The Wind Calls For Attention

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A wind farm in Pomeroy, Iowa. Credit Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In the current political climate it may sound like howling in the wind, at first, but read on:

A Case for a Market-Driven Green New Deal

Any serious energy transformation will need to harness America’s powerful and creative economic engine.

By Amory B. Lovins and Rushad R. Nanavatty

Mr. Lovins and Mr. Nanavatty work at Rocky Mountain Institute, which is focused on creating a clean, low-carbon energy future.

The best thing to come from the Senate’s floor debate on the Green New Deal late last month may have been these eminently sane remarks, calling on lawmakers of both parties to “move together” in order “to lower emissions, to address the reality of climate change, recognizing that we’ve got an economy we need to keep strong, that we have vulnerable people we need to protect, that we have an environment that we all care about — Republicans and Democrats.”

Who said it? A Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “My hope is we get beyond the high-fired rhetoric to practical, pragmatic, bipartisan solutions,” she said on the chamber floor.

The path is there, if our leaders will only choose to take it. In 2011, Reinventing Firean energy study by Rocky Mountain Institute, where we work, showed how a business-led transition could triple energy efficiency, quintuple renewables and sustain an American economy 2.6 times larger in 2050 than it was in 2010 with no oil, coal or nuclear energy, and one-third less natural gas. The net cost was $5 trillion less than business-as-usual — or even more valuable if a price was put on carbon emissions.

Continue reading

Bird Habitat One Yard At A Time

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Photo: Illustration: Marina Muun

Sometimes the planning is as fulfilling as the outcome. Thanks to Janet Marinelli and Audubon Magazine:

Plant Trees that Turn Your Yard Into a Bird Oasis—and Carbon Sponge

Trees create habitat and store CO2 for decades to come. Just be sure to pick carefully.

One of the best ways to combat climate change is to fill your garden with as many trees, shrubs, and other plants as possible. Whether a tiny orchid or towering oak, all plants have the amazing ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and store it in their wood, shoots, and roots.

Because they’re the giants of the plant kingdom, trees are also powerhouses of carbon storage. In one year, a mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of CO2—about the amount emitted by driving 150 miles in a hybrid plug-in car. Collectively, according to the U.S. Forest Service, trees offset 10 to 20 percent of U.S. emissions from burning fossil fuels each year. The carbon benefits really begin to add up when you consider that trees fight global warming in other ways. For example, carefully placed trees can reduce the energy required to heat and cool a home by 25 percent (see tips here on how to place trees). Because they cool the air by casting shade and releasing water vapor when they breathe, trees also alleviate one of the most underestimated health threats of climate change—heat wavesContinue reading

Closer To An Alternative For Plastic Packaging

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Yale e360, with news like this, titles it carefully:

Scientists Say They Have Found a Viable Replacement for Petroleum-Based Plastic

Scientists at Ohio State University say they have developed a viable alternative to petroleum-based plastic food packaging by using natural tree-based rubber. According to the researchers, the new biodegradable material holds promise for fighting the world’s growing plastic pollution problem, as well as for helping curb our reliance on fossil fuels.

The original source, with slightly more flowery language, titles it as if packaging can be friendly to the environment. The way we use packaging, not so. But we will take what we can get at this point:

Study shows potential for Earth-friendly plastic replacement

New biodegradable ‘plastic’ is tough, flexible

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The new bioplastic and rubber blend devised by Ohio State researchers proved much more durable than the bioplastic on its own

The quest to keep plastic out of landfills and simultaneously satisfy the needs of the food industry is filled with obstacles.

A biodegradable replacement for petroleum-based products has to meet all sorts of standards and, so far, attempts at viable replacements from renewable sources have faced limited success due to processing and economic constraints. Among the obstacles, products to date have been too brittle for food packaging. Continue reading

Betting On Planet Earth

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Illustration by Dadu Shin

Last week we pointed to this article, and today we point to another of equal value from the same issue of the same magazine.

How Big Business Is Hedging Against the Apocalypse

Investors are finally paying attention to climate change — though not in the way you might hope.

The New York Times Magazine is on to something. More than most magazines, it is offering stark, long form accounts of the stakes being wagered against our planet.

9780374191337.jpgNathaniel Rich has become one of the most potent writers on the fate of our planet in relation to human actions and inactions. Last year the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to one article he authored. And now he has a book, which you can listen to him talk about here. The publisher’s blurb:

By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change—including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours. Continue reading

Faith-Based Green Resistance

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In 2015, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a congregation of nuns, learned that an energy company planned to build a pipeline on their land. So they started a resistance movement. Photograph by Dave Parry

Thanks to Eliza Griswold, who writes about religion (which does not feature often in our pages) and occasionally finds an overlap with environmental causes:

The Renegade Nuns Who Took On a Pipeline

On a crisp October morning in 2017, Sister Sara Dwyer, a sixty-eight-year-old nun wearing a red T-shirt that read “you will not spoil our land,” led three elderly nuns and seventy other protesters onto an industrial work site in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Many carried red banners stencilled with wheat sheaves. They were there to protest Williams, an Oklahoma-based pipeline company that was trying to build the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, a two-hundred-mile natural gas pipeline that would carry shale gas from fields in northeastern Pennsylvania to the coast, where the fuel could be shipped abroad. The company was trying to lay the line under a cornfield belonging to the nuns, and the sisters had decided to fight back, hoping that they might draw attention to the issue of climate change. “Just being in resistance is not the goal,” Dwyer told me. “The goal is spiritual conversion.” As the protesters entered the work site, Malinda Clatterbuck, who had helped plan the event with the sisters, reminded the participants, “This is a nonviolent protest in all ways. We’re not going to yell or speak to the workers.” She walked around asking each person to nod in agreement. “If you’re angry today, go home and come back to an action once you’re in a better place,” she said. Continue reading

Mass Timber & Metrics Of Ecology

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Mjösa Tower, the world’s tallest wooden building, under construction in Brumunddal, Norway. ANTI HAMAR

Thanks to Yale e360 and especially to Jim Robbins, as always, for keeping us up to date on the most interesting new developments in our natural world and its built spaces:

As Mass Timber Takes Off, How Green Is This New Building Material?

Mass timber construction is on the rise, with advocates saying it could revolutionize the building industry and be part of a climate change solution. But some are questioning whether the logging and manufacturing required to produce the new material outweigh any benefits.

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Carbon 12 in Portland, Oregon is the tallest building in the United States made with mass timber. COURTESY OF KAISER + PATH
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The eight-story Carbon 12 building in Portland, Oregon is the tallest commercial structure in the United States to be built from something called mass timber.

If the many fervent boosters of this new construction material are right, however, it is only one of the first mass timber buildings among many, the beginning of a construction revolution. “The design community in Portland is enthralled with the material,” said Emily Dawson, an architect at Kaiser + Path, the locally-based firm that designed Carbon 12.

The move to mass timber is even farther along in Europe. That’s because mass timber – large structural panels, posts, and beams glued under pressure or nailed together in layers, with the wood’s grain stacked perpendicular for extra strength – is not only prized as an innovative building material, superior to concrete and steel in many ways, it is also hoped it will come into its own as a significant part of a climate change solution. Continue reading

Climate Change May Be Illegal

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Lake Palcacocha in the Peruvian Andes. Felipe Fittipaldi for The New York Times

Brooke Jarvis, whose mastery of the complex environmental story we have pointed to a couple times already, shares the story below about a novel legal approach to fighting climate change. It is long, detailed and even more complex than the other stories we have seen by her. But if her subject prevails, the result may be even more profound as well. These two photos alone should draw you in. Thanks to the New York Times Magazine:

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The city of Huaraz in the Peruvian Andes. Felipe Fittipaldi for The New York Times

In the mountains far above the red-brick city, behind a locked gate, there is a great, green valley. Its high stone walls are streaked by waterfalls; its floor dotted with flowers and grazed by horses and cows. Six boulder-strewn miles beyond the gate, the valley ends abruptly at an enormous wall of rock and ice. Beneath it lies a stretch of calm, bright water in milky turquoise — Lake Palcacocha. Though few of its residents have ever seen this lake, the city below lives in fear of it. Continue reading

Horses Reversing Domestication

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The group of 23 wild Konik horses which arrived in the Ukrainian village of Orlovka on March 26 represents the first translocation of such animals into the Danube Delta. SOLVIN ZANKL / REWILDING EUROPE

Thanks, as always, to our friends at Rewilding Europe for another story about an animal we always think of as one of the oldest examples of domestication, and its role in rewilding:

Natural grazing in the Ukrainian Danube Delta boosted by arrival of Konik horses

Representing the first ever translocation of Konik horses into the Danube Delta, the shipment of 23 animals travelled by road from Latvia to the Ukrainian village of Orlovka. By helping to create and maintain mosaic landscapes, their grazing will help to boost biodiversity in the Danube Delta rewilding area.

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The sturdy Koniks, which lived over 20 years in the wild in Latvia, are well-suited to life in the Danube Delta. SOLVIN ZANKL / REWILDING EUROPE

Two herds of wild Konik horses will soon be roaming the landscapes of the Ukrainian Danube Delta, boosting the area’s biodiversity through their natural grazing. A shipment of 23 horses (made up of two family groups) arrived in the small delta village of Orlovka on March 26, having made the long road journey from Latvia. Despite the lengthy trip of around 1800 kilometres, which took nearly two days and two nights, all of the animals were pronounced fit and well on arrival by a veterinarian. Continue reading

South-South Cooperation In The Fight Against Invasive Species

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We missed the story last year about two men in the photo above, from southern India, who were brought to the Florida habitat where invasive pythons are doing enough damage that we started paying attention eight years ago. We are thinking about it again, thanks to the Guardian:

Snake hunters have captured what they say is the largest python ever found in the swamps of the Florida Everglades: a pregnant female more than 17ft (5.2 metres) long and weighing 140lb, or 63.5kg.

The team from the Big Cypress National Preserve posted news of their record-setting catch in a Facebook post that also noted the giant reptile was carrying 73 eggs.

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Big Cypress National Preserve group captures 17ft female python on 4 April. Photograph: Big Cypress National Preserve/Facebook

Environmentalists have been struggling to find ways to eradicate Burmese pythons, a non-native species, from the 1.5m-acre wilderness since the 1980s, when some were released into the wild as overgrown pets. Others escaped from a breeding facility wrecked by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Continue reading

The Guardian Is A Public Service Newspaper

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The Mauna Loa weather observatory in Hawaii. The Guardian will publish the Mauna Loa carbon count every day. Photograph: Courtesy of NOAA

Our thanks to the Guardian for this reminder of our shared responsibility:

Why the Guardian is putting global CO2 levels in the weather forecast

As CO2levels climb, the carbon count is a daily reminder we must tackle climate change now

The simplest measure of how the mass burning of fossil fuels is disrupting the stable climate in which human civilisation developed is the number of carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere.

Today, the CO2 level is the highest it has been for several million years. Back then, temperatures were 3-4C hotter, sea level was 15-20 metres higher and trees grew at the south pole. Worse, billions of tonnes of carbon pollution continues to pour into the air every year and at a rate 10 times faster than for 66m years.

At the dawn of the industrial revolution, CO2 was at 280 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. By 1958, when the first measurements were made at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, it had reached 315ppm. It raced past 350ppm in 1986 and 400ppm in 2013.

The Guardian will now publish the Mauna Loa carbon count, the global benchmark, on the weather page of the paper every day.

“When I read the letter from Guardian reader Daniel Scharf encouraging us to include information on climate change in our weather forecasts, we thought it was a fantastic idea,” said the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. Continue reading

Renewables For Communities In Need

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EnterA 204-kilowatt community solar array being installed on the roof of the Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis. COURTESY OF COOPERATIVE ENERGY FUTURESa caption

Thanks to Maria Gallucci and Yale e360 for this:

Energy Equity: Bringing Solar Power to Low-Income Communities

Millions of Americans lack access to solar energy because they cannot afford the steep upfront costs. Now, more than a dozen states are adopting “community solar” programs that are bringing solar power and lower energy bills to low-income households from New York to California.

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Workers receive job training while building a shared solar farm in Platteville, Colorado. COURTESY OF GRID ALTERNATIVES

Isbel “Izzy” Palans lives in a small cabin nestled among mountain peaks and towering trees in the Colorado Rockies. Her home is often shaded and, during the long winters, buried under heaps of snow. Her monthly utility bills show credits for solar electricity production, but no solar panels are affixed to her roof. Instead, the power comes from a solar array some 60 miles away in a nearby valley.

Last year, the panels nearly slashed her energy bill in half. “I’ve been thrilled,” said Palans, a 76-year-old retired waitress who relies partly on Social Security benefits to make ends meet.

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Solar contractor Brad Boston (center) and utility representatives meet with engineer Pranay Kohli to discuss a community solar project at DuPont Park Seventh Day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. COURTESY OF GROUNDSWELL

Palans is a subscriber to a 145-kilowatt solar array project run by Holy Cross Energy, a rural utility cooperative. Built with state funding, the program provides solar credits to more than 40 low-income households in western Colorado that otherwise wouldn’t have the financial or technical means to access renewable energy. The venture is just one of a growing number of so-called “community solar” projects across the United States focused on delivering renewable energy — and the cost-savings it can provide — to low-income households, from California to Minnesota to Massachusetts. Continue reading

Impossible Made Possible By Pat Brown

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“Our whole focus is on making products that deliver everything that meat lovers care about,” said Pat Brown, the chief executive.  Matt Edge for The New York Times

We were waiting patiently for this day to come. Impossible has had our attention for a couple years now, but who knew when it would go really big? The time is now:

Behold the Beefless ‘Impossible Whopper’

Burger King is introducing a Whopper made with a vegetarian patty from the start-up Impossible Foods. The deal is a big step toward the mainstream for start-ups trying to mimic and replace meat.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Would you like that Whopper with or without beef?

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An Impossible Foods burger on the grill at the company’s headquarters in Redwood City, Calif.CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

This week, Burger King is introducing a version of its iconic Whopper sandwich filled with a vegetarian patty from the start-up Impossible Foods.

The Impossible Whopper, as it will be known, is the biggest validation — and expansion opportunity — for a young industry that is looking to mimic and replace meat with plant-based alternatives.

Impossible Foods and its competitors in Silicon Valley have already had some mainstream success. The vegetarian burger made by Beyond Meat has been available at over a thousand Carl’s Jr. restaurants since January and the company is now moving toward an initial public offering.

White Castle has sold a slider version of the Impossible burger in its 380 or so stores since late last year. Continue reading

Flamingos In The City

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Flamingos eat plankton in front of an industrial area at Sewri mudflats, Mumbai. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA-EFE

Payal Mohta reported from Mumbai for this story in the Guardian that caught our attention with images of urban flamingos. An unusual beauty can be the result of a common problem. As it is important to understand nature in wilderness areas, which is our strong preference, it is also important to understand these man-made phenomena:

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People watch flamingos from a boat during the Bombay Natural History Society’s flamingo festival. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

There is an air of anxious excitement among the urban professionals and tourists on board our 24-seater motorboat as we enter Thane Creek.

A chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” breaks out as we spot the visions in pink we came to see – hundreds of flamingos listlessly bobbing in the murky green water – followed by the furious clicking of cameras.

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Flamingos at Sewri. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Then, almost as one, the birds skim the water and take off in sync. “They always stay together,” says Prathamesh Desai, who has been organising birding excursions in the city for seven years. “They are an extremely gregarious species.”…

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Flamingos at Sewri. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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Flamingos flock to Mumbai between September and April, but this year there are almost three times more birds than the amount that usually flocks to the area.
Bachchan Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

That story continues after the jump below. First, thanks to National Public Radio (USA)’s Audrey Nguyen and Sarah Oliver for producing and bringing this story to our attention with this opening line (which goes on to credit the Guardian story as its source):

Around this time every year, tens of thousands of flamingos flock to Mumbai to feed. But this year, there are almost three times more than the normal amount in the city — about 120,000.

The reason for the influx is currently a mystery. But some scientists believe that pollution in the birds’ natural habitat might be one factor at play… Continue reading

Mass Transit Morphing

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Subway cars set sail on a barge in “Weeks 297, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

Thanks to Winnie Lee and Atlas Obscura:

Photographing the New York City Subway Cars That Retired as Artificial Reefs

How Stephen Mallon captured this unusual voyage to the bottom of the ocean.

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The rooftops of subway cars. “Abbey Road, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

The photographer Stephen Mallon specializes in documenting man’s industrial-scale creations. During his career, he’s focused his lens on the recycling industry, the largest floating structure ever built, and the transportation and installation of a new bridge in New York City. So it wasn’t surprising when, in 2008, he was drawn to an unusual program spearheaded by the MTA New York City Transit system: a multi-phased artificial reefing project that saw the shells of 2,580 decommissioned subway train cars repurposed and dropped into coastal waters off New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, between 2001 and 2010.

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The abstract beauty of stripped-down vehicles in “Transfer, 2009.” STEPHEN MALLON

Mallon arranged to follow the outdated subway cars as they were prepared and cleaned, loaded onto barges, and finally plopped into the sea. As he traveled with a crew in a tugboat to get his shots, the photographer developed his sea legs.

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Subway cars hoisted in the air in “Mind The Gap, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

“I was never underwater, so just needed to keep myself steady on the back of the boat. It’s kind of like surfing or skiing—just keep your balance, keep the horizon line straight, bend your knees, and don’t fall overboard,” Mallon says. Continue reading

Seeds Are Our Future

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Lotus flower seed heads and raw, un-puffed lotus seeds.

Lotus flower first appeared in these pages years ago, but its seeds were never mentioned. Time to correct that. We missed the opportunity to mention this book when it was first published–we missed the enthusiastic review–but better late than never. Thanks to the folks at Gastropod for the shoutout in a recent episode that gives Thor Hanson and his book their due:

Seeds

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When seeds first evolved, hundreds of millions of years ago, they not only revolutionized the plant world, but they also eventually sowed the path for human civilization. Today, it’s nearly impossible to eat a meal without consuming a plant embryo—or many. But how did seeds come to play such a critical role in human history? Why might one seed in particular, the lotus seed, hold the secret to immortality? And, perhaps just as importantly, how does this magical seed taste?

Green Building Techniques Inspired By Insects

The air conditioning system of the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, was inspired by termites’ nests. Credit David Brazier, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been quite some time since we posted about biomimicry. Thanks as always to JoAnna Klein for this illuminating story:

What Termites Can Teach Us About Cooling Our Buildings

“We think humans are the best designers, but this is not really true,” a researcher said.

In the capital of Zimbabwe, a building called Eastgate Centre holds nearly 350,000 square-feet of office space and shops. It uses 90 percent less energy than a similar sized building next door.

What’s Eastgate Centre’s secret? Termites.

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Three views of a termites’ nest, including from left, a photo of the nest, a tomography of the the nest’s interior and the networks of galleries and paths in it. Credit G. Theraulaz, CRCA, CBI, CNRS, Toulouse

In the 1990s, Mick Pearce, the building’s architect, took his inspiration from mounds built by fungus-farming termites he saw on a nature show. The insects created their own air conditioning systems that circulated hot and cool air between the mound and the outside.

As architects and builders seek new and improved ways to cool buildings without using more energy in a warming world, a study of another type of termite mound suggests that Mr. Pearce won’t be the last human to take design tips from these cockroach cousins. Continue reading

From South-South To North-North

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The beginning of a ski run on the roof of Copenhagen’s new trash incinerator, which will help heat buildings in the city. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

South-south cooperation has been an important learning mechanism for some time and we have shared plenty of those stories in part because those places are where we work. According to Somini Sengupta Copenhagen Wants to Show How Cities Can Fight Climate Change,  so we now also should be paying attention to the northern counterpart of the cooperation that has been getting all our attention:

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Wind turbines along the strait that separates Denmark from Sweden, seen from the Amager Strandpark in Copenhagen. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

COPENHAGEN — Can a city cancel out its greenhouse gas emissions?

Copenhagen intends to, and fast. By 2025, this once-grimy industrial city aims to be net carbon neutral, meaning it plans to generate more renewable energy than the dirty energy it consumes.

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The Copenhagen Metro. A new line, scheduled to open this year, will put most residents less than half a mile from a station. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

Here’s why it matters to the rest of the world: Half of humanity now lives in cities, and the vast share of planet-warming gases come from cities. The big fixes for climate change need to come from cities too. They are both a problem and a potential source of solutions.

The experience of Copenhagen, home to 624,000 people, can show what’s possible, and what’s tough, for other urban governments on a warming planet.

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Recycling bins in the Christianshavn district of Copenhagen. The city requires residents to sort recycling into eight separate categories. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

The mayor, Frank Jensen, said cities “can change the way we behave, the way we are living, and go more green.” His city has some advantages. It is small, it is rich and its people care a lot about climate change.

Mr. Jensen said mayors, more than national politicians, felt the pressure to take action. “We are directly responsible for our cities and our citizens, and they expect us to act,” he said. Continue reading

Fortunate Encounters With Birds

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Jeffrey and Jason WardIllustration by João Fazenda

Thanks to Anna Russell for this short wonder:

Birding Brothers of the Bronx

A chance sighting of a hungry peregrine falcon gave a homeless teen a lifelong passion; now Jason Ward and his brother Jeffrey star in “Birds of North America,” on topic.com.

When Jason Ward was fourteen, he spotted a peregrine falcon devouring a pigeon on the windowsill of the South Bronx homeless shelter where his family was living. “I was literally witnessing a nature documentary unfold,” he recalled, adding, “That was definitely my spark bird.” Ward, now thirty-two, has five siblings, but only he and his younger brother Jeffrey are birders. (Jeffrey’s spark bird was a barn owl, which he saw in Central Park.) “These peregrines are really powerful fliers,” Jason said. “They have the ability to just change their immediate surroundings. Growing up in the Bronx, that was something that I admired, and wanted to be able to do myself.” Continue reading