Friday, April 29, 2011
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
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
(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
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
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
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
Friday, April 15, 2011
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
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
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
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
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.
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)
We hope to see you there. All welcome. Ecolympics participants will earn bonus points.
Monday, April 11, 2011
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
2. Educate Yourself, Educate Others
3. Plant some trees
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
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.
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?
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
I did a little pre-shower exercise -- some situps and pushups -- to get my blood going so that i didn't have to worry about trying to wake up in the shower. Then I turned the water on and got in while I had barely counted to 30. My bathroom was a little chilly and the water hadn't fully warmed yet, so I was jumping around a bit to get wet. I was also in fast motion to get my body wet as quickly as possible and by 54, 55, 56 I had finished soaking my hair and realized that by 59, 60 I was completely wet.
I turned the water off.
Yes, the so-called boat or navy shower. I was still in counting mode so it took me a few seconds to realize that I had actually turned the water off and could stop counting. Reset to 60. Take my time soaping up. Leisurely soap one arm then the other. Think about the world's problems. Leisurely soap my chest, my legs. Solve one or two of the world's problems. Soap the bottom of my feet, behind my ears. Shampoo. Leisurely scrub. Think of new problems to solve.
Okay, all soaped up -- water back on! 61, 62, 63. Back into fast shower mode. Rinse hair (75, 76...), rinse feet (87, 88...). This is easy -- I should be able to finish by 100 and cut yesterday's time in half. Rinse all places in between (101, 102...). Where did those last ten seconds go? 112, 112... Move, move. Rinse behind my ears. Is that it? 118, 119... Yes! Water off!
120. Not bad!
I notice that I count quicker when I start and slower as I'm finishing but I don't think it's so bad that I need to go out and buy a timer. The point is that if you put your mind to it, a short shower is possible. And you get on with your day quicker. If you need some extra inspiration, there's always Doing the Green Thing.
However, when I came out of the bathroom I noticed that I'd left my radio on. D'oh! Lose points for that!
The Ecolympics are starting today. I will blog about my other events once I decide which challenges I'm ready to accept. What about you? Are you ready? Sign up and let's do it!