Functioning Ecosystems Are Key To Our Future

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“How do we feed the nine billion?” Fiennes said. “Through functioning ecosystems.” Photograph by Siân Davey for The New Yorker

The title of this post, paraphrasing the subject of the profile below, states the obvious. Sometimes, that must be. Thank you, Sam Knight:

CAN FARMING MAKE SPACE FOR NATURE?

After Brexit, the obsessions of Jake Fiennes could change how Britain uses its land.

One day last summer, Jake Fiennes was lost in a cloud of butterflies. He was on a woodland path near Holkham Beach, on the north coast of Norfolk. Every decade or so, ten million painted-lady butterflies, which are orange, black, and white, migrate to Britain from tropical Africa. The hot summer meant that it was a bumper year for native species, too, and the painted ladies mingled with red admirals, peacocks, and common blues, feeding on bushes set back a few yards from the path. “Just sat in a haze of flittering, fluttering butterflies,” Fiennes told me later. “I was in awe. These flowers were just exploding.” Continue reading

Anything But Sweet

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Trees felled for a cocoa plantation inside the Scio Forest Reserve in western Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

Fred Pearce provides puzzling yet somehow understandable examinations of environmental challenges, that make it impossible to look away with a clear conscience. Since reading this (note the photo above and in that story) I have been paying more attention to chocolate and its origins. I appreciate Mr. Pearce’s deep dive into the dark reality documented in this story:

The Real Price of a Chocolate Bar: West Africa’s Rainforests

Ivory Coast has lost more than 80 percent of its forests in the last 50 years, mainly to cocoa production. The government has a plan to turn over management of former forest to international chocolate manufacturers: Is it a conservation strategy or a land grab?

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Workers cut cocoa in the Ivory Coast village of Godilehiri. Most of the country’s cocoa is grown by small farmers, on plots of 7 to 10 acres. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

How can you save the last rainforests from rampant deforestation in one of Africa’s most biodiverse countries? A crackdown on those responsible — in this case, chocolate growers and traders? In the Ivory Coast, the government thinks differently. It is unveiling a plan instead to remove protection from most of its remaining forests and hand them over to the world’s chocolate traders. Is this madness, a brutal land grab, or the only way out?

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A park ranger stands over illegally harvested cocoa, found during a routine patrol of the Cavally Classified Forest in Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

In the past half-century, few countries have lost rainforests as fast as the Ivory Coast. More than 80 percent of its forests are gone, most following an illegal invasion by as many as a million landless people into national parks and other supposedly protected forests. The Marahoue National Park alone has 30,000 illegal inhabitants. The invaders are growing cocoa to supply the global chocolate business.

The Ivory Coast, a West African country the size of New Mexico, produces more than a third of the world’s cocoa. The crop contributes around a tenth of the nation’s GDP. But around 40 percent of the country’s cocoa crop — more than a tenth of the world’s chocolate bars — is grown illegally in the country’s national parks and 230 supposedly protected government-owned forests, known as forêts classée, says Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth, a United States-based environmental group active in cataloging the footprint of key global commodities.

Most cocoa is grown in monocultures of what is known as the full-sun system, requiring the removal of all surrounding trees. Meeting the world’s insatiable demand for the beans that make chocolate has resulted in many protected areas being “completely converted to farms,” according to Eloi Anderson Bitty of the University Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan. Continue reading

Hill Culture Contemplation

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The Hutchison Memorial Hut, colloquially called the Hutchie Hut, illuminated by moonlight in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park. Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

How did Stephen Hiltner know? I was just looking through photos from the 2009 edition of the Patagonia Expedition Race, and remembering the huts along the way. They were perfect places to escape the realities of the rest of the world, in order to contemplate more clearly. With perspective. They could come in handy for plenty of folks these days, I am sure. Seems certain to me now that those huts at the southern tip of the South American continent were built by folks from the hills sampled in the story below:

In Britain, Enraptured by the Wild, Lonely and Remote

Rustic shelters called bothies — more than 100 of which are scattered throughout England, Wales and Scotland — are an indispensable, if little-known, element of British hill culture.

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Warnscale Head at night. Since bothies are often built with local stones, they’re easily camouflaged in their surrounding landscapes. Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

 

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Shenavall Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

By the time the tiny hut came into view, nestled high in a corrie in Scotland’s 1,748-square-mile Cairngorms National Park, I’d trekked for nearly nine miles, three of which, regrettably, I’d had to navigate after nightfall. The hike, through a broad valley in the Eastern Highlands called Glen Derry, carried me past groves of Scots pines and over a series of streams, some of which, lined with slick steppingstones, made for precarious crossings. All the while, two rows of smooth, eroded mountain peaks enclosed me in an amphitheater of muted colors: hazel-hued heather, golden grasses. Though much of my walk was solitary, the flickering glow in the hut’s main window, I knew, meant I’d have some company for the night and the warmth of a fire to greet me. Continue reading

Walking, Rights & Ways

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Going for an unremarkable walk in the English countryside has a lot in common with other old British freedoms. Everyone swears by it, though no one knows quite how it works. Photograph by Education Images / UIG / Getty

As someone who walks 5-10 miles most days, I am always looking for new things to think about, or to pay attention to during my walking. In the olden days I was left to my own thoughts and in recent days I am podcast-fueled. But some days I resist the earbuds and instead focus thought on a particular thing. One of my favorite pathways through the mountains where we live was fenced off in recent years, which already was on my mind before reading the article below. And I love the idea of an unremarkable walk, which my daily walks are, except that I have gotten to know most of the families who live in the mountains near us only by walking and having the chance to say hello. Which is a remarkable side benefit of trying to live now without owning a car. Thanks to Sam Knight for this other perspective on how to think about this thing:

The Search for England’s Forgotten Footpaths

Nineteen years ago, the British government passed one of its periodic laws to manage how people move through the countryside. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act created a new “right to roam” on common land, opening up three million acres of mountains and moor, heath and down, to cyclists, climbers, and dog walkers. It also set an ambitious goal: to record every public path crisscrossing England and Wales by January 1, 2026. The British Isles have been walked for a long time. They have been mapped, and mapped again, for centuries. But that does not mean that everything adds up, or makes sense. Between them, England and Wales have around a hundred and forty thousand miles of footpaths, of which around ten per cent are impassable at any time, with another ten thousand miles that are thought to have dropped off maps or otherwise misplaced. Finding them all again is like reconstructing the roots of a tree. In 2004, a government project, named Discovering Lost Ways, was given a fifteen-million-pound budget to solve the problem. It ended four years later, overwhelmed. “Lost Footpaths to Stay Lost,” the Daily Telegraph reported. Since then, despite the apparent impossibility of the task, the 2026 cutoff has remained on the statute books, leaving the job of finding and logging the nation’s forgotten paths to walkers, horse people, and other obsessives who can’t abide the muddled situation. Continue reading

The Picture From The Recent Climate Change Report Is Now More Clear

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Deniers, we already know you will find a way to see this from some other perspective, and we have given up trying to understand why you do that. But for everyone else, there is still time to understand the implications of this science. And there is no shame in using props to help learn. Thanks to Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich for making sure we get the point, with clear graphical illustration, about what this recent study is saying and why every one of us should care:

Heat

Extreme heat will be much more common worldwide under 2°C of warming compared to 1.5°C, with the tropics experiencing the biggest increase in the number of “highly unusual” hot days.

Read the rest of this graphics-rich story here.

Stopping To See Sunflowers

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Brad Bogle, left, and his father, Barry Bogle, standing in their sunflower field in Hamilton, Ont. They were forced to close their farm to visitors last weekend after selfie-taking tourists crowded roads.Credit J.P. Moczulski

Thanks to Laura M. Holson for this, specifically for making our Saturday a bit brighter:

A Sunflower Farm Invited Tourists. It Ended Up Like a ‘Zombie Apocalypse.’

Sunflower.jpgThis is a story about a good idea gone awry.

Two weeks ago, a Canadian seed farm in Hamilton, Ontario, opened its gates to visitors, allowing them to wander through 70 bucolic acres of towering, buoyant sunflowers. Provence may have its pastoral lavender fields. But Hamilton, which is an hour outside of Toronto, has its picturesque bloom too.

“For years, we’ve had people stopping alongside the road to take pictures,” said Brad Bogle, who, along with his parents, harvests sunflower seeds for bird food on their farm, Bogle Seeds. In the summer of 2015, the Bogles invited tourists to roam through the fields. They had such a swell time — and it was such a success — the family decided to welcome guests for a visit last month.

What could go wrong? Continue reading

Rewild The Uplands?

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Int2.jpgIntelligence Squared has an app that allows you to listen to their debates and lectures at your own convenience, on your phone or wherever, whenever you choose. If, like us, you have found the rewilding debate interesting, this is one you will want to listen to:

THE BATTLE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE: BRITAIN SHOULD REWILD ITS UPLANDS

Imagine if swathes of the British countryside were allowed to be wild once again, if trees and rare plants could flourish and beavers, boars and white-tailed eagles could retake their place in the ecosystem. That’s the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands. We tend to think of these uplands as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. But in fact, as the rewilders point out, they are entirely man-made, the result of clearances by man to make way for millions of sheep whose grazing over the last 200 years has rendered the land bare. Continue reading

Meanwhile, North Of The Border

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The Interior Secretary, one of President Trump’s most loyal allies, sees public lands as the key to an “energy-dominant” future. Photograph by Morgan Rachel Levy / Redux

Yesterday’s rich south of the border story is complemented, not flatteringly, by this note by Carolyn Kormann:

Ryan Zinke’s Great American Fire Sale

Not long ago, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, began distributing “vision cards” to its employees. The front of each card features the B.L.M. logo (a river winding into green foothills); short descriptions of the Bureau’s “vision,” “mission,” and “values”; and an oil rig. On the flip side is a list of “guiding principles,” accompanied by an image of two cowboys riding across a golden plain. Amber Cargile, a B.L.M. spokeswoman, told me that the new cards are meant to reflect the agency’s “multiple-use mission on working landscapes across the West, which includes grazing, energy, timber, mining, recreation, and many other programs.” Individual employees, she added, can opt to wear or display the cards at their own discretion. But, according to the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which obtained photos of the cards and shared them with the Washington Post, supervisors in at least two B.L.M. field offices have been verbally “advising that employees must clip them to their lanyards.” Some workers, speaking to the Post anonymously, said that they felt they had no choice but to comply. Continue reading

Protecting the High Seas Commons

 

A school of bluefin tuna in a fishery tow cage. Countries around the world have begun to negotiate a treaty that would create marine protected areas in waters beyond national jurisdiction. Credit Paul Sutherland/National Geographic, via Getty Images

Still a long way to go and many tough issues to be resolved but a good start…

Nations Will Start Talks to Protect Fish of the High Seas

More than half of the world’s oceans belong to no one, which often makes their riches ripe for plunder.

Now, countries around the world have taken the first step to protect the precious resources of the high seas. In late July, after two years of talks, diplomats at the United Nations recommended starting treaty negotiations to create marine protected areas in waters beyond national jurisdiction — and in turn, begin the high-stakes diplomatic jostling over how much to protect and how to enforce rules.

“The high seas are the biggest reserve of biodiversity on the planet,” Peter Thomson, the ambassador of Fiji and current president of the United Nations General Assembly, said in an interview after the negotiations. “We can’t continue in an ungoverned way if we are concerned about protecting biodiversity and protecting marine life.”

Without a new international system to regulate all human activity on the high seas, those international waters remain “a pirate zone,” Mr. Thomson said. Continue reading

Cod Recovery Is A Redemption Story

 

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David Milne, skipper of the MSC-certified trawler Adorn, holds a cod in Peterhead fish market. Photograph: Eleanor Church/Marine Stewardship Council

Cod seems as good as any other creature to feature in a redemption story. The editor of the Environment section at the Guardian shares good news on one lucky population of cod that got the attention they needed, seemingly just in time:

Sustainable British cod on the menu after stocks recover

A recovery from near total collapse has led North Sea cod stocks to be labelled as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council for the first time in 20 years Continue reading

The Greatest Idea, Dumbed Down

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The Majestic Yosemite Hotel in Yosemite National Park. The facility had to be rebranded after a private concessionaire trademarked the previous name and common phrases like “Yosemite National Park.” Photograph: Handout

We have seen this movie before. It does not end well:

As Trump moves to privatize America’s national parks, visitor costs may rise

Some are concerned that the proposed privatization of some public park services would drive up costs for visitors and fail to raise enough for repairs Continue reading

Rancher’s Life In The High Plains

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The scale of the cattle farming at Gallon Jug is modest compared with the tradition of grazing on public lands typical of ranching in the western USA. But they share some common ground such as the horse-based cowboy (note below that women are also in the saddle in some places such as Montana). Something not discussed in the ideological battles over public lands that got to a boiling point in the last couple years–the intangible patrimony of a way of life–is worth a couple minutes of your consideration and this article lays it out, part of a series the Guardian is running:

In Montana, land transfer threatens the American rancher’s way of life

Ranchers in the west have been struggling for decades. Now a new threat looms: public land might be taken away from them Continue reading

Community, Collaboration & Conservation in Mozambique

Thanks to contributor Phil Karp for sharing this great example of how peer-peer knowledge exchange can help to replicate and scale up innovative solutions.

For communities, by communities

Experience from around the world shows that managing fisheries and marine resources works best when responsibility is placed in the hands of local communities. This is particularly true in low-income countries, where there is often limited capacity and infrastructure for fisheries management and conservation.

Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) are areas of ocean managed by coastal communities to help protect fisheries and safeguard marine biodiversity. Found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical seas, and encompassing diverse approaches to management and governance, their sizes and contexts vary widely, but all share the common theme of placing local communities at the heart of management.

Continue reading

Seed Vault Deposit

We have shared a couple times in the past about the seed vault, but just now it has come to our attention again in this press release from last month, provided by The Crop Trust, which reminds us of the meta-agriculturalist Cary Fowler, whose 2009 Ted talk is worth another quarter hour after a quarter hour on the short film above:

MAJOR DEPOSIT TO WORLD’S LARGEST SEED COLLECTION IN THE ARCTIC OVERSEEN BY THE CROP TRUST | GOPRO SUPPORTS CROP TRUST WITH NEW VIDEO AND PLEDGE DRIVE

SVALBARD, NORWAY – 22 February 2017A major seed deposit critical to ensuring global food security was made to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle today. Continue reading

Art as Public Domain

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft)

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
by Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, Delft 1632–1675 Delft)

In these current times when Art, Culture and Civility appear to be under constant attack, news that museums and galleries – both private and public – are opening their virtual archives of Public Domain artworks to be just that, public, is newsworthy.

For example, a click on the image to the left takes viewers to the Metropolitan Museum’s website that includes not only the full details of the painting (description, catalogue entry, provenance and exhibition history, etc.), but also a hyperlink to a map of the gallery where viewers can find the actual painting, and related objects within the museum’s vast collection.

We’re happy to know that museums, whether virtual or physical, still provide inclusive space to breathe deep.

Met Museum Makes 375,000 Images Free

Continue reading

Nestle, No Thanks

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“The issue is the privatization of a critical resource. How much is too much?” said Jeff Ostahowski, vice president of the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.Steven Depolo / Flickr

If the company’s history was full of better examples of environmental stewardship and social responsibility, maybe this news would not disturb us so much:

Nestlé Plans Dramatic Expansion of Water Privatization in Michigan, Just 120 Miles From Flint

By Lauren McCauley

The state of Michigan has reportedly issued preliminary approval for bottled water behemoth Nestlé to nearly triple the amount of groundwater it will pump, to be bottled and sold at its Ice Mountain plant, which lies roughly 120 miles northwest of the beleaguered community of Flint.

“Nestlé Waters North America is asking the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for permission to increase allowed pumping from 150 to 400 gallons-per-minute at one of its production wells north of Evart,” MLive reported on Monday. Continue reading

Please Do Not Close The Door, Iceland

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The Northern Lights above the ash plume of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano Lucas Jackson / Reuters

We have had a thing for Iceland for a few years now, mainly due to Seth’s honors thesis. But none of us currently contributing to this blog have actually been there, yet. There is a plan in the air, very vaguely, for several of us to meet up there one day soon. Thanks to writers such as the Atlantic‘s Feargus O’Sullivan, and our own ongoing discussion on travel conundrums, we are not rushing into the plan, but contemplating it in back burner mode. We know we cannot wait forever:

Iceland vs. Tourists

It’s not easy fitting 1.2 million annual visitors onto an island of 330,000 residents.

Science Cannot Serve Two Masters

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A fishing dragger hauls in a net full of Atlantic cod, yellowtail flounder and American lobster off the coast of New England. Greenpeace says Ray Hilborn, a prominent fisheries scientist known for challenging studies that show declines in fish populations, failed to fully disclose industry funding on some of his scientific papers. Jeff Rotman/Getty Images

Go to the dictionary, or notes from a science course you might have taken, to be reminded of the definition of how this body of knowledge operates, and the importance of avoiding bias is evident. When it relates to the survival or collapse of species, avoiding bias seems even more important than the definition implies. Science serves the interest of objective, verifiable truth; not economic or political interests (thanks to National Public Radio, USA):

Fisheries Scientist Under Fire For Undisclosed Seafood Industry Funding

A prominent and outspoken fisheries scientist at the University of Washington is under attack from Greenpeace for not disclosing industry funding in several scientific papers stretching back to 2006. Continue reading

More Reasons For A Plant-Dominated Diet

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Global fish catches rose from the 1950s to 1996 as fishing fleets expanded and discovered new fish stocks to exploit. Photograph: Eyal Warshavsky/Corbis

We serve fish. We love fish. We love fish too much, all of us. Every day we get more evidence of the logic for shifting more of our diet to be plant-based, and this article in today’s Guardian adds one more powerful data point:

Overfishing causing global catches to fall three times faster than estimated

Landmark new study that includes small-scale, subsistence and illegal fishing shows a strong decline in catches as more fisheries are exhausted

Global fish catches are falling three times faster than official UN figures suggest, according to a landmark new study, with overfishing to blame. Continue reading

Short Essay On The Commons

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ILLUSTRATION BY CHRISTOPH NIEMANN

Several times since 2011 I have referenced my doctoral dissertation, which addressed the “tragedy of the commons,” in these pages. Seth, during his study on the history of environmentalism movements, has also posted on this concept. Now, , excellent writer of one page essays explaining complex economic issues, takes a recent odd news item and helps us understand the role of government in regulating the use of the commons:

Ammon Bundy, the leader of the armed militia that stormed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in Oregon, has a simple solution for fixing the economy of the West: get the federal government out of the way. His group’s chief demand is that the federal government hand over all of Malheur to local control. The ultimate goal, he says, is “to get the logger back to logging, to get the rancher back to ranching, to get the miner back to mining.” Bundy’s tactics make him easy to dismiss as a kook, but his ideology is squarely in the mainstream of Western conservatism, with its hostility to government ownership, skepticism about environmental rules, and conviction that individual enterprise is being strangled by government regulations. Continue reading