Archive for the ‘plants and animals’ Category

Gloom — appropriately perhaps — seems to be the theme this Earth Day.

Joseph Romm in Salon thinks it’s already too late to save much of the flora and fauna on our planet. It’s time to worry out ourselves, he says.

Over at Alternet, Michael Klare worries at length about a ‘new world order in energy.’ The comments are as interesting as the article: some alarmed, some thoughtful, others desperate, crazy, excited even.

In the New York Times, Paul Greenberg reviews two novels that conjure ‘ecological end-times.’ Ecotopia, first published in the 1970’s, imagines a better life (for a part of America, at least) emerging from eco-crisis. The more recent novel, The World Made by Hand, is based in an East Coast town of the future in which most people return to laboring and can now only dream of driving. Says Greenberg:

I would prefer to live in Ecotopia, but the verisimilitude of Kunstler’s world leads me to think the future is Union Grove. Thirty years from now, it will be interesting to see if that little town seems excessively sad, richly luxurious or spot on. But for now, I’m hedging my bets. Where I live, one block east of ground zero, I’ve started keeping a compost bin and am thinking about adding a micro wind generator.

Meanwhile columnist Paul Krugman fears that we’re running out of commodities. That won’t mean the immediate collapse of civilization, he reassures us. But

rich countries will face steady pressure on their economies from rising resource prices, making it harder to raise their standard of living. And some poor countries will find themselves living dangerously close to the edge — or over it.

No critique from Krugman, though, about whether the way we’ve come to define a good life is part of the problem. And no ideas for how we might resolve the crises that will come when countries do tumble over the various precipices upon which they teeter.

Over in the UK, the Independent is doing its usual best to add to the bad news. Yesterday they mourned the decline of birds that usually migrate to the UK.

So what are we to do? For an exhortation not to give up — but to act both personally and politically we can turn, thankfully, to Michael Pollan — writing in the Time’s magazine this Sunday.

Whatever we can do as individuals to change the way we live at this suddenly very late date does seem utterly inadequate to the challenge. It’s hard to argue with Michael Specter, in a recent New Yorker piece on carbon footprints, when he says: “Personal choices, no matter how virtuous, cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.” So it will. Yet it is no less accurate or hardheaded to say that laws and money cannot do enough, either; that it will also take profound changes in the way we live.


Read Full Post »

Scotland used to have native moose, wild boar, brown bears, lynx and wolves.  Now “landowner Paul Lister aims to bring back long-vanished species to his 23,000 acre Alladale estate, north of Inverness,” the UK’s Independent tells us.

Lister’s already installed the wild boar, but his neighbors are less than excited about the bears, wolves and lynx to come.

Fencing the estate could officially make it a zoo, interestingly, where it would be illegal to put predators and prey together.  Watch for worms and other invertibrate prey to petition for the expulsion of robins from all fenced gardens — er, zoos — in the UK.

Read Full Post »

For those of us alarmed by the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder that has wiped out swathes of the American, and now European, honey bee population, here’s a new potential cause: cell phones.

The evidence so far, though, seems slim. Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross write in this weekend’s Independent on Sunday that “German research has long shown that bees’ behaviour changes near power lines.” Now, they say:

a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause.

Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: “I am convinced the possibility is real.”

That ‘hint’ and ‘possibility’ leave us, unfortunately, still a long way from knowing what’s really been going on.

Read Full Post »

That’s the New York Times’ novel editorial spin on the ‘war’ between owners of a domestic solar power system in Sunnyvale, California, and their immediate neighbors, who owned redwood trees that had grown to shade the solar panels.

The dispute, which we noted last week, is evidence of the Golden State’s leadership in all things environmental, says the Times. It goes on:

Obviously, there will be costs associated with all this virtue, and for some — like the Sunnyvale couples — there will be shoving and pushing. Given the alternative of a less hospitable globe, these seem to be small sacrifices.

That’s certainly preferable to seeing the dispute as evidence of a laughable green hypocrisy — which the Christian Science Monitor tells us, it isn’t!

Read Full Post »

Actions that could help the environment don’t just regularly lose out to actions demanded by people with competing agendas. There’s plenty of potential for conflict within the environmental movement itself.

Take the case of the neighbors in Sunnyvale, California that pitted a family generating solar power in their backyard against the family living behind them, who wanted to grow redwood trees. Before long the trees, which were planted first, were shading the solar panels. The panel owners asked the tree owners to cut their trees, which they refused to do. The two sides went to court and only now, some seven years later, is there a resolution — which sees some of the trees being cut by court order.

Both families drive electric or hybrid cars. Both see themselves as environmentally-conscious. Yet, neither could agree on a compromise. That’s delighted pundits all over the country — seeing this as a classic case of green hypocrisy.

In the version of the story referenced above, the Christian Science Monitor takes a more insightful line.

“The truth lies more in shades of gray than chlorophyll green,” suggests writer Douglas Fox. Neither family are what detractors could describe as hardcore environmentalists. One family owns several SUVs along with their electric car.

That, he argues, reflects:

“a broader public appetite not for energy-saving habits, but for technical fixes: ethanol, solar, fuel cells, and hybrid autos that sometimes consume as much gas as many nonhybrids. You might call it the low-fat cheesecake approach to carbon dieting.”

While, as Fox says, it’s wrong to conclude from this story that “there is an inevitable conflict between trees and solar power” — mostly because most trees don’t grow as fast and tall as redwoods — we are likely to see more conflicts arising from competing environmental interests.

Bird lovers decry the impact of wind turbines, after all, (though not everyone believes it’s such a problem). Biofuels have many detractors. Nuclear power is a salvation to some environmentalists and an evil to many others.

The challenge for environmentalists, then, will be to help resolve these conflicts quickly, so that they don’t become an excuse to prevaricate on environmentally-beneficial action any longer.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday we wrote about ‘super-micro farming’ as a trend emerging in response to possible threats to our food supplies.

There’s further evidence of the trend in the San Fransisco Chronicle’s most recent ‘Home and Garden’ section. In a multi-page cover feature, the paper does a nice job of surveying current efforts in the city to turn vacant urban spaces into ‘organic-food producing’ gardens. And it makes the point that this is one way for a ‘metropolis that can feed itself.’ Of over 1,000 vacant lots in the city, at least 600 are farmable, landscaper Kevin Bayuk tells the Chronicle.

It also ties in nicely to invocations by the likes of Michael Pollan, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon to eat (mostly) locally-sourced plants, (mostly) in season.

While it’s perhaps unrealistic to think urban gardens could ever feed an entire city’s population (the main complaint made by people commenting on the articles), they can reduce the need for food to be shipped in from elsewhere. And they can provide city dwellers with a direct (and, for many, uplifting) connection with the food that sustains them.

But in times when much of the rural landscape is turned over to monocultures enforced by the heavy use of pesticides and fertilzers, let’s spare a thought for some of the weeds, bugs and larger plants and animals that would otherwise occupy these vacant lots. Sure, rats and mosquitoes don’t have many fans, but many formerly common native birds, reptiles, pollinating insects and small mammals are losing space to development and intensive agriculture.

If we’re to reclaim abandoned lots for ourselves, perhaps we could be sure to put a good number of them aside as sanctuaries for the plants and animals we’ve managed to threaten so harshly elsewhere.

Read Full Post »

It’s not from elephants, though, and no animals are killed for it.  Mammoth ivory, the NY Times tells us, is a commodity in increasing abundance as the arctic tundra of Siberia is melting.

There’s a lot of it out there to be found, apparently:

The Siberian permafrost blankets millions of square miles, ranging in depth from a few feet to more than a mile and resembling frozen spinach.

Hidden in one of the upper layers of this mass, corresponding to the Pleistocene Epoch, are the remains of an estimated 150 million mammoths.

The trend has conservationists delighted that it leaves living animals less threatened.  Palaeontologists, though, are less sanguine.  As author Andrew Kramer writes:

In their growth rings and possible prehistoric human butcher marks, [mammoth tusks] hold a wealth of data on the ancient climate and peoples of Siberia that could shed light on, among other things, the debate about whether climate change or overhunting, or both, felled the mammoths.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »