Graphic Artists & Ecological Education

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

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

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

Farms & Non-Farms For Our Future

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Critics note that flawed strategies have encouraged tree farms, such as this oil palm plantation in Costa Rica. SHUTTERSTOCK

Richard Conniff explains why tree farms, like the one pictured above, are not part of the solution to climate change, whereas abandoned ancient farms like the one picture below may be part of the solution:

Could Abandoned Agricultural Lands Help Save the Planet?

Agriculture’s global footprint is decreasing — more land globally is now being abandoned by farming than converted to it. This, some researchers contend, presents an opportunity for ecological restoration that could help fight climate change and stem the loss of biodiversity.

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The town of Castro Laboreiro, Portugal, where former grazing lands have reverted to nature. ANTONIO LOMBA/FLICKR

People have lived in Castro Laboreiro, where northern Portugal borders Spain, long enough to have built megaliths in the mountainous countryside and a pre-Romanesque church, from 1,100 years ago, in the village itself. But the old rural population has dwindled away, leaving behind mostly elders yearning for their vanishing culture. Continue reading

Wildlife Conservation Society and Nyungwe

A view from inside Nyungwe National Park

When I came into the master of environmental management program at Yale FES, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) wasn’t really on my radar as a big international conservation NGO — other names like the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, or Flora and Fauna International came to mind first. As I started to learn about the biodiversity hotspot of East Africa’s Albertine Rift, however, WCS programs and technical reports started to come up more and more, and the professional experience shared by my professors Amy and Bill in their class (Building a Conservation Toolkit: From Project Design to Evaluation) led to many discussions about their work with WCS.

As part of the Rwanda Study Tour, we met with WCS employees in Kigali and two towns neighboring Nyungwe National Park called Gisakura and Kitabi. These Rwandans, some of whom had been with the NGO for over fifteen years, told us about the conservation efforts carried out by WCS in the region, much of which revolves around capacity building, scientific monitoring, and community education and engagement. For example, since the nineties WCS has been recording phenological data from native trees and vegetation in Nyungwe, which can be a valuable reference for seasonal variations in plants affected by climate change. WCS has also trained park rangers on different data collection methods that have improved monitoring systems in the park to document cases of poaching efforts such as wire snares, which are still a major threat to the small forest antelopes that live in Nyungwe.

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

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

In Case Of Emergency, Plant Trees

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Fox Maple Woods in Wisconsin. JOSHUA MAYER / FLICKR

Emergency? The evidence is clear in the case of the environment, and it is a global emergency with a global solution. Thanks to Yale e360 for this summary of a new finding:

Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees Could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find

There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. Continue reading

I’d Like To Spend Some Time In Mozambique

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Wild dogs, apex predators missing from Gorongosa National Park for decades, have been reintroduced and are slowly making a comeback, part of an ongoing experiment in reviving the park ecosystem after years of devastating war. Credit Brett Kuxhausen/Gorongosa Media, via Associated Press

Thanks to one of our favorite science writers, the ever-optimistic Natalie Angier, for this note of hope:

In Mozambique, a Living Laboratory for Nature’s Renewal

At Gorongosa National Park, scarred by civil war, scientists are answering fundamental questions about ecology and evolution, and how wildlife recovers from devastation.

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Baboons and sharptooth catfish in the Mussicadzi River in the park during the dry season. The baboons in Gorongosa are brazen and plentiful, as there aren’t many leopards to keep them in check. Credit Piotr Naskrecki & Jen Guyton/NPL/Minden Pictures

GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK, MOZAMBIQUE — The 14 African wild dogs were ravenous, dashing back and forth along the fence of their open-air enclosure, or boma, bouncing madly on their pogo-stick legs, tweet-yipping their distinctive wild-dog calls, and wagging their bushy, white-tipped tails like contestants on a game show desperate to be seen.

Since arriving at the park three months earlier, as they acclimated to their new setting and forged the sort of immiscible bonds that make Lycaon pictus one of the most social mammals in the world, the dogs had grown accustomed to a daily delivery of a freshly killed antelope to feast on. Continue reading

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading

Global Problems, Forests & Solutions

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Thomas E. Lovejoy a pioneer in the use of economics to conserve forests and other ecosystems globally is joined by John Reid, who has worked in the Amazon since 1965, in presenting a case for:

How Big Forests Solve Global Problems

Sit on a log by the Madidi River in Bolivia at dusk and you can hear what an Amazon forest should sound like. The music includes red howler monkeys, breathy thumps from the mutum jungle fowl, droning cicadas, eerie calls locals attribute to deadly bushmaster vipers and the unhinged excitement of elusive titi monkeys. Around your feet, the beach is crisscrossed by jaguar tracks and those of the pony-size tapir, a shy beast that, if you keep quiet, will saunter out of the forest and swim across the river.

This is what scientists call an “intact forest landscape.” It’s a swath of at least 500 square kilometers (about 193 square miles, equal to 70,000 soccer fields) of unbroken forest. Because of their size, these areas have maintained all their native plant and animal life and biophysical processes. These forests still adorn parts of our planet’s tropical midsection, notably the Amazon, Congo Basin and the island of New Guinea. And they form a northern belt, the boreal forests of Canada, Russia, Alaska and Scandinavia. Continue reading

Biodiversity From Another Perspective

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ILLUSTRATION BY LUISA RIVERA/YALE E360

Thanks to Jim Robbins at Yale 360 for this:

Beyond Biodiversity: A New Way of Looking at How Species Interconnect

In a development that has important implications for conservation, scientists are increasingly focusing not just on what species are present in an ecosystem, but on the roles that certain key species play in shaping their environment. Continue reading

Keeping Species Populations Healthy

 

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Lion cubs in Kenya. Radu Sigheti / Reuters

At Chan Chich Lodge we are aware that the half million acres of forest surrounding us are essential habitat not just for the specific jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays and jaguarundis we have the good fortune to see with some frequency. Rather, that scale of acreage is essential for species survival. We are in a large forest corridor that is increasingly rare and unfortunately fragile in other locations throughout the Americas where they still exist. We do what we do with that in mind. Thanks to Ed Yong, at the Atlantic, for this context on extinction:

Imagine if every animal and plant on the planet collapsed into a single population each, says ecologist Gerardo Ceballos. If lions disappeared except from one small corner of Kenya, the prey they keep in check would run amok everywhere else. If sparrows were no more except in one Dutch forest, the seeds that sparrows disperse would stay in place everywhere else. If honeybees became isolated to one American meadow, the flowers that they pollinate would fail to reproduce everywhere else. None of those species would be extinct per se, “but we’d still be in very bad shape,” says Ceballos. Continue reading

A Metric For Reinvention

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Click above for 26 minutes of intelligent contemplation. Neuroscience meets environmentalism. He was a New York Times science writer, then the author of one of the most influential nonfiction books of recent decades. Now, he is the gift that keeps on giving:

Daniel Goleman

One way a systems perspective could help with the environmental crisis is through understanding that we have a very narrow range of affordances, the choices presented to us. Continue reading

Optimal Mangrove

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Photo: NASA

Thanks to Anthropocene’s Brandon Keim for the summary and insights from  Mangroves optimized: How to make coastal habitats sequester even more carbon:

Of all the carbon buried in the floors of Earth’s oceans, most of it is found in the narrow strip of tidal marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves along their edge. Known as blue carbon ecosystems, these vegetated coastal habitats “occupy only 0.2% of the ocean surface, yet contribute 50% of the total amount of carbon buried in marine sediments,” write researchers, led by Deakin University ecologist Peter Macreadie, in the journal Frontiers in Ecology in the Environment. Meter for meter, they’re some of the most effective carbon storage systems we have. But could people make them even more effective? Continue reading

Ranching, Recovery & Reason

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If you missed this post, it is worth a read for perspective either before or after the story below, and even if you do not read the story below that one should not be missed. Thanks to Cool Green Science:

Ridding the West of cattle remains a priority for some organizations and individuals. “Ranching,” the director of one prominent group told High Country News, is among “the most nihilistic lifestyles this planet has ever seen. Ranching should end. Good riddance.” Another group charges that ranching causes “desertification.” Another proclaims that “grazing spreads weeds.” Still another cites as a “myth” that “profitable livestock production and ecological preservation can coexist.” Continue reading

Osage Nation’s Reign Of Terror

20253bbcb2dd6c45dd81207b5472e853c352bbd3Many of our links to the too many stories of injustice perpetrated against Native Americans in the last year had to do with pipelines.  Some stories focus on the positive, but there remains plenty of negative. The only time we have noted the Osage Nation in these pages, it was under the happier circumstances of someone doing the right thing by them.

David Grann’s new book is being reviewed, and he is being interviewed, just as one of his earlier articles has become a powerhouse cinematic experience. He is our kind of sleuth, and so it is strange that we have not linked to his work before. Thanks to Theodore Ross in the New Republic for bringing this to our attention:

…In the early 1900s, the Osage were among the wealthiest people in the United States, after a large oil reservoir was discovered beneath the barren Oklahoma scrubland they had been driven to by white settlers and the federal government. Then tragedy: a string of murders, each following close on the heels of the next, as a bloody plot to separate the Osage from their money and land unfolded.

Grann tells the story of these murders, the conspirators, and the new breed of lawmen from the FBI who hunted them down. He also reveals a far worse scheme, one that encompasses America’s institutional racism and violence, and the exploitation of Native Americans… Continue reading

Footprint Improvements

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Believe it or not, there is some good news out there on the carbon footprint trail. Thanks to Mathis Wackernagel, whose work I have appreciated even without posting more since 2011, and to his whole team for sharing this:

Ecological Footprint Explorer Open Data Platform Launches April 5, 2017

The US per capita Ecological Footprint dropped nearly 20% during the last eight years of available data (2005 and 2013), a total reduction that matches the entire Footprint of Germany. Continue reading

Mangroves Need Intent And Action

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Image: Irish Typepad / Flickr

Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary by Brandon Keim of new scientific findings showing that Good intentions alone won’t grow new mangroves:

Perhaps no single ecosystem is more emblematic of nature’s benefits to humans than mangrove forests. Lining tropical and subtropical coastlines worldwide, they’re nurseries for countless species and protect inland areas from hurricanes and storms. They’re an environmental feature beyond our wildest technical capacities. Continue reading

Tropical Peatland & Carbon Storage

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The remote Cuvette Centrale peatlands in the central Congo basin is one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth. Photograph: Simon Lewis/University of Leeds

This story was also covered in the New York Times, but the Guardian had a jump on the scoop, and included a photo (above) that more effectively helps to understand peat’s role in carbon capture; so we feature their story here:

World’s largest tropical peatland found in Congo basin

Carbon-rich peatlands could store three years’ worth of world’s total fossil fuel emissions, say scientists Continue reading

Walden Pond’s Enduring Lessons

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Kevin Hooyman

When a professor does years of research and teaching on a topic related to this particular pond, and then takes the additional effort to share his observations in cogent form as an op-ed, we believe it is worth at least 5-10 minutes of reading time:

What the Muck of Walden Pond Tells Us About Our Planet

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In 1845, Henry David Thoreau repaired to a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.” During the last two years, my students and I have come to that same pond to see what we could learn from the sediments beneath it. Continue reading

Tree Elders & Drought

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Giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada range can grow to be 250 feet tall — or more. John Buie/Flickr

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA):

How Is A 1,600-Year-Old Tree Weathering California’s Drought?

It’s been a brutal forest fire season in California. But there’s actually a greater threat to California’s trees — the state’s record-setting drought. The lack of water has killed at least 60 million trees in the past four years.

Scientists are struggling to understand which trees are most vulnerable to drought and how to keep the survivors alive. To that end, they’re sending human climbers and flying drones into the treetops, in a novel biological experiment. Continue reading