A Pro-Environment Form Of Apartheid

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Jonathan Watts, over at the Guardian:

Britain and Europe must ban palm oil in biofuel to save forests, EU parliament told

Forest peoples affected by plantations urge EU to enact ban despite diplomatic opposition

If Britain and other European nations are to fulfil forest protection goals, they must ban the use of palm oil for biofuel and tighten oversight of supply chains, a delegation of forest peoples told parliamentarians this week.

The call for urgent, concrete action comes amid an increasingly heated diplomatic row over the issue between the EU and the governments of major palm-producing nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Costa Rica.

The European parliament voted last April to prohibit sales of biofuels made from vegetable oils by 2020 in order to meet its climate goals. This was followed by a related vote last month. Whether and how this might be implemented is now being considered by the European Commission and member states.

Continue reading

Interpreting Climate News

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The temperature difference from normal over the Arctic averaged over the next five days in the GFS model forecast. (University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer)

Is it cataclysm or is it a rendering of what we already thought we knew? In case you missed it, there was some startling news that came with this image to the left, that does not look like anything we have ever seen. And the article starts like this:

While the Eastern United States simmers in some of its warmest February weather ever recorded, the Arctic is also stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. This latest huge temperature spike in the Arctic is another striking indicator of its rapidly transforming climate.

On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute. “How weird is that?” tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. “Well it’s Arctic winter. The sun set in October and won’t be seen again until March. Perpetual night, but still above freezing.”

This thaw occurred as a pulse of extremely mild air shot through the Greenland Sea.

Warm air is spilling into the Arctic from all sides. On the opposite end of North America, abnormally mild air also poured over northern Alaska on Tuesday, where the temperature in Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow, soared to a record high of 31 degrees (minus-1 Celsius), 40 degrees (22 Celsius) above normal. [continue to the article]

Alarming? We think so. Clear? We do not think so. Eric Lach, Deputy News Editor at The New Yorker, has this brief helpful interpretation, with a much easier to understand illustration:

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Many media outlets now regularly cover instances of extreme weather in remote corners of the world. How should readers understand these reports? Photograph by Esther Horvath / Redux

How to Read Today’s Big Climate-Change Headline

This week brought news from the Arctic. “Arctic temperatures soar 45 degrees above normal, flooded by extremely mild air on all sides,” the Washington Post declared, in a headline. The article below that headline detailed how, on Monday and Tuesday, at the northern tip of Greenland, temperatures rose above freezing for a full twenty-four-hour period—extremely unusual for this time of year—while temperatures across “the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude have averaged about 10 degrees (6 Celsius) above normal since the beginning of the calendar year.”

All sorts of media outlets now regularly cover instances of extreme weather in remote corners of the world. And yet how should readers understand these reports? Are the ups and downs of climate change something to follow in the newspaper, like the Mets or the Yankees? [continue to the post]

Why Optimism Is Not Naive Right Now

9781610397414If you only have a minute, this will do, courtesy of Kirkus Review (read the remaining couple paragraphs of that review by clicking on the book cover to the left):

Cheer up, world: we’re killing each other less, except in our cars, and living in a boom. Thus this contrarian pep talk by longtime Atlantic contributor Easterbrook (The Game’s Not Over: In Defense of Football, 2015, etc.).

Optimism is out of style, but by the author’s account, it shouldn’t be. When Donald Trump came into office, the unemployment rate was low enough that the number “would have caused economists of the 1970s to fall to their knees and kiss the ground.”…

But in less than half an hour you can get the author’s spoken digest of the book here:

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And if that interests you, and you want more but not the whole book, try this, courtesy of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs:

Bats Are More Important Than You May Realize

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Since white-nose syndrome was first identified, just twelve years ago, it has spread to thirty-one states. The consequences—for bats, humans, and the U.S. economy—could be disastrous. Photograph by Michael Durham / Minden Pictures / Getty

Once you see the photo to the left, more than likely you will bypass this post. We have found this over dozens of occasions when we have posted about this animal. But think twice; read this first (thanks to J. R. Sullivan, an editor for Men’s Journal writing on the New Yorker website):

Late last summer, the biologist Mark Gumbert began flying over the farmlands of Iowa, looking for bats. As the animals foraged and moved through the night, he followed from above, circling the rivers and fields in his single-engine Cessna 172, trying his best not to lose the signals from their transmitters. Over the past decade or so, Gumbert has pioneered the study of bat migrations using radio telemetry, a method of wildlife tracking typically reserved for caribou, moose, and other big game, which tend to travel at moderate speeds. “A wolf running across the ground can move pretty quick, but they’re not going to run all night,” Gumbert told me recently. A bat, on the other hand, can be nearly impossible to trail on foot or by truck. Gumbert and his team at Copperhead Environmental Consulting were the first to observe an entire migration from the air, and they have since conducted surveys in New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and elsewhere. But the project that brought Gumbert to Iowa was unlike any he had undertaken before—tracking the northern long-eared batMyotis septentrionalis, a species that is among those most threatened by a dangerous fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. Continue reading

Coffee, Birds & India Forever

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Ah, our favorite trifecta of the 2010-2017 era: coffee and birds and India! (Not to mention that the 2 species of birds featured in the article have graced this site in our Bird of the Day feature!) Just because we are back in Costa Rica does not mean the topics covered in this article are any less important to us. Thanks to Karen Weintraub for this:

Coffee Beans Are Good for Birds, Fancy Brew or Not

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Left, a heart-spotted woodpecker. Right, a coppersmith barbet bangalore. Credit Left, Ramki S.; Right, Shashank Dalvi

Birds are not as picky about their coffee as people are.

Although coffee snobs prefer arabica beans to robusta, a new study in India found that growing coffee does not interfere with biodiversity — no matter which bean the farmer chooses.

In the Western Ghats region of India, a mountainous area parallel to the subcontinent’s western coast, both arabica and robusta beans are grown as bushes under larger trees — unlike in South America, where the coffee plants themselves grow as large as trees, said Krithi Karanth, who helped lead the study, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports. Continue reading

Global Citizenship Via Suburban Malls

The Garden Court at Southdale Shopping Center, Edina, Minnesota, circa 1965

The Garden Court at Southdale Shopping Center, Edina, Minnesota, circa 1965 Minnesota Historical Society

Ok, we did not expect to get on a two-day roll with this topic, but Ian Bogost makes an interesting case about the role of malls in the development of cultural norms in the USA in the second half of the last century:

When Malls Saved the Suburbs From Despair

Like it or not, the middle class became global citizens through consumerism—and they did so at the mall.

“Okay, we’ll see you in two-and-a-half hours,” the clerk tells me, taking the iPhone from my hand. I’m at the Apple Store, availing myself of a cheap smartphone battery replacement, an offer the company made after taking heat for deliberately slowing down devices. A test run by a young woman typing at a feverish, unnatural pace on an iPad confirms that mine desperately needed the swap. As she typed, I panicked. What will I do in the mall for so long, and without a phone? How far the mall has fallen that I rack my brain for something to do here. Continue reading

What Do We Want In A City Of The Future?

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lillisphotography / Getty / Emily Jan / The Atlantic

We do not normally link to the writing of science fiction authors, nor is the topic of the essay below typical of the themes in our 2011-2018. But it is not unheard of; nor is it too late to add more to this short thread of links to sci-fi authors. If Bruce Sterling catches your attention with these first few paragraphs pasted below, you may want to go to The Atlantic to read the rest:

Stop Saying ‘Smart Cities’

Digital stardust won’t magically make future cities more affordable or resilient.

The term “smart city” is interesting yet not important, because nobody defines it. “Smart” is a snazzy political label used by a modern alliance of leftist urbanites and tech industrialists. To deem yourself “smart” is to make the nimbyites and market-force people look stupid.

Smart-city devotees all over this world will agree that London is particularly smart. Why? London is a huge, ungainly beast whose cartwheeling urban life is in cranky, irrational disarray. London is a god-awful urban mess, but London does have some of the best international smart-city conferences.

London also has a large urban-management bureaucracy who emit the proper smart-city buzzwords and have even invented some themselves.  The language of Smart City is always Global Business English, no matter what town you’re in.

So if grand old London is smart, with its empty skyscrapers, creepy CCTV videocams, and sewers plugged with animal fat, then we probably needn’t fret about the Elon Musk sequins and stardust of digital urbanism. Better to reimagine the forthcoming urban future as a mirror of Rome, that “Eternal City,” where nothing much ever gets tech-fixed, but everything changes constantly so that everything can remain the same. Continue reading

Rice Rediscovered

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Upland red bearded rice, which grows in the Moruga district in Trinidad, turned out to be a missing culinary link between enslaved people in coastal Georgia and a group of slaves who were able to buy their freedom by fighting for the British in the War of 1812. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Peru’s Rendering Of The Best Idea

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The Yaguas River of the Yaguas National Park in Peru, one of the Western Hemisphere’s newest national parks. Credit Álvaro del Campo/The Field Museum

Indonesian Seaweed Farming

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Seaweed harvesting in Takalar, Indonesia. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

The subject of seaweed farming, which we sometimes refer to as kelp farming, is of keen interest to us because of the relationship to conservation; our thanks to Tiffany Waters at Cool Green Science:

Seaweed Farming: A Gateway to Conservation and Empowerment

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Seaweed seedlings. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

“What does your husband do while you’re working on the seaweed lines?”, we ask. She laughs and says in Bahasa, “He does the cooking and the cleaning.”

It’s day 6 of our field visit to Indonesia and we’re in Takalar visiting our fifth island and third seaweed farm of the trip. On the brink of the ‘extreme season,’ stifling hot is an understatement, but the light breeze from the Flores Sea provides a welcome break from the three flights and 2-hour van trip that brought us here. Continue reading

The Pests That Make Cacao Productive

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Forcipomyia spp. pollinating a cacao flower. Goodman Cacao Estate, Killaloe, Australia, 2017. Credit: Samantha J. Forbes

This 12-minute primer on Soundcloud gives a reason to appreciate these otherwise very annoying pests:

Chocolate: Brought To You By Bugs

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Forcipomyia spp. SEM image. Goodman Cacao Estate, Killaloe, Australia, 2017. Credit: Samantha J. Forbes

Chocolate starts as a beautiful yellow and cream-colored blossom, with blushes of pink and magenta. The flowers, sprouting straight from the bark of the cacao tree, are no bigger than a dime—and they’re pollinated by something much smaller: a barely visible fly related to biting no-see-ums, or midges. Continue reading

Rules Of Gardening, Reconsidered

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Tatsuro Kiuchi

Ok, while we are at it, let’s find some rules to break around the home (thanks to Margaret Renkl and the New York Times for such diverse op-ed contributors):

Let Your Winter Garden Go Wild

NASHVILLE — The snow was three inches deep, a blizzard by Nashville standards, when I got a text from a parent supervising the neighborhood sledding: “It’s a robin migration out in your front yard. Do you put food out there for them?”

I went to the window to look. There are nine bird feeders around my house, but I’ve never seen a robin at a single one of them. In winter, robins do gather in great flocks here in Middle Tennessee, and our yard is always popular with them because we have a birdbath with a heating element that keeps it from freezing. Even in winter, birds need to bathe — a seemingly counterintuitive behavior that keeps their feathers in shape for maximum insulation. Continue reading

Rules Of Experiencing Nature, Reconsidered

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A woman and her young children hike through a grassy field in Pleasant Valley Preserve near the Eightmile River in Lyme, Connecticut. Photo © Jerry Monkman

Just when we thought we knew what we were doing out in nature, this:

Why Staying on the Trail Is Bad for Nature

Stay on the trail. Look, don’t touch. Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

These and similar rules have become a standard component of a refined environmental ethic; any reasonable outdoor education class is going to emphasize them.

I have a confession to make: As a kid I violated every one of those rules, frequently and without guilt. It made me a conservationist. Continue reading

Big Chicken

BookCoverMaryn McKenna escaped our notice until now, as did her recent book Big Chicken:

In this provocative narrative, acclaimed journalist Maryn McKenna reveals the fascinating history of chicken—and how the common backyard bird became an industrial commodity impacting human health around the world. Crucial to its meteoric rise: the routine use of antibiotics, a practice that would transform agriculture, change the world’s eating habits, and contribute to the deadly rise of drug-resistant infections around the globe.

Bringing us on an extraordinary journey from the vast poultry farms of the United States to laboratories, kitchens and sidewalk markets around the world, McKenna reveals how economic, political and cultural forces converged to make America’s favorite meat a hidden danger—and how companies, activists, farmers and chefs are carving a path back to better, safer food.

Named a Best Science Book of 2017 by Amazon, Smithsonian, and Science News; an Essential Science Read by Wired; a Best Health Book by the Toronto Globe and Mail; and a Best Food Book of 2017 by Civil Eats and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Antibiotics changed the world.

Then we gave them to the animals we eat.

This is the story of what happened next. Continue reading

Banana Futures

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Japanese Mongee bananas debuted this winter, bred to be cold-resistant and pesticide-free. Plus: you can eat the peel. Courtesy of D&T Farm Inc

When we talk about the future of bananas, it is often looking backwards protectively. But forward is an option as this story below illustrates, as with other edibles, likewise:

A Banana Grown At Subzero Temps Also Has An Edible Peel

BananaA Japanese farm introduced a new crop this winter: an organic banana with a peel that’s thin enough to eat. In a nod to this appealing outer covering, Setsuzo Tanaka, the banana’s inventor, has named his creation the Mongee (“mon-gay”) banana — which means “incredible banana” in Japanese.

“Setsuzo’s original purpose was to make a delicious banana with no pesticides,” Tetsuya Tanaka, a spokesperson for D&T Farms, the company behind the banana, writes in an email. Setsuzo Tanaka spent four decades tinkering with tropical fruit before the Mongee was born.

But if pesticides were his main concern, why not just grow a normal organic banana? Aren’t all bananas equally tasty? Continue reading

Ask Whole Foods About Wonderful

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How wonderful is that?!? An organization that has been digging into the question of where all that fracking water is going in recent years. Thanks to Food & Water Watch, one of the most vigilant watchdogs helping the public become aware of fracking’s potential dangers, for asking questions that we all have reason to care about. And since the answers are not so wonderful, they are choosing perfect market-based locations to ask regular folks whether they are aware of the very cozy relationship between fracking waste water and the food we eat. Even some certified organic foods, it turns out. The image above is from their current press release:

PomWashington, D.C. — Are families around the country—and around the globe—eating California produce grown with toxic water from oil drilling? If they consume Halos Mandarins, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Wonderful pistachios, Sunview Raisins, Bee Sweet citrus or Sutter Home wine, they almonds_bottommay well be. Those companies grow some of their products in four water districts in California’s Central Valley that buy wastewater from Chevron and other oil companies’ drill sites. Now, Food & Water Watch is announcing a campaign to ban the practice, which threatens our food, farm workers and the environment, with a new documentary by noted filmmaker Jon Bowermaster and a campaign video capturing shocked reactions from people who previewed the video last week in front of Whole Foods’ headquarters in Austin, Texas. [continued below]

Thanks to WNYC for this half hour in which we learned about the study. For a decade-old but still profile of the wonderful couple who we hope will come clean on this, take a look here:

fiji_bottle_top…Lynda and her creative team immediately set to work promoting the water’s “untainted” origins. (Fiji Water comes from an aquifer on the island of Viti Levu.) The bottle’s label was retooled: the image of a waterfall (Lynda: “Surface water? Yuck!”) was replaced with a bright-pink tropical flower and palm fronds, and the company’s slogan was changed from the ho-hum “Taste of Paradise” to the more direct “Untouched by man. Until you drink it.” Since the makeover, sales have improved by three hundred per cent…

Rich, as the saying goes. Continue reading

A More Virtuous Tea

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Tea pickers stand in the scorching sun, hand-plucking the tea leaves for about eight hours a day. Furkan Latif Khan/NPR

Thanks to Julie McCarthy and her colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for this story posted from our old neighborhood:

Tea Farmer In India Leads Charge For Organic, Evades The Charge Of Elephants

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Tenzing Bodosa is a tea grower and a staunch practitioner of organic farming. He stands in his small tea estate beside the nature preserve he has cultivated.
Furkan Latif Khan/NPR

As you clutch a cuppa for a bit of winter warmth, spare a moment to consider the elaborate process that goes into producing that seemingly simple sip of tea.

In the biggest tea-growing region in India, the hazards alone range from red spider mites to herds of wild elephants.

Grower Tenzing Bodosa, a native of Assam, fights the former and unusually invites the latter.

From the large Bodo tribe and widely known by his first name, Tenzing stands beside the vermilion flames of a brick oven that provides the heat for a drying contraption erected in his backyard. Continue reading

Blue Planet II’s Attenborough Masterpiece

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The broadclub cuttlefish is one of the psychedelic creatures featured in “Blue Planet II.” Photograph courtesy BBC

blue_planetWe have not linked to many television reviews, and the reason is simply that we instead mostly promote going and seeing instead of sitting and watching.

But this one seems a perfect exception to the norm because the series narrator is such a frequent guest in these pages, for good reason after many good reasons. This show may be his own sense of a masterpiece, if you consider what he says in a recent interview to a confirmed urbanist, which is worth half an hour of listening to in addition to the review below:

“Blue Planet II” Reviewed: The Ocean Continues to Impress

The seven-episode follow-up to the 2001 series flexes the BBC’s mastery of a genre that it created.

By Troy Patterson

The nature documentary “Blue Planet II” is oceanic in topic, tone, scope, and majesty. A production of the BBC Natural History Unit, the seven-episode series flexes its broadcaster’s mastery of a genre that it created. Over excellent footage shot on a circumglobal photo safari, the venerable narrator David Attenborough orates zoological narratives as if delivering a state-of-nature address. “Blue Planet II” follows the network’s “The Blue Planet,” which dropped in 2001, but it is less a sequel than a subsequent quest, like the second voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, or Apollo 14. Continue reading

Intact Coral And Its Above-Water Counterparts

 

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Heron Island and its hundreds of species have so far been spared the worst of the crisis. But scientists there fear what the future may hold.  Illustration by Lily Padula

Helen Sullivan, founding editor of the South African literary magazine Prufrock, shares a short essay for the environmentally-minded:

On a recent trip to Heron Island, a speck of sand and foliage on the southern end of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I found myself on a walking tour of the local birdlife. My group’s guide was young, determinedly friendly, and seemed to feel not a little trapped. She looked as though she might, at any moment, reconsider everything and run as far as she could—which is to say, not very far: Heron is just half a mile long. We began with the egrets, which inspired the island’s not altogether accurate name, and which are born either black or white; our guide pointed out monochrome pairs roosting together in the trees. Then it was on to the buff-banded rails, which reminded me of thin, shifty, omnivorous quails. Beneath a Pisonia tree, also known as a grand devil’s-claws, we encountered a rowdy group of white-capped noddies. (The caps, our guide told us cheerfully, were to stop the birds’ brains from overheating in the sun.) Noddies, which feed on fish and make their nests by glueing together fallen Pisonia leaves, lead perilous lives. The trees’ seeds are sticky, often adhering to the birds’ charcoal-feathered bodies. Sometimes, a noddie will get covered in so many seeds that it can no longer fly, and so it falls to the ground and starves to death, its carcass fertilizing the nutrient-poor sand in which the Pisonia grows. “The noddies have a really special relationship with the devil’s-claws,” our guide said.

Heron Island is also home to the Barrier Reef’s oldest research station, where Sophie Dove, a biology professor at the University of Queensland, has lately been studying the effects of climate change on corals. Though she was off on the mainland when I visited, we caught up a few days later. Continue reading

The Idea Gets Greater, In Chile

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Protecting More Wilderness
Map shows the scope of Tompkins Conservation park projects in Chile and Argentina. Eight Chilean parks, shown in boldface, comprise the latest expansion of wilderness areas, an area roughly twice the size of Massachusetts. Source: Tompkins Conservation. By The New York Times

When the news was first reported, just the facts were enough. Then yesterday we had some commentary that made us think more on how important this news really was, from a global perspective. Now, the story behind the facts, and this op-ed by Kristine McDivitt Tompkins echoes the greatest idea:

We need a new story about the Earth that isn’t just a litany of alarming statistics about crashing wildlife populations, polluted air and water, and climate chaos. We need a story that reminds us that the continuing degradation of landscapes and the seas is not necessarily a one-way street toward irreversible destruction.

On Monday we began to write such a story with the government of Chile. Under the wide skies of the new Patagonia National Park, President Michelle Bachelet and I formalized the largest-ever expansion of a national park system prompted by a donation of private land. Continue reading