Science·What on Earth?

How 2 kids used social media to raise thousands of dollars for the Brazilian rainforest

In this week's issue of our environment newsletter, we look at two youngsters who raised money to plant trees in the Brazilian rainforest and what you can do to make your home cooler in extreme heat.

Also: What is bi-directional charging?

(Sködt McNalty/CBC)

Hello, Earthlings! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • How 2 kids used social media to raise thousands of dollars for the Brazilian rainforest
  • Bi-directional charging allows electric vehicles to give back to the grid
  • How to outfit buildings to better handle hotter temperatures

How 2 kids used social media to raise thousands of dollars for the Brazilian rainforest

(Submitted by Christiana Marquez Gomes)

We've seen the power that young people can have in trying to get action on climate change. But not every campaign involves mobilizing large numbers of people. Sometimes, it just takes two motivated kids — with perhaps a little support from their parents — to make a meaningful contribution to the planet.

Marcello Marini Ferraz, 10, developed an interest in the environment a few years back when he read a book called SOS Planet Earth at his school in Toronto. Marcello's mom, Paola Frumento Ferraz, said the next day, her son went to a friend's classroom and told people what he had learned about the threats to forests and green spaces around the world. He pledged to do something about it and asked kids to contribute to the cause. 

The boy was only eight at the time, but his speech convinced enough of his peers to donate some money — $8 in total. When he came home to tell his mom about it, she said they could work on a project together. 

"Of course, I wasn't this serious about it," said Ferraz. "But he was." 

Ferraz knew they were vacationing with friends in Brazil later in the year, so she promised Marcello they would visit a forest when they got there. The seed had been planted.

In January 2019, the Ferraz family travelled to Brazil's southeastern countryside, where they gathered with Christiana Marquez Gomes's family. There, Marcello met Gomes's 13-year-old daughter Olivia (see photo above), who had been reading books about the rich biodiversity of rainforests. The two kids bonded over their shared interests, the importance of caring for the environment and their wish to act. 

Seeing their children making plans, Ferraz and Gomes decided to support them by contacting SOS Mata Atlântica, a Brazilian NGO that focuses on the preservation of the Atlantic Forest biome in different parts of that country. 

The Amazon is the largest and best-known rainforest in South America, but the Atlantic Rainforest (Mata Atlântica in Portuguese) is also home to incredible biodiversity — and like the Amazon, it's under threat. The Atlantic Forest is home to 70 per cent of Brazil's population, but a December 2020 study found that up to 85 per cent of the trees in the original Atlantic Forest have been lost to deforestation.

Kelly De Marchi, an environmental education co-ordinator at SOS Mata Atlântica, took Marcello and Olivia on an educational tour of one of their spaces in the Atlantic Forest, where she explained how the trees are planted. 

"They were asking so many questions, like, 'What do I need to plant a seed? How much do I need to plant a whole forest?'" said De Marchi. When teaching the kids what one hectare of land would look like, De Marchi said it was the size of a soccer field. 

The kids wanted to make a video, and their focus was on writing a script asking people to donate to their cause — Olivia in Portuguese and Marcello in English. Their goal? To plant enough trees to fill an entire soccer field they would later call "Field of Dreams." A friend of Marcello's mom volunteered to make the visuals, which were then edited together into a YouTube video by the adults involved.

A year later, the video had helped the kids raise the equivalent of about $4,500 US (or roughly 23,000 Brazilian reals). "We only helped with editing the video and sharing it on our social media," said Ferraz, to which Gomes added, "The idea was all theirs." 

The kids donated the money to SOS Mata Atlântica. The 1,400 trees that Marcello and Olivia helped plant are from 89 species native to the Atlantic Forest's biome, and fill an area equivalent to one hectare. In May, volunteers at SOS Mata Atlântica finished planting all the seedlings.

As a result of COVID-19, Marcello couldn't physically reunite with Olivia to witness the tree-planting in Brazil. However, Marcello watched it on his mother's phone. Olivia had asked her little brother to plant Marcello's tree on his behalf. 

De Marchi said this is evidence that kids have the potential to do great things when they have support and guidance from those around them. 

"They financed not only the plantation of those seedlings, but also the formation of a forest," said De Marchi.

Thaïs Grandisoli

Reader feedback

Efforts to inspire climate action are becoming more visible. In that spirit, we'd like to know: Are there any environmentally themed murals or other displays of art in your community? If so, we'd love to see them.

Send us a photo with a description and the location at whatonearth@cbc.ca.

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

There's also a radio show and podcast! So far, the summer of 2021 has seen wildfires, extreme heat, drought and flooding. Not quite the summer of your childhood. This week, What On Earth hears how "normal" is changing, what challenges that poses and what actions you can take to help. What on Earth airs Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m. in Newfoundland. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.


The Big Picture: Bi-directional charging

To be able to drive for hundreds of kilometres on a single charge, electric vehicles need huge batteries. Until recently, those batteries could only be used for driving. But more of them are becoming capable of bi-directional charging — that is, feeding stored power back into buildings or even the electrical grid. The earliest adopter was the Nissan Leaf, which gained this superpower in 2013. But it's becoming more common. Both Volkswagen and Ford recently announced this feature for upcoming electric models. Meanwhile, bi-directional charging stations are hitting the market, making it possible to actually harness this capability. Advocates say using cars as energy storage could help integrate more wind and solar into the grid and use it more efficiently — vehicles could be charged when it's windy and sunny but electricity demand is low, then feed power back to the grid when there's no wind or sun and demand is high. Nova Scotia Power is running an Electric Vehicle Grid Integration Pilot Project with federal funding to see how utility-controlled charging and bi-directional charging could help add more renewable energy and make the grid more resilient, preventing or mitigating power outages. You can read more about it here.

(Photo illustration by Scott Galley/CBC)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • Every country is reckoning with what it's willing to do to combat climate change. This week, the European Union threw down the gauntlet by setting out its Green New Deal, clarifying steps it will take to meet its ambitious aim of reducing emissions 55 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. Among those steps is imposing tariffs on certain products from countries that aren't as climate-conscious, a move some observers say could have huge implications for global trade.

  • For the first time in 400 years, a beaver has been born in Exmoor, in the southwest of England, after the critters were hunted to extinction in Britain in the 16th century. The wee kit, which lives in an enclosure on the Holnicote Estate in Somerset, was the product of Eurasian beavers introduced to the area a few years ago.

  • If you've been on social media at all this week, you've probably seen video of the state of Utah dropping fish from an airplane. It's part of a longstanding practice of restocking lakes that have run out of fish, although it's only more recently that they've done it from the sky. Each flight drops about 35,000 fish (not to mention the spray of hundreds of litres of water).

How to outfit buildings to better handle hotter temperatures

(CBC)

Brenda Perez thought B.C.'s recent heat wave would be nothing compared to summers in her native Mexico. However, as her highrise condo, which is framed with floor-to-ceiling windows, baked in temperatures above 40 C, the 25-year-old's health began to suffer, as did her pets.

"I actually threw up. I woke up and I really felt like I was going to faint," said the Coquitlam resident.

Perez said her priority was her dog, Lola. They took nearly 12 showers daily just to stay cool before she finally found a dog-sitter with air conditioning. But her two pet fish and frog died from the heat.

"It's changed my way of seeing the world," she said. 

As southern B.C. roasted under record-breaking, deadly temperatures for several days in late June, residents like Perez were left worrying about their living conditions — and whether these unprecedented events will become more common with climate change.

Many buildings in British Columbia lack cooling because of the province's milder climate expectations, said Akua Schatz, a vice-president with the Canada Green Building Council. 

"So you end up with these ... glass towers that are basically baking people because they aren't designed to both have open airflow and really take in the heat." 

During the heat wave, some B.C. residents resorted to buying AC units and new HVAC systems — but most were quickly sold out. Portable AC units are the least energy efficient models on the market, BC Hydro notes, typically using 10 times more energy than a central AC system or heat pump.

Instead of focusing on a quick fix, experts outlined several long-term and more efficient solutions.

Heat pumps

Installing a heat pump (see photo above) can both cool and heat a home, unlike an air conditioner, said Schatz. When cooling, a heat pump extracts the heat out of your home and moves it back outside.

Heat pumps are up to 50 per cent more energy efficient compared to a typical window AC unit, according to BC Hydro. On average, they cost between $4,000 and $10,000 to purchase and install. 

Radiant cooling

Radiant cooling uses special panels with chilled water to cool down walls and ceilings, said Adam Rysanek, an assistant professor of environmental systems at the University of British Columbia. 

A person's body heat then radiates towards those cool panels when they stand beside or underneath them. 

Radiant cooling saves anywhere between 25 and 60 per cent of energy compared to typical central air-conditioning systems, Rysanek said.

More midrise buildings

As a bigger-picture option, experts say developers should reconsider the size and design of our buildings. While sky-high views are popular, it would be wise to prioritize midrise buildings, says urban design expert Patrick Condon.

"The buildings more easily shade each other, particularly on the west sides, and they're not so tall that you can't do simple things like growing trees," said Condon, a professor in the school of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia. 

Condon said trees are essential for cooling because the air within the canopy of a tree can be up to five degrees cooler. 

Perez said that when she finally felt a cooling breeze as the heat wave subsided somewhat, she actually started crying.

"Like, I was so happy."

To prepare for future heat waves, she plans to purchase a portable AC unit when one is available. If her heat-related discomfort continues, she said her next step is to consider moving to a building with a better cooling system.

— Baneet Braich

Stay in touch!

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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