Environment

Lights out? Experts fear fireflies are dwindling

When I was a kid, summer was all about lightning bugs. Well, that and playing outside until 9:30 p.m. Summer days in the Washington, D.C. area was mostly miserable—one writer compared summer in Washington like stepping into the breath of a very large, very hot, dog—but summer nights were really delightful. Little lights blinking on and off, the bugs themselves just trying to find dates for the evening . . . it was rather magical.

I started noticing their decline in the early 1980s, but the ’90s made me start despairing. Was it pollution? Overuse of pesticides? It didn’t matter; one by one, the tiny stars were going out.

MSNBC published the following story today: Continue reading

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Categories: Animals, Environment | 2 Comments

Poor Bears

The news is depressing, I’m afraid. A twelve-year-old girl was out walking her dog on a farm near the town of Sauðárkrókur, on the Skaga fjord in Iceland, when she spotted a polar bear.

There are, however, no polar bears in Iceland. The only place the bear could have come from was Greenland, about 300 miles away. And the only way it could have arrived was atop an ice floe.

The girl alerted the authorities. A group of journalists gathered. And last Tuesday, police were “forced” to shoot the bear, saying that it was “threatening the public.” They said the bear charged a group of reporters “in a panic,” that they had “no other choice” but to kill it.

I don’t mean to be snarky with the quotation marks. It’s just that this was the second polar bear to be shot and killed in Iceland in as many weeks. With the first bear, an officer said no drugs were available to sedate it, so he consulted with the minister of the environment, who gave permission for police marksmen to kill the bear. But a veterinarian says that he himself had the drugs available in his car. He also criticized police for not closing a mountain road where people congregated after hearing news of the polar bear.

After many protests from environmentalists and animal rights groups, authorities had vowed to capture the second bear and have it shipped in a cage back to Greenland or give it to a zoo. The chief veterinarian from the Copenhagen zoo had been flown in late Tuesday to help. He named the bear Ofeig, whose name translates roughly as “he who should not die.” Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Environment, Nature | 1 Comment

Gore and U.N. Panel Win Peace Prize for Climate Work

Published: October 13, 2007

OSLO, Oct. 12 — The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today to Al Gore, the former vice president, and to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for its work to alert the world to the threat of global warming.

The award is likely to renew calls by some of Mr. Gore’s supporters for him to run for president in 2008, joining an already crowed field of Democrats. Mr. Gore, who lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush, has said he is not interesting in running but has not flatly rejected the notion.

Mr. Gore “is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted,” the Nobel citation said. The United Nations committee, a network of 2,000 scientists, has produced two decades of scientific reports that have “created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming,” the citation said. Continue reading

Categories: Environment, Politics | 1 Comment

Most Polar Bears Could Die Out by 2050

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears will be killed off by 2050 — and the entire population gone from Alaska — because of thinning sea ice from global warming in the Arctic, government scientists forecast Friday.

Only in the northern Canadian Arctic islands and the west coast of Greenland are any of the world’s 16,000 polar bears expected to survive through the end of the century, said the U.S. Geological Survey, which is the scientific arm of the Interior Department.

USGS projects that polar bears during the next half-century will disappear along the north coasts of Alaska and Russia and lose 42 percent of the Arctic range they need to live in during summer in the Polar Basin when they hunt and breed. A polar bear’s life usually lasts about 30 years.

“Projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately two-thirds of the world’s current polar bear population by the mid 21st century,” the report says. Continue reading

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Charley, Frances, and Jeanne

When my brother enticed my mother to move down to Florida, he told her that Cape Canaveral was chosen as the NASA launch site because this section of Florida was hit by the fewest hurricanes. That was his selling point. He worked at NASA, 235px-hurricane_katrina_august_28_2005_nasa.jpgand thought it a nifty factoid.

Mom moved down, and for many years the worst we had to cope with was the occasional tropical storm, and we had already weathered many of them (pardon the pun) when we lived in the Virgin Islands.

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd scared us. It was heading straight for us, prompting the government to issue evacuation orders for the coastal areas, and even though we’re 20 minutes from the coast, we thought it best to leave. So did everyone else. We sat in traffic for hours and hours, trying to get to my brother’s house in Kissimmee. The 1.5 hour trip took nearly 5, and then Floyd veered north, so it was a lot of hullabaloo for nothing.

Then in 2004, Hurricane Charley threatened. We watched as it made landfall on the other side of the state, at Cayo Costa, with winds of 150 mph, then hours later hit the mainland portion of the state at Punta Gorda. Continue reading

Categories: Environment, Nature, Politics, Social Justice | 2 Comments

Mountains of Magic and More

by Tirthankar Mukherjee, The UB Post (Ulaanbatar, Mongolia)
Thursday, July 05, 2007

Kalidasa, the Indian poet-dramatist whose Meghadutam was translated into Mongolian in the 17th century (and whose name, I dare say, is totally unknown to the young in the country today), saw hills and mountains as the breasts of the Earth-woman. The Mongolian would ignore the erotic aspect of the simile, but would have no quarrel with it if female breasts are taken as sources of sustenance, for venerating mountains has been part of the Mongolian life ever since the nomads began their exploration of the country and found they were everywhere under the watchful eyes of hills.

Indeed, in Mongolian mythology, the world is ruled by Heaven and Earth in conjunction, the former male and causing things to be born, and the latter female and ensuring their nourishment and survival. This gradually led to the demarcation of some 800 sites—mountains, hills, lakes, and rivers—as worthy of veneration.

In this, something akin to the Japanese sangaku shinko (meaning “mountain creed”) can be said to have developed independently in Mongolia. Both Shamanism and the Shinto faith express reverence for mountains as sacred places. This is an integral part of a wider veneration of nature that is a feature of both, with both believing that natural features such as trees, lakes, streams, rocks and mountains are the dwelling places of spirits which hold influence over human affairs and respond to human prayer and ritual. Continue reading

Categories: Buddhism, Earth-based Religions, Environment, Nature, Shamanism | 2 Comments

Apocalypse of the Honeybees

How poetically appropriate that the End of Humanity should come from such a tiny, sweet source

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

From outta nowhere the tiny ones came, while humanity was busy trembling and sweating in the face of major global cataclysm, of global warming and nuclear war and rainforest devastation and melting ice caps and E. coli outbreaks and Ashlee Simpson and lethal hurricanes and the Apocalypse-hungry Christian right and a simply stupendously vile Bush juggernaut that has threatened all intelligent life everywhere. Onward they came, buzzy and calm and happy to be our very own adorable, unexpected harbinger of doom.

Yes, now we can see it clearly. Now we can be appropriately alarmed and now maybe we can even say, Oh holy hell, maybe we should have seen it coming all along: Of course the end of mankind should come from something as sweet and commonplace and unforeseen as the honeybees.

Have you not heard? Have you not read of the dire honeybee apocalypse and what it might mean for the majority of the delectable food crops in America, how we might soon face a very serious food crisis and might be eating little more than bread and pine cones in the near future, thus inducing widespread panic as we engage in violent bloody wars not for oil or land or God but over asparagus and avocados and those incredible Buddha’s Hand fruits they use to infuse Hangar One Citron?

It’s true. It’s all because of the honeybees, those minuscule, absolutely essential, beautifully pollinating creatures that play such a vital role in our food supply, help nearly all flowering crops grow and therefore provide a simply enormous portion of the global diet including all citrus and many vegetables Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Environment, Nature, Worthwhile Reading | 6 Comments

World Scientists Near Consensus on Global Warming

This was the surprising headline in today’s New York Times article. Scientists from all over the world are meeting at the U.N.–sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Paris this week to hammer out the details on an authoritative report on global warming. Its findings will project centuries of rising temperatures and sea level unless CO2 emissions are drastically cut.

The first section of the report will be released on Friday. The scientists are finding consensus around several points:

  • The Arctic Ocean could largely be devoid of sea ice during summer later in the century.
  • Europe’s Mediterranean shores could become barely habitable in summers, while the Alps could shift from snowy winter destinations to summer havens from the heat.
  • Growing seasons in temperate regions will expand, while droughts are likely to ravage further the semiarid regions of Africa and southern Asia.

As the scientists met on Monday, the U.N. Environment Program released its own report. They found that the most recent evidence from mountain glaciers showed that they were melting faster than before.

Of course, the world’s response is as it always is: self-interested political squabbling. The Times article goes on to say, “In the past year, international concern over what to do about global warming has grown along with concrete signs of climate change. Even so, political leaders are still groping for ways to tackle the phenomenon. Europe has adopted a program that caps the amount of emissions from industrial plants. But the world’s largest emitter, the United States, still is debating whether to adopt a similar policy, while developing countries like China are resisting caps on the ground that the industrialized countries contributed about 75 percent of the current volume of greenhouse gases and should make the deepest cuts.”

The international conference’s greatest contribution, to my mind, is their assertion that the science on global warming is “basic and undisputed.” It’s no longer a matter of whether these massive climate changes will occur, or when; it’s only a matter of whether we have the political will to fix it.

Thoughts? Comments?

Categories: Environment, Politics | 1 Comment

The Truth, While Inconvenient, is Heating Up

I live in Florida (or, as one friend calls it, Flori-duh), so the best we can hope for in winter is some slight relief to the endless heat and humidity. Right now we’re running a good ten degrees above normal for this time of year, our poor excuse for “winter.” Not shocking, certainly, though my Internet penpals across the country are reporting similar temperature oddities.

Al Gore’s powerful documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, arrived in our movie theaters a few weeks after it had opened everywhere else. aninconvenienttruth.jpgI guess I should be grateful we got it at all, since many other independent films never see the light of day around here. It’s one of the few films I’ve seen where the audience applauded it heartily. It generated nearly as many parking lot discussions afterward as Fahrenheit 911 did.

This Saturday, I’m having an Inconvenient Truth viewing party. I’m providing the popcorn and the television (no big-screen monitor, alas!), and friends who want to stop by at 7 will see a film that at once depresses and inspires to action.

And just to give you something to think about in the interim, here’s a great column from Mark Morford:

Nine Uncommon Ways to Keep Warm

Frigid weather got you down? Warm the heart of your cockles with these smokin’ tidbits

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

(1) First and foremost, warm yourself in front of a nice Duraflame fire as you hone jokes about global warming. Say things like “Oh my God, so this is what they mean when they say the planet’s weather systems are becoming more volatile and unpredictable,” ha ha wink wink, as we all whistle past the graveyard and remember that 2006 was the warmest year we’ve ever known and New York recently hit a record 72 degrees in January even as Napa Valley drops to 21 degrees and icicles give the next orange crop the kiss of death.

Note how the energy industry is racing to build 150 brutally pollutive new coal plants by 2011, before Congress wakes the hell up and starts enacting stricter environmental laws, and that one of the nastiest coal companies, TXU of Texas, is rushing to complete 11 new pollution-spewing coal plants that will collectively pump out the toxic equivalent of 11 million SUVs. Feel your heart sizzle in pain as you guess which side the Bush administration is on.

Side note: If you are from a red state and don’t really understand the concept of global warming and still think it’s all a big left-wing conspiracy to sell more Prius’ and science books and gay-causing tofu, be sure to make jokes about how it sure doesn’t feel warm, what with it being all, you know, cold and stuff. Remain too mistrustful of “goddamn liberal media” to notice how this joke is only funny to 5-year-olds. From Texas.

(2) Amuse self into cozy warmth with anecdotes about wimpy Californians who think 30 degrees is somehow “cold,” when in fact you grew up in Chicago or Minneapolis or Michigan and/or dated a struggling anorexic cosmo-swilling model named Genevieve from New York and therefore you really know cold.

Laugh derisively at alarmist Bay Area headlines about how Californians need to bring in their wimpy pets and delicate girly plants when the temps drop below 40 lest they all freeze and whimper and die. Feel somehow superior even as your teeth chatter and your toes go numb and your girlfriend refuses to walk around your drafty S.F. apartment wearing only tiny boy shorts and a smile because it’s so freakin’ cold and you refuse to turn up the heat because PG&E charges you 25 dollars a minute.

(3) Read the swell item about how George Bush’s White House often refuses to allow press photographers to take still shots of the prez after important speeches, a relatively unprecedented and obnoxious move designed to control the president’s image that forces media to either use generic White House handout shots of Dubya (over 500 handouts in five years) just standing there, looking wooden and lifeless and bland as milk, or low-quality video screen-grabs.

Note how the last speech was also a historic, soul-bludgeoning announcement that Dubya has decided to defy just about the entire planet and send another 21,500 American kids to Iraq to risk their lives in a desperate Hail Mary move born of an imbecilic warmonger of a commander in chief who harbors delusions of some sort of valiant, epic legacy but whose reign of brutal misprision will actually go down as one of the bleakest, most irresponsible and morally humiliating times in American history. See? Your face is already getting hot with rage. Or rather, it should be.

(4) Consider: dead birds recently shut down part of Austin. Barn owls are dying by the thousands in Idaho. Well over 5,000 birds of varying species have dropped dead in Esperance, western Australia, and scientists still have no idea why. Record numbers of birds are dying from an unusually large viral outbreak in England. Meanwhile, mysterious metal objects fell from the sky in New Jersey, and numerous United Airlines employees who swear they all saw something very, very strange hovering in the night sky over O’Hare airport last fall are told by the government that they’re just being silly. Coincidence? Very likely. Is there such a thing as coincidence? No way. Warm self over open flames of this happy and mysterious contradiction.

(5) Mix three parts rum to two parts vodka to one part cinnamon schnapps. Add a chug of Worcestershire sauce, a splash of Tabasco and a generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Carry large tray of this white-trash rocket fuel over to the nearest frat house and hand out shots of skanky death juice to anyone wearing a backward baseball hat and a sports jersey and eyes that scream “future associate VP of a Texas coal company.” Come home, strip naked, pour yourself a large glass of Pinot, climb into a hot bath and warm your soul in the knowledge that you will never become a Republican.

(6) Did you know that the experts who work at the Grand Canyon are not permitted to discuss the geological age of the famed giant hole with visitors because of the Bush administration’s love of small-brained creationism? That they are commanded, in other words, to ignore science, fact and truth so as not to offend twitchy biblical literalists? It’s true. In fact, you can still buy the book The Grand Canyon: A Different View — in which you learn fun facts like how the canyon was created by Noah’s flood, not by geological forces — in the visitor’s bookstore, right now.

(7) Tie this item in with the bit about the new $27 million animatronic museum in Kentucky, where humans and dinosaurs are depicted as co-existing in a religious nutball-approved scenario that actually took place (they claim) a mere 6,000 year ago. Your intellect will be cringing so vigorously you’ll be warm through June.

(8) Smile slyly as you note how gay evangelical preachers abound, anal sex is up, dildo design has improved radically in the past decade, Violet Blue is published on this very site, Dan Savage helped kill Rick Santorum, the orgasmic iPhone will easily play your porn clips and more honest and invaluable sex education is available via blogs and books than ever before, if you know where to look.

In other words, enjoy the heat generated in your groinal region over the fact that, despite furious outcry from the uptight and the perturbed and the sexually shriveled on the religious right, enlightened sexuality still manages to progress and evolve and offend and confound and inspire and titillate and sigh.

(9) Sigh even deeper as you read how David Beckham will be paid $250 million to play soccer for the L.A. Galaxy for five years, which translates into about $2.5 million per game that no one will actually watch and which is the equivalent of what Mel Gibson made in about a week of sales of little pewter nail necklaces from the “Passion of the Christ” swag store and which is also equivalent to what Tom Cruise has paid out (I’m just guessing) to the Church of Scientology lo these past many years so he may become OT-8 (Operating Thetan Level 8), which means he knows the “secret” of the “great battle” in which alien overlord Xenu enslaved the human race 75 million of years ago by using H-bombs and volcanoes and blah blah whatever.

Note the rumor that Becks and wife Posh might indeed be turning to the cult of Scientology per their friend Tom’s “suggestion.” Warm yourself with the knowledge that you don’t really give a flying Hubbard’s E-meter about any of this, except to note how the United States is actually spending about $250 million per day in Iraq and that David Beckham sure has great hair and that when you combine all these notions your id whipsaws and your perspective heats up like a polar ice cap and you can only realize that this life is one very convoluted, gorgeous, disturbing circus sideshow indeed.

And hey, if that chronic fact doesn’t keep you warm at night, nothing will.

Thoughts? Comments?

Categories: Environment, Humor | 1 Comment

An Elephant Crackup?

by CHARLES SIEBERT, The New York Times
Published: October 8, 2006

“We’re not going anywhere,’’ my driver, Nelson Okello, whispered to me one morning this past June, the two of us sitting in the front seat of a jeep just after dawn in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda. We’d originally stopped to observe what appeared to be a lone bull elephant grazing in a patch of tall savanna grasses off to our left. More than one ‘‘rogue’’ had crossed our path that morning — a young male elephant that has made an overly strong power play against the dominant male of his herd and been banished, sometimes permanently. This elephant, however, soon proved to be not a rogue but part of a cast of at least 30. The ground vibrations registered just before the emergence of the herd from the surrounding trees and brush. We sat there watching the elephants cross the road before us, seeming, for all their heft, so light on their feet, soundlessly plying the wind-swept savanna grasses like land whales adrift above the floor of an ancient, waterless sea.

Then, from behind a thicket of acacia trees directly off our front left bumper, a huge female emerged — ‘‘the matriarch,’’ Okello said softly. There was a small calf beneath her, freely foraging and knocking about within the secure cribbing of four massive legs. Acacia leaves are an elephant’s favorite food, and as the calf set to work on some low branches, the matriarch stood guard, her vast back flank blocking the road, the rest of the herd milling about in the brush a short distance away.

After 15 minutes or so, Okello started inching the jeep forward, revving the engine, trying to make us sound as beastly as possible. The matriarch, however, was having none of it, holding her ground, the fierce white of her eyes as bright as that of her tusks. Although I pretty much knew the answer, I asked Okello if he was considering trying to drive around. ‘‘No,’’ he said, raising an index finger for emphasis. ‘‘She’ll charge. We should stay right here.’’ Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Environment, Nature, Worthwhile Reading | 1 Comment

If We All Vanished Tomorrow

If We All Vanished Tomorrow

What would *really* happen if all humans disappeared? The Earth grins at the thought
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist Friday, October 20, 2006

Of course you already know. Of course you can merely look out the window and see the traffic and the plastic and the smog and the bad haircuts and the war and the Paris Hilton and the Bush and say, well duh.

But imagine the result anyway. Imagine for a moment that every human on the face of the planet was suddenly whisked away to the divine gurgling ether in one big blast of cheery Armageddon nothingness, all the Bible-waving True Believers carted off to a giant sex-free harp-filled cosmic Wal-Mart while the rest of us leap to the next luminous transformational echelon of timespacelove.

What would happen, really? How would the planet respond if all bipeds disappeared tomorrow?

You can probably guess. Almost immediately, the planet would shudder, shift, align itself anew. Immediately, all endangered species would begin to recover. Light pollution (that is, pollution caused by industrial light) would soon vanish, followed by a great reduction in air pollution, methane gasses, chemicals in fresh water. Soon, all bridges and dams would collapse, roads would become overgrown, buildings would decay, corals would regenerate, most organic landfill would decay and vanish. And that’s just the beginning. Continue reading

Categories: Environment, Humor, Nature, Worthwhile Reading | Leave a comment

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