30 December 2013

Save the Whales with an App

People have a strong response to whales in distress, and now, that response has gone digital.

According to this blog entry from the National Wildlife Federation, an app has been developed to let people in the southeastern United States report whales that need help. The app, called Dolphin & Whale 911, comes from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Dolphin & Whale 911 allows people to contact a hotline that sends responders to help the whale. The app also provides a field guide to marine mammals and lists protocols for keeping distressed whales from further harm.

With this app, one of our strongest emotions meets one of our most powerful new technologies.

28 December 2013

Our Best Act

To say the Endangered Species Act (ESA) brings out the best in people would be an understatement.

On this date forty years ago, the ESA was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Along with signing the Clean Water Act of 1972 and proposing the Environmental Protection Agency, signing the ESA was probably the best thing Nixon ever did with his presidency and his life.

Truth be told, the environmental oversight achieved during the Nixon years is probably the finest hour the entire human society has had in terms of its relationship with the environment. By responding to serious pollution threats and rapid declines in many species, the environmental movement of the 1970s put in place key standards for how we should act toward the environment.

Both the spirit of the ESA and the act itself will be needed as we move forward to address issues like global warming and other threats to ecosystems and species. We'll have to be at our best once again.

26 December 2013

The Planet Becomes the Teacher

We all have a big exam coming up.

Responding to global warming might just be the most high-stakes test we'll ever face, and the subject isn't always easy. Even teaching the science of the planet's climate can be difficult, but it's important we ace this one.

Fortunately, teachers have a growing bag of resources to draw from as they cover this issue. One of the best collections of information and suggestions for teaching about climate change comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency's Web site offers videos, activities, visual aids, and interactive resources for teachers who seek to address the science and impacts of global warming. To see the full selection of what is available, click here.

Studying up on global warming is the difference between truly learning how to live within our environment and a painful lesson.

23 December 2013

Plan Bee

A recent piece of student-led research from the University of Oregon should have people buzzing.

Declines in bee populations have at least brought the details of our relationship with these insects into the spotlight, and as this announcement of the Oregon study shows, much can be done with our new knowledge to improve the human-bee connection. The study looks at the role bumblebees play in pollination. After showing that bumblebees pollinate at a rate three times faster than European honeybees, the study lays out plans farmers can use to attract more bumblebees to their land.

The study is exciting for several reasons. First, it gives us greater insight into our interactions with bees. Second, the practical ideas it produces are beneficial to both agriculture and native species of plants and bees. Finally, it represents what can happen when people collaborate to find solutions to problems.

Fostering ideas is crucial when we are confronted with challenges. In the case of Oregon's bee study, the university empowered its students to find ideas, the students responded with research that yielded results and gave them applied experience, and the local farmers embraced the findings.

That sounds like a plan that would benefit the whole planet.

21 December 2013

Just a Few Lines

There is an art to communicating global warming.

For the Sightline Institute, that art is poetry. The Pacific Northwest organization, which does research into and communication about sustainability, recently publicized the work of oceanographer Greg Johnson, who wrote haikus to articulate the recent findings on global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Johnson's poems present the findings in a simple, powerful way. To check them out, click here.

A lot has been said about global warming, but these haikus say it all.

19 December 2013

By the Sound of It

Birds are calling, and smart phones are helping us receive the message.

For bird-watchers, one of the most useful skills to have is the ability to identify birds by sound, but it's not an easy thing to do. To develop this skill, people are turning to smart phone applications.

Several apps exist for training to make sound identifications, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has rated them according to ease of use, audio content, expert help, and fun. For more information, click here. Below the ratings, the lab goes on to discuss other apps that help with identification.

Think of the sound training apps as caller ID for calls from the avian area code.

14 December 2013

Unstuff Those Stockings

Having nothing under the tree doesn't necessarily make for a bad Christmas experience.

By making the gift itself an experience, you can give a fulfilling present instead of the same old thing. Experience gifts replace material presents with the chance to do something. This includes concerts, lessons, and even food.

Of course, providing an experience that will be meaningful to someone is just as important as giving a present they would want, so a Web site called Unstuff is providing people with resources to match experiences to interests. The site gives general ideas for experience gifts, and it can also tailor suggestions using Facebook. For more information, click here.

The experience of Christmas is a pretty great thing, but an experience for Christmas is even better.

12 December 2013

Bee in the Garden

Gardens are becoming the last-chance places for bees.

Honeybee declines have received most of the attention, but bumblebees are also disappearing. Pesticides and habit destruction, in particular, have had devastating effects on these insects, and we are only just beginning to understand the full extent of the damage.

Gardening provides an opportunity for learning more about and doing something to stop the disappearance of bumblebees. A Web site called Beautiful Wildlife Garden gives tips for how gardeners can do both. These suggestions include avoiding the use of pesticides, tracking and reporting bee sightings, and providing habitat for bees. To learn more, click here.

We've known for a long time that gardens rely on bees, but it's becoming clear that bees are growing evermore dependent on gardens for their survival.

08 December 2013

Leave It

Contrary to modern custom, leaves don't fall in autumn to give people something to rake up.

I admire how the "waste" trees shed in the fall returns to nourish the ground. It took humans to come around for those leaves to be considered waste, and now, the nourishment leaves might provide often gets sacked up and thrown away.

This year, the National Wildlife Federation is encouraging people with trees to leave the fallen foliage. NWF provides a list of reasons why this practice is beneficial. Among other benefits, letting leaves lie provides habitat for animals, creates less waste, and, of course, keeps those nutrients in the area. The list also points out that clean-up equipment like leaf blowers pollutes (to say nothing of the awful noise it makes).

When it comes to leaves, their remains are best left to nature. However, if you absolutely have to rake them up, compost them instead of putting them in the trash.

05 December 2013

Winter Camp

Sure, summer gets all the glory when it comes to camps, but the Oregon Zoo is bringing the fun of camp to winter.

The zoo's ARcTic Adventure is a day camp where children in grades K-4 can learn about animals while building their art skills. A nice potential outcome is that the campers can discover opportunities to connect with nature through art.

Camps are scheduled for December 30-31 and January 2-3. For more information, click here.

Winter break isn't usually associated with camp and the environment, but any time is a good one for finding ways to connect with nature.

03 December 2013

Roaring Success

My present-free Christmas is off to a great start.

As I mentioned in the last two blog entries, I did not ask for presents this year. I simply requested that my family members make contributions to environmental/animal groups.

My sister took the idea and ran with it. She asked me if I had heard of Erin Henderson, a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings whose Sacks for Cats initiative is part of National Geographic's Cause an Uproar campaign. Cause an Uproar raises funds for efforts to protect the world's big cats, and Henderson donates to the campaign each time he gets a sack. My sister wanted to know if Cause an Uproar worked as a charity, and I thought it sounded great. Check out the video about Sacks for Cats below:



This morning, I received an e-mail from my sister confirming her donation. It was really exciting and fulfilling to see my idea springing to life.

01 December 2013

Trim More Than the Tree

Less is more, but "more is more" is heard more, especially when it comes to the holidays.

Two days ago, I blogged about my present-free Christmas list. It's one of the ways I'm trying to minimize my environmental impact during the holidays. However, a lot more goes into this time of year than presents, and that means we have additional opportunities to decrease our consumption of resources.

In this green spirit of the season, The Nature Conservancy is giving people ways to "REthink the Holidays." These include buying local food, additional alternatives to giving presents, reducing waste, and several more. One is about starting green holiday traditions with a young child. I really like these ideas, and they cover just about everything involved in the holidays. Click here to see the full range of suggestions.

Of course, if you do end up with stuff, it's important to know how to deal with it. For that, the Natural Resources Defense Council has tips on how to reuse and recycle.

Cutting back may be the best gift we'll ever give to the planet.

29 November 2013

Short List

I knew what I wanted for Christmas weeks ago.

Last month, I decided that instead of gifts for me, I would ask my family members to donate to environmental or animal charities. I don't need anything, and quite frankly, the world doesn't need any more consumerism either.

The fact becomes clearer every day that our consumption of resources is pushing the world toward a crisis that promises to disrupt the global climate and threatens species around the world with extinction. As a result, environmental and animal groups have a far greater need than I do this holiday season.

What I really want is action by people to improve our relationship with the environment, so I decided my Christmas list would be part of my contribution.

27 November 2013

What Really Counts

Counting birds sounds like a lot more fun than counting presents.

For the 114th year, the National Audubon Society will hold its Christmas Bird Count. This is a great opportunity to experience some birds during the winter and contribute to citizen science.

Counting takes place from North America to South America, December 14 to January 5. You can find a counting site near you and sign up to participate by clicking here.

This count is a lot more fun than six geese a-laying.

24 November 2013

Otter Be Good

In any form, citizen science is fun, but when it involves river otters, the enjoyment is off the chart.

Not many species get as much fun out of life as river otters. Even with habitat loss and pollution decreasing its range, the species continues on with a bounce in its step and a twinkle in its eye.

San Francisco Bay is one place where the otter population has been decimated. However, recent signs have suggested a new beginning for the species in that area. To study the hopeful comeback, The River Otter Ecology Project has turned to citizen science, asking people to document and report sightings of river otters through its Otter Spotter program. For more information, click here.

Seeing river otters is cool. Witnessing their return to a place is truly special.

22 November 2013

On the Right (Bike) Path

There are no accidents when it comes to bicycles.

Of course, I don't mean bicyclists are never hurt or killed. What I do mean is that creating a place where bicycles are a priority and a success is not magic. If people commit to making bicycling a viable and respected form of transportation, it will become one; if people want to make bicycles a contentious issue, it will become one.

This video of Portland, Oregon's, bike-to-school efforts illustrates the successful results produced when governments and individuals come together to create infrastructure and systems for bicycling:

In Portland Every Day is Walk & Bike to School Day! from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

The citizens of Portland have made a commitment to bicycles. Consequently, bicycling has flourished, and people's lives have been improved. Meanwhile, people elsewhere continue to fight bikes, and those efforts have created strife and endangered cyclists.

When it comes right down to it, the direction bicycling takes is more of a reflection on us as people than it is on bicycles themselves.

20 November 2013

Let's Go to the Tape

All too often, the sound of a bird hitting a window is the sound of death.

Birds see windows as open space to fly in, so they usually hit at full speed. Sometimes, they are just stunned, but many times, they die.

The American Bird Conservancy has been working on ways to reduce bird collisions with windows, and it is introducing BirdTape as one such option. BirdTape is applied to windows. It makes portions of the windows visible, deterring birds from thinking they can fly through. Check out the video below:



Considering an estimated 300 million or more birds die from window collisions each year, BirdTape is a welcome idea. For more information, click here.

If I never again hear the sound of a bird hitting a window, that would be music to my ears.

10 November 2013

Start the Year on a BirdNote

No day can have enough birds, but there's an easy way to ensure you'll see at least one more every day in 2014.

The 2014 BirdNote calendar, featuring a different bird each month, is now on sale. It contains cool photographs of species like the ruffed grouse and the great gray owl. Pictures were taken by Gerrit Vyn, a conservation photographer from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Along with ensuring you get a daily dose of birds, the calendar helps support BirdNote. For more information, click here.

If you're in need of a calendar for the coming year, give it wings.

08 November 2013

Picture Forever

Think of the world without tigers.

Considering how iconic they have become, it is hard to imagine tigers disappearing forever. Yet these awe-inspiring animals are among the most endangered cats on the planet. Fewer than 3,200 remain in the wild. Three subspecies have already become extinct.

Panthera, an organization co-founded by noted biologist Alan Rabinowitz and dedicated to creating programs that ensure the survival of the world's wild cats, has a more positive vision in mind. Check out a video from the organization below:

About Panthera from Panthera Cats on Vimeo.

Tigers are one of the species Panthera has focused on most heavily. Efforts like Tigers Forever have emphasized the study and protection of the species and the conservation of its habitat.

To tell the story of Tigers Forever, Panthera media director Steve Winter has put together a book, Tigers Forever: Saving the World's Most Endangered Big Cat. The book provides information about the program and contains more than 100 pictures (Winter is also a photographer for National Geographic). Available now for pre-order, the book begins shipping on November 12. Part of the proceeds from sales of the book support the Tigers Forever program. For more information, click here.

We can either learn to live with tigers now or live with their extinction forever. Winter's book and Panthera's programs show us how to do the former.

05 November 2013

Spot On

As if watching and photographing birds weren't cool enough, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is giving prizes for doing those things.

I recently blogged about the upcoming season of Project FeederWatch, a citizen-science effort run by the lab. A connected contest is BirdSpotter. Now through February 12, BirdSpotter participants can upload a photo that meets the weekly theme. Each entry is eligible to win gifts from the lab and Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods. The grand prize is a trip to Oregon. For more information, click here.

All that's left is to get the camera and find a good spot.

03 November 2013

Save the Date

As Captain Barbossa would say, "They're more like guidelines."

It turns out that the "best by" dates on food are no less arbitrary than the pirate code in a Disney film. Arbitrary is good for a laugh on the silver screen but bad for the amount of food waste we produce. As the Natural Resource Defense Council points out on its Switchboard blog, the expiration dates on food aren't governed by any regulation, so they are relatively meaningless.

The problem is that people are throwing away good food because those dates tell them it has expired. As a result, food is wasted, and so is the energy used to produce it. In addition, unless the food waste is composted, it becomes part of our trash.

Standards are needed to preserve the usefulness of expiration dates, and until we have that, saving good food comes down to our own judgment.


29 October 2013

The Thought Counts

In a society that places a stigma on "re-gifting," imagine the response to "no-gifting."

By giving presents, we are trying to say we care and that we are happy to share in an experience, yet companies seem to get the most love out of the deal. Gift registries funnel money into the hands of manufacturers and foster consumerism.

For a moment, however, let's revisit the sentiment behind those gifts. As it turns out, we can express it (and perhaps in a clearer way) without tradition gifts. SoKind Registry allows people to register for experience gifts, secondhand items, and donations to charity. Check out the video below:



This option channels the care intended by giving a present into a truly meaningful gift. For more information about it, click here.

Now, that's something to celebrate.

26 October 2013

Still Watching

It's time to find some winter projects; it's time to find some birds.

Project FeederWatch is gearing up for a new season with a new Web site. I've already blogged about the project here and here. This great bit of citizen science from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology allows people to provide important data on birds while enjoying the sight of feathered friends during winter.

The new Web site lets participants upload bird photographs directly instead of submitting e-mails. It also helps people discover what birds are most prevalent in their region and provides tools to aid in identifying species. To check out the site and learn more about the project, click here.

Many birds leave for the winter, but with a feeder in the backyard, there's always something to see. Add to ornithological data as you watch.

24 October 2013

Vicious Cycle

The United States of America is still learning to ride a bike.

In the US, it is common to associate bicycles with danger, antiquated ideas, and annoyance. In many American cities, the rhetoric about bikes has become warlike. Bicycles are the enemy of cars and the dominant way of life.

However, this issue is a great example of the saying, "Life is what you make it." If we want to see bikes as an enemy, that's what they'll turn into and remain, but we can also create a world where bicycles are an important, seamlessly integrated part of a better life. The following video of bicycle usage in Amsterdam opens our eyes to such an alternate reality:

Bicycle Anecdotes from Amsterdam from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

So many things in the video are remarkable. First, the number of bicycles is amazing. They, not cars, are the preferred (and sometimes only) mode of transportation. Second, the bicyclists aren't dressed for a space mission (they don't even wear helmets), suggesting they lack the fear we have of getting on bikes. Third, the flow of the whole society is simply stunning. People are connected to, in tune with, and responsive to each other, and even five-year-olds pick up on that flow. Cars and bikes are not at war. Clearly, people in Amsterdam are on a much different cycle than Americans.

With regard to the place of bicycles in society, the US is still using training wheels, and the video above makes it obvious that this is a self-inflicted, self-perpetuated state.

20 October 2013

Teach to the Wolf

Bringing wolves into the classroom just got easier.

One of the difficulties we have in improving our relationship with animals like wolves is that many people don't know much about them. In addition, a lot of the information people do have is inaccurate. As a result, long-held prejudices about wolves endure and heavily influence how we react to these animals.

Fortunately, technology gives us opportunities to bring wolves closer and learn about them. Wolf Haven International has begun offering lessons about wolves though Skype's In the Classroom program. This gives teachers a resource to connect their students with wolves. For more information, click here.

We're already being tested on our ability to live with wolves, so it's time to start preparing for that test by getting the information we need.

17 October 2013

Inspiring Insect Insights

It's possible that most of us only really learn one thing about insects: that we should avoid them.

Considering that many children have a natural fascination for insects and that we probably have more opportunities to interact with and learn about insects than any other type of animal, the lesson of avoidance is a problem. Still, insects can be a doorway to learning more about our environment if education encourages children to open that door.

Green Teacher, an organization that provides teachers with resources and ideas for teaching about the environment, has some tips for helping students explore the world of insects.

The early interest we have in insects should be encouraged, not scared away. As the largest animal group on the planet, insects have a lot to teach us.

14 October 2013

Wild Land, Wild Life

If you build it they will come, and if you handle that relationship well, you'll be glad they did.

As encounters with wildlife increase, the lines that separate human from nature become blurrier. The rise in these encounters has also led to an increase of reported "conflicts" with wildlife. However, encounters with wildlife don't have to be negative for humans or animals. In fact, people can do a lot to make the encounters positive for all involved.

Russell Link, a biologist with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, has written two books that encourage positive relationships with nature. Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest gives tips for interacting wildlife, and Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest helps people provide good habitat. To hear Link talk about the latter book, click on this podcast from BirdNote. For more information about both books, click here.

We have an opportunity to build on our relationship with the environment. If we work to improve our interactions with wildlife, we'll be proud of how we took advantage of that opportunity.

12 October 2013

Total Cost

Cost isn't just about money, but even if it were, the bill for global warming would be a big one.

Seeing the full impacts of global warming requires us to think on an uncommonly large scale. We might think of energy bills when we consider regulating carbon emissions. However, focusing on what we might save on those bills by not addressing emissions misses many of the costs associated with inaction. For example, health, food, and disaster costs are likely to rise with global temperatures.

For this year's 24 Hours of Reality, which begins on October 22, The Climate Reality Project is shining light on the true cost of global warming. Check out the video below:



When all the other factors of global warming are considered, we might start to see the value of taking action against carbon emissions.

10 October 2013

Bye-Bye Love

We know lost loves can create pain that lasts a long time, so imagine that hurt tied to the consequences of losing something from our environment.

The Climate Reality Project (CRP) is giving people the opportunity to think about how global warming might impact the things they love, including sports, food, wine, wildlife, and places. CRP created What I Love, a Web site that allows individuals to choose the things that matter to them and learn how a warming planet threatens those thing. Take a look at the teaser video below:



Global warming is a large-scale issue that touches every aspect of our lives, and its influence will continue to grow if we don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By creating What I Love, the CRP gives us a better understanding of the big picture of today and the bigger picture of the future. To visit the site, click here.

Love is about connecting, and our link to the environment is our most fundamental bond. We should start to consider what we and the rest of the planet might lose if we crack that connection.

07 October 2013

Made in the Shade

The best part of waking up is hearing the morning songs of birds.

That's not exactly what the old Folgers jingle said, but coffee and songbirds are connected. Much of the coffee that is consumed is grown on land that has been logged so the beans can ripen in full sun. Removing the trees eliminates bird habitat.

Alternative means of coffee growing exist though. Shade-grown coffee keeps forests intact, merging agriculture with efforts to protect birds. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has created a certification program for such practices. To learn more about the program and find shade-grown, organic coffee, click here.

It's time to wake up about the impact coffee consumption has on birds.

29 September 2013

Duck, Duck, Plastic

The writers of all those messages in bottles were on to something: If you want to find connections, the ocean is the place.

However,  today's connections are being established through plastics, not bottle messages, and it's not a love story in the making. The following video helps explain how plastics accumulate in the ocean and what some of the consequences of this might be:



Although the video makes some great points, especially those concerning how our actions are interrelated, I disagree with one point: the idea that the only option for dealing with this problem is to make plastics that break down. This may be a good option, but it isn't the only option. A stronger solution would be to cut back on our consumption, decreasing the need for plastics.

I think understanding how we are connected to the plastic problem is a step in the right direction. The video helps with that. Another tool is offered by Adrift.org, which uses a virtual rubber ducky to give people a sense of how their plastics can spread in the ocean. Simply place the duck in an ocean somewhere and watch as the plastic it represents spreads. Click here to check it out.

The masses of plastics floating in our oceans are sending us a message: The accumulations start with a single purchase. It's time we get that message.

25 September 2013

The Olympic Experience

They see more than they're seen.

The Olympic Mountains of Washington state hide out in the rain and fog of the contiguous United States' northwestern corner. They're often overshadowed by their cousins to the east, the Cascades, which boast the volcanoes like Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. However, the Olympics have views of the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, several temperate rain forests, and most of western Washington, so getting to know them may be one of the quintessential Pacific Northwest experiences.

Now, more people can appreciate this unique range because Crest Pictures, a film-production enterprise from Robert and Kathy Chrestensen, has released Out of the Mist, a documentary about how four people experience the Olympics. Check out the trailer below:

"Out of the Mist - Olympic Wilderness Stories" Trailer from Crest Pictures on Vimeo.

For more information about the film and how to see it, click here.

Inside the mist, you'll find a place of incomparable beauty and surprising power.

22 September 2013

License Not to Kill

Wolves: You can live with them if you really want to.

Opponents of wolves typically say that living with wolves is not possible, but that seems to be more of a perspective choice than an absolute reality. Washington state is demonstrating that people make the difference in determining the outcome of human-wolf interactions.

As this polling shows, residents of Washington, Oregon, and California are supportive of having wolves around. Therefore, it's no surprise that Washington is finding ways to support wolf populations. The latest piece of the strategy moves into place on October 1 when car owners in the state can begin purchasing vanity license plates that fund non-lethal wolf-management tactics, including range riders, which I blogged about two weeks ago. For more information about the plates, how to get them, and the programs they help fund, visit this page on Conservation Northwest's Web site.

Washingtonians' efforts to make a place for wolves ultimately show that the fate of these animals will come down to our willingness to share an existence with them.

19 September 2013

Curiosity and the Cat

We all know what curiosity supposedly did to the cat, but maybe, a little more curiosity on our part would help cougars.

Usually, we don't think of cougars as living close to us, and most of the cougar encounters we hear about are negative ones (for example, a cougar attacking a person or a domestic animal). This has helped produce the perception that having cougars close by is a bad thing, leading to extermination efforts.

On the other hand, our perception of cougars might be different if we realized just how much they are around us, and all it would take is a little investigating. Fortunately, technology is making such investigations easier, and efforts like the Santa Cruz Puma Project (SCPP) are providing information about an animal we know surprisingly little about despite it sometimes being literally in our backyard. Watch some of the work by the SCPP in the video below:



For more information on the SCPP and to learn more cougars, click here.

We overlook a lot of opportunities to see how we connect with our environment, but we have the ability to make the most of those chances and further that relationship if we'd just take a closer look.

17 September 2013

Go Fisher

Although it's an awesome place, the Pacific Northwest isn't complete.

Several species were either entirely or partially wiped out from the area in the 19th and 20th centuries. These included the wolf and the fisher.

Those missing pieces have started a comeback, and people can help them take a next step. In 2008, fishers were returned to the Olympic National Park through a successful reintroduction program. Now, the National Park Service is proposing to reintroduce this member of the weasel family to the Cascade Mountains, and the agency will be taking comments on the plan until September 30. To voice your support for this next phase of reintroduction, visit this page from Conservation Northwest.

By bringing fishers back to another part of the Pacific Northwest, we help restore the full promise of this great area.

11 September 2013

It's in the Genes

We learn as children to know what we are putting in our mouths, but with the increase of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), that's becoming difficult.

GMOs are organisms that have been scientifically engineered and include plants and animals. Their growing presence in our food has started to get more attention lately and sparked attempts to have all foods containing them labeled as such, but companies that produce and sell these foods have fought the proposals.

GMO OMG, a documentary being released on Friday, attempts to shed light on GMOs and the industry behind them. Check out the trailer below:

GMO OMG Official Trailer from Compeller Pictures on Vimeo.

Our pursuit of science began with the goal of gaining more knowledge. Science shouldn't leave us further in the dark, especially on an issue as basic and important as what we eat.

05 September 2013

A Range of Options

The simplest answer isn't always the right one.

In dealing with wolves, we can take the easy route and exterminate them again, or we can look for solutions that allow us to live with them. The second option is infinitely more complex in terms of both its challenges and its opportunities.

Living with wolves requires planning and work, but it also has impacts that reach far into our ecosystems. For example, the presence of wolves decreases bank erosion along rivers because they keep elk from eating all the vegetation beside the streams.

Here's some news from Conservation Northwest that shows living with wolves is possible if we embrace more developed ideas. To sum it up, the article talks about the use of "range riders," who are individuals that watch over livestock herds. The strategy virtually eliminates predation by wolves.

The easy road is to ignore science and delist wolves, turning them over to state governments whose intention is to kill wolves, not manage them.

We have more and better options though, and it's in the interest of both humans and wolves that we choose them.

03 September 2013

Extraordinary Everyday

Rare things are commonly seen as special, but common things rarely are.

That's an unfortunate truth when it comes to the human experience, and it is very apparent in how we think about our birds. We get excited about a bright, migratory western tanager, for example, and pay little notice to the LBBs (little, brown birds) we walk by on a daily basis. Well, Ordinary Extraordinary Junco, a film project from Indiana University, is attempting to bring attention to one of these overlooked species, the junco. Check out the trailer below:

Say Hello to the Junco (Intro/Trailer) from Ordinary Extraordinary Junco on Vimeo.

For more information about the film and where to see it, click here.

When I was young, I would feel disappointment about some species or the other not living in the Pacific Northwest, but we always had plenty of Oregon juncos, the PNW subspecies of the dark-eyed junco. In time, I realized the juncos were indeed special, partly because of their toughness and ingenuity and partly because they were common, which made them a defining part of the area.

Rare things can certainly be special, but when we realize how special the common things are, that's a truly amazing experience.

01 September 2013

Sounding the Call for Birders

As the fall migration for birds begins, bird-watchers are on the move as well.

Birding festivals, like the Puget Sound Bird Fest in Edmonds, Washington, take advantage of migration season to give birders maximum exposure to the birds moving south for winter. This year's Puget Sound Bird Fest is September 6-8.

The festival includes presentations on birds, bird-watching, photography, and native plants. It also features guided walks and activities for children, and it's a chance to see both migratory and non-migratory birds. For more information about the event, click here.

Fall means the last call to see certain bird species for a while, so get out there, and wish them a safe journey.

30 August 2013

Bee There

Think of a bee nest.

Did you picture a small hole in a piece of wood? I would guess you didn't. Most people would probably think of a honeybee hive or a paper nest made by hornets. However, not all bees choose such showy places to live.

Mason bees like to use the holes left in wood by other insects for their homes. They're kind of the apartment dwellers of the bee world, and they're quiet tenants, preferring to keep to themselves and very rarely stinging.

Their unique choice of living quarters also makes them easy to attract to a yard. People can provide mason bees with homes by drilling holes in a piece of wood and hanging it with a southern exposure. For more details about how to make a mason bee house, check out this article from the National Wildlife Federation.

We most likely have mixed feelings about getting bees as close neighbors, but then again, we usually don't think of bees living the way mason bees do.

28 August 2013

It Does a Planet Good

Chances are, if you've got milk, you've got a plastic or paper milk carton that you have to recycle when the milk is gone, but the spirit of the milkman's glass bottles lives on.

Burbach's Countryside Dairy, which is based in Nebraska, has a great program for selling milk to stores around its area. The dairy puts its milk in glass bottles, which the stores then sell. When the customer is done with the milk, the bottle can be taken back to the store, which returns it to the dairy to be used again. For more information about the dairy, click here.

This operation model deserves replication. Selling milk locally decreases the carbon footprint of transporting it, and reusing the bottles is better than even recycling.

If this kind of program were available in more places, I think we'd all have reason to smile with our milk mustaches.

20 August 2013

More Than a Memory

Remember the 2010 British Petroleum (BP) oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? How about the 2010-present BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

That second one may not ring any bells, but it's more realistic than the first. The ruptured well that poured tons of oil into the gulf was never an isolated blip in time, no matter how much BP and everyone else wanted it to be. It was precipitated not by a rig explosion but by our consumption of oil, and the spilled oil's disappearance didn't end the story. Marine animals and birds continue dying in unprecedented numbers.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance have teamed up to remind people that the Gulf of Mexico disaster continues and to help show its larger implications. Check out a video of Operation Toxic Gulf below:



Sea Shepherd and Ocean Alliance intend to continue their work in the future and are looking for help. If you are interested, you can read more about the project here.

We can tuck our thoughts of human-caused environmental disasters into the back of our minds, but the consequences of those disasters will continue impacting us and our entire environment.

19 August 2013

Driven by a Cause

Good ideas are at their best when they spread.

Two years ago, I blogged about a way to donate cars for charity. That option was for people in the Pacific Northwest, but it appears other organizations are taking this idea out on the open road.

The Humane Society of the United States participates in the One Car One Difference program, which takes donated vehicles and sells them at auction with the proceeds supporting the charity (or other designated charities). To read more about the program, click here.

It's great to see the idea of donating cars to charity going around the block.

18 August 2013

What a Contrast

See? It's not really that hard.

Two days ago, I blogged about the approach taken by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in deciding whether to take away the protections wolves have as an endangered species. The main issue was that FWS had removed top scientists from its decision-making panel. As a contrast to that, take a look at how Metro Parks of Summit County in Ohio has made science the centerpiece of its approach to living with coyotes:



It is clear that science is the key to how Metro Parks deals with fears about coyotes. By comparison, FWS appears rooted in a fear-based approach. The difference is stunning. Using Metro Parks' method, people learn about coyotes and the best ways to handle relationships with them. Also, listen to the language used by Metro Parks' agents. It is based on the idea of connecting to and understanding the environment. FWS, on the other hand, has excluded the sources of information needed for such understanding.

Scientific information is crucial to developing our connection with our environment and making the best decisions for the entire system. Metro Parks of Summit County sets a great example, showing it can be done.

17 August 2013

Frack-tured Morality

Sometimes, we see the physical consequences of our environmental decisions; sometimes, we don't. However, the hardest thing to see might be the moral consequences.

When it comes to fracking, which is a method of extracting energy sources from the ground, we only see a portion of the physical consequences: flammable water, sick people, and dead ecosystems. We don't see the tons of toxins fracking puts into the ground. Also hidden are the moral ramifications, but as Stephen Colbert points out in the following videos, our desire for cheap fuel makes us complicit in some very unethical actions:





Fracking eliminates entire ecosystems. It causes us to lose our health, and now, it robs us of our political voices. Putting all of this together makes for some heavy considerations each time we use energy.

16 August 2013

Silenced Science

To make the best possible decisions, we must listen to those who know most about the issues.

With this basic fact in mind, one must question whether the United States Fish and Wildlife Service really wants to make the best decision when it comes to wolves. As the following interview from the California Wolf Center shows, wolf experts were recently removed from a panel that is to help decide if wolves should have their protections as an endangered species removed. Listen to the interview by playing the YouTube video:



It turned out that objections to the removal of the scientists caused FWS to rethink its approach to the decision-making process. However, its initial decision to remove the scientists undermines the agency's credibility on this issue. No one genuinely interested in doing what is right for wolves would think of silencing those who study the species for a living.

Click here to comment on the proposed delisting and tell FWS that wolves still need protection.

Wolf experts say the species should not be delisted. This scientific perspective should lead the decision-making process, not be excluded from it.

15 August 2013

Up, Up, and Away

It is easy to think of children when we think of balloons, but after reading the following piece of good news, we may only ever again think of one child.

Cameron Koporc, a Georgia nine-year-old who has already amassed quite an environmental résumé, has created a petition aimed at protecting endangered sea turtles by banning mass-balloon releases in her home state. To read the full news article click here. If you'd like to sign on to Cameron's campaign, go here.

The story was uplifting, and I was honestly blown away by how much this girl has already done. I have no doubt she'll accomplish her goal of becoming a marine biologist. She's also a great example of the impact individuals can have when they decide to make something happen.

I applaud and thank Cameron for helping make dreams of a better tomorrow, not the balloons of today, take flight.

08 August 2013

Leafing Through

Leaders make many contributions to society, but their ability to introduce new experiences to others is especially important.

The Internet is helping leaders share their experiences more rapidly, and this comes at a great time for electric cars. For example, Sam Koblenski, who has owned a Nissan Leaf for the past year and a half, is using his blog to share the adventures and experiences he's had with the car. He made his first Leaf-related entry two days ago. Check out his entire blog by clicking here.

I like this idea. Electric cars are beginning to establish a foothold in the mainstream market, so those individuals who already have them can both raise awareness and add to the momentum. They allow a potential buyer to find and read through stories from actual owners.

The story of electric cars is beginning a new and important chapter, and people like Koblenski are helping write it.

03 August 2013

Knowing Home

Big ideas can come in small spaces.

One idea that appeals to me more and more is living a smaller life, one that requires less consumption and travel. As it turns out, Kurt Hoelting has also had that idea. In fact, he has put it into action. For a year, Hoelting stayed within a 60-mile radius of his home, never using a car or plane. Now, he has written about the experience in a book called The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life.

I found out about Hoelting by listening to a recent BirdNote podcast, and his book really interested me. For one thing, the idea of cutting back helps the environment. Also, by making a conscious effort to focus on the area close to home, a person can really come to know and appreciate the details of that place.

Hoelting's idea challenges the traditional notion of bigger being better, and it gives us a new approach to living. We don't have to do things just the way he did, but we can accept the great challenge and opportunity to minimize our impact and get to know our little spot in the world better.

30 July 2013

Rally Time

We know their sound well, but wolves rarely get heard as far as environmental policy is concerned. The National Rally to Protect America's Wolves in Washington, D.C., on September 7 hopes to change this.

Wolves were nearly wiped out in the lower 48 states by the 1970s and received protection under the US Endangered Species Act in 1974. Now, less than 20 years after their reintroduction to the American West, they are being hunted in high numbers again, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing their ESA protection.

The idea of pulling federal support from wolf recovery at this point raises the question of why the government even bothered to reintroduce them in the first place. Doing so has simply given people yet another thing to kill.

In response to the current political climate, the organizers of the wolf rally are bringing people together to show support for wolf recovery and for protecting the animals under the ESA. For more information about the rally, click here.

Giving wolves a political voice now is important to ensuring their sound remains a part of this world.

28 July 2013

Don't See That Every Day

Rabbits don't usually run toward moving vehicles, but one ran toward mine today.

I was returning on a dirt road from a fishing trip, and a large, brown rabbit jumped from the bushes on the left and sprinted at the truck. This seemed quite odd, and I figured that something must be chasing it, but I couldn't see anything.

The rabbit continued past the truck, hardly paying any attention to it, and I began looking for a pursuer (I was expecting a coyote). Next, I saw what initially looked like a chipmunk in the area from which the rabbit had emerged. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a weasel. It was jumping back and forth from the bushes to the road.

Although I was surprised that a weasel would attack a rabbit more than twice its size, I was pretty sure it was what had flushed this rabbit. Before driving by, I noted the weasel's reddish-brown fur and black-tipped tail.

The black tail tip helped me identify later as a long-tailed weasel, a species that I learned often attacks animals larger than itself.

I see rabbits quite often, but weasel sightings are rare for me, and I had no idea they kill adult rabbits. Seeing this part of the life cycle play out was an opportunity that I may never have again, but I will certainly not forget it.

25 July 2013

Stamp of Approval

When it comes to environmental issues, conservation is often common ground.

Although people have different opinions about the environment, many of them can get behind the idea of conserving resources. The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (better known as the Duck Stamp) is a great example of conservation's broad appeal.

For almost 80 years, the Duck Stamp has been a popular program that allows hunters and bird-watchers access to places where migratory birds congregate. Additionally, the money raised by the program supports conservation by providing funds to buy and set aside land.

The 2014 version of the Duck Stamp is out now and costs $15. To learn more about it and find out where to buy it, click on this story from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's blog, Round Robin.

While many environmental issues are contentious, conservation is something that many people support in one form or another. I think a big reason for this is that our connection with the environment is strong enough to help us see the need for such actions.

The Duck Stamp lets us enjoy and maintain that connection. That's why it continues to receive great support.

19 July 2013

Black Mark

Our relationship with whales might change more rapidly than any other connection we have with our environment.

First, whales were food and fuel; then, they became symbols of environmental destruction; next, they were captive teachers and entertainers; and the relationship appears to be changing again.

Although captive whales that entertain audiences in places like SeaWorld undoubtedly inspired many individuals to learn about cetaceans (the family that includes whales and dolphins), the morality of this captor-captive relationship is being questioned. A new documentary called Blackfish looks at the impact we have on whales, specifically orcas, when we capture them for entertainment purposes. Watch the trailer below:



We now know that whales and dolphins have intelligence and levels of feeling similar to our own. Indeed, they keep teaching us things, and the latest lesson is that we need to reexamine our relationships with them (and other animals) once again. Our current approach is black with death and shame.

05 July 2013

Dragonfly Squadron

When it comes to keeping tracking of dragonflies, it's a case of science meeting art.

The elegance of dragonflies cannot be denied. They are one of those creatures that cause me to stop whatever I'm doing and watch. That appeal would seem to make them prime candidates for citizen science projects, and the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership is providing three such opportunities.

Pond Watch involves recording information about the arrival to, activity in, and departure from local ponds. Migration Monitoring helps collect data about the insects' migration behavior, and Stable Isotopes uses hydrogen isotopes to track them. For more information about the projects, click here.

Through citizen science like the MDP's projects, the next time someone stops to marvel at a dragonfly, it can become a key contribution to the scientific knowledge about these stunning insects.

03 July 2013

It Sounds Like This

We've heard a lot about global warming, but we don't often get to hear it.

Daniel Crawford, a student at the University of Minnesota, is changing that by putting rising global temperatures to music and playing it on a cello. Watch and listen to his performance below:

A Song of Our Warming Planet from Ensia on Vimeo.

Each note in the piece represents the average worldwide temperature for a given year between 1880 and 2012. The higher notes stand for warmer years, and the lower notes stand for colder ones (there aren't many as the piece passes its halfway point). Alarmingly, the temperature increases predicted for the end of the 21st century would produce notes so high that humans could not hear them.

I've always liked the sound of cellos, but what I really like about them are the low notes. Unfortunately, we've got a lot of work to do before we'll get to hear more of them in this piece of music.

01 July 2013

Salmonberry Surprise

The idea of nature turning death into life is not new, but some of the ways it does that can still surprise us.

Today's surprise came in finding a salmonberry plant at a place on my parents' property where a tree had uprooted seven years ago. According to descriptions of the plant, salmonberries often start to grow in disturbed ground. However, they like wet areas, and my parents' land dries out in the summer, a fact that created some disbelief when I first saw the plant.

I have been able to confirm the plant is a salmonberry, and it appears to be doing quite well in its home. It's doing so well that it has started sending out shoots (check out the photograph of the new start coming up near the parent plant).

This is a much better surprise than finding the English laurel in December. Salmonberries are native to the area, and it's cute how the leaf pairs look like a butterfly.

I never doubted the area around the fallen tree would be settled by other plants (foxgloves moved in almost right away), but I didn't expect one of the new occupants would be a salmonberry.

29 June 2013

Bee Minus

At least 50,000 bumblebees were killed in less than a week in a single Oregon parking lot. They died just because someone wanted to get rid of some aphids.

According to this article from The Xerces Society, which advocates for the conservation of invertebrates, an insecticide was applied to some non-native, flowering trees in a Target parking lot because the aphids were dripping a sticky substance. After the poison was applied (it is illegal to apply it when plants are in bloom), bees, not sticky aphid residue, began falling from the trees. And they just kept falling.

The Xerces Society is providing ways people can help, and it is also joining scientists in calling for bans on the cosmetic use of insecticides.

How ridiculous have we become? We indiscriminately throw around toxins to stop stickiness from trees that we introduce to habits. At every turn of this story (right up until it sped off the cliff), we see examples of humans' blindness to their impact on the environment. Such negligence gives us a failing grade in our responsibilities to the environment and should be treated as a criminal act.

27 June 2013

It's a Gas

We have reached a point where water on fire isn't surprising.

In 2010, Gasland, a documentary about the environmental and health impacts of fracking, showed us how new methods of natural-gas extraction are poisoning water supplies. Despite those revelations, fracking has increased since then.

Now, Gasland Part II, which premiers on HBO July 8 at 9 p.m., tries to explain why the concerns about fracking have made little impact on lawmakers. Watch below to check out a clip of the filmmaker being interviewed on The Daily Show last night:



The main focus of the film is the influence the natural-gas lobby has on elected officials and how that influence trumps the environment and the voice of people whose health is put at risk by fracking.

In the first Gasland film, seeing people's water catch on fire was shocking, but the current political situation makes it more likely that flammable water will become the norm.

25 June 2013

Deep Impacts

Trash may leave our homes, but that doesn't mean it goes away.

A video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute gives new insight into the far reach of human actions on the environment by revealing the trash on the ocean floor. Watch it below:



Chances are pretty good that something each of us once bought and owned now lies at the bottom of the ocean (or floats on the surface). That will be part of our legacy.

Instead of going, going, gone, our trash just keeps going.

16 June 2013

Bittersweet

Most films have to create a buzz to draw an audience, but a recent documentary looks at an issue that people are already buzzing about.

More Than Honey examines the worldwide phenomenon of honeybee die-offs and the major implications they have for humans. To view the trailer and learn more about the film, click here.

The honeybee deaths force us to consider our connection with the environment. Pesticides have been identified as a major factor in the die-offs, and the possible extinction of bees threatens our food sources. In other words, we're deeply entwined at all levels of this issue.

By contributing to the buzz around the bee deaths, More Than Honey helps us explore this vital connection.

15 June 2013

Sound Buy

Bird sounds have something special about them.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, one of the works that helped propel the modern environmental movement, took its name from the unnerving quiet that came from DDT's devastating impact on bird populations. An art exhibit in Sydney, Australia, plays the songs of birds that used to inhabit the city. Then, on a personal level, the song or call of a species I am familiar with is enough to give me a smile.

Bird sounds are also important for identification purposes, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great collection of songs and calls from North American species. The lab is now making the complete set available for purchase as MP3 files. A smaller, less expensive collection is also available. Both can be purchased for a limited time at a discounted rate. For more information, check out this entry from the lab's Round Robin blog.

Bird sounds occupy an important place in our world, and getting to know them makes their impact all the more meaningful.

14 June 2013

A Truly Smart Phone

My cell phone is eight years old. In other words, it's from a time before smartphones were all the rage.

I don't like to buy a lot of stuff, and despite all the cool gadgets on smartphones, I have thought the smartest thing to do was stick with my old phone. After all, I really didn't need what a smartphone could give me. In addition, smartphones seem to be another piece of technology that requires, either through software or hardware updates, constant replacement.

Admittedly, smartphones do provide some benefits and can actually eliminate the need for other devices, so if they could be made to last with easy fixing and updating, they might become truly smart options.

FairPhone is a new idea that is taking steps in the right direction. Watch the video below:

Fairphone: Buy a phone, start a movement from Fairphone on Vimeo.

I like that FairPhone is working to put consumers back in control of their stuff. The company is also addressing concerns about resource use, pollution, fair trade, and the entire life of a product. Importantly, the phones are made to be opened up and fixed. For instance, an owner can easily replace the battery when it dies. For more information, visit the company's Web site.

It would be great if the company applied its approach to other devices (like computers) as well.

Hopefully, FairPhone is successful. Maybe it'll be the option I turn to when it's finally time to replace my current phone.

30 May 2013

Going Beyond No

As a lover of ideas and the environment, one of the most frustrating things for me to hear is, "No, we can't do that."

That's why I love people who just blow past no, especially when they have the environment at heart, which brings me to Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla Motors. Musk got fed up with major car companies finding reasons why electric cars could not work as products and started making his own, the Tesla.

Even after Tesla began making fully electric cars, people said the company would never work on a large scale. It doesn't seem like Musk and his company are paying much attention to those doubts either because Tesla is enjoying much success lately with the promise of a lot more to come.

First, Consumer Reports called the Tesla Model S the best car it's ever driver (see the video below). Then, Tesla paid off its government loan nine years ahead of schedule.



Additional great news came today with this report that Tesla (1) was expanding the availability of its charging stations and (2) intends to have a model that's half the price of the Model S by 2017. Together, these developments suggest Tesla's cars are on their way to reaching the mainstream.

For Musk, the question about electric cars was never whether they could be done successfully. It was whether they ought to be made. The former question led to a lot of no, the latter to an unequivocal yes, and once Musk realized that, he ignored anyone who told him no and simply did it.

27 May 2013

Learning on the Fly

The study of birds isn't just for ornithologists.

Because we interact with them so frequently, birds offer a lot of things to learn about our environment.

One of the best teachers about all things feathered is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The lab provides online courses and webinars on birds and bird-watching. Its newest offerings include webinars on waterfowl identification and tutorials for beginning birders. For more information about this online instruction, click here to read an entry from the lab's blog, Round Robin.

With resources like these, the next time a bird flies by the window might be the start of a lifelong study.

25 May 2013

Something Borrowed, Something Green

The impact nature photographs have on us cannot be denied but neither can the effect photography has on the environment.

As a photographer, I am concerned about the resources I use in getting camera equipment and storing photos. For instance, a read through this National Wildlife Federation article on improving landscape pictures reveals the variety of lenses available to photographers. Each lens uses natural resources, and as technology advances, a photographer may need to buy newer versions, magnifying the impact.

Changing our perspective on the things we have can help address the issue of photography-related consumerism. While the NWF article provides some nice tips on better landscape pictures, I think its best idea comes at the end. By introducing BorrowLenses, the writer gives photographers a chance to use the right lens at the right time without buying.

BorrowLenses rents photography and video gear. The equipment is rented through the Web site and shipped or made available at certain pick-up locations. When the rental period is over, the photographer sends the equipment back or returns it to the pick-up site. It is important to note that the company receives an A rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Photography certainly impacts the environment, but equipment sharing through companies like BorrowLenses shifts the effect from consumption to appreciation, where it belongs.

21 May 2013

Inside the Void

Nature abhors a media vacuum.

Traditional news media outlets appear ready to abandon environmental reporting. As I explained in an earlier post, despite 2012 being the hottest year on record in the United States, news media coverage of global warming decreased. That post also mentioned the decision by The New York Times to drop its division for environmental reporting.

Different new media have moved in to fill the void. One of those groups, InsideClimate News, provides reporting on energy issues and climate change.

News sources like InsideClimate News have more importance than ever because the media vacuum on environmental issues would be deafening without them.

17 May 2013

Spreading My Wings

Spring is the time for growth, so I am expanding my blogging.

For the last two years, I have tracked the bird species I've seen and identified. I did this using electronic presentation slides. However, I decided that I could turn the experiences into a blog, so a few days ago, I created envirofinn birds, which I will use to reflect on and record the bird species I've seen in my life.

The blog will, of course, be about the birds, sharing information about them and using labels to describe where I've seen them and at what time of year. Another label will identify whether the species is a native of Washington state. However, because the entries are about my experiences with the bird, they are also about me.

I won't neglect my original blog, but I am excited for this new idea to take flight. It's a topic of particular interest to me, and I was able to play with one of the new, dynamic blog templates.

14 May 2013

Traveling Show of Resistance

What's legal is not always right, and what's illegal is not necessarily wrong.

The case of Tim DeChristopher, who was arrested and jailed after protecting thousands of acres of public land, is one of those stories where the good guy must become an outlaw. DeChristopher effectively sabotaged an auction for oil and gas leases by bidding $1.7 million to protect 22,000 acres of land. Bidder 70, a recent documentary that has been traveling the country, tells the story.

Watch the trailer below:

Bidder 70 - Trailer from Gage & Gage Productions on Vimeo.

For more information about DeChristopher, Bidder 70, and where to see the film, click here.

10 May 2013

Hitting 400

Hitting .400 in baseball is cause for celebration, but when it comes to carbon in the atmosphere, hitting 400 parts per million (ppm) signals problems in our relationship with the environment.

As this news article reports, on May 9, we reached 400 ppm for the first time in human history.

Baseball's .400 is significant because of its rarity. In fact, no Major League Baseball player has hit .400 in 72 years. By comparison, the planet has not hit 400 ppm in about four million years.

Human activity continues to release tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and that carbon makes the planet warmer. One way or the other, our relationship with the environment will change. Either we make the alterations necessary stop our carbon emissions, or we prepare for a much hotter existence filled with growing weather and health challenges.

05 May 2013

Time for Organics

Organic food may not be as trendy as it was a couple of years ago, luckily.

More than a trend, organic farming appears to have enough demand to sustain the industry even if individual organic farmers are subject to the same fluctuation in fortune as regular farmers. This news story provides insight into the world of organic farming in Washington state.

What stood out most to me in the article is that organics are no longer a novelty--the story is less about introducing the reader to them and more about checking in on their current state. That's encouraging. Another positive sign is that prices for organic produce are dropping. This suggests that more people are buying organics and that more people will have the chance to do so.

If you haven't made the switch to organic yet, now might be a good time to get your feet wet. You can start slowly by identifying the fruits and vegetables that are exposed to the most pesticides through regular farming. The Environmental Working Group ranks produce by pesticide content, a list topped by apples.

With the EWG list to acquaint you, organic produce might just become an old friend in no time.

03 May 2013

Count Earth In

With the need to have an online presence increasing, Earth has decided to join cyberspace.

Social media are about having mediated relationships that are personal and in the moment, and now, people can get daily reports about the rising amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the planet's atmosphere.

A Twitter account called @Keeling_Curve (named for the man who helped begin the process of measuring CO2 levels) provides daily tweets that track atmospheric CO2. It's as if our planet is keeping us up to date on its life.

Perhaps a trip through cyberspace will bring the environment closer to us.

26 April 2013

Big Picture

Although we tend to see ourselves as superior to other species, we may actually underestimate the force with which we influence nature.

However, we are beginning to see just how far our reach stretches, and Lords of Nature, a documentary about top predators and the human impacts on them, adds to that understanding. The film has recently been released to YouTube by Green Fire Productions, which produces films about conservation and sustainability. Because it's on YouTube, I thought I would do something new and use this blog to show a whole film. You can watch it below:



What I find most interesting about the film is that even though we know we have the power to eradicate species, we have been blind to the deeper connections to nature that such power creates.

As it turns out, we do have great power, and we are deeply ingrained in natural systems. The sooner we completely understand how that power is related to those systems, the better it will be for everything on the planet.

21 April 2013

Shared View

One of the reasons photographs are worth a thousand words is because good ones are usually the product of photographers sharing tips and ideas.

I'm always on the lookout for photographers who might have insight for me, and this blog entry from the National Wildlife Federation provides some good suggestions from a young photographer who won the youth category in NWF's photography contest two years ago.

I can personally attest to the recommendations about getting out regularly and taking lots of pictures. At least for me, photography is something that requires work and practice. The more I do it on a consistent basis, the better my pictures are. Also, because I am far from professional, I need to take many versions of the same shot if possible (this can be hard with nature photos). 

I never feel badly about taking a lot of pictures because I usually end up with at least a few that I really like. While I may end up with more failed executions of shots, the ones that work leave a great feeling.

If you've taken some nature photos that you think turned out well, you might consider entering them in this year's NWF contest. It is open until July 15.

After you win, don't forget to share the secrets to your success.

17 April 2013

Class Notes

The process of learning about the environment never stops.

A recent podcast from BirdNote shows some of the new strategies teachers are using to discuss environmental issues. Jessie Soder, a teacher in Alaska, has discovered the BirdNote podcasts and employed them as teaching aids in her class.

Through the development of technology, classroom instruction is becoming more dynamic and interactive. Teachers who embrace this possibility can enhance their ability to bring the environment to life for students.

12 April 2013

Growing Knowledge

Plants aren't the easiest things to know by name, but now residents of the Pacific Northwest can have the names of more than 870 regional plants in the palm of their hands.

In this news release, the Burke Museum Herbarium at the University of Washington announces a new smart phone app that people can use to identify plant species in Washington state and the surrounding area.

It is great that the app works without Internet connection and that part of the proceeds from the sale of it go to conservation.

Apps like this plant the seeds of greater knowledge of and connection with the environment.

09 April 2013

Canada's Wild

While the current generation of decision makers in Canada roll back environmental protections and seek fossil fuels at any cost, the future looks a little brighter with organizations like Earth Rangers and its Bring Back the Wild campaign.

Earth Rangers is an organization that encourages children to become involved in environmental issues, and the Bring Back the Wild campaign focuses on protecting species. (You may remember last year's post about a girl trying to save pine martens.)

This year, children are raising funds to protect the Oregon spotted frog, the badger, the polar bear, and the wood thrush. By entering the competition, they have the chance to win one of four trips to the Arctic. Check out the video below:

Whales Trails and Polar Bear Tales Contest from Earth Rangers on Vimeo.

Canada's environmental reputation has taken some serious hits lately, but the children of Earth Rangers may turn things around in the coming years.

06 April 2013

Natural Interest

Books with facts about animals have a special power. Out of nowhere, they'll catch my interest, and once I begin reading, I'll become engrossed, turning a spontaneous decision into serious study.

The facts in those books pull me in with the strength of a short story or novel, and they had the same effect when I was a child.

More and more books are being written to let kids make the most of their interest in nature. Go Explore Nature recently reviewed one such book. First Animal Encyclopedia gives facts about many different types of animals and provides suggestions for helping children learn about them firsthand.

Having an interest in learning about nature is great, but children also need to have access to the information they crave. This book looks like one of those they can't help but reach for if it's around.

24 March 2013

How I See It

I've found that pictures don't always match reality. This is especially true when it comes to using the images in bird field guides to identify a species I've see in the wild.

Many times, I've struggled over identification because the bird I saw seemed to have significant differences from the ones in the book. Now, I think I know why: The still images on the page capture the birds from an ideal perspective, unobscured with key identifiers in plain view, while the real-world encounter is usually brief and from a tricky angle.

As this entry from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Round Robin blog suggests, help is on the way for bird-watchers. Birder and photographer Richard Crossley is taking a new approach to bird guides by providing many images of each species from different angles and distances against a more natural backdrop. The pictures even present the species at different stages of its life.

Guides like this represent a great advance in bird identification. I wonder if e-books will be able to take it further by including motion.

22 March 2013

Stepping up Our Game

When it comes to the health of the environment, you have to play to win, and more and more sports teams are embracing that idea.

Partnering with the Natural Resources Defense Council, many leagues and teams, including the Pacific Northwest members of the Green Sports Alliance, are working to minimize their environmental impact. Check out the following video about the NRDC's 2013 game changers for environmental stewardship (that's "The Natural," Robert Redford, narrating):



As a sports fan and environmentalist, it makes me happy to see these teams helping advance the ball on environmental sustainability.

19 March 2013

Drop it Like it's Hot

Mark Twain said, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." However, when it comes to the truth about global warming, remembering (or at least, having access to) key pieces of information is crucial to countering deniers.

Luckily, a new Web site called Reality Drop identifies deniers' claims and provides the scientific evidence that refutes them. Reality Drop comes from The Climate Reality Project, which was founded by Al Gore. For more information about it, click here. It looks like a great resource for the truth about global warming.