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

First Things First

Last week I walked with my grand-daughter among these almendro trees. Amie and I helped plant these when they were foot-high saplings in 2019, and we tagged one with our grand-daughter’s name. The trees, now 3+ feet high, are part of a coastal reforestation scheme; their beneficence includes producing fruits favored by scarlet macaws.

Demonstrators gather in front of the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, in the summer of 2011. Photograph by Melissa Golden / Redux

Everyone loves scarlet macaws. And these trees grow faster than our grand-daughter, giving constant positive feedback. When you have an opportunity to do something like plant a tree, or any other restorative act, first things first: do it. Thanks to Bill McKibben for pointing this out as one of the highlights of yesterday’s change of scenery in Washington, D.C.:

Joe Biden’s Cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline Is a Landmark in the Climate Fight

In his first hours in office, Joe Biden has settled—almost certainly, once and for all—one of the greatest environmental battles this country has seen. He has cancelled the permit allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada into the United States, and the story behind that victory illustrates a lot about where we stand in the push for a fair and working planet. Continue reading

Ending Perverse Subsidies

The wealthiest landowners – those receiving payments over £150,000 a year – will face the sharpest cuts. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

We post so much about farming on this platform that it could be considered a major topic of interest. Subsidies, less so, but just as with farming there are both better and worse forms of subsidies. We favor reforming the perverse ones, and so cheer this news:

Environment to benefit from ‘biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’

£1.6bn subsidies for owning land in England to end, with funds going to improve nature

Wildlife, nature and the climate will benefit from the biggest shake-up in farming policy in England for 50 years, according to government plans.

The £1.6bn subsidy farmers receive every year for simply owning land will be phased out by 2028, with the funds used instead to pay them to restore wild habitats, create new woodlands, boost soils and cut pesticide use.

The wealthiest landowners – those receiving annual payments over £150,000 a year – will face the sharpest cuts, starting with 25% in 2021. Those receiving under £30,000 will see a 5% cut next year. Continue reading

Sheltering in Nature

The Turrubares Hills in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region. Photo courtesy of Hugo Santa Cruz.

This is an exciting example of the old adage about life’s lemons and making lemonade. The Macaw Sanctuary is an inspirational space and we’re proud to have explored it with Hugo during the Global Big Day.

Thank you to Milan Sime Martinic and the inspiration of Mongabay for nature and conservation stories.

A new conservation project is created in Costa Rica thanks to COVID-19

  • Hugo Santa Cruz is a photographer contributing to a new Netflix documentary about nature and coping with COVID-19.
  • A Bolivian currently stuck in Costa Rica due to the pandemic, he has turned his camera lens on the local landscape, which has helped him deal with his separation from family and friends.
  • Many hours spent in the rainforest have given him solace and also an idea to aid the rich natural heritage that he is currently documenting.
  • Santa Cruz is now a co-founder of the new Center for Biodiversity Restoration Foundation, which will work to restore and connect natural areas in the region.

Call him inspired.

If Biblical Ishmael were banished to the desert, naturalist Hugo Santa Cruz is quarantined to wander in paradise, a paradise in the Costa Rican jungle, that is.

He is in the Central American rainforest along the Paso de Las Lapas Biological Corridor, an area near the Pacific coast that converges with the mountainous foothills of the western dry tropical forest.

Roaming some 370 hectares of ample primary and secondary forests, regenerated forests restored from human damage, plus plantings, ponds, and biodiverse jungle, Santa Cruz is deep in the wilderness, far from home due to the COVID-19 shutdown of travel and normal activities. He is exploring the jungle, studying the animals, photographing, filming, and registering the species he encounters. Continue reading

Beware Of “This Is Big” & Other Snappy Catchphrases

The Miniature Science series of ads, created last year by the very talented folks at BBDO on behalf of their client ExxonMobil, are snappy.

By now most people who pay attention to climate science are aware of ExxonMobil’s active role in creating doubt about the emerging facts that their own scientists established about mankind’s impact on climate. In addition to actors like that giant petrochemical company, there are also behind-the-scenes, complicit creatives who have provided essential messaging to strengthen the deception. In a new essay, Bill McKibben turns his attention to those folks, and expects accountability:

If money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns, then P.R. campaigns and snappy catchphrases are the kindling. Illustration by Lia Liao

When “Creatives” Turn Destructive: Image-Makers and the Climate Crisis

Past sins are past no more: an overdue historical recalibration is under way, with monuments being pulled down, dorms renamed, restitution offered. People did things, bad things; even across the span of centuries, they’re being held to account, and there’s something noble about that. The Reverend Robert W. Lee IV, for instance, recently backed the removal of his famous ancestor’s statue from Richmond, Virginia. The memorial, he wrote, “is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change.” Such a response raises an uncomfortable question: What are we doing now that our descendants will need to apologize for? Might we be able to get ahead of the sin this time? Continue reading

Uncommon Response To An Uncommon Ocean Spill

Replica Air Jordans, constructed by the artist Andy Yoder’s from trash gathered on dumpster dives, evoke the Great Sneaker Spill of 1990. Greg Staley

We shared another story years ago about a creative response to an ocean spill, but it was the frequent kind of spill, involving oil. More common in our pages are stories about creative responses to the plague of waste, especially that from plastic. Today’s story is in good company:

If the Shoe Floats

Over the decades, a mass of flotsam from a freighter accident has inspired scientific discovery, urban legend and, now, an art exhibition commemorating the Great Sneaker Spill of 1990.

Mr. Yoder wields a glue gun to create a sneaker replica for an installation that also stands as commentary on environmental destruction. Greg Staley

It seemingly happened so long ago that the event has assumed elements of urban legend — the saga of the Great Sneaker Spill.

Sometimes referred to as the Great Shoe Spill, the tale recounts an event on May 27, 1990, when, during a sudden violent storm in the North Pacific, five shipping containers were swept off the deck of the freighter Hansea Carrier somewhere between Seoul and Seattle.

Of the 40-foot steel boxes that broke loose and crashed into the ocean, one sank to the bottom and four broke open to spill out a stream of contents that included computer monitors, sex toys and 61,280 Nike sneakers destined for America’s basketball courts and city streets.

… cartons from McDonald’s takeout meals … Greg Staley

The incident went on to become a parable of environmental disaster, as well as a red-letter event in the history of sneakerheads. For months, the buoyant flotilla drifted, carried by wind and currents until, in early 1991, beachcombers reported coming upon batches of the sneakers off Vancouver Island in Canada, pushed north on the Davidson Current. That spring, driven southward by opposing breezes, more of them turned up along the coastlines of Washington and Oregon.

… and posters from a David Hockney exhibition. Greg Staley

The Great Sneaker Spill might have gone unremembered had it not been for the enterprising scavengers who washed and resold the flotsam and Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who, alerted to the spill’s existence by his mother, later used it as the basis for a study of little-known currents. Continue reading

Locals Get The Job Done With Greater Care

A local logger marks wood for transit to a milling facility in Ghana. MARIEKE WIT/TROPENBOS INTERNATIONAL

There was a time, just a few decades ago, when small, nimble groups of loggers in remote tropical forest areas–including here in Costa Rica–were considered a serious threat. They knew the lay of the land because they were local, and could get in and out of primary forests with valuable tree trunks, often without being detected. Thanks to reporting by Fred Pearce we can see where and how perspective has changed on this part of the forestry value chain:

How Small-Scale Loggers Can Help Save Africa’s Tropical Forests

Small-time loggers providing timber to local villages have long been seen as a threat to forests in Africa. But that view is changing, as evidence mounts that these communities can be better forest protectors than the governments that are sanctioning large-scale commercial operations.

The man with the chainsaw paid the farmer $50, as his gang climbed a hillside in western Ghana. The gang passed coffee fields until they came to a giant hardwood tree. The farmer, who was pleased to have the money in his back pocket, watched as as the gang cut down the tree and used the chainsaw to dismember it deftly into quarters and then into crude planks. Continue reading

Traditions Keeping Foodways Alive On Canada’s West Coast

A British Columbia clam garden. Photograph: Ian Reid

Indigenous peoples’ innovations are always a welcome topic here especially when it comes to conservation of foodways. Thank you, Adrienne Matei, for one more case study:

‘Bringing beaches back to life’: the First Nations restoring ancient clam gardens

In the Pacific north-west, local people work the shoreline, creating conditions for useful species to thrive

‘My elders articulated to me that if we want to bring our beaches back to life again, we need to bring people back on to them to care for them.’ Photograph: Iain Robert Reid

On winter nights for the past six years, a group of 20 people have rustled through dark, coniferous woods to emerge on a Canadian beach at the lowest possible tide, illuminated by a correspondingly full moon.

An elder offers a greeting to the place and a prayer, then the team of researchers, volunteers, and First Nations “knowledge holders” lights a warming fire and begins its work. At sites outlined by stones placed hundreds or even thousands of years ago, some begin raking, or “fluffing”, the top three inches of the beach, loosening rocks and mud – and a remarkable number of old clam shells. Continue reading

Where Your Music Collection Comes From, And Goes To

I caught up on reading I had missed when it was first published. It is rare for me to miss a Dylan profile, but in May, 1999 I was preparing for our first lodge management project, so no wonder. Alex Ross avoids the tedium that makes me often wish I had not bothered with a Dylan profile. I recommend the profile whether or not you care about Dylan. If not just for clear writing, the quality of the cultural observation transcends the main subject.

Today I am happy to have read another article by Alex Ross, this one much shorter. If you watch the video above it will give a good indication of whether you will find the article worth your while. It reviews the ideas in the book to the left, which offers a great segue from yesterday’s post. We are learning to be more aware of where the things we consume come from, and what it took to produce them, store them, deliver them, and the footprint they leave from production and after consumption:

Listening to music on the Internet feels clean, efficient, environmentally virtuous. Instead of accumulating heaps of vinyl or plastic, we unpocket our sleek devices and pluck tunes from the ether. Music has, it seems, been freed from the grubby realm of things. Kyle Devine, in his recent book, “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” thoroughly dismantles that seductive illusion. Like everything we do on the Internet, streaming and downloading music requires a steady surge of energy. Continue reading

Getting Real About Plastic

A worker examines plastic bottles at a recycling center in Santiago, Chile. MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

We admit to optimism as recently as three months ago on this issue, which we have been reading about since five years ago. Thanks to Jim Robbins for keeping it real:

Why Bioplastics Will Not Solve the World’s Plastics Problem

Coca-Cola’s new PlantBottle is made from 30 percent sugar cane and other plants, with the rest made from traditional oil-based plastic. COCA-COLA

Bioplastics are being touted by industry marketers as the solution to plastics pollution. But the idea that bottles and packaging made of plant-based material can simply be discarded and then break down and disappear is false – recycling and reuse are the only strategies that can work.

Coca-Cola calls it the PlantBottle — a new kind of recyclable plastic container, 30 percent of which is made from sugar cane and other plants, with the remaining 70 percent made from traditional oil-based plastic. The company says that PlantBottle packaging now accounts for nearly a third of its North American bottle volume and seven percent globally. Continue reading

Ivy-League Activism

Harvard, with an endowment of more than $40 billion, has resisted calls to drop fossil fuel investments from its portfolio. Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

This successful petition campaign is in good company. Bravo Harvard for taking fact-forward action.

Climate Activists Gain Seats on Harvard Oversight Board

The candidates were the first ones elected through a petition campaign since 1989, when anti-apartheid activists put Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the panel.

Bucking tradition, a group of climate activists has won three seats in an election to an important governing body at Harvard University, the Board of Overseers, the university announced Friday.

The slate of candidates ran on a platform that included calls for the university to drop fossil fuel investments from its portfolio, part of a divestment movement that has swept college campuses for the better part of a decade.

Harvard, with an endowment of more than $40 billion, has resisted those calls. In April, the university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, said that divestment “paints with too broad a brush” and instead announced that Harvard was setting a course to become greenhouse-gas neutral by 2050, a move that he correctly predicted would not satisfy those seeking total divestment.

Candidates for the six-year terms on the board are customarily nominated through the Harvard Alumni Association. These candidates were elected through a petition campaign, the first to successfully do so since 1989, when a group seeking divestment from South Africa put forward Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Continue reading

A Change Of Tone

EnvPod

Usually his writing voice sounds like he is frustrated, and his spoken voice can sound like he is feeling headed for defeat. Today there is a different sound and it is worth listening to:

PoliticsAndMore-McKibbenSCRulingThis week, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump Administration’s request to expand construction on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and the climate-change task force formed by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders urged politicians to “treat climate change like the emergency that it is.” Bill McKibben, an activist in the environmental movement for three decades, joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss whether the United States has hit a turning point in the battle against global warming.

 

Virtual Ocean Dialogues

Another example of Costa Rican leadership and team action. The Virtual Ocean Dialogues, held by the World Economic Forum, “bring to light ambitious and inspiring solutions as well as tangible opportunities for positive change, and galvanize urgent global action for a healthy ocean. It will also spotlight some of the solutions that emerged as critical for the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, including the role of the ocean in building the resilience that our economies and communities need to recover and eventually face other potential future shocks.”

The opening address by Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada included statements about present and future actions.

“Costa Rica has historically been a leader in conservation,” Quesada says. It has doubled forest coverage in recent years and is aiming for a zero-emission economy by 2050.

Now it wants to turn its attentions to the sea. “We are working towards a sustainable approach for ocean management,” he says.

It is “committed to promoting a global blue economy transformation”, prioritizing mangrove forests, aquaculture and coastal biodiversity.

Continue reading

Costa Rican To Lead GEF

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Some happy news:

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez named new CEO of Global Environment Facility

Costa Rican Environment and Energy Minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez has been selected as the next CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility, the largest multilateral trust fund supporting environmental action in developing countries and the main financing mechanism for multiple United Nations environmental conventions. Continue reading

Mark Kurlansky (Again) On The Importance Of Salmon

KurlSalmon

A spawning salmon is shown through a viewing window near a fish ladder, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, during the fall spawning season at the Issaquah Fish Hatchery in Issaquah, Wash.
( AP Photo/Ted S. Warren )

We linked out once previously to this author discussing this book, but it is worth doing again (click the image to the right to go to the podcast); and here is what a bookseller has to say about it:

“Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘Who hears the fishes when they cry?’ Maybe we need to go down to the river bank and try to listen.”

In what he says is the most important piece of environmental writing in his long and award-winning career, Mark Kurlansky, best-selling author of Salt and CodThe Big Oyster, 1968, and Milk, among many others, employs his signature multi-century storytelling and compelling attention to detail to chronicle the harrowing yet awe-inspiring life cycle of salmon. Continue reading

Earth Day @ 50

Rachel_Carson_Conducts_Marine_Biology_Research_with_Bob_Hines

( wikipedia/commons/4/48 )

CarsonDreamSeaThis week’s podcast rebroadcasts an episode we first heard a couple years ago, but Rachel Carson Dreams of the Sea is as good a tribute to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary as you will find:

Before she published “Silent Spring,” one of the most influential books of the last century, Rachel Carson was a young aspiring poet and then a graduate student in marine biology. Although she couldn’t swim and disliked boats, Carson fell in love with the ocean. Her early books—including “The Sea Around Us,” “The Edge of the Sea” and “Under the Sea Wind”—were like no other nature writing of their time, Jill Lepore says: Carson made you feel you were right there with her, gazing into the depths of a tide pool or lying in a cave lined with sea sponges. Lepore notes that Carson was wondering about a warming trend in the ocean as early as the 1940s, and was planning to explore it after the publication of “Silent Spring.” If she had not died early, of cancer, could Carson have brought climate change to national attention well before it was too late?

Excerpts from Carson’s work were read by Charlayne Woodard, and used with permission of Carson’s estate.

Another Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope

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Demonstrators protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline on the National Mall in Washington in 2017.Credit…Al Drago/The New York Times

In 2017 two separate stories by Lisa Friedman were featured in the same post we titled Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope. The title fits the article she has published today, which gives a bit more hope:

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Wins a Victory in Dakota Access Pipeline Case

WASHINGTON — In a significant victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered a sweeping new environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois, has been carrying oil for nearly three years and has been contested by environmental groups and Native American tribes who live near it. President Trump sought to keep the project alive.

The ruling by United States District Judge James E. Boasberg found that the pipeline’s “effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial” and that the federal government had not done an adequate job of studying the risks of a major spill or whether the pipeline’s leak detection system was adequate. Continue reading

Solar Canoe As Protest

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Sunkirum, one of the solar-powered canoes, sails on the Pastaza river. Photograph: Pablo Albarenga

Thanks to the Guardian, and specifically to Francesc Badia i Dalmases in Kapawi, Ecuador, for this story:

Here comes the sun canoe, as Amazonians take on Big Oil

Ecuadorian indigenous groups hope innovation will reduce amount of oil taken from forest only to be brought back as pollution

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Nantu and his colleagues check the state of a canoe’s solar panels. Photograph: Pablo Albarenga

A canoe slides noiselessly upstream through a landscape of luminous bright clouds reflected in the water. A team of young indigenous people are onboard.

Such vessels are an essential and ubiquitous part of life in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but this one boasts a hugely symbolic difference from its predecessors. It is powered by the sun.

The nine members of the Achuar indigenous group on board are returning home after learning about solar power and installation. It is a technological development they hope to use in their battle with a more traditional power source that threatens their very existence. Oil. Continue reading

Investing With Climate Change In Mind Is The Right Thing To Do

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Damon Winter/The New York Times

He may be late, but better that versus never. Investing with consideration for the environment seemed obvious long ago to some, but not to the decision-makers who most count–those whose investment decisions impact generations to come. Presumably, from the size of fund he manages, one of the most respected investors has decided to do the right thing as best he can, and that may be huge:

BlackRock Will Put Climate Change at Center of Investment Strategy

In his influential annual letter to chief executives, Larry Fink said his firm would avoid investments in companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk.”

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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Laurence D. Fink, the founder and chief executive of BlackRock, plans to announce Tuesday that his firm will make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal.

BlackRock is the largest in its field, with nearly $7 trillion under management, and this move will fundamentally shift its investing policy — and could reshape how corporate America does business and put pressure on other large money managers to follow suit. Continue reading