Liberalism, Leadership, & The Fourth Estate

9780374279622_custom-5d7f03d8b126fd10509c68fad812ee37387aae6b-s600-c85When we started this platform in 2011 our primary interest in the Guardian was its excellent environmental reporting, and at least one opinion writer whose 2012 environmental views made him regularly welcome in our pages ever since. Today I can amplify how important this newspaper is based on an interview I just listened to with its former longtime editor, the author of this book to the right.

He mentions several points that I have been prone to believe over the last two decades, particularly about the poisoning of the well of public discourse by Rupert Murdoch’s approach to the business of media.

In the classic sense of liberal perspective that should make me think twice, so as not to lean into my own biases. He also helps me to understand the quite unique value of the Guardian, which I was also already prone to believe. Their endowment and general funding model, which I had only vaguely known about, is well explained in this interview and frankly, difficult as it is to be these days, inspiring. Careful as I may be about confirmation bias, I pass this suggestion along; listen to the interview here (just over half an hour), or read the summary below:


On Dec. 3, 2013, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger faced questions from the British Parliament about his newspaper’s decision to publish material leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Alan Rusbridger knows a thing or two about high-stakes journalism.

During his 20-year tenure running the British newspaper The Guardian, he collaborated with NSA contractor Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on blockbuster stories drawn from secret government documents. Though Rusbridger left The Guardian in 2015, he remembers the stress vividly.

“We were publishing every minute of the day around the world,” he says. “It’s a matter of deadlines and never enough information and people trying to sue you and generally harass you.” Continue reading

Plastic Reduction Success Story

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A UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags by 85%. Photograph: Stuart Kelly/Alamy Stock Photo

We never tire of reporting on efforts at plastic-reduction, so thanks to Juliette Jowit and the Guardian for this update:

Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge

Scientists find an estimated 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in the same timeframe as charges were introduced in European countries

A big drop in plastic bags found in the seas around Britain has been credited to the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe. Continue reading

The Land Art Generator Initiative

The Clear Orb is a proposed glass desalination dome 40 meters in diameter, lined with solar cells to generate power to pump seawater. Inside the orb, the sun’s heat would distill the saltwater through evaporation and condensation. The project could generate 3,820 megawatt hours of electricity and 2.2m liters of fresh water a year. The underbelly of the orb is covered in fins that can turn wave action into electricity. Artists: Jaesik Lim, Ahyoung Lee, Jaeyeol Kim, Taegu Lim from Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Land Art Generator Initiative

The Clear Orb is a proposed glass desalination dome 40 meters in diameter, lined with solar cells to generate power to pump seawater. Inside the orb, the sun’s heat would distill the saltwater through evaporation and condensation. The project could generate 3,820 megawatt hours of electricity and 2.2m liters of fresh water a year. The underbelly of the orb is covered in fins that can turn wave action into electricity. Artists: Jaesik Lim, Ahyoung Lee, Jaeyeol Kim, Taegu Lim from Seoul, South Korea.
Photograph: Land Art Generator Initiative

In recent months we’ve seen some interesting competitions blending technology with art and aiming to improve the world in some way, like lionfish hunting, wildlife crime controlling, and milk tea brewing. But a biennial public art contest organized by the Land Art Generator Initiative, featured last week in The Guardian, might be the most impactful in terms of scale and long-term inspiration – although the anti-poaching stuff is pretty good too. Alison Moodie writes (and make sure to follow her first link!):

These ideas illustrate the possibility of marrying aesthetics with renewable energy and water technology and educate the public about the challenges of addressing climate change and feeding a growing population.

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British Wildlife Photography Awards

British autumn season winner: Robert E Fuller, ‘Common weasel’, North Yorkshire, England. Photograph: Robert E Fuller/British Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

British autumn season winner: Robert E Fuller, ‘Common weasel’, North Yorkshire, England. Photograph: Robert E Fuller/British Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

We like to feature different nature photography competition winners here, because the audience always wins, as we put it two years ago. This week, The Guardian is featuring a competition that we hadn’t heard of yet: the British Wildlife Photography Awards. This contest has interesting categories, including photos of Britain in its four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter – all of which were won by a photograph of a family of common weasels:

British summer season winner: Robert E Fuller, ‘Common weasel’, North Yorkshire, England. Photograph: Robert E Fuller/British Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

British summer season winner: Robert E Fuller, ‘Common weasel’, North Yorkshire, England. Photograph: Robert E Fuller/British Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

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Doing More for Protected Lands and Oceans


Photograph: Owen Humphrey’s/PA

Almost fifteen percent of the Earth’s land is enclosed in national parks or other protected areas, which accounts for approximately 20 million sq km. This figure is close to an internationally agreed goal to protect 17 percent of the land surface by 2020. Comparatively, ocean conservation only accounts for 4 percent of total surface of the ocean, covering 15 million sq km. In spite of these statistics – which reflect a positive outcome of the increased attention and importance given to land and ocean conservation – there are concerns over how well these areas are managed and whether they effectively protect endangered species, as Seth wrote a few days ago.

progress report by the UN Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warns that some of the most biodiverse ecosystems are not being protected and that the management of many protected areas is deficient.

Less than 20% of areas considered crucial hubs for species are fully protected, the report states, with countries routinely failing to assess the effectiveness of their national parks nor provide wildlife corridors that allow animals to roam between protected areas.

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VLMPAs Face Risks of Becoming Paper Parks

Image © CNN

President Obama at Midway Atoll. Image © CNN

Two definitions are needed here at the outset: VLMPAs are “very large marine protection areas” and “paper parks” is a phrase used by conservationists and researchers to convey the idea of parks designated by governments only on paper – that is, they don’t get appropriate funding or management to create actual conservation within park limits. Most paper parks are found in developing nations where politicians may have good intentions in setting aside land to protect, but then don’t have enough resources to enforce the rules adequately, or in worse-case scenarios turn a blind eye to extraction if it favors them. Last week I discussed a possible race for bigger parks, and both examples happened to be marine in nature. Two researchers have commented in the academic journal Marine Policy to warn against creating ever-larger marine parks in remote areas that might be hard to monitor, unless there’s commitment for real enforcement. John Vidal reports:

“It is not enough to simply cover the remotest parts of our oceans in notional ‘protection’ – we need to focus on seas closer to shore, where most of the fishing and drilling actually happens,” said Peter Jones, a marine researcher at University College London.

Co-author Elizabeth de Santo, an assistant professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, added that the push for quantity over quality threatens to undermine sustainability.

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Pope Francis says Destroying Environment is a Sin

Photograph: Galazka/Sipa/Rex Shutterstock via The Guardian

We don’t have any religious affiliation here on the site, but understand that the Roman Catholic Pope has a tremendous influence in the world given his position. Any stance that he takes to protect the environment through denouncing pollution and agents of climate change is a good one in our book regardless of the church or theological basis. Josephine McKenna reports:

Pope Francis has called for urgent action to stop climate change and proposed that caring for the environment be added to traditional Christian works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick.

In a message to mark the Catholic church’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation that he launched last year, Francis said the worst impact of global warming was being felt by those who were least responsible for it – refugees and the poor.

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Anthropocene Closer to Becoming Officially Declared

One candidate to be considered as evidence of the Anthropocene is plastic pollution. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve covered the science and evidence behind the idea of our new geological epoch – one influenced by human activity – several times over the years, quoting various sources like The New Yorker, the New York Times, and The Economist.  Now, the Working Group on the Anthropocene has presented their official recommendation to the International Geological Congress that the Anthropocene be declared a new epoch starting around 1950, based on world-wide evidence such as radioactive elements from nuclear bomb explosions, plastic pollution, and even domesticated chicken bones. Damian Carrington reports:

The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene.

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Papahānaumokuākea Quadrupled

Humuhumunukunukuāpua`a, the state fish of Hawaii (reef trigger fish) via

Hot on the heels of the creation of the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument comes the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which was designated by President George W. Bush in 2006 and became a World Heritage site four years later. This growth in the protected area quadruples the conservation monument’s size to 582,578 square miles and has been accomplished under President Barack Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act. Oliver Milman reports:

The monument, which is now double the size of Texas, stretches outward from the north-western Hawaiian islands and includes Midway Atoll, famed for its former military base and eponymous battle that was crucial in the US defeat of Japan in the second world war. The protected area is now larger than the previous largest marine reserve, situated around the Pitcairn Islands and announced by the UK last year.

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Polled Brits Support EU’s Strong Wildlife Protection

We featured an opinion editorial from Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett in The Guardian about Brexit’s effect on the environment exactly two months ago, and now the same publication is sharing pretty good news from a YouGov opinion poll in the UK whose results were released today. Apparently, a significant majority of Brits who were polled are in favor of laws protecting wildlife and their habitat that are at least as strong as the EU regulations already in place, but which wouldn’t apply post-Brexit. Some even support stronger environmental protection in the farming industry than current EU Common Agricultural Policy, especially wanting a ban in neonicotinoid pesticides. Damian Carrington reports:

Much of the protection of British wildlife and the environment stems from EU’s birds and habitat directives, but these will have to be replaced when the UK leaves the bloc. Farming minister George Eustice campaigned for the UK to leave the EU and told the Guardian in May that these directives were “spirit crushing” and “would go”.

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Keystone, Canary, and Weedy Species


Art © US State Dept./Doug Thompson

We wrote on these two biodiversity conservation ideas in the last month, and will continue to develop that theme for some time. Writing for The Guardian, biologist James Dyke explains a recent scientific study he was involved in that divided organisms into three distinct types, with “canary” species being the most important to monitor as indicators for ecosystem health:

The Earth’s biodiversity is under attack. We would need to travel back over 65 million years to find rates of species loss as high as we are witnessing today.

Conservation often focuses on the big, enigmatic animals – tigers, polar bears, whales. There are many reasons to want to save these species from extinction. But what about the vast majority of life that we barely notice? The bugs and grubs that can appear or vanish from ecosystems without any apparent impact?

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UK Starbucks to Trial Actually Recyclable Cups

© frugalcup

It turns out that only one in four-hundred paper coffee cups are recycled in the UK; the rest of the 2.5 billion cups used every year are thrown in landfills or turned into greenhouse gases via incineration. The main problem, apart from people simply not throwing the cups in recycling bins, is the plastic lamination on the paper that makes the cups more waterproof. A new cup being released this week, made by a company called Frugalpac uses a thinner film that can be more easily removed to recycle the paper, which itself is less chemically treated than conventional cups.

Starbucks in the UK has announced that it will trial these more easily recycled cups, and hopefully they’ll stick with it. Rebecca Smithers writes for The Guardian:

The cups will feature in a forthcoming television investigation by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. For his next War on Waste documentary, which airs on BBC1 on 28 July, the chef and campaigner has challenged major coffee shop chains to explain why more cups are not recycled and consumers not given better information about environmentally friendly disposal. But Starbucks, one of the UK’s largest coffee chains, is set to be the first retailer to test the product, saying it will trial the Frugalpac cup in some branches.

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Honeyguide Relationship can Include Talking

Greater Honeyguide specimen used in Cornell’s Ornithology course (photo and handling by a teaching assistant)

When I took Cornell’s course in ornithology, we learned about all the bird families in the world to varying extent, often based on the number of species within each family or how interesting they were to our professor. One family that we did not cover with great depth, but which was considered a “cool” example of evolution that could either make for a fascinating science experiment or just good cocktail-party chatting––we were gently reminded that the latter shouldn’t always revolve around weird bird things––was Indicatoridae, or the honeyguides.

While not all members of this family are literally guides to honey, one species in particular, the Greater Honeyguide, is well known for actually showing (or indicating) the way to beehives, where humans can harvest honey and the birds can eat larvae and wax. In this week’s edition of Science, researchers from Cambridge University and University of Cape Town published a paper revealing that the wild birds can actually be better guides when they receive a certain signal from the human honey-hunters. Nicola Davis reports:  Continue reading

Jackfruit: Potential Meat Substitute?

A vegetarian restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, offers the Jack BBQ: jackfruit, onions, and kosher dill pickles served on sourdough bread. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE HEBERT, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

This question has actually already been answered here before. Last year, Rosanna wrote about the fruit, revolving around an article from The Guardian that featured a recipe for pulled pork but with jackfruit replacing the meat. Earlier that month, we had linked to an NPR segment that called them a “nutritional bonanza” that may help with the food crisis in developing countries. And the year before that, we had written another post calling the fruit a “mega food.” So when will that happen for good? Hopefully, soon! Stacie Stukin writes for NatGeo on the would-be fad-food:

When Annie Ryu first encountered a large, spiky orb called jackfruit, she was perplexed. “I thought it was a porcupine,” she says.

But when she ate it prepared in a curry, she was amazed at how meat-like it was in taste and texture. That was in 2011, when she was traveling in southern India as a premed student helping community health workers improve prenatal care. By 2014, she had waylaid her medical career to start The Jackfruit Company.

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New Hybrid Bike Concept from Schaeffler

Damian Carrington testing the Schaeffler Bio-Hybrid. Photograph: Schaeffler

We like bikes, including fresh designs or materials for them, and with news from Paris that vehicles built before 1997 will no longer be allowed in the city during weekdays, having more vehicles like this concept design could be useful for commuters looking for a change. Damian Carrington reports for The Guardian:

I’m sitting in a cross between an electric-assisted bicycle and an electric car that looks like a cool golf buggy.

The model I am in is also the only one in the world and cost a lot of money to build. So no pressure as I take this concept vehicle for my first spin. The Schaeffler Bio-Hybrid looks hi-tech, but luckily it is very easy to drive. Or do I mean ride?

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Floating Dairy Farm Planned in Netherlands

Illustration of proposed floating farm by Beladon.

We’ve written about floating solar panels before, and created a floating fence at Xandari Harbour to keep out water hyacinth, but there are plans in Rotterdam for a floating cow farm that will process milk and yogurt, according to Senay Boztas, writing for the Guardian:

Do cows get seasick? It’s not a question farmers often ask, except in the Dutch city of Rotterdam where a team of developers plans to build a floating dairy.

“They won’t here,” says Minke van Wingerden of Beladon, a company involved with water-based projects from a luxury hotel to this floating farm proposed for Rotterdam harbour. “In Friesland, where I come from, sometimes they bring cows from one place to another on a small barge,” van Wingerden recalls. “[The floating farm] will be very stable. When you are on a cruise ship, you aren’t seasick.”

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Phenology Disrupted by Climate Change in the UK

The UK has a rich history of biological recording by scientists and ‘citizen scientists’ who document the first signs of spring. Photograph: Alamy/Guardian

We first heard of the word phenology on this site back in 2012, from writings on a citizen science workshop in the Galápagos. Since then, the term has been linked to citizen science in the context of forest life cycles in England, coffee farming in Costa Rica, and orchids in the United Kingdom. It’s a good thing that there’s a history of normal people collecting information on nature’s timelines in Britain, because that provides rich and deep data on changing phenology with a warming climate. Jessica Aldred reports for the Guardian on a new study published in Nature:

Climate change is disrupting the seasonal behaviour of Britain’s plants and animals, with rising temperatures having an impact on species at different levels of the food chain, new research shows.

The result could be widespread “desynchronisation” between species and their phenological events – seasonal biological cycles such as breeding and migration – that could affect the functioning of entire ecosystems, according to the large-scale study published this week in the journal Nature.

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Op-ed: Can Brexit Work for the Environment?

Magazine cover by Barry Blitt

We’ve been reading for several weeks now in The Guardian that leaving the European Union would not be good for the United Kingdom’s air pollution problems, their landfill waste management, their wildlife conservation, and so on. Now that the vote has been made and the break will happen, Craig Bennet, CEO of the environmental justice and advocacy group Friends of the Earth, has written a piece for the British news source pleading with readers to not let a departure from the E.U. start a downward spiral on environmental issues for the U.K:

Friends of the Earth campaigned vigorously to remain in the EU. Membership of Europe has been good for our ‘green and pleasant land’, and the plain truth is that pollution doesn’t recognise national boundaries. It seems obvious to me that the best way of solving anything other than very local environmental problems is for countries to cooperate and develop solutions under a common framework.

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Selling Invasive Species Online

A seller, who was offering to export killer algae (Caulerpa taxifolia) from the UK said he thought it was unlikely that the plants would find their way into the environment if they were disposed of properly. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

We report on the problems of invasives pretty often on this blog, whether its herps, plants, fish, or even mammals. Today, I learned that many of the opportunistic organisms creating problems in the US and UK, as well as Australia, are sold online by merchants on eBay and Amazon, often with no legal repercussions despite trading in banned species. In an article written for The Guardian, Karl Mathiesen discusses the issue. After reading it, I thought of the opportunity for citizen scientists to “tip off” their governments after spending a couple minutes online, browsing for internet traders in invasive species. I’ll be looking into that in the weeks to come. For now, Mathiesen reports:

A killer algae, a monstrous pondweed, a tree that has infested the Everglades and a dozen more of the US’s most environmentally destructive plants have been discovered for sale on eBay. Online traders told the Guardian that ignorance of the law led them to create listings that had spread hundreds of illegal specimens across the country.

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New Marine Park in Malaysia

A map of the new Tun Mustapha marine protected area, which occupies just under one million hectares of seascape, including more than 50 islands. Illustration: WWF Malaysia

The more protected areas for wildlife in the world the better, in our book. So we’re happy to hear that Malaysia has created a new marine park, the largest of its kind in the country, that covers a million hectares, or around two million football fields. With so many coral and fish species in the region, it’s a great step forward for conservation in an area at risk for over-fishing or poor practices like blast or cyanide fishing. Johnny Langenheim reports:

Malaysia has just established the biggest marine protected area (MPA) in the country. The Tun Mustapha park (TMP) occupies 1m hectares (2.47m acres) of seascape off the northern tip of Sabah province in Borneo, a region containing the second largest concentration of coral reefs in Malaysia as well as other important habitats like mangroves, sea grass beds and productive fishing grounds.

It is also home to scores of thousands of people who depend on its resources – from artisanal fishing communities to the commercial fisheries sector – making it in many ways a microcosm of the entire Coral Triangle bioregion, where environmental protection must be balanced with the needs of growing coastal populations.

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