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Articles by Maywa Montenegro

Maywa Montenegro is an editor and writer at Seed magazine, focusing mainly on ecology, bidiversity, agriculture, and sustainable development.

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Over at, I have a brief interview with Oliver Peoples, a biochemist who hopes that his new bio-based plastic will upend the petroleum-based industry—and help clean up oceans and landfills in the process:

Seed: So you’re turning corn into plastic in much the same way that the ethanol industry turns it into biofuels. As I’m sure you know, the big criticism of corn ethanol has been that if you account for all of the embedded fossil fuels, it doesn’t wind up being very good for the environment. How does this play out with Mirel? OP: Grain ethanol has been around for more than 100 years, so the industry’s ability to shift the process to a more favorable energy balance is limited. A good illustration is polypropylene: The energy cost of making it when they first started was probably 10 to 20 times what it is today. This is typically what happens with any manufacturing technology—you get continuous improvements as you learn how to do it better and better. Ethanol has largely been through that cycle. Mirel plastics are still in their early days, but even with our initial start-up we’ve been able to manage the manufacturi... Read more

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  • The great wealthy nation land-grab

    Land is where the food isGlobally, farmland — and just as critically, water on that land — is disappearing at an alarming rate. Approximately 50 million acres vanish each year to urbanization, population growth, and economic and industrial development. So what are countries doing in response? Looking to buy or lease fertile land in parts […]

  • How urban life hurts your brain … and what you can do about it

    A fascinating little article in Sunday's Boston Globe Ideas section highlights some recent scientific studies on the psychological effects of city life:

    Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control ...

    "The mind is a limited machine," says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. "And we're beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations."

    So is it the sensory overload of being in an urban environment or the lack of nature that does the damage? It seems to be a bit of both: Numerous studies have shown, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows and that apartment-dwellers function better when their units overlook a grassy courtyard. Green spaces provide a mental break, according to the article, from the "urban roil."

    But what if the urban space isn't roiling? I mean, it stands to reason that walking through Times Square during a power outage at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning would tax the brain less than doing so on New Year's Eve, but would it be less taxing than hiking through a riotous rainforest?

    Interestingly enough, the answer is probably "no." The article goes on to explain that when it comes to nature, the more sensory stimulation, the better.

    Although [Frederick] Olmsted took pains to design parks with a variety of habitats and botanical settings, most urban greenspaces are much less diverse. This is due in part to the "savannah hypothesis," which argues that people prefer wide-open landscapes that resemble the African landscape in which we evolved. Over time, this hypothesis has led to a proliferation of expansive civic lawns, punctuated by a few trees and playing fields.

    However, these savannah-like parks are actually the least beneficial for the brain. In a recent paper, Richard Fuller, an ecologist at the University of Queensland, demonstrated that the psychological benefits of green space are closely linked to the diversity of its plant life. When a city park has a larger variety of trees, subjects that spend time in the park score higher on various measures of psychological well-being, at least when compared with less biodiverse parks.

    OK, you say, so now surprise me. I don't need a psych study to tell me that a walk in the park is good for the mood. Or that traffic jams are less fun than lakes and butterflies. Point taken. But to the extent that scientific studies can help make the case for innovative urban design, including greener, airier homes and apartments, wilder public parks, and less concrete in between, then I'm all for them. And hey, it's a good argument for a corner office.

  • Scientists and journalists team up to get the climate story straight

    What do Weather Channel seductress Heidi Cullen, Steven "wedge" Pacala, former TIME writer Michael Lemonick, soon-to-be NOAA head Jane Lubchenco, and Grist founding board member Ben Strauss have in common?

    They're all part of an new project called Climate Central. It was mentioned briefly in this recent post about Lubchenco, but it's so interesting and innovative that it merits further digital ink -- which I was going to provide myself, but Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review beat me to it.

    Climate Central is a hybrid team of nearly two dozen journalists and scientists -- spread between a main office in Princeton, New Jersey and a smaller one in Palo Alto, California -- who work side by side on stories for television, print, and the Web. Relying upon a non-profit business model that is similar to The Center for Investigative Reporting, ProPublica, and others, Climate Central pitches its work to local and national news outlets, looking for collaborative editorial partnerships. It also makes its various experts, many of who are still affiliated with major research institutions, available as primary sources. The goal is to "localize" the story around regions, states, or even cities, in order to highlight the various and particular ways that changes in climate are affecting people's daily lives.

    As Brainard points out, this new effort comes at a time when traditional news outlets are struggling to produce original environment-related content (many, like CNN, have axed their science and environment teams).

    Whether Climate Central will be, as communications scholar Matthew Nisbet puts it, "the future of science journalism -- non-profit partnerships providing independent and syndicated science coverage," or whether it will falter under conflicts of interest (real or perceived), remains to be seen.

    But it's great to see scientists stepping up to the plate -- or if you'll indulge a double-edged pun -- to the green screen.

  • How to fend off biological and cultural extinctions

    The relationship between our planet’s vanishing species, languages, and cultures has long fascinated me, so I was thrilled to write a story on the subject for the current issue of Seed. In the piece, my co-author Terry Glavin and I mention some important legislation being put forth at the annual meeting of the IUCN in […]