Cherokee Prairie Natural Area near Fort Smith, Arkansas. WILLIAM DARK PHOTOGRAPHY
Janet Marinelli, according to her author’s bio, is an award-winning independent journalist who was director of scientific and popular publications at Brooklyn Botanic Garden for 16 years; according to our read of her work over the last two years she is also a perfect fit with our mission to find at least one story every day that explains the natural world, illuminates the possibilities of entrepreneurial conservation or challenges us to be more careful with natural resources. She brightens our day:
Native prairie and savanna once covered vast areas of the U.S. Southeast from Maryland to Texas, but agriculture and sprawl have left only small patches remaining. Now, a new initiative, driven by scientists and local communities, is pushing to restore these imperiled grassland habitats.
Southeastern grasslands have some of the highest plant richness in the world, home to rare species such as American chaffseed. COURTESY OF TIM MARTIN & USFWS
Dwayne Estes pulls over to the side of a rural road in Franklin County, Tennessee, about 20 miles from the Alabama border. He hops out of his truck and points out a small plant with dainty, trumpet-shaped white flowers with purple-streaked throats. “This is Penstemon kralii,” says Estes, a 40-year-old, 6-foot-3-inch-tall professor sporting a baseball cap and beard, the twin badges of honor for many field botanists. The plant is found almost exclusively at the base of the Cumberland Plateau escarpment, where it survives precariously in narrow, grassy roadside fringes with other rare and threatened species, including a sunflower and a blue-eyed grass yet to be named and described by scientists.
Kral’s penstemon. COURTESY OF TIM MARTIN & USFWS
We continue to the top of the steep, densely forested escarpment. Below, a checkerboard of croplands and pastures stretches as far as the eye can see. “Before 1840, those agricultural fields were prairies covering half a million, maybe 750,000 acres,” Estes says. “They were maintained by frequent fires and bison.” The wildfires probably swept up the base of the adjacent escarpment, he adds, keeping it open and sunny oak savanna where the penstemon and its companions could thrive. Like so many southern grassland denizens, they are vestiges of a lost botanical world that once covered as many as 120 million acres from Maryland to East Texas, caught in a vise between habitat loss to agriculture and urban sprawl on the one hand, and encroaching fire-suppressed forest on the other. Continue reading
Our long history with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology keeps their initiatives on our radar, and their films hold a very special place.
Sales from this award-winning documentary will benefit bird conservation.
World-renowned wildlife cinematographer, Neil Rettig, embarks on the most challenging assignment of his career: to find and film the rarest eagle on the planet. An expertly woven tale with stunning cinematography, Bird of Prey journeys deep into the vanishing world of the Great Philippine Eagle and reveals an inspiring group of people that are determined to save the world’s most critically endangered eagle species from extinction.
Click here for more information on streaming options.
This oasis of green in the hyper-developed city has an important job: it can contain one million gallons of water. Here’s how.
Thursday night in Costa Rica Amie and I attended an event at the oldest, yet freshest Marriott in this country. Fresh with actions around sustainability. Fresh with a renovation and landscape plan that enhances the property’s coffee hacienda origins. And fresh with ideas from other parts of the world in their ongoing series of TED events. The picture above was on the screen as the speaker explained one of her projects; she gave an extended version of the TED talk she first presented earlier this year. I found some additional information about it to share here:
Rainwater flows from the green roof through wetlands that frame two sides of the park into the retention pond; water can also collect in the detention lawn.
Bangkok is sinking. Spilling out across the delta of the Chao Phraya River, the Thai capital was once known as the Venice of the East for its network of canals.Today, thanks to explosive development, many of those waterways have been filled with cement. With nowhere for water to go, Bangkok has become notorious for frequent, destructive floods, sometimes after as little as 30 minutes of rain. The reality is that this city of 20 million people, built on shifting river mud, is sinking at the rate of more than one centimeter a year and could be below sea level as soon as 2030.
Stationary bikes serve two purposes: to give people a workout and to keep the pond water from getting stagnant.
Thai landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a TED Fellow, watched firsthand as her city became a dense concrete jungle. “When I was young, there were rice fields and canals in the city,” she remembers. “I could hear boats from my house in central Bangkok. Now, all those fields and canals have been stopped with concrete and covered by highrises. All of the buildings and concrete become obstacles for water to drain, so the city floods.”
At her Bangkok firm Landprocess, Voraakhom designs parks, gardens, green roofs and bridges that address the city’s flooding problem while also reconnecting residents to their natural environment. “We’re so much in the buildings,” she says. “I think it’s very necessary for us, as urbanists, to have places where we can reconnect to our nature, to Mother Earth. Just to see the sky.”
Lionfish, armed with venomous dorsal spines that enable them to deter predators, are more normally associated with warm tropical waters. Photograph: Arno Enzerink /www.stockphotogr/Arno Enzerink
After writing about some of Cyprus’ environmentally destructive actions, it feels good to hear about these positive organized efforts to eradicate this marine threat. Lionfish have long been on our radar, but this is the first we’ve heard of their spread through European waters.
Perhaps a new venue for eradication idea exchange is in order!
Cyprus has held its first organised cull of lionfish after numbers of the invasive species have proliferated in recent years, threatening the Mediterranean ecosystem and posing a venomous danger to humans.
“They’re actually very placid,” said Prof Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biologist, after spearing 16 of the exotic specimens in the space of 40 minutes in the inaugural “lionfish removal derby” off the island’s southern coast. He added: “The problem is they are not part of the natural ecosystem and we are seeing them in plague proportions.”
Lionfish, armed with venomous dorsal spines that enable them to deter predators, are more normally associated with warm tropical waters of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Almost two decades ago the non-native tropical fish began to enter US waters, appearing in the Atlantic after pet owners started releasing outsized lionfish from home aquariums into the sea. Now they have reached Europe. In 2012, after initial sightings off Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, they were spotted off Cyprus. Three years later they had appeared further south in Greece, Italy and Tunisia, testimony, scientists say, to their ability to both enter new territories and spawn at record rates.
As numbers proliferate, so have fears of the flamboyantly coloured fish posing the biggest ecological setback to ecosystems in the Mediterranean – which is already under pressure from pollution, tourism and over-exploitation. In the EU, Cyprus has become “the first line of defence” against the lionfish invasion. Continue reading
Starbucks at South Terminal, Gatwick. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks and environmental charity Hubbub. Photograph: Zute Lightfoot
We have been using this cup since early 2017, and it really should have replaced the paper cup by now. But slow as the pace is, we are happy to read the news of this experiment and wish it well:
A dump site in Castries, France. By 2023, unwanted, unsold goods in the country will have to be donated, reused or recycled. Xavier Malafosse/Sipa, via Associated Press
Food waste has been a topic regularly featured in these pages. And reducing carbon footprint obviously involves reducing waste in general. Palko Karasz reports on this almost unbelievable example of waste that had escaped our attention until now, and we are impressed by France’s decisive action:
LONDON — France plans to outlaw the destruction of unsold consumer products, a practice that currently results in the disposal of new goods worth 800 million euros, or more than $900 million, in the country each year.
By 2023, manufacturers and retailers will have to donate, reuse or recycle the goods, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said on Tuesday of the measure, which the government billed as the first of its kind.
“It is waste that defies reason,” Mr. Philippe said at a discount store in Paris, according to Agence France-Presse, and he called the practice “scandalous.”
Under a new measure that will be part of a bill set to be debated by the government in July, destroying unsold goods could result in financial penalties or prison time. Continue reading
I just checked the index of my dissertation to see if this book to the right is listed. It is not. Strange.
Rarely has a single idea had so much impact on me. Creative destruction, a concept that Joseph Schumpeter is most famous for, comes from that book. I will not try to explain it here because either you already know what it means or else you should really read it from the source.
In my dissertation I was interested in the impact of the efforts of entrepreneurs–specifically every single one of the thousands of entrepreneurs that started up a hotel business from the 1880s to the 1980s on both the Canadian and US side of Niagara Falls–to join together to develop a mutually beneficial solution when facing a collective threat. In this century-long story I had metrics to determine how those efforts impacted the likelihood of a hotelier’s staying in business after starting up. Niagara Falls was at risk of being ruined as a natural attraction. Hoteliers on each side of the border joined one another, cooperating with their direct competitors, to find a solution to that risk. Hoteliers, independently of the actions of those on the other side, jointly invested in conservation initiatives. The rich quantitative data show that on the side of the border that invested more heavily in conservation, over the course of 100 years hotels had fewer failures (permanent closure) overall. Bravo, Canada. Continue reading
About one year in to our time in India Amie got us involved in an initiative that helped reduce our carbon footprint by ensuring that the bags we used in our hotel gift shops contained no plastic. Instead we used bags made from recycled newspaper. We were fortunate enough to have an intern from Amherst College that summer who wanted to work on this. His enthusiasm for the project was so infectious that other interns joined him. Sung Ho Paik, being from Korea, has what I believe is K-pop accompanying his video below.
We were still expanding this initiative with intern assistance years later. Items sold in our gift shops in Kerala followed the lead of the takeaway bag initiative, and elephant paper may be an extreme example but is a useful segue to what is on my mind today. We had the opportunity to join forces with an excellent local design firm in their idea to launch a retail concept with the kind of products that we have always believed in. We believe in ideas that support entrepreneurial conservation with great design.
Authentica springs from these roots, and the culture of conservation is clearly a guiding force in what will be on offer.
A team of specially-trained hunting dogs has been helping conservationists and researchers find rare turtles in Iowa. KATE PAYNE/IPR
Thanks to Iowa Public Radio for some good conservation news from the Heart Land.
An eastern Iowa conservation group is taking an unconventional approach to tracking rare turtles on its land. Iowa Public Radio tagged along with a man who’s trained his hunting dogs to find the reptiles for researchers. Counting the creatures will help conservationists manage the land better.
It’s a cool morning on a nature preserve owned by Bur Oak Land Trust in Johnson County. I’m scouring a shady hillside with John Rucker and his four Boykin spaniels, looking for turtles.
“Find turtle, find turtle,” Rucker calls to his dogs. He turns to me and says, “did I tell you I’m the only person in the world that does this?”
When he’s not living off the grid in rural Montana, Rucker travels the country with his specially-trained hunting dogs, helping scientists and conservationists find turtles.
“This is Rooster,” John says, introducing the dogs. “This is Jenny Wren. She’s the one that gives me my litters. And that’s Mink. No, that’s Jaybird, and that’s Mink.”
We make our way through the undergrowth, checking in brush piles and under old logs. When the dogs find a turtle, they’ll pick it up and bring it back to be counted.
“You will notice that as soon as they strike a scent trail their tails will start wagging furiously, and then their whole demeanor becomes extremely excitable,” Rucker explains.
Citizen conservationist Judy Felder is one of the volunteers out hunting today.
“It’s sort of like a religion for me,” Felder says. “Nature is important and somebody has to defend it, protect it, preserve it.” Continue reading
This video expresses the concept of artisan ethos in almost too many ways to count: from the centuries old traditions of weaving in India , to creative communities coming together to rebuild cultural patrimony in the face of natural disasters, not to mention the well-crafted visual storytelling of the piece itself. (Kudos yet again to Anoodha and her Curiouser team for their own style of weaving.) Continue reading
Bill MkKibben makes the case that It’s Not Entirely Up to School Students to Save the World:
…What all of these people have in common is a strong sense that business as usual has become the problem, and that it needs to be interrupted, if only for a day. The climate crisis is a perplexing one because, mostly, we just get up each day and do what we did the day before, as if an enormous emergency weren’t unfolding around us. That hasn’t been true of past crises: during the Second World War, oceans may have separated American civilians from the fighting, but every day they were aware of the need to change their ways of life: to conserve resources, buy bonds, black out their windows at night if they lived on the coast.
The climate emergency, however, is deceptive. Unless it’s your town that day that’s being hit by wildfire or a flood, it’s easy to let the day’s more pressing news take precedence. It can be hard to remember that climate change underlies so many daily injustices, from the forced migration of refugees to the spread of disease. Indeed, the people who suffer the most are usually those on the periphery—the iron law of climate change is that the less you did to cause it the more you suffer from it. So we focus on the latest Presidential tweet or trade war instead of on the latest incremental rise in carbon dioxide, even though that, in the end, is the far more critical news.
A one-day work stoppage—a decision to spend a day demanding action from governments or building a bike path—is a way to break out of that bad habit…
He is promoting the idea that all of us should get involved now, and there are some useful guidelines for how to do so:
School strikers are calling on everyone: young people, parents, workers, and all concerned citizens to join massive climate strikes and a week of actions starting on September 20.
People all over the world will use their power to stop “business as usual” in the face of the climate emergency. We will join young people in the streets to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels and emergency action to avoid climate breakdown.
The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” comes to mind when related to overcoming the obstacles of handling emergencies in remote or dangerous locations. But after listening to Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo’s TED talk, “entrepreneurship is the new philanthropy” seems more apropos. Our direct experience is more within the entrepreneurial conservation model in developing economies, but the energy with which many countries have leap frogged established technologies with 21st century models and solutions belies their assumed status of development. Continue reading
The average greenhouse gas impact (in kilograms of CO2) of getting 50 grams of protein from various food types. Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science
We have been on the lookout since we started this platform for stories like this. There have been too many to link back to.Thanks to this team of collaborators I have just read a primer that is more clear, convincing and relatively painless in its instruction on how to change my diet than any of the earlier ones:
How to shop, cook and eat in a warming world.
By Julia Moskin, Brad Plumer, Rebecca Lieberman and Eden Weingart. Graphics by Nadja Popovich. Illustrations by Cari Vander Yacht
Does what I eat have an effect on climate change?
Yes. The world’s food system is responsible for about one-quarter of the planet-warming greenhouse gases that humans generate each year. That includes raising and harvesting all the plants, animals and animal products we eat — beef, chicken, fish, milk, lentils, kale, corn and more — as well as processing, packaging and shipping food to markets all over the world. If you eat food, you’re part of this system.
How exactly does food contribute to global warming?
Lots of ways. Here are four of the biggest: When forests are cleared to make room for farms and livestock — this happens on a daily basis in some parts of the world — large stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere, which heats up the planet. When cows, sheep and goats digest their food, they burp up methane, another potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Animal manure and rice paddies are also big methane sources. Finally, fossil fuels are used to operate farm machinery, make fertilizer and ship food around the globe, all of which generate emissions.
Keeping watch over a New Jersey lake. Photograph: Victoria Bekiempis
Thanks to Victoria Bekiempis for this inside look at the other North American world series:
We’ve written a great deal about the sobering truth of human created climate change lately; highlighting the difficult science of the increasingly limited options on how to avert worst case scenarios.
There’s something calming about this piece of animation by Sebastian Ramn that addressed climate change as nature’s SOS, reaching out to creative communities and NGOs who may be in search of ways to get involved in any way possible.
More information at natureneeds.help
Keiran Whitaker, the chief executive of Entocycle, which takes so-called pre-consumer local food waste and feeds it to fly larvae, which eats the waste and converts it to protein. Andrew Testa for The New York Times
We believe in waste reduction as a key component of individual and community responsibility for securing the future. Our thanks to Tatiana Schlossberg for this:
If there’s one vital, but underappreciated, subject in the conversation about climate change, it’s waste: how to define it, how to create less of it, how to deal with it without adding more pollution to the planet or the atmosphere.
The issue has gained some acceptance, whether in the form of plastic straw bans or anxiety about e-commerce-related cardboard piling up.
But experts say these aren’t necessarily the biggest problems. Reducing the damage from waste might require expanding the traditional definition of waste — not just as old-fashioned garbage, but as a result of wild inefficiency in all kinds of systems, which often results in emissions of greenhouse gases, among other problems.
I have been reading the reviews, and interviews with the authors of this and two other important recent books covering similar territory. I have stopped worrying about overkill, because this is overkill territory. You cannot get too much perspective on this; the worry is too little, too late:
While the political tide could be turning on climate change, both writers worry that it is too late.
After years of languishing far down the list of voters’ priorities—for Democrats and even more so for Republicans—the desire for action on climate change has brought this issue to the top of many voters’ concerns, according to a CNN poll. Now Presidential candidates are competing to establish themselves as leaders on the issue, while children are making headlines for striking from school.
Bill McKibben, whose book “The End of Nature” brought the idea of global warming to public consciousness thirty years ago, tells David Remnick that the accumulation of weather catastrophes—droughts, wildfires, floods—may have finally made an impact. McKibben joined Elizabeth Kolbert in a conversation about the U.N.’s new report on species extinction. It finds that a million species could become extinct within a few decades, and that human life itself may be imperilled. While the political tide could be turning, both worry that it is too late. Continue reading
Mr. Gates sells about 60 of his own open-pollinated varieties, many with especially bright colors and unusual shapes, and shares growing tips online. Credit Wild Boar Farms
From our perspective, many agricultural “developments” deserve quotations. The Agricultural Industrial Complex of Monsanto and their ilk more frequently serve to further their own economic gain rather than preserve species or better the health and livelihoods of the farmer or consumer.
Preserving the genetics of fruit and vegetable species down to their paleo-botanical ancestry is an entirely different story, and may be our best chance to overcome the obstacles of harsher and harsher weather conditions.
Like other small farmers and researchers, Brad Gates is trying to ensure a future for the tomato by breeding hardier varieties and persuading more Americans to grow their own.
NAPA, Calif. — In a borrowed van, Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms sped south on Interstate 680 with hundreds of fuzzy tomato seedlings bumping around in the back, their trembling leaves, warmed by the sun, filling the cab with the smell of summer. It was one of a half-dozen deliveries on his to-do list.
Born and raised in Northern California, Mr. Gates has been organically farming tomatoes in the region for 25 years, working on small leased plots and introducing new varieties with cult followings, like the dark, meaty Black Beauty and the striped, rosy-pink Dragon’s Eye.
For most of that time, he sold his tomatoes to top restaurants, including Chez Panisse in Berkeley. But a few years ago he completely rethought his work. Galvanized by climate change, he joined a growing number of farmers who are trying to find a future for their threatened crops — in his case, the queen of the farmers’ market.
As Mr. Gates bred tomatoes, he noticed that many of his orange and yellow varieties were unusually heat-tolerant. Credit Wild Boar Farms
Mr. Gates now grows thousands of tomato plants each year, selling the young ones to local shops and the seeds all over the country through his website and catalogs, encouraging people to grow their own at home. He believes that the tomato’s survival and continued deliciousness depend on the plant’s diversity, and he considers breeding hardy, cold-tolerant and heat-tolerant varieties an essential part of his work — not just to provide food, but also to expand the number of places where the plant can flourish. Continue reading
A Pack Horse Librarian returning over the mountain side for a new supply of books (Part of Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, Kentucky Digital Library)
We’ve long held the belief that librarians are among the real life Super Heroes of society. The history of the Pack Horse Librarians may be new to us, but without doubt, they deserve a pinnacle spot in the pantheon.
There are both rural and urban communities in our country that continue to qualify as “at risk” related to the official support received for the public educational and cultural services that libraries represent. Some of the New Deal programs that helped millions of Americans survive the Great Depression seem advisable in the face of administrations that turn their backs on libraries and other equivalent cultural elements that helped make the country great.
During the Great Depression, a New Deal program brought books to Kentuckians living in remote areas
Pack Horse Librarians start down Greasy Creek to remote homes of mountaineers anxious for books. (Part of Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, Kentucky Digital Library)
Their horses splashed through iced-over creeks. Librarians rode up into the Kentucky mountains, their saddlebags stuffed with books, doling out reading material to isolated rural people. The Great Depression had plunged the nation into poverty, and Kentucky—a poor state made even poorer by a paralyzed national economy—was among the hardest hit.
The Pack Horse Library initiative, which sent librarians deep into Appalachia, was one of the New Deal’s most unique plans. The project, as implemented by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), distributed reading material to the people who lived in the craggy, 10,000-square-mile portion of eastern Kentucky. The state already trailed its neighbors in electricity and highways. And during the Depression, food, education and economic opportunity were even scarcer for Appalachians.
They also lacked books: In 1930, up to 31 percent of people in eastern Kentucky couldn’t read. Residents wanted to learn, notes historian Donald C. Boyd. Coal and railroads, poised to industrialize eastern Kentucky, loomed large in the minds of many Appalachians who were ready to take part in the hoped prosperity that would bring. “Workers viewed the sudden economic changes as a threat to their survival and literacy as a means of escape from a vicious economic trap,” writes Boyd.
This presented a challenge: In 1935, Kentucky only circulated one book per capita compared to the American Library Association standard of five to ten, writes historian Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer,. It was “a distressing picture of library conditions and needs in Kentucky,” wrote Lena Nofcier, who chaired library services for the Kentucky Congress of Parents and Teachers at the time. Continue reading
When we first became aware of Global Big Day it was just a week in advance of the first such event, and we scrambled to have the properties we managed in India do their part. A total of 253 countries participated that first year and at first glance it would seem dispiriting to realize that many fewer countries have participated since then: in 2016 the count dropped to 159; then in 2017 there were 163; last year there were 171; and this year 168 (recorded so far).
However, by other metrics spirits are easily lifted. I have focused only on one such metric, which is how many checklists were completed. This year’s totals are not in yet, but if you tally each prior year, the number of participants in this event has increased dramatically year on year. Last year there were nearly 30,000 more checklists than there were in 2015. Of course having more countries participate would be better. But having more people participating in all those other countries is a very good sign indeed.