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Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

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Photo: Matthew Podolsky
Conservationist Alfred Larson, 96, has installed hundreds of bluebird next boxes in southern Idaho, allowing scientists to study Mountain Bluebirds as the species recovers from a decline.

In my area of New England, I don’t often see bluebirds. I see lots of bluebird houses people put up to entice them, but few bluebirds. You can imagine how excited I was one wintry day a few years back when a whole flock showed up in our deciduous holly. It was amazing. And never repeated.

A conservationist in his 90s who wanted to learn more about Western and Mountain Bluebirds has turned southern Idaho into a bluebird haven. Now, that’s something I’d like to see!

James Crugnale writes a the Audubon website, “In 1978, Alfred Larson was looking for a hobby that would keep him busy after he retired from his job at a sawmill plant near Boise, Idaho. He remembers reading an article in National Geographic that captured his imagination—about crafting wooden nests for bluebirds to save them from dizzying declines. Around this same time, he and his wife Hilda welcomed a new guest to their backyard: a Western Bluebird.

“ ‘We noticed a bluebird going in and out of a cavity of an old, dead snag,’ Larson says. … I had heard about bluebird trails out East that Lawrence Zeleny had set up. If I put up boxes on my ranch, I’d have a captive group of birds to take pictures of.’ …

“Four decades later, at the age of 96, Larson is monitoring almost 350 nest boxes on six different bluebird trails across Southwest Idaho. From the Owyhee Mountains to Lake Cascade, he and his fellow community scientists peek into the rustic abodes every nine days to band any residents and jot down notes on behavior and growth. Larson organizes the data and shares it with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s Nestwatch program. …

“Prior to the big nest box craze, all three North American species—Western, Mountain, and Eastern—saw a major dip in population numbers, due to ‘the elimination of dead trees with the invention of gas-powered chainsaws in the 1930s . . . along with the widespread use of pesticides to kill insects,’ says bluebird photographer and expert Stan Tekiela. Studies in the 1970s tied DDT to the death of hundreds of Mountain Bluebird chicks in western Canada. …

“Many of Larson’s trail buddies are wary of the day he decides to retire again. Boyd Steele, a volunteer who regularly assists Larson with the nest boxes, says the nonagenarian has been steadily passing down his knowledge. But his devotion to bluebirds will be hard to replace. ‘I don’t think there’s anybody who is as dedicated as Al,’ Steele says.

“Filmmaker Matthew Podolsky echoes that sentiment. After being introduced to Larson through a graduate advisor at Boise State University, he and his peer Neil Paprocki tracked the local legend with a camera for weeks. The resulting 30-minute documentary, titled Bluebird Man, of course, went on to be nominated for an Emmy Award in 2015.”

More here, at the Audubon website.

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This is Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. She started the Friday school strikes that are spreading around the world and made a splash scolding power brokers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

You have probably heard of the ubiquitous Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who is leading a youth movement to address global warming. But there are many other climate movements right now, as I learned when I read Mary Robinson’s inspiring book Climate Justice. One example she cites is an Australia-based organization called 1 Million Women, which was started by a woman who was able to cut way, way back on her family’s carbon footprint and wanted to share what she learned.

One Million Women’s website includes a pollution-cutting activity center that “has 50+ ways to cut pollution, covering energy, money, household, food, travel, shopping, sharing and a special girls section. Each activity has a pollution value attached. Choose the activities that work for you,” it suggests.

For those of you who really want to roll up your sleeves and tackle daily activities, 1 Million Women also has a handy feature called the Carbon Challenge, which provides sustainability tips and helps you track your progress in reducing pollution. See that here. I confess that I haven’t taken the challenge yet, but I’d love to hear from anyone who gives it a shot.

The blog for 1 Million Women features entries from many activists, each focusing on a different aspect of climate change activism. The toilet paper post was funny. In another post, Eve White, “mum of two and a freelance editor with a PhD in Ecology, … founding member of Australian Mums for a Safe Climate and Australian Parents for Climate Action,” asks, “Why are we leaving it up to our kids?”

She writes, “In November, 2018, 15,000 Australian kids went on strike from school to demand stronger action on climate change. Other actions will follow, with the next climate strike planned for March, 2019. Listening to these kids speak, it is clear that they are articulate and informed. They include school captains and future doctors, leaders and business people; not the kind of kids who’d routinely skip school. But without the power to vote they are worried about their future, frustrated with inaction on climate change and desperate to be heard.

“It is wrong that it has fallen on the kids to do this. As one young speaker said, ‘We are expected to tidy up after ourselves. Adults should tidy up their own mess, not leave it for us. This is not fair.’ ”

White goes on to list “ways that parents can support their kids in the fight for the future, and not all of them require a lot of effort,” like talking to more people about the issue, supporting the kids’ movement logistically and financially, writing to the local paper, and getting active in national environmental groups. Another “not a lot of effort” thing to do if you are on social media might be to follow people who are working on this issue and share information with your followers.

More.

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Photo: Rebecca Kordas/UBC
Limpets are easy to overlook — so too is their effect on the environment. But careful consideration of how all the life forms in an area interact is key to understanding how ecosystems thrive.

I’ve been reading a small book called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. A friend offered to lend it to me, and much to my surprise, I’m finding it fascinating. It’s by a woman with a debilitating illness who describes her growing interest in a snail brought to her on a wild violet plant. As the author learns, there is more to snails than meets the eye. A lot more.

The same may be said of limpets. Christopher Pollon explains why at Hakai Magazine.

“As the ocean temperature rises, it may be the little things that make the biggest difference to the survival and resilience of living things.

“Take the limpet, a tiny snail-like gastropod with a hefty appetite for the minute plants that live in the intertidal — the space between low and high tide. In 2014, Becca Kordas, then a zoology doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, tested the effect these creatures have on the ecosystem when exposed to ocean warming. She found that their influence was huge.

“Kordas launched her project by sinking four sets of settlement plates in the intertidal zone of Saltspring Island, British Columbia, about 55 kilometers southwest of Vancouver. For 16 months, Kordas and her colleagues tracked which plants and animals established themselves on the four different types of plots. Kordas controlled the limpets’ access to half of the plates, while they were free to graze on the other half. She also simulated the effects of ocean warming by tinting some of the plates black to attract the sun’s heat.

“By the end of the study, the differences between the four sets of plates were stark. Kordas found that when limpets’ access is restricted, the artificially warmed intertidal ecosystem collapsed — the diversity of life largely replaced by a mat of microalgae. Limpets with access to the plates, however, maintained a healthier ecological community, even in a warming environment.

“What is it about limpets that helps maintain a diverse and complex community, even when their environment warms?

“Kordas says limpets eat huge amounts of microalgae, including microscopic diatoms and the spores of larger algal species. This clears the terrain for a variety of life.

“ ‘When limpets are allowed in, they make space for things like barnacles, and then those barnacles in turn create little condos for other animals to live in,’ she says.

“In a sense, limpets are tiny ecosystem engineers. … The study comes at a critical time for intertidal life in the northeast Pacific Ocean. In this area, the summer low tide typically occurs around noon, which exposes intertidal species to warm summer temperatures. The heat shakes up the intertidal community, but shakes it up more without limpets around.

“The lesson of Kordas’s study, however, is not about limpets per se. It’s about the need to better understand the role of every organism in an ecosystem.”

Hat tip: Pablo Rodas-Martini, @pablorodas, on Twitter.

More here.

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Photo: Buzzfeed
Reducing our intake of meat, especially beef, can reduce global warming. Want to help me find quick non-meat recipes that work for the whole family?

Back in the 1970s, my sister gave me Frances Moore Lappé‘s Diet for a Small Planet. So even back then, I was hearing that eating meat was bad for Planet Earth. But I never gave it up completely. I had a few non-meat recipes that I liked, including a delicious Eggplant Parmesan from that book, but my commitment wavered.

Lately, there’s been a lot in the news about what the individual can do to fight global warming, and one of the most frequently mentioned ideas is to give up meat, especially beef. There are lots of reasons, including the fact that livestock gives off too much methane and requires extensive grazing land that could be better used. Also, destroying trees in the rainforest and elsewhere is like destroying the lungs of the planet.

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Photo: One Green Planet
Many environmentalists say that beef production is killing rainforests, which are the lungs of the planet in that they absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.

Suzanne and I are giving meatless meals another shot. We’re unlikely to get as far as a true vegan diet, but we can start by serving smaller and smaller amounts of meat and larger and larger amounts of grains, nuts, fruits, eggs, veggies, and dairy products. (Dairy cows are just as flatulent as cattle raised for meat, so in California, scientists are experimenting with seaweed added to food to cut down on the methane released.)

Both Suzanne and I value prep speed. We have meat-centered meals we make quickly on autopilot. Now we need to retrain our muscle memory to make vegetarian recipes quickly.

I’ve started searching the web and would be open to ideas from readers, many of whom probably had this whole concept nailed down years ago. John’s family has an ongoing Tofu Tuesday, so I hope to get a favorite recipe from them.

BuzzFeed offers a list of 30 intriguing meals here. They’re a bit heavy on the bean component, which won’t work for me, but how do you like the one pictured at the top of the post, which BuzzFeed found at the Bojon Gourmet? It involves tofu and shiitake mushrooms roasted in a mixture of toasted sesame oil, tamari, and sriracha and transferred to a miso soup containing noodles, ginger, and kale. Mmmm.

Photo: Yale Environment 360
According to environmentalists, when humans destroy the rainforest to graze cattle, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

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Photos: Greg Davis/OPB
Oregon State University doctoral student Hankyu Kim sets up a decoy of a hermit warbler. Songbird populations have been declining, and rising temperatures are one reason.

Nearly all birds are “canaries in the coal mine,” in the sense that when they’re in trouble from habitat destruction, rising temperatures, pollutants, and so on, they’re heralding trouble for all species, including the human one. For that reason, among many others, I love to hear of efforts to protect even one kind of bird.

Consider this story by reporter Jes Burns at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Each spring, songbirds migrate thousands of miles to breed in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Deep in a forest, Oregon State University researcher Hankyu Kim feels he has gotten inside the head of one species, the hermit warbler.

” ‘These birds are territorial in the breeding ground, they set up their territories, and they fight with each other to defend it,’ he says.

“Armed with this knowledge, a nearly invisible net strung between two repurposed fishing poles, a lifelike plastic warbler decoy and a looped recording of birdcalls, Kim’s trap is set. …

” ‘We have these long-term population monitoring routes across the Northwest. And a surprising number of species are declining,’ says Oregon State professor Matt Betts. ‘Actually, more than about half of the species that live in a forest like this are in decline.’

“Rising temperatures can shrink where some birds can live and where they can find food. For the hermit warbler, those declines are up to 4 percent each year.

“Research by Oregon State’s Betts and Sarah Frey found warblers declined in areas with young forests, including those replanted after clear-cut logging. But hermit warblers are doing better in other areas.

” ‘In landscapes that had more older forest, their population declines were lowered, or even reversed, even though the climate has been warming,’ Frey says.

“The Pacific Northwest has had a decades-long push to preserve its old-growth forests, and the warblers thrived in them. That suggests these forests somehow shielded them from the ill effects of rising temperatures. The question is why, and that is where this new study comes in.

“Kim and fellow Oregon State researcher Adam Hadley move the trapped hermit warbler’s feathers aside and attach a tiny radio tag to its back using nontoxic glue (the kind used for fake eyelashes). Then they release the bird, and it flies away. …

“They walk down a drainage though a 50-year-old tree plantation, a remnant of the logging past at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. Then they cross into a grove of much older trees, some close to 300 years old.

“Hadley explains that the temperatures can be different at various heights of a tree. ‘It’s possible that when it’s warmer, [songbirds] may be only using the bottom and more shady parts of the trees,’ he says. He guesses they may move up higher when it becomes cooler.

“He says the complex layers and sheer biomass of old-growth keeps the temperature in these forests up to 5 degrees lower. But the researchers can’t fully understand what’s going on without knowing more about how the birds use the forests. …

“Hadley waves the antenna through the air trying to pinpoint the warbler’s location. … He and the others will compare the hermit warblers’ movements with temperature data they’ve also been gathering. They hope to get another step closer to understanding how this native songbird species might cope with the warming climate.”

More. This seems like an extra reason to protect old-growth forests, not just replant after logging. But how long will five degrees cooler be enough?

Kim, do you know about this? And are you seeing these warblers at your banding station?

Oregon State scientists are tagging and tracking hermit warblers in hopes of learning why their numbers have stabilized in places with old-growth forests, despite declines in other areas.

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Photo: Reuters/Bob Strong
Cities consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy. Copenhagen is a city that’s determined to become the first carbon-neutral capital and, in the process, is showing that sustainability improvements are good for the economy.

Copenhagen, where Erik’s Swedish-Danish relatives live, is showing the world that cutting carbon emissions to fight global warming can actually reduce energy prices and boost the economy. In a win-win for all concerned, big steps by the local energy company are complemented by the small steps of individuals who know that biking everywhere is good for both the environment and personal health.

Lin Taylor writes for the World Economic Forum, “Around the world, more than 70 major cities have pledged to end their reliance on fossil fuels and stop pumping out climate-changing emissions by 2050.

“But Copenhagen — a city of wind turbines, bicycles and reliable public transportation – thinks it can go even further: It intends to accomplish that shift in just seven years. It will require a complete reimagining of how the Danish capital is powered and designed — and a lot of cyclists. …

“While other cities have parking garages for cars, Copenhagen has them for bicycles. Virtually all its 600,000 residents own a bicycle, and the city has 375 kilometres of dedicated cycle lanes.

“The harbour-rimmed municipality also is mostly powered by clean energy — and it has its own renewable energy company and wind turbines. Running its own energy systems is one of the reasons Copenhagen is already well on track to being carbon neutral – meaning it will produce no more carbon emissions than it can offset elsewhere. …

“In 2017, Copenhagen produced about 1.37 million tonnes of climate-changing gases, down 40 percent from 2005, according to city figures. That’s about 2.2 tonnes of emissions per capita, one of the lowest rates for a European city. The city said the reduction in emissions was largely due to a switch to wind energy under HOFOR, the city’s own utility company. …

“Around the world, cities consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for about three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations. That means finding ways for cities to become carbon neutral will be key to meeting the Paris commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. …

“In its quest to cut emissions, Copenhagen has another distinct advantage: For over 100 years, the city — and Denmark as a whole — has relied on district heating, a system where heat is produced and supplied from one neighbourhood or area plant, instead of per household. That means the city itself can make the switch to cleaner energy for large numbers of residents, cutting carbon emissions by over half compared to the use of individual gas or oil boilers, HOFOR says.” It adds:

“The city also has a newly-built district cooling system, which uses seawater to cool buildings and households, cutting energy consumption up to 80 percent compared to traditional methods of air-conditioning.

“By 2025, the city aims to be powered entirely by wind, sun, geothermal energy, waste, and wood and other biomass. Yet despite its huge investment in new, clean technologies, one of the city’s big priorities is cutting prices for energy users. …

“[Jørgen Abildgaard, director of the city’s climate programme,] said it was crucial to work closely with industries such as construction and transport to devise business models and technologies that work both to meet business goals and cut emissions. …

“As the city’s emissions-cutting commitments have grown, so has its economy, which has seen 25 percent growth over the past two decades.” More at the World Economic Forum, here.

Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Lin Taylor
On a typical day in August, numerous bicycles are parked on a street in central Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Our New Year’s Eves are quiet these days. We watched an Agatha Christie on television and went to sleep. But I’ve been saving a suitable tile from the New York subway system since my October trip to visit my sister, so here it is and Happy New Year!

2018 was not a good year for my sister, who was diagnosed with a bad brain cancer in July. But it was also a year we learned to be grateful for things like a clean surgery and cancer treatments without bad side effects. My perspective changed.

My perspective on the nation and on the future of the planet and my own role in it has also been evolving. I began to suspect that, other than our Bill of Rights, our country may not be as special as we thought. After all, all countries think they are special. And even the Bill of Rights can’t survive unless we commit to protecting it and interpreting it justly. Surely none of those rights were intended to lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans every year. Perhaps 2018 was a turning point.

I’ve also been giving more thought to my role in global warming. Do I make too many unnecessary car trips when I could walk or take public transportation? Do I serve the family too much meat, especially beef? Should I find a way to plant more trees? I know I need to stop sneaking around the local laws against plastic bags and find a sustainable alternative.

I will be writing more about initiatives to protect the planet and will be looking for ideas to apply in my own life from you and from websites like 1MillionWomen. By the way, I learned about 1MillionWomen from a wonderful book called Climate Justice, by Mary Robinson. I hope you will put it on your list. It shows how the poorest communities are the first to feel the crunch of global warming and how, if we pay attention to those communities, we will also be taking arm against the sea of troubles that threatens us all.

Even better, the book shows how extraordinarily effective ordinary people can be when they have simply had enough.

 

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