Saturday, December 10, 2011

Blog Moving

Well, we got a letter from the US Olympics Committee saying we couldn't use the name Ecolympics anymore so our new event is going to be called Eco-Fest and our blog will be Eco-Now
( New posts will be appearing at Eco-Now soon. Please join us over there!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The BeStraw Free Project

I polled my Astronomy 101 class this week on their thoughts about our ability as a species to solve the problem of global warming and they were unanimously pessimistic, fearing that our actions were going to be too little too late. This alarms me because these are all people in their late teens or early 20's and have their whole lives ahead of them -- I hope in their case that pessimism does not equate with inaction or inability to act.

But I personally suspect it may be more of same for halting the biodiversity crisis -- by the time enough of us tune in to curb our consumptive habits, we could be past a tipping point and entire ecosystems could collapse.

So it's great to hear a positive story about someone who's thinking big and thinks we all really can make a difference. When Milo Cress found out that Americans use 500 million single use straws a day he decided to stop using them and began an online project where others could join to do the same. (Individual action and reducing consumption -- our two favorite topics!)
Milo lives in Burlington, VT, and is in the fourth grade.

As he writes on the Be Straw Free project information page, 500 million straws a day is like sending 127 busloads of straws to the landfill every day. That, you will agree, is a lot of straws, and a lot of waste. All so that we can sip a drink faster than drinking it straight from the edge?

You can do your part by refusing the straw for your next beverage at the bar, restaurant or soda fountain. Make it a summer project. Bring your own re-usable straw around. This is an idea that really needs to get around.

Global Biodiversity Outlook 3

If you want a 10-minute primer on last year's UNEP Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 report, you can start with this fine video summary:

As summarized in Anup Shah's excellent Global Issues site, almost all the ecosystem health indicators since the 1970's are negative.

Though, land protection (below) is on the increase. Now, if we can start reducing our consumption we could possibly turn some of these other indicators around.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ocean life on the brink of mass extinctions: study

The article below is directly from Reuters. A few salient points mentioned: (1) as happens with popular articles like this, it sounds like unless we act now, the mass extinction will begin. If you're been reading this blog, you know the mass extinction has already begun, so what we'd like to do is to act now to prevent it from getting much worse; (2) halting overfishing doesn't require an international treaty! You and I can do something about it today by eating more sustainably. Next we have to educate our friends to do so too, and their friends, and so on. A little education can go a long way...

Here's the article:

(Reuters) - Life in the oceans is at imminent risk of the worst spate of extinctions in millions of years due to threats such as climate change and over-fishing, a study showed on Tuesday.

Time was running short to counter hazards such as a collapse of coral reefs or a spread of low-oxygen "dead zones," according to the study led by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).

"We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation," according to the study by 27 experts to be presented to the United Nations.

"Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, over-exploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean," it said.

Scientists list five mass extinctions over 600 million years -- most recently when the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, apparently after an asteroid struck. Among others, the Permian period abruptly ended 250 million years ago.

"The findings are shocking," Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO, wrote of the conclusions from a 2011 workshop of ocean experts staged by IPSO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at Oxford University.

Fish are the main source of protein for a fifth of the world's population and the seas cycle oxygen and help absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities.


Jelle Bijma, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, said the seas faced a "deadly trio" of threats of higher temperatures, acidification and lack of oxygen, known as anoxia, that had featured in several past mass extinctions.

A build-up of carbon dioxide, blamed by the U.N. panel of climate scientists on human use of fossil fuels, is heating the planet. Absorbed into the oceans, it causes acidification, while run-off of fertilizers and pollution stokes anoxia.

"From a geological point of view, mass extinctions happen overnight, but on human timescales we may not realize that we are in the middle of such an event," Bijma wrote.

The study said that over-fishing is the easiest for governments to reverse -- countering global warming means a shift from fossil fuels, for instance, toward cleaner energies such as wind and solar power.

"Unlike climate change, it can be directly, immediately and effectively tackled by policy change," said William Cheung of the University of East Anglia.

"Over-fishing is now estimated to account for over 60 percent of the known local and global extinction of marine fishes," he wrote.

Among examples of over-fishing are the Chinese bahaba that can grow 2 meters long. Prices per kilo (2.2 lbs) for its swim bladder -- meant to have medicinal properties -- have risen from a few dollars in the 1930s to $20,000-$70,000.

(Editing by Jan Harvey)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Rhino Horn is Not Medicine

Newsflash: the rhino horn does not cure cancer, nor is it a remedy for fever, headache, impotence, arthritis, pain, or ANY other medical condition. In fact, there is no evidence that the rhino horn has any medicinal value whatsoever. Yet poachers are still killing rhinos in alarming numbers to satisfy the demands of traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine. Rhino horn is also used in ornamental handles for daggers in Yemen.

According to Save the, the rhino population among its five species has plummeted from about one million at the turn of the 19th century, to 70,000 in 1970 to fewer than 24,500 today. The rhino has been around for 50 million years and today three of its five species are considered critically endangered and could become extinct within our lifetimes.

Saving has begun a big campaign to educate us that the rhino horn has no medicinal value.

Education is the first step to improving the situation. Find out how you can help rhinos here; find out ten reasons to save the rhinos here.

It's our planet. These are our species. We need to take care of them.

Here's a short video by Tylor Loposser from the Sixth Extinction in Motion video project:

Black Rhino - Tylor from cmuutk on Vimeo.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Drug Wars and Biodiversity

I heard a disturbing report on NPR this morning about how the Mexican drug war is now spreading into central America, particularly into the northern Peten region of Guatemala, which includes the site of the fantastic Mayan pyramids at Tikal. Guatemala draws fewer tourists in a year -- about a million -- than Yellowstone National Park can draw in a summer month. Here is a recent article from the Guatemala Times that describes Guatemala's efforts to draw more eco-tourists, a niche that Costa Rica has carved out to modest success.

As the NPR article points out, news of shoot outs between drug gangs, even if they are not directed toward tourists, is a sure way to drive tourists away. This removes much needed revenue from local people who could be leading tourists on jungle treks. Drug cartels are also "cutting clandestine airstrips in the Guatemalan jungle", which causes habitat fragmentation and ultimately species loss.

While I don't see an ad campaign that says "Cocaine: It's Killing the Planet" anytime soon, perhaps we in the US should recognize that our consumption of cocaine has far-reaching consequences from ruining individual lives at home to communities and environments not far away.

Here is an article about how cocaine cultivation has been ravaging the Columbian rainforest.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Endangered Species Day

The winter semester here at Boston University has just ended and this weekend the seniors will be convocating. Here, and in many other universities in the U.S. and Canada at this time, I suspect graduates will be hearing about how they can take what they’ve learned and go out and conquer the world. Graduation is a happy occasion, but I wonder how many graduates will be hearing about how an economy based on perpetual growth is unsustainable, how our present population growth is unsustainable and how the high rates of species loss, unless rapidly reduced, will doom us all. Ugh. Who wants to hear that?

But what message do we want to hear, at convocation or anytime? Personally, I would value hearing or seeing no message at all for a while so that I can think about what I do value. Think about all the times during the day when you are bombarded with ads about stuff to buy. There is stuff advertised on buses, on Youtube, in your inbox and your favorite website. (Some websites I can barely read the articles anymore because it keeps moving on me as different ads load.) Stuff to buy everywhere. Buying stuff, it would seem, is supposed to make us happy.

What is the cost of all this stuff? What is the cost of valuing stuff more than personal engagement or a walk in the woods?

I'm teaching Astronomy 101 starting next week and one thing I've always valued about an astronomical education is the perspective it gives. I know where we are in space and time.
We're in a large spiral galaxy, 3/4 of the way out to the edge and we're about 4.5 billion years old, in a universe that's just under 14 billion years old. It took 2500 years of science to be able to write that sentence. Another that has been just as hard won is: we're one of 10 million or more species who have evolved from a common ancestor over about 3.8 billion years of life on the only planet known to have life in the universe. (I'm watching some episodes of Carl Sagan's Cosmos again after many years, and Sagan, of course, was a master at helping us understand perspective.)

We share this planet with literally millions of other species and despite the hundreds of other planets discovered around other stars, we're still unique in the universe. We have abundant and varied life.

There's a new documentary called The Call of Life: Facing the Mass Extinction and I've got a short trailer and a long trailer for you below. Both versions feature provocative questions about the societies we live in and what we value. Today (May 20) is Endangered Species Day and World Environment Day is coming up on June 5. Check out the trailers below. Tune out of the perpetual bombardment to buy and instead think about what you value. There is still abundant life on Earth -- we need to start educating ourselves on how to value it.