiled Beresford-Kroeger, a botanist and celebrated author, for The New York Times this February, which I will link below. I realized that even before I read the profile, I had unwittingly taken up this practice. Whenever the words stopped flowing or my eyes watered from staring at the same three lines of code for too long, I wandered outside and leaned against the oak tree outside. Without realizing it, I had become a literal tree hugger.

Read Cara Buckley’s profile of Diana Beresford-Kroeger, “Using Science and Celtic Wisdom to Save Trees (and Souls),” in The New York Times.

Powered by Poop

I’m very excited that today I get to brag on my friends. Alex Mousan Sanchez and John Gove collaborated with Southerly to photograph biogas production on hog farms in North Carolina. If you’re unfamiliar with North Carolina’s waste lagoon problem, please read this article. Cameron Oglesby, the writer behind the article, gets you up to speed on what biogas is, what it’s being used for, and the direction North Carolina is heading with it.

Read Cameron Oglesby’s “‘This plan is a lie’: Biogas on hog farms could do more harm than good” in Southerly.

See You, Space Cowboy

Thursday, a professor from my university traveled to space for about ten minutes. Jim Kitchen, a UNC professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, took a little trip on Jeff Bezos’ phallic Blue Origin rocket.

It feels obvious to say that space tourism is a bad idea when you live in a warming world, but perhaps it’s not, especially to those on this joyride to space lite. Air travel, in general, pollutes heavily, emitting literal tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every day. The Guardian estimated that a return flight from London to New York expends about one ton of CO2. That is a little less than a fourth of what the EPA figures a car burns in a year.

Blue Origin does not, however, burn carbon-based fuels. Instead, it propels Bezos and company into orbit by combusting liquid hydrogen and oxygen, which produces water vapor. Water vapor is also a greenhouse gas, but the environmental effects of releasing it into the atmosphere during flight are unknown.

Even if the burning liquid hydrogen and oxygen does not produce CO2, the process by which we make this fuel almost certainly does. One estimate from Treehugger placed Blue Origin’s CO2 expenditure at 93 metric tons per launch, or 93 return trips London-New York. So, while the rest of us are contemplating biking to work or installing solar panels on our roofs to save a carbon pound here and there, it’s nice to see some rich assholes getting their kicks on sub-orbital Route 66 at our expense.

Read Kate Murphy’s “‘An out of body experience’: UNC professor travels to space and back in 10 minutes” at The Raleigh News & Observer.

Read The Guardian’s “How the billionaire space race could be one giant leap for pollution.”

Thank you for reading another installment of This Week Outside. Let me know in the comments what you thought! You can also reach me via Twitter or email if you have article suggestions or feedback about the series. Now, go outside, smell some flowers, and hug some trees.

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I write about the environment and climate change from Raleigh, NC. 🍁 🌳 ☀️

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Zachary Turner

Zachary Turner

I write about the environment and climate change from Raleigh, NC. 🍁 🌳 ☀️

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