DiscoverThe Disruptive Environmentalist
The Disruptive Environmentalist

The Disruptive Environmentalist

Author: Rob Wreglesworth

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Seeking new solutions to big environmental problems: An exploratory podcast shining a light on innovators and thought leaders taking direct actions to tackle environmental issues.


27 Episodes
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With approximately 90% of the world's freight moved about by large ships, it's perhaps not surprising the industry has a big impact on the environment.In this episode, I interview someone who is on a mission to change that.Danielle Doggett is one of the founders of SailCargo Inc who are currently building a large sailing vessel called Ceiba in Costa Rica. The idea is that once finished it will not only have a positive impact but act as a model for others to copy around the world as they hope to #seashippingchangeTo find out more about this amazing project and info about how to invest head to https://www.sailcargo.orgFollow me on Twitter @environment_robJoin the Facebook community at www.facebook.com/groups/disruptiveenvironmentalist
There are certain topics amongst environmentalists that seem particularly controversial. One of these is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In this episode we explore the topic of ‘beliefs’ within the environmental community and whether those beliefs are no different to ones of religion such as creationism. So I’m stepping out of the realms of environmental scientists and innovators once again to speak to Stefaan Blanke is a philosophy professor at The University of Tilburg, who has taken his work looking at matters such as creationist beliefs in humans and applied that thinking to look at pseudoscience, particularly around GMOs. Join the Facebook community at www.facebook.com/groups/disruptiveenvironmentalistFollow me on Twitter @environment_rob
Biochar is a product created by applying lots of heat to plant matter in the absence of oxygen. This creates a form of pure carbon, not that dissimilar to what you would put on a bbq, but much purer. This substance that is created can then be stored in soils which locks away this carbon for hundreds, potentially thousands of years. It also has the added benefit of holding moisture and nutrients within its pores, potentially boosting crop growth too.It sounds like an interesting idea but I wanted to speak to someone in the know to find out a bit more.My guest today is Jamie Bakos from Titan Projects. After graduating as an environmental engineer student, Jamie worked his way through jobs where he had to figure out what to do with waste streams. This is what eventually lead him to set up Titan Projects and to focus on biochar as a solution to many organic matter waste streams and also as a solution to climate change. We also chat about some of Titan Projects other projects all trying to find a use for carbon.For more info on TitanProjects check out www.titan-projects.com and for more on carbon-based products go to https://carbon4climate.com/Please join the Facebook Community to help us find more solutions at https://www.facebook.com/groups/disruptiveenvironmentalist/
Shah Selbe is a spacecraft engineer turned conservation technologist and founder of non-profit Conservify, whose mission it is to lower barriers to entry for effective conservation by providing anything from equipment to apps and all with a big push towards open-data.For more info on Conservify head to www.conservify.orgYou can find Shah on Twitter @shahselbeConservify @conservify on both Twitter and InstagramField kit @fieldkitorg also both on Twitter and InstagramPlease join the new Facebook community page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/disruptiveenvironmentalistAnd a like and share would be awesome too!
We’ve spoken about the issue of plastic waste in a few previous episodes, but the problem of litter extends much beyond that. There are many other materials and items that are used in an increasingly disposable manner and that contribute to this epidemic.The problem of littering extends far beyond the environment. Yes, it has impact on wildlife within the oceans or on land as they ingest non-biodegradable materials or become trapped. But other problems of littering include the cost for a start with £7 million being spent on cleaning up litter every year in just the UK. Then interestingly there is a phenomenon where an increase in littering has been shown to lead to an increase in other negative behaviours in an area. Known as the ‘Broken Windows’ theory it shows that littering and vandalism create an atmosphere of disarray and lawlessness, encouraging greater criminal behaviour.These days though we are seeing an increasing trend towards putting emphasis on the consumer. Even Prince Harry said in a speech recently that using plastic was a ‘dirty habit’. But I would argue that the dirtier habit is from the companies and brands who use and produce the waste in the first place. But those brands and supermarkets seem to be passing the blame onto the consumer and making them make the choice, and they are getting away with it a lot of the time because they seem so powerful and highly funded. However, the innovation I bring you today hopes to change that.Litterati is a mobile app, created by Jeff Kirchner. It started off simply as an instagram hashtag, but it started to grow into a global movement. Jeff then realised he was collecting lots of useful data and perhaps this data could be leveraged to approach brands who were the main litter offenders.In the interview Jeff will share some of the stories of how that is working in the real world and how the power of ‘big data’ can be used for good and not evil for a change. We also talk about how even though littering isn’t neccessarily the biggest environmental issue of our time that the app can be used as a gateway into other issues and a way to engage people on an accessible issue.
We’ve covered the waste plastic problem in previous episodes, it’s not suprising it’s a big issue and its everywhere and we need solutions for the time being because it doesn’t look like any real bans are coming any time soon. Without meaning to get too political at the start of the show plastic bag bans and plastic straw bans are simply token gestures aimed to quieten down the critics, and supermarkets still seem to be putting the emphasis of plastic reduction onto the consumer even though it is they that continue to wrap stuff in it.So we continue to dump the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day.With an end to single use plastics not looking like it is on the horizon innovative startup companies are starting to think how they can utilise the material in a circular economy way, locking it away in a different product so it doesn’t get into the sea. There’s no denying plastic has a lot of useful properties, it’s strong, it lasts forever, that’s why it is everywhere and why it never disappears.And it’s one of those companies I bring to you today. I speak to Toby McCartney from Scottish based company MacRebur who have found a way to take single use plastics that are destined for incineration or landfill…...or more than likely the ocean, and use it to make roads. As Toby will explain it isn’t a full plastic road, they use it in the mix with traditional materials, but it makes better more durable roads that need less repairs and most importantly locks the plastic away.To be honest a solution that means less potholes probably resonates with more people than saving the planet but that’s another point…..As I mentioned at the start, continuing to use single use plastics at the rate we do and building miles and miles of new roads isn’t really getting to the heart of the problem, we must continue to reduce these impactful habits at the same time. But we need solutions like this from MacRebur in the meantime to limit the damage that we are causing, I like to think of them as temporary solutions but in reality we have a long long way to go.I also want to use this opportunity to state that there seems to be a growing movement against ‘all plastic at all costs’ however we mustn’t forget that it is the single use plastics that are the bigger issue and if you buy something that is made from plastic that lasts a long time and can be recycled at the end, then chances are the environmental impact is a lot lower. Living entirely plastic free can become an identity thing and if you are simply swapping it for other materials with an equally big impact then it’s missing the point.Plastic is a big environmental problem and one that politicians find it harder to argue with than climate change for example, but we must continue to pursue solutions to all environmental problems and not get too excited when we don’t see a plastic straw in a bar…..
The environmental impact of humans reaches all parts of the planet and despite the oceans covering 71% of the earth and us supposedly being land-based creatures, we have managed to have quite a negative effect there too.Fishing for food advanced from a rod and hand net to an industrial operation where now huge nets are trawled through the seas trapping vast quantities fish.According to the UN over ⅓ of the worlds assessed fisheries are currently fished beyond their biological limit. And with the large nets from industrialised fishing there is the issue of bycatch as well, with unwanted fish that are caught in the nets simply thrown away without being eaten.We have also turned to fish farming known as aquaculture where the impacts of nets are reduced, but this comes with other problems as the farms are usually integrated into existing ecosystems leading to pollution and spread of disease.Moving away from eating fish is one solution many point towards, but this ignores the millions of people around the world rely on fishing as a way to make a living. And we can’t ignore the opportunity the oceans provide to feed us. As I already mentioned they cover 71% of the earth and with an increasing population on land, impacts from land use change always an issue with drought and other issues taking their toll. If done in the right way we could reduce the strain put on habitats on land for food production.Todays interview is with Bren Smith, a former fisherman who is pioneering a new way of producing food at sea known as 3D ocean farming. Bren believes that this new way of farming fish can not only reduce impacts from overfishing but restore degraded habitats too. He has more recently set up GreenWave, a non-profit which is bringing the technology to fisherman and creating jobs.In this interview Bren explains his journey of redemption from fisherman to environmental visionary and a bit more about why this technology is so exciting.I went into this interview thinking that 3D ocean farming was a potential solution to overfishing, but it was only after speaking to Bren that I realised it is much more than that and the other benefits that it could bring are exciting. From kelp storing carbon to the reduced impact of food production on land.All this whilst creating jobs for people with a low barrier to entry. This is something that we shouldn’t underestimate as we move away from our current practices, jobs will be lost from fishing or from fossil fuel industries and we need to make sure there are replacement jobs accesible to all.For more info head to www.greenwave.org
Fast fashion focuses on speed and low cost delivering new ‘collections’ of clothing for every season of every year inspired by the latest catwalk looks or celebrity styles.But as we know cheap is usually too good to be true. If the costs are taken off the end product they are passed on to someone or something else, whether that is the people who make them or the environment.Just a few of the environmental impacts of the fashion industry include; growing materials such as cotton, which takes large amounts of land and chemical inputs. The huge amounts of water and toxic chemical use in the manufacturing process, which in turn leads to water pollution. There’s also an issue that we are still unaware of the full impact of and that is microplastics entering the water supply, when they are washed from cheaper clothing containing plastics.Then there’s simple the waste as we toss last years out of fashion rags in the bin and buy the next. One garbage truck of clothes is sent to landfill or burnt every second.So there are a few option here. The first is to buy better quality clothing that lasts longer. The second is buy secondhand. But there may be a third way, and no it isn’t ditching clothes all together and becoming a nudist…..it is circular economy clothing.Rapanui are a clothing company that have always had the environment at the centre of their business, using renewable energy, organic cotton and recycling all the water they use over and over. And the latest idea they have had is the circular economy t-shirt. The idea being that once a t-shirt becomes worn out you send it back to them and they re-use the material to make you a new one and they charge you less, and then once that is worn out you do the same, in theory forever. Massively cutting down many of the environmental impacts of buying new.In this interview I speak to one of the two brothers who founded the business Mark Drake-Knight about the company, the product and the exciting idea of Tee-Mill a platform they created which helps anyone set up a circular economy fashion brand.
Many people think that great ideas and solutions to big problems come from a Eureka moment. Archimedes sitting in a bath or Newton sitting under an apple tree for example. But most of the time the path to finding solutions is long, and expensive. Requiring years of research and development, building on previous ideas and testing things until a breakthrough is finally made.But with a growing number of our environmental problems now in need of solutions more than ever before, we need all the help we can get, in order to design that product or create that process.Biomimicry is the process of looking to nature for ideas and inspiration on how we can solve human problems and design things that better fit in with life on earth. Taking advantage of 3.8 million years of evolution to give us a ‘jump start’ on research and development.This could be anything from how to reduce energy use, processing waste or managing water, taking those lessons learned and applying them to problems in the human design world.In this interview, I speak to Megan Shuknecht who is from the Biomimicry Institute an organisation set up to promote the use of the principles of biomimicry in design and innovation. As Megan will explain, they do this by hosting design challenges, with a launchpad for new businesses and even an award-winning free tool which anyone can access to get inspiration from the natural world.For more information on The Biomimicry Institute head to: https://www.biomimicry.orgFor design challenges: https://www.biomimicry.org/design-challengesAnd for AskNature: www.asknature.org
Although this podcast often focuses on disruptive innovation and technology that is helping tackle environmental problems. I also like to do the occasional episode that focuses on a broader topics and puts the spotlight on individuals or groups leading the way how they are thinking or acting.With the issue of climate change seeming so vast, with so many factors influencing our carbon emissions, many people have started to focus on what they can do as an individual. Because at least we have control over that. It may not have the impact of big policy changes, but once momentum build and more people join in, the positive impacts can collectively be big.And after having one fewer child and ditching the car entirely, research has shown that if you want to make a difference as an individual one of the most effective contributions is to take fewer flights. With one return trip to New York from Europe equalling about ¼ of an average European's total emissions for all other activities over an entire year.But I’m about solutions not just problems, and with cleaner long haul air travel still looking a way off I had to look elsewhere.That is when I came across today’s guest Roger Tyers. Roger is an academic from Southampton University, who is researching issues around climate change. But that isn’t the main reason I got him on the show, the main reason is because he pledged to not fly for at least the next 2 years to set an example. However, there was one issue. His research involved work in China. So with the pledge signed Roger decided to take the train almost 5000 miles through several different countries and across different continents.I wanted to interview him to see how this journey was, how he planned it, what it was like and what did it cost. We also spoke about the wider issue of flying, why it is so cheap, finding fulfillment in flying less often and we also touch on his research as well.As I mentioned in the interview I have done my fair share of air travel over the years and even though I still think disruptive solutions and big scale changes will play a big part in addressing the issue of climate change I think the problem is now so urgent that like Roger says whereas in the past we defined ourselves by what we did, this generation should probably start defining itself by what we don’t do. So although like Roger I’ve also pledged to not fly in 2020. I’m not saying it will be permanent but in future I’ll make sure trips are meaningful, and much less frequent.Follow Roger on Twitter: @RogerTyersUK and Instagram: doctorchoochooIf you want to sign the pledge head to: https://www.flightfree.co.uk/ in the UK or in the wider world check out https://noflyclimatesci.org/Here are some useful resources that Roger mentioned in the episode:http://www.thetravelbureau.co.uk/ The travel company who specialise in international train travel and helped me book my trains.https://www.rome2rio.com/ Fascinating site showing the non-flying options that are available around the world (with prices, times, maps and links).http://afreeride.org/ A great website explaining the problem of flying, why it is under-taxed etc, and what policy solutions we ought to pursuehttps://www.flightfree.co.uk/ Go here to join the UK campaign for less flying and read about other non-fliers’ inspirational stories.
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