Thursday, January 12, 2012

Most Endangered Species 2012

The WWF (that's World Wildlife Fund, not World Wrestling Federation) has posted their most endangered species for this year and you can see that the causes are the usual culprits of habitat destruction, overfishing, bycatch, entanglement and so on. I looked for last year's list and found one from 2010 and you can see lots of similarities. When I found this I wondered why some species were dropped and some species were added. Over at Paul Guernsey's excellent All About Wildlife site, he explains how subjective the lists are as it's not just about the number of remaining individuals, but also available habitat and public awareness as well as perceived threats that factor in. In the end, it's probably a bit like choosing your ten favorite movies -- the list changes depending on your mood. The alarming thing here is that these ten are chosen out of hundreds, if not thousands, of equally vulnerable species. Well, naming the problem is the start to solving it...

Most Memorable Nature Moments

Where do you have your most profound nature moments?

Most of mine tend to be far from home on the trips I've taken. They center around wildlife views or vistas. I was once hiking alone in Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, in fact, I was leaving the park, and because of the way the trail ran, you could only leave at low tide. I was at a portion of the trail that ran onto the beach and found some fresh tapir tracks. Tapirs are the largest mammals in central America, about the size of a large pig. I didn't know anything about them, at the time I didn't even know they were endangered. I didn't know if they were shy or aggressive, but I was following the tracks anyway. I could tell from the sand that the tracks were fresh but I didn't think they were so fresh that I'd find the tapir. I kept following and the tracks led from the sun to the shade. I was giddy with excitement about this little adventure: solo hiking in Costa Rican rainforest and possibly flirting with danger. I followed the tracks into the shade of the trees overhanging the beach -- and found the tapir. It was snoozing on its side in the shade! It was almost as if it had played a joke on me, playing not-so-hard-to-get and certainly not dangerous. Still, I let it be and went on my way.

Now that I think about it, I've had a number of memorable moments just watching the leaves turn every fall here in New England too. A Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta, Lara Fenton,  is researching how people develop deep and meaningful bonds with nature. She wants to know whether they happen at home on walks or whether people have to travel to the great national parks to create them. Check out the article about her work, and if you read to the end of the article there's a link to her survey if you'd like to participate in her research. Sounds like a cool thesis to me!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Problem with Plastic

The problem with plastic is that it doesn't go away. It stays and stays and stays. A plastic water bottle can take as long as 450 years to break down in a landfill (according to a nice summary by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center). Worse, if the bottle doesn't make it to the landfill and is discarded on the street as litter, it can wind up getting washed into rivers and ultimately the ocean where it becomes a problem for marine life who mistake bottle caps, lighters and other plastic for food. Birds with a stomach full of plastic soon die.

You can check out what Captain Charles Moore, who spoke at BU last fall,  has been doing with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to raise awareness about the problem.

You can also follow what photographer Chris Jordan has been doing on Midway Island. The above photo is from his project to document the effects of plastic on albatrosses on Midway, which is 2000 miles from other land but whose beaches are littered with plastic. He is making a film, Journey to Midway, which will be released this summer. Here's the trailer, and another trailer, quite a bit less polished. In fact, why not follow the project by subscribing to his Youtube channel.

Okay, one more: here's an incredible video of an albatross dying juxtaposed with a tern chick, set to music by Baaba Maal.

Given all this, maybe we need much tighter restrictions and fines on litter?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Green Things I Did in 2011

Here are some daily and special event things I did last year to reduce my ecological footprint and become more aware of other species around. This may give you some ideas or you may have some ideas to share about how we can all be greener in 2012.
1. Switched to essential oils-based dish soap and detergent to reduce input of chemicals into the water stream when washing.

2. Switched to Honey Mango Moisturizing Shave Cream, again to reduce input of chemicals onto my body and into the water stream.

3. Switched to a vegetable oil-based body soap for the same reasons as above.

4. Switched to a green electricity supplier, from a wind farm in upstate New York. You can probably do this too, for about the same rates, if you call your energy company.

5. Ran in the 5K Race Against Extinction on April 17 in Artesani Park in Boston, organized by the polar bear himself, Jeff Neterval, to help raise awareness about the present extinction crisis. Proceeds went to Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund .

6. Looked for the Asian Longhorn Beetle, an invasive species that is devastating North American forests. This was a chilly April day, but luckily we didn’t find any infestations on the grand trees of Commonwealth Avenue.

7. Chaired the organization of BU’s second annual Ecolympics (, which featured eco-film nights with vegan pizza, a talk on Fair Trade chocolate, a vegetarian cooking class and demo and almost 200 participants taking shorter showers, using re-usable cups, recycling and otherwise reducing their environmental footprints. The US Olympic Committee wrote to me demanding that I change the name under threat of lawsuit, so in 2012 we’ll be known as Eco-Fest.

7. Joined MassAudubon ( and visited four of their nearby wildlife sanctuaries.

8. Got a home energy assessment and found out my insulation was good.

9. Closed my Bank of America account because of their investment in coal mining.

10. Ate vegetarian or vegan more than once a week. This from a lifelong proud meat-eater is something. Check out the book, Comfortably Unaware ( by Richard Oppenlander, if you want some hard-hitting statistics on how the 70 billion animals raised to feed 7 billion people is affecting our planet.

11. Unfortunately, I also took four trips that required flying more than four hours each way, which nullifies the gains that I made. Anyone know of a reliable carbon offset supplier? According to the New York Times maybe this will soon be added to our tickets?

12. Read or started reading some environmental classics like Henry Beston’s The Outermost House, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, and Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. These are all fine books that will inspire you to be more aware of the impact we have on our surrounding environment.

13. Went on several walks at the Arnold Arboretum in the hopes of being able to understand trees better, even just learning their names.

14. Bought tree-free paper at CVS! 

So far, the shortlist for 2012 includes getting a bird feeder and composting at home and the office.