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

Mosquitoes Of The World, And Other Books For Earth Day

Thanks to Matthew L. Miller for this series of book reviews in honor of Earth Day (including the book to the left, which may make you wonder who would be interested in such a topic):

I have a confession: I have never celebrated Earth Day. That may sound almost sacrilegious for a conservation writer to admit, I know. And perhaps it’s more accurate to say I don’t celebrate it in the usual way: going to a festival or concert with some “green” theme. It’s never really been my scene.

Instead, I’ll go for a walk, look for the local birds and wildflowers, hopefully write something about nature and certainly read about it. But that’s pretty much how I spend every day.

“Biodiversity” is one of those terms that gets said a lot on Earth Day. As a concept, I’m not sure it connects to many people. For me, the diversity of life on Earth is not only why I’m a conservationist, it’s one of the main motivators of my life. Continue reading

If You Are Not Already Vegetarian, Know Your Beef Source

logoProgress is slow on the route to vegetarianism, so we monitor what we can about the meat we continue to consume. Thanks to Mighty Earth for this scorecard:

Beef Scorecard: Global Food Brands Failing to Address Largest Driver of Deforestation

WASHINGTON, DC – The world’s top supermarket and fast-food companies are largely ignoring the environmental and human rights abuses caused by their beef products, a new scorecard by Mighty Earth finds. The scorecard evaluates the beef sourcing practices of fifteen of the world’s largest grocery and fast-food companies that have pledged to end deforestation across their supply chains. Despite beef’s role as the top driver of global deforestation, only four companies- Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, and McDonald’s – have taken some action to stop sourcing beef from destructive suppliers. Continue reading

Felling Forests, Featured Frankly

The remnants of an old-growth forest in northern Sweden. Forest biologist Sebastian Kirppu counted over 100 trees more than 150 years old in these piles. Photograph: Marcus Westberg

The Guardian features this gallery of photos with commentary, by Marcus Westberg, to raise awareness; click any image to see the entire collection:

Each year, about 1% of Sweden’s forest is cut down, according to the trade association Swedish Forest Industries, mainly in the northern half of the country. Since 2000, Sweden has lost more than 48,000 sq km (19,000 sq miles) of tree cover, not accounting for replanting, or 17% since 2000, according to Global Forest Watch. It is an area greater than Denmark

‘Forests are not renewable’: the felling of Sweden’s ancient trees

Forests cover 70% of the country, but many argue the Swedish model of replacing old-growth forests with monoculture plantations is bad for biodiversity.

The remains of an old-growth forest are silhouetted against the aurora borealis in Pajala municipality, in Sweden’s northernmost county of Norrbotten

Cherry Blossoms & Public Policy

UNITED STATES – March 30: Visitors gather to watch the sunrise under blooming Japanese cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the original gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington in 1912. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In Washington, D.C. the cherry blossoms came early this year. Plenty was said, including on Texas Public Radio, about the implications related to climate change. Elizabeth Kolbert has this to say, pivoting from cherry blossoms to both environmental and economic policies in the USA:

Biden’s Jobs Plan Is Also a Climate Plan. Will It Make a Difference?

The Administration has an ambitious vision for combatting global warming, but it’s only a start.

Illustration by João Fazenda

The first known reference to Japan’s cherry blossoms comes from the country’s oldest surviving text, the Kojiki, completed in 712. Japan was trying to shrug off the influence of its more powerful neighbor, China, and cherry blossoms became a symbol of Japanese identity, in contrast to the plum blossoms of the Chinese. By the early ninth century, the practice of cherry-blossom viewing had become so well established that the date of the peak bloom appeared in Japanese poems and other literary works. Continue reading

Bottom Trawling’s Carbon Release

Beam trawlers’ heavy chains are dragged along the seabed, releasing carbon into the seawater. Photograph: aphperspective/Alamy

One of the many things that humans have been doing for a long time that are going to have to change:

Bottom trawling releases as much carbon as air travel, landmark study finds

Dragging heavy nets across seabed disturbs marine sediments, world’s largest carbon sink, scientists report

Fishing boats that trawl the ocean floor release as much carbon dioxide as the entire aviation industry, according to a groundbreaking study.

Bottom trawling, a widespread practice in which heavy nets are dragged along the seabed, pumps out 1 gigaton of carbon every year, says the study written by 26 marine biologists, climate experts and economists and published in Nature on Wednesday. Continue reading

Promoting PIMBYism

A good method for converting so-called NIMBY opponents of turbines and other renewable-energy infrastructure would be to give locals a stake in the enterprise’s economic success. Photograph by Simon Dawson / Bloomberg / Getty

“No vote for wind power advocates” – wind power opponents’ election poster for the 2017 parliamentary elections. Source: windwahn.com

We have giant turbines along the ridge at the top of the mountain where we live. I enjoy looking at them, not because they are pretty, or perfect, but because they represent progress. I never had the NIMBY inclination. If the turbines were in my face all day, every day, or if I had some sense that they were affecting my property value, perhaps I would feel differently. I had thought of the acronym PIMBY, thanks to those turbines uphill from us, before reading this, but am glad to see it is a thing. Thanks, as always, to Bill McKibben for his newsletter’s role in getting us to see further down the road:

The Shift to Renewable Energy Can Give More Power to the People

The pandemic has driven a lot of people outdoors: reports show that park visits are up around the world and parking lots at hiking trails are packed. That’s understandable—by now you’d need to chop down a sizable forest to print out the studies showing that time in nature reduces stress, cuts healing times, and enhances the functioning of the immune system. As Sadie Dingfelder wrote in the Washington Post in December, “I’ve always found it relaxing and rejuvenating to be outdoors, but the anxiety and isolation of the pandemic, the uncertainty of civil unrest and, oh, I don’t know, the potential crumbling of American democracy have made me crave nature like a drug.” 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

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