Acts Of Kindness, Random & Otherwise

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Recent research has explored “helping” behavior in species ranging from nonhuman primates to rats and bats. To see whether intelligent birds might help out a feathered pal, scientists did an experiment using African grey parrots like these. Henry Lok/EyeEm/Getty Images

Thanks to Nell Greenfieldboyce, science correspondent at National Public Radio (USA), for summarizing findings about how some animals help one another. We are on the lookout for more stories of how, why, when acts of kindness happen, and if we need to turn to parrots for inspiration, no problem:

Polly Share A Cracker? Parrots Can Practice Acts Of Kindness, Study Finds

Parrots can perform impressive feats of intelligence, and a new study suggests that some of these “feathered apes” may also practice acts of kindness.

African grey parrots voluntarily helped a partner get a food reward by giving the other bird a valuable metal token that could be exchanged for a walnut, according to a newly published report in the journal Current Biology. Continue reading

Accentuating the Positive

It benefits all to highlight the “non-rocket science” solutions to hugely global issues wherever we find them.

All It Took To Clean Up This Beach Was A Fish Sculpture Named Goby

As some rumors swirl around the internet that there will be more plastic than fish by 2050, there are also some great stories about local recycling, like this one about Goby the fish.

This local beach decided to do something simple, instead of placing a ton of boring old garbage cans around the beach, they made a giant see through fish out of some barbed wire and mesh, and added a sign to it that said, “Goby loves plastic, please feed him”. Continue reading

Books In Need, People To The Rescue

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Hundreds of volunteers formed a human chain to help move October Books to its new location in Southampton, England. Credit October Books

It is probably not accurate to say books are in need. People are in need of books. And people who have been enlightened, educated, even saved by books are the kind of people we might expect to believe that the repositories of books, libraries and bookstores for example, need all the help we can give them. In the spirit of yesterday’s post, another today related to books and volunteers and the generosity of bookish people:

A Store Had to Move Thousands of Books. So a Human Chain Was Formed.

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“We wanted something that was accessible for the whole family, for children and people who were older who wouldn’t necessarily be able to paint or move heavy pieces, to help out,” a member of the October Books collective said.

LONDON — The plea went out a few weeks ago from the bookstore in a port city in southern England: “Care to lend a hand?”

Volunteers were needed for “heavy manual work” in shifts. It was “essential” that they be able to lift and carry boxes and office supplies.

Among the supplies: thousands upon thousands of books.

The appeal from October Books, a nonprofit that began 40 years ago as a “radical” bookshop, came after a rent increase forced it from its old home in Southampton, Jess Haynes, a member of the collective and one of the few paid employees, said on Wednesday.

The shop was looking to move lock, stock and barrel about 150 meters (just under 500 feet) to a three-story building that used to house a bank. Would anybody respond to the call for help? Continue reading

Counting Illegal Logging As Progress

Amid the Plunder of Forests, a Ray of Hope

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A sawmill in Peru, where more than half of the logging operations are illegal. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Strange as it may sound, we have arrived at a moment of hope for the world’s forests. It is, admittedly, hope of a jaded variety: After decades of hand-wringing about rampant destruction of forests almost everywhere, investigators have recently demonstrated in extraordinary detail that much of this logging is blatantly illegal.

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Mar-a-Lago, Entrance to Master Suite from Cloister, 1967,
United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs

This recent op-ed has a perfect final thought, and the photo here to the left is our way of offering a preview to that point. Richard Conniff, the op-editorialist, has frequently been featured in our pages, linking this type of story. You might also click the green cover below to go to one example of how this progress has been years in the making), but read this editorial all the way through before being distracted by the side stories, though they are equally relevant and important. Conniff continues:

Honduras Logging

And surprisingly, people actually seem to be doing something about it. In November, the European Court of Justice put Poland under threat of a 100,000-euro-per-day fine for illegal logging in the continent’s oldest forest, and early this month Poland’s prime minister fired the environment minister who authorized the logging.

In Romania, two big do-it-yourself retail chains ended purchasing agreements with an Austrian logging giant implicated in illegal logging there. And in this country, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, normally dedicated to free trade at any cost, has barred a major exporter of Peruvian timber from the American market after repeated episodes of illegal shipments. Continue reading

Model Mad, Mayor

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Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor, said she was “convinced that together, cities, businesses and citizens will save the planet. Their alliance is critical.” Credit Scout Tufankjian/C40

We started this model mad series of links to share stories of people, and of public institutions, and of private enterprises among others finding creative outlets for expressing resistance to powerful interests determined to undermine environmental responsibility. This governor was a favorite among our readers, so we expect this mayor will join the upper ranks of appreciation:

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, is also chairwoman of C40, a network of the world’s biggest cities committed to addressing climate change. As mayor, despite strong opposition, she has closed parts of the city — including along the bank of the Seine River — to traffic. Recently, I asked Ms. Hidalgo about her interest in environmental issues and why women are important to the solutions. Continue reading

Librarian’s Librarian

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The Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, believes in citizens’ right to access information. “It should feel very special because it is very special,” she said, of the Library. “But it should be very familiar.” ILLUSTRATION BY BEN KIRCHNER; PHOTOGRAPH BY LEXEY SWALL / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX

It has been too long since our last shout out, among dozens starting in 2011, to libraries and librarians, so we are thankful for this opportunity with a brief excerpt from the middle of this post on the New Yorker website:

THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS AND THE GREATNESS OF HUMILITY

The values of Dr. Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first person of color in the position, can be seen in every aspect of the institution she runs.

…Mention her name to a New York Public Library staffer, and there’s a frisson of excitement; at her raucous and bustling sendoff in Baltimore, a high-school librarian, quoted in the Washington Post, called her a “rock star.”…

Rainforest Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Network

Among the farms that the Rainforest Alliance certifies are those that produce bananas, coffee, tea, pineapples, cocoa, flowers and palm oil. Photo by Flickr user Sally Crossthwaite

The Rainforest Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Network have been doing good work, mostly in developing countries, for over twenty years to improve agricultural practices and protect natural forests. The two groups published an Impacts Report not long ago that reviews their progress, and two executives wrote an article summarizing those impacts on GreenBiz.com:

Independent, third-party certification has grown phenomenally since 1993, when the Rainforest Alliance certified the first banana plantation to meet Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards.

The standards prohibit conversion of forests or other natural ecosystems to cropland, protect workers and wildlife, regulate the use of chemicals and other farming practices. Today they cover more than a million farmers on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, most of them smallholders, cultivating 100 crops on a total of 7.4 million acres (about the size of Switzerland) across 42 countries.

Continue reading

Dear Citizens Of Malta, Please Embrace The Ban

Activists say hunters use the currently legitimate spring season for hunting quails (above) to illegally hunt other birds. Photograph: Natalino Fenech

Activists say hunters use the currently legitimate spring season for hunting quails (above) to illegally hunt other birds. Photograph: Natalino Fenech

We have noted previously the odd (to us) behaviors that can be easily interpreted (not only by us) as abominable treatment of birds. It is not only a regional thing in the Mediterranean, this incomprehensible desire to decimate bird populations. From the Guardian, this news on the efforts of a dedicated group of activists:

Vote could see the spring hunting of birds such as quail and turtle doves, which is outlawed in the rest of the EU, banned in Malta

in Malta

Fiona Burrows is the kind of activist that hunters in Malta love to hate.

The Nottingham 30-year-old has been threatened, cursed at, and pushed around while doing the job she says she lives for: stealthily filming the illegal hunting of protected migratory birds and reporting perpetrators to the police.

Burrows takes precautions – she always parks her car facing an exit route and has even bought wigs to avoid detection by hunters – but she thinks these are probably not enough.

“Something bad is going to happen to me sooner or later,” she says. “It’s inevitable.” Continue reading

Transformative Practices For A Better World

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Students use tablets in a classroom in Mae Chan, a remote town in Thailand’s northern province. Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

Scanning the developing world, anywhere that poverty puts lives at risk, it is useful to have a short list of particularly transformative practices as in this four minute story podcast from National Public Radio (USA):

There are so many projects in global health that sometimes it’s hard to figure out which ones are the most important.

So Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory set out to list the 50 breakthroughs that would most transform the lives of the poor, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Shashi Buluswar, an author of the study, spoke with Morning Edition‘s Renee Montagne. Here’s a sampling:

A low cost, fuel-free way to desalinate water. Many people in the world do not have enough fresh water to grow crops, and more and more fresh water runs off into oceans. Desalination creates usable water out of salty or brackish sources. “Right now it’s tremendously energy intensive and expensive,” Buluswar tells Montagne, “so trying to come up with a much more affordable, scalable and energy-efficient way of desalinating water would be tremendous.” Continue reading

New App for Borrowing/Lending Things

You can find apps for everything nowadays, and some of them are really creatively useful or simply entertaining. We’ve seen an app for typing in various indigenous languages from North America and Australia, some environmentally-focused games, the potential for a prairie dog translator app, and an application to help monitor the plants in your garden. Now we’re learning about a new company that has an app to help coordinate loans of tools or other things among neighbors. Named Peerby, this social platform came to life in the Netherlands, and seems like a great idea to promote friendly and community-building interactions while also reducing consumption. Eleanor Beardsley reports for NPR’s All Tech Considered:

Millions of people use websites and apps like Airbnb to share their homes and Uber to transport people in their cars. A new company allows people to share things like power drills and bicycle pumps by connecting people who need them to people who have them.

It isn’t surprising that the idea for the borrowing platform Peerby originated in one of the world’s most densely populated countries — The Netherlands.

Continue reading

Crowd-sourcing Hacker Help On Behalf Of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History

Thanks to the Atlantic‘s coverage of the topics we care about, as always:

On a Friday night in New York City you can find just about anything. And this past Friday about 130 hackers gathered in the Hayden Planetarium to participate in the American Museum of Natural History’s very first hackathon.

The premise was simple: The museum handed the huge dataset they call The Digital Universe to the hackers and gave them 24 hours to make something. (Part of what made this hackathon different was the literal universe of data hackers were given. More on that in a minute.) There were some specific challenges and categories (Education, Visualization, Tool Kit, and Wildcard) but the hackers were otherwise free to explore the data and run with it. Continue reading

A Norwegian Sense Of Obligation

Norwegian King Harald V.  Photo: P. J. George

Norwegian King Harald V. Photo: P. J. George

From today’s Hindu, an interview with the King of Norway. It may be an example of noblesse oblige, but it is an interesting story at a time when some other developed economies have determinedly charged hard right, away from state-sponsored welfare:

‘We had a problem — too much money’

Interview with Norwegian King, Harald V, on the country’s successful welfare model, its oil and gas reserves and the threat of climate change

The Norwegian society is at present debating several issues, including its economy, climate change, immigration and the changing cultural milieu. In all these, the country often looks to its King, Harald V, for a decisive voice… A renowned sailor, he carries out royal duties with aplomb even at the age of 77. He spoke to The Hindu recently in Oslo on the triumphs and concerns of his country. Excerpts: Continue reading

Pots Calling Kettles Black

Mini activist figures at a Shell gas station in Legoland in Billund, Denmark, part of a global campaign targeting Lego and highlighting Shell’s plans for Arctic oil exploration. Photograph: Uffe Weng/Greenpeace

Mini activist figures at a Shell gas station in Legoland in Billund, Denmark, part of a global campaign targeting Lego and highlighting Shell’s plans for Arctic oil exploration. Photograph: Uffe Weng/Greenpeace

Lego is easy to love. Anyone who had these toys as a child, or who has children who have these toys, can testify to the joy they bring.

Shell is easy not to love, for reasons that do not really need to be explained here.

And yet, Lego is a product made up primarily of petroleum, so what we learn in this story in today’s Guardian seems odd as much as it seems good:

Lego will not renew its marketing contract with Shell after coming under sustained pressure from Greenpeace to end a partnership that dates to the 1960s.

The environmental campaign group, protesting about the oil giant’s plans to drill in the Arctic, had targeted the world’s biggest toy maker with a YouTube video that attracted nearly 6m views for its depiction of a pristine Arctic, built from 120kg of Lego, being covered in oil. Continue reading

Conservation, Passenger Pigeons, History Of Extinction

Gérard DuBois

Gérard DuBois

My favorite doomsday journalist (and I mean that as the highest compliment) posted over the weekend an unamusing memo to remind us that this is an important centenary anniversary. It ups the ante on our commitment to the community of birdwatchers, casual and serious alike, who support important conservation of wildlife habitat all over the world.

It is not amusing to be reminded about various tragic commons, especially ones for which collective action would seem to have been achievable. We link to these stories in the hope that doomsday outcomes will become less likely if we remind ourselves often enough.

Yesterday the ever-better New York Times, newspaper of record that pays more and better attention to environmental issues than most other publications, saw fit to print this piece by the Executive Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for which we give our thanks and share with you in whole due to its value as a public service:

ITHACA, N.Y. — THE passenger pigeon is among the most famous of American birds, but not because of its beauty, or its 60-mile-an-hour flight speed. Nor is it a cherished symbol of our great country. No, we remember the passenger pigeon because of the largest-scale human-caused extinction in history.

Continue reading

Community, Control, Conservation

Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and Maria Menjivar, with her young daughter, plant plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Photograph: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and Maria Menjivar, with her young daughter, plant plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Photograph: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

We have normally emphasized the word collaboration in conjunction with the conservation initiatives carried out by communities. This article in the Guardian points to research findings that indicates that another c-word, control, is sometimes key to understanding how communities reduce deforestation:

…Analysis suggests that in areas formally overseen by local communities, deforestation rates are dozens to hundreds of times lower than in areas overseen by governments or private entities. About 10-20% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation each year.

The findings were released by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a thinktank, and the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global network that focuses on forest tenure. Continue reading

Gianluca, Come To Kerala!

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As the metropolitan area of Ernakulum, where Raxa Collective has many contributors who commute to work, completes its futuristic mass transit scheme, our thoughts reach out to a time when the collapsible bike is a necessity here. For now, we can appreciate the design for its own sake of this model that has just come to our attention.

We like everything we read about it, as much as the visual aesthetics. We even hope we might be of some service to its creator, given our history with entrepreneurial conservation. We are on the lookout, constantly, for opportunities to collaborate with creative craftsmen and to welcome them into Raxa Collective’s growing community across the globe. Conservation magazine brought Gianluca Sada onto our radar. We extend to him our usual invitation for a visit thanks to that:

COLLAPSIBLE COMMUTE

Carrying a bicycle onto a bus or subway for unrideable sections of your carless commute is less than convenient. This is where the Sada Bike fits in. Whereas other foldable bikes have shrunken frames and wheels, the Sada Bike’s full-sized frame folds down to the size of an umbrella; its spokeless, hubless, 26-inch wheels double as a backpack frame.

Continue reading

Notes from the Garden: Experimenting with Square Foot Gardening

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Sticks always help with communication across language barriers. Here we are marking the spacing of our radishes in Cardamom County.

Today, we tried a little experiment. I have mentioned my passion for efficient agriculture techniques and square foot gardening is one we are experimenting with in the garden here in Cardamom County. The vision is to grow as much food as we can to supplement the kitchen’s needs. Space is a luxury not to be wasted when it comes to growing food! Using elements of the square foot gardening method taught by Mel Bartholomew, it is amazing how much food you can fit on a 4 ft x 4 ft plot. Although he teaches that you should make raised beds, I think if you have good soil, as we do here, then there is no need. I think the audience his method appeals to is the urban and suburban dwellers, so making raised beds is usually the fastest way to good soil in their case. The part I take from his method is the dense plant spacing and not using single rows:

Continue reading

Following the Paper Trail, Redux

raxa collective bagI have been following the Paper Trail since I got here as an intern and got involved in this social entrepreneurship project Raxa Collective has been working on! There are some types of environmental action that focus on being inherently low-impact from the original design while other methods focus on closing loops from more poor designs that leave good material wasted, such as newspapers. Something is sustainable when it meets the triple bottom line: environmental, economic, and social. RAXA Collective has been meeting this triple bottom line with its newspaper bag initiative! Working with the group, PaperTrails, they have been able to provide a livable income for local people who are unable to get work for whatever reason. They have work based on creating useful bags or envelopes out of recycled newspaper. Paper Trails has been providing bags and envelopes for Raxa Collective’s properties from newspapers and other recycled material. Now, we are taking the newspaper bag initiative to the next level. Continue reading

Monkeying around in Cardamom County

Monkey mischief at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, neighbor of Cardamom County

I have never had to take monkeys into consideration when gardening before.

I am at this jungle-like Raxa Collective property in Thekkady, India. I am here to work as an intern to help with creating a more farm-to-table relationship in the restaurant at Cardamom County. There is an organic garden here that is already providing the restaurant with a decent percentage of their staple foods. However, we face a little problem with some main ingredients such as tomatoes, eggplants, and actually anything sweet that we might like to grow such as grapes or pomegranates.

Monkeys. Continue reading

Chicago’s Vertical Farming

Plant Chicago, NFP/Rachel Swenie

Arugula plant beds inside The Plant, a vertical farm operation in Chicago. Plant Chicago, NFP/Rachel Swenie

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this story on their weekly program called The Salt:

From plant factories fueled by the magenta glow of blue and red LED lights, to the 30-foot tall Ferris wheel for plants in Singapore, we’ve shown you the design possibilities for growing vegetables up instead of out.

But critics ask, what kind of stresses does that put on the plant? And how do you feed this kind of intensive cultivation without spending more than what you get back in the harvest? Continue reading