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Posts Tagged ‘environmental’

Photo: Rebecca Rosman/The World.
Alexandre de Fages de Latour and his son, Raphael, are pictured near the Seine in Paris, where they fish out treasures — and junk. Raphael aims to have a clean river before the Olympics come to Paris.

I am really into kids who lead the way: kids and young adults who lead the fight against US gun violence, for example, or fossil fuels. In fact, yesterday when I saw that kids had written wise messages from the environmental nonprofit Sunrise Movement on sidewalks all over town, I went online and made a donation. At this moment in time, it just seems to me that young leaders are more likely to get things done than their elders.

Rebecca Rosman reports at Public Radio International’s the World about a Parisian kid focused on protecting the Seine.

“Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has set a goal of making the Seine swimmable by 2024 when her city will host the Olympic Games. If she succeeds, it will be the first time that bathing in the Seine is legal in over 100 years. To do that, though, the city will have to significantly reduce the levels of toxic bacteria that flow through the river. [Moreover] around 360 tons of plastic are found in the Seine every year.

“Lucky for Hidalgo, 11-year-old Raphael is on the case. For nearly two years now, the scrappy middle schooler has spent nearly every weekend with his dad, fishing debris out of the 450-mile stretch of water.

“ ‘It’s not unusual for us to catch an entire ton in a single day,’ Raphael’s dad, Alexandre de Fages de Latour said. …

‘I always knew there were things at the bottom of the water, but not to the point of scooters and bicycles,’ Raphael said. His biggest find: a 360-pound Yamaha motorcycle that took an entire team to pull out.

“Then, there are the more unusual objects, including a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, jewelry and even a 19th-century bayonet. Those treasures are stored at a makeshift museum located in his dad’s basement and are also shared on his Instagram account @raf_sur_seine where he now has more than 20,000 subscribers.

“It all started, however, at around Christmas 2019 when Raphael saw a YouTube tutorial from someone doing something similar. So, Raphael asked his parents for several meters of rope, a hook and a powerful magnet that could attract metal objects weighing more than a ton. …

“ ‘At first, it was just meant to be a leisurely weekend activity,’ Raphael said. ‘But once I saw just how much debris there was buried at the bottom of the river, it became like a full-time job … and I wanted other people to know, too.’ Last October, Raphael was even awarded the Medal of Paris for his efforts. …

“ ‘There’s more than 7 billion people on Earth … so, there’s definitely enough of us to clean up and save the planet,’ Raphael said. ‘But when it comes to taking action, hardly anyone does. Even something as simple as picking up cigarette butts from the ground and placing them in the trash could make a huge difference.’ …

“While he’s not sure if he can make the entire Seine glisten by the 2024 Olympics, he hopes to be one of the first to swim in the water once it’s declared safe.”

More at the World, here.

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Photo: TimberWars podcast.
When the environment wins, logging families and their communities suffer. We need to find ways to meet the needs of both.

Until I heard a report from the investigative radio show Reveal, I didn’t understand the full import of the 1980s fight to save the northern spotted owl, a fight that pitted logging livelihoods against a bird.

Apparently, it was never really about the owl — or at least not primarily about the owl. It was about old-growth forests and the habitats they provide for an array of species.

Activists at the time were concerned that there were no laws protecting ancient trees. But there were laws protecting birds and animals. Getting the northern spotted owl listed as threatened or endangered, activists thought, could save a whole ecosystem.

The TimberWars podcast, here, offers “the behind-the-scenes story of how a small group of activists and scientists turned the fight over ancient trees and the spotted owl into one of the biggest environmental conflicts of the 20th century.”

From Reveal: “In the 1980s and ’90s, loggers and environmental activists faced off over the future of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. In this episode, Reveal partners with the podcast series Timber Wars from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Reporter Aaron Scott explores that definitive moment in the history of the land – and the consequences that reverberate today. 

“We begin with an event that became known as the Easter Massacre, in which a stand of old-growth trees in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest was cut down despite protests that attracted national media attention. 

“The Easter Massacre helped galvanize the environmental movement. Protests intensified in the forests, but environmentalists kept losing in the courtroom because there aren’t many laws to protect ecosystems. There are, however, laws to protect animals. 

“We explore how a small team bet it all on the northern spotted owl in a high-stakes strategy that involved the science of fruit flies and secret meetings at lobster shacks. While environmentalists ultimately succeeded in locking down millions of acres of forests, that success turned what had been bipartisan environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act, into cultural wedges. 

“We end with how this conflict affected one timber town and how this fight that started decades ago continues to rage on. With the rise of climate change and the threat of intensifying wildfires, battles over the role of forests take on even greater significance.”

The Oregonian, here, published an update in March of this year. “Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to preserve protections for 3.4 million acres of northern spotted owl habitat from the US-Canada border to northern California, the latest salvo in a legal battle over logging in federal old-growth forests that are key nesting grounds for the imperiled species.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cut the amount of protected federal old-growth forest by one-third in the final days of [the last] administration. … President Joe Biden’s administration has since temporarily delayed putting those new rules into effect in order to review the decision. …

“ ‘We didn’t want to leave any room for error,’ said Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center, a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Portland, Oregon. Brown estimated there are fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs of the owls left in the wild, but no one is sure. …

“Timber interests, including the American Forest Resource Council, filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the delay in implementing the new, reduced habitat protections and say the forest in question isn’t used by the northern spotted owls.

“The existing protections on logging in federal old-growth forests in the US West have cost Pacific Northwest communities that rely on the timber industry over $1 billion and devastated rural communities by eliminating hundreds of jobs, the group says. …

“The Fish and Wildlife Service agreed in a settlement with the timber industry to reevaluate the spotted owls’ protected territory following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a different federally protected species. …

“For decades, the federal government has been trying to save the northern spotted owl, a native bird that sparked an intense battle over logging across Washington, Oregon and California. Old-growth Douglas firs, many 100 to 200 years old, that are preferred by the owl are also of great value to loggers.

“After the owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act, earning it a Time magazine cover, U.S. officials halted logging on millions of acres of old-growth forests on federal lands to protect the bird’s habitat. But the population kept declining, and it faces other threats from competition from the barred owl and climate change.”

Read more at the Oregonian, here.

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2437

Photo: Curridabat Municipality
A bee hotel, part of Curridabat’s drive to welcome and protect pollinators. Costa Rica takes environmental issues seriously, which has made it a popular destination.

Some folks believe that many of the troubling aspects of our world will get fixed after coronavirus. Some say that’s unlikely. Others expect everything to get worse — problems such as inequality, nationalism, and environmental degradation.

The only prediction I’m confident about is that it will be a long time before we know. Meanwhile, stories from around the world are showing us options — often completely different ways of being.

Consider this story. Patrick Greenfield reports at the Guardian that a suburb of San Jose, Costa Rica, is taking environmental quality very seriously. In fact, the attitude toward nature nationwide has made this part of Central America a desirable destination in normal times. We ourselves went there when the kids were young.

” ‘Pollinators were the key,’ says Edgar Mora, reflecting on the decision to recognise every bee, bat, hummingbird and butterfly as a citizen of Curridabat during his 12-year spell as mayor.

‘Pollinators are the consultants of the natural world, supreme reproducers and they don’t charge for it. The plan to convert every street into a biocorridor and every neighbourhood into an ecosystem required a relationship with them.’

“The move to extend citizenship to pollinators, trees and native plants in Curridabat has been crucial to the municipality’s transformation from an unremarkable suburb of the Costa Rican capital, San José, into a pioneering haven for urban wildlife.

“Now known as ‘Ciudad Dulce’ – Sweet City – Curridabat’s urban planning has been reimagined around its non-human inhabitants. Green spaces are treated as infrastructure with accompanying ecosystem services that can be harnessed by local government and offered to residents. Geolocation mapping is used to target reforestation projects at elderly residents and children to ensure they benefit from air pollution removal and the cooling effects that the trees provide. The widespread planting of native species underscores a network of green spaces and biocorridors across the municipality, which are designed to ensure pollinators thrive. …

“The metropolitan area surrounding San José is home to more than 2 million people – about half of the population of Costa Rica – despite covering less than 5% of the country’s area.

“Were it not for the lush volcanic peaks that surround Costa Rica’s central valley, it would not be immediately obvious that you were in the heart of one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Humans dominate and the country’s cloud forests, pristine coastline and emblematic sloths can feel a long way from the concrete and traffic.

“ ‘We attract a lot of tourists because of nature and conservation but there is still friction in the city,’ says Irene Garcia, head of innovation at the mayor’s office in Curridabat, who oversees the Sweet City project. …

“By the middle of the century, the UN projects that 68% of humanity will live in towns and cities, placing further pressure on ecosystems and rapidly vanishing habitats.

“But many urban planners are trying to change this relationship and the importance of green spaces in towns and cities has been recognised in a draft UN agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, often referred to as the Paris agreement for nature.

“Sweet City is just one of a number of biocorridors around the country that allow the genetic spread of species to maintain their strength. In Central America, this concept has developed since the early 2000s following an agreement to form a biocorridor network to connect jaguars.

“ ‘Grey infrastructure makes the city warm up too much. So the idea to connect green areas is to cool down parts of the city, return the ecosystem services that were there previously but have deteriorated,’ says Magalli Castro Álvarez, who oversees Costa Rica’s network of biocorridors with the National System of Conservation Areas (Sinac).

“ ‘Inter-urban biocorridors have a double objective: they create ecological connectivity for biodiversity but also improve green infrastructure through roads and river banks lined with trees that are linked with the small forested areas that still exist in metropolitan areas. They improve air quality, water quality and give people spaces to relax, have fun and improve their health.’

“Many Costa Ricans are happy to speak about the policy benefits of schemes such as Sweet City, as their response to the challenges of bringing nature into the city is part of a deeper national sentiment. It is not in this tiny Central American country’s DNA to behave as if humans were somehow set apart from nature. …

“Says the country’s president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who credits Costa Rica’s tradition of pacifism and respect for nature with its desire to tackle big environmental issues, ‘Even though we have a small territory, its characteristics allow us to have 6% of the biodiversity of the world in our land.’ ”

More here.

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061420prairie

Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
In Obert, Nebraska, agriculturists and environmentalists are joining forces to make a more sustainable future for all. In the background are croplands that have been converted from grasslands. In the foreground a rancher’s cow is enjoying inexpensive feed while grasslands get protected.

One reason I like the Christian Science Monitor, besides its great international coverage, is that it’s really good at finding win-win stories in which opposing sides of an issue find common ground.

Laurent Belsie reports, “Slowly, a prairie restoration movement is gaining momentum here in the Great Plains. After decades of plowing up native grasslands to plant crops, some ranchers are moving in the other direction. Helped by environmentalists in a sometimes uneasy alliance, they are restoring prairie pasture, which not only improves water retention and sequesters carbon in the soil, but can also improve their profits by creating better feed, allowing them to brand and sell their beef directly to consumers, or through ecotourism.

“ ‘I’m guardedly optimistic that we will see continued growth in that [revival] as the tourist business grows,’ says Rick Edwards, director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska. …

“This new breed of ranchers faces formidable odds. Conversion of the Plains ​– one of the world’s largest remaining grasslands ​– to cropland continues. As of 2017, nearly a third of the northern Great Plains, a swath of land running from central Nebraska to southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, had been converted. In that year alone, more than half a million acres were plowed under. The silver lining: The rate of conversion slowed considerably compared with 2016 in every state except here in South Dakota. It’s not clear why. Also there was a pickup in cropland that had gone back to grass, although it’s not certain that will be a permanent switch.

“Ranching to preserve the grasslands requires new modes of thinking.

“ ‘We’re getting to understand how important healthy grasslands are,’ says Leo Barthelmess, a rancher outside Malta, Montana, and president of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance. For him, a high priority is making sure that his cattle do not overgraze an area, which means frequently moving the cows. When his father started ranching in the area in 1964, he moved cattle 10 times a year. Now, Mr. Barthelmes moves them 100 times a year, so ‘the grass has the opportunity to regrow.’

“The aha moment for Sarah Sortum, whose family diversified from strictly a ranching operation to an ecotourism business, came when she went searching for nesting areas of the greater prairie chicken on the family ranch. On the northern end, she heard their call and other birdsongs all over; on the southern end, ‘I didn’t hear anything,’ she recalls. ‘I didn’t hear chickens; I didn’t hear grouse; I didn’t hear all the other little birds I was supposed to be hearing.’ …

“An invasive red cedar, far more prevalent on the southern side of the ranch, was providing perches for birds that preyed on the ground-nesting prairie chicken and grouse. For years, getting rid of the trees had been a low priority for the family. Now that the birds were bringing tourists to the farm, removing the nonnative trees became a top priority.

“ ‘Before our tourism … we just managed for grass, because that’s how we make money’ ​– feeding grass to cattle, says Ms. Sortum. ‘Now … the biggest difference from just managing for grass is managing for that diversity, because we realize that everything has value now.’ …

“What changed [South Dakota rancher Jim] Faulstich was the farm crisis of the 1980s. ‘I was either done or I was going to change,’ he says. A typical cow-calf operator, he began looking into holistic management and realized the importance of preserving the health of the prairie. His son-in-law, with whom he ranches, is carrying on the tradition and has already converted some fields from cropland to prairie.

“It’s this kind of mental shift that has environmentalists excited.” Read more details here.

This is where my husband would launch into some version of the song “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends.” “The Cowman and the Environmentalist”? Hmm. Gotta fit the rhythm.

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There’s always something fun over at PRI’s environmental radio show Living on Earth. Here’s a story that ran in March about the unique bird species isolated in Northeastern Australian rainforests.

Bob Sundstrom wrote up the audio report of BirdNote‘s Mary McCann: “The Eastern Whipbird hangs out in the dense understory. It’s dark, crested … nearly a foot long and emerald-green with white spots. … The large, pigeon-like Wompoo Fruit-Dove … feathered in a stunning combination of green, purple, and yellow, [is] clearly named for its voice.

“Pig-like grunting on the forest floor tells us we’re in the company of the largest bird on the continent – the Southern Cassowary. On average, the female weighs 130 pounds and stands around 5 feet tall, looking like a giant, lush, black hairpiece on thick legs. A helmet called a casque makes it look as much like a dinosaur as any living bird.” Five feet tall? I think I know a one-year-old who would like to try riding it.

The bird sounds on the radio show were provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Hear them all here, where you can also enjoy the equally far-out pictures.

Photo: Jan Anne
Southern Cassowary

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Ever hear of a living thing that has been growing for 3,000 years? Check the picture below. Or how about a 13,000-year-old eucalyptus tree?

At Brain Pickings. Maria Popova writes, “For nearly a decade, Brooklyn-based artist, photographer, and Guggenheim Fellow Rachel Sussman has been traveling the globe to discover and document its oldest organisms — living things over 2,000 years of age.

“Her breathtaking photographs and illuminating essays are now collected in The Oldest Living Things in the World … beautiful and powerful work at the intersection of fine art, science, and philosophy, spanning seven continents and exploring issues of deep time, permanence and impermanence, and the interconnectedness of life.”

Sussman tells Popova in an interview, “I’ve always considered myself an environmentalist, for whatever that term means, and it’s something that I think, as an artist, was an interesting thing — because for a long time, I don’t think it was particularly acceptable in the fine art world to be doing work about nature. …

“The problem of climate change is so pressing and actually is something of a moral imperative for us all, and I think artists do a tremendous job of engaging the public on different levels … . That’s one of the beauties of being able, as a creative person, to create the parameters of what you want to talk about. The science and the climate science are a very important component of the overall project. …

“The question has been this idea of making portraits of these organisms and thinking of them as individuals. I think one of the most important things to do when dealing with climate science and climate change is to create a personal connection, and to create some relationship. That was my way of trying to forge a relationship to these organisms.” More here.

Llareta, 3,000 years old, Atacam desert, Chile

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Heard this interview today on the great environmental radio show Living on Earth. Tom Montgomery Fate talks about  trying to “live deliberately” like H.D.  Thoreau and connecting to nature and memories of his father in the woodland cabin he often escapes to. His book is  Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild.

In the elementary school Suzanne attended, all second-graders learn about Thoreau, and as a parent volounteer, I went with her class to the cabin site at Walden Pond. The children had a quiz sheet with questions like, “What sounds would Thoreau have heard in his cabin?” The teacher asks,  “An airplane?” (All the kids say, “No-o-o!”) When the Living on Earth interviewer asked the author about his own retreat being near a noisy highway and a short walk to a pub, I was surprised that he didn’t point out that a Boston-Fitchburg train ran right along the edge of Walden Pond in Thoreau’s day, and that the famous naturalist had an easy walk back home to Concord for a Sunday dinner with his mother. Fate did explain that the Walden mystique was all about a mindset and keeping a balance between what’s important and the often numbing dailiness of modern life.

Asakiyume comments: Living deliberately. Something that’s very important to me about that concept is the notion that you can do it anywhere, in any circumstances. I’ll grant that some circumstances make it really hard: if you’re in a job you hate, or a relationship you hate–basically, if there’s some part of your life that’s putting a huge negative drain on you–I think it’s very hard. But I do think that living deliberately can be done in a suburb, in the country, in a city… not just in the wilderness. I think Thoreau wanted to mark, in actual space, his separation from mundane daily life, and I understand that. But I think it’s the mindset, not the location, that’s important.  

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