Sunday, December 11, 2011

US Student Interrupts Climate Talks at Durban

Good for 21-year-old Middlebury student, Abigail Bora, for speaking out at the Durban climate talks:
I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot. The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. We need leaders who will commit to real change, not empty rhetoric. Keep your promises. Keep our hope alive.

Get the full story here

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Greening your Christmas List

If you're looking for an easy way to buy eco-friendly gifts this season or just want to shop greener, check out the Good Guide. Good Guide rates all kinds of consumer products on a scale of 1 to 10 in categories of health, environment and society. They have a Smartphone app so that you can scan a product's bar code and immediately find its Good Guide rating.

Browsing the Good Guide site, I see that their scientists have rated more than 2000 shampoos, 2500 coffee products, 100 jeans brands, 498 cell phone products and 3787 cars -- not bad!

What about for particular products? I checked Diet Coke, which has an overall score of 4.9/10.
It scored 2/10 in Health, because of low nutritional value, 6.7/10 in Environment because "This product has a plastic container that has a relatively low environmental impact," and 6/10 in Society, because the company has social policies that rank it in the top 15% of companies rated by Good Guide. When you click on the various scores, you get more information, but not much. I'm not sure why they say that the plastic container has a relatively low environmental impact -- compared to aluminum cans perhaps? Some editorializing for each product would be good.

Still, Good Guide makes it easy for us to start making greener buying decisions.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The BeStraw Free Project

I polled my Astronomy 101 class this week on their thoughts about our ability as a species to solve the problem of global warming and they were unanimously pessimistic, fearing that our actions were going to be too little too late. This alarms me because these are all people in their late teens or early 20's and have their whole lives ahead of them -- I hope in their case that pessimism does not equate with inaction or inability to act.

But I personally suspect it may be more of same for halting the biodiversity crisis -- by the time enough of us tune in to curb our consumptive habits, we could be past a tipping point and entire ecosystems could collapse.

So it's great to hear a positive story about someone who's thinking big and thinks we all really can make a difference. When Milo Cress found out that Americans use 500 million single use straws a day he decided to stop using them and began an online project where others could join to do the same. (Individual action and reducing consumption -- our two favorite topics!)
Milo lives in Burlington, VT, and is in the fourth grade.

As he writes on the Be Straw Free project information page, 500 million straws a day is like sending 127 busloads of straws to the landfill every day. That, you will agree, is a lot of straws, and a lot of waste. All so that we can sip a drink faster than drinking it straight from the edge?

You can do your part by refusing the straw for your next beverage at the bar, restaurant or soda fountain. Make it a summer project. Bring your own re-usable straw around. This is an idea that really needs to get around.

Global Biodiversity Outlook 3

If you want a 10-minute primer on last year's UNEP Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 report, you can start with this fine video summary:

As summarized in Anup Shah's excellent Global Issues site, almost all the ecosystem health indicators since the 1970's are negative.
Global Biodiversity Outlook, biodiversity, UNEP

Though, land protection (below) is on the increase. Now, if we can start reducing our consumption we could possibly turn some of these other indicators around.

Global Biodiversity Outlook, biodiversity, UNEP

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ocean life on the brink of mass extinctions: study

overfishing, biodiversity, endangered species, oceans
The article below is directly from Reuters. A few salient points mentioned: (1) as happens with popular articles like this, it sounds like unless we act now, the mass extinction will begin. If you're been reading this blog, you know the mass extinction has already begun, so what we'd like to do is to act now to prevent it from getting much worse; (2) halting overfishing doesn't require an international treaty! You and I can do something about it today by eating more sustainably. Next we have to educate our friends to do so too, and their friends, and so on. A little education can go a long way...

Here's the article:

(Reuters) - Life in the oceans is at imminent risk of the worst spate of extinctions in millions of years due to threats such as climate change and over-fishing, a study showed on Tuesday.
Time was running short to counter hazards such as a collapse of coral reefs or a spread of low-oxygen "dead zones," according to the study led by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).
"We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation," according to the study by 27 experts to be presented to the United Nations.
"Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, over-exploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean," it said.
Scientists list five mass extinctions over 600 million years -- most recently when the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, apparently after an asteroid struck. Among others, the Permian period abruptly ended 250 million years ago.
"The findings are shocking," Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO, wrote of the conclusions from a 2011 workshop of ocean experts staged by IPSO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at Oxford University.
Fish are the main source of protein for a fifth of the world's population and the seas cycle oxygen and help absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities.
Jelle Bijma, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said the seas faced a "deadly trio" of threats of higher temperatures, acidification and lack of oxygen, known as anoxia, that had featured in several past mass extinctions.
A build-up of carbon dioxide, blamed by the U.N. panel of climate scientists on human use of fossil fuels, is heating the planet. Absorbed into the oceans, it causes acidification, while run-off of fertilizers and pollution stokes anoxia.
"From a geological point of view, mass extinctions happen overnight, but on human timescales we may not realize that we are in the middle of such an event," Bijma wrote.
The study said that over-fishing is the easiest for governments to reverse -- countering global warming means a shift from fossil fuels, for instance, toward cleaner energies such as wind and solar power.
"Unlike climate change, it can be directly, immediately and effectively tackled by policy change," said William Cheung of the University of East Anglia.
"Over-fishing is now estimated to account for over 60 percent of the known local and global extinction of marine fishes," he wrote.
Among examples of over-fishing are the Chinese bahaba that can grow 2 meters long. Prices per kilo (2.2 lbs) for its swim bladder -- meant to have medicinal properties -- have risen from a few dollars in the 1930s to $20,000-$70,000.
(Editing by Jan Harvey)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Rhino Horn is Not Medicine

rhino, poaching, endangered species, biodiversity
Newsflash: the rhino horn does not cure cancer, nor is it a remedy for fever, headache, impotence, arthritis, pain, or ANY other medical condition. In fact, there is no evidence that the rhino horn has any medicinal value whatsoever. Yet poachers are still killing rhinos in alarming numbers to satisfy the demands of traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine. Rhino horn is also used in ornamental handles for daggers in Yemen.

According to Save the, the rhino population among its five species has plummeted from about one million at the turn of the 19th century, to 70,000 in 1970 to fewer than 24,500 today. The rhino has been around for 50 million years and today three of its five species are considered critically endangered and could become extinct within our lifetimes.

Saving has begun a big campaign to educate us that the rhino horn has no medicinal value.

Education is the first step to improving the situation. Find out how you can help rhinos here; find out ten reasons to save the rhinos here.

It's our planet. These are our species. We need to take care of them.

Here's a short video by Tylor Loposser from the Sixth Extinction in Motion video project:

Black Rhino - Tylor from cmuutk on Vimeo.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Drug Wars and Biodiversity

cocaine, poppy, drugs, biodiversity, rainforest

I heard a disturbing report on NPR this morning about how the Mexican drug war is now spreading into central America, particularly into the northern Peten region of Guatemala, which includes the site of the fantastic Mayan pyramids at Tikal. Guatemala draws fewer tourists in a year -- about a million -- than Yellowstone National Park can draw in a summer month. Here is a recent article from the Guatemala Times that describes Guatemala's efforts to draw more eco-tourists, a niche that Costa Rica has carved out to modest success.

As the NPR article points out, news of shoot outs between drug gangs, even if they are not directed toward tourists, is a sure way to drive tourists away. This removes much needed revenue from local people who could be leading tourists on jungle treks. Drug cartels are also "cutting clandestine airstrips in the Guatemalan jungle", which causes habitat fragmentation and ultimately species loss.

While I don't see an ad campaign that says "Cocaine: It's Killing the Planet" anytime soon, perhaps we in the US should recognize that our consumption of cocaine has far-reaching consequences from ruining individual lives at home to communities and environments not far away.

Here is an article about how cocaine cultivation has been ravaging the Columbian rainforest.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Endangered Species Day

The winter semester here at Boston University has just ended and this weekend the seniors will be convocating. Here, and in many other universities in the U.S. and Canada at this time, I suspect graduates will be hearing about how they can take what they’ve learned and go out and conquer the world. Graduation is a happy occasion, but I wonder how many graduates will be hearing about how an economy based on perpetual growth is unsustainable, how our present population growth is unsustainable and how the high rates of species loss, unless rapidly reduced, will doom us all. Ugh. Who wants to hear that?

But what message do we want to hear, at convocation or anytime? Personally, I would value hearing or seeing no message at all for a while so that I can think about what I do value. Think about all the times during the day when you are bombarded with ads about stuff to buy. There is stuff advertised on buses, on Youtube, in your inbox and your favorite website. (Some websites I can barely read the articles anymore because it keeps moving on me as different ads load.) Stuff to buy everywhere. Buying stuff, it would seem, is supposed to make us happy.

What is the cost of all this stuff? What is the cost of valuing stuff more than personal engagement or a walk in the woods?

I'm teaching Astronomy 101 starting next week and one thing I've always valued about an astronomical education is the perspective it gives. I know where we are in space and time.
We're in a large spiral galaxy, 3/4 of the way out to the edge and we're about 4.5 billion years old, in a universe that's just under 14 billion years old. It took 2500 years of science to be able to write that sentence. Another that has been just as hard won is: we're one of 10 million or more species who have evolved from a common ancestor over about 3.8 billion years of life on the only planet known to have life in the universe. (I'm watching some episodes of Carl Sagan's Cosmos again after many years, and Sagan, of course, was a master at helping us understand perspective.)

We share this planet with literally millions of other species and despite the hundreds of other planets discovered around other stars, we're still unique in the universe. We have abundant and varied life.

There's a new documentary called The Call of Life: Facing the Mass Extinction and I've got a short trailer and a long trailer for you below. Both versions feature provocative questions about the societies we live in and what we value. Today (May 20) is Endangered Species Day and World Environment Day is coming up on June 5. Check out the trailers below. Tune out of the perpetual bombardment to buy and instead think about what you value. There is still abundant life on Earth -- we need to start educating ourselves on how to value it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Economics of Happiness

economics of happiness, ecologist, biodiversity

I stole this entire post from The Ecologist, a catch-all for environmental news from the Guardian newspaper in the UK. This looks like a timely and provocative film (we just had a forum about food security in our Biodiversity course) and it would be great to have a screening in the Boston area.

Here's is the description from The Ecologist:

A sneak preview of Helena Norberg-Hodge's epic documentary which examines how 'going local' is a powerful strategy to help repair our fractured world - ecosystems, societies and individuals

Economic globalisation has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and ethnic conflict; climate chaos and species extinction; financial instability and unemployment. There are personal costs too. For the majority of people on the planet life is becoming increasingly stressful. We have less time for friends and family and we face mounting pressures at work.

The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance—and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of localisation.

The film hears from a chorus of voices from six continents including Samdhong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of Tibet's government in exile, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, David Korten and Zac Goldsmith. They explain that climate change and peak oil give us little choice: we need to localise, to bring the economy home. The good news is that as we move in this direction we will begin not only to heal the earth but also to restore our own sense of well-being. The Economics of Happiness restores our faith in humanity and challenges us to believe that it is possible to build a better world....
Definitely sounds like a film worth keeping an eye out for!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Outermost House

Henry Beston, nature writing, Outermost House, biodiversity
I've just finished Richard Ellis' book, The Empty Ocean, about how we are plundering the oceans in a war that we've been waging over the last 400 years. Needless to say, we're winning. It's not the sort of book you can plow through in a few sittings because the depressing facts about this or that species being annihilated keep getting to you, whether it be cod or tuna or turtles or whales or seals... but Ellis is a fine writer and does his own illustrations, which enhance the text, and his storytelling is good enough to keep coming back to.

Ellis uses quotes from other writers to great effect and I am enormously grateful for him for turning me on to Henry Beston and The Outermost House, published in 1936. This, I've now found out, is a classic of nature writing, and details, according to the subtitle, Beston's year on "the great beach of Cape Cod".

Beston is an amiable companion and there are many intimate moments in the The Outermost House, but here is the quote that Ellis excerpts, which is what made me seek out Beston in the first place:

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals... We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, we greatly err. For the animal should not be measured by man. In a world older and more complex than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."

The semester here at BU is over... go and get caught in the net of life and time and read The Outermost House. This book really should be better known.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ecolympics Prize Winners

Prizes, prizes, prizes! We've been drawing lots, and making people happy with a chance to pull from our prize barrel. Like last year, if you claimed the highest points, (above 200 points, and 100-200 points) you qualified for the best prizes. If you didn't win one of those, you still qualified for our other prizes. Here's the list of winners and their prizes -- congratulations to all:

Elise Phalen -- Planet Earth DVD

Jenna Dee -- Planet Earth DVD

Silpa Sadhujan -- $50 Gift cert to Taranta in the north end

Danielle Chudolij -- $50 Gift cert to Taranta in the north end

Jenn Greene -- $50 Gift cert to Ten Tables in JP

Ashley Jones -- $50 gift pass to the New England Aquarium

Kyna Hamill -- Wine-tasting for two at The Fireplace

Lisha Kaluza -- Eco-friendly yoga mat from

Aberdine Donaldson -- Eco-friendly yoga mat from

Caitlin Flynn -- $25 Gift certificate to Greenward Eco-boutique

Sarah Goodyear -- $25 Gift cert to Veggie Planet in Cambridge

Meredith Withelder -- $25 Gift cert to Taza Chocolate

Rachel Atcheson -- 2 large pizzes from Peace o' Pie

The following people won copies of the terrific and inspiring "50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth": Margo Godersky, Marli Gordon, Christina Teng, Jennifer Gilbert, Kalani McDaniel, Mallory Morales, Olivia Watts, Michelle Kwock, Sophia Fregoso and Jenna Rizzen.

Three people won copies of the nutrition book, The China Study, generously donated by the publisher: Sarah Tompkins, Jennifer Saigal and Maddy Lee. Congratulations!

Two copies of The Happy Herbivore went to: Jordan Rosenthal and Chloe Skewis. Have fun with your vegan explorations!

Six ever-useful Chico bags went to James DeCamp, Christina Brinster, Michelle So, Jennifer Kaizer, Deep Shah and Raphael Addante. Way to go!

And finally, a yummy Equal Exchange Fair Trade Chocolate Bar went to Kacha Brandonjic, Chelsea Gagliano, Amelia Sagan-Mucha, Chloe Gummer, Alexandra Knowles, Ally Hughes, Zack Johnson, Katherine Storer and Phoebe Rosenthal. Well done!

Drop by CAS 119 to pick up your prize!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Photo Contest Winners

Now that classes are winding down we can finally start giving out our prizes. Tough deciding on the photo contest! We had trees in all kinds of different environments and at many different times of day. Our first prize is a $25 gift card to Trader Joe's, which we hope gets used for things like fair trade or organic goods, but the winner can spend it on whatever she likes and our second prize is
a triple chocolate bar set from Taza Chocolate -- direct trade chocolate (yum!). Because the judging was so difficult, we decided to award two more photos an additional Equal Exchange fair trade chocolate bar each. Thanks to all who entered.

Here's the first place photo, which we liked for its overall composition -- trees framing trees:
a classic picture of New England in the Fall by Yue Huang -- congratulations Yue!

Our second place photo is by Valerie Belding, a spooky black and white shot from Undara, Australia -- congratulations Valerie!

Our third place photo is a placid, calming scene, very close to home at Walden Pond from Silpa Sadhujan -- congratulations Silpa!

And our fourth place photo is a colorful impressionistic shot that seems to be from the middle of a forest by Danielle Chudolij -- congratulations Danielle!

Thanks to all who entered -- it was a tight race right to the end!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Two short films about orangutans and palm oil

MacQuarrie Byrne films teamed up with students at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Tennessee to make some short films about the present biodiversity crisis under the project title, Sixth Extinction in Motion. Here are two brief public service announcements about orangutans and palm oil, both reminding us that we as consumers can regularly vote with our dollar and make positive rather than negative changes in the environment. The first is by Maya Irvine and the second is by Sophia Chan.

Orangutan PSA from Maya Irvine on Vimeo.

6th Extinction: Orangutans from Sophia Chan on Vimeo.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Photo of the Day: Close Strolling

photo of the day, forest, nature, biodiversity, nature photos, picture, photosWe are about to announce our own photo contest winners and I wanted to show this terrific photo from Plymouth State University's Museum of the White Mountains. On their webpage it's called "close strolling".

What a great title! Forget backbacks and water bottles and fancy hiking boots. Let's just go for a stroll together among the tall, tall pines.

From their body language you can almost sense their amiable conversation.

But can you imagine the Whites without their spectacular forest cover? One hundred years ago, deforestation was a huge problem and it was largely thanks to the efforts of one person, Philip Ayres, who went on the lecture circuit with his own lantern slides , that a national forest reserve was ultimately created.

If you go to the above exhibit, you see that the efficiency with which Ayres describes the logging companies' decimation of the forests is reminiscent of the efficiency with which we are overfishing the oceans. Still, full credit -- and profound thanks -- to Ayres for giving us all such an incredible legacy. Perhaps one of us will fill his shoes for the beleaguered fish and other endangered species.

In the meantime, I suggest taking advantage of whatever weather you've got and going for some close strolling...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Marine Life Encyclopedia

cool biodiversity photos, photo images, nature, conservation, coral

It should be a no-brainer that nature is worth preserving, but given the fact that our minds are more on material goods, we need constant reminders of the beauty of nature. Like this Marine Life Encyclopedia from the New York Times that tells me we live in an amazingly diverse world and we need to tune into it and our effect on it before it all slips right through our fingers.

Scan through the 16 photos in the above slideshow -- how many times did you say "Wow"?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Welcome to the International Year of Plastic Bags in Trees

plastic bags, plastic pollution, pollution, biodiversityI took these pictures over two days on two different runs on my bike.

(Click on the link above or on the photo to view as a slideshow. Or click through the small photos below, or click on the photo below to go to the album for larger versions.)

Methinks we have a problem....

Anyone ready to ban the plastic bag?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Great WWF Ads

World Wildlife Fund, WWF, biodiversity, endangered species, environmental awareness, environmental ads
You’ve got to hand it to the World Wildlife Fund for the creativity in their ads. Here’s a compilation of 55 compelling and provocative ads. Feel free to leave a comment about your favorites. I personally like the forest/lungs, the ghost tiger images and, for sheer provocation, both the child in the tiger suit and the soon-to-be consumed baby.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guide to North American Mammals

north american mammals, endangered species, nature, biodiversity

I have a confession to make.

No, I'm not going to confess that I'm not as green as I'm letting on (I switched to 100% renewable electricity last month). Nor am I going to confess that I'm a proud shareholder of BP (I'm not -- btw, happy oil spill anniversary!)

No, I'm going to confess something much more mundane.

I confess that I love the Internet.

It's true. I love it that people from around the world are tuning in to what we're saying here. We're getting hits from India (Namaste), Qatar (Marhaba), Russia (Dobro požalovat'), Azerbaijan (Xoş gəlmişsiniz!), Australia (Welcome mates), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dobrodošli), Canada (Howdy),
Germany (Willkomen), Fiji (Bula) and other great places. Thanks for reading. It's nice to know you're interested in a greener, more sustainable planet whereever you are.

I also love the Internet because of cool sites like the Smithsonian's North American Mammals.
Before we start, how many mammal species would you guess exist in North America? 100? 200? 500? 800? 1000?

Fire up the site in another window, go to Enhanced Map Search (Beta) and we'll look at some cool things together. The first thing you'll notice, if you're on the default "mammal" view, is that there are 426 mammal species spread among just ten orders (remember Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species). Personally, I would have guessed there are 100-200 mammals in North America, so I would have been short by more than a factor of 2!

Here are the ten orders of mammals in North America: 1. even-toed ungulates; 2. carnivores; 3. whales, dolphins, porpoises; 4. bats; 5. opossums; 6. shrews, moles, hedgehogs; 7. rabbits, hares, pikas; 8. rodents; 9. manatees, dugongs; 10. armadillos, sloths, anteaters.

Really, if we were serious, we could memorize a short list of ten items like that.

Click on any order and you'll see how its species are distributed. For example, when you click on the box for Manatees and dugongs, you see that they are found only around the coast of Florida. Similarly, you can click on the arrow next to Bats and then see all the bat families. Click on any family and check off a species to find its geographical distribution. For example, the Family "Vesper Bats" seem to be quite widely distributed. When you check off the Pallid bat, you find it is concentrated in the western US, but the big brown bat has colonized the entire continental US, Mexico and southern Canada. You can amuse yourself with all ten different orders of North American mammals and get to know them better.

Another thing to try is to switch from the "Mammals" view to the "Ecoregions" view. Now you'll see the map transform into a colorful collage that indicates different ecological regions like grasslands, steppes, forests and so on. I live in Boston and suppose I want to go to Cape Code for the weekend -- what mammals might I see down there? Well, when I click on the Cape on the map, a box pops up that tells me it's the "Atlantic coastal pine barrens" ecoregion and I've got a chance to see 37 different mammals in the area including white-tailed deer, skunk, voles and much more. Click on "Explore" to see the geographical range for each.

Click on your favorite area and see what you can find.

Maybe you want to sink your teeth in a little deeper and find out which mammals are in trouble? Go back to the main page and click on Conservation status. You should list of categories on the right with "Extinct", "Extinct in the wild", "Critically endangered" and so on.

Here's where we can create our own field guide.

Suppose we want to find out more about the "Critically endangered" mammals". When I click on that menu item I get "13 records returned". Scroll down to the bottom of the page and "Select all" and then click on "Create field guide".

Voila! The site has generated a nice 13-page pdf file of all the critically endangered mammals in North America, including a color picture, a note about its conservation status, a paragraph about its habits, a map of where its found (some of my maps didn't reproduce very well) and space for me to make my own notes.

Go ahead, make your own field guide. This is a tool to use again and again. And there's much more to explore at this great site.

Yes, it's true, I love the Internet!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Looking for the Asian Longhorn Beetle

No, I'm not bird watching.

I'm actually looking for the tell tale signs of the highly destructive Asian Longhorn Beetle on one of its favorite host species on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall -- the maples.

This event was organized by BU's Global Day of Service in partnership with the Friends of the Boston Public Garden, who provided guides and information sheets to identify the pest.

The Asian longhorn beetle was discovered in the Worcester, MA, area in August 2008 and has since been responsible for the decimation of more than 300,000 trees. To find the beetle, you must scan the entire tree for its exit hole, which is a perfect circle, slightly smaller than a dime. Given these tall trees on Commonwealth Avenue, you have to get a good method down so you don't keep scanning the same branches over and over again. And the brisk wind on Saturday made it extra challenging to hold the binocs steady, but we didn't find anything that was cause for concern.

Besides maples, the ALB also likes other hardwoods like birch and elm.

You can imagine that the state of Massachusetts is intent on eradicating this pest. Here's a guide
to identifying it and here is where to file a report. Invasive species, together with habitat fragmentation, pollution, overexploitation and climate change, is one of the main causes of the present biodiversity crisis.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Mini Eco-Film Festival, Part 4

Welcome to our 4th Mini Eco-Film Festival!
Our first film is from the Irish group, RealEyes, which is part of a global network of sustainability experts and business leaders affiliated with The Natural Step International, which operates in 12 countries.
Earth Day is this week and for our second film we have this great summary of environmental and Earth Day milestones over the last 40 years produced by Mother Nature Network. What new achievements will we make for 2011?
Our main feature today, which falls under Planet Management 101, is a Ted talk by the WWF’s Jason Clay talking about his work to convert big brand companies into using more sustainable practices. It’s worth your 20 minutes. It’s followed by a cool three and a half minute animated short, Good Vibrations, produced by Liberty Mutual, which looks at community responsibility and the costs of complacency.
Thanks for watching. Feel free to comment and share with your friends. Everywhere.

Watch the Mini Eco-Film Festival Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Race Against Extinction

What can one person do to halt the alarming increase in biodiversity loss?

You can join the Ecolympics. You can act on the suggestions in our blog.

And you can put your boots to the ground and join the Race Against Extinction, a 5K race this Sunday starting at Artesani Park in Boston.

Jeff Neterval started the race in 2008 thanks to his daughter's passion for animal's and E.O. Wilson's The Future of Life, which he read in 2001. Jeff writes that "Professor Wilson's calculation and message then that for $30 billion humankind could preserve over 70% of the world's species by conserving a number of our planet's biodiversity 'hot spots' was the inspiration."

Their mission is to both "raise awareness for preserving our planet's precious biodiversity and raise funds for organizations such as Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund to help them with their conservation efforts".

"Oh yeah," Jeff adds, "we also want to do this while having a good time!"

Jeff and his group held the first Race Against Extinction 5K on Earth Day in 2008 as an informal experiment (no permit) along the Charles along the Esplanade. It was a cold rainy week night. They managed to muster 8 participants. Proceeds were delivered to The Nature Conservancy. The original 8 and friends made along the way organized the second annual Race Against Extinction on April 17, 2010. They registered over 150 participants and raised approximately $8000 combined with a matching program for the World Wildlife Fund's Year of the Tiger campaign.

Jeff isn't kidding when he talks about having fun while doing this. The Race Against Extinction
even has a guy crazy enough to have run marathons dressed as a polar bear to help promote the cause... Last year, the polar bear ran the full Chicago Marathon in 87 degree weather. Now that's being committed to your cause!

This year, Jeff has had no outside sponsors and has funded the race himself. He's up against two big scheduling events too: Palm Sunday and the Boston marathon's popular 5k event. But willing participants will be recognized with protecting an acre of rain forest on Conservation International's Protect an Acre of rain forest.

Habitat fragmentation and deforestation are two of the main causes of the present biodiversity crisis, so protecting an acre of rain forest is an excellent and tangible way to do something positive for endangered species. I personally love the idea of being able to peer down into the Amazon on Google Earth and know that I helped to protect an acre.

It's amazing what one person can do: one person can organize a race that gets dozens of other people out for the same cause. I'll be there on Sunday. What about you -- ready to lace up your shoes and join the Race Against Extinction?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Making time for endangered species

Education is the first step... then, if we don't take more action soon, we're going to have many more passenger pigeons for the 21st century...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fair Trade Chocolate Tasting and Seminar

There's nothing like hearing someone on your side trying to inspire you to keep doing what you're doing. Tonight we had Molly Zeff from Equal Exchange Coop talk to us about "Coffee, Chocolate and Why Fair Trade is a Way to Go Green." Equal Exchange began more than twenty years ago as a big risk taken by its three founders, who met at a New England food co-op, and now works with 40 farmer co-operatives in 20 countries. They bring some of the highest quality, organic, Fair Trade products to people in the US and their coffee, chocolate and cocoa have received awards and/or been nationally ranked.

Fair Trade, Molly explained, is a way of doing business, that aims to offer small farmers access to the world marketplace, provide consumers with products that support their values and advance social, economic and environmental goals. Equal Exchange frequently pays above the minimum Fair Trade price, which is above the market price, and guarantees pre-harvest funding of up to 60% of the final price, a pair of actions that give small farmers more income and allow them to make all-important long-term planning instead of focusing on immediate needs.

On the green side, Fair Trade labeling includes a number of green requirements such as the regulation of pesticides, waste disposal and more. Equal Exchange, it turns out, goes beyond these requirements and their products are almost entirely organic -- meaning no chemical pesticides or herbicides, the use of natural composting instead of chemical fertilizers and using diversity of crops to keep pests away. This is good stewardship for both the soil, the local biodiversity and the workers.

Coffee cultivation has been linked to deforestation because much of the mass-produced coffee is so-called "sun-grown". Equal Exchange, however, works with small farmers who tend to use "diversified shade", which not only preserves plant/tree diversity, it's good for songbird diversity as well.

I suspect most of us were persuaded that Equal Exchange was onto something good with all this, but the surprise came about 2/3 of the way through her presentation: most major chocolate companies use cocoa tainted by child labor and even child slavery. It's the chocolate industry's dirty little secret and you can find out more in the documentary Molly mentioned The Dark Side of Chocolate. As with any other social and environmental problem, it's up to us to educate ourselves, so see how your favorite chocolate company scores on this scorecard. According to the scorecard, there has been progress since the problem came to light in 2001, so keep those protest cards and letters going, and keep voting with your dollar.

For the tasting portion, Molly passed around two different bowls of chocolates: the Organic Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt and the Organic Mint Chocolate with a Delicate Crunch. We were encouraged to inhale each bowl to first take in the aroma, to admire the texture of the chocolate and finally to taste it. She gave us each a sheet to record our notes. I was used to trying to wax on about the various flavors of some new wine, but not about chocolate, but here we were tasting chocolate worth raving about. Both chocolates had unique flavors with several undertones that lingered afterwards. Nice.

Because the Ecolympics is about galvanizing individual action, to her enormous credit, Molly spent the last part of her presentation rallying us to keep going with our own actions. The kicker was that she got us to go around the room and admit to a single action we were prepared to do after her presentation. It was great to hear such a collection of actions that really was adding up to making a difference.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is your bank financing climate change?

We're all for shorter showers, eating less meat, bringing a re-usable bag or cup around and taking public transit, but as previous blog posts have indicated, eventually we're going to have to come together and create a movement that demands some changes from the powers that be.

One place to demand action from is our banks. According to Sourcewatch, Bank of America is one of the largest investors in the coal sector, and coal, of course, is a nasty pollutant and contributor to climate change.

You can find a nice summary about actions to get Bank of America and Wells Fargo to divest from coal here:

Using the banks' own policy statements, the Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club, have prepared the "2011 Report Card on Banks and Mountain Top Removal". See for yourself if anyone gets an A or a B, and who gets C's and F's.

I don't know about you, but last time I checked, mountains were not for blowing up. We, as bank customers, should be doing what we can to improve our banks grades. It's our money after all.

Coffee, Chocolate and Fair Trade

Question1: How can you create positive change in your environment?

Question 2: Have you ever tried organic, fair trade chocolate?

Question 3: How is buying fair trade a way to go green?

Question 4: How can buying fair trade simultaneously empower small farmers and combat climate change?

Get the answers to these questions and more at our special seminar tomorrow night with Molly Zeff from Equal Exchange Coop. Molly will guide us through the world of fair trade by discussing two of its main products, coffee and chocolate. This event will feature a chocolate tasting.

What: Coffee, Chocolate and Why Fair Trade is a Way to Go Green
Where: CAS 211 (685 Commonwealth Avenue)
When: 6pm

We hope to see you there. All welcome. Ecolympics participants will earn bonus points.

Monday, April 11, 2011

10 Weird Endangered Species

Here’s another video from the Mother Nature Channel highlighting 10 weird endangered species. Once you get past the annoying computer-generated voice, the video is full of fascinating facts about the aye aye, dugong, platypus and the ugly, ugly, ugly purple frog, who lives mostly thirteen feet below ground, the tiny bumblebee bat, and the olm, a blind amphibian who “skeeves out the locals with its strange, human like skin”, among others.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Mini Eco-Film Festival, Part 3

What can one person do to improve the health of our environment? Here are three films that look at how individuals can have a positive impact on our environment.
1. Change the Message
First up is this short but powerful film that can be applied to branding environmentalism. Maybe you’ve got a better way to spread the environmental message than the one we’ve been using or you’ve been hearing elsewhere in the media.
You may have seen this video from the IUCN on changing the message regarding biodiversity.
Perhaps you can think of a message that will get us all to listen.

2. Educate Yourself, Educate Others
If you don’t know Annie Leonard’s work, here’s a great place to start: The Story of Bottled Water. With abundant wit and a creative presentation, Leonard is educating all of us in a way that makes us want to act. Check out other films from The Story of Stuff Project and help spread the word.

3. Plant some trees
This classic animated film needs to be in your repertoire. Based on the short story by Jean Giorno and directed by French-Canadian filmmaker Frederic Back in 1987, The Man Who Planted Trees is a moving, well-told story that can be watched again and again. Enjoy.

As always, we welcome your comments.

Check out the Mini Eco-Film Festival, Part 1 and Part 2.

Ecolympics, Week 1

Check out this graph from the first week of Ecolympics challenge events.
As of Friday afternoon, we were at about 163 participants (with some Friday afternoon registrants still to be entered). According to the numbers, our three most popular events are Recycle! (128 participants), Stair Climb (101 participants) and, unlabeled on the far, far right, beyond Veggie-Mania, Water Break (107 participants) -- let's keep those water bottles out of landfills by not buying them in the first place.

If you have batteries, printer cartridges or old cell phones, you can bring them to our office in CAS 119 to help you Recycle!

At the other end, I want to shout out to those who agreed to defrost their freezer in De-freeze (15 people Ecolympians) -- as we say in our event page, doing this with a friend makes it much easier!

And we've got a more than a dozen dedicated people who are trying to keep an eye out for endangered species via Endangered Species Watch, or who are getting to know their environment via Species ID. We're looking forward to seeing your news on our Facebook page. In fact, we'd love to get more action on our Facebook page so if you have any event news, please share!

Good luck with your events in week 2 -- you can sign up for more if you're up for the challenge -- and thanks for Competing for Team Earth!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Things to to, things to do, things to do

From convenient to challenging, have we got a list for you! Check out these fine lists for some eco-ideas and step up your involvement in preserving a sustainable environment. If you read a few of the lists, you'll see that one item is common: educate yourself.

Let's start with ten ways you can eat local from the (recently defunct) Boston Localvores.

Or how about ten sustainable actions (many of which are Ecolympics events) from Sustainability@BU?

If you just want to take simple steps to live green, check out the list from Conservation International.

If you're tuning into the biodiversity crisis, here are ten easy things you can do at home to protect endangered species, from the Endangered Species Coalition.

Strapped for cash? Here are ten things you can do for endangered species that don’t require money, from

Want to combine wildlife conservation and climate change activism? Here are ten things you can do to help imperiled wildlife survive climate change, from It’s Getting Hot Out There.

Or how about ten things you can do to save the ocean, from National Geographic.

Don't forget about the coral reefs. Here’s 25 things you can do to save them, from the NOAA.

Not enough for ya? Here are 100 ways to make a difference, from Marinebio.

Okay, you've had enough and you're ready to take action? Here are some action items from the World Wildlife Fund, the current action campaigns from the Center for Biological Diversity and the present advocacy campaigns from the Audubon Action Center .

What's inspiring you?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ecolympics, Day 5

Here we are at Ecolympics Day 5 already! I'm still thinking about what we should do for the opening ceremonies! How are your events going?

I don't know about you, but I'm having an easy time with Power Shower -- the one event that makes people around the office groan when I mention it. I lost a few points when I had to have an extra shower last night to relieve a migraine, but I've been at the two minute mark for the past three mornings.

My office is on the ground floor, so I don't usually need to worry about taking the stairs, but I did have to go to the 4th floor of the biology building on Monday and yes, I bypassed the elevator
for the stairs. I would like to know how much a single elevator ride costs in terms of power and carbon dioxide emission -- it should be easy to calculate.

I've got to step up my game and start identifying more species though. Thanks to my Arboretum tour on the weekend, I'm keeping an eye out for the soon to be blooming magnolias on Comm. Ave.

We have our recycle bins ready to go in the Core office, CAS 119, so if you have old cell phones, ear buds, or printer cartridges please bring them by.

I unplugged my home printer on the weekend and I've been good about turning the lights out since last year's Ecolympics. For TV-Free, I don't have a TV, but I resolved to turn off my laptop more often in the evenings... there are books to read after all.

Tonight I was treated by my sweetie to a local meal at The Hungry Mother in Cambridge. They specialize in seasonal and local ingredients and they definitely know what they are doing. Friendly service and great food from start to finish. I suppose I have to admit that I had the steak, but only because all of the other mains had gluten or something else I couldn't eat on account of migraine triggers. The beef was from Pineland Farms, and though it was high on the food chain, the waiter told us it was grass fed and from a quality, small sustainable operation.

(Nevertheless, if I'm going to claim points for Meat Less, I'm going to have to have a bunch of vegetarian or vegan meals to make up for this steak, delicious as it was.)

We started with the up-the-coast PEI mussels, and finished with a terrific Taza chocolate and hazelnut tart. Taza is one of our sponsors and it was great to have their rich chocolate showcased so well in the hazelnut crust. The taste and consistency of the chocolate was truly memorable.

We'd love to hear how you're doing with your challenges. Drop a comment below.

Harrison Ford on Saving Biodiversity

Here's an article from CNN from last fall when nations were in Nagoya, Japan to try to find a way to save Earth's biodiversity. Harrison Ford was there as the vice chairman of Conservation International and it's interesting to see that he was urging nations to protect at least 25 percent of Earth's land mass and 15% of Earth's oceans. If you watch the video on the CNN link, once you get past all the promo stuff, you can see he's not the most enthusiastic spokesman for biodiversity -- he sounds a little tired -- but hey, good for him for doing it and I applaud him for his urgency. We need more spokespeople.

The New York Times summarized the agreement the next day. The Nagoya Protocol set targets of protecting 17% of land and 10% of Earth's oceans by 2020.

Meanwhile, back in Boston, the third annual Race Against Extinction runs on April 17. It's only 5 K and the registration, which goes to conservation groups like WWF and Conservation International, is only $25. Any takers? I think we should make it an official Ecolympics event worth at least 25 points.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ecolympics Outdoors: Urban Nature Walk

I'm determined to start learning more about species in my environment, endangered or not, for this year's Ecolympics (and beyond) and I made significant progress with two excellent, short hikes this weekend.

The first was yesterday at 9 am at the Arnold Arboretum with Arboretum guide Rhoda. As Rhoda told us, it was a good time of year for the hike as it was before the trees are budding so we could see the natural shape of the trees. The Arboretum hosts more than 5000 taxa (including species, subspecies and cultivars). Rhoda mentioned that her hikes lead her around to her favorite trees so that she could say hello to them. What amazed me is that it just took a fact or two, or a few tidbits of a story of origin to change an anonymous tree into an individual. I think on subsequent trips I'm going to be finding -- and greeting -- my own favorites there.

Today, as part of Ecolympics Outdoors, we had Urban Pantheist Jef Taylor lead a small group of us up the Muddy River, which runs adjacent to the Riverway. Things got off to an amusing start
as Jef began explaining to us about the trees that were planted along the Mass Pike. He showed that the trees had virtually no soil to work with and could/had to withstand a lot of soot. Momentarily stumped on which kind of tree we were looking at, the solution came in the form of the sidewalk fossil found next to it (pictured above) -- a norway maple. Who knew we were going to do urban archaeology too?

I was penless (this is the season where I'm always forgetting something in the pockets of my other jackets) so I couldn't take notes. But on top of the bird watching (blue jays, grackles, house sparrows and more) and tree stories (soon I'm going to have new favorites to greet along my bike route), there were tales of Canada geese, the protection of migratory bird species, identification of duck species and habits, the origins of the Emerald Necklace, the Boston side of the Muddy River vs. the Brookline side, mushroom identification, red tail hawk viewing (pictured at left) and more.

Jef was abundantly curious, a fount of information, and a keen guide who didn't want us to miss anything. He also told us he was a self-educated urban ecologist, a program that he began just over ten years ago with an effort to learn all the species in his own backyard.

For the Ecolympics, two of the events I signed up for are Species ID and Endangered Species Watch. Thanks to Jef's inspiring example, I'm going to approach these events with a new enthusiasm.

A couple more photos are included below.

Willow buds.

Mushroom closeup.

Mushroom gills... a new layer is added every year, so this mushroom is at least 3 years old.

Jef, Evan and Anya at the site of a freshly cut tree. Note the tree was hollow, the work of creatures like carpenter ants. We'd seen another one on the walk that was still living and was now a home for raccoons.

The Emotional Life of Elephants

I just heard this week's program of Krista Tippett's Onbeing, where she interviews Katy Payne, who is an "acoustic biologist with a Quaker sensibility". From the show's description, Payne "discovered that humpback whales compose ever-changing songs and that elephants communicate across long distances by infrasound. Here, she reflects on life in this world through her experiences with two of the most exotic creatures."

The episode is mostly about elephants and it's great Sunday morning -- or any other quiet time -- listening.

Visit the episode homepage for some cool extra resources.

In the episode, Payne makes the point that we are just scratching the surface of our understanding of the animal world. Given her observations, I'd have to agree.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Mini Eco-Film Festival, Part 2

eco-film, environment, nature
Given that our mission is to raise awareness of the human footprint on the environment and that it's the weekend, it's time for another mini Eco-film festival. Get your coffee or snacks, get comfortable and enjoy.

The first film is a succinct history of 300 years of fossil fuels, with the catchy title, "300 years of Fossil Fuels in 300 seconds." It's from the Post Carbon Institute, which aims to "lead the transition to a more resilient, equitable and sustainable world." They're based in Santa Rosa California, and I have a feeling we're going to be hearing more about this world "resilience" in years to come.

In our second film, which is more a seminar than a narrative but still engrossing, the inimitable Sir David Attenborough delivers the annual Royal Society Lecture.
Here, Sir David comes out swinging against population growth, which he argues is unsustainable. This is the short version, containing just the speech.

Here’s the complete version, with audience questions and answers. In one of the questions, Attenborough makes the point that the future where we have to worry about famines is already here. And given the list of food crises and famines in the last decade and century, it’s easy to see that despite the green revolution the land cannot sustain as many people as now live on it.

Our third film is an impressive Ted talk by biologist Willie Smits about his efforts to regrow a rainforest in Borneo. It shows how, with science, we can repair even the most devastated parts of our planet. And, his "people first" ideology is going to go a long way toward solving many of our problems.

Smits starts off by talking about the plight of the orangutan, whose habitat is being destroyed by our demand for palm oil.

Our 2nd eco-film festival ends there, but if you would like a sobering look at the sad life of at least one orangutan, then you should see the film, Green. It's about a female orangutan who is victimized by deforestation and resource exploitation. From the website, where you can see the whole 48-minute film, "This film is an emotional journey with Green's final days. It is a visual ride presenting the treasures of rainforest biodiversity and the devastating impacts of logging and land clearing for palm oil plantations." The film has won prizes at film festivals.

Thanks for watching! Feel free to leave comments.

Here's the link for the first Mini Eco-Film Festival.