An unusual conservation project launched, Ireland’s most famous music pub was saved, and renewables had a record year, plus more stories of progress
You can’t see them, perhaps you haven’t heard of them. But hidden beneath the soil are vast fungal networks, which for the first time are to be mapped – a vital step towards protecting them.
Fungal networks are not well understood, but we know they produce mushrooms, sequester carbon and send nutrients to plants. Yet they face an uncertain future: agriculture, pollution, urbanisation and deforestation are destroying these networks; losses that are largely invisible.
But not for much longer, perhaps. On Tuesday, the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks (SPUN) announced plans to map the networks using soil samples and AI. “An understanding of underground fungal networks is essential to our efforts to protect the soil, on which life depends,” said conservationist Jane Goodall, who is advising SPUN.
Jeremy Grantham is the philanthropist funding the project. “Below our feet lies an invaluable ally in mitigating climate change: vast hidden fungal networks,” he said. “Yet these carbon sinks are poorly understood. SPUN is pioneering a new chapter in global conservation.”
It’s a David versus Goliath battle that sticky-floored music venues rarely win against property developers. But this week the little guy triumphed; the little guy being Dublin’s most famous live music pub, The Cobblestone.
Plans had been submitted to demolish the boozer’s backroom venue – a cherished space for traditional Irish music – to make way for a hotel. Cue a grassroots campaign to save the place, which was billed as a battle for the soul of the city amid concern about rapacious development.
This week, Dublin city council rejected the plans due to the pub’s positive contribution to Irish culture, among other things. It’s a landmark ruling that could set a precedent for other threatened venues, although the developer can appeal the decision.
Dublin city councillor Nial Ring described the ruling as “a great day for our rich musical culture, our language and our heritage”.
Image: William Murphy
The rollout of renewables is happening faster than ever before, with 2021 set to be a record year for green energy.
That’s according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which this week published its latest Renewables Market Report. It said that stronger policies and raised climate goals leading up to COP26 had helped propel green energy to new heights this year.
About 290GW of new renewable energy capacity came online globally in 2021, beating last year’s record of 200GW. The IEA predicted that by 2026 renewables would produce the same amount of energy as is currently generated by fossil fuels and nuclear combined.
Most of the renewables growth came from China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter. IEA executive director Fatih Birol said: “The expansion of renewables [in China] suggests the country could achieve a peak in its CO2 emissions well before 2030.”
Image: Shaun Dakin
The incoming German government has agreed to quit coal by 2030 – eight years sooner than previously pledged.
The new coalition also said that solar panels would be mandatory on new buildings as part of their commitment to make Germany climate-neutral by 2045.
Image: Artyom Korshunov
There was positive news this week for the LGBTQ+ community after the Botswana Court of Appeal upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalised homosexuality.
The government had appealed the High Court ruling, but on Monday judges dismissed the appeal.
“This will forever change the landscape of democracy, human rights and equality in Botswana,” Sethunya Mosime, chairperson the Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana, said outside the court. “This case has tested Botswana democracy and independence of judiciary. We can strongly say Botswana is a true democracy.”
Image: Trey Musk
While cut off from the rest of the world during Covid, ‘fortress Australia’ appears to have become more appreciative of immigrants and more aware of racism.
That’s according to the latest Mapping Social Cohesion Report, published by the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute. It recorded a leap in the number of respondents agreeing with the statement “immigrants are generally good for Australia’s economy” – up from 76 per cent in 2019, to 86 per cent in 2021.
Similarly, 86 per cent agreed that “multiculturalism has been good for Australia”, compared with 80 per cent in 2019. The report also logged a spike in the number of Australians who see racism as a problem in the country – up from 40 per cent in 2020 to 60 per cent in 2021.
Image: Dan Freeman
The Booker prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo (pictured) is to be the new president of the UK’s Royal Society of Literature, it was announced this week. She will be the first writer of colour to hold the position.
“Literature is not a luxury, but essential to our civilisation,” said Evaristo . “I am so proud, therefore, to be the figurehead of such an august and robust literature organisation that is so actively and urgently committed to being inclusive of the widest range of outstanding writers from every demographic and geographical location in Britain.”
Evaristo will take on the role at the end of the year when the current president Marina Warner retires.
Image: Jenny Scott
BP has announced plans to open a large-scale green hydrogen production facility in Teeside, England.
Hydrogen is a zero-emissions fuel potent enough to power planes. It could be instrumental in weaning the world off the very fossil fuels that BP continues to exploit.
The plant, dubbed HyGreen Teesside, will be powered by wind, water and solar energy. BP said it plans to have the 60MW facility up and running by 2025.
Image: Amarnath Tade
Engineers in the UK are building a tiny railway crossing for wild hazel dormice to save the vulnerable species from extinction.
The bridge will be the first of its kind over a railway when it opens next summer. The crossing will link habitats either side of the Furness line in Lancashire.
“We hope that this new bridge will enable two neighbouring populations to create a local metapopulation in the area, which will really help to bring this rare and beautiful species back from the brink,” said Ian White, from the conservation charity PTES.
Read more about wildlife bridges here.
Image: Danielle Schwarz
Some of the nation’s largest landowners have made a pact to rewild their estates and improve public access to their spaces.
The National Trust, National Parks England and Duchy of Cornwall are among the organisations that pledged to create woodlands, reconnect rivers, restore peat bogs, and improve access to nature on their land.
The lack of measurable targets and deadlines is an obvious flaw of the pact. Nevertheless, Rewilding Britain said it presented “a real opportunity to turbo boost efforts to tackle the nature and climate emergencies.”
Read the full story here.
Image: Andy Chilton
Main image: Florian Van Duyn