Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
9/28/2011 4:13:02 PM
Cash-strapped state parks are forging partnerships with corporations to close their budget gaps, Governing magazine reports:
In New York, for example, Nestle’s Juicy Juice contributed $350,000 to build playgrounds in seven state parks. In California, Coca-Cola and Stater Bros. Markets have raised about $1.9 million to support reforestation and other state park preservation efforts. And in Georgia, Verizon Wireless contributed $5,000 to cover the cost of park passes for the state’s annual Free Day at the park. Most of these efforts come with recognition—on a playground sign, on a park pass—of the corporation’s contribution.
The trend has already spawned the creation of a new breed of middleman: A California firm called Government Solutions Group has brokered about $7.5 million in such deal since 2004. Chief executive Shari Boyer tells Governing that this is not philanthropy but business: “These are partnerships. The corporation has to get something out of it.”
Some park managers are ostensibly taking care to hook up with companies that are a good fit—but the parameters seem pretty fuzzy:
Asked how Coke products intersect with California’s state park mission, company spokesman Bob Phillips said Coca-Cola’s support of park restoration is part of its “live positively” platform, in which “sustainability is part of everything we do, particularly in this time of cost cutting and downsizing.” Phillips rejected the idea that Coca-Cola products were not in sync with parks’ health and environmental missions, noting instead that state parks “provide opportunities to be physically active.”
If you’re like me, your B.S. meter is off the charts at this contention, but take heart: Overall, these deals are a small piece of the park funding pie. Governing reminds us that in California in the last five years, corporate sponsorships have raised about $6.5 million for parks, while contributions from nonprofit groups amount to $50 million and volunteer hours stack up at a value of $100 million. Even Boyer holds that corporate sponsorships are “not the solution” to larger park funding woes.
Unfortunately, the situation could change as things get worse: One park director says that in the future, “If a corporate citizen wants to put their name on a park, I think that could happen.”
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9/21/2011 4:33:30 PM
“Save the whales” may have become something of a schoolyard taunt for anti-environmentalists to hurl, but make no mistake: Some activists are still out there, saving whales. Foremost among them is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has harassed, butted, and even boarded whaling ships in its mission to deter illegal whaling.
Sea Shepherd founder and leader Paul Watson is described as an “anti-Ahab” in Prospect by writer Philip Hoare, who explains that the bold group managed to put a large dent in Japan’s whale take last season:
In February, the Japanese fisheries minister announced that Sea Shepherd’s actions, which include boarding whaling ships, forced the curtailment of the 2010-11 season on safety grounds. As a result, many fewer whales were caught. Sea Shepherd put Japan’s catch at 30, compared to the country’s fleet’s self-declared quota of 900. Campaigners quickly claimed a victory in the making.
Loare notes that soon after this, one of Japan’s four major whaling communities was devastated by the tsunami, “knocking out a pillar of the nation’s whaling industry,” the New York Times reported.
It remains to be seen if the one-two punch of Sea Shepherd’s campaigns and the tsunami will have a lasting effect on whaling by Japan, which often skirts legality by falsely claiming to be whaling for scientific reasons. In the meantime, a documentary about Watson and his merry band of whale savers, Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist, is opening in Germany and heading for U.S. release. View the trailer here:
(article available to subscribers only),New York Times, Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
9/19/2011 4:10:38 PM
We’ve learned, time and time again, that damming rivers causes all sorts of problems for both nature and society—and yet we keep building dams all over the world. World Rivers Review, the quarterly magazine of the advocacy group International Rivers, reports on the state of the world’s free-flowing rivers—those that remain, that is:
Of the world’s 177 largest rivers, only one-third are free flowing, and just 21 rivers longer than 1,000 kilometers retain a direct connection to the sea. Damming has led to species extinctions, loss of prime farmland and forests, social upheaval, loss of clean water supplies, dessicated wetlands, destroyed fisheries and more. …
Unfortunately, the nations building the most dams—India, China, and Brazil—do not have legislation to protect the free-flowing status of their rivers, and are not using the laws they do have to protect important rivers.
Writer Parineeta Dandekar singles out for praise Canada’s Heritage Rivers System, Australia’s Wild Rivers Act, Sweden’s National Rivers program, and the United States’ Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, suggesting that river advocates in other nations emulate these examples to keep their remaining rivers undammed and undeveloped:
Free-flowing rivers have become so rare that they would be classified as an endangered species if they were considered living things rather than merely support systems for all living things.
Here in the United States, we’ve learned a few lessons the hard way—our favorite method, it seems—and have been dismantling some particularly destructive dams in recent years. In fact, the largest dam removal in U.S. history has begun on the Elwha River in Washington state. High Country News reports on the Elwha restoration in its brand-new issue, and the Los Angeles Times offers a cool interactive visualization of the deliberately slow process of taking down the Glines Canyon dam.
Sources: World Rivers Review, High Country News
(story available only to subscribers),Los Angeles Times
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9/16/2011 11:45:23 AM
Whisky fuels lots of things—rebellions, country and western songs, and Shane MacGowan, to name just a few. Now it’s going to power 9,000 homes in Scotland.
More specifically, whisky byproducts are going to power the homes, in the distillery-rich region of Speyside, by helping to fuel a local biomass energy plant.
“Waste products from around 16 of the area’s 50 distilleries will be used at the site, including well-known brands such as Glenlivet, Chivas Regal, Macallan, and Famous Grouse,” the Guardian reports.
Spent grains from the whisky distilling process, known as draff, will be burned along with wood to create electricity at the combined heat and power (CHP) plant. Another byproduct, a high-protein liquid residue called pot ale, will be made into a syrup for animal feed—which will be conveniently made at a plant next door.
Construction of the biomass plant is set to begin soon, the London Press Service reported last month, and it should be up and running by early 2013.
The Scots aren’t the only whisky makers who are seriously thinking green. On this side of the pond (where we spell it with an “e,” thank you), fine bourbon whiskey distiller Maker’s Mark has made waves with its sustainability initiatives, which according to Inhabitat include biogas reuse, aggressive waste reduction, an on-site nature preserve, and a mostly local, no-GMO grain supply chain.
(Thanks, World Rivers Review.)
Sources: The Guardian, London Press Service, Inhabitat
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9/14/2011 11:08:31 AM
If you know even a little bit about the natural world, you’ll find Aelian’s On the Nature of Animals quite ridiculous. Here are some of the “facts” presented in the newly released first English translation of this ancient bestiary, written by a Roman-empire scribe named Aelian in the first century C.E.:
When cranes squawk, they bring on rain showers. So it is said—and also, that cranes have some sort of power which arouses women and causes them to dispense sexual favors. I take this at the word of those who have seen it happen.
The horned ray is born in mud. It is very small at birth, but it grows to a huge size. Its belly is white; its back, head, and sides are inky black. Its mouth, though, is small, and you cannot see its teeth. It is very long and flat. It eats great quantities of fish, but its favorite food is human flesh. It has little strength, but its size gives it courage. When it sees a man swimming or diving, it rises to the surface, arches its back, and slams down on him with all its might, extending its length over the unfortunate man like a roof and keeping him from rising to breathe. The man dies, and the ray greedily enjoys its feast.
Boeotia has no moles. They do not enter from the neighboring province of Leabadeia, and if one arrives by accident it dies.
The octopus is greedy, sneaky, and voracious, and it will eat anything. It is probably the most omnivorous creature in the sea. Here is the proof: in times of hunger, it will eat one of its own tentacles, thus making up for a lack of prey. When better times come, it grows back the missing limb. Nature thus gives it a ready meal in moments of want.
At first, reading On the Nature of Animals provides a smug sense of amusement, like encountering a modern conservative fundamentalist tract on creationism or climate: utterly at odds with the findings of post-Enlightenment science, driven more by whimsy than logic, and with an occasionally breathtaking unbelievability.
But of course, it’s wholly unfair for me to toss a first-century author in with the anti-science leaders of the 21st century U.S. Republican Party: After all, Aelian “knew as much as any person of his day about animals,” writes the book’s translator Greg McNamee in his introduction, and likely relied on the best sources he could find. The anti-science modern conservative, on the other hand, deliberately overlooks centuries of established science in order to reach back to a simpler, more ignorant time for politically convenient “truths.”
Besides, even Aelian didn’t seem to believe all his own bullshit, to use a modern English colloquialism. He often took care to attribute his more outlandish “facts” to observers, and he sometime flat-out undercut them: “the Egyptians say—though I don’t believe them for a minute—that … .”
Ultimately, McNamee sees Aelian as being far before his time in crediting mere beasts with possessing qualities usually seen as human:
Often we find these entries amusing, and rightly so. Often we find them outlandish, foolish, primitive. Yet I suspect that not so long from now—if there is a not so long from now for us busily habitat-devouring humans—scientists will wonder at our own naivete and arrogance, at the thought that language, emotion, and even reason are gifts of humans alone.
Source: On the Nature of Animals
9/9/2011 4:21:44 PM
Farmers are often among the first people to notice a shift in the climate. So while I rely on scientists for my big-picture information about climate change, I also take seriously the cumulative daily—and yearly—field research of a trusted source: My local CSA (community supported agriculture) farmers, Michael Racette and Patty Wright of Spring Hill Community Farm in Prairie Farm, Wisconsin. They are keen observers of wind, water, air, and soil, living so close to the land that they literally sink their hands into it every day.
Farming has of course always been an uncertain business, due to the naturally variable whims of weather, but lately it’s more uncertain than ever—some would even call it wildly unpredictable. Here’s what’s happening in the furrows as reported by Patty in this season’s Spring Hill newsletters:
Sometimes rain is a lovely thing, sometimes it’s not. Last Friday we had about half an inch of rain. It made harvest not very pleasant or pretty, but we appreciated it knowing we were in for a blast of heat over the next week. Then there was Saturday morning. Very early Saturday morning we woke up to thunder and lightning and heavy, heavy rains. When we went out to take a look there was over four inches of rain in the gauge. Our little stream had become something of a river and we were unable to cross it. Our plan to pick peas with the members who were to arrive shortly was curtailed when we sank up to our ankles in mud. Plans to pick cilantro were changed to basil from the hoophouse when we saw the flattened cilantro.
It’s been a big week at the farm, a big week of crazy weather and a big week of garlic harvest. After that most amazing four-inch-plus rain, we were blasted with heat. … We had hoped to finish [the garlic harvest] last Saturday but just as people arrived to help with the harvest day, so did the rain. We got over an inch that morning and then another inch and a quarter Saturday evening. Thankfully we’ve managed to escape damaging winds and hail and we all survived the brutal heat. I know there’s crazy weather every year but this year seems record breaking on way too many fronts.
Rain, heat, mosquitoes! The working conditions of late have not been ideal. We’ve gotten well over ten inches of rain over the last couple of weeks and it’s raining again as I write. The ground is saturated making it impossible to get in and do some of the work we’d like to be doing.
We are starting to see some of the effects of extended hot weather along with all the rain.
Last Tuesday, Mike and I went out to harvest the eggplant. We were able to pick about 75-80 nice eggplant—and that was it. There would be no eggplant for Saturday’s delivery and none in the foreseeable future. The plants have no more eggplant of any size. Peppers are equally puzzling. Some have a decent fruit set, others a couple of big ones and nothing else. Our poblano peppers have no fruit. While it’s true that peppers and eggplant both are heat loving plants, they’re rather particular about the temperature while they’re blossoming. In fact, they’ll drop their blossoms if the daytime temperatures are above 90 degrees and/or if nighttime temperatures are above 75 degrees. Beans, it turns out, are equally sensitive. Our first bean planting produced just fine. Our second planting, however, setting its blossoms during that heat spell, is not producing well at all. We’re taking a week (maybe two) off of beans. Hopefully we’ll have some after that. The bees, so important for pollination, also take a vacation when it gets hot. We’ve noticed the effects of that in our zucchini and cucumber patches. Potatoes, we’ve learned, go into a stage of dormancy when it gets too warm.
If this year is any indication, farming in this time of climate change is going to be challenging. While one certainly can’t plan for unpredictability, we’re trying to think about what we ought to be doing as extreme weather patterns become more common.
Source: Spring Hill Community Farm
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