Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Two weeks ago we were visiting the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, one of our long-time favorite places in Costa Rica. This weekend we made a journey to one of the few spots in Costa Rica where we had never been before, the center of the southern tier, bordering this part of Panama. Seth’s visit to Boquete was one made by many visitors to Costa Rica who either for coffee or birding reasons see this cross-border excursion as a must. We made that excursion from San Jose to Boquete 15 years ago as a family, and my recollection of the coffee sampling, including of the geisha varietal before I knew how important that would become, is a highlight.
Las Mellizas is a village created decades ago by the owners of Hacienda La Amistad, which is where Organikos sources its single estate organic coffee. The farm uses bananas and other fruits, plenty of including avocado, to shade the coffee and add value to the farm’s cash crop activity.
I will have more to say when we are back on grid, but for now I share the image at the top, with the widest view I could find on the farm yesterday, sent using a cell phone connection and electricity from the hydro-electric plant that this farm runs on, shown here.
On July 5th I first read the news about what planting a trillion trees might do for the fight against climate change. One week later this magazine cover drove the point further home for me with the Woody Guthrie reference. Organikos already had ideas and imagery for the commitment of 100% of its profits to conservation, and by the time I saw this cover I knew our focus would be on planting trees. Coming back to this magazine cover now, I am struck by the power of the number referenced in the scientific study.
How long would it take Organikos to plant one million of those trees?
After some weeks of letting the ideas in this essay settle in, and not reading (until now) any of the criticism of those ideas, it is more clear to me that I mistook Franzen’s position for something familiar, even close to home. Going back through my own postings on this platform, the mistake is understandable. We have been highlighting soft and gradual and mostly (but not all, by any means) comforting approaches to thinking about climate change.
I just revisited this post, thinking that Franzen’s position is like that word I heard 5+ years ago, but Franzen is not a collapsitarian. From my poking around, it is not clear that Paul Kingsnorth is one either. In that earlier post I linked to the About section on his website and it is still as funny ever, but now this:
I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers.
I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays.
Tell me about your writing
My non-fiction takes deep dives into big questions about how we might live in a world losing its cultural and ecological bearings at a rapid rate.
My fiction is mythological, otherworldly and multilayered, and is aimed at adults with at least one underworld journey under their belts…
It is worth reading in full, to see how his views may have changed in recent years, but mainly what caught my attention is the program of courses he has created, which look worthy of promotion, especially as captured in the photos (©Natasha Lythgoe) below and at the top:
The Wyrd School is a writing school unlike any other. Founded in 2018 by Paul Kingsnorth, an award-winning novelist, poet and essayist, with two decades of writing experience, we are home to unique writing courses, talks, and other events designed to bring the human and the non-human worlds back into contact, and to help you produce writing and art from the resulting sparks.
Wyrd is an old Anglo-Saxon word, often translated as fate or destiny. Continue reading
In early May Amie and I accompanied a group of conservation-minded investors to the southeastern tip of the Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Over a long weekend we visited lodges in that area, but the highlight of those days was our visit to Osa Conservation. We determined to return, to understand better what this organization has accomplished and what its future plans are.
Finally we had the chance to do that this past weekend. The tree above is a good representative for why the Osa Peninsula is so important. With one of the longest life spans of any tree in this tropical forest, the abundance of diverse plants and animals that depend on the tree for life make it symbolically important as much as it is biologically important. The insect to the right, feeding on the top of a rice stalk, shifted my attention from the charismatic megaflora that made Saturday an immersive biophilia exemplar of a day–and helped me focus on acts taken by Osa Conservation to make their operation more sustainable. A one-time farm in their land holding has been rewilded. A few hectares were retained for experimental organic farming.
The rice strain is an example of that, but I will save that story for another day. After being fully immersed in terrestrial wonders in the forest and the farm, the beach is where I had one of life’s more profound experiences. It started at dawn on Sunday when Amie and I joined a small team from Osa Conservation who focus on turtle habitat. Our family has had multiple experiences with sea turtle nesting and egg-laying, but we have never been witness to the hatchlings returning to the sea. Yesterday was our lucky day to round out our first hand knowledge of turtle birthing life cycle. It started with a couple of spot checks on nesting sites that had been predated–in the case of the nest in the photo to the left you can see the bird tracks all around were the eggs had been ravaged.
We may have been a mere 15 minutes too late in that case, but soon enough another nesting site was found and the surgical strike–to remove the eggs and transfer them to a hatchery where they are better protected–was under way. The protocols allow for digging carefully so that not a single egg is in danger of rupture, or even addled. They are removed one by one, counted, and placed in exactly the same formation as they were in the nest, so they can be re-nested in the hatchery as the mother turtle had laid them. Marine biologists believe that the order in the nest matters to their viability.
It was almost 6am at this point and by 8am this nest moved to safety and hatchlings from two previously moved nests were ready for release. Of all the photos I took yesterday it is difficult to choose one that is most evocative of the power of this experience. But somehow a bucket full of eggs is a candidate. We keep chickens in our yard at home, and on any given day we collect anywhere from zero to a dozen eggs from a group of 15 hens. Here one turtle had laid a hundred or so eggs (they were counted but I cannot recall the exact number now) that looked exactly like ping pong balls. Several kilometers of beach here are regularly patrolled by Osa Conservation staff, and the team of volunteers make their daily rounds to do this work.
This bucketfull was taken to the hatchery further down the beach.
The signage is rustic but the message is clear.
Inside the hatchery the re-nesting begins.
The eggs removed from the nest on the beach are replaced in the hatchery nest and meanwhile Amie is taught how to extract hatchlings.
Counting again, one by one.
This time it is baby turtles coming out of the nest and into the box, and as always, seeing babies is a joy.
Seeing them walked out to the beach has its own impact.
And then the release.
133 in total, marching to the water. A race of sorts.
Amie, a bird-lover, wields a stick to keep them away in case that is needed.
And finally #133 of these Olive Ridley babies makes it to the edge of the waves.
JoAnna Klein has a nack for getting me to think twice on a topic. My imagination is moving in the right direction. I may be embarrassed by my insufficient progress at cutting meat consumption, but I have made zero headway in the realm of insect appetite. It must change. But even with this story, and its beautiful pictures, my likelihood to indulge in one of these meals is best captured by the biblical phrase about the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak; I get why I must do this, but my body is not cooperating and I am not looking forward to the first such meal:
Scientists who study bugs are thinking harder about how to turn them into good food.
Repeat after me: entomophagy.
It’s derived from Greek and Latin: “entomon,” meaning “insect,” and “phagus,” as in “feeding on.”
Some think it’s the future of food.
In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report declaring the need to swap traditional protein sources for insects to support a sustainable future. The report helped drive an explosion of efforts all dedicated to making mealworms your next meal. Continue reading
What can you not live without? Better yet, what might we live without that would have a positive impact on climate change? The answer to that is Pat Brown’s mission. And his story is better told in the story below than any other place where I have read about impossible this, and impossible that. I am heartened to read of Impossible’s progress as much as I am embarrassed by my own failure to cut meat consumption more than I have. My reduction has been dramatic, but not radical. Compared to my most meat-intensive eating days I have reduced animal protein intake by at least 70%; until I get to 100%, I will remain embarrassed. Thanks to Tad Friend for cheering me on with this longform view into Impossible this and that:
Eating meat creates huge environmental costs. Impossible Foods thinks it has a solution.
Cows are easy to love. Their eyes are a liquid brown, their noses inquisitive, their udders homely; small children thrill to their moo.
Most people like them even better dead. Americans eat three hamburgers a week, so serving beef at your cookout is as patriotic as buying a gun. When progressive Democrats proposed a Green New Deal, earlier this year, leading Republicans labelled it a plot to “take away your hamburgers.” The former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka characterized this plunder as “what Stalin dreamt about,” and Trump himself accused the Green New Deal of proposing to “permanently eliminate” cows. In fact, of course, its authors were merely advocating a sensible reduction in meat eating. Who would want to take away your hamburgers and eliminate cows?
Well, Pat Brown does, and pronto. A sixty-five-year-old emeritus professor of biochemistry at Stanford University, Brown is the founder and C.E.O. of Impossible Foods. By developing plant-based beef, chicken, pork, lamb, dairy, and fish, he intends to wipe out all animal agriculture and deep-sea fishing by 2035. His first product, the Impossible Burger, made chiefly of soy and potato proteins and coconut and sunflower oils, is now in seventeen thousand restaurants. When we met, he arrived not in Silicon Valley’s obligatory silver Tesla but in an orange Chevy Bolt that resembled a crouching troll. He emerged wearing a T-shirt depicting a cow with a red slash through it, and immediately declared, “The use of animals in food production is by far the most destructive technology on earth. We see our mission as the last chance to save the planet from environmental catastrophe.” Continue reading
…Tender Buttons has spent September boxing up its delirious abundance, and, when I stopped by recently, Safro told me, “We’re down to the nitty-gritty.” WQXR played as she sorted. “Each little thing needs to be considered,” she said. She found a stray shank button—a miniature wire clothes hanger—that properly belonged in a box labelled “homage to Calder, Picasso, & Matisse.” She wants to send the box to Alexander Calder’s daughter, whose daughter used to work here.
Per the store’s Web site, “Tender Buttons is temporarily closed.” (Emphasis added.) It is part of Safro’s process to say that the billion and one buttons are only temporarily going to a storage warehouse in Long Island City. The bulk of them, anyway. Safro, who is eighty-five, says that she keeps forgetting to return messages from major museums…
In the 1980s, when Amie and I lived in New York, this was a place we knew. The cousin of a close friend was a manager of the shop, and we visited from time to time. The friend made the shadow box to the left, a gift on the occasion of announcing our wedding engagement. All the three dimensional objects in it came from Tender Buttons. Reading this brief homage to Tender Buttons does not just conjure memories of the visits, and the occasion of receiving this shadow box, one of our personal treasures. It goes well beyond, helping me understand where some of our inspiration for Authentica comes from.
Jonathan Franzen’s relatively short, but powerful essay got my thoughts well-prepared to digest this profile of Jonathan Ledgard. The implication of Franzen’s essay struck me more clearly when Ledgard–having quit his career in journalism in favor of deeper exploration for answers to the most intractable challenges–was quoted saying “Imagination at scale is our only recourse.” Neither the essay nor the profile is comforting; but by embracing uncomfortable conclusions maybe possibilities open up:
…“You have to acknowledge that the probability of success is vanishingly small,” he said. “But if just one of these ideas came off in the next twenty years, in some form, and in a really significant way—and it improved the lives of poor people, or helped save other life-forms from extinction—then that would be really worth your time.” He added, “My main point is to move the conversation in a more imaginative direction.”…
We had heard of the drone-delivered medical services thanks to Seth’s work in Rwanda, but frankly I was not convinced back in May that it was yet in the realm of possibility. Now I am. To see the man behind it in a photo like this, which at first glance might make you think he is a bit off his rocker, is refreshing.
Maybe that is what it takes to say something so clear:
“There’s a significant minority—or maybe a majority—of human beings who are biophiliac. They like living things. And that hasn’t been priced correctly.”
Senegal shows up a dozen times in our pages over the years, but not one those times is about my own experience there. Strange, because that experience marked my return to teaching, and indirectly led to the work we are doing now with Authentica and Organikos. That is worthy of a post, which I will write another day, for now enjoying a simple story about life on the streets with horses, buggies, their drivers, and the community members who are transported by them:
DAKAR, Senegal — After a visit to the market to buy a box of mangoes, some fish and a length of cloth, Binta Ba, a Senegalese woman, needed a way to get home.
So she looked around for her preferred means of transportation: a horse and buggy.
A ride was easy to find, with dozens of horse-drawn buggies lined up near the market, which was in Rufisque, a picturesque suburb of Dakar known for its colonial architecture.
She climbed aboard a buggy, whose driver then waited patiently for a third passenger to occupy his final seat. When his buggy was full, he took off at a trot, sometimes speeding up to a canter. The riders paid about 50 cents for a 10-minute ride, a fraction of what it would cost to take a taxi.
“Taking taxis is for rich people,” Ms. Ba said. “We prefer to support these people because they are from the community.” Continue reading
Whether or not you are a cyclist (as I am), whether or not you have cyclist friends in Holland (as I do), you may appreciate the experience of this writer as much as one of my Dutch cycling friends did (he read it yesterday while on a cycling vacation in Russia and gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up):
In the bike-friendly Netherlands, cyclists speed down the road without fearing cars. For an American, the prospect is thrilling—and terrifying.
Where are our helmets?” my daughter Harper asked. We were standing outside a cycle shop in the Dutch city of Delft, along with Harper’s older sister, Lyra, and my wife, Alia.
“We didn’t buy any,” I replied. Along the dark green Wijnhaven canal, confident Dutchmen and Dutchwomen whizzed around, their blond heads exposed to the soft northern sun. “In the Netherlands, only tourists wear helmets.” Continue reading
Ten years ago I was in Tirana and if I squinted I might have seen this article coming. I was working on a project for the United Nations Development Programme, focused on the Prespa Lakes Basin, and the visits in Tirana were like a time warp. In a good way, as it is now more easy to see:
In the Albanian capital of Tirana, the country’s strange history and bright future collide.
Over the past five years, Albania has been discovered by travelers as that rare thing: a largely unexplored corner of Europe (one with some 265 miles of coastline). The small Balkan country sits just across the Adriatic and Ionian seas from Italy’s heel and a mere 45-minute ferry ride away from the Greek island of Corfu. It’s recently gotten its first high-end waterside resorts, and as the beach town of Sarande and the seaside city of Vlore have become more comfortable, so too has Tirana — the country’s capital, about 22 miles inland with a population of over half a million — grown more cosmopolitan, with new restaurants, shops and galleries joining the almost surrealist pastiche of testaments to the city’s past. For a good example of the way eras collide in Tirana, just visit Skanderbeg Square, recently renovated with new fountains and rosy granite paving, and home to an 18th-century mosque and minaret, a domed Albanian Orthodox church opened in 2012, a set of government buildings that echo the fascist architecture of Mussolini’s Italy and a Brutalist monolith that houses the National Historical Museum.
Initially settled by Illyrian and Greek tribes during ancient times, Albania spent over four centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire. After 1912, it became a fascist-leaning monarchy, and then, in the wake of World War II, a Communist state ruled by the infamous dictator Enver Hoxha. In 1991, a full year behind many of its Eastern Bloc neighbors, the country saw its first democratic elections, as well as murmurings of a cultural awakening. Tirana may not have a robust avant-garde scene, but it does have a gritty, iconoclastic edge — the Pyramid, a large monument to Hoxha in the center of town, is now popular with skateboarders — and a joie de vivre that’s enticed many former expats. “There’s so much potential,” says Flori Uka, a local winemaker who trained in northeastern Italy and now specializes in vintages made from organic Kallmet grapes grown just outside the city. “We were isolated for so long, but today it’s possible for creative people to do what they love. The place has become very receptive to the new.” Continue reading
This last week we have been busy opening two Authentica shops (at long last). Both shops sell Organikos coffee. So today, another day on the run, I will suggest a very brief reminder on how and why the way you consume coffee matters. Lots more to say on that, and we will, but this is about as succinct a summary as you will find.
juvenile – Creek rice fields, Orange Walk District, Belize
Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this re-primer on recycling, a guide to what you should be doing after all the recent changes in where our refuse goes, and now does not go:
Every year, the average American goes through more than 250 pounds of plastic waste, and much of that comes from packaging. So what do we do with it all?
Your recycling bin is part of the solution, but many of us are confused about what we should be putting in there. What’s recyclable in one community could be trash in another.
This interactive explores some of the plastics the recycling system was designed to handle and explains why other plastic packaging shouldn’t go in your recycling bin.
Let’s take a look at some items you might pick up at the grocery store.
Not recyclable curbside.
At the store we find it covering vegetables, meats and cheeses. It’s common, but it can’t be recycled because it’s hard to deal with at the material recovery facility, or MRF. The MRF is where items collected from residences, offices and more through public and private recycling programs are taken to be sorted, baled and sold. The thin film gets wrapped around the equipment and can bring the operation to a standstill. Continue reading
You have seen the images, in which polar bears look lost or otherwise in peril. The one from this story, taken by its author, illustrates the central theme of ice receding in the locations highlighted in the map above.
Climate change is at work, 24/7, creating the sense of loss, peril and worse that we have not been shying away from in our pages. We are leaning in to try to understand what changes we can make, and promote, to live and work and play more responsibly. Thanks to Ed Struzik for both the words and images of this article:
After decades of travel in the Far North, E360’s Arctic correspondent joins a voyage through the Northwest Passage and witnesses a world being transformed, with ice disappearing, balmy temperatures becoming common, and alien invaders – from plastic waste to new diseases – on the rise.
Elwin Bay is carved into a steep, flat-topped mountain range along the northeast coast of Somerset Island in Canada’s High Arctic. For as long as anyone can remember, hundreds of beluga whales show up every year on an annual migration from Greenland through Canada’s Northwest Passage. Their fidelity to this site is remarkable given that 19th-century whalers killed more than 10,000 of them there – 840 during one notably gruesome, 17-day stretch – between 1874 and 1898.
Helicoptering over the bay earlier this month with members of a U.S. National Science Foundation-sponsored research expedition, we saw too many belugas to count accurately in waters riddled with rapidly disintegrating sea ice. Five hundred? Eight hundred? None of us could estimate with certainty. All we knew was that there were likely equal numbers of whales congregating in similar bays and estuaries, such as Cunningham Inlet, which we sailed past a few days earlier.
Polar bears were there as well — a female and cub in this case, homing in on a dead beluga that had presumably swum too far up the shallow estuary before the tide turned and trapped it. Continue reading
Yesterday I got back from my three week internship in Costa Rica. During my time there, I learned a lot about eco tourism, Costa Rica, and sustainable business practices. I got to take hikes through the back hills and see many of the bird species I had hoped to encounter. Three weeks in one location is a lot longer than most vacation visits to a country, and I got to really know the local area. While I was there we made frequent use of the bus to get around, which provided a more personal look at the San Jose area than driving would have. One thing I grew to appreciate was how green it was compared to the US. As soon as you leave the downtown area, the urban landscape is covered with trees and tall gras between buildings. Up in the hills there are farms mixed with residential housing and completely overgrown with forest.
On Friday I traveled to Los Sueños to view one of the Marriott properties that will be getting a more sustainable gift shop. While I was there I decided to go down to the beach and do some birdwatching. At first I was disappointed because I only saw black vultures and grackles. Then as I was walking down the beach I saw a bird soaring over the water with a very interesting wing shape. I moved closer to where it was flying and it turned out to be a magnificent frigate bird. Here is the closest photo I was able to get of it. You can just make out the distinct wing shape.
Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for this reminder of the impact our diet has on the future of the planet:
In the Amazon, or in the parts of the Amazon that people have mowed down and converted into grazing pasture, the average abattoir-bound cow has nearly three acres to himself. Nice for the cow, perhaps, but senseless and dangerous in every other way. Every year, on average, tropical deforestation adds ten to fifteen per cent of global greenhouse emissions. Of this amount, around half happens in South America; deforestation in the Amazon recently increased. If the rate continues, scientists have found, it could lengthen the forest’s dry season, triggering even greater warming and drying, killing trees in the nearby (still intact) forest, and eventually causing mass tree mortality and an entire ecosystem shift—from rainforest to savannah. The tipping point in the Amazon would be a rate of twenty-twenty-five per cent deforestation—fifteen to seventeen per cent is already gone. “If you exceed the threshold,” Carlos Nobre, a Brazilian climate and tropical-forest expert, told me, “fifty to sixty per cent of the forest could be gone over three to five decades.” Continue reading