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.