Add Global Worming To Your List Of Concerns

An illustration of a mass of worms beneath a forest.

Myriam Wares

Thanks to Julia Rosen, writing in the Atlantic, I am reading for the second time about worms as a radically different creature than I had assumed for my entire life:

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The “crazy worms” remaking forests aren’t your friendly neighborhood garden worms. Then again, those aren’t so great either.

On a sweltering July day, I follow Annise Dobson down an overgrown path into the heart of Seton Falls Park. It’s a splotch of unruly forest, surrounded by the clamoring streets and cramped rowhouses of the Bronx. Broken glass, food wrappers, and condoms litter the ground. But Dobson, bounding ahead in khaki hiking pants with her blond ponytail swinging, appears unfazed. As I quickly learn, neither trash nor oppressive humidity nor ecological catastrophe can dampen her ample enthusiasm. Continue reading

Alternative Glitter In The Amazon

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Edmilson Estevão climbs a mature cacao tree to pick the fruit. Photograph: João Laet/The Guardian

In the Authentica shops our featured chocolates are artisanal in terms of production, and both companies are leaders in their own ways–sourcing, packaging, etc.–in terms of sustainability. We are just now tasting chocolates from a third possible supplier, one that farms the cacao organically and is in control of all stages of production and packaging–from farm to bar as they say. When we have their product on our shelves, you will be the first to know, right here. Since our thoughts are already on this topic, special thanks to the Guardian for this story that helps better understand the many ways in which cacao can create a brighter future:

Cacao not gold: ‘chocolate trees’ offer future to Amazon tribes

In Brazil’s largest indigenous reserve thousands of saplings have been planted as an alternative to profits from illegal gold mining

The villagers walk down the grassy landing strip, past the wooden hut housing the health post and into the thick forest, pointing out the seedlings they planted along the way. For these Ye’kwana indigenous men, the skinny saplings, less than a metre high, aren’t just baby cacao trees but green shoots of hope in a land scarred by the violence, pollution and destruction wrought by illegal gold prospecting. That hope is chocolate.

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Cacao seeds, which are dried and roasted to make chocolate. Photograph: João Laet/The Guardian

“We want to plant and develop income for the community,” says Júlio Ye’kwana, 39, president of the Ye’kwana people’s Wanasseduume association, which came up with the idea. “And it is not destructive for the forest.” Continue reading

Life In Southwest India

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An elephant eats jackfruits in the backyard of a house in Valparai, Tamil Nadu. COURTESY OF SREEDHAR VIJAYAKRISHNAN

Thanks to Yale e360 for this reminder of the amazing nature we witnessed from 2010-2017 while living in the Western Ghats.

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The Anamalai Hills in India’s Western Ghats region, shrouded in mist. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

The Young Writers Awards, presented by Yale Environment 360 and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, honor the best nonfiction environmental writing by authors under the age of 35. Entries for 2020 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner. Read all the winners here.

Song of the Western Ghats: A Green Island in a Crowded Land

For a young ecologist, the mountains of the Western Ghats are a respite from India’s intense urban life — a lush land of monsoon rains, elephants, king cobras, leopards, and a spectacular assortment of birds — and a place where wildlife and villagers still largely manage to coexist.

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A dhole, or wild dog, in the Western Ghats. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

What is it that draws us to the quiet, to the green? To the mist-curtained mountains, where everything is crystal clear – leaves in high definition even against an overcast sky. Where leopards leave their mark in soft mud, and you smell where an otter has walked. Continue reading

Do Not Wait

Citizens of the USA have not much right to tell Australians what or how to think about climate change, and certainly not at this precise moment. On the contrary, scenes coming from Australia might well get Americans immediately wondering:

What Will Another Decade of Climate Crisis Bring?

2019 has been called the year we woke up to climate change. Australia’s wildfires are yet more evidence that it’s time we started acting like it.

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Illustration by João Fazenda

Last week, thousands of people in the Australian state of Victoria were urged to evacuate their homes. “Don’t wait,” the alert warned. Bushfires were burning across the state; so large were some of the blazes that, according to Victoria’s commissioner of emergency management, they were “punching into the atmosphere” with columns of smoke nine miles high. The smoke columns were producing their own weather, generating lightning that, in turn, was setting more fires. Some time after residents received the evacuation warning, many of those in the most seriously affected region, East Gippsland, which is a popular tourist destination, received another alert. It was now too late to leave: “You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive.” Continue reading

Another Look At Svalbard

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Melissa Schäfer

The seed vault has been covered in our pages so many times, that I thought I knew enough, and that plentitude made me almost skip this travel story. Having seen the Northern lights in my teen years, while working at a summer camp in Maine, with 40+ years perspective I can say with certainty that no travel experience comes close to that. I am a travel junky, and have had some profound travel experiences. Kelly McMasters makes me want to chase down that visual wonder that, try as I may, I cannot explain to anyone, and to combine it with some serious winter adventuring:

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Greeting the New Year In Earth’s Northernmost Settlement

In Svalbard, above the Arctic Circle, you can’t be born and you can’t be buried, but you can find renewal in the dark of winter.

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Melissa Schäfer

Few people have heard of Svalbard and even fewer have seen it. The isolated group of islands is an old mining settlement turned glacial adventuring outpost located 1,200 miles north of mainland Norway, one of the closest landmasses to the North Pole, along with Greenland and Nunavut. The approximately 2,200 inhabitants dotting the desolate tundra are itinerant, a mix of climate scientists, miners and globe-trotting explorers mostly from Russia, Scandinavia and Canada. There are more polar bears than people.

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The northern-most greenhouse dome in the world provides microgreens to a local restaurant. Melissa Schäfer

Historically, this archipelago was the isolated purview of turn-of-the-century airship explorers obsessed with finding the Northwest Passage; more recently Svalbard served as the fantastical setting for Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. Today, it is poised to be the next extreme vacation destination for tourists obsessed with climate change, wilderness and chasing the Northern Lights. Continue reading

Ceiba @ Authentica

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Ceiba2.jpegIt is equally rewarding to introduce new friends here as it is to talk about old friends. I already mentioned Ceiba recently, but I chose one of their more esoteric (if extremely useful) products to highlight in that post. This group of artisans had our attention sufficiently with the beauty of their products when we first met them last year. When we brought some of the products home to test them out in our own kitchen, the utility factor added to our decision to carry their products. But a third factor, which is our extra attention to coffee and coffee culture as essential parts of Costa Rica’s identity, made their products among my personal favorites. So here I am providing a second look at their work.

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This simple bird motif carving is a clip to hold your coffee bag shut after opening. I use it every day.

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I also use the coffee scoop every morning, and while I love all their products it is these two coffee-centric ones I appreciate the most. Even for someone living in Costa Rica these are lovely little reminders of this country’s commitment to conservation, considering where Ceiba sources their wood, one of Costa Rica’s most important renewable resources. That makes me think these products are particularly well-suited to offer value as a takeaway for visitors to this country.

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Biesanz @ Authentica

BB1.jpegWhen we moved to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s one dimension of my work required analysis of the handicrafts sector as part of the nascent tourism industry. That led to my getting to know one of the country’s pioneering wood turners, Barry Biesanz. We have been friends ever since, and as we started planning for what is now Authentica, a range of Biesanz wood products were the first we committed to.

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BB3.jpgAbove is a bowl not currently on display in Authentica, but it is a favored part of our home collection. Last year one of the old trees behind our home came down in a storm. Barry sent a few of his workmen to help clear it away. Months later this bowl was gifted to us, one of many bowls he had been able to craft from the wood from that tree.  In the sign we have placed with his work, note the reference to defects. You can see those in the bowl above. During the last year Barry also introduced us to other Costa Rican artisans, and we have featured their work alongside his in the two shops.

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Pia Pottery @ Authentica

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PiaP2.jpgPia is one of Costa Rica’s talented ceramicists. She is also a friend, thanks to an introduction from a mutual friend last year. The mutual friend had studied with Pia and when learning of our plans for Authentica to feature local artists and artisans, the fix was in. Before long, we had something of our own (middle picture, upper shelf, small green cream pitcher) from her collection. We chose a small selection of her work to feature in the shops.

Big Cats, WWF & The Guardian’s Coverage

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A jaguar captured by a camera trap on the island. The WWF researchers plan to set more traps in 2020. Photograph: WWF Brazil

Jaguar and other wild cats, big and small, have been a topic of interest on this platform since we began back in 2011. We have also featured many stories where WWF is the hero, carrying out important work that needs support. Phoebe Weston somehow escaped our attention until now, so special thanks to the Guardian for maintaining their commitment to quality coverage of nature and environmental issues, which I depend on for my daily exercise in awareness:

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A jaguar resting on a tree on Maracá-Jipioca. The WWF hopes to collar two more cats next year.
Photograph: André Dib/WWF Brazil

A thriving population of jaguars living on a small, unspoilt island off the coast of the Brazilian Amazon has learned to catch fish in the sea to survive, conservationists have found.

The Maracá-Jipioca Ecological Station island reserve, three miles off the northern state of Amapá, acts as a nursery for jaguars, according to WWF researchers who have collared three cats and set up 70 camera traps on the remote jungle island.

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A jaguar caught on camera with a fish in its mouth. Photograph: WWF Brazil

Although jaguars have previously been spotted catching fish in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands, this is believed to be the first evidence the elusive creatures have been jumping in the sea to catch prey.

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A three-toed sloth, a flock of flamingos, and a toco toucan, all inhabitants of the Maracá-Jipioca Ecological Station reserve. Photograph: André Dib/WWF Brazil

“This is the first time that behaviour has been spotted in the Amazon,” said Marcelo Oliveira, senior programme officer at WWF Brazil, who is leading the NGO’s first jaguar-collaring research. Continue reading

When Life Gives You Lemons

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Juicer at Authentica, as seen in front of the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen

To make the best use of the citrus in your life, visit Authentica and find this item. You may already have a fancy electric gadget that can perform the same function as this juicer, and it may seem self-evidently superior.

I beg to differ. First, on the experience: the mix of metal, plastic and/or glass of the electric juicer, designed for speed, eliminates any inherent satisfaction that either the fruit or the tool might provide. Holding this wooden juicer is a form of time travel. It resembles one I first saw in 1969. And that one likely resembled juicers in use in that village for hundreds of years, typically made of olive wood.

Secondly, I beg to differ on utility. Electric juicers may get the job done quicker, but this juicer gets another, more important job done. Its carbon footprint is a tiny fraction of the electric one, starting with construction and finishing with the use of electricity. And this is made by a group of craftsmen in Costa Rica who work with wood that has been recycled from previous use–timbers or railings from old homes–or wood from trees felled by storms. Experience + utility + sustainability = an authentic Costa Rica takeaway.

More Plastic Is The New Plastic

I am holding one such bag, made from recycled newspaper, in a post from 2011

In Kerala, India between 2010 and 2017 we tackled the issue of plastic in the hospitality operations we were responsible for. We started with the elimination of plastic bags, as Michael and our other interns Allegra and Sung reported at the time. With success on that front we moved on to the elimination of plastic water bottles, and the investment that required was much more substantial, not least because tourist guide books always warned travelers to India to only drink from plastic water bottles. We made progress, which was very particular to that place and time, but still this news reported by Beth Gardiner in Yale e360 is particularly frustrating:

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The Plastics Pipeline: A Surge of New Production Is on the Way

A world awash in plastic will soon see even more, as a host of new petrochemical plants — their ethane feedstock supplied by the fracking boom — come online. Major oil companies, facing the prospect of reduced demand for their fuels, are ramping up their plastics output. Continue reading

Orlando Is The New Walden

Every day begins with a search for a story to share here, something evocative, sometimes provocative, hopefully useful in some manner. When my own name will go on the post there is some personal connection to the story being linked to, or it is a story of my own. When the there is an important story or an essay that fits our framework but does not require my own personal reflection, I will post using the La Paz Group name instead of my own.

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Community fruit trees provide for everyone. Photograph: http://www.livewonderful.com

Today’s linked story is personal in a very simple way. Since a teenage visit to Walden Pond I have celebrated Thoreau unthinkingly, even considered his exemplary life as a kind of compass relevant to all of us all of the time. I do not retract any of that, but the story below challenges the isolation of Thoreau’s example, and turns our attention to how important community is for many of the same self-reliance outcomes I have celebrated in relation to life on Walden Pond. Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this to my attention:

I didn’t buy any food for a year – and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been

Rob Greenfield gardened, fished and foraged to eat more sustainably and encourage others to do the same. But to succeed, he needed the community

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Rob Greenfield with greens grown in his garden. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

For the last year I grew and foraged 100% of my food. No grocery stores, no restaurants, not even a drink at a bar. Nature was my garden, my pantry and my pharmacy.

Most people would imagine I live in the countryside on a farm, but actually I live in a city; Orlando, Florida, a few miles from the centre. When I arrived here, I didn’t own any land, so in order to grow my food I met people in the neighbourhood and turned their lawns into gardens and shared the bounty of food with them. I’m a big believer in the philosophy “grow food, not lawns”.

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Rob Greenfield in his tiny house in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

I also needed a place to live for my two-year stay in Orlando and I also found this through the local community. I put the message out that I was looking for someone with an unused backyard who could benefit from my being on the property. After a short search I found Lisa, a woman in her early 60’s with a lifelong dream of living more sustainably. I built a 100 sq ft tiny house in her backyard and in exchange I turned her entire front yard into a garden, set up rainwater harvesting, composting and grew her fresh produce. Together, we helped meet each other’s basic needs through an exchange, rather than using money. Continue reading

Graphic Artists & Ecological Education

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Since we started this platform in 2011 I have been on the lookout for graphical representations that help me, and therefore might help others, understand complex issues related to the environment. Photography has been the easiest reach for me, perhaps because I am a son of, a brother of, and a father of people who have mastered that form. Comics were not part of my life, so that form has eluded me. And I realize that the work of Susie Cagle escaped my attention–as I have shared visual artists’ depictions of natural phenomena, with science and especially ecological issues emphasized–until now. And this is a good way for her work to come to my attention, because in our family we have been debating this tree’s value for decades:

Fire-starting weed or ecological scapegoat? The battle over California’s eucalyptus trees

The fight over a celebrated exotic plant highlights questions over California’s future amid the climate crisis

Capsules = Pods = Waste

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The greatest trick companies ever played was making us think we could recycle their products. The New York Times

My most recent reference to pods could have been the last. Enough said. But my eye was caught by the title of this item yesterday, and all day I kept wondering whether I need to know more about the confidence game that has been, and is, recycling. Deciding this morning to click through I was rewarded with an update on my favorite coffee scandal. Insult on top of injury. Surprised by that? Nope. My thanks to Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza for this creative op-ed video, and accompanying text:

The Great Recycling Con

The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products…

Experiential Learning & Social Enterprise

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The waters and mountains of the Inian Islands, near Glacier Bay, Alaska.Lauren Migaki/NPR

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With help from books and YouTube, Abe Marcus (left, pictured with Yasamin Sharifi, center, and Tsu Isaka) has been learning how to operate a coal-powered, hand-cranked forge found on the property. Lauren Migaki/NPR

There is a great story shared yesterday on the National Public Radio (USA) website, told in unusually long form for that outlet, by Anya Kamenetz. I look forward to more stories by this journalist — she relates a story that is as far away from my own experience as I can imagine, but I feel at home in it. The picture to the right, from near the end of the story, hints at one reason. But it is not that. Nor is it the fact that I witnessed the birth and evolution of a similar initiative in Costa Rica.

I taught a field course in amazing locations (2005 in Senegal, followed by Costa Rica in 2006 followed by Croatia, India, Siberia and Chilean Patagonia), but that bore little resemblance to the initiative in this story. All those factors may help me feel at home in this story, but mostly I relate to it as a story told well for the purpose of understanding the motivations of a social entrepreneur and incidentally her commitment to experiential learning.

In Alaska’s Wilderness, A New Vision Of Higher Learning

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Marcus stands in front of the massive vegetable garden at The Arete Project in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Lauren Migaki/NPR

In Glacier Bay, Alaska, mountains rush up farther and faster from the shoreline than almost anywhere else on the planet. Humpback whales, halibut and sea otters ply the waters that lap rocky, pine-crowned islands, and you can stick a bare hook in the water and pull out dinner about as fast as it takes to say so.

This is the place 31-year-old Laura Marcus chose for her Arete Project. Or just maybe, this place chose her.

The Arete Project takes place in the remote wilderness of the Inian Islands in southeast Alaska.
Lauren Migaki/NPR

Arete in Greek means “excellence.” And Marcus’ Arete is a tiny, extremely remote program that offers college credit for a combination of outdoor and classroom-based learning. It’s also an experiment in just how, what and why young people are supposed to live and learn together in a world that seems more fragile than ever. It’s dedicated, Marcus says, to “the possibility of an education where there were stakes beyond individual achievement — where the work that students were doing … actually mattered.” Continue reading

Dry Spells, Sparks Fly

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The dry cliffs of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe this week, during the area’s worst drought in a century, fuelling concerns about climate change. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

What can be done? What could we do differently? What must I do now that I was not doing before, or stop doing now that I was doing before? The photo above and the story below fit a pattern of alarm, in the way I have chosen to be alarmed in recent years. That choice fuels my commitments to find alternative ways of doing things. And sometimes sparks fly, in a good way. My appreciation to the Guardian for this information, disturbing though it is considering how important water falls have been to my thinking over the years:

Victoria Falls dries to a trickle after worst drought in a century

One of southern Africa’s biggest tourist attractions has seen an unprecedented decline this dry season, fuelling climate change fears

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A combination photo of water flowing down Victoria Falls (top) and during the current drought. Photograph: Reuters

For decades Victoria Falls, where southern Africa’s Zambezi river cascades down 100 metres into a gash in the earth, have drawn millions of holidaymakers to Zimbabwe and Zambia for their stunning views.

But the worst drought in a century has slowed the waterfalls to a trickle, fuelling fears that climate change could kill one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions.

While they typically slow down during the dry season, officials said this year had brought an unprecedented decline in water levels. Continue reading

Honey As Hook

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I held off on linking to this story below, by Jamie Tarabay. Seeing one of my favorite topics, honey, in the context of yet another international conflict, did not seem to fit with our platform; or perhaps I was just waiting for a way to connect that story to something closer to home. The hook came in the form of a visit last week to an apiary, set on a farm, during our time in Ithaca. The photo above is from our breakfast table yesterday, in Costa Rica, with a remarkably thick Greek-style yogurt complemented by a jar of honey from that apiary. Now the connection to that story is so close to home, it is in my home. The honey in the picture above is so different from commercial grade honey as to be inspirational — it made me seek out this article, after a month of waiting. Sometimes the hook needed to make a story make sense for sharing is gustatory…

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Adam Dean for The New York Times

What Could Come Between These Two Allies? A $100 Jar of Honey

New Zealand producers, in the face of protests by their Australian counterparts, want to trademark manuka honey, a costly nectar beloved by celebrities.

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A bee on a manuka bush at the visitor center in Paengaroa for Comvita, one of New Zealand’s largest producers of manuka honey. Adam Dean for The New York Times

PAENGAROA, New Zealand — Australia and New Zealand are at war.

Over honey.

Not just any honey, mind you — this stuff isn’t sold in plastic bear-shaped bottles. It’s manuka honey, a high-priced nectar ballyhooed by celebrities as a health and beauty elixir. (Scarlett Johansson smears it on her face; Laura Dern heals her children with it.)

Manuka-branded honey is so valuable that New Zealand producers have gone to court to argue that they alone should have the right to sell it, in much the same way that only France can claim Champagne with a capital C. They say they are the only source of guaranteed authentic manuka honey, from a single species of bush; their Australian counterparts have marshaled a point-by-point rebuttal that stretches all the way back to the Cretaceous Period. Continue reading

Disrupting Camping Does Not Immediately Sound Like A Good Idea

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The minimum land requirement for a Hipcamp site is generally just two acres. Some listings look like ordinary suburban back yards, but there are also off-grid plots, Airstreams, and tree houses. Photograph Courtesy Hipcamp

Disruption has so much baggage now due to the unintended consequences of various social media platforms, not to mention other tech juggernauts, that another disruptor does not make me think I can’t wait to try it. And disrupting camping? Hmmm. For these and other reasons this article is at the top of my reading list for this week:

How Hipcamp Became the Airbnb of the Outdoors

Can a startup save the wilderness by disrupting it?

In Northern California, booking a public campsite is a blood sport. The Bay Area overflows with young people who have R.E.I. Co-op memberships and drawers full of sweat-wicking apparel—people who spend Friday and Sunday nights packing and unpacking their Subarus, who own cat-hole trowels, who love to live here because it’s easy to leave in pursuit of the sublime. From Big Sur to Mendocino, many public campgrounds are booked months in advance; Yosemite is a lost cause. It’s common practice to wake at five in the morning to hover over a computer, poised to nab a site as soon as it becomes available. This is both a regional issue and not. Across the country, America’s national parks are overcrowded and overbooked. The reservation system is riddled with bots. A cottage industry of apps and services has emerged to monitor campsite availability and, in some cases, provide alternatives. Continue reading