Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Crisis? What Crisis? II (A list of extinct birds)

extinct birds, crisis? what crisis
Carolina Parakeet, extinct in 1914

The modern extinction crisis has hit birds hard -- it's not just the passenger pigeon and the great auk that are gone, according to the list created by Martin Fowlie at Birdlife International, there's 130 more:
King Island Emu Dromaius aterEX
Kangaroo Island Emu Dromaius baudinianusEX
New Zealand Quail Coturnix novaezelandiaeEX
Double-banded Argus Argusianus bipunctatusEX
Mauritius Shelduck Alopochen mauritianusEX
Reunion Shelduck Alopochen kervazoiEX
Amsterdam Duck Anas mareculaEX
Mauritius Duck Anas theodoriEX
Labrador Duck Camptorhynchus labradoriusEX
Auckland Islands Merganser Mergus australisEX
Large St Helena Petrel Pterodroma rupinarumEX
Small St Helena Petrel Bulweria bifaxEX
Alaotra Grebe Tachybaptus rufolavatusEX
Atitlan Grebe Podilymbus gigasEX
Colombian Grebe Podiceps andinusEX
Reunion Ibis Threskiornis solitariusEX
Black-backed Bittern Ixobrychus novaezelandiaeEX
Reunion Night-heron Nycticorax duboisiEX
Mauritius Night-heron Nycticorax mauritianusEX
Rodrigues Night-heron Nycticorax megacephalusEX
Pallas’s Cormorant Phalacrocorax perspicillatusEX
Guadalupe Caracara Caracara lutosaEX
Reunion Kestrel Falco buboisiEX
Hawkins’s Rail Diaphorapteryx hawkinsiEX
Red Rail Aphanapteryx bonasiaEX
Rodrigues Rail Aphanapteryx leguatiEX
Bar-winged Rail Nesoclopeus poecilopterusEX
Wake Island Rail Gallirallus wakensisEX
Tahiti Rail Gallirallus pacificusEX
Dieffenbach’s Rail Gallirallus dieffenbachiiEX
Chatham Rail Cabalus modestusEX
Ascension Crake Mundia elpenorEX
St Helena Crake Atlantisia podarcesEX
Miller’s Rail Porzana nigraEX
St Helena Rail Porzana astrictocarpusEX
Laysan Rail Porzana palmeriEX
Hawaiian Rail Porzana sandwichensisEX
Kosrae Crake Porzana monasaEX
Reunion Gallinule Porphyrio coerulescensEX
New Caledonia Gallinule Porphyrio kukwiedeiEX
White Gallinule Porphyrio albusEX
North Island Takahe Porphyrio mantelliEX
Mascarene Coot Fulica newtoniEX
Canary Islands Oystercatcher Haematopus meadewaldoiEX
White-winged Sandpiper Prosobonia ellisiEX
Tahitian Sandpiper Prosobonia leucopteraEX
Great Auk Pinguinus impennisEX
Dodo Raphus cucullatusEX
Rodrigues Solitaire Pezophaps solitariaEX
St Helena Dove Dysmoropelia dekarchiskosEX
Reunion Pigeon Columba duboisiEX
Bonin Wood-pigeon Columba versicolorEX
Ryukyu Pigeon Columba jouyiEX
Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratoriusEX
Liverpool Pigeon Caloenas maculataEX
Norfolk Island Ground-dove Gallicolumba norfolciensisEX
Tanna Ground-dove Gallicolumba ferrugineaEX
Thick-billed Ground-dove Gallicolumba salamonisEX
Choiseul Pigeon Microgoura meekiEX
Red-moustached Fruit-dove Ptilinopus mercieriiEX
Rodrigues Blue-pigeon Alectroenas rodericanaEX
Mauritius Blue-pigeon Alectroenas nitidissimaEX
Norfolk Island Kaka Nestor productusEX
Rodrigues Parrot Necropsittacus rodericanusEX
Raiatea Parakeet Cyanoramphus ulietanusEX
Black-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus zealandicusEX
Paradise Parrot Psephotus pulcherrimusEX
Mascarene Parrot Mascarinus mascarinusEX
Seychelles Parakeet Psittacula wardiEX
Newton’s Parakeet Psittacula exsulEX
Mauritius Grey Parrot Lophopsittacus bensoniEX
Broad-billed Parrot Lophopsittacus mauritianusEX
Jamaican Red Macaw Ara gosseiEX
Dominican Green-and-yellow Macaw Ara atwoodiEX
Jamaican Green-and-yellow Macaw Ara erythrocephalaEX
Lesser Antillean Macaw Ara guadeloupensisEX
Cuban Macaw Ara tricolorEX
Guadeloupe Parakeet Aratinga labatiEX
Carolina Parakeet Conuropsis carolinensisEX
Guadeloupe Amazon Amazona violaceaEX
Martinique Amazon Amazona martinicanaEX
St Helena Cuckoo Nannococcyx psixEX
Snail-eating Coua Coua delalandeiEX
Reunion Owl Mascarenotus gruchetiEX
Rodrigues Owl Mascarenotus murivorusEX
Mauritius Owl Mascarenotus sauzieriEX
Laughing Owl Sceloglaux albifaciesEX
Gould’s Emerald Chlorostilbon elegansEX
Brace’s Emerald Chlorostilbon braceiEX
St Helena Hoopoe Upupa antaiosEX
Bush Wren Xenicus longipesEX
Stephens Island Wren Traversia lyalliEX
Kauai Oo Moho braccatusEX
Oahu Oo Moho apicalisEX
Bishop’s Oo Moho bishopiEX
Hawaii Oo Moho nobilisEX
Kioea Chaetoptila angustiplumaEX
Chatham Bellbird Anthornis melanocephalaEX
Lord Howe Gerygone Gerygone insularisEX
Huia Heteralocha acutirostrisEX
North Island Piopio Turnagra tanagraEX
South Island Piopio Turnagra capensisEX
Maupiti Monarch Pomarea pomareaEX
Eiao Monarch Pomarea fluxaEX
Nuku Hiva Monarch Pomarea nukuhivaeEX
Ua Pou Monarch Pomarea miraEX
Guam Flycatcher Myiagra freycinetiEX
Chatham Fernbird Bowdleria rufescensEX
Aldabra Warbler Nesillas aldabranaEX
Robust White-eye Zosterops strenuusEX
Kosrae Starling Aplonis corvinaEX
Mysterious Starling Aplonis mavornataEX
Norfolk Island Starling Aplonis fuscaEX
Rodrigues Starling Necropsar rodericanusEX
Reunion Starling Fregilupus variusEX
Bonin Thrush Zoothera terrestrisEX
Kamao Myadestes myadestinusEX
Amaui Myadestes woahensisEX
Grand Cayman Thrush Turdus ravidusEX
Bonin Grosbeak Chaunoproctus ferreorostrisEX
Lanai Hookbill Dysmorodrepanis munroiEX
Lesser Koa-finch Rhodacanthis flavicepsEX
Greater Koa-finch Rhodacanthis palmeriEX
Kona Grosbeak Chloridops konaEX
Greater Amakihi Hemignathus sagittirostrisEX
Lesser Akialoa Hemignathus obscurusEX
Greater Akialoa Hemignathus ellisianusEX
Kakawahie Paroreomyza flammeaEX
Ula-ai-hawane Ciridops annaEX
Hawaii Mamo Drepanis pacificaEX
Black Mamo Drepanis funereaEX
Slender-billed Grackle Quiscalus palustrisEX

These are extinctions in the last 500 years. If you think that the worst is over and we know better now, I'm here to tell you that the worst is yet to come and though we mean well in our conservation efforts, our numbers and our appetite for land and resources is the new force of nature. The prospects for the crisis getting worse before it gets better are embedded in this list of not 21, not 210, but 2122 endangered birds. You can also read about bird poaching in Cyprus, where in 2010, some 2 million migrating birds were caught and sold to be eaten.  See also how Todd McGrain has been memorializing five extinct North American birds through The Lost Bird Project. If you want to do something to help birds this holiday season, why not join the Christmas Bird Count? You can probably find a site near you.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reproductive Health Report Card

Be careful if you visit the Population Institute, it might make you nervous. Their website has a population counter and while I was there a few days ago, the counter showed that new people were being added to the planet every second. Now, a few days later, more than 660,000 people have been added since my first visit. Well, welcome all of them, but my gosh, that's a lot of people in such a short time. It makes me nervous that with all our talk of sustainability, it won't be enough to feed, clothe and house everybody.

This week, the Population Institute released its report, Not Making the Grade: a 50 State Report Card on Reproductive Health and Rights. Overall, the US gets a grade of C- because, among other reasons, the teen pregnancy rate here is higher than any other industrialized country. Nearly 3 out of every 10 teenage girls will become pregnant and nearly half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended. You can find the report here and see how your state fares. Massachusetts scores barely above the national average with a C, partly because it does not mandate sex education in public schools (really? in 2012?), nor does it offer a Medicaid expansion for family planning services.
reproductive health report card, women's rights, population growth

Only 12 states received grades of B- or better and 3 states received grades of A: California, Oregon and Washington. Here's why California received an A: (i) It does not currently have abortion restrictions that would make it unnecessarily difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion should she choose to do so; (ii) it guarantees a woman’s right to access emergency contraception in the emergency room and in pharmacies; and (iii) it requires private insurance companies to cover birth control with only a limited refusal clause that exempts only churches and church associations.

How does your state fare? Shouldn't we be trying to boost the national average?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The End of the Wild

End of the wild, biodiversity crisis, environmental values

If you’re worried about the present extinction crisis, you can stop now. It’s over. We lost. That’s the conclusion of MIT professor Stephen Meyer in his trenchant analysis, “The End of the Wild”, published in 2006 by Boston Review Books. He writes, “Nothing – not national or international laws, global bioreserves, local sustainability schemes or even ‘wildlands’ fantasies – can change the current course.”
The wild is gone, we have destroyed it. In the process we have created an environment where weedy species can thrive. Weedy species are adaptive generalists like raccoons, coyotes, rats and deer. They are to be distinguished from “relic” species, like African elephants and giant pandas, whose numbers are declining due to human encroachment, and “ghost” species, who are doomed to extinction either because they can’t adapt quickly enough to human changes in their environment or from over-hunting and over-fishing. Examples of ghost species include African lions, whose numbers have plunged from greater than 200,000 in 1980 to under 20,000 today mostly because of perceived threats to livestock, and large fish such as tuna and swordfish.
Meyers identifies the main causes of the crisis as landscape transformation, pollution and over-consumption. Though we’ve enacted legislation (such as the Endangered Species Act) and created reserves, these actions, he argues, are too little too late. They are not changing the outcome that we are losing species and the wild.
So what’s to be done?
First, Meyers contends, we have to abandon business as usual. The future biosphere under the present scheme of benign neglect will not be human-friendly: we would see the collapse of additional fish stocks, ecosystems would lose the functions we depend on, there would be an increase in pests, parasites and disease-causing organisms and, worst of all, we would lose all the species that are psychologically important to us – the quality of life on Earth would plummet.
Second, in order to understand the crisis, we must realize that the end of the wild is about us, not about “the environment.” Our own cultural norms, values and priorities are now being tested. Meyers reminds us that though it’s easy to blame corporations, it’s still about us and our demands for “instant-on appliances, out-of-season vegetables and ten mpg armored transports to move groceries home.” This is why we’re drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
He advocates an ecological identity that “underscores the connection between how we live and what happens around us.” Though we’re beginning to see the wild as providing us with natural resources and the genetic links between ourselves and other species on the tree of life, we need to see moral linkages and the realities of a shared existence and shared fate. Presumably, Meyers admits, this ethical transformation will take centuries.
In the meantime, he argues, we have a moral obligation to take steps to reduce the impact of the heavy hand of human selection. He urges research into understanding how the remaining wild functions, protecting the landscape to preserve ecosystem functions and more intensive management, through, for example, additional legislation. These efforts allow us to examine our role as the planet’s stewards. After all, Meyers asks, “What is the essence of our own morality if it fails to encompass most of the life on Earth.” 

Meyers' book is a concise diagnosis of one of the main problems of our time. Buy it here

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Koch Brothers Exposed

Koch Brothers Exposed
A few nights ago I watched the provocative documentary, Koch Brothers Exposed, with a group of activist students here at Boston University. I had seen the film before and it was good to see it again, particularly now, between the mock fright of Halloween and the present presidential election, whose outcome could cause a real fright.

Koch Brothers Exposed is a sort of horror film where you constantly wonder what how the Koch Brothers will next rear their greedy heads. According to the film's website, between 1997 and 2010 the Koch Brothers, whose company, Koch Industries, is one of the top ten polluters in the US, gave more than $60 million to climate change denial groups. They are one of the main reasons that there is popular uncertainty over climate change in this country, while the science has long been settled (yes, humans are affecting the climate). In sixty minutes, the film shows the Koch Brothers' self-serving reach in issues as diverse as social security, environmental regulations, workers rights, education and voter identification.. It's amazing what a few well-placed million dollars here and there will do to get your point across.

One of their most disturbing causes is grants to colleges and universities. So far, more than 150 colleges and universities are receiving Koch dollars and one wonders how long it will be before we see the results of this Koch cash in terms of curricula and ideology. There are claims that this money often comes with strings attached -- the donors want a say in hiring decisions. If that doesn't impinge on academic freedom, I don't know what does. 

You can read more about the Koch Brothers shady efforts to quash social security, how they tried to resegregate schools in North Carolina, their involvement in voter suppression and their efforts to fund climate change denial

In the film, the Koch Brothers' mandate is exposed for all to see. It's about greed, doing what's right for the 1%, corruption and attacking democracy. Their dealings need to be brought to light for all to see. Get the film, host a screening, expose the Koch Brothers once and for all. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Killing Fields of Ivory -- Infographic

Here's another infographic from visual.ly that spells out the brutal, destructive and lucrative trade of poaching for ivory. The infographic focuses on elephants but poaching of rhinos is equally alarming. (A zoomed view is here.)

The Killing fields of Ivory
by memuco. Learn about infographic design.

How we're endangering species -- infographic

There's lots of cool stuff over at visual.ly to help us picture the world around us.

Here's a great infographic that summarizes the human impact on the environment and species. Overall: ouch!
(Unfortunately, the ones shown below are the marquee species... many less glamorous species are also suffering.)
How We're Endangering Species
by NatGeo.Browse more data visualization.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Future isn't What it Used to Be

Quote of the Day: "For every species other than humans, the biggest environmental issue on Earth is Humanity." This is from Rex Weyler of Greenpeace, who recently wrote a column called "Nature: A System of Systems" where he argues for a systems approach to nature because our present piecemeal approach isn't working. We now have more environmental groups but fewer forests, more national parks but fewer species. The once promised bountiful future has been usurped by glimpses of environmental catastrophe. Unfortunately, we have the same attitude to nature -- that it's unlimited and inexhaustible -- as those who hunted the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet and Great Auk to death. Nature is less a resource and more a treasure that is slipping through our fingers. As Camilo Mora and Peter Sale point out in their recent article on global biodiversity loss, we're not going to "save nature" with more protected areas; instead, we need broad systems-based thinking that addresses poverty, overpopulation, overconsumption, unfair taxation, and ruinous subsidies. We need to get green groups together to synergize their message and help raise awareness that carbon dioxide emissions aren't our only problem. 

To that end, one wonders if we should be putting a price on nature, as Richard Conniff argues in Yale360. This has been a popular idea in economic circles for some time. Perhaps if we understood the enormous value we get from ecosystem services we would start to pay attention to what we are losing. But perhaps this will make nature subject to negotiation, that if we only save half the wetland, we can still have our tax cut, or if we only protect part of the forest, we can still enjoy certain subsidies. Conniff points out that we're asking the wrong questions. It's not
“Why do species matter?” but “Is food important to you?” or “Do you want your children to have effective medicines when they get sick?” or even “Do you like to breathe?” None of these questions overstates the importance of species.
It's this sort of straight talk that we need to see what kind of future we can have versus the sort of future we're going to get with business as usual. What after all, is the value of a walk in the woods?

Meanwhile, Robert Jensen at Truth-Out, in his article, "From Start to Finish: Why we won and how we are losing" puts it in plain terms that business as usual is causing global depletion. This is the subject of Michael T. Klare's book "The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources (New York: Metropolitan, 2012), which is reviewed by Jensen along with two other books. The cheap, easily accessible oil has been vaporized by our cars and planes and now we're onto the dirtier tar sands oil, and the inaccessible oil off the continental shelves and in the Arctic. Next to go are the rare minerals, mined out of rainforests and natural landscapes to feed our industrial juggernaut. Jensen makes the point that we're not going to invent our way out of the crisis. Indeed, some of our previous standbys, like "Necessity is the mother of invention" are going to have to be jettisoned if the transition to this new, environmentally impoverished world is going to be, well, manageable, if not catastrophic. It's not about changing our tools, but about changing our values. Valuing the future requires us to look beyond short-term gratification of consumption and see the beauty of the natural world and the species we share the planet with. We're good at taking care of ourselves and our needs. Now we have to start taking care of the planet -- and our future.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Top Ten Blog Posts

We reached a milestone last week -- 10,000 page views since our inception! (And that doesn't include an additional 6000 page views for the blog when it was formerly known as "Ecolympics".) Thanks for reading. To celebrate, I thought I'd highlight the top ten posts that are getting the most hits.

1. Environmental Cartoons I: Crisis? What Crisis? -- most people find Eco-Now by searching for the Supertramp album, "Crisis? What Crisis?" whose cover was featured in this post.

2. Portraits of Endangered Animals -- I'm a big fan of Joel Sartore and his work is highlighted here.

3. Endangered Species at the North and South Poles: The Eco-Art of Xavier Cortada  -- Now that I found out about the terrific work of Miami eco-artist, Xavier Cortada, I'm a big fan of his work too. See also his Eco-Now interview, which just missed the top ten.

4. Six Great Environmental Protest Songs -- I tried to find some that weren't on everyone else's list.

5. What is Shark Finning? -- simply, it's a brutal, inhumane practice that is decimating worldwide shark populations, all for a supposed delicacy.

6. The Endangered Species Print Project -- great conservation-art project by Jenny Kendler and Molly Schafer of Chicago.

7. The Lost Bird Project -- "Forgetting is another kind of extinction," says Todd McGrain, whose work to commemorate extinct birds with larger-than life sculptures is profiled in the eponymous film (reviewed here). See also the thoughtful interview he gave.

8. Thoughts on World Population Day -- can natural resources keep up with our growing population? No.

9. How Water Chestnuts are Taking over the Northeast: A Photo-essay -- invasive species like water chestnuts are becoming a problem in ecosystems everywhere.

10. Living in an Age of Extinction: Building a Life Cairn -- Why do no church bells ring when animals go extinct? Why, indeed. Read the interview with Andreas Kornevall about the great project in East Sussex to commemorate extinct species.

Please share this post or any other post you found provocative. We need to raise awareness that we humans are part of the tree of life and the high extinction rates now seen, due to habitat destruction, pollution, over-exploitation, invasive species and climate change mean that we are failing in our role as stewards. We now know of more than 2000 other planets in the galaxy, but none of them are known to have life. It's our planet, and biodiversity is our life: we need to take care of it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Three Great TED talks about Food

There's nothing like a good TED talk to remind you that people are thinking of innovative ways to solve today's problems. Here are three great talks that center on the topic of food.

1. First up is Tristram Stuart explaining that we have an incredible food waste problem.

2. Next is an inspiring talk by energetic sixth grade teacher Stephen Ritz, who's getting his students
to build gardens pretty much anywhere in the South Bronx

3. And here is Pam Warhurst, who cofounded Incredible Edible, an initiative in Todmorden, England dedicated to growing food locally by planting on unused land throughout the community.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Cultural Value of Species

the cultural value of species, rousseau
Surprised, by Henri Rousseau

The Guardian is running a two week series on the Sixth Extinction and in Wednesday’s column Jonathan Jones, who normally writes about art, argued that the Sixth Extinction menaces the very foundations of culture. Take a look at the prehistoric paintings in the caves of Europe. After Picasso toured the Lascaux Cave he was so impressed by the imagination and technique of the artists from thousands of years ago that he said, “We have learned nothing.” In Werner Herzog’s 2010 documentary about the spectacular images in the Chauvet cave, which feature animals exclusively, he was moved to ask, “What constitutes humanness?” Jones argues that for our hunter-painter ancestors “it was in the wild herds around them that the power of the cosmos and the mystery of existence seemed to be located.

And there is the paradox. For even as the early humans were painting mammoths, they were hunting them to extinction. Similarly today, though human culture is deeply rooted in nature, human activity is responsible for the extinction of entire species. The loss of a species isn’t just the termination of a branch of the tree of life. It’s the loss of the “images, stories, symbols and wonders that we live by.” To call it a cultural loss is a factual but gross understatement. It is a pernicious loss that impoverishes our very imaginations.

Consider the tiger, whose numbers have plummeted from more than 100,000 to about 3200 in seven decades. Think of the stories about tigers that we tell our children, how they populate our first picture books and childhood dreams with their ferocity and agility. Even in adulthood, they lurk in our minds as in the above painting by Henri Rousseau. In William Blake’s 1794 poem, The Tyger, the first line sings out, “Tyger, tyger burning bright,” as if the beast is a star in our imagination that perpetually shines. What are we going to do if we lose the tiger? What then? It’s a question I’ve asked myself and my students. So far as I can tell, the answer is that our world will be dimmer, our imaginations less wild and our guilt greater, for this is something we’ve allowed under our stewardship.

If only this was only about the tiger. Jones reminds us that sharks, who have swam the oceans for millions of years, are under siege (see also here). He argues that today’s shark films and scare stories and cut from the same mould as the stories of bears and wolves that stone age hunters told around the campfire millennia ago. Though we fear them, our culture thrives on them. And of course, it’s not just tigers and sharks who are suffering from human over-consumption or over-hunting. All major groups of animals are suffering. Have a look through a large volume of fairy tales and the challenge will be to find tales that don’t feature animals. Explore the tales of indigenous peoples and you’ll find animals everywhere you look.

Kudos to the Guardian is raising the alarm about the many ways the Sixth Extinction is manifesting itself. Jones demonstrates that “we are part of nature and it has always fed our imaginations.” If we’re to have a hope of doing more than “facing the bare walls of an empty museum, a gallery of the dead,” we need to tune in to this crisis we’re creating while we can still do something about it.

For more information: 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Largest Oil Spills in History

One thing that's great about this era of data visualization is the abundance of ways there are to look at data interactively. Here's a look at the largest oil spills since 1901. These are actual spills and blowouts and don't include equally catastrophic events like ongoing seepage or waste, which has taken such a toll on the Ecuadorean Amazon. Still, these are a bunch of black marks on the Earth and a reminder that it's time we reduced our consumption of fossil fuels such as oil before switching to alternative renewable green fuels.

via chartsbin.com

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What is Shark Finning?

You may have heard that it's shark week on one of the networks. You may have also heard that one of our inhumane practices is shark finning, where sharks are caught and their fins are sliced off for shark fin soup -- the rest of the shark is discarded. Because sharks are apex predators, overfishing of sharks has a destructive effect on ocean ecosystems. They are also evolutionary survivors, dating back 200 million years into the geological records. In fact, in the 17th century, when Nicolas Steno dissected a shark's head he found that its teeth resembled the triangular-shaped "tongue stones" commonly found embedded in rocks, thus opening the door to the interpretation of these "tongue stones" as the fossilized remains of once-living creatures.

Here's what shark finning is all about thanks to Earth Hour's helpful infographic on Pinterest. Read to the end to see how high shark fins are in mercury. Ready to start calling restaurants in your area and ask them to stop serving shark fin soup? You can find a list at stopsharkfinning.net. (Want a bigger version than below? Clicking all the way through will bring you here, which is large and legible).

what is shark finning