Citizen Science Goes Far Afield

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LUISA RIVERA / YALE E360

We have been on watch for citizen science stories since the early days of this platform. Seth had just accepted an offer to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and typical of him, did his homework on what he had committed to. Since then, dozens of first person and linked-to citizen science stories from other members of our community have appeared in these pages. Thanks to Yale e360 and Jessica Leber for this story about how far and wide the practice has spread, and a few of its more amazing discoveries:

Species Sleuths: Amateur Naturalists Spark a New Wave of Discovery

Scientists have not kept pace with the work of discovering new species. Now, a growing number of committed hobbyists – ranging from a Belgian bus driver to a California cybersecurity expert – are out in the field, igniting a boom in documenting the world’s biodiversity.

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COURTESY OF TERRI CLEMENTS

When mushroom hunter Terri Clements found a unique specimen near her home in Arizona, she couldn’t be certain by its appearance that she’d stumbled across a new species. She tracked down a commercial lab that would process DNA from samples she collected and studied the resulting sequences. Only later did she cold email a mycological scientist, who confirmed her work. As a result, this December, she became part of a team publishing a scientific paper describing her new mushroom species, Morchella kaibabensis, along with three others.

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Mushroom hunter Terri Clements used DNA sequencing to confirm a new species of black morel, Morchella kaibabensis, she found near her home in Arizona.

A former restauranteur and real estate executive who retired in 2012, Clements has no formal scientific training beyond her college microbiology minor. But using a combination of traditional taxonomy — the science of describing, naming, and classifying life on earth — and increasingly accessible DNA classification tools, she’s now hooked on documenting fungi either previously unknown in her region, or, just as often, new to science. “I spend hours and hours on it,” she says. “It’s like a full-time job for which I don’t get paid.”

Her work puts her in the ranks of an increasingly vibrant group of hobbyists busy documenting unexplored species on the planet, ranging from a chemical engineer in France, to a cybersecurity specialist in California, to retirees like Clements. Many study organisms from specific groups of fungi, insects, and other invertebrates that are less charismatic and surveyed than the orchids, birds, and butterflies that have long attracted the public’s interest. Continue reading

Organikos 2019 & Beyond

Organikos2019Logo.jpgThe first reference was in 2017, with a brief reverie on tastes associated with places. Organikos next appeared in early 2019, most recently here. And today just a quick further note to clarify that while chocolate and other taste of place items are in testing to be offered by Organikos, specialty coffee from various regions in Costa Rica is the first product. The simple reason is that coffee is in so many ways the most important product of this country, and set the stage for the country’s many remarkable achievements, including those yet to come. Organikos will focus on specialty coffee because it has a following as strong now as any time in history.

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In the new wave of coffee fanaticism, attention to tasting notes and pairings rivals that of the world of wine.

In this short video posted this morning Rachel Lipstein helps define the current intense wave of interest:

Coffee, ambrosia of the capitalist and the creative alike, is many things: a fixture of social ritual, the product of a vast agricultural production steeped in colonialist history, and the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. Entire economies rest upon its cultivation and its caffeine content…

That is an intense opening statement, and sets the stage for the video’s goal of helping a lay person understand the obsession a bit better:

CoffeeObsess…Its modern permutations go far beyond cream and sugar: fair-trade designations, additions of alternative milks such as soy or pea-protein, a preparation with butter and oil (for optimized biohacking), or simply with a piece of shortbread dunked in. It has inspired legal and moral crusades and “love is brewing” theme weddings. The latest installment in The New Yorker’s Annals of Obsession video series features a group of specialty-coffee experts and explores the fringes of the fascination…

Coffee is the taste of many places other than Costa Rica, but this is home, so here we go. We have already roasted, packaged and labeled coffee in trial markets, and have made some important adjustments as we prepare to launch formally in a few months. In earlier posts you could see the font we thought was best with which to write the name Organikos. We have decided otherwise for the time being, in part because with the newer design, as the logotype for Organikos evolves, we hope to have a smaller footprint with a message that fits on one side (versus front and back of package labeling).

Green Is The New Black & Costa Rica Is Evergreen

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Costa Rican wildlife was the theme of reception in February to formally introduce the government’s decarbonization strategy.

Somini Sengupta and her colleague Alexander Villegas published a story yesterday that resonates with the explanations Amie and I gave friends and family about our original decision to live in Costa Rica. It also resonates with the decision we made recently to return. In 2010 when we moved to Kerala it was not clear when, or even if, we would be back here. But our work in India was intertwined with Costa Rica’s evergreen pioneering role in the global conversation about conservation. So we are back. And the evergreen is appreciated, especially in the way Costa Rica’s president and his wife tell the story within a story.

A diesel commuter train in San José. The government plans to replace older trains with electric models.

Despite it’s diminutive size, Costa Rica been at the forefront of the climate change conversation. While the country has only about 0.25% of the world’s landmass, it contains almost 5% of the world’s biodiversity. These statistics give both an added incentive to focus energies on shifting the juggernaut of climate change and the ecological soapbox from which to be heard.

Costa Rica has an infrastructural uphill climb, most specifically with transportation as is illustrated below, but the country has stood its ground successfully in the past. When we think of the country’s road network in the mid-1990s relative to the roads today, it gives one of many reasons to be optimistic:

Tiny Costa Rica Has a Green New Deal, Too. It Matters for the Whole Planet.

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — It’s a green big deal for a tiny sliver of a country. Costa Rica, population 5 million, wants to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2050, and the chief evangelist of the idea is a 38-year-old urban planner named Claudia Dobles who also happens to be the first lady. Continue reading

Butterflies From Another Perspective

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‘It was a painstaking process, holding my breath and sitting perfectly still every time I pressed the shutter release. It seemed to take forever’

Time for a break from the regular news. Here are some visual reminders of why we care for nature, and why we protect it. Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this photographer’s unique technique to our attention in the photo feature titled The butterfly effect: wings in extreme close-up – in pictures:

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Detail of a Malay lacewing butterfly. Photograph: Jake Mosher

Thanks to that feature, I wandered into this commercial project, valorizing the beauty of butterflies, that I can recommend as worth a look:

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*** Featured in the Royal Photographic Society’s Journal, and also in The Guardian. Please take a look at their photo gallery display here.***

Limited edition, 1 of 1 pieces. When one sells, it will not be reprinted in any size, ever. This is your chance to own collectible, one-of-a-kind pieces of art the likes of which the world has never seen before.

These images are the composition of hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of 4:1 macro photographs of butterfly and moth wings. There is no artificial color, imported designs, or any “drawn” artifacts. This is art and photography intertwined, and these images are only available here. This work has been recognized as entirely unique to me. Continue reading

What My Work Means To Me

 

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NICKY LOH / REUTERS

Derek Thompson, whose previous appearances in our pages were important but not blockbuster, was due for a home run. And here it is, with a title–Workism Is Making Americans Miserable–that says it all. And the first paragraph will tell you whether it is worth your while to read. I think it is:

For the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity—promising transcendence and community, but failing to deliver.

In his 1930 essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a 15-hour workweek in the 21st century, creating the equivalent of a five-day weekend. “For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem,” Keynes wrote, “how to occupy the leisure.”

merlin_149654487_d770c778-e296-4953-b257-c241517b57ca-superJumbo.jpgLikewise, Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work? is worth a read in part because it scooped the same story by a month and Erin Griffith makes clear we should already have long been following her thinking and writing for its clarity and wit:

I saw the greatest minds of my generation log 18-hour days — and then boast about #hustle on Instagram. When did performative workaholism become a lifestyle?

If I am correct that those are both worth a read, then this podcast is worth a listen because it puts Derek Thompson in direct conversation with two of the most influential researcher/writers on the topic of work and its meaning in our lives:

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A prayer in a frame hangs on the wall as Patricia Jackson sifts through bank documents in her home Saturday, June 16, 2012, in Marietta, Ga. (David Goldman/AP)

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I had read the articles when they first were published, but did not put them into much perspective until listening to this conversation. I qualify as a workist. Work is not my religion, but the point is still well taken. This set of ideas is much bigger, and much more important than the experience of individuals; it is about how we organize for the future.

Taking Responsibility For Stuff

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Recycled materials being stacked at facility in Costa Rica last June. EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Some time a millennium or so from now, an article like this one, or perhaps like this one, will be written with wonderment about the waste management practices of the early 21st century. They will not be as amazed by how we digitally stored our most prized possessions, but curious what we did with all our unwanted stuff.

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Scrap metal at a dock in Liverpool, England, waiting to be exported. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

And we have known for some time now that we have not been so clever. We have mostly been hiding that stuff. Out of sight, out of mind. If it seemed too good to be true, there was a reason for that. The long stretch of time during which China’s labor costs and their resource input equations made importing our unwanted stuff a win-win created a kind of mirage. Thanks to Cheryl Katz, writing in Yale e360, for making that clear in this story:

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A worker sorts through plastic bottles at a waste facility in Vietnam. Other Asian countries have increased their waste imports in response to China’s ban. NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.

The story is big, which is why I was not surprised to see Alana Semuel’s story on the same topic. Both are worth reading, but this one takes a starker view, and the disturbance its title question causes provides an effective added prod to reduce how much unwanted stuff gets created in the first place.

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Bales of plastic are piled at a Recology facility in San Francisco. (Alana Semuels / The Atlantic)

Is This the End of Recycling?

Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.

After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. Continue reading

The Mouth of the Well

The archaeologist Guillermo de Anda next to pre-Columbian artifacts in a cave at the Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá. Credit Karla Ortega/Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology, via Associated Press

This new discovery in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula came to our attention just when we’re on an archaeological roll. It definitely gives us pause that there are still such important finds in the world.

In a cave under the ancient city of Chichén Itzá, Mexican archaeologists discovered a trove of ceramic artifacts that appear to be over 1,000 years old.

Archaeologists announced this week that they had discovered an extraordinary trove of well-preserved Maya artifacts under the ancient city of Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

The artifacts were found in a cave called Balamkú, less than two miles from the famed pyramid known as the Temple of Kukulcan, or The Castle, which sits in the center of the site.

Guillermo de Anda, an investigator with the National Institute of Anthropology and History, said in a statement on Monday that the remarkable discovery could help researchers rewrite the history of Chichén Itzá, which flourished from roughly A.D. 750 to 1200.

The city was built on top of a network of waterways, including sinkholes called cenotes, which the ancient Maya believed were sacred places that provided a portal to the underworld. Its name is sometimes translated as “the mouth of the well of the Itza,” the name of the main ethnic group in the area at the time.

Continue reading

Urban Archaeology

 

We’ve had friends and family members living in Atlanta for close to 30 years, and although I knew it was the hub of important aspects of American history, it never occurred to me to think of it in archaeological terms. At first consideration, I think about archaeology as the study of ancient cultures in far away places. Yet, with family in countries like Greece, I acknowledge that awesome layers of history can be just under the surface, or deeply buried and unearthed as cities grow with constructions of buildings and transit infrastructure.

This piece in the Georgia State University Magazine made that quite clear.

Treasures of Terminus

From its days as a railroad boomtown to Sherman’s tinderbox to one of America’s great cities, Atlanta’s history runs deep. The Phoenix Project, more than 100,000 artifacts collected by a team of Georgia State archaeologist in the 1970s, tells the city’s story through unearthed historical objects.

There is buried treasure at Georgia State University. Stacked high and deep in more than 500 boxes stashed throughout the labyrinths of Kell Hall, more than 100,000 artifacts tell the story of Atlanta’s history.

These boxes contain the lost pieces of a tumultuous past that dates to the city’s earliest days — bullet casings from the Civil War, mystery tonics in antique glass bottles, creepy toys, fashion accessories, ancient grooming tools and much more. Many of them still await examination and haven’t been opened since archaeologists first packed them four decades ago.

This massive array of objects is called the Phoenix Project, and Georgia State professors and students have been methodically studying, cataloging and mapping each item since 2011.

Collected all over the city between 1976 and 1980, the objects belong to the largest archeological collection ever associated with Atlanta. They are the fruit of one of America’s earliest urban archaeological projects — the roving excavation that followed construction crews as the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) cleared land, leveled blocks and tunneled underground to build the first iteration of its rail system.

Jeffrey Glover, associate professor of anthropology, has curated the Phoenix Project for years in hopes of providing the public with a different kind of city history, a slice of Atlanta’s past through the lens of historical objects.

Catalog No.: P1848/170 Swamp Root Kidney, Liver and Bladder Cure, c. 1890, manufactured by Dr. Kilmer & Co., Binghamton, NY.

Choosing one box among hundreds, Glover removes a small amber bottle that once held Valentine’s Meat Juice, a concentrated beef tonic from the 1870s. Advertisements said it could help with gastroenteritis, dysentery and even cholera.

“It was supposed to bring vitality,” Glover says, “like an early energy drink.”

From another box, he takes out the misshapen head of a porcelain doll. Featuring dark, empty eye sockets and covered in burn marks, the scary toy looks hungry for souls. While Glover affectionately calls it the “creepy doll head,” its official artifact ID is “a3161,” written in impeccable script with archival ink across its neck.

That’s because the archaeologists who bagged all this stuff in the 1970s methodically described and organized each item using a numbering system adapted from the Georgia Department of Transportation. For example, the “a” in “a3161” stands for “general artifact” while the number indicates the item was the 3,161st general artifact to be cataloged from that accession. (And there are about 100 accessions.) Containers, such as glass and pottery, begin with “p,” and building materials with “m.” Plant remains use “eb” for “ethnobotanical” while animal bones start with “ez” for “ethnozoological.”

Just one of the standard cardboard bankers boxes can contain dozens, if not hundreds, of artifacts, each wrapped in brown paper and labeled with a unique artifact ID. Though they’ve all been recorded in a logbook alongside a one-line description, unwrapping each one is like opening a birthday present because you don’t know exactly what you’ll get.

“It’s an excavation of boxes,” says Lori Thompson (M.A. ’16), assistant laboratory director at New South Associates.

Continue reading

Fighting Climate Change With Ecosystem Restoration

Photo by Pexels

Throughout the history of this site we’ve focussed on accentuating positive steps in conservation, while also pointing out the negative forces with the intention that knowledge is power that leads to action.

We applaud the UN Environment Assembly for pressing further into the remaining window of opportunity to restore ecosystem health.

New UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to inspire bold UN Environment Assembly decisions

The UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, is the world’s leading decision-making forum. From 11 to 15 March 2019, it will be considering how best to improve outcomes for people and planet. Ecosystems will be high up on the agenda.

The timing looks good. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, declared on 1 March 2019 by the UN General Assembly, aims to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a proven measure to fight climate change, and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.

The degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people and costs about 10 per cent of the annual global gross domestic product in loss of species and ecosystems services. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining rapidly.

Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

UN Environment and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will lead implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Continue reading

From Panama, Of Bushwick, Reducing The Impact Of Food Waste

Food waste, a problem whose partial solutions are myriad, has been on my radar since Milo posted about it. Its root seems obviously related to not properly pricing the input resources, like land, water, etc., which paradoxically makes it possible to produce an abundance sufficient to waste. But dealing with the problem at the tail end of the value chain is another partial solution so the video above is worth a few minutes of your time.

BKRotIf, when you finish that, you want to learn more, click the logo to the left. And if you live in Brooklyn you might want to participate in some manner.

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Home Composting.  Rabbit Roots is a home food scraps pick up service. For a monthly rate our bikers will collect straight from your door to our compost site.

If you live nearby, get more information about how to subscribe to their home composting program by clicking here. Sandy and her operation tell me that waiting for someone else to solve the collective action problem is wasted time. David Owen brought her and it to my attention in this short profile:

…BK ROT was founded, in 2013, by Sandy Nurse. She was born in Panama, in 1984—both her parents were in the U.S. Navy—and grew up mainly there and in South Korea and Japan. She studied international affairs at the New School and assumed that she was headed for a diplomatic career. But she changed her mind after working on food assistance in Haiti after the big earthquake there in 2010.

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This article appears in the print edition of the March 11, 2019, issue, with the headline “Sacred Rot.”

“I came back to New York and got really excited about urban resiliency and food sovereignty and disaster recovery,” she said recently. BK ROT was one of the results. “We have a very specific mission of environmental and social-justice values, and grassroots accountability to the neighborhood, and transparency, and giving our output, the compost, back into food-growing and soil-building operations.” BK ROT is partly a grant-supported jobs program for young people. (Ibarra and his co-workers, most of whom live in the neighborhood, earn fifteen dollars an hour.) Nurse also teaches community activism and basic construction skills, which she studied as a trainee of the New York City District Council of Carpenters.

BKRot1.jpgAt BK ROT, food waste is mixed with wood chips and sawdust, then moved, over a period of weeks, through a succession of wooden bins the size of washing machines. By the time it reaches the final bin, it’s black and bug-covered and unrecognizable as former food. Then it’s heaped into sloping, loaflike piles, called windrows. “Convection sucks in air from the bottom and pulls it to the top,” Nurse said. “That keeps the microorganisms inside the windrows healthy.” The resulting mass is eventually shovelled into a rotating cylindrical sifter that looks like something you might pull bingo numbers out of; the original version was built by a friend of Nurse’s, who found instructions on YouTube. The compost is sold in local stores and directly to individuals—“Somebody came from Staten Island yesterday and took a bunch,” Nurse said—but most of it goes to nearby urban farms and community gardens, a few of which Nurse herself helped to start.