Moths, Inspiring Innovation

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Deilephila elpenor, commonly called the elephant hawk-moth, has specialized eyes that don’t reflect light. Such moths inspired scientists to invent an anti-glare coating for smart screens. Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

We have lots of reasons to believe in biodiversity, and here is one more important case in point. Thanks to Madeline K. Sofia at National Public Radio (USA) for this:

If you’re standing in the blazing sun struggling to read this on your cellphone, there may be some relief in sight.

And you’ll have a moth to thank. Continue reading

Archaeology Lab 101

Much of the scientific rigor involved in archaeology is related to the careful documentation of what often appears to be a proverbial needle in a haystack: tiny flakes of chert stone, potsherds, or obsidian can be found in the layers (or lots) of a dig unit.

In this tropical environment we’re dealing with wet, loamy earth, so those stone or pottery fragments are frequently covered in mud, and who better to clean much of these items than interested novices. Continue reading

Recipe For Reconciliation

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Anthony Blair Dreaver Johnston, a Mistawasis Nehiyawak elder, works closely with the university to advise on indigenous matters. Credit Cole Burston for The New York Times

The New World, as the Americas are often called, was new to the Europeans–aka explorers, pilgrims, pioneers, settlers, colonialists, conquistadors–but of course was the long time homeland to a diverse mix of indigenous people from the very north of the hemisphere all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. Continue reading

Getting Your Archaeological Feet Wet

Day #2 at CCAP began with the same sense of camaraderie as Day #1 as we continued the process of clearing out topsoil, clipping roots, hauling soil and stone, and yes, working on walls. Each conversation with the team was informative, as we discussed the upcoming step of closing out the “lot” we’d started and opening the next one of the unit – basically as we approached the change-over of levels for the precise documentation required at an archaeological dig.

We were quite close to that point when we stopped work for lunch, returning with high energy to move on to the next stage. But it’s green season in Belize, and Mother Nature had other plans for the day. Continue reading

Understand Amazon Before The Next Train Leaves The Station

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Oliver Munday

Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age. In his period there was plenty of reason to be concerned about monopoly powers, especially those of railroads. Echoes in the present day, of reasons to be concerned about the same, seem to be getting louder and clearer. We have shared concerns about Amazon in the past. Those were mostly little creepy concerns. But little creepy things sometimes grow big. Sometimes Amazon big. Thanks to Lina M. Khan, a legal fellow with the Open Markets Program at New America and the author of “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” recently published by the Yale Law Journal. She has made clear, in a concise essay, exactly what we need to be concerned about with Amazon.

…For consumers, so far, Amazon has delivered many benefits. Its Prime program enables users to receive, through a click, almost any item within two days. But for producers — those who make and create things — Amazon’s dominance poses immense risks. Continue reading

Protect Pleasant Planets

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On the solstice, every point north of the Arctic Circle sees at least twenty-four hours of continuous sunlight. In Deadhorse, Alaska, the sun rose on May 15th and won’t set again until July 28th. Photograph by Alamy

A dozen years ago I had a work assignment that took me into the Arctic Circle for an extended period this time of year. I recall going a bit crazy, but a good crazy, with lovely bright sunshine at 2am each day, which impacted my ability to sleep. I was on a boat headed north from Yakutsk, traveling in waters that looked like those in the photo above. The captain and his crew spoke no English, and I spoke no Yakut or Russian, so I was on my own for making sense of what I saw. My takeaway was simple: it is mostly a nice place to live, this planet we call home. And as Alan Burdick points out in this short essay, it sure beats the alternatives:

On This Summer Solstice, Be Glad You Live on Earth

Today is the longest day of the year—in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway. Fifteen hours and forty minutes of daylight in New York. Seventeen and a half in Copenhagen and Moscow. Twenty-one and change in Reykjavík. Twelve hours, eight minutes, and twenty-four seconds in Kampala, just north of the equator. (The day will be one second shorter there starting next week.) The solstice is the one day when every point north of the Arctic Circle sees at least twenty-four hours of continuous sunlight, Continue reading

Investing In Cultural Heritage

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The Cultural Heritage Center is an $8 million investment in the community. Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It is not a question I have had to ponder (the opening line of the story below) for myself, but I get it. Losing the land, through battle, through treaties that are not honored, or otherwise, is an obvious existential threat for any community, and has been since the dawn of civilization. Invisible assets such as language, like any cultural heritage, also called intangible patrimony, are less obviously existentially important. But anyone who ponders it realizes that the loss of a language or another intangible component of cultural heritage matters to all of us, not only those who are at immediate and direct risk of its extinction. In the same way biodiversity matters, so does this.

And it is an underlying logic and motivator of our initiative with Ramon tree and its role in Mayan foodways. In earlier posts on the subject that I emphasized the environmental wonder of Ramon, but it is really a cultural heritage story, still to be told at Chan Chich Lodge. Meanwhile thanks to Melissa Block at National Public Radio (USA) for this story about one communities efforts along a related path:

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe. Continue reading

Coffee, Ethiopia & Change

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Growing coffee provides income for about 15 percent of Ethiopia’s population and is the country’s top export. Climate change is likely to shrink the land suitable for coffee, thereby also hurting the livelihoods of many people.
Courtesy of Emily Garthwaite

Change is almost never easy. Then there is climate change. Daunting, but we cannot stop considering the implications and the options. The planet may recover in geological time, the underlying logic of those who promote denial of the urgency, but plenty of people are at risk in real time, so no option but to keep focus.

Thanks to the salt, at National Public Radio (USA) for a reminder of coffee‘s relationship with conservation, a reminder of Ethiopia in general, which is always welcome, and especially Ethiopia’s relationship with one of our favorite beverages:

Ethiopia’s Coffee Farmers Are ‘On The Front Lines Of Climate Change’

by Courtney Columbus

Ethiopia gave the world Coffea arabica, the species that produces most of the coffee we drink these days. Today, the country is the largest African producer of Arabica coffee. The crop is the backbone of the country’s economy – some 15 million Ethiopians depend on it for a living. Continue reading

A Day In the Life of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project

When Crist wrote about the Chan Chich Archaeological Project in April it was in anticipation of the group’s arrival. Now that we’re several weeks in I’ve had the opportunity to assist them first hand, in part as a “guinea pig” for guest involvement as citizen science participants. Fellow contributor Phil Karp (a veteran of many citizen science programs) was enthusiastically up  for the experience as well.

The team of archaeologists and field school students, led by Texas Tech University associate professor Dr. Brett Houk, is studying the ancient Maya at Chan Chich and surrounding sites. Several weeks into their dig they’ve made significant progress, and they gamely accepted the challenge of taking novices into their ranks.

We began at the beginning, well known to be the very best place to start, with a new “lot” located next to a well-established excavated area. Continue reading

The Sun Over Africa Is Powerful

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In eighteen months, entrepreneurs brought electricity to hundreds of thousands of people in places that the grid failed to reach. Illustration by Oliver Munday / Photographs courtesy Mathieu Young / Off-Grid Electric

The author has been featured in our pages mainly as an activist, but it is good to see he has returned to the New Yorker as a reporter, writer, and keen observer:

The Race to Solar-Power Africa

American startups are competing to bring electricity to communities that remain off the grid.

By Bill McKibben

The cacao-farming community of Daban, in Ghana, is seven degrees north of the equator, and it’s always hot. In May, I met with several elders there to talk about the electricity that had come to the town a few months earlier, when an American startup installed a solar microgrid nearby. Continue reading