Journalist Heriberto Araujo spent four years reporting on the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about his new book, which explores the complex web of issues underpinning the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest.
Last October, when former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil’s national election, environmentalists around the world breathed a sigh of relief. Under Bolsonaro, who had weakened environmental protections and pushed to open Indigenous lands to commercial exploitation, deforestation in the Amazon had exploded. Lula has pledged to safeguard his country’s rainforests, but, as Spanish journalist Heriberto Araujo says in an interview with Yale Environment 360, the job won’t be easy.
For his new book, Masters of the Lost Land, Araujo spent four years traveling from his home in Rio de Janeiro to Rondon do Pará, a town in the eastern Brazilian Amazon, to understand how, in less than 60 years, the largest rainforest on the planet has been transformed into an engine of economic growth. Tracing the story of land rights activist José Dutra da Costa, or “Dezinho,” who, before his assassination in 2000, led a revolution among landless peasants, Araujo comes to see how a handful of ranchers managed to grab huge swaths of pristine rainforest and why deforestation, violence, and lawlessness remain pervasive in the region. Continue reading
Bison restoration has been on our radar, primarily stories from the western USA, but also from the European context, where there has been considerable progress in recent years. Here is a good look at a conservation organization focused on habitat restoration, and the multi-species benefits:
Bison once numbered in the tens of millions in the United States. Now, a nonprofit is working to restore the shortgrass prairie, where the American icons and their ecosystem can thrive again.
MALTA, Mont. — Around 200 chocolate-brown bison raise their heads, following the low growl of a pickup truck slowly motoring across the sagebrush-studded prairie. Continue reading
If I had to bet, based on our period living in India from 2010 to 2017, I would bet on the prime minister winning. That implies the country making less progress on conservation, if any, and more on development. As Dorothy Wickenden‘s article implies, it may be a zero sum game:
Ecologists are trying to undo environmental damage in rain forests, deserts, and cities. Can their efforts succeed even as Narendra Modi pushes for rapid development?
On May 12, 1459, the Rajput warrior ruler Rao Jodha laid the first foundation stone of an impregnable fort, atop a jagged cliff of volcanic rock in the Thar Desert of Marwar. He called the citadel Mehrangarh, or “fort of the sun”—and, legend has it, he insured a propitious future by ordering a man buried alive on its grounds. Over time, as the royal clan secured its power, the compound grew to colossal proportions, with soaring battlements, ornately furnished palaces, and grand courtyards enclosed by intricate sandstone latticework. Four hundred feet below, the capital city of Jodhpur became a flourishing trade center. Continue reading
Thanks to Yale e360’s Janet Martinelli:
Tucked into quintessential suburbia, the Hempstead Plains Preserve is a small sliver of the grassland that once covered a vast area of Long Island. New research shows that thoughtfully planted yards and gardens can bolster the biodiversity in such urban wildland fragments.
The Hempstead Plains Preserve is a place where you can imagine the presence of creatures past. Birdfoot violets, now gone, once colored the landscape with a wash of purple in spring. The heath hen, a large grouse that went extinct 90 years ago, performed its elaborate courtship dances on the Plains.
On a late afternoon in October, the slanting autumn sun lit up in a blaze of gold the grasses and wildflowers on this narrow, 19-acre sliver of land — almost all that is left of the tallgrass prairie that once covered more than 50 square miles at the heart of Long Island, New York, a fish-shaped island that stretches east into the Atlantic Ocean. Continue reading
There really are coincidences that have nothing to do with the overreach of internet companies who see what you are reading in one place and put something in front of you instantly, and for a long time following, based on that first subject. In this case, I was reading about the endless quest for a better mousetrap, and then came upon this fascinating article about the ecosystem services that mice convey. This was as smile-inducing a juxtaposition as my reading has provided me lately. I hope I am correct that this pure chance and not some creepy algorithm, which would wilt my grin:
Scientists are unearthing a quiet truth about the woods: Where trees grow, or don’t, depends in part on the quirky decisions of small mammals.
It’s easy to look at a forest and think it’s inevitable: that the trees came into being through a stately procession of seasons and seeds and soil, and will replenish themselves so long as environmental conditions allow.
Hidden from sight are the creatures whose labor makes the forest possible — the multitudes of microorganisms and invertebrates involved in maintaining that soil, and the animals responsible for delivering seeds too heavy to be wind-borne to the places where they will sprout. Continue reading
Several months ago when we confirmed our plans to attend a wedding in Merida, Mexico on November 5, Calakmul came to mind. We had already explored many famous Maya sites in Central America, most recently in Belize, not to mention Mexico, over the last three decades; and we have also been fortunate with big cat sightings.
We decided against extending our stay, choosing to spend a few days in Mexico City instead (I have been obsessed with Barragán in recent years, so seeing his former home and workshop there was a must). Charly Wilder‘s article in the New York Times, which I am only seeing now, makes me wonder when we will return to see what we neglected in the Yucatan:
Thanks to Mexican conservation efforts, the jaguar is making a comeback in the Yucatán Peninsula. A traveler ventures into its habitat in the tropical jungles surrounding an ancient Maya city.
From the top of the great pyramid of the ancient Maya city of Calakmul in the southern Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, you can see all the way to Guatemala. The jungle stretches out infinitely in every direction, an ocean of green punctuated only by the stepped pyramid peaks of two other Maya temples. Continue reading
Monday mornings often have had their own theme in these pages. Fresh perspective to start the new work week on a new track. So here is my Monday morning contribution. For a brief history to immerse you in the bleak dark, I could send you here; but not today.
Following is an article that does something different, and more difficult to find recently. A look at five decades’ accomplishment on one environmental issue in one country, and a takeaway worthy of the photo above: complex, but inspiring. Our thanks as always after a decade relying on Yale e360 for environmental stories, and advocacy; in this case also for introducing us to Andrew S. Lewis, who will now be on our radar:
Sparked by the 1970s environmental movement, the Clean Water Act — which marks its 50th anniversary this month — transformed America’s polluted rivers. The Delaware, once an industrial cesspool, is one of the success stories, but its urban stretches remain a work in progress.
When Steve Meserve’s great-grandfather, Bill Lewis, started the Lewis Fishery in 1888, it was one of dozens of commercial outfits scattered up and down the Delaware River that seined for American shad during the spring spawn. At the time, the Delaware’s shad fishery hauled 3 to 4 million of the hard-fighting fish from the river and its tributaries every year. But, soon enough, Lewis discovered that he had gotten into the business just as the river — along with the species it supported — was entering a period of catastrophic decline. Continue reading
We already knew that rainforests are not only tropical ecosystems. But when you live in the tropics, you can forget. Our thanks as always to Patrick Greenfield, and to the Guardian, for this reminder:
Exclusive: campaigners call for protection and careful tree-planting to help restore the temperate rainforests that once covered swathes of the country
Rainforest, which has been decimated over thousands of years, has the potential to be restored across a fifth of Great Britain, a new map reveals. Continue reading
High-profile initiatives to plant millions of trees are being touted by governments around the world as major contributions to fighting climate change. But scientists say many of these projects are ill-conceived and poorly managed and often fail to grow any forests at all.
It was perhaps the most spectacular failed tree planting project ever. Certainly the fastest. Continue reading
We have enjoyed every instance of oysters being treated with respect, beyond culinary. When indigenous knowhow is part of the story, even better. Our thanks to Halle Parker and WWNO (National Public Radio, USA) for this story:
For the past six years, the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe has battled to stop its historic earthen Indian mounds from slipping into the sea, looking to the power of oyster shells to protect them. Now, they’ve expanded that effort.
The tribe has lived in the area for centuries, forced south as Louisiana was colonized, and the mounds that past members built have a range of uses. Some might’ve held homes, others were used for ceremonies and some were burial sites, said Lori Stewart, a member of the tribe.
“The mounds are really significant because we do have some of our ancestors that are buried there, and so we don’t want to see that washed away,” she said. “That’s sacred to us.” Continue reading
Sometimes getting to where you want to go is a matter of finding the right guide.
Four teams of researchers, led by Harvard Forest ecologists, searched for a patch of ancient trees deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania this summer as part of a project to study how climate changes affected trees over the centuries. One of the scientists had come across them 40 years earlier, but they appeared to have vanished. Just as the group was about to give up and move on they came across someone who gave them a valuable clue. Continue reading
Gilbert M. Gaul, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the book The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas and the Cost of America’s Coasts, offers this assessment of coastal development that shows some folks do not seem to know when to stop:
Despite the risks of building on barrier islands, developers kept constructing homes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Now, as sea level rises and storms become more frequent and powerful, the famed vacation spot is fighting an increasingly difficult battle to keep from washing away.
Rounding the corner near the village of Rodanthe, there is a stretch of highway known as the S-Curves because of its twisting loops and turns. It is, by almost any measure, one of the most vulnerable sections of roadway in North Carolina, if not the nation. Continue reading
We have linked to one Katherine J. Wu article in the past, and that was to share good news; and we linked to stories about humongous fungus a couple of times–not so much news as fascinating; this time there is an ominous implication to the fungus:
Human actions have turned a usually beneficial fungus into a bringer of death.
Deep in the loamy soil of forests around the world, there exists a fungus called the honey mushroom that makes its living on death. A parasite that preys on weak trees, it sucks its victims dry of nutrients, then feasts on their postmortem flesh. Continue reading
Thanks to Katherine Rapin and Yale e360:
In the Delaware River and other waterways and estuaries across the United States, scientists and conservationists are restoring aquatic vegetation and beds of mussels and oysters to fight pollution and create a strong foundation for healthy ecosystems.
On a recent summer morning near Camden, New Jersey, two divers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hovered over a patch of sediment 10 feet below the surface of the Delaware River. Continue reading
The Valdivian Coastal Reserve was mentioned once in our pages, only in passing.
Strange, because if I was asked to name my favorite protected area on the planet it would be at or near the top of my list. The abundant but threatened alerce trees were part of the reason. A family story would explain more of why, and that is part of a larger work story that needs more attention another time.
The story below, featuring an adjacent protected area, stirs an intense place memory, and at the same time reveals much about a topic that was not on our radar at the time. And it says much about potential futures for that place. So, thanks to the New York Times climate correspondent Somini Sengupta (again and again) as well as photographer Tomás Munita:
In the fight against warming, a formidable ally hides just beneath our feet.
ALERCE COSTERO NATIONAL PARK, Chile — Toby Kiers took long strides across the spongy forest floor, felt the adrenaline rush in her veins and stopped at the spot she had traveled so far to reach. Into the ground went a hollow metal cylinder. Out came a scoop of soil.
Dr. Kiers stuck her nose into the dirt, inhaled its scent, imagined what secrets it contained to help us live on a hotter planet. “What’s under here?” she asked. “What mysteries are we going to unveil?”
The soil was deposited into a clear plastic bag, then labeled with the coordinates of this exact location on Earth. Continue reading
Thomas Moynihan, a research fellow at Forethought Foundation and St Benet’s College, Oxford University offers this entertaining treatment of how Western culture has seen and thought about its insect co-habitants of the planet.
When looking to other creatures for signs of intelligence, insects are rarely the most obvious candidates, but as the historian Thomas Moynihan writes, it wasn’t always so. What can the early-20th Century fascination with bug societies tell us about our own?
It is 1919, and a young astronomer turns a street corner in Pasadena, California. Something seemingly humdrum on the ground distracts him. It’s an ant heap. Dropping to his knees, peering closer, he has an epiphany – about deep time, our place within it, and humanity’s uncertain fate. Continue reading
With a growing number of studies demonstrating the importance of large mammals to healthy ecosystems, scientists are proposing concrete plans to reintroduce these animals to the wild. The return of just 20 species to native habitats, they say, could be a boon to biodiversity.
For thousands of years, bison herds thundered freely throughout the Chihuahuan Desert on both sides of what is now the U.S.-Mexico border. In November 2009, after three frantic months of chasing down the required permits, Rurik List and Nélida Barajas watched as 23 bison from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota arrived by tractor-trailer at the Santa Teresa international cattle crossing in southeastern New Mexico.
The animals, 20 females and three males, galloped through the dusty stockyards, across the border, and into the state of Chihuahua. Continue reading
The word swamp does not have a pleasant ring to it. The thing itself, though, is something much more than pleasant. Essential to our future, Annie Proulx clarifies in a lovely manner, swamps should be treated with greater care:
If We Only Let Them
Wetlands absorb carbon dioxide and buffer the excesses of drought and flood, yet we’ve drained much of this land. Can we learn to love our swamps?
It can be hell finding one’s way across an extensive boggy moor—the partially dry, rough ground and the absence of any landmarks let the eye rove helplessly into the monotype distance. Continue reading
The CS Monitor was the newspaper delivered to our home when I was growing up. Lucky me. These days it still offers good journalism, but is no longer a paper. They made the switch to digital-only in 2008. In earlier years of my monitoring dozens of news sources for this platform it was the source of numerous stories of environmental interest in our pages. But in the last few years, for no particular reason, I failed to monitor their website for stories. And then today, this:
Richard Mertens Special contributor
Eight hundred feet up, the helicopter banks hard to the left. The horizon disappears. Mark Cook, an avian biologist, peers out his side window at a small irregular patch of water below. It’s hardly distinguishable from innumerable other patches that lie in every direction, dark and shining amid a ragged expanse of brown marsh grass and green tree islands. Continue reading