27 February 2014

More Than Fair

Old things and a forgotten idea find new life at Oregon State University.

Twice each term, OSU holds a repair fair, giving students the opportunity to learn ways of repairing various items. Offered by the university's Waste Watchers group, the repair demonstrations change each term and range from electronics and appliances to clothing and jewelry.

In society today, throwing things away has become the default reaction when they wear out or fail to work, but not so long ago, we fixed them. Doing so cut down on waste and lowered the need for more production. OSU's repair fairs bring this practice back and give students the skills to keep it going for the rest of their lives. To learn more about OSU's repair fairs, click here.

Learning to repair things certainly helps the environment, but it has other great benefits. First, a person who fixes something becomes empowered by an understanding of it. In other words, that person isn't simply subject to the laws of consumerism. Second, fixing something often gives a person greater ownership and appreciation of it.

Perhaps the biggest repair that results from learning to fix things is the mending of the relationship we have with our possessions.

25 February 2014

The Last Strike

When we put a wild animal on display, we take more from nature than a single creature.

Life in the wild may be wild, but it's also life, and captivity steals it away. As we have seen with films like The Cove and Blackfish, removing an animal from its natural habitat causes immediate damages and thrusts it into an environment that cannot sustain it in the long run. While those films focus on whales and dolphins, a recent report from National Public Radio teaches us that the effects of captivity touch even animals we might not have thought susceptible.

The story tells of an giant isopod removed from the wild in the waters off Baja California and sent to live in the Toba Aquarium in Japan. After more than a year in this human-constructed environment, the isopod began refusing food in 2009. Its refusal to eat, which NPR characterizes as a hunger strike, continued until two weeks ago. On February 14, 2014, aquarium personnel found the isopod dead in its tank.

Only recently have we awakened to the full cost of keeping wild animals within human enclosures, and the story of this isopod forces us to think about the issue on a much larger scale. Places like zoos can serve an important function for species on the brink of extinction, but we have to ask what else we might be extinguishing when we bring species into captivity. The cost may be worth preventing species from disappearing forever, but for most other reasons, the loss of freedom for animals simply doesn't add up.

If you love something wild, keep it free.

23 February 2014

A Birder's First Flight

Imagine stepping to the edge of the nest and taking an initial flight into the wider world of birds.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers such an opportunity to high-school-age bird-watchers each year. With its Young Birders Event, the lab gives fledgling birders a full experience of ornithology and provides important networking possibilities for students looking to build a career studying birds. See a video from last year's event below:

This year's event takes places July 10-13 in Ithaca, New York. The competitive application process remains open until March 15. For more information, click here.

The early birder gets the career in ornithology.

21 February 2014

First on the Scene

Initial reports suggest a new age has come for journalism.

Through the National Wildlife Federation's Young Reporters for the Environment competition, youth 13-21 years old have an opportunity to contribute to environmental journalism and win awards for doing so. Submission categories include writing, photography, and video.

Each entry must feature a local environmental issue and show its links to global environmentalism. Additionally, the competition emphasizes a search for solutions to environmental problems. The deadline for submitting an entry is March 15. For more information about the competition, click here.

By encouraging young people to participate in environmental journalism and draw connections between local and global concerns, Young Reporters for the Environment lays the groundwork for a new approach to reporting about the environment. We'll need such an approach as we work to respond to growing environmental problems.

And that's the way it will be.

19 February 2014

My Kind of Magic

With the "happiest place on Earth" just down the street, I went the other way.

I attended a conference in Anaheim, California, last weekend. The conference hotel sat only a block from Disneyland, and conference attendees received a special rate to visit the theme park; so of course, I headed in the opposite direction.

One of the events connected with the conference was a tour of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve at Huntington Beach, and that's where I went. The reserve protects Bolsa Chica's remaining wetlands from the development that has crept up to its doorstep.

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy works to restore the wetlands and educate the public about their features and importance. Last Saturday, I was one of the conservancy's students. Phil Smith, a member of the conservancy and an expert on the wetlands, walked the group I was in through the reserve, telling the area's story and explaining its biology.

We took in the smells of the ocean, watched for California ground squirrels, and saw plenty of birds. The birding highlights included Anna's hummingbirds, great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, and some very large turkey vultures. With rows of houses in the distance, the experience was a testament to how special the work of preservation groups like the Bolsa Chica Conservancy is. To learn more about the organization and the wetlands it protects, click here.

All in all, the tour was a perfect way to ease into the conference. I'll always treasure my decision to trade the "magic" of a cartoon mouse for the wonders of wetlands.

16 February 2014

The Non-conquering Hero

She had the world in her hands and set it free.

Sports and power go hand in hand. In most sports, athletes struggle to assert their power over each other. The most successful athletes also tend to achieve social power and standing beyond the arena or the field of play. Fans revere them and see them as models for how to live. Some athletes become influential in politics.

Finland recently attempted to give an Olympic medalist power over nature, but her response turned the power structure on its head. According to this story from Finnish news outlet Yle, snowboarding silver medalist Enni Rukajärvi was offered land for a house as a reward for her success. She declined and said she asked only for "pure nature."

It's not completely clear what Rukajärvi's request includes, but her revision of tradition certainly calls into question the hierarchy that encourages the development of nature for human consumption. With it, she has placed greater value on the natural world than on humans' long-asserted privilege to control and manage the environment.

Nature has a special power, and thanks to a Finnish snowboarder, there's a place in the world where that power will remain.

14 February 2014

Opening New Doors

We consider necessity the mother of invention, but inspiration shares some of the parenting.

Few species inspire us more than wolves. Their size, intelligence, formidable appearance, and family structure all touch us deeply. They've also inspired fear and hatred, two reactions that have created some seemingly intractable public debates.

Despite the attention disagreements about wolves receive, recent trends suggest that our deep fascination with wolves may move us toward new solutions that foster coexistence. Last September, I blogged about Conservation Northwest's range rider program. That exciting approach to living with wolves has shown great promise in Washington state. Now, NPR reports on other options for coexisting, and the writer uses some innovative ways of telling the story.

The NPR article addresses conflicts over wolves, but it emerges from them with some great ideas. In addition, the report's incorporation of sound, graphics, and interaction with the reader shows the potential of innovations in journalism. The extra features provide a deeper connection with wolves, the world they inhabit, and the debate around them.

I can't think of anything more inspiring than a strong relationship with the environment.

12 February 2014

Sounds Like Love

The next time your phone rings, it might be a mating call.

To celebrate Valentine's Day, the Center for Biological Diversity offers free downloads of Love Calls of the Wild, a ringtone collection made from animals' social and mating calls. Watch the video below to see some of the available sounds:

In addition to providing an unusual way of knowing that you have a call, the ringtones can help draw attention to endangered wildlife. Love Calls of the Wild is part of the Center for Biological Diversity's Rare Earthtones ringtone collection, which features endangered and threatened species. Because of their unique sound, the ringtones can serve as conversation starters about struggling species and habitat loss. To learn more about the ringtones, click here.

Hear that whale singing? It's for you.

10 February 2014

A Fish in the Crowd

For once, it's okay to go with the crowd.

Crowdsourcing uses large, public groups to supply information that organizations have typically had to produce on their own or purchase. Citizen science is one form of crowdsourcing, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently introduced a new effort to utilize this resource.

Freshwater Fish BioBlitz, which the WWF describes here, generates scientific data about freshwater fish species through photographs uploaded by everyday citizens. The images help scientists track species and analyze habitat quality. To contribute to the project, click here.

With Freshwater Fish BioBlitz, you don't have to jump off the bridge to be like everyone else. All you have to do is take a picture if you see a fish while you're there.

08 February 2014

Whistle for Wildlife

Don't keep this a secret.

Wildlife crimes have a huge impact on animals and the environment, and poaching of many species, including rhinos and elephants, is on the rise, helping drive up extinction rates.

Fortunately, blowing the whistle on wildlife crimes just became easier. The Elephant Action League has launched WildLeaks, an online platform where people can go to make anonymous reports about the poaching or trafficking of animals and timber. A team of investigative reporters and former law enforcement agents then evaluates the tips and decides on a course of action.

Danger surrounds the world of poaching, and safely providing information about it must often be done from the shadows. WildLeaks provides a channel with such protection. For more information about the program, click here.

The information submitted on WildLeaks might be anonymous, but the site itself deserves some attention.

06 February 2014

It's Only Natural

In the advertising world, it's not easy to be green, but it sure is easy to say you are.

With more customers wanting to buy healthy and environmentally friendly products, companies have predictably tried to cash in on this movement. They have attempted to market just about everything as green, and one of their favorite words to use is natural. The reason for this choice is that natural is not regulated like the word organic. Organic products have to meet standards to receive official certification, but natural can be used on anything. Check out this video spoofing advertising for "natural" products:

The video is a great example of using communication to challenge rhetoric that obscures the truth. A product's claim to be "natural" doesn't mean anything. If you want healthy products that are free of added chemicals, and you're in the United States, look for a label that says the products are USDA-certified organic.

"Natural" and organic aren't the only environment-related labels out there, so additional efforts have been made to inform consumers about the real meaning of the environmental claims and labels they see. The Natural Resource Defense Council's Smarter Living initiative rates various labels, including "Bird Friendly" and "Fair Trade Certified," for their environmental virtue. To view it, click here.

Remember, all that's natural is not green.

04 February 2014

No Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My

The view from the top looks rather grim.

Environment News Service (ENS) recently reported on an international study, which was led by researchers from Oregon State University, that showed major declines of large carnivores around the world. The population decreases go hand in hand with habitat losses.

Thinking about the possible extinction of these species, many of which are charismatic in their ability to capture human interest in the environment, is disheartening enough on its own. However, the bigger picture tells an even bleaker story. As the ENS article notes, these top predators are critical to the ecosystems they inhabit. Losing them would have wide impacts.

A large carnivore may be a formidable sight, but not seeing them at all would be infinitely more frightening.

02 February 2014

Bee Mine

This Valentine's Day, show someone sweet how much you care, and by "someone," I mean bees.

Pesticides have had a devastating impact on bee populations. In response, Friends of the Earth is asking people to show bees some love on February 14 by taking a special valentine to Home Depot and/or Lowe's stores. The card calls on the companies to stop selling pesticides that kill bees.

To get a card and further instructions from Friends of the Earth, sign up here. Then, on Valentine's Day, make your move.

Love isn't all we need. We need bees too.