Pipeline, Refuge & Court

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Rhododendron petals line the Appalachian Trail at Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee. Aheflin/iStock, via Getty Images Plus

Thanks to Will Harlan, a journalist, for this opinion:

Will the Appalachian Trail Stop an $8 Billion Pipeline?

It’s up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

BIG IVY, N.C. — I live in Appalachia, and on Sunday mornings I hike the Appalachian Trail across the mountains I call home. It is my church. I drink from its springs and rest in the shade of its ancient forests.

For decades, the trail has been my refuge. I have run for miles through tunnels of rhododendron, crossed paths with bears and camped with my children beneath starry skies.

A few years ago, however, the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline broke ground, and crews began clear-cutting a scar across the mountains to move fracked natural gas from West Virginia to customers in Virginia and North Carolina. On my trail treks in Virginia, I watched the bulldozers creep closer.

Then suddenly, on a crisp fall morning in 2018, the bulldozers stopped. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated a permit allowing the pipeline to cross the trail deep beneath the ground. Continue reading

A Wonky Yet Infectious Hopefulness

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.The title of today’s post comes from a book review that serves me well after reading yesterday, then re-reading just now, about the conversation between a journalist I respect and a conservationist I admire. Since I am stuck in this myopic debate, a bookend to that conversation is the best I can hope for today. I do not yet have a copy of this book, but I hope to review it in these pages soon. For now, thanks to Hua Hsu for bringing it to my attention in THE SEARCH FOR NEW WORDS TO MAKE US CARE ABOUT THE CLIMATE CRISIS:

The reason we find ourselves verging toward planetary extinction is fairly simple: for quite some time, it’s been profitable for humans to behave this way. For business and government, it’s always been easier to toggle between plunder and neglect than to mind long-term, civilizational time lines. The actual conspiracy is that we are made to feel as though humanity’s fate were purely a matter of personal choice—our desire to buy this, that, or nothing at all, our collective willingness to recycle or compost. This isn’t to say that we possess no power at all. But the scale of the problem is difficult to comprehend, and discussions leave many of us feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed, reduced to myopic debates about whether we are too scared or not scared enough. Continue reading

Overflowing With Perspective, Lacking Optimism, But Looking Forward

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Giraffes in the Maasai Mara game reserve. Shrinking habitats and industrial pesticides have caused populations to plummet in recent years. Photograph by Guillaume Bonn

Jon Lee Anderson, who I am sourcing here for the third time, gives us perspective on Richard Leakey, who surprisingly was only mentioned once previously in nine years on this platform. Both men know their respective worlds. There is plenty of perspective among both, not much optimism, but a determined look forward:

CAN THE WILDLIFE OF EAST AFRICA BE SAVED? A VISIT WITH RICHARD LEAKEY

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The paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey is pessimistic about the future of Kenya’s wildlife. Photograph by Mickey Adair / Getty

The week before Christmas, Richard Leakey, the Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist, celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday. He is lucky to have reached the milestone. A tall man with the burned and scarred skin that results from a life lived outdoors, Leakey has survived two kidney transplants, one liver transplant, and a devastating airplane crash that cost him both of his legs below the knee. For the past quarter century, he has moved around on prosthetic limbs concealed beneath his trousers. In his home town of Nairobi, Leakey keeps an office in an unlikely sort of place—the annex building of a suburban shopping mall. His desk and chair fill most of his cubicle, which has a window that looks onto a parking lot. The space has no adornments other than two framed photographs, each sharply symbolic of the parallel interests that have absorbed most of his adult life: the world of extinct prehistoric hominids and the contemporary natural environment that is being pushed toward extinction by humankind.

In one of the photographs, Leakey is three decades younger, a trim man wearing a dark suit and standing amid a group of senior Kenyan officials, including then President Daniel arap Moi, who are gathered next to a pile of elephant tusks. It is a snapshot from 1989, when, as the head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Leakey oversaw the public burning of several tons of poached elephant ivory. At the end of the nineteen-seventies, there were an estimated quarter of a million elephants in Kenya, but, when the photograph was taken, only sixteen thousand were left. Leakey wanted to stigmatize the ivory trade by treating poached tusks in the same way that police treated cocaine seized from drug traffickers. His publicity-seeking gambit worked, making global headlines and leading the way for an international ivory ban that went into effect that same year. The killing of elephants went down for a while as well, allowing Kenya’s herds to recover. Today, Kenya has a relatively stable population of about thirty-five thousand elephants.

Continue reading

Field Expeditions, Adventure & Risk

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For all the fulfillment we get from our work in remote locations, and especially the wilderness work visits, we are, relatively speaking, conservative conservationists. After casually linking out to this article with references to expeditions, and hinting at our love of adventure, it occurs to me now to put it in perspective. What we do is not like what Roman Dial does. It is not like what Roman Dial Two did. I am sobered by Blair Braverman’s review of this memoir, written with respect as well as unflinching admiration:

His Son Hiked Into the Costa Rican Jungle, and Never Came Out. What Happened?

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Ben Weissenbach

Years ago, I brought a city friend hiking. We had to cross a river of snowmelt on a cold, rainy day, and though the water normally stayed shallow, it was deeper and faster than I’d ever seen it. I crossed first, testing the depth; I showed my friend how to face upstream, how to unbuckle his pack and use a stick for support. He made his way after me, a wake rising around him, feeling with his boots for solid ground — and he stumbled. For a moment I saw it all play out: him swept away in the frigid water, the near-instant hypothermia, how I’d struggle to start a fire in the rain. And then he caught his footing and came to shore.

Everything’s fine, I told myself that night in my sleeping bag. It’s fine. Nothing bad happened.

Nothing bad happened, but it could have. Continue reading

Coffee & Caffeine, Better Understood

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Some days everything comes up roses. Today was one. This morning my scanning routine, looking for what to share here, was made easy by the image above and the headline below it: Is Coffee Good for You? Yes! But it depends on the kind of coffee and the quantity. My favorite takeaway, among many, points to the benefits of filtered coffee. Read each section and take what matters most to your coffee life.

PollanCaffeineMichael Pollan, first mentioned here in 2011, has been so frequently featured over the years it is fair to say he is one of our heroes (those links cover only part of the first year of this platform; dozens more since 2012). In a recent interview Pollan discusses his own findings related to coffee, and specifically its caffeine. The interview was promoting his new book, available in audible form. What I heard in the interview was just enough to ensure I click to the right when I have the 2+ hours to listen…

Field Expeditions, Panama, Ferns

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Student members of the Mamoní Valley Preserve Natural History Project, Jacob Suissa (left), Sylvia Kinosian, Brian Vergara, Jose Palacios, and Christian López examine the rhizome vasculature of a fern species during their first collection trip in the rainforest.

While most of our work between 1999 and 2019 was field work, once this platform started we distinguished field expeditions from our “regular work,” and Seth’s posts have dominated the expedition realm here. Today, with Seth in wintry New Haven in desk mode, my expeditionary imagination is instead fueled by the field expedition described below, on a topic not featured in these pages for seven years, so I am correcting the neglect:

Going where the diversity is

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Student researchers Ben Goulet-Scott (left), Sylvia Kinosian, and Jacob Suissa, reach the crest of a hill overlooking the Mamoní Valley Preserve while carrying 90 species of ferns on their backs.
Photos by Ben Goulet-Scott/Harvard University Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Last month, two graduate students from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University traveled to one of the most species-rich landscapes in the world: a remote strip of tropical rainforest at the narrowest point in the Central American country of Panama.

Ben Goulet-Scott, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) and a fellow in the Arboretum’s Hopkins Lab, and Jacob Suissa, OEB Ph.D. candidate in the Friedman Lab at the Arboretum, hope their research in the Mamoní Valley Preserve in Panama will increase our understanding of how biodiversity can persevere in the face of climate change, deforestation, and human disturbance.

200126PanamaExp26The 20-square-mile land conservancy on the isthmus separating Central and South America teems with life, making the condensed rainforest habitat a perfect location for their research project because of the vast number of known and potentially undiscovered species living there, Goulet-Scott said. Continue reading

Getting a Bigger Bang Out of Plastic

Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy.  Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.

We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.

Big Bang, Indeed!

The Future We Choose

9780525658351It is nearly five years since I last posted anything related to her, but the time has come again. The Guardian’s interview below is in advance of the upcoming publication of the book to the right:

Christiana Figueres is a founder of the Global Optimism group and was head of the UN climate change convention when the Paris agreement was achieved in 2015.

Your new book is called The Future We Choose. But isn’t it too late to stop the climate crisis?
We are definitely running late. We have delayed appallingly for decades. But science tells us we are still in the nick of time. Continue reading

Rose, Better Understood

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Three months ago I added “find that gardener” to my to-do list. I have still not checked it off, but remain as intrigued as ever by how roses do what they do. Thanks to Karen Weintraub for this reminder, and the better understanding:

How a Rose Blooms: Its Genome Reveals the Traits for Scent and Color

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The scent of a rose fades over time, and has for hundreds of years.

For centuries, generations of breeding in the quest for longer blooms and petals in shades of nearly every hue have dulled the sweetest smells that once perfumed gardens around the world.

French researchers have now figured out precisely which genes make a rose smell so sweet, and where to tinker in the genome to enhance its distinctive scent.

Although the rose genome has been mapped before, a newly published version is far more complete, indicating which genes tend to travel together — scent and color, for instance — and which genes are responsible for continuous blooming, among other traits. Continue reading

Ikaria, Blue Zones

ExoPlagiaMy mother’s best friend, before she emigrated from Greece to the USA in the 1950s, was from Ikaria. Amie and I traveled there in the same year that we were first exposed to the Blue Zones research. Our conclusion, from that visit, was that Ikarians live longer because they walk steep, rugged hillsides. But there is more to it than that; a concise summary of the Blue Zones concept:

For more than a decade, author Dan Buettner has been working to identify hot spots of longevity around the world. With the help of the National Geographic Society, Buettner set out to locate places that not only had high concentrations of individuals over 100 years old, but also clusters of people who had grown old without health problems like heart disease, obesity, cancer, or diabetes. His findings—along with easy steps you can take to live more like these cultures—can be found in his book, The Blue Zones Solution.

Now we are back living in Costa Rica, and have just taken a big step in the direction of Blue Zones, so here is where my current reading list is coming from.