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Photographer James Balog and his crew were hanging out near a glacier when their camera captured something extraordinary.

They were in Greenland, gathering footage from the time-lapse they'd positioned all around the Arctic Circle for the last several years.


They were also there to shoot scenes for a documentary. And while they were hoping to capture some cool moments on camera, no one expected a huge chunk of a glacier to snap clean off and slide into the ocean right in front of their eyes.


science, calving, glaciers

A glacier falls into the sea.

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ocean swells, sea level, erosion, going green

Massive swells created by large chunks of glacier falling away.

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It was the largest such event ever filmed.

For nearly an hour and 15 minutes, Balog and his crew stood by and watched as a piece of ice the size of lower Manhattan — but with ice-equivalent buildings that were two to three times taller than that — simply melted away.

geological catastrophe, earth, glacier melt

A representation demonstrating the massive size of ice that broke off into the sea.

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As far as anyone knows, this was an unprecedented geological catastrophe and they caught the entire thing on tape. It won't be the last time something like this happens either.

But once upon a time, Balog was openly skeptical about that "global warming" thing.

Balog had a reputation since the early 1980s as a conservationist and environmental photographer. And for nearly 20 years, he'd scoffed at the climate change heralds shouting, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

"I didn't think that humans were capable of changing the basic physics and chemistry of this entire, huge planet. It didn't seem probable, it didn't seem possible," he explained in the 2012 documentary film "Chasing Ice."

There was too much margin of error in the computer simulations, too many other pressing problems to address about our beautiful planet. As far as he was concerned, these melodramatic doomsayers were distracting from the real issues.

That was then.

Greenland, Antarctica, glacier calving

The glacier ice continues to erode away.

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In fact, it wasn't until 2005 that Balog became a believer.

He was sent on a photo expedition of the Arctic by National Geographic, and that first northern trip was more than enough to see the damage for himself.

"It was about actual tangible physical evidence that was preserved in the ice cores of Greenland and Antarctica," he said in a 2012 interview with ThinkProgress. "That was really the smoking gun showing how far outside normal, natural variation the world has become. And that's when I started to really get the message that this was something consequential and serious and needed to be dealt with."

Some of that evidence may have been the fact that more Arctic landmass has melted away in the last 20 years than the previous 10,000 years.

Watch the video of the event of the glacier calving below:

This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

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This article originally appeared on 12.17.14


Here's something you may not have known: In 2008, we grew enough food for 11 billion people.


(Reminder: There are just over 7 billion humans here on Earth.)

But half of that food went to feeding animals (you know, so we could eat them). And a great deal also went to fueling cars.

Clearly, we're not hurting when it comes to our ability to grow food. But how we grow that food matters. In the industrial system that feeds much of the globe, it takes 10 calories of fuel to produce one calorie of food.

Which, let's be honest, is not the most efficient process. That's why so many people are keen on growing food organically — by which Wikipedia tells me means:

In other words, organic farming involves growing food more naturally with fewer resources. But here's a good question: Can organic food feed the world?

Allow me to quote noted food expert Michael Pollan:

"In industrial areas, organic [farming] achieves 92% of the yield of industrial [farming]. But you go to the developing world, and it produces 182% of current yield."

Not too shabby, eh? Maybe there's some hope for our food system after all.

For the full talk (don't worry, it's short), check out the clip below.

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Green Mountain Energy

Leroy Mwasaru was a high school student at Kenya's prestigious Maseno School when a dorm room renovation created an unfortunate situation.

The school's outdoor latrines overflowed into the local water supply.

Understandably, this made some people quite upset. But Mwasaru saw this as an opportunity to turn something revolting into a revolution.


[rebelmouse-image 19469680 dam="1" original_size="500x274" caption="All GIFs from Makeshift/YouTube." expand=1]All GIFs from Makeshift/YouTube.

If he could redirect the overflowing human waste, it could give them cleaner water and help the school save money on fire and electricity.

See, at that same time, his school was spending a lot of money on firewood, which, like many Kenyan buildings, it used to fuel its kitchens, heat, and lights. It can be labor intensive to gather all that wood — and it's even more expensive to buy it.  Plus, all the soot and ash it creates is not good for the staff to consume on such a regular and large-scale basis.

[rebelmouse-image 19469681 dam="1" original_size="1200x624" caption="Mwasaru and his friends speak with school staff about the wood-burning furnace. Image from MakeShift/YouTube." expand=1]Mwasaru and his friends speak with school staff about the wood-burning furnace. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

So Mwasaru thought — why not use a biogas digester instead?

In his sophomore year biology class, he had learned how these digesters can harvest natural bacterial byproducts, such as human waste and turn it into natural gas energy through a process called anaerobic digestion.

"I initially researched renewable energy and biogas [digesters] just to satisfy my intellectual curiosity," Mwasaru explains over email. "After a while, it became so much more than biology — there was chemistry too. It got to solving problems my local community faced, such as lack of access to affordable renewable energy."

[rebelmouse-image 19469682 dam="1" original_size="1189x574" caption="Students on the Maseno School campus. Image from MakeShift/YouTube." expand=1]Students on the Maseno School campus. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

Mwasaru recruited a group of friends, and over the next year, they built a working prototype biogas digester for the school.

His initial proposal was met with some level of resistance from the community. "I want to burn our poop to fuel the kitchen" isn't exactly the kind of thing anyone wants to hear from a high school student.

"That's what pushed me to make sure it came to pass, and made sure it benefited them. Sometimes it's the bad energy you get that pushes you to do stuff," Mwasaru says.

Their earliest tests began by collecting raw "fuel" in the form of cow dung, food waste, fresh cut grass, and eventually, water.

These components were then mixed together into a paste...

... that they poured into a plastic vessel — the digester itself.

The natural bacteria contained in all these ingredients was more than enough to spark the anaerobic process as it broke down the organic waste materials.

Over time, the dense physical waste drops down to the bottom of the container, separating from the bacteria's combustible gas byproduct, which can then be collected and used for energy.

Lighting a burner with harvested biogas.

Granted, there were a few hiccups along the way. "I have to credit the failures we have had," Mwasaru says. "Our very first bio-digester prototype had too much gas and exploded, so we had to re-learn and re-invent the model until it was stable."

After a little trial and error, Mwasaru and friends completed their first working prototype — and it was good enough to earn them a coveted spot at the Innovate Kenya startup camp.

See this video here of how his small-scale prototype worked here:

It demonstrated the basic way that the anaerobic process could be contained within a single plastic vessel with pipes to move the gas along, while directing all the other organic waste into the ground. It wasn't enough to power the entire school on its own, but it was a start.

Then, at the startup camp, the teens had the opportunity to work alongside student engineers from MIT to hone and refine their project.

[rebelmouse-image 19469688 dam="1" original_size="1212x683" caption="Mwasaru, left, with his friends Amos Dede and Charles, who also worked on the biogas project. Image from MakeShift/YouTube." expand=1]Mwasaru, left, with his friends Amos Dede and Charles, who also worked on the biogas project. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

In fact, the product that this high schooler devised was so impressive that it earned them funding from Global Minimum — a charitable organization that encourages young innovators and leaders in Africa — to build a second,  improved prototype.

"Leroy seeks to understand everything he doesn't know by asking probing questions, taking notes and experimenting to learn," said David Moinina Sengeh, an MIT Researcher who also serves as Global Minimum's board president, in an interview with CNN. "His curiosity to explore and learn from doing within a motivation to bring broader social change is something that we hope to see in all our youth and frankly everyone."

Mwasaru speaking at the One Young World summit in Arizona. Photo provided by Leroy Mwasaru.

As work began on the next, larger prototype, Mwasaru had the opportunity to travel to America to speak at prestigious conferences, such as Techonomy and One Young World.

He also returned home to the small village where his father still lives and helped to install a biogas digester there too, using the dung from his father's six cows. It generates enough gas for him to share with the other 30 houses in the village. Plus, it made things easier for the women in the village — another cause that Mwasaru is passionate about — who were sometimes spending up to 24 hours a week collecting firewood.

"When I deployed the Biogas pilot in my rural home, I mainly envisioned it as a way of leveraging sustainable renewable energy to make the world a better place through my community," Mwasaru says. "Now I believe through our activities that other sectors [such as women empowerment] could benefit immensely from the approach."

[rebelmouse-image 19469690 dam="1" original_size="1200x624" caption="The dining hall at Maseno School. Image from MakeShift/YouTube." expand=1]The dining hall at Maseno School. Image from MakeShift/YouTube.

The biogas digester project has since grown into a full-fledged startup/social enterprise called Greenpact — with Mwasaru serving as its CEO.

Since graduating from Maseno School, Mwasaru has taken a gap year to focus on the company's mission to address the lack of affordable renewable energy and proper sanitation that affects some 9 million Kenyan households.

He hopes to steer the company into an impactful organization that offers a wide range of products and services, including biogas digesters. He does have plans to go to college — but for now, Greenpact is his priority.

"I didn't see myself focusing on renewable energy but after doing some work in the field I figured out that I am actually more into renewable energy than I had imagined," Mwasaru says.

Now he's determined to show the world how to turn energy into opportunity and vice versa. The only way to do that is to stop seeing things as waste and start seeing them as resources instead.

Heroes

Solar energy is getting so cheap that even this coal museum is using it.

The move is symbolic of a lot of the progress made in green energy as of late.

Deep in the heart of coal country, a very unexpected business is going green.

The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is adding solar panels to its building.

The museum, located in the southeast Kentucky town of Benham, aims to shine a light on the important role coal played (and continues to play) in meeting our energy needs — which makes it worth asking why it's moving away from its namesake fuel source to suit its own power needs.


The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum has 4 floors of non-stop history to keep you busy for hours! Located in Benham, KY.

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The answer is actually really simple: Solar is cheaper.

The irony certainly isn't lost on the museum's owners, but there's no denying that solar power just makes sense from a financial standpoint.  

Until recently, there was a trade-off when it came to choosing renewable energy. But clean-energy technology is becoming more efficient and less expensive every day, with the cost of solar energy coming in at less than half the cost of coal in some places. In December, Bloomberg reported on the stunning advances that have been made in just the past couple of years. Solar-panel technology has seen remarkable improvements in just the past year, finally becoming truly competitive with fossil fuels in terms of efficiency.

Photos by Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images (left), Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images.

"We believe that this project will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 off the energy costs on this building alone," Brandon Robinson, communications director at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, the group that owns the museum, told WYMT.

When it comes to adding solar panels to a museum about the coal industry, "It is a little ironic," Robinson admitted. "But you know, coal and solar and all the different energy sources work hand-in-hand. And, of course, coal is still king around here."

Between solar, wind, and especially natural gas, coal and oil have seen a major uptick in competition in recent years. The competitive cost of clean energy poses a challenge to President Trump, who campaigned on a platform of bringing jobs back to the coal industry.

It's not regulation that killed off coal mining jobs around the U.S. It's innovation, making Trump's promise to put miners back to work an empty one.

In March, Trump gutted the clean-energy and climate initiatives put in place by his predecessor. "C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?" Trump said, surrounded by miners as he sat down to sign an executive order rolling back regulations. "You’re going back to work."

The problem, however, is that there isn't work to go back to. The industry has moved on.

Photos by Mark Lyons/Getty Images (left), Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Trump's actions on energy and climate change will have an effect, that's for sure. It's just probably not the one his supporters voted for.

In February, Trump rolled back the Office of Surface Mining's Stream Protection Rule, a regulation put in place by the Obama administration protecting waterways from coal debris. And while he called it "another terrible job killing rule" and said that rolling it back would save "many thousands American jobs, especially in the mines," it probably won't.

What it will do is make it easier to poison the drinking water of coal communities, something the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum's hometown of Benham, knows a lot about, with some residents expressing concern about their water quality in recent years.

Adding solar panels to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is symbolic in a lot of really hopeful ways.

It's a sign that we don't have to forget our past to move toward the future. It's a sign that even in the heart of coal country, people can appreciate energy innovation.

And most importantly and hopefully, it's a sign that even with Trump's actions that threaten to roll back the progress we've made on addressing energy and climate change, progress continues.