Broadening Birding’s Benefits

The writer, left, with Nadeem Perera and Ollie Olanipekun. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

When we managed our first lodge I came to understand that widening the audience of bird appreciation could strengthen commitment to conservation. A dozen years later, when Seth began working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, focused on celebrating urban birds, I knew that when he returned to work with us he would be bringing valuable knowhow.

When we started this platform for sharing news and personal stories related to our work, birds became a daily feature.

Olanipekun’s favourite bird is the ‘beautifully majestic’ barn owl. Photograph: Fletch Lewis/Getty Images

So Rebecca Liu’s story ‘It’s not just a white thing’: how Flock Together are creating a new generation of birdwatchers has various meanings for me. I can relate to the author’s novice sense of wonder as much as I can to Mr. Olanipekun’s decisive mention of the barn owl, featured frequently in our pages, as a favorite:

The nature collective was set up to encourage more people of colour to enjoy nature. Here, they take our writer on a spotting trip through the wildlands of north-east London

Through birding, Ollie Olanipekun (left) and Nadeem Perera are hoping to encourage children and young people to deepen their understanding and love for the environment. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

I have lived in cities all my life. My childhood did not involve any education in the outdoors. It would be fair to say my knowledge of birds doesn’t go much further than the varieties mentioned in Old Macdonald Had a Farm. So when I arrive at east London’s Walthamstow Wetlands on a cloudy November day to meet Ollie Olanipekun and Nadeem Perera for an afternoon of winter birdwatching, I am already apologetic for all that I do not know. Continue reading

Costa Rica, Never Old

A tapir in Braulio Carrillo national park, near San José. Costa Rica’s policy of paying citizens to protect and restore ecosystems is credited with reversing deforestation rates, which threaten the species. Photograph: Michiel van Noppen/2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The stories we use the title Really to highlight are among the heavies. Too much malfeasance, too often. Reading stories about Costa Rica‘s remarkable achievements related to the environment never gets old:

Billionaires, princes and prime ministers are among those keen to learn from the Central American country, which has long put nature at the heart of its policies

If there had been a popularity contest at Cop26, the Costa Rican president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, would have been a clear winner. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeff Bezos, Boris Johnson and Prince William all wanted to speak with the leader of the tiny Central American country, eager to bask in its green glow. Continue reading

The Nutmeg’s Curse, Reviewed

The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis
by Amitav Ghosh
Hachette
352pp
Published October 2021
ISBN: 9781529369458

Amitav Ghosh, appearing in our pages only once before, has a new book. The title of this review of the book, A Dazzling Synthesis, says plenty, as does the endorsement from Naomi Klein:

We have been aware for centuries that we are responsible for the earth’s denudation: its ‘cold staring spaces’, as English writer John Evelyn called them in 1706, mourning the trees chopped down on his estate.  Around a hundred years later, the Prussian explorer Alexander Von Humboldt worried over ‘mankind’s mischief’, conjecturing that if humans ever ventured into outer space, they would carry with them a tendency to leave everything ravaged and barren.  (The closer they resembled man, he also observed, ‘the sadder monkeys look’).  ‘Are the green fields gone?’ asked the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published fifty years after Von Humboldt’s 1801 diary, as he watched his fellow Manhattanites staring dreamily out to sea.  Continue reading

David Attenborough’s Green Planet

Mike Gunton, creative director of the BBC Natural History Unit and a long-time collaborator with David Attenborough.PHOTOGRAPH: BENEDICT REDGROVE

David Attenborough has been a frequent feature in our pages over the years. Each conversation with him repeats something we already knew but shares something we had not previously known:

David Attenborough’s Unending Mission to Save Our Planet

“We tend to think we are the be all and end all—but we’re not. The sooner we can realize that the natural world goes its way, not our way, the better.”

David Attenborough’s Green Planet is his latest series in a career that began in the 1950s and is as notable for its variety of firsts—pioneering 16-mm film in TV; first to film a Komodo dragon; first to use drone cameras—as it is for his long-standing commitment to bringing wildlife and environmental issues into the homes of viewers around the world. PHOTOGRAPH: NADAV KANDER

WE MAKE LOTS of programs about natural history, but the basis of all life is plants.” Sir David Attenborough is at Kew Gardens on a cloudy, overcast August day waiting to deliver his final piece to camera for his latest natural history epic, The Green Planet. Planes roar overhead, constantly interrupting filming, and he keeps putting his jacket on during pauses. “We ignore them because they don’t seem to do much, but they can be very vicious things,” he says. “Plants throttle one another, you know—they can move very fast, have all sorts of strange techniques to make sure that they can disperse themselves over a whole continent, have many ways of meeting so they can fertilize one another and we never actually see it happening.” He smiles. “But now we can.” Continue reading

Points For Creativity

Edward Constance and Brian Souyana race on Rasta Rocket, made from plastic drain pipes and fishing buoys that washed up on Aldabra. About 68 tonnes of marine litter a year is washed ashore

Do not ask yourself whether this will change anything; just smile and acknowledge that it is probably not hurting anyone to have some creative fun with environmental disasters:

Recycled regatta: world heritage site highlights plastic pollution crisis

When environmentalists on a Seychelles atoll decided to race boats made from ocean litter, they had 500 tonnes to pick from

Photographs: Anna Koester/Seychelles Islands Foundation

Martin van Rooyen, a researcher, and Luke A’Bear, a science coordinator, prepare to set sail on Red Lion, buoyed by discarded oil drums

Red Lion is the kind of boat you would not see in most regattas. Its frame is made of bamboo, sourced from washed-up fishing equipment, and it uses two old oil drums for buoyancy.

Equally strange is Rasta Rocket – made from old plastic drain pipes, washed-up floats and fishing buoys.

These were two of the boats in the inaugural Aldabra Regatta: an ironic attempt to draw attention to marine plastic pollution by racing boats made from marine debris. Continue reading

More Trees Now

A hazel sapling (Corylus avellana) in the ditches of the tree hub at Amsterdamse Bos. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

The trillion trees concept, which inspires but has had its share of legitimate questions, has a scrappy cousin with a novel approach:

‘Every tree counts’: Dutch come up with cunning way to create forests for free

More Trees Now aims to give away 1m unwanted saplings to farmers and councils with hope idea will spread across Europ

Hanneke van Ormondt saves a sapling at the tree hub in Amsterdamse Bos, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

In a clearing in the Amsterdamse Bos, a forest on the outskirts of the Dutch capital, is a “tree hub” where hundreds of saplings, among them hazelnut, sweet cherry, field maple, beech, chestnut and ash, are organised by type.

The idea behind it is simple: every day unwanted tree saplings were being cleared and thrown away when those young trees could be carefully collected and transplanted to where they are wanted. Continue reading

BioInvention Is The Thing

Recycling Is Not Sufficient

We just attended an event that has been held each recent (non-pandemic) year in November, in Spanish called ExpoPYME. Small and medium sized companies are invited to show their products, and we like the messaging that this artisan had on a couple t-shirts.

Take Care Of The Environment

BioInventate is not an actual word in Spanish, yet. But if this campaign catches on it will be because more and more people are aware of the need to invent solutions to ecological problems.

What Are You Willing To Do To Protect The Environment?

ILLUSTRATION: PABLO HURTADO DE MENDOZA

Elizabeth Flock has written the most unusual article I have ever read published by The Economist (in this case its 1843 magazine, which offers longform stories). The question in the title of her article below gives the reader permission to draw their own conclusion on the ethics of destruction of private property in the interest of environmental justice. It is the second time I have been surprised in such a way (this conversation was even more surprising since it was the first time a mainstream publication raised such a question). This article poses the question in the context of a very human story, well-told:

Two environmentalists sabotaged an oil pipeline in America. Are they terrorists or heroes?

As the devastating effects of climate change became impossible to ignore, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya took matters into their own hands

ILLUSTRATION: PABLO HURTADO DE MENDOZA

When Jessica Reznicek walked into a courtroom in Des Moines, Iowa, last June, her sun-weathered face was the only clue that she’d lived rough: that she’d camped at the edge of an oil-pipeline construction site for months; that she’d camped night after night all over the country when she and Ruby Montoya, her co-defendant, were on the run; that she’d camped simply because, as far back as she could remember, she loved being in nature.

Reznicek, dressed in a black trouser suit and white blouse with her blonde hair hanging neatly, hoped that the federal judge deciding her sentence might show her some sympathy (Montoya was due to be sentenced later in the summer). Continue reading

Beware of LEAF’s Possible Exclusions

Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always:

A Big New Forest Initiative Sparks Concerns of a ‘Carbon Heist’

Major funding to finance forest conservation projects is set to be announced at the UN climate summit next week. But some environmentalists contend the LEAF program could exclude the Indigenous people who have long protected the forests that the initiative aims to save.

Indigenous lands on the western end Brazilian Amazon have seen far less deforestation than surrounding areas. WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE

After a decade of disappointing failures, UN-backed schemes to fight climate change by capturing carbon in the world’s forests are set for a comeback. Big new funding will be announced at next week’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland that would deliver billions of dollars in private finance for conservation projects in tropical forests, with governments and companies being able to use the carbon offsets from those projects to achieve their net-zero emissions pledges.

But concerns are growing that these new mega-offset projects will happen at the expense of forest communities. Continue reading

Agriculture In Australia Needs A Strategy

‘Farmers are at the interface of the world’s most wicked problems’. A field of canola crops near the New South Wales town of Harden. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Thanks to Gabrielle Chan for this observation on ag down under, and how it impacts us all:

Farmers manage more than half of Australia. We all have a stake in them getting it right

If you eat, you have an interest in farming. If you care about the environment, you have an interest in farming. Yet Australia has no national agriculture strategy

Strip away modernity. Unlearn everything you know about the complexity of your average day. The ordinary interaction, the workaday worries, the pinging of your phone, the relentless roll of the inbox. You are left with the human condition. Continue reading

Nature, Intervention & Protection

Discovery inspires.

Participation motivates.

Discovery + Participation + Organization =

Results

Click any of the images above to go to the website of this organization featured once before in our pages and now again in the article below. It will make more sense after reading the article. But do visit the site and consider volunteering. Take some kids along.

In New York, Kate Orff will use oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges. Photograph by Thomas Prior for The New Yorker

Eric Klinenberg‘s work on the topic of libraries provided a sense of common cause. After featuring so many stories about libraries and librarians (my more recent personal anecdote was purposely brief so did not relay how many ways my local library impacted my young life, a topic for another day), his book summed up much of why the institution matters to us. And then some. Advocating for libraries was something a talented academic could do on a larger scale than we could in these pages, especially with publications like those. Bravo. And now this.

After lots of attention to rewilding in these pages, plenty of it related to urban landscapes, the same author that further illuminated our understanding about the value of libraries has convinced me of how much more there is to learn on this topic:

The Seas Are Rising. Could Oysters Help?

How a landscape architect is enlisting nature to defend our coastal cities against climate change—and doing it on the cheap.

On a windy afternoon in April, the landscape architect Kate Orff stood on the open walkway of a container crane, some eighty feet above the Red Hook Terminal, in Brooklyn, and the Buttermilk Channel, a tidal strait on the southeast side of Governors Island. Continue reading

Volts, A Panic-Mitigation Option

Volts: a newsletter about clean energy and politics

What with climate change accelerating and US politics falling apart, it’s pretty grim out there. Yet alongside these doom loops, somewhat anomalously, something good is happening: the transition away from fossil fuels to clean, carbon-free energy is underway, and it is accelerating every day

Our reading and listening options are constantly expanding and contracting, and especially with climate change and energy topics in particular it can be challenging to find options that do not simply induce panic. We have our regular go-to sources, like Yale e360, that has been creatively informative without just heaping on the bleak (any more than necessary, which it sometimes is). A recent discovery of an analytical source worth sharing is this newsletter/podcast combo by David Roberts. Below is the most recent podcast:

Volts podcast: rampant environmental rule-breaking and how to fix it, with Cynthia Giles

Designing rules (including climate rules) that are harder to break

The US has hundreds of environmental rules and regulations on the books, meant to achieve various environmental goals — clean up coal plants, reduce toxins in consumer products, limit agricultural waste, and so on.

Once these rules and regulations are put in place, most people don’t give them a lot of thought. To the extent they do, they tend to believe two things: one, that environmental rules are generally followed (maybe, what, 3-5 percent break the rules?), and two, that the answer to noncompliance is increased enforcement.

According to Cynthia Giles, both those assumptions are dead wrong.

 

Greenland Ends Drilling For Oil

Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland. Climate change is having a profound effect in Greenland with glaciers and the Greenland ice cap retreating. Ulrik Pedersen / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Thanks to Ecowatch for publishing this story by Andrea Germanos:

‘Future Belongs to Renewable Energy’: Greenland Ditches All Oil Drilling

Greenland announced Thursday a halt on new oil and gas exploration, citing climate and other environmental impacts.

“Great news!” responded the Center for International Environmental Law.

The government of Greenland, an autonomous Danish dependent territory, framed the move as necessary to transition away from fossil fuels. Continue reading

Year 9, Day 365

Seth’s photo of the view from the hill at Morgan’s Rock in Nicaragua

Today marks ten years since the first post on this platform. Seth’s description of a crab-eating little possum wandering by as he was reading, and a sloth-sighting together with two people visiting Nicaragua from the USA, reads like an entry in a travelogue. A later post about boarding down a volcano was the most viewed post of the first year.

Seth sandboarding down Volcán Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

A man named Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru, was on a hunger strike to protest corruption when Michael, a senior at Amherst College, landed in India to begin an internship

Michael’s first post likewise starts as a travelogue, but veers into different territory as he reads the news about two men who are sacrificing comfort, and even life, for causes they believe in. The post goes on to identify drinking water as a cause worthy of the reader’s attention. Over the course of his time with us in India he wrote some of my personal favorites. He helped me better understand that the value of the internships we offered were as much about personal growth as about work experience.

Within a few years, permits could be issued for commercial miners hoping to harvest the submerged wealth of the sea. Illustration by Sophi Miyoko Gullbrants

A decade was set in motion. This is our 10,286th post. Whatever meaning might be drawn from statistics, such as 827,462 views of our posts as of this writing, I find reasons to continue what those two started. Every day a bird is featured, thanks to Amie’s network of bird photographers. And every day I scan the news to share something enlightening, or I jot a note about a new idea we are trying out, always related to causes we care about. Today, on this rounding out of a decade, I mark the occasion by sharing the latest publication of a writer whose work rarely makes me happy but who I nonetheless link to often as a head-out-of-the-sand gesture:

The Deep Sea Is Filled with Treasure, but It Comes at a Price

We’ve barely explored the darkest realm of the ocean. With rare-metal mining on the rise, we’re already destroying it.

June 14, 2021

The International Seabed Authority is headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, in a building that looks a bit like a prison and a bit like a Holiday Inn. The I.S.A., which has been described as “chronically overlooked” and is so obscure that even many Jamaicans don’t know it exists, has jurisdiction over roughly half the globe. Continue reading

Planting Trees & Second Thoughts

Way back when, the idea of planting a million trees was set in motion. I missed this Economist film and article at that time, but while pursuing planting I have seen other related concerns, each of which is worthy of consideration (as we continue planting):

The Story Behind
Climate change: the trouble with trees

Why tree planting is not the panacea some had hoped

Here you will find some of the resources used in the production of The Economist’s film “Climate change: the trouble with trees” along with exclusive additional material. It is part of the “The Story Behind”, a film series that reveals the processes that shape our video journalism. Continue reading

Milkweed, Monarchs & Meaning

A monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant in Vista, Calif. Gregory Bull

We feature monarch butterflies in our pages to highlight conservation challenges, and milkweed is often part of the story. Claire Fahy’s story below reminds me that the link between the insect and the plant, and the effort in California to repair that link, is one example of why we created, and why I continue to post on, this platform. A short statement of purpose might be something like: in hope there is meaning. June 15 will mark the 10th anniversary of the first post, and I intend to start the next decade with a more regular series on our regeneration efforts on a few acres of land here in Costa Rica. Because it provides a sense of meaning, among other reasons. So we thank those in California who are doing the same on a 200x scale:

A coalition of conservation groups have partnered with the state to add 30,000 milkweed plants in an attempt to restore the species’ population.

A consortium hoping to rescue the Western monarch butterfly is planting three varieties of milkweed: showy milkweed, narrowleaf milkweed and a desert milkweed. Rob Cardillo for The New York Times

Known for their windowpane wing design and bright orange color, Western monarch butterflies add a dash of magic to the California coast, where they spend the winter. Now a coalition of conservation groups, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the environmentalist organization River Partners are working together to extend a lifeline to the monarchs, whose population has been dwindling drastically.

The groups have embarked on an effort to add 30,000 milkweed plants across the state to provide the butterflies with places to breed and acquire the sustenance for migration.

The Western monarchs’ California population has fallen 99 percent since the 1980s, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. A major factor in that drop has been a decline in milkweed caused by farming and pesticide use. Milkweed is vital to monarchs as a place to lay eggs and as a food source for their caterpillars. Continue reading

Exxon’s Emerging Reckoning

The pressure has been mounting for some time, but it is finally causing needed changes. There were plenty of headlines late last week, but only today do we feel this news means something potentially lasting:

ExxonMobil loses a proxy fight with green investors

An activist hedge fund succeeds in nominating at least two climate-friendly directors to the energy giant’s board

“The stone age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of petroleum.” That battle cry animates critics of Big Oil, who dream of phasing out hydrocarbons in favour of cleaner fuels and technologies. Continue reading

Michelle Nijhuis On Species Solidarity

LUISA RIVERA

Michelle Nijhuis is one of several science writers who have made our pages better in the 10 years since we started this platform. This essay is in good company:

Species Solidarity: Rediscovering Our Connection to the Web of Life

As climate change intensifies and human activity impacts every corner of the planet, repairing our world increasingly means realizing that our fate is intertwined with that of other animal and plant species — not separate from theirs — and that we must think and act accordingly. Continue reading

Belize Maya Forest, Mission Accomplished

The Belize Maya Forest is home to five species of wild cat, including endangered ocelots. Photograph: Sergi Reboredo/Sipa USA/PA

The photo above, from the news story below, is similar not only to guest photos I saw but of sightings too quick to catch well on my on phone camera in 2016 and 2017. During that period, when we were under contract to oversee the management transition at Chan Chich Lodge, wilderness conservation was our primary motivation. In addition to the animal wildlife, the forest was habitat for other forms of life that have had a lasting impact on me. When we started offering ojoche in our shops in Costa Rica, I was able to check off one more item on a long to-do list that came from the time in Belize.

The last felled trees in Belize Maya Forest. Photograph: Handout

The idea for organizing a group of investors to accomplish this protection was more than well-formed. Names were attached to the idea already, and it was easy to imagine then that they were the right names; it just took more time than I expected for it to get accomplished. Now that it is, if anything this news understates the wow factor:

Conservation organisations purchase 950 sq km biodiversity hotspot, helping to secure a vital wildlife corridor

“These logs are historic,” says Elma Kay, standing in Belize Maya Forest, where she has been doing an inventory of felled trees. “These are the last logs that were cut here, for mahogany and other hardwoods, left behind by the previous logging company.” Continue reading

The Climate Crisis, Earth Day Edition

Climate activists at a rally in Athens, Greece, in late 2018, hold up banners warning that time is running out on efforts to contain the earth’s warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Photograph by Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben for this Earth Day edition of his newsletter, The Climate Crisis, which we sample from regularly:

How 1.5 Degrees Became the Key to Climate Progress

The number has dramatically reorganized global thinking around the climate.

It’s Earth Day +51, as we near the end of President Biden’s first hundred days, and forty world leaders are scheduled to join him for a virtual summit on climate change. “For those of you who are excited about climate, we will have a lot more to say next week,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said last Thursday, which is a sweet way to think about it—better than “for those of you who are existentially depressed about climate.” Continue reading