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Archive for the ‘ecology’ Category

Pandora’s Boxes by Heather Millar

In biology, chemistry, ecology, environment, nature, physics, science on April 3, 2014 at 23:49

From: Pandora’s Boxes by Heather Millar, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

Wiesner and his colleagues spent several months designing the experiments that will help them outline some general ecological principles of the unique nanoverse. He knew they wanted to test the particles in a system, but a full-scale ecosystem would be too big, too unmanageable, so they had to find a way to container-ize nature. They considered all sorts of receptacles: kiddie pools (too flimsy), simple holes in the ground (too dirty, too difficult to harvest for analysis), concrete boxes (crack in winter). Finally, they settled upon wooden boxes lined with nonreactive, industrial rubber: cheap to build, easy to reuse, and convenient to harvest.

Some published research has shown that inhaled nanoparticles actually become more toxic as they get smaller. Nano–titanium dioxide, one of the most commonly used nanoparticles (Pop-Tarts, sunblock), has been shown to damage DNA in animals and prematurely corrode metals. Carbon nanotubes seem to penetrate lungs even more deeply than asbestos.

What little we know about the environmental effects of nanoparticles—and it isn’t very much—also raises some red flags. Nanoparticles from consumer products have been found in sewage wastewater, where they can inhibit bacteria that help break down the waste. They’ve been found to accumulate in plants and stunt their growth. Another study has shown that gold nanoparticles become more concentrated as they move up the food chain from plants to herbivores.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

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A Manifesto for Rewilding the World by George Monbiot

In animals, biology, ecology, nature on August 8, 2013 at 05:18

From: A Manifesto for Rewilding the World by George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com

Until modern humans arrived, every continent except Antarctica possessed a megafauna. In the Americas, alongside mastodons, mammoths, four-tusked and spiral-tusked elephants, there was a beaver the size of a black bear: eight feet from nose to tail(1). There were giant bison weighing two tonnes, which carried horns seven feet across(2).

The short-faced bear stood thirteen feet in its hind socks(3). One hypothesis maintains that its astonishing size and shocking armoury of teeth and claws are the hallmarks of a specialist scavenger: it specialised in driving giant lions and sabretooth cats off their prey(4). The Argentine roc (Argentavis magnificens) had a wingspan of 26 feet(5). Sabretooth salmon nine feet long migrated up Pacific coast rivers(6).

Through rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – I see an opportunity to reverse the destruction of the natural world. Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland and the Wales Wild Land Foundation) in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it (18,19). Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It’s about abandoning the Biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.

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Reposted with permission from: George Monbiot

Water Works by Cynthia Barnett

In architecture, community, ecology, infrastructure, North America on July 30, 2013 at 17:52

From: Water Works: Communities imagine ways of making every drop count (Reimagining Infrastructure series) by Cynthia Barnett, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

On a winter’s day in Seattle, a leaden monotony hangs over the Central Business District, dispiriting to this part of downtown. Contrary to reputation, the urban pallor is not born of rain, which falls almost imperceptibly from silvery clouds that match the nearby waters of Puget Sound. Rather, the gloom rises from the cement hardscape. The busy streets are paved dark gray, the wide sidewalks beside them light gray. The skyscrapers rise in shades of gray. The hulking freeways, ramps, and overpasses: gray. The monorail track and its elephantine pillars: gray.

The gray shellac of a city repels more than the imagination. When rain flows along streets, parking lots, and rooftops rather than percolating into the ground, it soaks up toxic metals, oil and grease, pesticides and herbicides, feces, and every other scourge that can make its way to a gutter. This runoff impairs virtually every urban creek, stream, and river in Washington. It makes Pacific killer whales some of the most PCB-contaminated mammals on the planet. It’s driving two species of salmon extinct, and kills a high percentage of healthy coho within hours of swimming into Seattle’s creeks, before they’ve had a chance to spawn.

Returning some of nature’s hydrology to the cityscape can make an enormous difference —or could—as more individuals, businesses, and neighborhoods remake their bit of the terra firma. Washington State University scientists have found that streets with rain gardens clean up 90 percent or more of the pollutants flowing through on their way to the sound. Green roofs reduce runoff between 50 and 85 percent and can drop a building’s energy costs by nearly a third. Cisterns like the one on Vine Street solve two problems, reducing runoff and capturing water for outdoor irrigation—which in summer can account for half a city’s freshwater demand.

Seattle was among the first major American cities to accept that it had hit the limit. The Emerald City taps a clear mountain river called the Cedar, and a smaller river, the Tolt, to quench the thirst of 1.4 million urbanites and corporate giants from Amazon to Microsoft. The Cedar River begins in the cloud-laced foothills of the Cascade Range, flows forty-five miles south to Seattle’s iconic Lake Washington, and ultimately to Puget Sound. Seattle’s leaders had the foresight to begin buying up the river’s watershed for drinking water in the late 1800s; over a century, they’d preserved more than ninety thousand acres. At the upper reaches of the watershed, snowpack collects in winter, then fills the city’s reservoirs for the dry summer. At the lower end, the Landsburg Dam diverts the river for drinking water.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

None of the world’s top industries… by David Roberts

In business, ecology, economics, politics on July 7, 2013 at 17:36

From: None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use by David Roberts, Grist, http://grist.org

The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs.

While the notion is incredibly useful, especially in folding ecological concerns into economics, I’ve always had my reservations about it. Environmentalists these days love speaking in the language of economics — it makes them sound Serious — but I worry that wrapping this notion in a bloodless technical term tends to have a narcotizing effect. It brings to mind incrementalism: boost a few taxes here, tighten a regulation there, and the industrial juggernaut can keep right on chugging. However, if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.

To see what I mean, check out a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)

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Reposted with permission from: Grist

Do Elephants Have Souls? by Caitrin Nicol

In Africa, animals, biology, ecology, ethics, philosophy, science on July 3, 2013 at 19:06

From: Do Elephants Have Souls? by Caitrin Nicol, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

The taboo against anthropomorphism exists for three basic reasons. First of all, we as human beings are prone to mistake the thoughts and feelings of each other, even the people we are closest to — how much more so is this a risk in speculating about members of another species?

Even supposing that the elephants were our equals in intelligence, their life differs from ours so fundamentally that trying to infer their perspective from our own experience is bound to miss the mark in many ways. For one thing, as a rule elephants have poor vision — but their sense of smell is exquisite, revealing a whole olfactory landscape that we are contentedly closed off to. Also, they do not fall romantically in love (that we know of; that their behavior indicates). Think how many other aspects of our lives are profoundly influenced by good sight and deep eros, and ask yourself what might loom equally large iStockphoto in an elephant’s world that we ourselves would have very little grasp of. And of course there are a variety of other differences — where they live, how they live, the fact that from birth to death a female (unless something has gone wrong) will never be alone and after a certain point a male mostly will. How might these things shape a psyche?

For real sentient beings, though, the truth is more complex. They are not us, but to look into their eyes is to know that someone is in there. Imposing our own specific thoughts and feelings on that someone is in one sense too imaginative, in presuming he could receive the world in the way we do, and in another not imaginative enough, in not opening our minds to the full possibilities of his difference. The philosopher and theologian Martin Buber called this “the immense otherness of the Other,” reflecting on his relationship with a family horse as a child. As he stroked the mane, “it was as though the element of vitality itself bordered on my skin” — “something that was not I,” he notes, but was “elementally” in relation to him. There was an existential connection between them in their improbable blessing of breathing, beating life. And not only life, but the particularity of sentient individuals, as the horse “very gently raised his massive head, ears flicking, then snorted quietly, as a conspirator gives a signal meant to be recognizable only by his fellow conspirator: and I was approved.”

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Farmer-Philosopher Fred Kirschenmann on Food and the Warming Future by Peter Pearsall

In agriculture, ecology, interview, nature, North America, philosophy, society on June 23, 2013 at 21:15

From: Farmer-Philosopher Fred Kirschenmann on Food and the Warming Future by Peter Pearsall, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Farmer and philosopher Fred Kirschenmann has made it his life’s work to weave sustainability and resilience into the ever-changing agricultural landscape.

A world-renowned leader in sustainable agriculture and professor of religion and philosophy at Iowa State University, Kirschenmann is no stranger to practicing what he preaches. His 2,600-acre farmstead in North Dakota serves as a model for what’s possible on a mid-sized organic farm, showcasing the results of diverse crop rotation paired with soil remediation, and all of it done without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Kirschenmann decided to convert his farm to a wholly organic operation in 1976, after being introduced to the concept in the 1960s by one of his students. Crop yields sank initially, but five years of trial and error restored productivity and eventually boosted it. Today, he grows seven different grain crops—including winter rye, millet, and hard red spring wheat—on two-thirds of the land, while on the rest cattle graze on native prairie. The farm has been featured in such publications as National Geographic, BusinessWeek, Audubon, the LA Times, and Gourmet magazine.

As the Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, Kirschenmann travels across the country and the world to spread new ideas about land ethics, soil health, and biodiversity in agriculture. He is also an author, and the president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York.

Peter Pearsall: You’ve been called an “agri-intellectual” by Mother Jones writer Tom Philpott. What does that phrase mean to you?

Fred Kirschenmann: I think what Tom means by that is that I have put together a kind of vision for the food and agriculture system based on my own experience as a farmer, and my own efforts to anticipate the kinds of challenges we’re going to see in the future.

Peter: How has sustainable agriculture changed over the last 20 years?

Fred: For a long time, I think, there’s been two views on sustainable agriculture. In the first one, the aim is to increase or intensify what we’ve done in the past. There is some effort to reduce the negative impacts of conventional agriculture—such as reducing chemical inputs, soil erosion, and negative effects on water quality—but there is still the goal of maximizing production for short-term economic returns. That particular view looks at it like, “We’ve been so successful in increasing the yields of our crops and we’ve saved the lives of billions of people. Therefore we’re going to use the new technology to keep doing that, and intensify it even more.”

This older view says that the basic system of conventional agriculture was OK, but we needed to reduce our soil erosion, we needed to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals, we needed to improve our water quality. So we had to “green up” the system to make it sustainable.

“Simply intensifying agriculture in one part of the world to feed the rest of the world is not going to solve the problem.”

More recently—and I include myself in this school of thought—we’re recognizing that we’re going to have some significant challenges in the future, where we’re not going to have the resources to sustain the agriculture of the past. So we’re going to have to fundamentally redesign it. Our agriculture system in the past was based on cheap energy, it depended on surplus available fresh water, and it depended on a stable climate. None of those things are going to be there in the future.

So those of us who are thinking about the future are thinking about it more in terms of resilience.

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

Artifice v. Pastoral by Jay Griffiths

In community, ecology, economy, environment on June 17, 2013 at 19:34

From: Artifice v. Pastoral by Jay Griffiths, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

I asked one Inuit woman how she felt about the land. “I remember it was beautiful,” she said wistfully. The land was still there, a few yards from her door, thousands of miles of land as wide and beautiful as it ever had been but she was weirdly—artificially—alienated from it. Not so the elders, traveling by boat, Ski-doo, or dog-teams. They knew how to hunt, they knew the language of the land, those dozens of distinct words for snow and ice, on which your life may depend. They cherished the freedom of the land, that non-negotiable authenticity.

The elders are less confident of their knowledge now, because of climate change; I was told of an elder who went through the ice and drowned in a place where it never would have happened before. We’re north of everywhere, they say, and the first to feel these changes. “I’m the last man standing, so be careful with me,” says one, in elliptical vulnerability.

Climate collapse has weird echoes of the financial collapse of recent months, and at the core of both is what I’d call the Politics of Artifice. Perverse and cruel, it is an almost unexamined ideology, one which commits itself to the primacy of the fake and declares war on all that is natural.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun

In Asia, ecology, economy, environment, government, human rights, information, politics, science on June 3, 2013 at 21:19

From: Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

Sitting with Ma in his office last year, I asked him to talk about the remarkable 20-year career that propelled him to the forefront of China’s environmental movement.

Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.”

He took me back to 1992, the year Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour to open southeastern cities to commerce. China remained closed in many ways but Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.” He was a fresh journalism graduate from the University of International Relations and had landed a position as a researcher and translator in the Beijing office of the South China Morning Post, later working his way up to office manager. At the paper he found himself immersed in every kind of issue and story.

While working as a journalist Ma came to realize that China was in an environmental crisis. He had grown up learning the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu, poets who spoke of China’s lakes, rivers, and land in lyrical, beautiful images. “I grew up reading these books, knowing this landscape through the words of ancient literary giants. I had an image in my mind, but when I traveled—it was just so different.”

In 1994, he found himself at the Three Gorges Dam site covering the story for his paper. Ma was saddened to find that the trees had been clear cut, the river muddied and polluted. “Li Bai and Du Fu had both been so inspired by the landscape, by the gorge, by the torrential flow. When I saw the river, I felt such a big loss.”

When he traveled to Dongting Lake in 1996, he expected to find a place he knew from ancient literature as “vast and extremely pretty.” But when he got there, he “found that the lake during the dry season had been reduced to a few rivers. The degradation was just so obvious.”

And when he went to the Fen River in Shanxi province, Ma saw “streams coming out of different villages with different colors, representing different industries: copper green and iron red and iron brownish, and yellowish and reddish. And they all came together to form a very highly polluting flow, eventually ending up in the Yellow River.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization… by Rachel Armstrong

In civilisation, ecology, nature, technology on May 27, 2013 at 18:26

From: Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization is Indistinguishable from Nature by Rachel Armstrong, IEET, http://www.ieet.org/

In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” [1]

 

With the advent of ‘living technologies’ [2], which possess some of the properties of living systems but are not ‘truly’ alive, a new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent. This change in perspective is encapsulated in Koert Van Mensvoort’s term ‘next nature’, which implies thinking ‘ecologically’, rather than ‘mechanically’. The implications of next nature are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.

Alan Turing noted in his essay on morphogenesis that mathematical abstraction couldn’t capture the richness of the natural world [6]. Life is a complex system that is governed by a variety of unique processes that machines simply do not possess. Life responds to its environment, constantly changes with time and is made up of functional components that enables life the ability to self-regulate [7]. Complexity challenges the epistemological basis on which modern science and industry are grounded.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter

In architecture, astronomy, ecology, nature, North America, photography, space on May 13, 2013 at 21:43

From: From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

In October 1969, at the height of the irrational fears about the imminent detonation of the population bomb, about one hundred hippies assembled in the San Francisco Bay area to stage a “hunger show,” a week-long period of total fasting. The event was inspired by a hashish-induced vision that had come to the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, when reading Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb. The goal was to personally experience the bodily pain of those who suffer from famine and to issue a warning about the mass starvations predicted for the 1970s. From the outset, the lofty intentions conflicted with a more dreary reality. Originally, the communal fasting was to be held inside an inflatable, one-hundred-by-one-hundred-foot polyethylene pillow. The structure, dubbed Liferaft Earth, was designed by Charlie Tilford, a graduate student in engineering at Columbia University, and the participants were to live exclusively within it for the duration of the fast. But the organizers could neither secure a prominent site nor a permit for the innovative shell, which was deemed to be a fire risk, and so the event took place instead in a motel parking lot in the city of Hayward. There, a four-foot-high inflatable wall delineated a compound within which those who were fasting camped. The press and the curious lingered outside the wall, joined by the occasional participant who could no longer bear the hunger pangs, made worse by the temptations of a nearby Chinese restaurant.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

Africa Shining by Anjan Sundaram

In Africa, Asia, ecology, economics, ethics, politics on May 11, 2013 at 19:35

From: Africa Shining: Can India compete with China in an emerging Africa? by Anjan Sundaram, The Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in

… Fifteen years ago, Africa, and particularly its troubled centre, was seen almost exclusively as an exotic high-risk investment destination for the brave and adventurous, for those with privileged connections to Africa’s dictatorships and large pools of capital to risk. Most investors had all but forsaken central Africa after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide killed more than 800,000 people in three months.

But the economic interest in Africa has lately become intense. It is now routinely described as the continent of the future: by some measures it is soon to be the world’s fastest growing region, with a large and rapidly expanding consumer base—its middle class is now estimated to be larger than India’s—and an abundance of rich mineral deposits.

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan

You Are Where You Live by Susan Griffin

In civilisation, ecology, film, nature, politics, society on April 8, 2013 at 17:59

From: You Are Where You Live: How the sky, rain, geography, and cultures of our place shape us by Susan Griffin, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Concerned about the loss of forests, increasing pollution, and the diminishment of the ozone layer, I was beginning to make connections that I had not seen before. For instance, between the oppression of women I experienced and the wanton destruction of nature I was witnessing.

Slowly it dawned on me that the imaginary boundary, drawn centuries ago, that separates nature from culture is the same boundary that has also separated us from each other too, creating categories of gender and race, in which women or those with darker skin or those who earn a living with their hands are described as less able intellectually than the men at the top of the scale; by the same token, we are deemed untrustworthy because we are so mired in sensual experience and extreme emotion, or to put it more succinctly, since we are closer to the Earth.

But another world is possible. As a child, I found more than one refuge. All through the year I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, the rush of water in my ears singing to me of a vastness way beyond what was indicated in the strange dystopic landscape I thought of as ordinary. In the summer I camped in the High Sierras, the sound of wind through conifers becoming an inextricable part of my soul. Occasionally, my family would take a trip to the Mojave or the Baja Peninsula where I learned to see the subtle eloquence of deserts. And since I was very small, I took an interest in Native American cultures, which, though they spoke in languages I could not translate, seemed redolent with another response to the lands we shared, the diverse wisdom of earthly existence, voices, to paraphrase Gary Snyder, that capture the pitch of the phenomenal world “totally living, exciting, mysterious, filling one with a trembling awe, leaving one grateful and humble.”

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

Moral Enhancement by Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson

In anthropology, ecology, ethics, nature, philosophy, psychology, society, technology on March 16, 2013 at 15:44

From: Moral Enhancement by Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson, Philosophy Now, http://philosophynow.org

For the vast majority of our 150,000 years or so on the planet, we lived in small, close-knit groups, working hard with primitive tools to scratch sufficient food and shelter from the land. Sometimes we competed with other small groups for limited resources. Thanks to evolution, we are supremely well adapted to that world, not only physically, but psychologically, socially and through our moral dispositions.

But this is no longer the world in which we live. The rapid advances of science and technology have radically altered our circumstances over just a few centuries. The population has increased a thousand times since the agricultural revolution eight thousand years ago. Human societies consist of millions of people. Where our ancestors’ tools shaped the few acres on which they lived, the technologies we use today have effects across the world, and across time, with the hangovers of climate change and nuclear disaster stretching far into the future. The pace of scientific change is exponential. But has our moral psychology kept up?

With great power comes great responsibility. However, evolutionary pressures have not developed for us a psychology that enables us to cope with the moral problems our new power creates. Our political and economic systems only exacerbate this. Industrialisation and mechanisation have enabled us to exploit natural resources so efficiently that we have over-stressed two-thirds of the most important eco-systems.

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Reposted with permission from: Philosophy Now

Books of Ice: Sculptures by Basia Irland

In art, books, ecology, nature, video, visual arts on March 12, 2013 at 15:32

From: Books of Ice: Sculptures by Basia Irland & Text by Kathleen Dean Moore, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

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Balls of ice sowed seeds of life on Earth. That’s what comets are, just clumps of ice holding interstellar rocks and dust. But in that dust are amino acids and nucleotides that build living things. Many scientists think that this might be one way life began on Earth, 4 billion years ago, when the spinning arms of the galaxy cast comets over the planet, comets and comets and comets, protolife smacking onto the broken lava plains, until basins gathered the meltwater into oceans, and the oceans nurtured onrushing life.

Ice sows ice, too. The first grains gleamed in white sunshine, throwing back the sun’s heat and cooling their own small shadows. More ice formed in the cool places, and the shine of it cooled a larger shadow, until the reflectivity of the growing ice sheets cooled the whole planet, finally draped in dazzling layers of ice. Now the glaciers that remain in mountain valleys give life to rivers—the Ganges, the Fraser, the Colorado—as meltwater slides down blue rills and finally cuts a channel through gravel and till.

Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

The Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics by Saleem H. Ali

In Asia, ecology, government, politics, war on February 26, 2013 at 05:36

From: The Two-headed Problem of Asian Hydropolitics: Security and Scarcity by Saleem H. Ali, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

As the rift has widened between the Chinese government and the Tibetan leadership in exile during the past year, it is high time that innovative strategies be considered for conflict resolution. During a recent visit to the Netherlands, I had an opportunity to interact with the Dalai Lama at a seminar on water security organized by the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. Sitting around a table with about fifteen scholars from Asia and Europe, the Buddhist spiritual leader called the Tibetan plateau a “third pole” of available water on the planet. The conversation was meant to be apolitical and to focus on science as a touchstone for cooperation. The Dalai Lama humorously commented that it is time we protect mountains not just because they are “sacred” but because “science tells us they are important.” A global strategy is needed by scientists and policymakers alike to address the challenge of water scarcity in Asia.

The situation is particularly acute for the world’s largest continent. While home to more than half of the world’s population, Asia has less fresh water—3,920 cubic meters per person—than any continent except Antarctica. Almost two-thirds of global population growth is occurring in Asia, which is expected to grow by nearly 500 million within the next 10 years, mostly in urban areas. In November 2008, The U.S. National Intelligence Council highlighted Asian water scarcity in its Global Trends 2025 report: “With water becoming more scarce in Asia and the Middle East, cooperation to manage changing water resources is likely to become more difficult within and between states.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Echoes of the Phenomenon by Ben de Bruyn

In civilisation, ecology, interview, nature, philosophy, theory on January 29, 2013 at 18:18

From: Echoes of the Phenomenon – A Conversation with Robert Pogue Harrison by Ben de Bruyn, Image & Narrative, http://www.imageandnarrative.be

What if forests are not simply natural but also cultural sites? If deforestation is not only depleting our oxygen supply but also our cultural memory? And what if living human beings are always already dead, being fundamentally connected to the afterlives of their predecessors and of their offspring? What if our expulsion from the Garden of Eden was not a curse, but a blessing? If paradise was not – andcan never be – paradise? These are just some of the fascinating questions Robert Pogue Harrison has raised in his seminal studies on Forests, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens. As I have tried to show in my essay on Harrison‟s work in the previous issue of Image & Narrative, these studies have established the Stanford professor as an important critic with regard to topics such as ecology, memory, and humanity. His oeuvre lends a voice to the cultural echoes of phenomena, the things in the world. But how did this oeuvre about the earth and its dead, about natural and cultural conservation first emerge? And what is the relationship between these three studies which, as Harrison suggests, actually constitute a trilogy? How does he position himself vis-à-vis issues as diverse as Deconstruction and ecocriticism, humanism and existentialism, modernity and Christianity? What is the nature and value of literature, to his mind? And what, finally, does the future hold in store for him? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed in the present interview with Robert Pogue Harrison.

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Reposted with permission from: Image & Narrative

What the frack? by Imre Szeman

In ecology, economics, ethics, government, news, North America, politics, sociology on January 3, 2013 at 16:42

From: What the frack? by Imre Szeman, Radical Philosophy, http://www.radicalphilosophy.com

Shale gas can be found in pockets all over the world, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Mexico and South Africa. The extraction of natural gas from shale has generated headlines in almost every one of these countries as a result of the process used to gain access to it: hydrological fracturing, which is more commonly referred to as ‘fracking’. A process developed in late 1940s but only used widely in the last decade, fracking involves the injection of a mix of water, sand and chemicals into the bore created to access the gas with enough force and pressure to split the shale rock, and so make the gas recoverable. The success of fracking as a means by which to access natural gas deposits that were formerly thought to be inaccessible is connected with the concurrent development of horizontal (as opposed to conventional, vertical) drilling, a process now carried out in the field with relative ease. Horizontal drilling aided by fracking opened up the natural gas fields of the Barnett Shale in northern Texas a decade ago. Since then, oil and gas companies, small and large, have raced to gain access to the gas trapped in the Bowland Basin in the UK and the Marcellus Shale in the north-eastern USA, as well as many other places around the globe. Besides the profits promised by control over all these new gas deposits, industry and government have been quick to champion the other benefits produced by shale gas and fracking.

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Reposted with permission from: Radical Philosophy

Climate Change, Forest Privatization, and Apocalyptic Prophesies in the Mayan Zone of Quintana Roo, Mexico by José E. Martínez-Reyes

In anthropology, biology, community, culture, ecology, economics, human rights, politics, sociology, South America on December 16, 2012 at 16:54

From: Climate Change, Forest Privatization, and Apocalyptic Prophesies in the Mayan Zone of Quintana Roo by José E. Martínez-Reyes

The Maya of central Quintana Roo and their environment have undergone enormous transformations in recent years. Pressures not only from tourism development, but also from land tenure changes and land speculation are beginning to create increased tensions within Mayan communities between people that want to continue the current system of communal land tenure (“ejido”) and those that feel pressure to sell their ejido rights to potentially offer land for development or for a recent biodiversity conservation scheme that is happening in the communities around the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

On top of the conservation restrictions to comply with REDD+, the Maya are facing increased periods of drought associated with climate change. These changes are putting enormous pressure on their resources, the forest, forest wildlife, their traditional agriculture, and make them more dependent on government subsidies. It also has the effect of promoting migration to try and find one of the relatively few jobs that the tourism industry provides. Facing this array of difficulties, local leaders, including the Mayan dignitaries associated with the Church of the Talking Cross, continue to question what prospects look like for their future generations.  As a people that have endured profound struggles, including invasion and war, they continue to respond with an apocalyptic sentiment (that has nothing to do with the 2012 nonsense that the media perpetuates).

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Reposted with permission from: Cultural Survival

Wolfbane by George Monbiot

In animals, biology, community, ecology, Europe, government, nature, politics on November 25, 2012 at 20:45

From: Wolfbane by George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com

One of the biggest political shocks of the past decade has been the transformation of Canada. Under the influence of the tar barons of Alberta, it has mutated from a country dominated by liberal, pacific, outward-looking values to a thuggish petro-state, ripping up both international treaties and the fabric of its own nation.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be a meeting between the Norwegian and Swedish governments, at which Norway intends to lay claim to some of the wolves which live on the border between the two nations. This may sound like a good thing. The government’s purpose is anything but.

If it can classify these wolves as Norwegian, even though most of them breed in Sweden, it can go ahead with the extermination of wolves elsewhere in the country. It can claim that, due to the newly-nationalised border population, it is still meeting its international obligations to maintain the species.

Wolves are very popular in Norway: surveys suggest that around 80% of the public – in both urban and rural areas – wants to keep them at current or higher numbers. But as so often with rural issues – in Norway and in many other parts of the world – the dominant voices are those who belong to a small but powerful minority.

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Reposted with permission from: George Monbiot

Scientists create ‘tree of life’ mapping all known bird species

In biology, ecology, research, science on November 18, 2012 at 22:34

From: Scientists create ‘tree of life’ mapping all known bird species, Mongabay, http://news.mongabay.com

The international team researchers used DNA-sequencing data — when available — to show the evolutionary relationships between living bird species. It also shows bird speciation rates across time and geographies.

“We have built the first ever family tree showing the evolutionary relationship among the species of birds. We used fossils and genetic data to estimate the ages of all the different branches of the bird tree so that we could assess how diversity has accumulated through time,” said co-author Gavin Thomas of the University of Sheffield in a statement. “Our work is indebted to researchers from museums and universities who have collected astounding amounts of genetic data from birds around the world.”

See at Mongabay

Reposted with permission from: Mongabay

Remembering the Dust Bowl by Gabriel Thoumi

In ecology, history, North America, society on November 17, 2012 at 18:33

From: Remembering the Dust Bowl: it could happen again by Gabriel Thoumi, Mongabay, http://news.mongabay.com

By 1880s, the immeasurable bison herds of the Great Plains had been slaughtered and the Beef Bonanza began. Then severe winters killed the cattle herds bankrupting the cattle industry. Next the homesteaders moved in with promises of an Eden where any person, whether a suitcase in-town farmer or a rugged homesteader, could feed their family and make money off the land. Fueled by the global wheat boom of the 1910s and 1920s, the “Great Plow-Up” began when homesteaders plowed under tens of millions of acres of native buffalo grass in the Southern Great Plains for wheat production.

    “This wind-driven dust, fine as the finest flour, penetrates wherever air can go.” – Caroline Henderson, Oklahoma

With too much wheat under crop, most of the native grasses plowed under, and drought occurring, black dirt and sand dust bowl storms began to ravage the southern Great Plains. These storms could be 100 miles long with 60 mile an hour winds and would turn day into night, covering crops, destroying homes, and in the worst cases smothering all life in their path.

    “It was just unbelievable. It’d blister your face. It would put your eyes out.” – Pauline Robertson, New Mexico

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Reposted with permission from: Mongabay

It is a duty that we should save seeds for the future by Vandana Shiva

In Asia, biology, community, culture, ecology, ethics, nature, research, science on November 9, 2012 at 00:16

From: It is a duty that we should save seeds for the future by Vandana Shiva, America Latina en Movimiento, http://alainet.org

(…) Biodiversity is not empty, it is not pure nature, none of the varieties that have been evolved over centuries by peasant societies, particularly the women, are landrace. I think it’s just a wrong term to use because there’s intelligence in every bit of their breeding.
And as we think of how do we achieve systems of development, particularly rural development, there can be objectives of providing food of high quality, good nutrition, how do we assure that rural communities are not excluded, that women are not excluded, I think the first step along with development [is] food security as well as social inclusion, it is to start removing the boundaries and walls that have lead to exclusion. In my view the most important wall is a very invisible wall that gets higher and higher and higher.
This is a wall I have called the creation boundary. This is a wall that is destroying our biodiversity, that is pushing our rural communities to marginalization and poverty, and it is a wall that has discounted the knowledge of peasant societies, especially the women.
And this wall started to get put in place when knowledge was suddenly demarcated between scientific knowledge and other [types of] knowledge that aren’t knowledge.

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Reposted with permission from: America Latina en Movimiento

The End, The End, The End by Chad Harbach

In books, ecology, economics, literature, nature, North America, writers on November 3, 2012 at 20:56

From: The End, The End, The End: Why bother dreaming up a devastated world when you live in one? Chad Harbach, n +1 Magazine, http://nplusonemag.com

It remains the method of most sci-fi novels to imagine a kind of heightened present, combining and extrapolating extant technologies (an MP3 player … in your brain!) to demonstrate their psychological and political effects. The post-catastrophe novel does the opposite; it takes away the MP3 player, and almost everything else. It liberates the violent potential of technology (and its enemy, nature) to create an altered world whose chief characteristic is a bewildering lack of technology. This in turn means a severely winnowed human population, and plenty of hardship and casual brutality. This future doesn’t intensify the present moment, it contradicts it: What would happen if we didn’t live in an overpopulated, technology-saturated world in which travel by foot is considered eccentric, tacos cost forty-nine cents, and the prerogative to commit violence—despite an amazing profusion of handheld weaponry—lies entirely with the state?

We didn’t always live in this kind of world. Or rather, we always did, but not long ago even Americans and Western Europeans didn’t. They lived in the 19th century, before the full flowering of the petroleum age; they belong to history. So too, increasingly, do the residents of the 20th century, with their reliance on cheap oil and predictable climate patterns. The century just ended was full of anxiety and terror, but it was also a pampered time. Even while tens of millions were murdered by oil-driven technologies like incendiary bombs and gas chambers, other oil-dependent technologies like tractors, penicillin, and nitrogen fertilizers enabled the population to quadruple in a few generations, and produced unprecedented comfort and ease for unprecedentedly large numbers of people. Now we’ve burned half the available oil, or close to it, and burning it (along with so much coal) has altered the earth’s equilibrium. Our future, like our past, may be virtually free of oil, and global culture, and many of the social safeguards we enjoy. Thus the novel of future catastrophe threatens to become a version of the historical novel.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1 Magazine

Polymers Are Forever by Alan Weisman

In ecology, ethics, nature, research, science on November 1, 2012 at 13:18

From: Polymers Are Forever: Alarming tales of a most prevalent and problematic substance by Alan Weisman, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

“Any idea what these are?” Thompson is guiding a visitor along the shore of the Plym River estuary, near where it joins the sea. With a full moonrise just a few hours off, the tide is out nearly two hundred meters, exposing a sandy flat scattered with bladderwrack and cockle shells. A breeze skims the tidal pools, shivering rows of reflected hillside housing projects. Thompson bends over the strand line of detritus left by the forward edge of waves lapping the shore, looking for anything recognizable: hunks of nylon rope, syringes, topless plastic food containers, half a ship’s float, pebbled remains of polystyrene packaging, and a rainbow of assorted bottle caps. Most plentiful of all are multicolored plastic shafts of cotton ear-swabs. But there are also the odd little uniform shapes he challenges people to identify. Among twigs and seaweed fibers in his fistful of sand are a couple dozen blue and green plastic cylinders about two millimeters high.

“They’re called nurdles. They’re the raw materials of plastic production. They melt these down to make all kinds of things.” He walks a little farther, then scoops up another handful. It contains more of the same plastic bits: pale blue ones, greens, reds, and tans. Each handful, he calculates, is about 20 percent plastic, and each holds at least thirty pellets.

“You find these things on virtually every beach these days. Obviously they are from some factory.”

However, there is no plastic manufacturing anywhere nearby. The pellets have ridden some current over a great distance until they were deposited here—collected and sized by the wind and tide.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Days of the Locust: An Interview with Jeffrey Lockwood by David Serlin and Jeffrey Lockwood

In biology, ecology, Europe, history, North America, religion, research, society, writers on September 28, 2012 at 04:37

From: Days of the Locust: An Interview with Jeffrey Lockwood by David Serlin and Jeffrey Lockwood, CABINET Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

In the summer of 1875, an infestation of Rocky Mountain locusts measuring 198,000 square miles—a square 450 miles on each side, containing an estimated 3.5 trillion locusts—descended upon the midwestern United States, the largest locust swarm ever recorded. (By comparison, the second-largest swarm, in Kenya in 1954, covered fewer than one hundred square miles.) Although an unprecedented convergence of specific climatic, agricultural, and ecological conditions was responsible for creating the 1875 outbreak, many communities interpreted the locust swarm as an objective sign of pending apocalypse and confirmation that the modern world could not escape the wrath of an angry God. By the early years of the twentieth century, however, the Rocky Mountain locust, with its turbo-charged capacity for devastation and destruction, had vanished, leaving scientists, theologians, and historians to ponder the cause of its mysterious disappearance.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET Magazine

Featured Essay: The Sea by John Zerzan

In civilisation, ecology, Featured, literature, nature, philosophy, poetry, society, writers on September 8, 2012 at 01:01

I have a special post for you today. Throughout the ongoing process of communicating with websites in the hope of receiving permission to repost their content, I had a few wonderful exchanges with writers and researchers. One of them was John Zerzan, author and philosopher, who sent me his latest essay for publication on this website. Enjoy the essay and feel free to comment.

HG

Featured Essay: The Sea by John Zerzan

Last remaining lair of unparalleled wildness. Too big to fail?

The whole world is being objectified, but Melville reminds us of all that remains. “There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea.”i What could be more tangible, more of a contrast with being lost in the digital world, where we feel we can never properly come to grips with anything.

Oceans are about time more than space, “as if there were a correlation between going deep and going back.”ii The Deep is solemn; linking, in some way, all that has come before. Last things and first things. “Heaven,” by comparison, is thin and faintly unserious.

“Over All the Face of Earth Main Ocean Flowed,” announced the poem by John Milton.iii Given its 71 percent predominance on this planet, why is our world called Earth instead of Sea? Much of the land, in fact, could be defined as littoral areas where land and sea meet.iv The sea is a textured place, infinite in its moods, forms, energies—and not so easily de-textured. But we see what happens when culture is privileged over place. The sea, where all life began just this side of four billion years ago, must still sustain us. Not only are its waters the original source of life, it also shapes the climate, weather, and temperature of the planet, and therefore the status of terrestrial species.

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A Great Silence Is Spreading Over the Natural World by John Vidal

In biology, civilisation, ecology, music, nature on September 5, 2012 at 14:23

 

From: A Great Silence Is Spreading Over the Natural World by John Vidal, Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org

“The birds are silent in the woods.
Just wait: Soon enough
You will be quiet too”

– Robert Hass

When musician and naturalist Bernie Krause drops his microphones into the pristine coral reef waters of Fiji, he picks up a raucous mix of sighs, beats, glissandos, cries, groans, tones, grunts, beats and clicks.Musician and naturalist Bernie Krause has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species in many of the world’s pristine habitats. exti

The water pulsates with the sound of creatures vying for acoustic bandwidth. He hears crustaceans, parrot fish, anemones, wrasses, sharks, shrimps, puffers and surgeonfish. Some gnash their teeth, others use their bladders or tails to make sound. Sea anemones grunt and belch. Every creature on the reef makes its own sound.

But half a mile away, where the same reef is badly damaged, he can only pick up the sound of waves and a few snapping shrimp. It is, he says, the desolate sound of extinction.

Krause, whose electronic music with Paul Beaver was used on classic films like Rosemary’s Baby and Apocalypse Now, and who worked regularly with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and The Byrds, has spent 40 years recording over 15,000 species, collecting 4,500 hours of sound from many of the world’s pristine habitats.

But such is the rate of species extinction and the deterioration of pristine habitat that he estimates half these recordings are now archives, impossible to repeat because the habitats no longer exist or because they have been so compromised by human noise. His tapes are possibly the only record of the original diversity of life in these places.

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

Where Does Nature’s Wisdom Lie? by by R. Ford Denison

In biology, ecology, nature, research, science on August 28, 2012 at 21:56

 

From: Where Does Nature’s Wisdom Lie? by by R. Ford Denison, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

My recent book, Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture, asks where nature’s wisdom is to be found, but also whether nature can “lie” to us. In particular, can we mislead ourselves, when we try to apply ideas from nature to agriculture? I conclude, tentatively, that the overall organization of natural forests has not been improved as consistently, by any natural process, as the individual adaptations of wild species have been improved by natural selection. Therefore, it is probably safer to copy trees than forests. The available data aren’t entirely conclusive, however. Furthermore, natural communities and landscapes provide essential context for understanding the sophisticated adaptations of wild species. To predict whether something that works well in a forest will also work well in an orchard, we need a deeper understanding of both forests and orchards.

As well, biotechnology’s many promises will not be fulfilled anytime soon. Most of the “improvements” proposed by biotechnology have already been tested by natural selection, and rejected. For example, increasing the expression of a gene for “drought tolerance”? Tried and tested, but plants were less competitive under non-drought conditions. Turning chemical defenses against insect pests on all the time, even when pests are scarce? Tried also, but it scared away pollinators. The list continues.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Overfished: LuLing Osofsky on “Chop City”

In civilisation, ecology, economics, nature, North America, society on August 21, 2012 at 21:28

 

From: Overfished: LuLing Osofsky on “Chop City”, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

The Alaska you write about in this piece isn’t the Alaska you and I and other non-Alaskans might expect to see upon arriving there. Instead of evergreen trees and grizzly bears, you found fish heads and a sixteen-hour workday. What did you imagine Alaska to be before you got there?

The surprises began in the Anchorage airport. As I waited for my tiny plane headed to Naknek, Alaska, I looked around the small waiting area at the designated gate. There was a teenage girl with dyed blonde hair, heavy lipstick, ankles crossed, speaking urgently in Russian on her cell phone. There was a disheveled man at the complimentary coffee station tearing open packets of Sweet’N Low and chugging them down. A man with sores on his face was lying on the floor.

One of the things that’s striking about this story is the way nature—in the form of fish—is objectified, commoditized, and treated mechanically, and the way that treatment extends to the mental and physical lives of you and the other line workers. Was that something you tried to reflect in the style and arc of this piece?

Yes! Definitely. The fish could’ve been anything, they ceased to be “fish.” You know when you stare at any one word for too long, and it no longer makes sense? The word looks strange, right? That’s how I began to see fish, not as these things that once swam in the sea and yielded a delicious meat, but these strange objects that needed to have certain parts chopped off, skinned, hollowed out, sorted, shipped.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Forest loss in Latin America by Rhett A. Butler

In ecology, nature, research, South America on August 20, 2012 at 05:17

 

From: Forest loss in Latin America by Rhett A. Butler, Mongabay, mongabay.com

     Latin America lost nearly 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of forest — an area larger than the state of Oregon — between 2001 and 2010, finds a new study that is the first to assess both net forest loss and regrowth across the Caribbean, Central and South America.

The study, published in the journal Biotropica by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico and other institutions, analyzes change in vegetation cover across several biomes, including forests (dry, temperate, moist, mangroves and coniferous), grasslands (pampas, shrublands, montane grasslands, savanna, desert/xeric shrublands), and wetlands (pantanal). It finds that the bulk of vegetation change occurred in forest areas, mostly tropical rainforests and lesser-known dry forests. The largest gains in woody vegetation area occurred in desert vegetation and shrublands.

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Reposted with permission from: Mongabay

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