31 December 2014

Common Ground of the Pacific Northwest

Welcome to the land where environmentalists provide more timber jobs than the logging industry.

For years, the increasing mechanization of logging has stripped away tree-falling and mill jobs in Washington state and Oregon. Work that used to require dozens can now be done by a handful. In contrast, this article demonstrates how the environmental movement can increase logging jobs while addressing important environmental issues.

In summary, the story documents how Oregon Wild, a regional environmental group, enlisted loggers and a mill in John Day, Oregon, to thin forests at risk from wildfires. The thinning reduces fuel for the fires. It has also kept John Day's Malheur Lumber mill going, led to the hiring of more mill workers, and produced a 10-year contract for a local logging company.

The impacts of collaboration in this story are amazing. Some of the old hostilities between environmentalists and loggers are still apparent in the article's quotes, but they serve more as testaments to the power of common ground to overcome major political and social obstacles. Perhaps the most powerful realization is that once the ice was broken, innovative ideas like using logging for conservation purposes and developing ongoing partnerships flowed freely. When we are able to let go of positions that keep us apart, we can achieve a lot.

The partnership between environmentalists, loggers, and the mill in Oregon shows how finding common ground and new ideas can revitalize public discussions, help resolve conflicts, and result in a better world.

19 December 2014

The Maturity of Optimism

The environmental and political worlds are aflutter over the optimism of Washington state.

Although it's usually associated with children, fantasy, and naïve behavior, optimism is what allows us to grow. It brings with it the confidence to face major challenges, seek new ways of thinking, and do what is said to be impossible.

On the other hand, it takes no real effort or talent to find reasons something cannot be done, especially when faced with difficult, complex issues. We've heard "can't" so many times on environmental issues that you'd think it were the name of some species or chemical compound. The combination of pessimism and cynicism that breeds (or yields) "can't" poisons our collective decision-making processes and clouds our lives. It certainly isn't inspirational, and it isn't productive either, meaning it's neither youthful nor mature.

This week, Governor Jay Inslee showed the possibility and productivity of optimism by proposing the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act, a cap-and-trade system that would make Washington the world leader in limiting carbon pollution, address costs for low-income families, contribute to public education, and provide funding for transit infrastructure that would reduce the need for cars. Simply put, it is the smartest, most exciting thing I've seen come to the political side of environmental issues. For a full recap and breakdown of Governor Inslee's proposed program, check out this article from the Sightline Institute.

The best part of knowing your limits is waving as you leave them behind.

29 November 2014

City Kitties

The City of Angels isn't exactly heaven for big cats, but cougars there do have some guardians who are helping them cross over ... the freeways.

Although we don't tend to associated cougars with cities, a population of them exists in the area around Los Angeles. The city puts a lot of stress on that population though.

As a species, cougars require large territories. Consequently, the roads in L.A. pose a major challenge. Some cougars are killed by cars, and the city's road system segments the population, creating a high risk of inbreeding.

Two environmental groups have stepped in to help address the problem with the "Save L.A. Cougars" campaign. The National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund are working to raise money and support for a wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway. The crossing would give cougars and other wildlife a safe place to move between the areas divided by the road. To learn more about the project, click here.

It's good to know someone is watching over L.A.'s cougars.

26 October 2014

Bye-Bye Birds

We're not talking about just spring that could be silent.

Pesticides threatened bird species, and Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. Global warming threatens birds on a whole other level by stripping them of habitat, and to communicate the issue, the Audubon Society has released a great new Web site. The site details and articulates how global warming is impacting bird species in the United States. It also contains interactive features and collaborative content.

Using data compiled with the help of citizen science, the site provides visuals of ways global warming affects bird habitat. It spotlights certain species and gives people the chance to see the impacts on their local area. (For instance, it was sad to see that the ruffed grouse, one of my favorite birds, is likely to leave the region of Washington state where I grew up.) Another cool aspect of the site is that it contains content that others have produced in response to the Audubon Society's report, expanding the conversation about the issue. Finally, the site also provides ways to help address global warming.

Perhaps the most startling part of the Web site is the information that 314 of the country's bird species are severely threatened by global warming. Considering that fact, it's vital we put this puzzle together and address global warming soon.

It's either that or we'll be forced to get used to the sounds of silence.

13 September 2014

Real Hope

In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne is only partially right: Hope is a good thing, but it is also a tricky thing.

Hope has a rocky relationship with reality. We can become so wrapped up in reality, that we lose hope, and we can become so enchanted by hope that we ignore reality. So it is with the issue of global warming. With its enormity and complexity, the reality of the phenomenon can seem hopeless. Meanwhile, if we focus mostly on hope, we might fail to begin taking the steps necessary to address the situation.

For this year's 24 Hours of Reality, which starts on September 16, The Climate Reality Project seeks to bring together the realities of global warming with a theme of hope. Check out the video introducing the theme below:

I'm looking forward to hearing the 24 reasons for hope presented in the 24 Hours of Reality. They have the potential to achieve an important balance between understanding the magnitude of global warming and maintaining confidence in our ability to respond to it.

Hope is indeed a good thing, but the best of things are the actions inspired by hope.

22 August 2014

Adding a Voice

Some things are so exciting that they need to be said out loud.

I'm celebrating the submission of a paper I co-authored to a scholarly journal. Last weekend, my co-author and I put the finishing touches on the paper, which discusses how critical rhetoric can be used to analyze news media messages about the environment. The paper represents a potential contribution to communication theory. It is also important to me personally because it would be my first published article if it is accepted. As a result, I thought I would commemorate the submission with a video discussing the paper. Watch it below:

It's a wonderful feeling to contribute to the discussion of environmental communication with a paper that provides ways of identifying voices often ignored in conversations about the environment.

17 August 2014

Tinder Moments with a Canine Companion

The search for a fetching date just got a little closer to success.

With apps like Tinder, which uses Facebook profiles to bring together users seeking love, dating in the Internet age has taken on new dimensions, and a dog-adoption campaign hopes to take advantage of these new matchmaking tools. Dogs from Social Tees Animal Rescue now appear on Tinder, giving them a chance to find potential owners. Check out a video for the campaign below:

The adoption campaign is as innovative as it is adorable. We look for the right fit in a pet just like we seek a good match in a human partner. However, until now, the pets have waited for us to make the first move. Using Tinder allows them to go out and mingle, and with those cute faces, they're not likely to be single long.

We live in a world of social media. So much life, including romance, takes place in that world. Therefore, it makes sense that adoptable pets are also going there to find their dream people.

Dating can be rough, but in this case, it can also be Ruff, and that's a pretty good thing.

13 August 2014

A Brush and a Lick with the Future

How many licks does it take to get to the center of nature? The world may soon know.

We haven't always had great interactions with nature even when we had the best of intentions. For instance, we thought zoos would help inform people about and connect with the environment, but the disruptive impact of zoos on the animals that live within them has made us question just how much good they do.

Thankfully, today's technology affords us opportunities to watch and experience nature without making it captive. Want to see a marmot up close and personal? We can show you that. Watch the Greenpeace video below:

The intimate interaction (can't get much closer than being licked) with the marmot suggests the dawning of a new future for our connection with nature. If we can't go see an animal in the wild on our own, we don't have to capture it and put it in an enclosure; we can glimpse it through videos as it goes about its life in natural settings. This gets us a lot closer to a true understanding of nature.

And who doesn't want to learn from nature? After all, we went to the owl for an answer to that question about Tootsie Pops.

08 August 2014

Greenpeaces of Rhetoric

Rhetoric and Legos have a lot in common, and thanks to Greenpeace, one of those things is the environment.

A key trait shared by rhetoric and Legos is the ability to construct something elaborate out of connected pieces (of language or blocks, respectively). Much like Legos construct whole worlds, rhetoric builds our world. As we define and frame events, decisions, actions, and our surroundings, we put together understandings that become the world we live in. For example, the Lego brand has partnered with Royal Dutch Shell to build Lego worlds complete with Shell's corporate symbols and oil operations. As the partnership brings Shell into the rhetoric of Legos, it reinforces the oil company's standing as a major part of our world.

We can also deconstruct both rhetoric and Legos, and Greenpeace has done exactly that with a video example of critical rhetoric. Watch it below:

LEGO: Everything is NOT awesome from Greenpeace on Vimeo.

Critical rhetoric challenges dominant forms of rhetoric and attempts to expand our understanding of the world. By taking the symbols of Shell and Lego, including the song, "Everything is Awesome," and raising questions about them, Greenpeace deconstructs the world the two companies had built and replaces it with a different world. In the world put forth by Greenpeace, the partnership between Shell and Lego is neither innocent child's play nor "awesome." Rather, the partnership is corrupting and, above all, threatens the environment, a threat Shell and Lego had neglected to include in their world.

A critical approach to rhetoric works by disconnecting the pieces of dominant rhetoric and reconnecting them to form a bigger picture of the world. Lego should know a little about that. Greenpeace sure does.

04 August 2014

On the March

Global warming's impacts continue to grow, but the public pressure to address it is on the move as well.

More and more frequently, we see the influence of warming on our planet. In June, I blogged about the release of the National Climate Assessment and the efforts to communicate its findings, which show global warming already at work. Last month, record-setting wildfires, fueled by dried out forests, hit my home state of Washington. These fires are just the latest chapter in the expanding story of global warming.

Another story continues to unfold along with global warming though. As temperatures increase and the climate changes around them, people throughout the world remain committed to pressuring governments to address the issue. The People's Climate March, scheduled for New York City (and other participating locations) on September 21, represents the latest installment of the worldwide effort. Check out a video about it below:

Aimed at moving the participants of the United Nations' climate summit to action, the march brings together people representing many different organizations. The wide-ranging support demonstrates that while binding, international agreements remain elusive, concerns about global warming aren't going away (and neither are the people who voice those concerns). For more information about the march, click here, and even if you can't attend the NYC march, you can still plan your own to support it.

Ready! March!

02 August 2014

Unfamiliar Thoughts in Familiar Waters

I've seen that creek many times, but I'd never before looked at it the way I did last month.

I have a special creek where I go to fish and deeply connect with nature. I've been going there since I was three or four years old, so it's an old friend. It's also a big part of who I am and how I see the environment.

For all the amazing things they give us, old friends also bring challenges. The early experiences with them heavily influence how we see them later, sometimes preventing us from picking up on new things about them. Also, they color our interpretation of the people, places, and things we encounter later in life, setting limitations on our understanding of the world.

Both of the challenges related to old friends apply to my creek. The memories I have of it come to the forefront of my mind whenever I am there. Consequently, each new experience of it mixes with the old ones. I am also certain that my understanding of streams and the environment in general builds off my early experiences at the creek. For example, when I was younger, I thought about the environment as a set of individual pieces. "There's a creek," I would say. "There's a mountain." I didn't really think of them as continuations of a larger whole. I thought about my creek as a separate entity occupying a specific place of its own, and the same thinking continued to influence my understanding of environmental elements for years.

This July, I experienced my creek in a new way. I didn't see it as a creek but rather the product of an interaction of environmental features extending to the atmosphere. I was no longer walking in just a creek bed. Instead, it had become part of a larger, living system of environmental connections. The canyon through which it runs funnels water to it from miles around. That water comes to the creek on its continuous cycle around the world and through the atmosphere, connecting the creek to the oceans, the land, and the clouds.

I think that truly seeing my creek's place in the larger complexities of the environment is literally a watershed moment: For the first time, I really understand what a watershed is, and I now have a new way of looking at my old friend and the rest of the world.

31 July 2014

The Changing Face of Birding

Let's face it--identifying a bird's species isn't always easy. (Ever tried to distinguish between the various types of flycatchers?)

For novice bird-watchers, the struggle of identification sometimes becomes an obstacle to getting to know birds. Professional bird-watchers have the skills to make quick identifications, but the rest of us can spend hours consulting field guides and online resources, and even then, we may not confirm the species.

A new, free smart-phone app promises to make bird-identification tools more available, giving a greater number of people the chance for full engagement in birding. Birdsnap uses facial-recognition software to identify birds. All a person needs to do is take a picture of the bird in question. The app then uses the bird's physical characteristics to make the identification. For a more detailed discussion of Birdsnap, check out this article by Chelsea Harvey of Audubon Magazine.

In recent years, technology has made the avian world more accessible to us. From nestcams to Web sites like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds, we have a growing number of opportunities to engage with and learn about birds. With its innovative technology, Birdsnap represents another important contribution to birding.

Thanks to technology, birding might look different than it did twenty years ago, but the changes have turned more bird species into familiar faces.

29 July 2014

Wild with Reason

If you think going wild means a loss of reason, you haven't been to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

The people of the peninsula are passionate about keeping their area wild, and they've got their reasons for supporting the proposed Wild Olympics legislation. Next month, they'll share those reasons on the PBS television series, This American Land. Check out a trailer for the episode below:

We often hear that reason clashes with emotions and what is wild, but the video suggests otherwise. The various individuals who talk about the importance of protecting the Olympic Peninsula build their arguments upon the emotional connection they have to the area's wild places. Doing so gives their messages a firm foundation in personal values.

The statements made by the people in the video also highlight the logic of a mutually beneficial relationship between humans and nature. Although the Olympic Peninsula remains fairly pristine, human activity has impacted it in the past and continues to do so. At the same time, the area has helped shape the people that live there. (A little of the wild has become part of them.) That's why the Wild Olympics bill benefits both humans and nature.

Supporters of the Wild Olympics campaign are wild about it, and it's pretty easy to see why.

27 July 2014

Rounding up Urban Tumbleweeds

Urban tumbleweeds (better known as plastic bags) ride like the wind because they ride the wind, but I recently roped a couple of these elusive objects.

Unlike regular tumbleweeds, which have a key place in American folklore and certain ecosystems, urban tumbleweeds have very few positives going for them. They are made of plastic and designed for a single use, and they litter the landscape and pollute the environment.

In fact, I may have had one of the only good experiences ever associated with an urban tumbleweed. On a trip last week, I found I had forgotten to bring a container for the remains of the fruit I'd brought and eaten. (I wanted to compost the pieces, but I wouldn't be able to do so for several days, so I needed something to put them in.) That's when an urban tumbleweed happened to fly by.

The airborne bag seemed like a good option for a makeshift compost container. However, with the wind blowing hard, I wouldn't be able to catch it without some help. Luckily, the bag caught on a bush. When I ran to get it, I found another plastic bag right next to it. That gave me a double-lined compost transport and took two urban tumbleweeds out of the environment, so this modern Western has a happy ending.

Well, at least, I got to ride off into the sunset with my compost.

25 July 2014

Art of the Heart

In art, some dogs play poker, but Mark Barone wants to raise awareness about the many dogs playing Russian roulette. 

Three years ago, Barone set out to draw attention to the fact that an average of 5,500 dogs are euthanized in animal shelters each day in the United States. With that number in mind, Barone created An Act of Dog, an art project featuring 5,500 dogs that have been euthanized. Check out a trailer for the documentary PBS is doing on the project:

An Act of Dog takes a sad and challenging issue and turns it into a powerful message and a labor of love. The number of pets in animal shelters strains the resources of those people trying to find homes for them, and we often overlook adoption as an option for getting a pet. All this amounts to some very difficult circumstances. Barone's project expresses the pain of the situation and calls for something better. For more information about his work, click here.

Considering the size of the problem, it's probably a good time to construct a better system for handling pets that need homes. It will take all of us and a new perspective about pets, but it promises to give Barone a more positive picture to paint.

Adopting a pet is simple, so we tend to forget the power it carries, but An Act of Dog finds a way to communicate just how meaningful it is.

13 July 2014

Finnish-ing off Cars

Maybe my love of ideas, interest in environmental issues, and dislike of cars come from my genes.

Finland has made much news lately for its environmental initiatives. Last month, it committed to a binding 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions. Now, Helsinki, its capital city, makes a move to eliminate the need for individual citizens to own cars. All those plans have left me even more proud of my Finnish heritage.

Helsinki's initiative shows what happens when people commit to the development of ideas. The city plans to capitalize on the country's innovative approach to technology as it makes its public transportation highly responsive to individual needs. According to this article from The Guardian, by 2025, Helsinki residents will have the ability to coordinate, plan, and pay for all their public transportation use with a single smart-phone app.

The vision Helsinki has for its transportation system challenges the need for private car ownership. By making the necessary changes in its infrastructure and embracing the potential of new technologies, the city will trump the convenience of the car, reducing the environmental impacts associated with transportation.

As a Finn, I'm excited about the thriving, environmentally friendly community Helsinki intends to build, but the great thing about ideas like this is that we don't need DNA to pass them on; all it takes is a blog entry and some forward thinking.

11 July 2014

Wild Celebration

The Wilderness Act turns 50 this year, but rather than celebrate in a way befitting of middle age, The Wilderness Society plans to get a little wild.

Signed by President Lyndon Johnson on September 3, 1964, the Wilderness Act legally defined wilderness and started a process that preserved 109.5 million acres in the United States over the last 50 years. Its legacy and environmental benefits are immeasurable.

Such a powerful piece of legislation deserves a special golden anniversary, and The Wilderness Society has come up with a fitting way to celebrate. The organization's "We are the Wild" campaign lets everyone mark the occasion by sharing a story about an experience in nature and/or uploading a picture of the moment at We are the Wild. After making the post, share it on social media with the hashtag, #WeAreTheWild.

Protecting natural ecosystems through legislation isn't all work and policy negotiations. It comes with the reward of having great places to celebrate. "We are the Wild" both recognizes the hard work that brought about the Wilderness Act 50 years ago and says, "Let the celebration begin."

Connecting with wild friends, taking lots of pictures, and doing some live tweeting: Sounds like a party.

03 July 2014

Source of Death

The problem of pesticides, especially the deadly neonicotinoids, killing off bees continues to grow.

Gardeners hoping to protect bees by not directly using neonicotinoids can end up unwittingly killing bees simply with their purchase of plants. Many plants are grown using these and other pesticides, which remain in the plant and continue to pose a risk to bees. Popular gardening stores carry the pesticide-laced plants but don't label them as containing the toxins. The following video from Friends of the Earth offers more explanation of the problem:

Neonicotinoids' prevalence stands out in the video. With 51 percent of plants tested containing these pesticides, gardeners who buy from stores like Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowe's have a good chance of planting gardens deadly to bees.

Despite the fact that neonicotinoids are in so many plants without warning labels, gardeners can empower themselves in the fight to keep bees alive. By applying pressure to stores and elected officials, we can work for the banning of neonicotinoids, encourage stores not to carry plants treated with them, or, at least, make sure the plants are labeled as containing these particular pesticides.

Plants symbolize life; they shouldn't represent death for bees.

01 July 2014

Social Scientists

The scientific revolution will be tweeted.

Scientists struggle to find the right ways of communicating their research directly to the general public. For years, they actively avoided doing so, letting their work speak for itself. The approach created challenges for the public's understanding of science, and some participants in the public forum took advantage of scientists' silence, attacking and seeking to discredit science as a discipline. The expanding number of media outlets and social media has also increased the challenges scientists face in communicating their work.

Today's communication landscape contains some useful tools for scientists, however. The same social media that flood public discourse with competing voices can give scientists an outlet and an opportunity to build relationships with the public. Rebecca Searles, a science journalist and editorial director of Experiment.com, which fosters crowdfunding for scientific research, offers some useful ideas for scientists considering engaging with social media. Check out her video below:

In recent years, scientists have seen the need for more active communication and interaction with the general public. For example, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye have prominently defended and advocated for science. Other scientists seem to be following their lead even if many are reluctant to do so. With social media to help them, they can take an important step in connecting everyone with science.

What we need now is for some scientist to take a selfie with a species previously unknown to science.

27 June 2014

Positive Energy

I got a little charged up when the batteries in my calculator recently ran out of juice.

The calculator is one of the few things I have been running with traditional alkaline batteries, and it usually goes three to four years on one set. When the batteries ran out this time, I took it as an opportunity to switch to rechargeable batteries.

Making the move to rechargeables was just as exciting as the company I bought them from. Responsible Energy Corporation promotes the use of reusable energy. It sells rechargeable batteries, chargers, and solar-energy devices at greenbatteries.com. The company has focused on rechargeable batteries and solar devices to foster a more sustainable use of resources. It is accredited by the Better Business Bureau with an A+ rating.

Leaving single-use batteries behind feels good. I'm also encouraged that companies like Responsible Energy Corporation are helping make sustainability more of a focus and more accessible.

Even small changes can be powerful.

23 June 2014

Playing the Hero

Heroes usually possess special powers, and the heroes of bird-watching have the ability to make identifications without actually seeing birds.

While identifying birds by sight takes a degree of skill, some of the best birders know each species by its songs and calls. Such identification is far from easy, but it brings with it the superpower of seeing the bird world through sound.

Luckily, the special power doesn't come from radioactive spider bites or the gods. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed a game that helps in matching birds with their songs. Bird Song Hero uses visual representations to break down species' songs and asks the person playing the game to select the correct source of the sound. To see a demonstration, watch the video below:

Bird Song Hero truly makes sound a second sight. When sight fails to help, birders must turn to sounds, and the Cornell Lab's game gives those sounds a visual quality. Here's the link to more information about it.

Now, go become a hero.

21 June 2014

Turning the Camera Around

We have plenty of nature television shows told from the human perspective, but animals might just host their own shows soon.

The United State Geological Survey (USGS) recently released footage of polar bear activities taken from the point of view of a bear. Check it out below:

The video provides important insight into polar bears' lives. As the text at the end of the video says, the USGS plans to use such videos to learn about polar bears and record how they are adjusting to the impacts of global warming. The video also gives the general public a sense of the experiences polar bears have on a daily basis.

Also, Animal-POV videos like this possess the ability to improve the relationship between humans and nature. By using the technology with a variety of species, we can better understand the larger picture of life on Earth. Additionally, in contrast to traditional nature shows, which record the animals' actions from a distance and interpret them through a host or narrator, the POV videos let the other species tell their own stories.

Now, that's some reality TV I can get into.

17 June 2014

A Goal for Iran

We'll need a world-class goalie to make this save.

Along with playing in this year's World Cup, Iran's national soccer team took on an important conservation concern. In an unprecedented move, FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, agreed to allow the Iranian team to wear jerseys displaying the image of an Asiatic cheetah.

With the jersey image, Iran hopes to enlist international help in a movement that has mobilized the country's conservationists. The world has fewer than 75 Asiatic cheetahs left (all are thought to live in Iran), but the declining numbers have inspired Iranians to study and protect the cats, and the country's government has taken steps to stabilize the cheetah population. To strengthen its cheetah-conservation efforts with international support, Iran successfully petitioned FIFA to make an exception regarding rules for jersey features. For more details on this story, click here.

When a species' population drops to numbers as small as those of the Asiatic cheetah, keeping it from extinction becomes a major challenge. It's the kind of project that requires much work, constant attention, and international cooperation. Sharing the message about Iran's cheetahs at the World Cup will hopefully bring the resources needed to protect these cats.

The Iranian soccer players may not be able to use their hands on the field, but they are lending one to the preservation of their country's cheetahs.

08 June 2014

College Material

Colleges and universities produce a lot of waste, but they also generate many great ideas, so it was only a matter of time before someone came up with a way to address all that waste.

Last year, Brett Chamberlin and Alex Freid, two recent graduates, started the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) to help institutions of higher education better manage their waste. What began as a concern about the trash generated when students move in and out for the school year has spread into a movement aimed at minimizing waste across higher ed. To hear Freid discuss the idea and how it's grown, watch the video below:

PLAN ingrains sustainability and waste reduction into the fabric of institutions. Through its consulting, the organization allows each participating college or university to respond to its respective waste problems. Also, the approach accounts for an institution's entire impact. Finally, PLAN employs communication for outreach and education programs to ensure the campus community takes full advantage of the sustainability initiatives.

Chamberlin and Freid see the big picture. They understand that individual impacts add up, and they realize what this means for the future of a planet already taxed by the human population. For more information about PLAN, click here.

College has expanded the perspective of many individuals, but Chamberlin and Freid demonstrate the potential for students to turn the tables (or couches or whatever).

05 June 2014

Now the Story

We don't have to go to a galaxy far, far away in a time long ago to find epic stories of planets.

The Story Group, an independent journalism company that combines multimedia with an emphasis on storytelling, has a new video series covering the current impacts of global warming. Revolving around the release of the National Climate Assessment, which I blogged about last month, the videos focus on the ways global warming already affects the planet. For example, one of the episodes looks at how global warming is changing our coasts. Watch it below:

National Climate Assessment: Coasts chapter from The Story Group on Vimeo.

Through the use of stories and video, The Story Group adds to the impressive collection of tools communicating the National Climate Assessment's findings. Where the government leaves off with its interactive Web site, The Story Group's series picks up, adding vivid detail and personal testimony about the changes occurring on this planet. For more information about The Story Group and its current project, click here.

The story of global warming is already in its first few chapters, and The Story Group is helping us get caught up on our reading.

01 June 2014

Pure Poetry

Poetry often describes the qualities of air, but a new poem improves air quality.

At the University of Sheffield, the humanities and the sciences combined forces to both say and do something about air pollution. One of the buildings on campus has a wall covered by a banner displaying In Praise of Air, a poem by Professor of Poetry Simon Armitage.

While the poem communicates the importance of air, it does something no other poem about this subject has done: It actually cleans the air. The banner the university printed the poem on has a special coating that removes nitrogen oxide from the air, reducing smog. To see the unfurling of the banner, watch the video below, and to learn more about the poem, click here:

In Praise of Air and its medium represent a great development in environmental messaging. As we attempt to address the challenging environmental issues facing us, we'll need to communicate and act at the same time. The work by the University of Sheffield provides an example for such multitasking.

Good poetry moves us; the best poetry moves us to act.

30 May 2014

Report of the Non-native

For Washington state, the invasion of non-native species stops in cyberspace.

A new app called WA Invasives, which the Washington Invasive Species Council just released, allows the public to report sightings of invasive species. The app gives individuals the ability to send photographs of and location information for their sightings to the council.

By involving the public, the app increases the possibility of removing invasive species from the state. The Washington Invasive Species Council uses the information sent to them through the app to verify the presence of non-native species and eliminate them. Without the public's participation, many invasive species would go unaddressed.

WA Invasives runs on both iPhones and Android phones. For more information about the app, click here.

Let's help the app spread, so the invasive species won't anymore.

28 May 2014

Amphibian Art

The Baroque Period has nothing on the Croak Period.

Populations of frogs and other amphibians continue declining, and an organization called Save the Frogs! is making art a key piece of its efforts to address the issue.

Save the Frogs! holds an art contest each year from January 15 to October 15. The contest raises awareness of the problems facing amphibians in two ways. First, those who participate gain knowledge about the issue, and then, they produce art that helps spread the message. Check out some art from previous years in the video below:

With its art contest, Save the Frogs! takes a smart approach to a worldwide problem. The contest is open to people around the world. Consequently, it lets any individual become a voice for amphibians in her or his country, and it allows children to engage in the issue. In other words, Save the Frogs! employs a long-term, big-picture perspective. For more information about the organization and its art contest, click here.

Creating a world where amphibians are celebrated and safe is what I would call a masterpiece, and we can all wield the brush.

26 May 2014

Graduating with a B

For graduation gifts, I turned to Plan B (as in B Corporations).

One of my cousins graduates from high school this year, and my gifts to her are slightly out of the ordinary. First, I made a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation, which will now plant 20 trees in her name. (To learn more about this program, click here.) In addition, my cousin will receive products from Klean Kanteen, which I previously blogged about here, and Ecobags, which I covered here.

What Klean Kanteen and Ecobags represent led me to choose them to celebrate my cousin's accomplishment. Both companies are B Corporations, which commit to socially and environmentally ethical ways of operating. Check out a video describing B Corporation certification below, and click here for more information:

In college and her life beyond, my cousin will make a positive impact on the world, and I wanted her graduation gifts to do the same. The Arbor Day Foundation's trees will stand and mark her achievement for years, and she'll have responsibly made, reusable items that replace disposable ones, decreasing her planetary footprint.

If you're still searching for graduation gifts, consider taking this opportunity to "B" different.

24 May 2014

Full Recovery

There's no need for waste, but waste does lead to need.

Americans throw away tons of food each year, yet many in our country do not have enough to eat. That points to a problem with our current system. However, it also suggests we have what we need to make things better.

The Food Recovery Network helps feed those in need with food that would otherwise be wasted, and now, the organization provides a certification for universities and businesses that participate in the program. Check out a video about the certification below:

By offering the certification, the Food Recovery Network spreads awareness of its program and recognizes the organizations that participate in it. The idea is to promote a system that gets the most out of our food resources. The more recognition participating organizations receive and give to the program, the more popular the program becomes and the more food is recovered for those who need it. For additional information about the Food Recovery Network, click here.

The elimination of food waste isn't just a good idea; we need it.

22 May 2014

Going Wild

When things get out of control, sometimes, the best response is to go a little wild.

For years, the United States Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services agency has operated without oversight, killing thousands of wild animals, especially predators, in the process. Predator Defense, an environmental group based in Oregon, helped bring Wildlife Services' operations to light with last year's documentary, Exposed. Watch it below:

By revealing the negative impacts of Wild Services' illegal techniques, Predator Defense provided both a need and an opportunity to address the issue of how we interact with wildlife. The Natural Resources Defense Council took that opportunity to introduce alternatives that foster coexistence. Picking up where Predator Defense left off with Exposed, the NRDC recently released a documentary called Wild Things. The film looks at the problems with Wild Services' handing of wildlife and shows how ranchers and other landowners have successfully turned to nonlethal means of responding to the presence of predators. Check out the trailer below:

With its emphasis on people adapting to wildlife, a concern for the larger ecosystem, and the questioning of humans' domination of nature, Wild Things calls on us to rethink the blind eradication of animals. Just as importantly, it gives us a new vision and provides examples of how to achieve that ideal.

In the case of Wildlife Services, it makes sense that we turn to the wild to restore order.

20 May 2014

Sound of Success

Unexpected sounds ring the loudest.

After three years of inactivity in the bat house I purchased for my parents at Christmas 2010, I'd pretty much given up on having tenants in the house's current location. That's why when a strange clicking from its direction arrested my attention last Saturday evening, I didn't initially think about bats. I wondered if a bug or a bird made the sound, but once I determined it was coming from the bat house, I began to realize we'd finally succeeded in enticing a bat. The next day, I was able to confirm at least one bat had taken up residence.

Finding the bat fulfills a plan set in motion several years ago. Even before 2010, we'd talked about setting up a bat house. Then in fall 2010, I blogged about the efforts of the Organization for Bat Conservation and decided to buy one of its houses. We knew we didn't have an optimal placement for our bat house because it didn't have full, direct sunlight, but we decided to wait and see if the bats would eventually come. Happily, they did.

With bat populations continuing to decline, our little victory carries even more meaning for us. We're happy to support these crucial and amazing animals in a time of uncertainty.

From the sound of it, they appreciate the help.

18 May 2014

Knowing the Unknowns

In the animal world, for every star species, many exist that receive little or no attention.

We love animals like whales, penguins, and big cats, and when we consider how environmental issues impact nature, we tend to do so by focusing on these charismatic species. While this provides an important connection with nature, it limits our understanding of the environment and neglects many species.

Carly Brooke works to widen our scope of understanding by drawing attention to unusual, unnoticed, unpopular, and ignored species on her Web site, The Featured Creature. Species by species, the site gives the spotlight to animals that ordinarily wouldn't have it. To check out Carly's great work, click here. You can also watch her encounter with and discussion of a giant sea hare below:

Beyond highlighting species that we don't know much about, The Featured Creature lets us fill in the pieces of the bigger picture. We can only learn so much about the environment if we concentrate on charismatic species. By becoming more familiar with the entire world of animals, we better understand how all species, including humans, interact with each other.

Nature has no bit roles, so we should get to know all its actors.

11 May 2014

Everything You Want and Less

In a culture of consumerism, it's not needless to say that we need less.

We've been told to consume, how to consume, and what to consume. With these messages everywhere, it's not hard to know what we want, and we learn quickly where and how to get those things. Consumption becomes second nature.

On the other hand, the notion of not buying things seems foreign. We become so out of practice with this idea, that we forget how to do it, so we need a little help. Luckily, All You Need is Less, a new book from environmental blogger Madeleine Somerville, offers us some guidance.

The book provides tips for getting by without buying. Somerville explains how to make, substitute for, or completely reject the things we ordinarily don't think twice about purchasing. In the process, she gives us a way of disrupting the cycle of wanting, replacing it with a focus on less. The book is available now.

In the spirit of its message, look for it at your library or consider purchasing a used copy and sharing it with friends.

08 May 2014

Beast Friends

Chimpanzees have Jane Goodall; gorillas had Dian Fossey; and jaguars have Alan Rabinowitz.

Some fortunate species have had amazing human ambassadors that connected them with humans everywhere, and Rabinowitz's work with jaguars has revolutionized our understanding of and connection to jaguars. Two years ago, I blogged about some of the previous contributions he has made to the study and protection of big cats. Now, he's back with a new book called An Indomitable Beast, which he'll release in September.

In his first book, Jaguar, Rabinowitz impressed me with his ability to communicate the experiences he's had with jaguars. Most biologists have close contact with the species they study, but Rabinowitz shares Goodall's ability to put the public in those experiences through strong storytelling. For this reason, I'm looking forward to his new book.

An Indomitable Beast tells the story of the jaguar's successes and its threats and the work being done to protect it; but the book also promises to further explain how Rabinowitz earned his knowledge of these cats (the stories about this in Jaguar took hold of me and haven't let me go). It's this blurring of the human and the animal that makes Rabinowitz's work (and that of others like him) so valuable. The stories provide common ground with nature. For more information about An Indomitable Beast, click here.

By communicating their connections with animals, researchers like Rabinowitz show us the ways to develop our own relationships with nature.

06 May 2014

Here and Now, There and Then

A new Web site on global warming suggests we can use images and interaction to communicate things too big for words.

Global warming challenges us with its size and scope of time. We often struggle to express and understand its complexities, and it requires us to make sense of a timeframe extending back hundreds of thousands of years.

To complicate matters further, we have to understand the issue now. The National Climate Assessment, a report released today from the United States government, details the impacts already underway because of global warming.

While it placed this huge issue squarely in front of our faces, the National Climate Assessment also gave us a tool for comprehending the situation. This Web site communicates the report's findings in an amazing way. It uses images, charts, and interactive graphics to communicate the full scope of global warming. Along with showing the current impacts, the site looks at future issues. In addition, it breaks down the effects by region and by the systems they impact. Finally, it outlines various ways of responding to global warming.

The site impresses me with its ability to address the whole issue. It's also visually appealing, and it allows visitors to share the information they find through social media. All in all, it's a great piece of environmental communication and a wonderful resource to use as we address the biggest issue we've ever faced.

Rhetorical scholars know the importance of matching communication to the situation, and we're finally reaching that goal in relation to global warming.

04 May 2014

Always Another Bend in the Road

Turning a new corner means having the chance to see some unfamiliar sights.

My experience of Earth Week this year opened up a lot of uncharted territory. As I blogged about last month, I helped in efforts to boost sustainability and environmental engagement at the University of South Dakota and in the city of Vermillion, South Dakota. With its various activities, Earth Week on campus and in the community was a big success and laid the groundwork for more to come.

My favorite experience of the week served as both a celebration of this year's work and a hope for the future. On the Saturday following Earth Day, I participated in a guided nature hike at North Alabama Bend, a piece of land the US Army Corps of Engineers owns and works to preserve. The hike included information about the land's relationship with the Missouri River and the resident eastern cottonwood trees, the people who had tried to homestead it, and the work being done to keep it in a natural state. Special thanks to Tim Cowman for guiding the hike. To learn more about North Alabama Bend, click here.

Despite a strong wind blowing for the full two hours, I enjoyed the hike. I'd never been to the property before, but the experience left me with the urge to explore it more in the future. It was the perfect way to cap the week and look ahead to new projects and experiences.

There's a place up ahead, and I'm going just as fast as my feet can fly.

02 May 2014

Bee Aware, Bee Connected

The buzz about looking out for bees continues to grow.

Declines in populations of bee species, both domestic honey bees and wild bumblebees, have sparked a need to better understand these insects and what is happening to them. A project called Bumble Bee Watch turns to citizen science to collect data about bumblebee sightings.

Bumble Bee Watch works through a simple process. Individuals take pictures of the bumblebees they see, log in to the project's Web site, post the pictures, identify the species, and get expert verification on the identification. By posting the pictures, people contribute to science and conservation efforts and develop a virtual collection of the bees they've encountered. For more information about the project, click here.

I love that Bumble Bee Watch gives us insight that can help bumblebees survive. However, the project also allows us to connect with bumblebees and better understand their story. That's a key ingredient for a successful relationship.

It's great to gain knowledge of nature, but really getting to know it is even better.

30 April 2014

More Than a Number

In the reality of extinction, it's six of one and none of the other.

In this case, six refers to an upcoming documentary called "6," which looks at the sixth great extinction in the planet's history and how humans are driving species' populations to zero. Check out the trailer below:

With species dying out or reaching endangered status at increasingly alarming rates, "6" looks for answers in the relationship between humans and nature. As our own population soars and our technology grows evermore powerful, our ability to influence the environment increases. We can wipe out species in a matter of years; and even if we could plead ignorance, it would make no difference. Extinction doesn't make exceptions for accidents.

Because "6" helps reveal the impacts of human activity, it provides us with an important opportunity. First, it allows us to better understand our role in the larger environment. Second, it challenges us to improve the way we live on this planet.

Zero, it turns out, is an awfully big number, and it's time we did the math.

28 April 2014

Darkness on the Edge of Reason

If we want to see it, global warming is easily found.

The signs of a warming planet pop up everywhere; and years ago, scientists reached a consensus in determining that the phenomenon is caused by humans. Yet global warming remains a political debate, and we continue delaying attempts to address it. Dale Jamieson tries to explain the causes and consequences of our inaction in a new book called "Reason in a Dark Time."

Jamieson shares ideas that put our communication about the environment in the spotlight. To get a sample of what the book covers, read this interview with the author. The interview, all by itself, offers amazing insights about how we construct our relationship with the environment. "Reason in a Dark Time" is available now.

In covering a range of topics, including science communication, the importance of environmental values, and the complexities of our relationship with nature, Jamieson holds a mirror up to our faces. This reflective enlightenment shows us that if we have failed to address global warming, it is only because we have chosen not to see it. Science has given us all the information we need to take urgent action, yet we allow ourselves to delay.

The dark can be scary, but it's scarier that we'd choose to stay in it.

26 April 2014

Loud and Clear

If a tree falls in the forest, and an orangutan is around to hear it, does it make a difference?

The Rainforest Action Network's (RAN) campaign on palm oil makes sure we know it does. A common ingredient in many products, palm oil's demand has risen dramatically. As a result, many acres of rainforest have been cleared to grow more oil palms, destroying vital habitat and endangering the species that live there. RAN seeks to draw attention to the issue and spark action to stop the destruction.

One video from RAN's campaign promotes change by bridging the divide between humans and nature. It shows a girl who is deaf using sign language to communicate with an orangutan. Check it out below:

The discussion between the orangutan and the girl may be silent, but it sends resonating messages about our connection with nature and our place in the larger world. Sharing the planet with other species requires us to share communication with them as well. RAN's video shows us how to do both. To learn more about RAN's work, click here.

There's no question nature is sending us signals about the impacts we're having on it; the real question is how we'll respond.

24 April 2014

On the Wings of Love

While some say fools rush in, albatrosses soar in.

We struggle to understand love, but birds offer us some insight. According to this article from National Public Radio (NPR), relationships in the bird world display an amazing range of duration, and albatross partners are most likely to stay committed to each other.

The research on bird pairs struck me with just how much it related to us. Clearly, individual people show differing preferences for long-term commitment just as the various types of birds do.

For those interested in discovering a soulmate, the process albatrosses use to find a partner provides some great ideas: Take time to find yourself; look for a good personality match, and really get to know that individual; make sure you have time to yourself; and get in sync with your partner.

NPR's article had a lot of cool information about birds and love. Its main week part was in negatively judging the species with short relationships. Such judgments ignore the many ways nature and humans work and privilege a certain perspective on relationships.

When it comes to love, perhaps birds of a feather really should flock together.

21 April 2014

New Growth

A drop in the bucket may not seem like much until its water helps a plant grow.

This year, I had the opportunity to make a contribution to a budding sustainability effort at the University of South Dakota. I've already blogged about one of the initiatives from the university's Sustainability Club here, but there's been a lot more going on, and Earth Week showcases some of the fruits of our labor.

Many people at the university and in the city of Vermillion came together around the idea of sustainability. As the Sustainability Club worked to bring recycling back to campus, the Sustainability Program locked up world-renown author Frances Moore Lappé for an Earth Day lecture, and members of the community worked to build a full week of events around the author's appearance.

The schedule of events kicked off today with a showing of A Fierce Green Fire and a discussion of Lappé's books. Earth Day features a bike-to-campus event, a sustainability fair for students, and Lappé's visit. However, the slate of events doesn't end there. To see the full schedule, click here.

It's been great to contribute to the celebration of sustainability (my environmental communication students and I helped promote the events), but it's been even more fun to see the excitement for environmental issues take root here. Ideas for future efforts have already sprouted.

Drip, drop, drip, drop.

19 April 2014

A Moment of Wonder

Encounters with wildlife give us a rush. We hurry to record and share them, and they fill us with an urge to learn more about nature.

In fact, the experiences we have with wildlife are so powerful, we often fail to capture and express the full impact they have on us. When it comes to recording, sharing, and learning, however, social media contain great potential, and the National Wildlife Federation has collaborated with the maker of an app called WildObs to make the most of our meetings with wildlife.

WildObs allows us to put wildlife at the center of our lives. Using the app, we can chronicle the wildlife experiences we've had. In addition, we can connect with others who love interacting with nature, and we can contribute to citizen science through the NWF's Wildlife Watch program. For more information about the app, which can be used on iPhones and Android smart phones and is also available on Flickr, click here.

Each moment of interaction with wildlife provides opportunity and inspiration to connect more with nature. To make the impacts of the moment last, we need an outlet for our experience, and WildObs offers such a tool.

WildObs may not be the beginning of a beautiful friendship with nature, but it's a great next step.

15 April 2014

Following in Your Paw Prints

That's one small step for wolf, one giant trek for humankind.

Western culture has an odd relationship with the wolf. Often, the closer the two are in proximity, the further apart they seem in understanding. However, a wolf from Oregon has started an adventure that may put wolves and Americans on the same path.

In late 2011, wolf OR-7 left Oregon and became the first of his species to stand within the California border since 1924. The event represented a potential first step toward the permanent return of wolves to the state. Now, a group of people plans to retrace OR-7's trail with the hope of drawing attention to wolf issues and bridging the divide between humans and wolves.

The Wolf OR-7 Expedition, a five-member team of individuals with backgrounds ranging from science to media production, plans to document the territory the wolf passed through on its way to California. In addition, the project seeks to raise awareness of ways humans and wolves can coexist. For more information about the project, click here.

We've got a long way to go before the myths and misgivings we have about wolves disappear, but one wolf in Oregon and the Wolf OR-7 Expedition are showing us the way.

13 April 2014

Going to the Wall

Art imitates death too.

An artist known only as ATM uses graffiti to challenge a system that has brought bird species to the edge of extinction in England. TreeHugger shares some of the artist's work and the story behind it here.

To me, the choice of using graffiti serves to highlight the desperation of the birds' situation. While a painting could have received attention, it likely would not have communicated the full spirit of the problem. ATM's work makes a statement literally on the social structure that threatens the birds, and considering the nature of extinction, anything less would have been insufficient.

The story of ATM and England's declining birds provides a microcosm for the environmental issues we face as a planet. With extinction rates soaring and a climate system saturated by carbon dioxide, it's no longer enough to just paint pictures of what's happening. We have to go further and make fundamental changes to human society. For example, today's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed the need for major, urgent action to address global warming.

Our backs are against the wall, from which ATM's birds stare down at us.

11 April 2014

Food Fight the Power

Ron Finley wants people to grab pitchforks and take a stand for a better, healthier, more equal social system.

Finley may only want the pitchforks for gardening, but his work has every characteristic of a revolution. It's just that this revolution begins with food.

In a recent interview with the Sierra Club, Finley called himself a "gangsta gardener." He helps marginalized communities empower themselves through food. The gardens he works to set up put residents in charge of growing their own produce and provide healthy alternatives to the food that's been most accessible to these communities in the past. To visit Finley's Web site and learn more about his projects, click here.

For Finley, the problems of nutrition and health stem from our social structures and institutions. People around the world have recognized the same issues and looked to Finley's work as a strategy for taking back the power of produce.

Do the right thing now means grow the right thing.

08 April 2014

In the Flow

The Nature Conservancy's latest campaign wades deep into water.

Using an interactive Web site, the organization immerses us in the issues and interconnections that swirl around water. Dubbed "Liquid Courage," the campaign shows the cool possibilities of combining environmental advocacy with social media. Along the way, it reveals the bigger picture about water.

Rather than simply sharing information, the Web site engaged me. It asked me to scroll down to begin the experience. Then, as it provided details about water, the site offered me opportunities to share what I was learning through social media. Additionally, after asking for information about where I live, it made the experience personal and brought the environment home for me by showing where my water comes from. It all progressed more like a conversation than a visit to a Web site.

The Nature Conservancy also uses Liquid Courage to connect our daily activities to water. By showing how much water we use to make things like clothes, the site gives us a sense of the whole system and our constant interaction with the environment. To tap into Liquid Courage for yourself, click here.

It's exciting to see the potential technology adds to current environmental campaigns. Advocates and organizations now have the ability to bring people into issues and connect them with the environment in ways that traditional communication formats never allowed.

Navigating today's environment-related communication is tricky, but environmental groups are jumping right in.

06 April 2014

Big as a Whale

You cannot mistake the feeling of tide-turning moments.

The environmental movement tests patience, hope, and tenacity. We go long periods with little or no change in the system. While small victories have value, a lack of major changes can discourage. However, when something big happens, you know it and realize no other feeling tops it. This week, one of those events occurred.

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling. Despite the moratorium, Japan has continued whaling, claiming it does so for research purposes. Four years ago, Australia took Japan to court over its "scientific" whaling in Antarctic waters. The International Court of Justice ruled last Monday in favor of Australia, declaring that Japan's whaling was not scientific and violated international law.

The moment I heard the news, I knew it was one of those events that change the world in major ways. After years of stonewalling from Japan, the court decision pulled a key pillar from the system that keeps whaling alive. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an organization that dedicates much of its time to ending whaling, also saw the significance of the ruling. Check out what Sea Shepherd had to say: 

The court ruling doesn't end all whaling. In fact, it only applies to Antarctic waters. However, its effects will reach around the world. According to this report from The Guardian, one Japanese online retailer that had been selling whale meat has already ended the practice. Clearly, the tide has turned in favor of the whales.

Environmental victories do happen, and there's no question this one's really, really big.

04 April 2014

Putting Fur in its Place

It's time to trade in the fur trade.

Wearing fur is no longer cool, and it hasn't been necessary for years. With plenty of synthetic options to keep us warm and a social stigma hanging over fur clothing, now's the perfect time to say goodbye to fur forever.

Moving away from fur raises one very important question though: What do we do with the fur clothing that already exists? An effort called Cuddle Coats provides the answer. Cuddle Coats accepts donated fur clothing and passes it on to animal sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers, which use them to help care for animals. For more information on Cuddle Coats, click here.

Of all the places for an animal's fur to be (other than on the animal), Cuddle Coats is probably the best option I have heard. We can both end our use of fur and return it to help animals that actually need fur.

That's a pretty good trade.

02 April 2014

An Idea Comes to Life

My big idea last week was suggesting to some people that they make a video starring plastic bottles.

As odd as that idea might seem, the Sustainability Club at the University of South Dakota (USD) used it to create a cool video raising awareness about proper recycling habits at the university. Check it out below:

Face Your Waste from Vermy Green on Vimeo.

The video addresses a problem the university has had with trash being thrown in recycling bins. Obviously, trash contaminates recycling programs. Another common problem at USD has been people throwing recyclables in the trash, creating unnecessary waste.

The Sustainability Club came up with the plan of putting eyes and arms on plastic bottles that held signs encouraging people to recycle. As a faculty consultant to the club, my suggestion was to introduce the bottle characters through a video. That's pretty much all the credit I can claim though. The club took the idea and ran with it, bringing to life the bottles as well as a renewed emphasis on recycling at the university.

Without a doubt, plastic bottles as stars in recycling initiatives is an idea whose time has come at USD.

01 April 2014

A Reader's Companion

Once upon a time, a cat helped a boy read in exchange for friendship. You'll find this story in the nonfiction section.

In this case, once upon a time is now, and the boy, 10-year-old Sean Rodriguez of Pennsylvania, improves his reading skills by reading to cats at the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Berks County. The cats benefit because the interaction helps socialize them to humans before they are adopted.

If you think the story can't get any better, you're wrong. Kristi Rodriguez, Sean's mother, works for the ARL, and after seeing her son's success, she helped turn the experience into a program called Book Buddies. Now, area children in grades 1-8 can practice reading with cat friends. The animals find much needed companionship, and the children receive the benefit of having an attentive, judgment-free audience. For more information about Book Buddies, click here.

I believe in the powers of reading, pets, and caring, and I also believe we need happy endings that aren't fairytales. Discovering ARL's Book Buddies program pleasantly reminded me that the pure goodness we find in some stories comes from real-world inspiration.

The great thing about heartwarming nonfiction is that we can keep many of those stories going forever.

31 March 2014

Backin' Black

A new photography project asks us to embrace the power of the dark side.

Dogs with black fur tend to have trouble getting adopted. According to this article from The Huffington Post, it's due to "black dog bias." Because of a fear of black dogs, a phobia fostered by stories in books and movies, people shy away from adopting them.

Through the Black Dogs Project, photographer Fred Levy hopes to give black dogs a new image and a better chance of adoption. Levy photographs black dogs, capturing their personalities and raising awareness of the bias that makes them less likely to be adopted. To view his work, click here.

When it comes to perceptions, the power of images cuts both ways. Some images limit our thinking, but others expand it. That's one reason photography is so special.

With his pictures, Levy shows us the light about black dogs.

29 March 2014

The Art of a Child

Some are born to be wild, and as the story of a nine-year-old Oregon boy shows, some are born to protect the wild.

According to this article from The Oregonian, Harper Graham-Nye has turned a passion for animals and a recent trip to Africa into art, a business, and a conservation effort--all before the age of 10. While visiting Africa, he learned about the impacts of poaching and met a wildlife photographer named Julien Polet.

The experiences in Africa combined with what appears to be a natural interest in animals and sparked Graham-Nye's creativity. He used editing software to alter Polet's digital pictures, creating pieces of art. Teaming with Polet, he put the images on T-shirts. The shirts are sold, and half the proceeds go to help stop poaching. To check out Graham-Nye's project, visit his Web site, Happy Tusk.

The things that interest us when we are young tend to influence our career and life choices. Graham-Nye simply has a particular affinity for the environment and a head start in turning that interest into his life's work.

Children might be the future, but this one has created a better present for wildlife.

27 March 2014

It's All So Familiar

My concern about global warming goes back many years, but the issue recently hit home for me in new ways.

Born in Washington, I know about the state's climbing snow lines and how warming helps spread a fungus that poses risks for the region's iconic Douglas fir. Still, seeing the following video from the National Parks Service really impacted me. Watch it below:

Washington's coast has a special place in my heart. To see the signs of change underway feels like watching a friend have trouble.

The film also contains a second powerful aspect, and this one leaves me with a better feeling. As it presents the scientific story of the Washington coast, the film acquaints us with Steven Fradkin, an ecologist whose work allows that story to be told. By doing so, it humanizes science and makes the environment more relatable through Fradkin.

Clearly, to know science, we must really know science.

25 March 2014

Just Popping In

To burst on the scene, occasionally, we must burst the scene.

The idea of repairing our broken items has enjoyed a renaissance lately. In fact, last month, I blogged about an Oregon State University program that helps students learn to repair their stuff. That example took advantage of the resources and setting of a university to introduce students to repair skills.

Sometimes, however, we have to make our own opportunities if we want to raise awareness about an idea. Realizing this, an organization called Pop Up Repair has found a daring way of bringing repair back. The project pops up in temporary locations on the East Coast. While it's in an area, Pop Up Repair fixes broken things people bring in, extending the usefulness of the objects.

The project does more than bring things back to life though. By emerging from a void created by a throwaway culture, Pop Up Repair changed the game. After seeing the popularity of their work, the founders of the project began helping spread the pop-up operation. They provide assistance to those attempting to offer similar services. For more information about this repair revolution, click here.

It's never been more true that if you want something done, do it yourself.

23 March 2014

Wild Inspiration

We need reminders that it's okay not to have everything under control.

In our relationship with nature, we tend to like it only up to the point where our assumed power over it starts to weaken. For example, we kill off wolves in the wild but attempt to keep them as pets, and when we lose control over them as pets, we get rid of them.

A new film, which just won National Geographic's first-annual Wild to Inspire award at the Sun Valley Film Festival, shows some of the impacts our desire for control has. Wolf Mountain tells the story of a woman who cares for wolves that have been raised as pets and turned over by their owners. Because of human efforts to domesticate them, these wolves can never be released into the wild. Check out the film's trailer below:

Wolf Mountain from Dan Duran on Vimeo.

Films sometimes represent our illusions. Wolf Mountain questions our illusion of control over nature. By showing the effects of humans trying to tame wolves, the film suggests just how little control we have. When we attempt to assert power over the wild, the problems we create quickly become too much to handle.

We need inspiration to let the wild be, and it's good to see the Wild to Inspire award recognizing films that provide such a push. The Sun Valley Film Festival already has plans to bring back the award next year, so it will be interesting to see what new visions for our relationship with the environment filmmakers present.

When it comes to control, you can't lose what you never had, so go wild.

22 March 2014

Say Hello to Your Little Friend

Adopting a behavior is the ultimate goal of most campaigns, and it's especially important when adopting is the behavior.

With this in mind, The Humane Society of the United States, Maddie's Fund, and The Ad Council created The Shelter Pet Project. The campaign aims to boost adoption of shelter animals. To achieve this goal, The Shelter Pet Project works to connect shelter animals with people. Check out one of its meet-a-shelter-pet ads below:

The ad introduces a pet (Stetson) and the desired behavior of adopting a shelter animal. Think of it as a relationship that begins through a mutual friend. The campaign Web site provides more opportunities for connection with its interactive features.

After the connection is made, the possibility for adoption increases. In fact, according to the campaign's Web site, adoption of shelter pets has risen since 2009 (when The Shelter Pet Project began) despite a poor economy. To get additional information and interact more with shelter pets, click here.

Oh, and the next time you're looking for a pet, take the next step in your relationship with shelter animals.

21 March 2014

It's Always Sunny in Washington State

If you wanted to put solar panels on a house, would you go to Arizona or Washington state to do it? The answer is Washington, of course.

We find the reasons for this answer not in the two states' natural environments but in their political climates. As this news article reports, last November, a regulatory agency in Arizona approved a proposal to charge people monthly fees for installing solar panels on their roofs. This meant that anyone who installed solar panels after the policy was put in place would have to pay $4.90 per month just to have the panels. This week, the Washington state legislature rejected a similar idea, according to this report.

To understand why people would be charged for having solar panels and why Arizona and Washington have taken different stances on the issue, let's look at two current trends. First, solar panels have become quite cheap compared to their prices when they were first introduced and relative to traditional forms of energy like fossil fuels. With this decrease in price comes greater availability. In fact, as discussed here, Best Buy now sells solar panels. 

The greater availability and lower prices of solar panels have made them a true threat to traditional energy providers. With the panels, people can make their own energy and no longer have to get it from utilities. The energy industry sees what this means for its profits and is using proposals for monthly fees like those approved in Arizona to fight back.

A second trend explains why Washington chose a different path than Arizona. Conservative politicians have adopted a stance that supports traditional industries and fossil fuels and have thrown up roadblocks to alternative energy sources. (Note in the article about Washington state's legislature that the proposed bill resulted from a collaboration between conservative lawmakers and the energy industry.) The monthly fees on solar panel ownership are an attempt to make getting solar energy harder again and prevent a move away from traditional energy sources. Washington state simply has a less conservative political climate, and that has made all the difference.

Thanks to a government that supports alternative energy and better ways of living within the environment, the future for solar power remains bright in Washington.

19 March 2014

Everything and More

We've all had people give us too much information about themselves, but TMI no longer applies when birds are the subject.

My blog entries frequently mention the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds Web site because it provides great information about birds. In fact, after exploring the site, one might think it really has all the bird information ever collected. It turns out, however, that there's more, and the Cornell Lab's latest offering gives us additional insight into the world of birds.

All About Bird Biology, a recently released (they say, "hatched") companion site to All About Birds, focuses on the biological aspects of birds. For example, the first collection of information looks at feathers. The site is interactive and already contains nearly a hundred videos about birds.

Billing (get it?) itself as a resource for birders, teachers, students, and just about anyone curious to learn more about birds, All About Bird Biology moves public knowledge of ornithology up a notch. As someone who once had an entire science fair project dedicated solely to feathers, I love it. To check out the site, click here.

Between All About Birds and All About Bird Biology, we can know birds inside out.

17 March 2014

Strategic Reserves

In Jurassic Park, John Hammond says, "Creation is an act of sheer will." However, when it comes to the creation and maintenance of aquatic reserves, Washington state turns to collective will.

A partnership between the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), environmental groups, Native American tribes, and other residents has produced seven aquatic reserves throughout Washington. Each reserve sets aside state-owned land for preservation and restoration.

The process for establishing these reserves provides a model for strategic public handling of environmental issues. First, an individual or organization proposes a site. DNR evaluates the plan and decides whether to make it a formal proposal. Once DNR submits a formal proposal, the public has the opportunity to comment.

Even the management process employs public participation. After a proposed reserve has been accepted, a management plan is created. Currently, citizen committees manage five of the seven sites. Along with DNR and the tribes, partners in the Aquatic Reserves Program include the Washington Environmental Council, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, and Whidbey Watershed Stewards. For more information about the program, click here.

Collaborations like Washington's Aquatic Reserves Program show the potential of harnessing our collective power to make positive environmental impacts.

15 March 2014

Getting to Know Yew (and Other Trees)

There's a stranger in town. It's tall, quiet, and probably green.

Doesn't that sound like someone you'd like to know more about? Well, if you're in the Emerald City, the Seattle Audubon Society will make the introduction for you. 

Realizing that we often overlook trees and the important role they play in cities, Seattle Audubon has created the Seattle Tree Map. A citizen-science and community-improvement project, Seattle Tree Map lets Seattleites discover and learn about the city's trees. The project also calculates the economic and environmental value of having living trees within the city. Citizens can participate by contributing new or updated information about the trees. To learn more about the project, click here.

We tend not to associate nature with cities, so we miss many opportunities to connect with it. However, the trees are right there, waiting to show us the roadmap for an urban relationship with the environment.

After all, the ecological community doesn't stop at the city limits.