RSS Feeds 11.27.12
News by Nature this week: In Good News we pay homage to the Season of Giving, time not presents.
Are these signs of the times, the future of our country? NBN certainly hopes so. It may seem odd that, during the bright and shiny season, we’re wishing for the return of the beat-up pick-up and the shelving of big-boy toys like snowmobiles. But there was a time in this country when we didn’t replace cars, we fixed them and we knew how to have fun without burning gas. Now dog grooming parlors have replaced our shoe repair shops, shopping malls have replaced our downtowns. Kids no longer scream for ice cream, steak is “for dinner” not special occasions, and shopping is no longer a chore it’s an affliction. How seriously can the world take the U.S. economic crisis when we waste 45 percent of the food we produce? For that matter how seriously can Americans take our national debt while we waste all that food and we waste more than half the energy we burn? In the process of wasting all these natural resources we've accumulated a debt this nation had better take a lot more seriously. For the past century as our levels of waste have gone up in lockstep with our standard of living it has all come at the expense of our planet. Now, judging by the recent avalanche of global warming bad news, the planet is getting a little tired of footing the bill. The past election suggests this country might finally be getting tired of being told by the people profiting from all this waste that this is the American way. If so, that can only mean our much prized standard of living, at least as these profiteers define it, is heading down. However, as we point out in Good News this week, that may well mean our standard of living will be going way up according to the most valuable measure of all. Below we have NBN’s take on morsels of recent media meditating on similar subjects. Thanks for reading NBN and have a contemplative Christmas, a healthy Hanukkah and/or a quite Kwanza.
11.27.12 IN NBN
News by Nature looks at global warming, ignorance, responsibility and the elections vis-a-vis Popular Wisdom this week.
Welcome to the Long Island offices of News by Nature. That climatological disturbance in the video is Hurricane Sandy. The high water is being propelled by the first of what were forecast to be three successively higher tides that were expected to have those waves breaking on the 2-by-4 exterior walls of the offices facing northeast. Yeah, we pretty much thought that it was time to look for new offices. And yeah, we were pretty upset over it. Not at the wind, but at the folks who still say the wholesale proliferation of these record weather events has nothing to do with this country’s rabid use of climate changing energy sources to fuel a lifestyle that wastes between 35 and 40 percent of that energy.
Is it possible to send NBN’s office repair bill to the folks still driving Hummers to work and refusing out of principle to use energy efficient lightbulbs? No that would be un-American, according to the roughly 59 million Americans who voted for Romney in the past election. Their choice of leader says each of us has a constitutional right to take from this planet what we want, how we want, even as the number of us doing the taking grows exponentially. Amazingly, 62 million Americans elected a leader tepidly aligning his administration against that idea. Does that mean we’re heading for a leaner, more efficient country that uses energy wisely enough to beat back these waves? Before the past election NBN didn’t think that humans, as a species, could be that selfless. But as we discuss in Popular Wisdom this week, NBN has been wrong before and we’ve never been so happy to possibly be wrong again. Below are a few tasty treats from the last few weeks that further weigh that possibility. Have a great week folks and thank you for reading News by Nature.
11.07.12 in NBN
In News by Nature this week we revisit the piping plover problem, what NBN failed to do about it and why, in Endangered Species News.
Welcome to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Welcome, as the signs suggest, may be the wrong word. That’s because seven miles of extremely popular beach behind these signs were closed all summer to accommodate a population of federally protected piping plovers which are listed as a “threatened” species, one step up from endangered on the stairs down to extinction. The annual closure normally lasts from mid-June to early August. Early on this year storms destroyed the first set of nests so the birds built new nests and laid new eggs. Seeing this the refuge manager decided to keep the beach closed until the end of August. As you can see this is a gorgeous, shallow, sandy stretch of ocean beach, ideal for children. It is by far the most popular beach on the refuge. As a one-time incident this extended closure can be understood. But now talk around the refuge is it might be an annual event because a population of least terns have taken up residence on these beaches and they need a little more time to fledge. Least terns are also protected. Massachusetts state conservation laws list them as a species of “special concern” which is a few more steps up the same set of stairs. So, as far as human recreation is concerned, this very popular public beach is no longer open to the public. At the same time state-owned beaches right next door are open to the public despite the presence of plovers. On that beach fencing is used to keep people off the nests. Similar public policy inconsistencies are playing out across the country pretty much on any beach that a pair of plovers decides to call home, infuriating those the polices aim to serve. Hence the proliferation of piping plover tastes like chicken tee-shirts and bumper sticker. The reason we write about it (again) in Endangered Species News this week is NBN was prepared to make this and other well articulated points in federal court recently when we saw the light. Helping us was a U.S. conservation officer who ticketed NBN for walking on the beach behind these signs this summer. He was quite determined that we not make our case in court and we’re still not sure why. But we are a little surer now that he was right, or at least not dead wrong. Below are a few snippets selected from the past few week’s green news that have nothing to do with protecting plovers, but we think you might find interesting anyway. Thank you for reading NBN.
10.15.12 in NBN
News by Nature this week proposes old fashioned methods to modernize the country's fishing fleet in Commercial Fishing News.
Welcome to the modern day version of the cod boat. This is how it once was done: fishermen with nerves of steel and ice water in their veins battling the elements with hook and line to draw their livelihood from the ocean’s largess. OK, so nobody needed nerves of steel on the glass calm day spent 75 miles off-shore in this 90-foot party boat a few weeks back. And the only thing running through anybody’s veins was Budweiser—see guy with can at right, yes that sun is rising, not setting. Despite the beers for breakfast, the folks on this boat were very good fishermen who caught between 30 and 100 fish ranging between 3 and 30 pounds each. With cod and haddock fillets coming in at $8 to $10 a pound, their catch equaled or exceeded the cost to get on board. Moreover, everyone on this boat was grinning ear to ear for the entire five-hour ride back home, which is why NBN writes about it this week. Unbeknownst to the 300 million or so Americans who wouldn’t dream of paying $220 to get on this boat, commercial fishing represents like nothing else the importance of the environment in the argument over government regulation versus free enterprise. Recent regulation curtailing the cod catch for commercial fishermen using nets instead of people and poles is decried as job killing because those regulations are turning their industry over to huge factory ships. You heard right, Mom and Pop fishing boats are being bankrupted by government policy called Catch Shares passed by the Obama administration that favor corporate-owned, factory ships. Which has NBN asking this week: What Democrat or Republican in their right mind favors government regulation that favors large corporations over small business owners? You guessed it, NBN does, and we explain why in Commercial Fishing News this week. Hint: it has a lot to do with the $220 these people paid to immerse themselves in fish excretions for 20 hours. Below we weigh in on a few other topical items, some of which also have something to do with commercial fishing.
09.18.12 in NBN
In News by Nature this week we get mad as hell over things we can’t do anything about. In Popular Wisdom guest writer Mark Lennon is mad as hell, at least he sounds it, over military spending and in Opinion News NBN is definitely mad as hell over anti-conservation conservatives.
When NBN first heard of the book “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World,” we were thrilled. Finally, we thought, there’s someone else out there sharing our optimistic outlook in the face of pending disaster. There is someone else who believes humans, as a species, really aren’t so profoundly selfish that they’d gladly saw the limb on which they stand as long as there is someone on the ground assuring them it’s the right thing to do. Then we got into the book. The rosy future this author predicts comes only after the end of the world as we know it. NBN, like so many others with saw in hand, kind of likes the world as we’ve known it.
But, after watching this election unfold, we’re beginning to think the author is right.Elections provide a window into a nation’s collective conscience that years of scientific endeavor cannot. The freer the country the cleaner the window and in this, the freest country in the world, the view of the American psyche from Election 2012 is, to say the least, disappointing. Which is why we offer this week the “I’m-Mad-as-Hell-and-I’m-Not-Going-to-Take-It-Anymore” issue of News by Nature. (Editor’s note: NBN absolutely includes itself among the deserving of the insults and invective we level at the world around us this week. Perhaps we’ve even more so, because we so often find ourselves not practicing as passionately as we preach. But this is our website so we proceed pretty much like every other person purporting to act in the public interest: with the firm belief that our ends justify our means.) So in this, our Mad as Hell issue we have a piece in Opinion News on why, these days more than any other, we can’t afford to be Mad as Hell. Also this week, in Popular Wisdom we have a piece by recycling guru Mark Lennon who, if anybody, has earned the right to be Mad as Hell. The target of his wrath: military spending. In a world that increasingly cannot afford to waste any resources, the collective wisdom of the world blithely pumps $1.9 trillion annually into stuff that destroys our most valuable resource: our young men and women. Below we vent on random injustices selected from the news stream over the past two weeks.
09.04.12 in NBN
In News by Nature this week we honor the official opening of the 2012 election, also known as Silly Season, with an issue dedicated to Weird Science.
Q: What do the Romney campaign platform and science have in common? A: Less and less thanks to the ugly little inconveniences nature is thrusting upon the party of “Hell No” at a time it can least afford it. (Thank you Isaac, for your keen sense of timing and irony.) To address increasingly intractable problems in this country, the Republicans find themselves relying less on science and placing their faith in religion and a system of governance forged a quarter millennium ago for a country with 1/100th the population. To get elected the Romney campaign will have to rely on an awful lot of ignorance by American voters, particularly in the areas of science, and nature has not been making that job any easier of late. Taken one at a time, environmental maladies like freakishly frequent tornadoes, protracted drought, a wildfire epidemic, or relentlessly record weather events could be seen as extremes of normal cycles. But enduring all this at once has got to have even the most stalwart supporter of Todd Akin (see below) wondering if these concurrent calamities aren’t more than an act of God. Yet, here we have the Romney-led Republican Party calling for more domestic oil and coal production as the answer to all our problems. For Romney to get elected a lot of American voters are going to have to flat out ignore a lot of weird environmental stuff going on in this country and embrace the very resource science increasingly says is causing it. With that same idea in mind we have a piece in Weird Science this week about the glut of Gulf of Maine lobster which NBN thinks illustrates nicely the larger problems this country faces. It this lobster population explosion just another normal cycle in nature? Or has the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery become the world’s largest aquaculture project at the expense of all the other fisheries? Is this a problem we really want to solve? Or is making lemonade not always the best answer to too many lemons? Then again, lemon does go real well with lobster. Below we have our weekly smattering of topical subjects steered toward the bizarre in honor of silly season: the 2012 presidential election. Thank you for reading NBN and have a great week.
08.21.12 in NBN
In News by Nature this week: The politics and problems with radical environmental change we need, in Global Warming News.
Welcome to the heart of New York’s Peconic Bay estuary. This summer an as-yet unexplained plankton is blooming in flows and eddies throughout the waters innervating the creeks and bays of the estuary. NBN has been observing this estuary closely for the past 40 years and can’t quite recall anything like this. In the 1980s there were the all encompassing, shellfish-killing "brown tide" plankton blooms that discolored the entirety of the Peconics. This new plankton appears to be blooming in patches, as is grotesquely exaggerated in the photo-shopped image above of the waters between Nassau Pt and Noyak. The patchwork effect suggests these new brown plankton prefer as-yet unexplained conditions found in some of the currents running throughout the estuary and not others. NBN can't help but wonder: is this due to increasing human population pressures? Or is it just a set of environmental conditions unique to the summer of 2012 helping a unique life form to bloom in select spots? Who knows, maybe similar, smaller blooms took place in past years and no one noticed or wrote about it. As 40-year-old memories of Peconic summers past become increasingly faded, the only historical perspective NBN can offer is that it seems that life of late in the estuary only comes in blooms. One year is great for scallops, while another year is great for porgies. In the midst of these patches of Yoo-Hoo swirling around the Peconics this year kingfish, a tasty species of bottom fish once common but not seen for a few decades, is reported to be making a comeback. The same story of ecobooms replacing ecosystems seems to be unfolding throughout the country. About the only certainty surfacing is that this country must now choose between finding new ways to profit on our unstable ecology or investing in restoring it to an uncertain picture of how it once was. One makes money the other costs a fortune. Toward that end in Global Warming News this week we examine hints that older, wiser elements in the political party of profit might be looking anew at that long-term investment. Could Romney come out in favor of a carbon tax even while tethered to Ryan and the Tea Party? Below we have a few snippets on similar subjects for arguably easier digestion. Have a great weeks folks.
08.07.12 in NBN
News by Nature this week: in Recycling News this week, we have a great guest column about how battling bugs to recycle beds saves the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It’s hard for us to imagine, but NBN has been publishing now for 2.5 years. What sort of publication boasts of its 30th month in operation as a milestone that will hopefully inspire another 30 months? A publication on the verge of shutting down every third week or so. This is hard work and NBN does not get paid. So why do we do it? Thirty months ago NBN published truly awful copy every three days. The rush to publish meant we were overly opinionated, full of errors, and awfully pessimistic. Now, 30 months later, we publish every two weeks and we’re still all of the above with a key exception. We’ve discovered many other writers dedicating unpaid hours to writing stuff read by thousands but unread by millions, that has given NBN great hope. Writers like Bug_Girl, Clover Node and Mark Lennon who all offer practical, easily understood thoughts on everything from honey bee colony collapse disorder to measured environmentalism to passionate recycling. Publishing NBN over the past 30 months has been as rewarding in the writing and research as in the increase, however gradual, in readership. It wouldn’t surprise us if the other essayists out there feel likewise. It’s in the research that we learn more about the world around us and it’s in the writing that we learn how to more effectively communicate what we learn and that has us optimistic. It is our belief that in this time in history more than any other, our contributions, however small, can make a difference. When you multiply those contributions by the many thousands making them, like the folks above, you start to think we’ll win against the enormous resistance by just a few corrupted interests depending on the continued ignorance of the millions not making such contributions or reading them. Toward that end in Recycling News this week, we have a great guest column from Mark Lennon, a principle of IRN-The Recycling Network, about the Blue Ridge Mountains and battling bugs to recycle beds. Sorry, Mark, we’re not running the paean on Billy Buckner you also sent in. NBN loves recycling but we hate the Red Sox. Below we have our take on some recent news of the past two weeks which you may or may not agree with. Either way it’s nice to think, we might have made you think a little more about each of them. That’s why we do what we do.
07.24.12 in NBN
News by Nature this week. In Watershed News we compare gun rights to pollution rights as rights that maybe wrong.
Nestle products pulled from the Atlantic this week.
A while back NBN was sharing a Jersey Shore vacation home living room with considerably less like-minded elements when conversation strayed toward the growing conservative versus liberal chasm in this country. NBN argued that nobody wants their individual rights eroded but that, in an increasingly crowded world where we all must share limited resources, more governance is inevitable if we’re to avoid anarchy. The “conservative element” in the living room said relying on over-governance to curb overcrowding is a slippery slope leading to dictatorship. NBN said that it’s either more governance or more guns. The events in Colorado last week reminded NBN of that conversation and raised this question: What would have happened if all the folks in that theater had guns with them? The same questions revolve around current debate over environmental regulations versus individual rights. Smith and Wesson making jillions bribing congressman to pass laws defending our rights to buy its deadly products is not far from Nestle doing likewise to defend our rights to buy plastic bottles now poisoning the planet. In each case, responsibility is deferred from the one source of the problem that can be held accountable, the producer, to another that can’t be held accountable, the consumer. To ease that deferral Nestle, Smith and Wesson, Koch industries et. al. are spending more than ever before to argue that their right to sell their deadly products is the same as individual rights to purchase them. So, with condolences to the victims of this weekend’s shooting, in Watershed News this week NBN attempts a little conversation on the motives behind defending individual rights and it’s not just the producers at fault here. Below we have a few snippets on subjects that have little do with this topic, but are fascinating all the same. Have a good week folks and thank you for reading NBN.
07.10.12 in NBN
In News by Nature this week we get ambushed by federal agents being over protective of piping plovers, we think. In Endangered Species News.
The July Fourth holiday week saw NBN bogey boarding off the Jersey Shore, fishing for fluke in Barnegat Bay, swimming in Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound, and diving for lobster in the Gulf of Maine. About the only thing we didn’t do was watch fireworks, much to the dismay of the 12-year-old who partook in all the above. Also to the possible dismay of said 12-year-old, each of these adventures was salted with an endless stream of observations about the struggles of each the marine ecosystems involved. The Jersey Shore beaches were sparkling clean but the waters themselves had the omnipresent plastic complained about in the last issue of NBN. The calm waters of the estuary behind those beaches, Barnegat Bay, were like a playground for jetskies and fishing boats, yet steeped in pollution running off of some of the country’s densest, high-end residential development. Long Island’s Peconic Bay estuary was as warm as leftover bathwater and about as funky while Long Island Sound was a lot less of both. The crystalline waters of the Gulf of Maine are disturbingly warm for this time of year but that also means the lobsters came in earlier from offshore. Environmentally speaking, the East Coast from Cape May to Cape Ann was definitely a half-full, half-empty scenario as it was experienced by that same 12-year-old over the holiday. Which has NBN wondering this week: Where will the interests of the nation’s12-year-olds eventually turn as they take all this in on the path to adulthood? Will they focus on taking advantage of the remaining wonders of the world around them: there are still a lot of fluke and lobster to catch out there. Or will they forgo same and work instead to create more lobsters and fluke for someone else to enjoy? These are tough questions for a 12-year-old with only mixed signals out there to help answer them. Toward that end in Endangered Species News this week we tell a tale of reconnaissance and ambush in piping plover country that cost NBN $100 and tax payers $1,000. Below we have a smattering of subjects that we hope illustrate just how confusing this country can be to a 12-year-old figuring out how best to enjoy the outdoors.
6.28.12 In NBN
News by Nature this week: In Recycling News we ask if tax payers should clean up the mess plastic people profit from.
On the left are two pieces of plastic fished out of the ocean during NBN’s first dive of the 2012 season. On the right is the rock field jutting into the Atlantic where this plastic came from. (We have no idea who the bald guy is.) Why post an ugly image alongside a beautiful beach shot? Because every beautiful beach in the world has this ugly crap floating under the surface or washed up along the high tide line. Look real closely at the trash on the left and you’ll see it’s the remnant of a kite themed after the Disney/Pixar movie“Cars”. The tiny thing sitting on top of that is an empty creamer from Garelick Farms dairy. These items are just two of the dozens of pieces of plastic that were washing in the surf that day. What a welcome to the water for 2012. The trash concentration was particularly high that day because recent rains had flushed pretty much everything along the banks of the Merrimack River nine miles to the north into the Atlantic. (No doubt those rains also flushed a lot of sewage from Merrimack River’s half-dozen wastewater treatment plants into the water, but that’s discussion for another day.) So who is to blame for this plastic? The knucklehead who lost control of his kite and the slob who found the river bank a convenient place to toss his coffee creamer? Or should Disney and Garelick be held accountable? Which is a more realistic solution? Find a way to hold every one of seven billion people accountable for the mess they make with the products they buy? Or hold a few hundred of the world’s largest corporations responsible for the mess people make with the products those corporations profit from? We know what GOP presidential candidate Romney would say, which is why some of the ugliest corporate interests in the world are pouring money into his campaign. More elusive is the answer from U.S. voters whose jobs may depend on making those kites and creamers. It’s hard to plan for the future when it comes at the expense of the present. Particularly when we’re broke right now. Toward that end in Recycling News we obviate this answer by tearing apart a press release from the bottle water industry explaining why consumers should clean up the mess made with industry products befouling beaches across the planet. Below we have a few similarly sarcastic snippets on completely unrelated subjects. Have a nice week folks and thank you for reading NBN.
06.12.12 in NBN
This week News by Nature looks at ignoring the present in planning for the future in Global Warming News. Below we have snippets of same for your sampling.
Can you imagine what this lawn will look like when the grass grows in? Lush rolling mounds of carpet green sustained by the annual caress of a half-ton of high nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. Of course, when it rains those chemicals will run off the lawn into the gorgeous little creek that abuts about .35 miles of this property. Another half mile of the creek’s roughly 1.66 miles of shoreline is fronted by homes also administering ever increasing levels of chemical landscaping, upsetting further the creek’s chemistry. Yet, compared to what this former community of bungalows looked like 40 years ago, any visitor from suburbia would say the neighborhood is gorgeous. What they can’t say is what one of the other homeowners on that creek said a few weeks back: that the creek has never been healthier. Seen from a suburban perspective perhaps it is healthy. Crabs, clams and eels are reasonably plentiful. But the key word here is: perspective. For some people, like the garbage collector who owns this property, this creek might seem a wonder of nature. (Of course the mosquitoes and gnats are going to be ferocious requiring even more nasty chemical correction.) Regardless of what the suburbanites now ruling its shores may think, anyone who crabbed, clammed, and went eeling in this creek back when the bungalows ruled its shores, knows it’s a shadow of its former abundance and biodiversity. The really sad part is the homeowner who said it’s healthy. He too was clamming, crabbing and fishing its waters 40 years ago. He might be more inclined than the garbage man to take a harder look at the health of these waters, but he risks discovering he is consciously adding to the problems of a struggling ecosystem that he appreciates much more. These days ignorance isn’t just bliss, it’s an integral part of this country’s philosophical landscape. Along those lines, in Global Warming News this week NBN uses a very well done video discrediting global warming theory to propose both sides of this controversy deliberately ignore arguably more vital environmental issues for the political expedience of keying in on what’s becoming a red herring: the planet isn’t getting warmer it has gotten warm. Below we also have a collection of tidbits we hope are somewhat in keeping with this week’s theme.
05.15.12 IN NBN
Greenport’s Mitchell Park 9 am, Mother’s Day, 2012. An exercise in the error of excess?
NBN is supposed to be an environmental website. So why are we devoting an issue to politics? Because in this day of diminishing natural resources, environmentalism is permeating every facet of politics. Here’s how we see it. Politics is the process of earning people’s support for governments that promise peace and prosperity in return. We’ll leave the peace part for another issue, but certainly America's free-market-focused politics has delivered on the latter, big time: we still have, by far, the world’s highest standard of living. But it’s all come at the expense of the environment and natural resources. Prosperity at the expense of natural resources has been the economic model for civilization worldwide since folks started farming and hunting in packs. That model worked fine when the world had endless resources, including an ever-growing population government could use to acquire those resources. But from clean water and air, to arable land and productive oceans—let’s not leave out oil—the planet is running out of natural resources. That is except for the ever growing population ever-more in need of natural resources and oh-so-easily talked into fighting for them when supplies run low. The world has people in over-stock, and NBN gets the creepy feeling these days that some countries have no problem with clearing out their inventories in the pursuit of natural resource. Now do you see why we’re writing about politics in an environmental website? Every day the environment plays a bigger role in everyday governance as corporations, countries and individuals compete for these dwindling resources. And as that competition gets more fierce, we either prepare to dramatically reduce populations or find a new economic model. That is assuming we want to save the planet. This country, despite all the hits it’s taken, is best poised to lead the way to this new economic model. The world is clearly at a crossroads and NBN thinks this country, as a world leader, is dangerously close to taking a wrong turn. In Popular Wisdom this week we have a story about a tiny Long Island village at a similar crossroads 12 years ago as an illustration of the risks involved in betting on economic expansion and how it can be so tempting to make those bets anyway. Below we have a handful of snippets also shedding light on the politics of less-than-plenty. Thank you for reading News by Nature.
5.01.12 IN NBN
In News by Nature this week it’s all evolution all the time, almost. In Opinion News we look at the role of learning in genetics and experts who say there isn’t one, and below we have our take on some recent revolutionary evolutionary news.
EMIL WOLFGANG MENZEL Jr. 1929-2012
There is a reason no one recognizes this man. It’s because he lived for science not for recognition. Yet, if he’d taken his considerable genius in other directions, it’s likely many more people would be morning his death last month. Prof. Emil Menzel was a primatologist and student of animal behavior at a time when the likes of Harry Harlow and B.F. Skinner made the science as close to being a household name as it ever came or will ever come. Those fortunate enough to have him as a professor at Stony Brook University in New York in the early1980s might have wondered why this fellow wasn’t at Harvard or Yale or enjoying the fame of Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey, the latter whom came to talk to Menzel’s class three years before she was murdered. Not as any reflection on his illustrious colleagues, but Menzel had a pure curiosity that reveled more in discovery than being discovered. His students read fascinating texts like Hafstadler’s Godell, Escher and Bach and studied in detail E.O. Wilson’s sociobiology, long before Wilson became a science rock star. Menzel was at the epicenter of research revealing a sophistication to primate thinking Skinner was reluctant to credit humans with. He was involved in Harlow’s controversial but ground breaking isolation studies of caged baby monkeys with terry cloth or wire mesh mothers. Yet, as a professor years later, Menzel was a disciple of observation-based research who discouraged mistreating animals for the purpose of science. He was an inspiring teacher and a great thinker. Menzel found most fascinating 30 years ago what is again becoming a hot subject: the interface between perception and evolution. He illustrated same with the crudest of technology in his pipe tobacco soaked office in the spring of 1982. Before a half dozen students lucky enough to get into his perception lab, he turned the knob on a black cigar box studded with tiny lights. As he did so, the flashing abruptly went from appearing random to suddenly looking like something akin to a cross. The grin that crossed his face as he watched the perception change uniformly amongst all his students at the same time is a little hard to describe. Harder still is understanding why anyone would give a lab-rat’s ass over this sudden change in perception by a handful of college students staring at a box with flashing lights. If you read our piece in Opinion News this week, you might better understand Menzel’s fascination with how, when and why we see, hear, taste and feel what we do. Below we also have a smattering of stuff we tried to keep focused on our subject of this week: evolution. Goodbye Prof. Menzel, and thank you.
04.17.12 IN NBN
Hey Mickey, over here. Can you see me?
Welcome to Disney World. At least this is the view that greeted NBN staff on a visit two weeks ago. Standing on hour-long lines for days at a stretch and over-paying for bland, fatty, sugary foods may seem an odd form of entertainment. So how is it people pay somewhere between $300-$500 a day for this opportunity? Because when you’re not standing on line or overeating, the remaining 20 percent of your day is spent defying gravity on amazing amusement rides, enjoying state-of-the-art video and holographics, encountering an endless stream of cheerful people, visiting other worlds, visiting other countries, visiting other ecosystems or watching fireworks. Welcome to America. We work hard and we play hard and nowhere more so than at Disney World. This place has taken this singularly American mantra and crystallized it into a cultural bi-polar disorder. Everywhere are huge people wedged between the armrests of electronic scooters, pounding down French fries and cheeseburgers under the guise of “getting outdoors”. Parent’s who have deferred mortgage payments to give their kids a vacation to remember spend half their time yelling at those kids to behave while standing in line. Billions have been spent neutering one of the world’s most robust ecosystems—Florida’s Everglades—to show people the wonders of all the world’s ecosystems. Millions more are spent on exhibits devoted to the future, science, and all they promise in the midst of 30,000 acres of amusements designed to tickle the most primitive of human sensations. Henry the Eighth would love this place, as NBN did. And it’s all financed by the sale of mountains of plastic toys and souvenirs with mark-ups retail grocers dream of and obsolescence car makers would kill for. Which has NBN asking this week: How does a consumption-driven theme park, which embraces in no small measure science, the environment, and the future survive in a world that appears destined to dramatically reduce consumption? It’s a great question which we don’t attempt to answer this week because we spent a large chunk of last week in Disney World. But we’ve got some interesting snippets below for you to feast on. FYI, here’s a neat link discussing recycling at Disney. The comments are great. The place is an enigma and it's not all bad. They are trying to do their part no matter how counter it is to the motivations of their visitors. Have a great week folks and thank you for reading NBN.
04.05.12 in NBN
News by Nature this week is dedicated to the dedicated including a vernal pond volunteer saving woodland wetlands below and in Wastewater Woes and Wonders we have a fellow who is adding new meaning to the term sewer plant.
NBN may have finally gotten over its vernal pond fever. For those who don’t know vernal ponds and the “fever” it can produce, this is the time of year when armies of amphibians of various allegiances head out to tiny ponds in the nation’s northern woodlands for the sole purpose of making more amphibians. NBN caught vernal pond fever eight years during a nighttime fieldtrip to such ponds in Massachusetts’ Cape Ann and we’ve yearned to return ever since. We finally did last week with Rick Roth, shown here, of the Cape Ann Vernal Pond team. We expected to see the same riot of amphibian amore that so enchanted us eight years ago. Instead, all we saw in the ponds were the telltale “breadcrumbs” of salamander sperm, a few fairy shrimp, kadisfly larvae and a toad. There were no writhing balls of “congressing” yellow-spotted salamanders. The expected roar of calling wood frogs and spring peepers, so intent on their mission to mate they ignore flashlights or flashbulbs, was more like a distant chorus of invisible animals that grew silent on our approach. In one night NBN’s affection for vernal ponds went from love unrequited to what others may view as environmental whacko.
But that’s the way it is with vernal ponds. Some nights are busier than others and occasional nights are so frenetic they’ve earned the whole springtime ritual the name “Big Night”. Such was the night eight years ago that NBN caught vernal pond fever: the first warm night of spring with soft rain. That night was extraordinary enough for Rick to remember it as we headed out last week, some 80 or so field trips later for him. Fortunately for all these amphibians, Rick doesn’t have vernal pond fever. He’s just flat out in love, and possibly married to these ignominious ecosystems in that he’s there for them through good trips and bad. As are growing legions of vernal ponds fans throughout the country. Every year they lead nighttime field trips for novice naturalists to see firsthand the defining role vernal ponds play in woodland wetlands. So, what sort of scientist is Rick? He’s not. He’s a carpenter. Every spring while his colleagues relax after a hard day’s work, Rick cheerfully leads 9 pm field trips into the woods and answers the same questions over and again about what those writhing balls of congressing salamanders are really doing. One question he might still struggle with after 20 years as self appointed, volunteer vernal pond tour guide is: Why do it? The answer he won’t give you is this: In his own uncelebrated way, Rick and dozens like him, are making a difference. The dedication of folks like Rick has helped put protective measure in place for these vital ecosystems in woodlands across the country. So this week’s NBN is dedicated to the dedicated who go undecorated and in Wastewater Woes and Wonders we talk of a fellow adding new meaning to the term sewer plant. Just below our weekly snippets include: a new generation of Ghostbusters, the lose-lose battle over China’s solar panel subsidies, the beautiful unseen ocean bottom under the Arctic, and an ignorant global warming skeptic and his rather clever argument.
03.20.12 in NBN
In News by Nature this week: Opinion News uses a Barbie Doll box to argue the advantages of government regulations and in the tidbits below we shed light on evolution, a premature epitaph for the electric car and a Florida congressman making a case for his dying Hummer.
Outside of the idyllic Atlantic Ocean setting there might seem little to propel this video to the position of prominence NBN has given it on our front page this week. It’s the unseen stuff that makes it noteworthy. First, is the solitude. This paddleboard surfer was completely alone. There’s no one on the beach which is at the end of a dirt road at the end of a nature preserve in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. Next, he’s having a terrific time burning nothing but fat. Lastly, it’s Tuesday morning. Dollars to donuts this guy is not retired and a finsky gets you frosting he going back to work when the tide comes back in. Anybody thinking that this country isn’t changing in dramatic fashion needs to look again at this video. Welcome to the future. The definitions of work, fun and life are getting blurrier, just as a battle rages on the national political stage to put this guy back on a jetsky, on a beach shared with thousands on an August afternoon on vacation from his 9-to-5. That’s what this issue of NBN is all about: doing things differently in a country where efficiency is the new engine of the economy. Toward that end, in Opinion News we use an overbuilt Barbie Doll box as the foundation for making America great again. Just below we look at: a Florida congressman’s angst over filling his Hummer; two Thomas Friedman columns suggesting that Florida congressman won’t get re-elected; greatly exaggerated rumors of the death of the electric car; and we digress a bit with some theorizing about the engines of evolution and global warming. Thank you for reading NBN and have a great week.
03.06.12 IN NBN:
The Winter That Wasn't
The Winter That Wasn't
This Week in News by Nature: In Biodiversity News, and a few snippets below, we look at The Winter That Wasn’t, what it will mean for the Spring that won’t be sprung and what that might mean for the future that follows.
Pictured here is the back yard of the Massachusetts offices of NBN. All those little white dots are actually droppings from a bird called the starling which roosts by the hundreds, or thousands, in late fall in these parts, and others, more north than south. But this picture was taken late February. Why are these birds making a mess of brickwork in Massachusetts when they should be exacting their aim on folks more south than north? We might also ask the same of Right Whales now frolicking off Cape Cod weeks ahead of schedule or wood frogs and salamanders reportedly making their way toward Virginian vernal ponds when they should still be snuggled under a mat of forest leaves. Welcome to The Winter That Wasn’t. One of the warmest winters on record is revealing what happens when nature’s rhythms are serious screwed with. Is global warming turning our ecosystems into eco-chaos? Not so fast, say the global warming skeptics who shun science for anecdote when assessing matters of global import. How can the world be getting warming when Europe experienced one of the worst winters on record? While global warming skeptics and believers alike may never live to really feel the temperature rise under debate, even the most disdainful of scientific discipline might have to admit this year that something’s going on. We discuss some of the winter weather weirdness mentioned above in the columns below. We also have a few graphs in Biodiversity News about why all this bad news could be good news for the future of this country. Have a great week folks and thank you for reading NBN.
02.22.12 IN NBN: BAD NEWS
All it took was a week in Maui to find a whole new appreciation of biodiversity. Shown here is the smallest of samples of the riot of different animal and plant species there, all living happily together in the waters and on the lands that make up Maui. We selected these photos because these species are likely more vulnerable than most to global warming because they are very specialized. Change their surroundings and they are less likely to adapt to those changes. These are evolution’s outliers: Species that arose solely through the ecological stability of this planet over the ages. The reason they are doing so well out in the middle of the Pacific is due to the relative stability—read, lack of human interference—out there. NBN could find only one marine deadzone throughout the entire Hawaiian island chain. It's right in the heart of the U.S. Navel base at Pearl Harbor. More interesting still, is what will happen to this biodiversity backwater when global warming starts to really takes its toll, in another 30 years or so. Probably, very little due largely to the relative lack of low-lying lands in Hawaii, the relative ease of preventing the introduction of invasive species, and the temperature-stabilizing/pollution-diluting powers of the vast ocean surrounding the islands. While the rest of the world sinks into ecological chaos, Hawaii may well remain as is for centuries to come. It’s funny, NBN was originally going to craft this as its Good News issue after all the wildlife wonders seen in Maui. But, as you will read below, our return to the real world assaulted us with a disturbing dose of Bad News. So welcome to the Bad News issue of NBN: we talk about radical global climate change in our lifetime, a Hawaiian organization’s suspect celebration of the comeback of the green sea turtle, biodiversity and windfarms, an animal rights group using attack drones to “shoot” kill-crazy hunters and a PBS documentary that backs up our belief that global warming is not someone else’s problem. Have a great week folks and thank you for reading News by Nature.
02.22.12 In NBN
Welcome to NBN’s Waste-Not-Want-Not issue. In Opinion News this week we have a piece on all the wonderful, wasteful things in this country. Right below we’ve got a new name for Sin City and below that we offer insight into ice cream cones, self indulgence, and the U.N. conspiracy to reduce oil consumption in this country.
Welcome To Las Vegas. Pictured here is the parking lot of the Rio All Suites Resorts and Casino on Jan. 30, 2012. While much of Rio's business is convention driven and arrives by the bus-load, this parking lot is empty and there is more to this ocean of asphalt on the left that couldn't fit into the frame. The cavernous casino floor of the almost brand new Wynn Encore on the strip was at 5 percent of capacity at 1 pm the next day. Hundreds of tables were empty. Is it possible Sin City is feeling the pinch from the recession? How can it not? This is a city that sells waste as a virtue on a planet placing an ever higher premium on all its resources. And everything gets wasted here: the billions of gallons of fresh water evaporating into the air of the second driest city in the country, the thousands of half-eaten plates of food discarded hourly at the hundreds of buffet restaurants, the millions of incandescent lightbulbs radiating increasingly expensive energy into nothing. Let’s not leave out the money wasted in the casinos. Anyone want to guess at the carbon footprint of The Strip when you take the hard-earned cash tossed around like confetti into consideration? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas because no one wants the rest of the world to know how irresponsible we can be when immersed in a culture that says waste is fun. It lets you think, if just for a brief period, that life’s essentials are non-essential. The bloom is off the rose folks. Fun or not, the planet can no longer afford to subsidize this bizarre notion that it’s somehow OK to rampantly waste the natural resources we all share because the people encouraging us to do so say we have a constitutional right to. Toward that end we offer you an 800 word rant in Opinion News this week on other forms of waste, one even more obscene than Vegas, and a few constitutional amendments we’d like to see that might reduce that waste and still guarantee our right to the pursuit of happiness. Have a great week folks and thank you for reading News by Nature. We can only hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy writing it.
01.24.12 In NBN
_In News by Nature this week: Weird Science News looks at evolution through the eyes of an octopus-imitating fish. In our RSS Feeds below we have: the genetic grass is greener on the other side of the river, survival of the un-fittest in salmon farming, and the Galapagos tortoise Lonesome George finds a friend and possible relative.
Evolution did not favor the left red bud. Let's hope its younger sister fares better.
_In matters of evolution NBN has timidly tread where no sane scientist would dare, suggesting Darwin’s theory does not explain all that we see in biodiversity. This week, no more timidity. Darwin’s theory of evolution—that random mutation in DNA helps some offspring more than others—just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. We’re not talking Rick Perry-esque skepticism. Rather, we’re thinking learning, and other environmental influences, also drive genetic diversity, possibly a lot faster than could occur by random mutation alone. There are all kinds of ways to affect an individual’s fitness for survival. Take this Christmas cactus for example. Last year NBN cross-fertilized blossoms from this plant with another slightly different strain of the Christmas cactus sharing the same folding table in the window of the offices at NBN. This experiment in evolution produced two bright red buds and a few insights, among them that evolution does not favor species subject to experiments by amateur scientists. If you're looking for more scientific insight, in Weird Science News this week we look at a species of fish that is fairing a little better than our cactus in its own evolutionary experiment. Just below we have snippets on: the genetic grass being greener on the other side of the river, survival of the un-fittest in salmon farming and Lonesome George, the last known living Pinta Island tortoise finds a friend and possible relative. Have a great week folks and thank you for reading NBN.
_01.17.12 In NBN
_ News by Nature this week: In Opinion News we attempt to help some truck drivers see the need for higher gas tax and just below we have our thoughts on the upside of military spending, alternative energy in Iran, the “Great Restaurant Grease Caper” and other tasty tidbits.
_There are waterfront homes, and then there is the "Clam Shack" which became a cause celeb when its owner fought with the city of Newburyport, MA, for the right to renovate what a century ago was a wholesale clam auction house. What you can’t see here is that the Clam Shack sits about six feet--yes, six feet--off one of the busiest streets in the city: Plum Island Turnpike, which connects downtown with the increasingly popular ocean beaches. Who in their right mind sandwiches their living room between a daily avalanche of autos and occasional assaults by the ocean? That’s what the Newburyport zoning board was pondering when it took the owner to task a few years back over the renovation plans. Around the same time the Tea Party started defending the cause of personal responsibility against Big Brother/Big Government nationwide. The city relented and that owner now has expansive views and the unique ability to fish from bed. How could a national movement challenging government regulation sway a local zoning board's ruling in such a case? How could it not? At least in some small way, the growing national sentiment against government interference has got to weigh on the minds of law enforcers everywhere. But what happens when a bigger storms pushes this tide 18 inches higher, as it easily could come spring. This charming waterfront home gets flushed into the middle of Newburyport Harbor and this fellow’s exercising his right to personal property becomes an ugly hazard to navigation saddling the entire community. Would the Tea Party think it an excess of Big Government to force the owner to clean up the mess he made? The Tea Party's embrace of personal liberty is commendable, their ignorance of personal liability is the reason this country is politically and ideologically paralyzed. Toward that end we have a piece in Opinion News this week on NBN’s failed attempt to break that paralysis by helping some skeptical furniture movers believe in global warming. In our RSS feeds below we have our thoughts on the upside of military spending, the down side of alternative energy in Iran, compelling school kids to question global warming and the “Great Restaurant Grease Caper.” Enjoy folks, and thank you for reading NBN.
01.10.12 In NBN
_ Here we have Plum Island, MA, on a balmy January afternoon. That’s right. This is a salt marsh duck pond in January in northeast Massachusetts. This pond should be frozen solid. Instead these mallards are bulking up when ice and snow covered the island this time last year. Most would be tempted to call this a January thaw, the only problem is there was no December freeze. When placed in the context of historical weather data, the mild winter of 2011-2012 just joins others New Englanders have enjoyed over the years. What makes such weather exceptional in NBN’s eyes is the political and economic climate, and the role climate change is playing in both these days. This winter is as extreme in its mildness as last year’s was for its severity. That snowy season was just a warm-up act for the spring that delivered the country’s deadliest string of tornadoes in the mid-Atlantic states, a super-saturated northeast and a drought stricken southwest. Let’s not forget the second warmest summer on record and the warmest fall in much of New England history. Yet we still have legions of Americans completely convinced all this abnormal weather is nothing out of the norm. It’s tempting to blame our political leaders for this Emperor's-New-Clothes populist mis-perception of climate change, but as we point out in Global Warming News this week, the blame lies elsewhere as well. Also this week we share our thoughts on the articles linked below which include a dramatic rethinking of thawing permafrost, California truckers fighting for the right to drive dirty rigs and the U.S. Forest Service’s tilting toward windmills with federal help in Vermont. Have a great week folks and thank you for reading NBN.
01.03.12 In NBN
01.03.12 In NBN
The composting toilet, best photographed in low light.
_Imagine you’re at a dinner party and you ask to use the host’s bathroom only to find a composting toilet like this one here waiting to embrace your underparts. Would you be more reluctant to attend another party at the same host’s house? Despite what the host may believe, NBN thinks that depends more heavily on the host and the party than the potty. It’s not just personal hygiene keeping composting toilets out of every U.S. restroom save those out of reach of running water. Vanity plays a big part: nobody wants to be seen using a product that can so vividly imply indifference toward personal hygiene. Never mind that widespread distribution of these things could mean a quantum leap forward in correcting a growing coastal water pollution calamity called deadzones. “What will the neighbors think” comes much more quickly to mind in this self conscious country then why there are no lobsters in Long Island Sound, crabs in the Chesapeake or fish at the mouth of the Mississippi. Now, as our consumer culture catches on, it looks like the rest of the world wants to be just like us. In NBN this week we try to put the price paid for our vanity and self indulgence into a little planetary perspective. In Watershed News we dwell on what suburban life without flush toilets might be like. Then in Popular Wisdom we question a California consumer asserting his right to buy inefficient light bulbs. Imagine a law forcing that guy to buy a composting toilet? Give him dead zones or give him death. Have a great week, a greater New Year and thank you for reading NBN.
12.14.11 In NBN
_ With many of earth’s ecosystems crippled versions of their former selves, resuscitation has moved far past simply fooling with Mother Nature to something akin to experimental surgery. To illustrate, above we have the latest efforts to control a tall grass called phragmites, in the upper left corner, that experts fear is taking over New England’s largest salt marsh. The huge machines are mowing down phragmites (lower left) in some parts of the salt marsh while native cattails can be found slugging it out with the tall grass for dominance of other parts of the same marsh. The fear is the aggressive invasive will overrun the cattail, and other native grasses, because it is a relative new-comer to the marsh, it has no natural means of keeping it in check. Should that happen, it would turn the entire salt marsh ecosystem on its ear. But the war on invasives in some ways resembles the War on Terror or the War on Drugs: where’s the end game? How do you win these battles? Is mowing down these plants undertaking a battle of attrition better left to the cattails? Might the monster mower money be better spent cleaning up the six aging sewage treatment plants discharging into the river feeding this salt marsh? Is this war on invasive species in general better left to Mother Nature? Perhaps it's time to rethink all these "Wars." In other challenges to conventional environmental wisdom this week we ask in Endangered News why comparatively few salt water species have gone extinct, while in Opinion News we weigh the pros and cons of raising cash for environmental causes by allowing advertizing in our national parks.