Leave Robinson Crusoe Island Be

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A 1758 map of Robinson Crusoe Island. Photograph: Antiqua Print Gallery/Alamy Stock Photo

A treasure like this, irresistible as gold may be, must remain a thing of the imagination wherever it is buried.

Chile under fire over treasure hunter’s plan to unearth legendary pirate hoard

Archaeologists and environmentalists condemn proposal to use heavy machinery to seek 18th-century trove

The quest for a fabled treasure trove containing jewels, gold and original Incan artifacts – and believed to have been buried on a South Pacific island by 18th century Spanish pirates – could be about to reach its dramatic conclusion.

But the decision to allow a Dutch American textiles magnate to use heavy machinery to dig on Chile’s sparsely populated Juan Fernández Islands has sparked an outraged response from archaeologists and environmentalists.

“The motive is profit, not archaeological interest,” said Alejandra Vidal, the representative of the Chilean College of Archaeologists on the National Monuments Council. “Given the equipment that will be used, there’s a very real risk of artifacts being lost or damaged in the process.”

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‘The motive is profit, not archaeological interest,’ says an archaeologist. Photograph: Svea Pietschmann/Alamy Stock Photo

Bernard Keiser, who has been searching for the hoard for more than two decades, has been granted permission to excavate a 400 sq metre plot near Puerto Inglés on Robinson Crusoe Island, one of the three main volcanic islets that make up the Juan Fernández Archipelago 600 miles off the Chilean coast. Continue reading

Organikos & Fair Trade

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Fairtrade tea producers in Malawi. Photograph: Chris Terry/Fairtrade

We are weeks away from launching two shops that will carry a dozen varieties of Organikos coffee, a fair trade selection among them. Fair trade coffee has been selling well to the people who visit Costa Rica and want to support its sustainable development. We will also offer an organic coffee, which sales data show to be approximately twice as popular as fair trade among these same visitors. We are committed to these two forms of certification for reasons that should be clear from the eight years and thousands of posts on this platform.

But we also believe that all our coffee selections should be chosen by us using ethical criteria, and that the people buying these coffees care more and more about these criteria precisely because those certification programs have had an impact. The Guardian on occasion publishes an article like this one by Samanth Subramanian, who has an eye for important puzzles, that challenges our assumptions in very useful ways:

Is fair trade finished?

Fairtrade changed the way we shop. But major companies have started to abandon it and set up their own in-house imitations – threatening the very idea of fair trade.

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UK supermarket with Fairtrade bananas. Photograph: Sean Spencer/Alamy

It wasn’t very long ago that a banana was just a banana – just a curved, yellow fruit. All you knew, if you bought a bunch in 1986, was that they cost around 97p per kilo. You weren’t told if they were organic or pesticide-free. You didn’t know if they came from Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. And you certainly weren’t invited to worry about the farmers who grew them – or if their children went to school, or whether their villages had clinics. You just picked up your bananas and walked to the next aisle for your coffee or tea or chocolate, none the wiser about where they came from either, or about the people who farmed them.

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Fairtrade cocoa farmers in Ghana, Africa. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

Back then, the countries that grew these commodities and many others were still known as the Third World, and the habit of not caring about their farming conditions was a legacy of their colonial past. For centuries, trade propelled the colonial project, and exploitation was its very purpose. The farmers of Asia, Africa and South America were forced to raise the crops that the empire’s companies wanted, to work the crops in abject conditions, and to part with them at ruinously low prices. In the last century, the empires melted away but the trade remained lopsided – with the imbalance now rationalised by the market, which deemed it “efficient” to pay farmers as little as possible. In the 1970s, a Ghanaian cocoa farmer often received less than 10 cents out of every dollar his beans earned on the commodities market; as a proportion of the retail price of a chocolate bar, his take was smaller still. Child labour was common. The chocolate companies prospered and their customers shopped well; the farmers stayed poor.

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Human tea bags protest outside Sainsbury’s AGM. Photograph: Andy Aitchison / Oxfam

Then, in the late 1980s, you began to hear more about these farmers, encountering their stories on television or in newspapers or even on the labels of the packages you bought. The reasons were manifold. Environmental awareness was on the rise. The prices of some commodities were crashing, placing agricultural incomes in even more acute peril than usual. There had already been small groups pushing for more equitable trade: “little do-good shops scattered in cities around Europe, selling products … bought at fair prices directly from small producers abroad”, as one pioneer described it. By the early 1990s, these disparate initiatives began to coalesce into a larger international struggle to radically reform our relationship with what we bought. Trade had long been unfair by design, but now there was a growing movement to make consumers care about that unfairness, and even to help rectify it. Continue reading

Tim Wu’s New Book, The Curse Of Bigness

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In my occasional posts about Amazon over the past few years, it is becoming clear to me that I am concerned about the dangers that come from some of the foundational principles of business management, such as excellent customer service, and scale. I have not read his new book yet, but I listen to and read Tim Wu whenever I see an opportunity. His publisher has this to say:

So, I look forward to learning more about it. Today’s episode of The Daily has useful commentary on Amazon-related topics. Thanks to David Leonhardt for bringing Tim Wu’s new book to my attention:

The Monopolization of America

In one industry after another, big companies have become more dominant over the past 15 years, new data show.

The popular telling of the Boston Tea Party gets something wrong. The colonists were not responding to a tax increase. They were responding to the Tea Act of 1773, which granted a tea monopoly in the colonies to the well-connected East India Company. Merchants based in the Americas would be shut out of the market.

Many colonists, already upset about taxation without representation and other indignities, were enraged. In response, dozens of them stormed three ships in Boston Harbor on the night of Dec. 16, 1773, and tossed chests of East India tea — “that worst of plagues, the detested tea,” as one pamphlet put it — into the water.

A major spark for the American Revolution, then, was a protest against monopoly. Continue reading

Waterways, Persons & Rights

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The free-flowing Baker River in Chile’s Patagonia region. Permits for a major hydroelectric project on the waterway were revoked in 2014 amid protests. LOUIS VEST/FLICKR

Dams in Patagonia are the gift that keep on giving, in terms of awakening activism and forcing raised awareness of the value of waterways. I first mentioned my experience in Chile here. I came back to the idea a few more times. Thanks to Jens Benohr and Patrick Lynch for this reminder, and for letting us all know where this seems headed from a legal point of view:

Should Rivers Have Rights? A Growing Movement Says It’s About Time

Inspired by indigenous views of nature, a movement to grant a form of legal “personhood” to rivers is gaining some ground — a key step, advocates say, in reversing centuries of damage inflicted upon the world’s waterways.

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A Chilean energy company is seeking permits to restart the building of an unfinished dam along the San Pedro River. CARLOS LASTRA

Chile is a land of rivers. Along its narrow 3,000-mile length, thousands of rivers and wetlands bring freshwater and nutrients down from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Together, these river systems drain 101 major watersheds that support both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, ranging from arid lands in the north to blue whale nurseries off of Patagonia in the south.

Chile’s second-longest river, the 240-mile Biobío, once tumbled fast and wild through deep gorges and spectacular scenery on its way from the Andes to the sea. The Biobío was one of the world’s great whitewater rafting venues — until the 1990s, when the first of three large hydroelectric dams was built across the river. Over the past two decades, the Biobío dams have flooded more than 13,000 acres, displaced hundreds of families of the indigenous Mapuche people, turned long stretches of this once-unruly river into placid reservoirs, and caused abrupt fluctuations in water levels that have wrecked nesting habitat for native birds and disrupted the river’s natural rhythms. Continue reading

Compassion, Conservation & Charisma

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ILLUSTRATION BY LUISA RIVERA/YALE E360

Charismatic megafauna are impossible to resist caring about. Charismatic microfauna, or flora, less so. Yet more than two decades of experience in Costa Rica have taught us to appreciate the latter more than we did before. That is a function of science leading the way in conservation efforts in this small country, followed by a new form of tourism that we have been working in since the mid-1990s. That new form leveraged the skills of biologists as guides who provide interpretive experiences in the rainforest and other ecosystems, making a walk in the woods that much more interesting. So this story below catches my attention. It focuses on another small pioneering country that I have long studied from afar, admired, but not yet visited. Thanks to Brandon Keim and his colleagues at Yale Environment 360, for this story that motivates me to make that visit:

Do Conservation Strategies Need to Be More Compassionate?

Some scientists and ethicists are criticizing traditional conservation strategies, which they say focus on saving valued species while discounting the lives of less charismatic animals. Will these advocates of “compassionate conservation” point the way to new approaches, or are they simply being naïve?

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Volunteers for New Zealand’s Predator Free by 2050 campaign in front of predator traps, which are available for the public to borrow. NEW ZEALAND DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION

At a moment of best-selling animal intelligence books and headlines about songbird language and grieving elephants, it’s easy to forget that nonhuman minds were until recently considered — by most serious-minded scientists, anyway — to be quite simple.

Well into this millennium, animal consciousness was regularly dismissed as either nonexistent or profoundly dissimilar to our own. Animals were considered “conscious in the sense of being under stimulus control,” as the famed psychologist B.F. Skinner opined so neatly in 1974, expressing a conventional wisdom that dated to the zoological musings of Aristotle. The notion of animals as thinking, feeling beings was relegated to the edges of serious discourse.

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Signs opposing New Zealand’s use of landscape-scale poisoning campaigns to eradicate non-native predators, such as rats and weasels. ELI DUKE/FLICKR

Those days are past, buried by an avalanche of scientific findings and history-of-science critiques. More people than ever worry about the welfare of farmed animals; pets are practically citizens; and wild animals too are increasingly regarded as beings with whom people share fundamental aspects of inner life. Yet in some places, that mind-denying legacy survives — including, say a small but vocal number of scientists, ethicists, and animal welfare activists, in conservation. In their eyes, the discipline devoted to protecting Earth’s life has a certain blind spot to the animals themselves. Continue reading

With Gene-Altering Schemes, Be Careful What You Wish For

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The short-tailed weasel, or stoat, decimated native bird populations after it was introduced to New Zealand. Altering the genes of invasive animals might save threatened species, scientists said, but could also have devastating consequences. Credit DeAgostini, via Getty Images

Two days ago we were intrigued by the notion; today, not so much. Is it a cat fight between two of the science writers most often linked to in these pages? Or perhaps it is an example of how scientific consensus is built:

‘Gene Drives’ Are Too Risky for Field Trials, Scientists Say

In 2013, scientists discovered a new way to precisely edit genes — technology called Crispr that raised all sorts of enticing possibilities. Scientists wondered if it might be used to fix hereditary diseases, for example, or to develop new crops.

One of the more intriguing ideas came from Kevin M. Esvelt and his colleagues at Harvard University: Crispr, they suggested, could be used to save endangered wildlife from extinction by implanting a fertility-reducing gene in invasive animals — a so-called gene drive. Continue reading

Coral Larvae To The Rescue, Thanks To Marine Biologists

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A researcher used a pipette to release coral larvae into trays to encourage settlement and growth. Credit David Maurice Smith for The New York Times

This feature story suggests that even as we stress nature on a global scale, there are creative scientists working on fixes for particular challenges:

Building a Better Coral Reef

As reefs die off, researchers want to breed the world’s hardiest corals in labs and return them to the sea to multiply. The effort raises scientific and ethical questions. Continue reading

A Food Writer & The Shock Of The New

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Food has recently returned to the center of our attention, and in the outback of Belize we have had some lovely surprises. An unexpected essay, from one of the food world’s most prominent writers, gives another view altogether from the USA:

The New Foodieism

To care about food now is to care about the future of this country.

By Mark Bittman

Like many of us, I spent the winter muddling through a mental miasma, pondering the meaning of life and democracy. I did, of course, think about “food” — how it’s produced, marketed, discussed, consumed, and so on — during my self-imposed hiatus from near-constant writing, which began more than 18 months ago. Continue reading

To Bait Or Not To Bait, A Debate

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A great gray looks up after plunging into the snow, while hunting north of Two Harbors, Minn. The great gray is one of the world’s largest species of owl. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

We have never had, nor can I picture us having this debate at Chan Chich Lodge or any other wildlife setting we are responsible for managing; nonetheless, since we all live in glass houses of one sort or another, it is worth a moment to read this and ponder (thanks to Dan Kraker and Minnesota Public Radio, USA):

Earlier this winter, photographer Michael Furtman was driving along the North Shore of Lake Superior in search of great gray owls. Several of the giant, elusive birds had flown down from Canada looking for food.

He pulled off on a dirt road where he had seen an owl the night before. One was there, perched in a spruce tree, but so was a pair of videographers filming them.

“I backed off, I was going to just let them have their time with the bird,” Furtman says. “And then I saw them run out and put a mouse on the snow.” Continue reading

Model Mad, NPS

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Redwood national park in California. Photograph: Jeffrey Schwartz/Alamy

We like what we see of the madly determined folks risking their professional careers in the interest of the environment and social justice:

National Park Service climate change Twitter campaign spreads to other parks

A day after three climate-related tweets sent out by Badlands National Park were deleted, other park accounts have sent out tweets that appear to defy Trump

The National Park Service employees’ Twitter campaign against Donald Trump spread to other parks on Wednesday, with tweets on climate change and a reminder that Japanese Americans were forcibly interned in camps and parks during the second world war.

A day after three climate-related tweets sent out by Badlands National Park were deleted, other park accounts have sent out tweets that appear to defy Trump. One, by Redwood national park in California, notes that redwood groves are nature’s number one carbon sink, which capture greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming…

…Golden Gate national park in California said in a tweet that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third year in a row. The tweet directed readers to a report by Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as Noaa…

…The tweets went beyond climate change.

Death Valley national park tweeted photos of Japanese Americans interned there during the second world war, a message that some saw as objecting to Trump’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country and a proposal to restrict the flow of refugees to the United States…

Read the whole story here.

Mad, Yes

0115-bks-ivorytower-blog427-v3As we approach our 8,000th post on this platform we realize that for the nearly six years we have been posting there was plenty of hopeful, helpful news related to community, collaboration and conservation–the themes we committed ourselves to at  the outset.

Times seem different now, to state the obvious. And yes we are “mad” about what is happening around us. Madly determined. It will take discipline to remain focused and find the news that fits our purpose here. But we intend to.

The point has not been to ignore the bad news, of which there has been plenty in recent years, but to share a few notices each day that highlight better news. Or possible solutions. The spirit of our intent, which has been to support “the fight” as needed but remain civil to the end, is captured well in this book review:

How to Be Civil in an Uncivil World

By

Raduan Nassar, Back To The Land

9780811226561On January 31st, 2017 New Directions Publishing is bringing this masterpiece, published originally in Brazil in 1984, to an English-reading audience for the first time:

For André, a young man growing up on a farm in Brazil, life consists of “the earth, the wheat, the bread, our table, and our family.” He loves the land, fears his austere, pious father, who preaches from the head of the table as if from a pulpit, and loathes himself as he begins to harbor shameful feelings for his sister Ana. Lyrical and sensual, written with biblical intensity, this classic Brazilian coming-of-age novel follows André’s tormented path. He falls into the comforting embrace of liquor as—in his psychological and sexual awakening—he must choose between body and soul, obligation and freedom.

I was completing a degree in literature the year this was first published, but Portuguese was not an option for my reading, nor was Brazil really on my map at that time. As a result, or for whatever other reasons, I never heard of this book before.

Work assignments took me to Brazil several times in the intervening decades, and Latin America has been home base for most of the last two decades. I know I must read this, and soon, so it has just moved to the top of my next-book list. But for a very different reason the author has my attention, thanks to this:

WHY BRAZIL’S GREATEST WRITER STOPPED WRITING

In 1984, at the height of his literary fame, Raduan Nassar announced his retirement, to become a farmer. Continue reading

Altruism Is So 2011, And Even More So 2017

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Derek Parfit has few memories of his past and almost never thinks about it, a fact that he attributes to an inability to form mental images. Photograph by Steve Pyke / GETTY

Even though we had started a series of posts on the topic of altruism in 2011, our first year creating this platform, it was just after this article was published that we started paying close attention to the topic, and we had forgotten about it until just now.

Derek Parfit communicates convincingly about a logic for the common good being more important than that of the individual, and even put his own life and mortality into perfect context of the logic he was developing. So, though we resist posting obituaries of even our greatest heroes, his passing this week makes us think this profile is worthy of re-reading and sharing.

Even though our early attention to altruism led to hundreds of posts since 2011 for which altruism is at the core, this remembrance may stimulate even closer attention to altruism, a topic more worthy of attention than ever:

HOW TO BE GOOD

An Oxford philosopher thinks he can distill all morality into a formula. Is he right? Continue reading

Food’s Future Seen In Urgent Present Perspective

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Cristiana Couceiro

When this particular chef develops a thought into action, we are at least curious. When he shares a short essay on how the future of food might work, such as A Blueprint for the Future of Food, we take note. The following is from Turning Points, exploring how key moments from this year might signal something important coming in the year ahead.

Turning Point: France becomes the first country to outlaw food waste.

Not long ago, just before boarding a trans-Atlantic flight, I overheard a woman tell her friend that she had packed her own water bottle because she disliked wasting all the plastic bottles given out on planes. A few minutes later she was on the phone with another friend, explaining that she was on her way to Europe for the weekend to shop and relax. Continue reading

Rolling Back Environmental Laws, A Rolling Plague

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The proposals threaten indigenous territory in Brazil, opponents say. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

We hear it is coming to the USA after inauguration next month, and has been a tendency in tough times in many places–relaxing environmental protections to encourage economic growth. Bad ideas have a way of spreading and our thanks to the Guardian for their observations in Brazil:

Brazil’s plan to roll back environment laws draws fire: ‘The danger is real’

Environmental and indigenous activists condemn plan they say would threaten indigenous territories and make compliance with Paris deal impossible Continue reading

Evolution Of Responsibility

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Nathan Heller is one of the most consistently engaging, most compelling writers out there, and this new article is one more piece of evidence:

IF ANIMALS HAVE RIGHTS, SHOULD ROBOTS?

We can think of ourselves as an animal’s peer—or its protector. What will robots decide about us?

By

Harambe, a gorilla, was described as “smart,” “curious,” “courageous,” “magnificent.” But it wasn’t until last spring that Harambe became famous, too. On May 28th, a human boy, also curious and courageous, slipped through a fence at the Cincinnati Zoo and landed in the moat along the habitat that Harambe shared with two other gorillas. People at the fence above made whoops and cries and other noises of alarm. Harambe stood over the boy, as if to shield him from the hubbub, and then, grabbing one of his ankles, dragged him through the water like a doll across a playroom floor. For a moment, he took the child delicately by the waist and propped him on his legs, in a correct human stance. Then, as the whooping continued, he knocked the boy forward again, and dragged him halfway through the moat.

Harambe was a seventeen-year-old silverback, an animal of terrific strength. When zookeepers failed to lure him from the boy, a member of their Dangerous Animal Response Team shot the gorilla dead. The child was hospitalized briefly and released, declared to have no severe injuries. Continue reading

Veggies Punching Above Their Weight

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PHOTOGRAPH BY ERIC HELGAS FOR THE NEW YORKER

When scanning the hard news, feature stories, reviews and profiles we are on the lookout for stories that address any of a group of themes, generally related to better treatment of the planet we live on. We are interested in creative approaches to making better human treatment of the natural world more likely, more palatable, so to speak. After reading this article about magnificent results from modest parcels of land cared for by relatively common folk, we see a parallel theme in this restaurant review; it qualifies:

DINING FOR THE MODERN HERBIVORE

“Vegan” evokes two images: judgment for abstemious virtue or scarcity on meat-centric menus. Neither happens at Ladybird.

By Jiayang Fan

…Of some two dozen tapas, the most successful were the least expected and the most unassuming. The olives and cornichons—perfectly pert, coated in seasoned rice flour and gently fried in chili oil—proved to be the kind of addictive nibblers that make you forget the etiquette of communal dining. Continue reading

Pope Francis says Destroying Environment is a Sin

Photograph: Galazka/Sipa/Rex Shutterstock via The Guardian

We don’t have any religious affiliation here on the site, but understand that the Roman Catholic Pope has a tremendous influence in the world given his position. Any stance that he takes to protect the environment through denouncing pollution and agents of climate change is a good one in our book regardless of the church or theological basis. Josephine McKenna reports:

Pope Francis has called for urgent action to stop climate change and proposed that caring for the environment be added to traditional Christian works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick.

In a message to mark the Catholic church’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation that he launched last year, Francis said the worst impact of global warming was being felt by those who were least responsible for it – refugees and the poor.

Continue reading

Guilt In The Eye Of The Beholder

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A raspberry dessert at Café Gratitude in Hollywood. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

A few days back I was struck by a post on this site about lab-grown foods, and wanted to continue the thought exercise by sharing a few comments on a brief article I had just read elsewhere on the intersection between performance art and food issues. Two more cents to add here, by way of a few excerpts from this fascinating, if alarming, article:

Eschewing a Vegan Lifestyle at Home, but Still Embracing It at Work

Continue reading

Who Will Regulate Lab-grown Meat and Milk?

David Parry/PA Wire via Science Magazine

Like most people, we hold reservations about the idea of putting meat, milk, and egg whites made from laboratory cellular agriculture on the market. Will the proteins be safe for humans to consume? Might there be some unforeseen environmental impact even worse than that of raising cattle where rainforests once stood? Are there ethical considerations that outweigh the hope of freeing the chickens that are kept in cages their whole lives just to harvest their eggs?

We don’t have any answers, but are learning more about the whole process this week from Elizabeth Devitt at Science Magazine, where she writes about the fledgling industry and its potential regulators:

The first hamburger cooked with labmade meat didn’t get rave reviews for taste. But the test tube burger, rolled out to the press in 2013, has helped put a spotlight on the question of how the U.S. government will regulate the emerging field of cellular agriculture, which uses biotechnology instead of animals to make products such as meat, milk, and egg whites.

Continue reading