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.