Ancient Trees & Magnetic Field

Radiocarbon from a 42,000-year-old kauri tree in New Zealand helped unravel Earth’s last magnetic upheaval. JONATHAN PALMER

Science magazine is accessible for most lay readers, even if their articles occasionally include a word we have never heard of, such as paleomagnetist:

Ancient kauri trees capture last collapse of Earth’s magnetic field

Several years ago, workers breaking ground for a power plant in New Zealand unearthed a record of a lost time: a 60-ton trunk from a kauri tree, the largest tree species in New Zealand. The tree, which grew 42,000 years ago, was preserved in a bog and its rings spanned 1700 years, capturing a tumultuous time when the world was turned upside down—at least magnetically speaking. Continue reading

Above The Northern Ice

Illustration by The New York Times; photograph by Quince Mountain

One year ago, when I first encountered Blair Braverman, I did not follow through to find out more. It is easy to remember why because it was the last stretch of pre-pandemia, and it was the last time I travelled, and that last portion of February, 2020, remains vividly clear in my memory.

As it happens this morning, exactly one year later, we are getting on an airplane and traveling from Costa Rica to Ithaca, New York where we will spend a few days taking care of some paperwork that is a legal requirement for operating our businesses in Costa Rica. I would not get on an airplane right now if it was not a legal requirement, and while we are taking all possible precautions it would be impossible not to have the obvious concerns. In that context, hearing Blair Braverman talk about her work in an odd way has a calming effect. And given that yesterday I was reading about life under the southern ice, it is fitting today to share some perspective on life above the northern ice. Click the image above or the title below to go to the podcast for a half hour of pure escape.

Lessons on Resilience From Dogs and Dog Sledders

The adventurer Blair Braverman has led a team of sled dogs over a 900-mile race in Alaska, seen her skin dissolve in the desert and overcome Covid-19. What makes it all less terrifying? Accepting the unknown. Continue reading

Ghana, Scaling New Solutions For Plastic Re-Use

An engineer inspects paving blocks made from recycled plastics in a suburb of Accra, Ghana. CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In our Authentica shops we offer some artisanal approaches to plastic re-use, and have been fans of the concept since a visit to Ghana in 2013. But the plastic problem will not be solved this way because the level of re-use it is not at scale with the amount of plastic needing re-use. Thanks to Ann Parson fo showing a new potential demonstrated in Ghana more recently:

How Paving with Plastic Could Make a Dent in the Global Waste Problem

Roads in which waste plastic is melted down and mixed with paving materials are becoming more common around the world. Although for now they remain a niche technology, experts say the roads could become one of a diverse array of uses for discarded plastic.

A road running through Accra, Ghana’s capital, looks like any other blacktop. Continue reading

Remembering Books Not In Libraries

A few years ago, during a work visit in Athens, Amie and I made a last-minute decision to book a flight to Istanbul. We had both long wanted to visit, the flight was inexpensive, and we had a few days to spare. A primary impetus for the visit was to experience this museum. My memory of Istanbul is mainly my memory of the museum. And it is one of my strongest travel memories in a life full of travel. Reading about this “club” I realized there are more shrines for bibliophiles than I had imagined:

The Grolier Club: Celebrating the Art & History of the Book Since 1884

Founded in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. Named for Jean Grolier (1489 or 90-1565), the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library with friends, the Club’s objective is to promote “the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.” Through the concerted efforts of an international network of over eight hundred men and women—book and print collectors, antiquarian book dealers, librarians, designers, fine printers, binders, and other artisans—the Grolier Club pursues this mission through its library, its public exhibitions and lectures, and its long and distinguished series of publications.

The story of America can be told through the story of its periodicals. Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

And the only reason it came to my attention was thanks to Nathan Heller, whose subject likens magazines over earlier centuries to the social media of today in his cultural comment essay What Are Magazines Good For? Tickets to New York are inexpensive, which makes a visit tempting for this one reason, but it will have to wait:

…“The best way to think about magazines is as the analog Internet—they’d foster communities of people, just like on social networks,” Steven Lomazow, a seventy-three-year-old New Jersey neurologist who created the exhibition from his personal collection of more than eighty-three thousand magazine issues, said the other day. Continue reading

McKibben Reviews Gates

I am sure that the New York Times has made available, but I cannot find it, an explanation for when they link out to Amazon (e.g. on a podcast interview with an author promoting a recently published book) and when they do not (e.g. in a traditional book review). Our thanks to Bill McKibben for taking the time to review this book:

How Does Bill Gates Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis?

HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER
The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need
By Bill Gates

First things first — much respect to Bill Gates for his membership in the select club of ultrabillionaires not actively attempting to flee Earth and colonize Mars. Continue reading

Human Intervention, Hold The Judgement

A burrowing bettong, also known as the boodie, in the Australian Outback. COURTESY OF AWC

I have not acquired the book yet, but I have heard her discuss it and read an interview with her about it; the author has moved from reporting on extinction and climate phenomena to reporting on human intervention schemes that respond to those phenomena. The stories as told in the article below adhere to a claim Kolbert makes in her discussion with Ezra Klein, that as a journalist she is not in the judgement business:

Assisting Evolution: How Far Should We Go to Help Species Adapt?

An Australian project to help threatened marsupial species adapt to avoid predatory cats is among a host of ‘assisted evolution’ efforts based on the premise that it is no longer enough to protect species from change: Humans are going to have intervene to help them change.

Dry Season Here; Massive Tree-Planting There

We got as many trees in the ground as we could during 2020, and since it has been dry season for a couple months now we are mostly in maintenance mode. The most pleasure to be had during these months is seeing how the wildlife on our small plot of land changes. For example, the creature above, which I saw yesterday. I believe it is a Drab Tree Frog, but if you have a different opinion please let me know. Tomorrow we begin coffee germination, take two–and I will post on that. Meanwhile, thanks to the Guardian’s coverage of the environment, we have this news:

Volunteers helping on project for Woodland Trust, which sent out a million trees last year. Photograph: Philip Formby/PA

Digging in: a million trees planted as villages and schools join climate battle

Community forest projects have seen a surge in volunteers keen to reduce CO2 emissions by creating new woodlands

According to the Horticultural Trades Association, garden centre sales of hardy plants, shrubs and trees have soared. Photograph: Alamy

The UK may be in the grip of a winter lockdown but in one village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales the local climate-change group has been busy.

Plans are afoot to plant hundreds of trees on land surrounding Newton-le-Willows, in lower Wensleydale, in an effort to tackle the climate crisis. According to scientists, planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Continue reading

Alternatives To Amazon For Buying Books

Every time I listen to or read an interview with an author who has recently published a book, and want to get a closer look at the book itself, I click the link provided. Nearly 100% of the time the link goes to Amazon. Not good. When I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Kolbert on a podcast I respect, that is what happened. Frustrated by that link, I looked for alternatives to Amazon for buying this book, and found plenty.  For example, thanks to Powell’s Books for making the discussion about this book available in the online event above.

One option is Bookshop.org, which came to my attention while trying to find an interview with Kolbert about her new book that did not link to Amazon.  It took some effort, after finding the Powell’s links, but thankfully I found an interview given a couple days ago to Audubon for their review of Kolbert’s book. None of our many earlier links to Kolbert stories have featured an image of the author, so I will share here the one that accompanies the Audubon piece. In the middle of the interview there is this exchange:

Elizabeth Kolbert at the ​American Museum of Natural His​tory in New York. Photo: Suzanne DeChillo/Th​e New York Times/ReduxI have seen plenty of images of her, but this may be the only one in which she is smiling.

A: We’re, of course, doing this interview for Audubon, which focuses a lot on species conservation. Much of the work that people do to save various species—and there are so many examples of this in your book—involves altering previous ways that we’ve altered the natural world. How do you suggest that people who care about species protection think about efforts like these?

K: Well, that’s a really profound question, and to be honest that is the question at the center of the book. One of the points is, what do we think of as conservation, right? Continue reading

Reform School For Cats

The study also found that bells on collars made no difference to the number of animals killed by a cat. Photograph: GluePromsiri/Getty/iStockphoto

I am a cat person by nature. I have lost count of how many cats I had as pets since early childhood and well into adulthood, but I do remember our last two cats from three decades ago. Boris, a black cat with a tip of white on his tail, learned to jump up into my cradled arms if I stood in front of him and made a certain noise. His sister Mimi was named for the plaintive mi-mi cry she made when she climbed up onto the bathroom sink and rubbed her mouth against the faucet head, wanting us to turn the water on to drip out so she could drink. They lived long lives as indoor cats who did no harm to anyone or anything (that we knew of).  But when we learned how many birds, among other wildlife, that cats kill per year we decided not to adopt any more cats; we switched to dogs. Now, all these years later, I am happy to see there is hope for reformed cat behavior:

Meaty meals and play stop cats killing wildlife, study finds

Millions of pet cats are estimated to kill billions of animals a year but grain-free food can change cat behaviour

Feeding pet cats meaty food and playing with them to simulate hunting stops them killing wildlife, according to a study. Continue reading

Butterflies, Challenges & Hope

Monarchs in the early morning. They hibernate from November until the beginning of March. With warmer temperatures, they become sexually mature, mate, and begin their northerly migration.

Just for the beauty of the photographs, this is worth a visit. But there is also an audio accompaniment, allowing you to hear the butterflies. The story of the challenge their habitat faces is, like so many other stories we encounter, painful to read. But there is hope as well:

SAVING THE BUTTERFLY FOREST

Environmental destruction and violence threaten one of the world’s most extraordinary insect migrations.

Marciano Solis Sacarias,
a landowner, working at
Las Novias del Sol,
a tree-nursery coöperative.

Every November, around the Day of the Dead, millions of monarch butterflies descend on a forest of oyamel firs in the mountains of central Mexico. The butterflies have never seen the forest before, but they know—perhaps through an inner compass—that this is where they belong. They leave Canada and the northeastern United States in late summer and fly for two months, as far as three thousand miles south and west across the continent. The journey is the most evolutionarily advanced migration of any known butterfly, perhaps of any known insect. Continue reading

Yaak Valley’s Fate, To Be Determined

The Biden Administration’s next few weeks may decide the fate of the remote Yaak Valley, on Montana’s Canadian border. Photograph by John Lambing / Alamy

Bill McKibben’s weekly newsletter, as usual, has gems worthy of attention, and the fate of the Yaak Valley qualifies:

The blizzard of federal climate initiatives last week (a blizzard that might help allow actual blizzards to persist into the future) is without precedent. For the first time in the thirty-plus years of our awareness of the climate crisis, Washington roused itself to urgent action; veterans of the cautious Obama Administration—the domestic climate adviser Gina McCarthy and the global climate czar John Kerry chief among them—were suddenly going for broke. In fact, only one branch of the Cabinet seemed conspicuous by its muted presence: the Department of Agriculture, which has responsibility for the nation’s farms and for many of its forests—that is, for the natural features that will either speed or slow the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. Continue reading

The Dasgupta Review, An Important Milestone In Quantifying The Value Of Nature

Hats off to the UK for commissioning the study, and to Professor Dasgupta for completing it. Sometimes a profession, like economics, takes time to catch up with the real world. Better late than never, like the guide to investing in nature, we are happy to see academia putting rigor into the analysis of how valuable nature is. Seemed obvious, even without these new studies, but this is what it takes to counter the disinformation promoted by extraction-intensive industries and their investors:

The Dasgupta Review is an independent, global review on the Economics of Biodiversity led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta (Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge). The Review was commissioned in 2019 by HM Treasury and has been supported by an Advisory Panel drawn from public policy, science, economics, finance and business. Continue reading

Geographic Information Systems, Tool For Conservation

Burhans realized that the Church had lost track of its vast landholdings. Photograph by Isabel Magowan for The New Yorker

When I was a doctoral student I was introduced to geographic information systems. I became interested in how this tool might be of use in the hospitality industry. By the time I co-authored a second article about this, I already had my dissertation research focused on an entirely different topic, and I also had a job offer in Costa Rica to put that research to use. So, my GIS fascination was short-lived. But it was revived in the last couple of years as Seth focused his graduate school education on how to use this tool for land stewardship and natural resource management. So, reading this article by David Owens was a delight on multiple fronts. Foremost is the knowledge that the tool I found useful for business purposes has an equally powerful use for conservation:

How a Young Activist Is Helping Pope Francis Battle Climate Change

Molly Burhans wants the Catholic Church to put its assets—which include farms, forests, oil wells, and millions of acres of land—to better use. But, first, she has to map them.

The role of the cartographer, according to Molly Burhans, is not just data analytics. “It’s also storytelling,” she said. Photograph by Isabel Magowan for The New Yorker

In the summer of 2016, Molly Burhans, a twenty-six-year-old cartographer and environmentalist from Connecticut, spoke at a Catholic conference in Nairobi, and she took advantage of her modest travel stipend to book her return trip through Rome. When she arrived, she got a room in the cheapest youth hostel she could find, and began sending e-mails to Vatican officials, asking if they’d be willing to meet with her. She wanted to discuss a project she’d been working on for months: documenting the global landholdings of the Catholic Church. To her surprise, she received an appointment in the office of the Secretariat of State.

On the day of the meeting, she couldn’t find the entrance that she’d been told to use. She hadn’t bought a sim card for her phone, so she couldn’t call for help, and, in a panic, she ran almost all the way around Vatican City. The day was hot, and she was sweating. At last, she spotted a monk, and she asked him for directions. He gave her a funny look: the entrance was a few steps away. A pair of Swiss Guards, in their blue, red, and yellow striped uniforms, led her to an elevator. She took it to the third loggia of the Apostolic Palace, and walked down a long marble hallway. On the wall to her right were windows draped with gauzy curtains; to her left were enormous fresco maps, commissioned in the early sixteenth century, depicting the world as it was known then. Continue reading

Hedgerow Versus Berm, Win-Win

Phoebe Weston is back in our pages with a story about the importance of a seemingly prosaic part of the old UK landscape–hedgerows.

Young dormice photographed by ecologist Rob Wolton during a two-year study of his hedge in Devon. Photograph: Robert Wolton

She covers their prospective role in meeting net-zero targets and the video above is an excellent primer on that. The details in her article below about Rob Wolton’s investigation of his own hedgerow is fascinating.  I am interested in the topic as much for the biodiversity implications as I consider whether my berms should all remain berms, or if some portion should become hedgerow:

‘Reservoirs of life’: how hedgerows can help the UK reach net zero in 2050

They store carbon and are havens for wildlife – it’s no wonder experts are calling for Britain’s hedge network to be extended

A dunnock’s nest containing eggs in Rob Wolton’s hedge. Thrush and bullfinch also made their homes in the hedgerow. Photograph: Robert Wolton

One New Year’s Day, ecologist Rob Wolton came up with an unusual resolution – to spend the next 12 months studying a hedge 40 metres from his house in the middle of Devon. He wanted to make a list of every plant, animal and fungus that used it. Why? Because a wildlife-enthusiast friend challenged him to do it during a long car journey.

“I thought it would take a year, but at the end of the first one Continue reading

Waking Up 30 Years & Billions Of Tons Of Carbon Dioxide Behind Schedule

Elizabeth Kolbert rarely, if ever, could be faulted for sugar coating anything, but here she is lauding the simple act of the government of the USA talking about climate change again:

A New Day for the Climate

It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden’s sweeping climate directives can make a meaningful difference, but a critical threshold has been crossed.

Illustration by João Fazenda

Nine years ago, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse had a sign made up that showed a photograph of the Earth as seen from space. “time to wake up,” it urged, in large, unevenly spaced letters. Every week that the Senate was in session, Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, would tote the sign to the chamber, set it on an easel, and, before a hundred chairs—most of them empty—deliver a speech. Though the details changed, the subject of the speech remained the same. Continue reading

Migration Corridors & Conservation Priorities

Approximately 80 percent of all Lawrence’s goldfinches migrate through California’s Central Valley every spring. ALAN SCHMIERER/FLICKR

Thanks to Yale e360 for this note:

Tens of Millions of Birds Pass Through Just Two Western U.S. Corridors

California’s Central Valley and the Colorado River Delta host more than 82 million birds every year during the spring migration, according to a new study published in the journal Ornithological Applications. Continue reading

The Little Book of Investing in Nature

A pdf version of The Little Book of Investing in Nature is available and the case for why this might be of value to you is in the book’s forward section:

How does this book help? As the impacts of human activity on the natural world have become increasingly clear in recent years, alongside human dependences on a healthy environment, the conversation has shifted from “Should we save nature?” to “How do we pay for it?”. Few in government or business today doubt the inherent value of nature or the importance of managing it sustainably. The interest in halting the loss of biodiversity is enormous and is coming from unexpected quarters. Continue reading

Snowy Owl In Central Park, Our Kind Of News

A snowy owl in Central Park drew flocks of people (and crows) on Wednesday. Maryté Mercado

If you tend bird-nerdy, you will want to read this. To state the obvious (if you visit here regularly), we live for this kind of news:

Snowy Owl Is Spotted in Central Park, for First Time in 130 Years

The hordes came running and the snow-white raptor became the latest celebrity bird of Manhattan.

In the winter of 1890, a snowy owl was spotted in New York City’s Central Park, part of what a contemporary account called an “unusual abundance” along the East Coast of the large, strikingly beautiful predators that make their home in the Arctic tundra. Continue reading

Kenya’s Rangelands, An Ecologist, & Television Attention

In Kenya, those animals which poachers and cattle-herders have not killed off are being wiped out by new roads, power lines, mushrooming towns, and overgrazed, shrinking rangelands. Photograph by Khadija Farah for The New Yorker

Thanks to Jon Lee Anderson, whose Latin America stories’ gravity have compelled our attention in the past, for this story from another part of the world he once called home:

A Kenyan Ecologist’s Crusade to Save Her Country’s Wildlife

To get her fellow-citizens to care about threatened animals, Paula Kahumbu became a TV star.

Seventy miles southwest of Nairobi, the Loita Hills climb toward the sky from the red stone cleft of the Great Rift Valley. Situated beside the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara, the Loitas provide a vital watershed for migratory animals on the plains below. Forest pigs, bushbuck, black-and-white colobus monkeys, leopards, and Cape buffalo find refuge there, along with elephants that come to graze when the plains are dry. The Loita forest, one of Kenya’s last surviving stands of old-growth cedar, is sacred to the Maasai people, who call it Naimina Enkiyio—the Forest of the Lost Child, after the legend of a girl who followed wayward calves into the trees and never returned. Some twenty-five thousand Maasai live in settlements scattered through the lower valleys, where they herd goats and cows in sweeping meadows reminiscent of the Rocky Mountain foothills. The Loitas, rich in medicinal herbs and plants, are an irreplaceable resource for the laibon, the spiritual leaders of the Maasai. Continue reading

Decades, Fruits & Labor

In mid-June the first personal reflections of our interns–the original purpose of this site being an opportunity for 20-somethings to reflect on conservation-related work in countries other than their own–will be 10 years old. Seth still contributes when his schedule allows. Michael does not, but one of his posts is the one I share most often with prospective interns as a benchmark for writing about their work experiences. To my eye, the early posts have aged well. We had one not-yet 20-something also contributing at that time; his writing at 17 (and his photography) matches the extraordinary experiences he was having.

The fruit in the image above is from trees planted 10 years prior to our starting to post on this platform, and so the fruits of our labor planting citrus 20 years ago gives me a few hundred reasons to be grateful. This is the fourth and final wheel barrow full of various types of oranges and limes, and in addition to drinking plenty of juice in the last month I am freezing many gallons for the remaining summer months.