Environment

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Gentle Creatures: Brisbane’s bush stone curlews in the shadow of extinction

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/05/2022 - 12:36pm in

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Environment

As green spaces hemmed in by concrete and glass go, the Botanic Gardens in Brisbane lacks the grandeur of New York’s Central Park or Sydney’s Hyde Park. Yet it is no less welcome a refuge from the thrum and jostle of an ever-expanding city. Once you pass a hundred or so metres from the entrance gates on Alice Street, the persistent discord of traffic fades and only the tips of the adjacent skyscrapers remain visible. All of a sudden, amid palm trees and Banyan figs that have been anchoring themselves to the earth since the time of Ned Kelly, there is room to think and comparatively fresh air to breathe.

Here the enervating heat of Queensland’s progressively longer summers is somewhat mitigated. Gone is the scramble of vehicles and pedestrians negotiating the electronically orchestrated intersections; gone too are the ubiquitous street hawkers and the thudding muzak of the clothing stores. There is even a sense of escape at last from the thousands of CCTV cameras that track movement through the city proper.

That isn’t to say that in the gardens you are not being watched. True enough, the tourists rambling among the flower beds and the students and office workers dotted about on the grass for the most part keep to themselves. But oftentimes there can be found one or more pairs of eyes furtively appraising your every move.

Those eyes belong to the bush stone curlew, a species of bird that resides in a number of Brisbane’s inner-city parklands. Also known as the bush thick-knee, southern stone curlew or weeloo, the curlew is one of those winged creatures that have forsaken the skies for a less extravagant life alongside those of us down on the ground. As many as twenty inhabit the gardens at any one time, dotted about in pairs or gathered in communes of half a dozen or more.

The thing one initially notices about the bush stone curlew is those radiant eyes—obsidian spheres centred in a corona of soft yellow. That is, if you see the bird in the first place. Curlews are well adapted to their favoured settings of wide grassy areas or semi-cleared scrubland. They nest among leaf litter, sticks and bark, their grey-brown streaked plumage blending in with the background so as to make them difficult to spot. Their unusual—if not always successful—defence is to freeze on the ground, often in curious aspects, hoping that a combination of immobility and camouflage will flummox potential predators.

When on the move curlews exhibit a gangly elegance. At the crepuscular hour they throw off their daytime torpor—one ornithological text accuses the bird of ‘loafing during the day’—and begin to jitter about in search of food. If a prospective mate arrives on the scene it engages in a sort of demented fandango. It is at these times that curlews begin to make their presence known to all. Though the name is onomatopoeic, language cannot adequately represent the night call of this eccentric breed. (It is sometimes uttered in the day, especially if rain is approaching.) On occasion the sound is solitary; other times a chorus will burst out in a collective lament so forlorn that First Nations mythology has long associated it with impending death.

Inquisitive, peaceable, harmful to no one, today the call of the curlew is a cry of mourning for the bird itself. It is one of hundreds of species quietly diminishing in twenty-first-century Australia. Once common throughout the country, the bush stone curlew is now listed as endangered in both New South Wales and Victoria. The remaining populations are in the main clustered around the coastal zones of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In these places numbers are said to remain steady. Given humanity’s present course, however, it is only a matter of time before the curlew is obliterated by the environmental free-for-all in which we are engaged.

Susan Sontag once wrote of the ill-fated German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin that he felt he was living in a time when ‘everything valuable was the last of its kind’. The final crisis for Benjamin—played out under the lowering skies of France on the cusp of the Second World War—was how long, ensnared between Nazi forces approaching from the north and east and Francoist Spain blocking escape to the south, it would ‘continue to be physically possible to breathe European air’. Time indeed proved to be short: in September 1940 he suicided at the border between France and Spain.

Were he alive today, Benjamin would be no less convinced that much that is worthwhile in the world is tentative—potentially the last of its kind. As with so many other animals, time is running down for the bush stone curlew: the walls of hyper-modernity are closing in upon it as inexorably as eighty years ago the walls of tyranny were besieging many of Europe’s inhabitants.

Only now we are all tyrants, running roughshod over every other living thing around us.

What can be said about the glum reality of anthropogenic ecological devastation that already hasn’t been voiced thousands of times over? What of worth can a neophyte and non-scientist possibly add to the clamour of protest? There seems little option other than to reiterate a few specifics even the most thoroughgoing sceptic would be hard-pressed to dispute. That in two hundred years the earth has gone from harbouring a few hundred million people to almost eight billion. That in the interim it went from having zero cars, trucks, buses and planes to many tens of millions. That we have managed to simultaneously raze over half of the world’s rainforests. That by means of a generalised and remorseless habitat exploitation we have otherwise hugely diminished the space in which nonhuman species can continue to survive.

The remaining locations around central Brisbane where the bush stone curlew is found eking out an existence—parks; golf courses; industrial estates; grass traffic islands, with cars and trucks barging past in a bedlam of smoke and noise—signify exactly that: a tightening of space. They serve as a dwindling number of prisons where these birds are, for now, safely confined. What little literature there is lists fox predation as the major cause of the curlew’s decline, likely one reason they gravitate to metropolitan locations. However, the curlew’s real predators are the executives and bureaucrats who occupy those office blocks pressing up against the boundaries of the Botanic Gardens.

It is one of the closest buildings to those gardens—located within shouting distance of some of the curlew’s favourite haunts—that contains the bird’s greatest adversaries. That place is Parliament House, where politicians of all stripes work to usher through the mining leases and land-clearing permits and development proposals that help enable the greatest unfolding disaster of the era. Over the past several decades, as Australia’s population of threatened birds has fallen by more than 50 per cent, these harbingers of doom—in concert with their brethren across the country and the rest of the developed world—have hollered and harangued the planet to the precipice of destruction.

In Queensland, those valiant few striving to preserve the environment have been subjected to the most spiteful vitriol. Hansard records parliamentarians referring to environmentalists as ‘eco-terrorists and gutless green germs’, ‘greenie doomsday soothsayers’, ‘pesky stinking greenies’, ‘mouldy hippies with Greenpeace t-shirts and cockroach-infested hair’ and (most breathlessly) ‘unproductive, wealthy, inner-city, elite green activists with their anti-investment, anti-jobs, anti-mining, anti-agriculture agenda’. It reports one member referring to the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires as ‘the direct result of radical greenies getting their hands on planning policy’, another pronouncing the theory around the greenhouse effect as ‘scare tactics’ propagated by ‘headline hunters in the media as well as academics in search of fame’. As late as 2012 it shows a member smugly asserting that nature and its resources are at the service of society, to be used for the benefit of society collectively and as individual persons: to believe otherwise, he concludes, is to ‘worship a false idol called the environment’.

Over the years this besuited mob has legislated for ‘green tape’ reduction in order to fast-track mining operations. They have raged against efforts to protect natural wonders like the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, with one premier declaring ‘war’ on the World Heritage List. And still now, in the face of a United Nations warning that there is barely time to avert ecological calamity and a group of 11,000 scientists affirming an urgent climate emergency, they have colluded to endorse a gigantic new thermal coal mine and associated infrastructure—one of the largest fossil-fuel projects Australia has seen.

All of this ideological posturing helps verify white Australia’s wretched failure to forge a reasonable connection with the land on which it lives. At the same time, it exposes a remarkable ability to fool ourselves into believing that our erstwhile sovereignty over nature will endure no matter what. We are convinced we possess the imagination and wherewithal to rescue the planet before it is too late, though there is minimal evidence to suggest we are capable of acting on behalf of the curlews or the koalas or the myriad other flora and fauna whose survival urgently depends on modification of our behaviour. The political class, disabled by power, can think no further than the next election. The mainstream media, aroused by chaos and discord, has thrived on casting doubt upon scientific consensus. And a complacent and distracted public has, we are told, no desire to bathe in gloom or be lectured on environmental issues.

Well, though I teach a university subject on environmental justice, this is not intended as a lecture. To begin, I am as guilty as anyone. I talk a good talk even as I consign another pile of garbage wrapped in plastic to landfill, even as my car adds another day trip’s worth of emissions to the global problem. And I take endless photographs of bush stone curlews that are of dubious value insofar as their ongoing survival is concerned, linking me to a dark tradition of co-opting animal life for anthropogenic purposes.

Only lately do I look through the lens and see not just a group of birds but a jury of my peers, convicting me with their gentle natures and their puzzled stares. Meanwhile, my students talk about the requirement for genuine international cooperation and an ecocentric perspective that gives voice to the planet’s nonhuman inhabitants. They argue for the importance of effective nonviolent protest in the face of corporate greed and political apathy; they agree that Indigenous knowledge is crucial to developing future environmental policy. In short, these young people constitute the hope that is the only possible antidote to the desolation their elders have wrought.

It is upon them that the bush stone curlew, along with numerous other threatened species, will have to rely, because prior generations have not lived up to that responsibility—not by a long shot. Australian settler society has presided over a two-hundred-year rape of the land upon which it was founded, leaving those who follow to try to atone for that collective crime. They will need to be selfless where in the past we have been mostly self-indulgent; they will need to be compassionate and contemplative where before we were too often brash and belligerent.

In this much can be learned from the bush stone curlew, which has sat placidly by while the firestorm that is modern development has raged around it. The curlew seems content with a passive anonymity: it makes no demand for more, shows no tendency towards dominance or control. Despite colonial Australia’s drive to manipulate and exploit the environment to its own benefit, the curlew does not appear unduly outraged by our presence. Often, if you stop near a resting bird, it will close its eyes for a short while then reopen them, just to check on what you’ve been up to in the interim. They give the impression of being happy enough to share the earth with us as long as we leave them in peace. All they ask for is their fair share of room in which to survive.

Thus far we have been unwilling to grant them even that. In the face of a slow-burning holocaust we proceed blithely on with our petrochemical, thermoelectric, polychlorinated lives. We are anxious about the toxic rivers and the disappearing flora and fauna; we agonise over the melting icecaps and the desiccated forests; we gaze in awe at the flame-tinged sunsets and horizons pulsing crimson. Yet we show little stomach to address the real problem of self-interest and greed, as spawned by predatory capitalism. Instead, we whine and growl among ourselves, blaming others for the catastrophe we have wrought or raging at those who dare suggest there might be a problem in the first place.

In the end that is the real difference between us and the curlew, which is to say the difference between humanity today and all other creatures: they will leave the earth quietly, whereas we will go out in a cacophony of self-aggrandisement and recrimination.

Modern-day Australia is enacting the classic Marxian dialectic of rapacious prosperity shot through with imminent disintegration. We cannot help but covet more rapid growth, greater profits, better living conditions—even when the charge towards affluence brings with it the seeds of inevitable demise. White settler culture has become one of ruthlessly defended fortifications: against First Nations people, against refugees and other outsiders, and from the very environment around us. As New York magazine’s David Wallace-Wells so frankly puts it, such isolationism is leading towards an earth that ‘will likely become close to uninhabitable [by] the end of this century’, and Australia will become more uninhabitable more quickly than most.

The bleakness of this outlook is hardly new. As long ago as 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius gained a Nobel Prize for his work warning of a greenhouse effect powered by industrialisation that could cause global temperatures to rise by up to four degrees. Regardless, over the proceeding one hundred and twenty years no amount of evidence supporting Arrhenius’s claim has been enough to divert white Australia from the project of pillaging the terrain upon which it was founded. Nothing has deterred it from disdaining the Indigenous practices that served the land so well for the preceding fifty millennia. Nothing has stopped it from ignoring the steady vanishing of benign creatures like the bush stone curlew.

In her 1973 poem ‘Lament for Passenger Pigeons’ Judith Wright evokes the processes that drove this bird to extinction. She ponders how nature is ‘changing to the tunes we chose’ before coming to the realisation that our obstinately pragmatic, entrepreneurial approach to the environment is at the core of the problem: ‘Whatever being is, that formula, it dies as we pursue it past the word / We have not asked the meaning, but the use’. On matters of ecology Wright was one of Australia’s greatest thinkers, but under extreme capitalism, poetry and art are like nature: things of beauty to be trampled underfoot if they present as barriers to progress.

‘We have not asked the meaning, but the use.’ Oblivious of its deeper significance, disdainful of its true value, we are on course to drag the curlew to the same ultimate ruination as the passenger pigeon. The curlews of the Botanic Gardens are not simply occupants of our world. They have fashioned a world of their own, a world in miniature with its own social life and its own topography. A little world of secluded resting spots amid rock gardens or under drooping palm fronds; of obscure pathways and secret meeting places. But also a world perpetually cluttered by discarded bottles glinting in the sun, by plastic wrappers blown through on the breeze. A world cordoned off by a filthy brown river and highways crammed with vehicles. A world presided over by a smog-thickened sky that at night allows only a handful of stars to poke dimly through.

A 1917 article from Brisbane’s Daily Mail shows how the bush stone curlew has occupied this green metropolitan island for generations. Titled ‘Twilight in the Botanic Gardens’, it documents the ‘long, pitifulness of the curlew’s voice’ emanating from the bamboo—the same row of bamboo where today the bird’s descendants can be found secreting themselves. Only three years earlier, the last passenger pigeon on earth died in a zoo in Ohio—one of hundreds of species condemned to extinction in the twentieth century. Now it is the curlew that crouches like a ghost in the shadows of all of those lost creatures, waiting for that future time when it too will exist only in photographs or behind museum glass.

Now and then around Brisbane a curlew can be seen standing alongside a glass facade staring for hours, befuddled by its own reflection. Passers-by are predictably amused to see a bird engaging in such behaviour. But mightn’t we learn even from this? When might we look into the mirror and truly be troubled by what we see?

Oil, Pollution and Global Warming: the Reality for Iraq

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 10:01pm in

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Environment, Iraq

Angelo Calianno visits the oil-producing town of Basra and the Mesopotamian marshlands to witness the direct consequences of fossil fuel production on the environment and its inhabitants 

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Today more than ever, the problem of energy production has become crucial. The latest conflict between Russia and Ukraine is redefining the race for gas and oil supplies. But what are the consequences for those populations that live where the resources are?

Basra, in southern Iraq, extracts 70% of the nation's crude oil. This province, in line with its resources, should be very rich and technologically advanced.  Instead, it has one of the highest rates of pollution in the entire Middle East. 

The Streets of Basra: Photo: Angelo Calianno

Places like the Nahr Bin Omar refinery are located close to the suburbs, where 90% of the inhabitants have a disease related to the respiration of toxic gases or ingesting contaminated water. As large families are the norm here, most of them are children.

To treat tumours and leukaemia in childhood, there is only the Basra Children's Hospital which has only 125 beds, which are always full. Hundreds of families come here for daily chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. 

15-year-old Karar, treated for leukaemia in the Basra Children's Hospital. Photo: Angelo Calianno

Oil plants still use the "gas flaring" system, that is, they burn in the air the gases derived from the extraction of oil, putting them into the atmosphere. In 2019 alone, it was estimated that more than 100 thousand people were hospitalized because of poisoned drinking water.

Despite all this, in Basra, there is no anti-pollution plan or a real law for the recycling of waste. Some private companies deal with the pollution for those who want to recycle independently, but the city's waste now invades many of the main canals. 

The scourge of pollution does not only cause damage in the places close to the refineries.

The Mesopotamian Marshes: Photo: Angelo Calianno

The "marshes", or the swamps of Mesopotamia, are one of the most important examples of biodiversity in the entire Middle East. Today they could disappear due to pollution, global warming and the engineering works of neighbouring states.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, these canals were already sailed by the Sumerians. In ancient scripture, this area was identified as the Garden of Eden.

In 1991, Saddam's opponents took refuge there. The Shiite militias who opposed the dictator used these canals and islands to hide and mount attacks against the regime. Saddam Hussein then ordered massive engineering to drain much of the swamps. In a few months. the "marshes" were drained by 90% and its population dropped from 400,000 to 40,000. It was an unprecedented environmental disaster. Saddam later used the drylands to place missile ramps there.

What is the condition of the "marshes" today? And that of the inhabitants who live there

Chabaish, a town about an hour from Nasiriyah, is the main starting-off point for travelling by canoe to the centre of the Marshes. Crossing the canals you can see unique landscapes, herds of buffaloes walking in the water but also many abandoned huts.

Abu Haider and family. Photo: Angelo Calianno

In one of these, I meet Abu Haider. "I was born and have always lived here,” he told me. Before Saddam, we also worked a lot, fishing, but today there are very few fish and our only livelihood comes from raising buffalo. In recent years, however, in summer it is so hot that we are forced to move to the villages on land, because the marshes are becoming unlivable, without water and with very high temperatures.

Jassim al Asad, director of Nature Iraq in Chabaish, an organization that monitors, raises awareness and protects the environment in Iraq, explained what is happening to the marshes.  

"There are many problems that threaten this area and they have to be tackled one at a time.” he told Byline Times.“The first is definitely global warming. Temperatures, especially in the last four years, have risen a lot, so much so that in summer, the water evaporates. As a result, the remaining water is very salty, this is one of the main causes of death among the buffalo. A very serious problem is the lack of inflow from rivers. Neighbouring nations, such as Iran, have built dams that block some of the main courses, which is why the drying up is so rapid.”

Jassim al Asad. Photo: Angelo Calianno

Jassim explained that the third factor is pollution. “As you have seen for yourself, the city sewers discharge directly into the swamps,” he told me. “Once these canals were navigable in canoes moved by long oars, today with the introduction of motorboats, not only is there more pollution but the roar of the engines scares many species of migratory birds, another fundamental component of the biodiversity of these places. There are many engineering plans in place, although unfortunately, there are not yet the necessary funds. We have high hopes that something can change now that the marshes are also now designated a UNESCO heritage site.”  

Despite the hope of many, the Iraqi government's continued instability does not promise the right conditions for long-term environmental plans. The population of the marshes continues to decrease and, many young people prefer to try their luck on land rather than continue to live in these places that are becoming increasingly inhospitable. 

Iraq continues to focus many of its economic efforts on oil extraction, thus leaving behind development projects for the environment and health. The war in Ukraine has again increased the demand for fossil fuels in this area, thus putting off a better future for many Iraqis who continue to flee for their health and safety.

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Water-Guzzling Yards Are Getting a Celebrity Makeover

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

They bought the house of their dreams in Winter Park, Florida. There was just one problem.

“Our yard is lifeless,” says homeowner Brian Lewis, nudging a toe across the stony landscape. “So much gravel.”

Lewis and his family are standing in their yard while a landscaping crew looks on with shovels poised. The crew is about to give the place a complete overhaul, replacing the gravel and the dry, depleted soil beneath with nutritious black compost into which they’ll plant a variety of attractive greenery that will provide a haven for bees and butterflies.

There is also a film crew present. The Lewis’ lawn makeover is being documented on Flip My Florida Yard, a reality TV series that features households having their yards “flipped” by professional landscapers, transforming bare, haggard lawns into environmentally friendly oases. The show visits homes across Florida, from small urban developments and coastal, waterfront residences, to multi-acre rural properties.

The Lewis family's yard, mid-transformationThe Lewis family’s yard, mid-transformation. Credit: Crawford Entertainment.
The same yard once the renovation is completeThe same yard once the renovation is complete. Credit: Crawford Entertainment.

The series has many of the elements typical of an HGTV-style home makeover show: A charismatic makeover team led by presenter and Emmy Award-winning director Chad Crawford, the time pressure of just eight hours to transform the locations, and a big reveal at the end of the day when homeowners return to see their renovated yards.

Flip My Florida Yard is the brainchild of Crawford, who says it was when he was doing an episode on lawn makeovers for another of his TV series, How To Do Florida, that he realized how popular the topic was — and the scope that interest provides to encourage positive environmental action. 

“Everybody has something about their yard they want to fix,” he says. “Everybody has this desire to have someone else come in and show them what to do … We see these major environmental issues going on around us that a lot of us have no control over, but we as Floridians can control our yards. We can be environmentalists right outside our front door. That’s really what the show’s about.”

A central aim of the series is to show Florida homeowners how to conserve water, an issue that’s becoming increasingly important as the state’s population swells. Over the next four years, Florida is expected to gain an average of almost 310,000 people annually, “analogous to adding a city about the size of Orlando every year,” say demographers. Between 2010 and 2070, it is estimated Florida will gain 15 million residents.

That growth is straining the state’s water supply, with water demands anticipated to rise at least 100 percent by 2070. Sprawling development patterns and traditional landscaping, which is often dominated by water-guzzling varieties of turfgrass, contribute to much of that demand. 

That’s where Flip My Florida Yard comes in.

The landscaping methods used on the show were developed by the University of Florida’s Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program, in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. They emphasize planting mostly native shrubs and grasses, which tend to require less water and less fertilizer, replacing portions of turfgrass with shrubbery beds, and installing water-efficient irrigation systems. 

Chad Crawford at workChad Crawford on location at a Flip My Florida Yard shoot. Credit: Crawford Entertainment. 

A recent study from the University of Florida found that “Florida-friendly” landscapes conserve 70 percent more water than traditional landscapes in their first year, and more than 80 percent over three subsequent years. That can mean substantial savings for homeowners on their water bills.

And they don’t have to devote extra time to caring for their yards, according to Tom Wichman, assistant director of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program, who says the study also found that mowing traditional landscapes and hand-weeding Florida-friendly ones took about the same time. Over the longer-term, he added, the latter should actually take less time given that more mature plants will shade out the area beneath, reducing the volume of weeds.

Ultimately, the point of Flip My Florida Yard is to show homeowners how simple it can be to create and maintain a Florida-friendly lawn. 

“People are a little scared because they just don’t know where to begin,” says Wichman. “But it doesn’t have to be a huge project and it doesn’t have to be all at once.”

Every episode brings in an agent from the local Extension office, which offers free resources and advice to homeowners on caring for Florida-friendly lawns. The statewide Extension program, run by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is “the best-kept secret out there,” according to Wichman, who says too few people know that it exists.

The show is helping to change that. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much impact Flip My Florida Yard is having relative to simultaneous awareness-raising efforts taking place, the Extension program has seen a significant uptick in traffic to its websites and other online resources since it began airing, and increased engagement with Extension agents around the state. 

Flip My Florida Yard will gain a wider audience in its next season, which will premiere on PBS. The idea, says Crawford, is to return to some of the flipped yards to see how they’ve developed. He hopes allowing viewers to see how Florida-friendly lawns look over time will start to change entrenched ideas of what “good landscaping” means.

Florida-friendly landscape signFlorida-friendly landscapes have been found to conserve 70 percent more water than traditional landscapes in their first year alone. Credit: Crawford Entertainment.

“We have a standard in our mind that I call the pig-and-parsley standard,” he says. “You have the house, which is the pig, and then you have the parsley, which is the hedge that goes around the house. Everything else is green grass. In our mind, that’s good landscaping.” 

A Florida-friendly yard, on the other hand, features much more plant variety, which looks more aesthetically pleasing and has the added benefit of cooling and filtering pollutants from the air, improving soil quality and attracting pollinators.

“The goal here is to recapture and reestablish some of the biodiversity we’ve lost in our yards,” says Crawford. “When you have all that grass and just that shrubbery against the house, what you’ve lost is a lot of what was there before that house.”

Whether they’re actively thinking about biodiversity or not, Florida homeowners tend to be very enthusiastic about plants that attract butterflies, birds and bees to their yards, according to Dr. Laura Warner, a behavioral scientist at the University of Florida who studies sustainable landscape practices.

They are also very willing to purchase low-water-consuming plants, one study showed. The same study also found that, when it comes to water conservation, Florida residents are most interested in learning about the issue as it relates to their own gardens and lawns — and least interested in larger-scale conservation efforts like watershed restoration and management. That’s because people tend to feel less motivated about issues that seem more abstract to them, says Warner. 

“You really have a personal relationship with what happens in your yard,” she says. “You may enjoy the wildlife that comes there, you may enjoy the flowers, the different amenities that the landscape can offer you. As ideas get more removed from us, we feel less of a connection.”

But Flip My Florida Yard is not about forcing that connection. The series is about showing people how to be responsible stewards of the piece of land that’s right in front of them, whether it’s five acres or five square feet, says Crawford.

“When you connect with your yard, you connect with nature,” he says. “There’s something that happens there from a quality of life [perspective], from a mental perspective, that’s hard to quantify. And that’s the big change we’re seeing. We’re seeing the environmental impact of that yard, less water, fewer chemicals, but there’s also a life impact that it’s having on a family. To me, that’s really, really cool.”

The post Water-Guzzling Yards Are Getting a Celebrity Makeover appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 1:12am in
by Max Kummerow

With the recent leaking of the draft decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the heated controversy over a woman’s right to abort—or voluntarily terminate—a pregnancy is again at the forefront of democratic discourse. At the heart of this debate are issues of morality and theology. Self-identified Christians make up 63 percent of the U.S. population, with Evangelical Protestants and Catholics representing an overwhelming portion of the “pro-life” camp.

The question of when moral and legal obligations to protect a new life should begin has been pivotal to abortion politics and policy. Throughout history, four primary theories have been proposed to mark the commencement of a new human life:

  1. Moment of Conception

The moment of conception refers to when the egg and sperm unite to create a zygote with a unique genetic code. Those who hold that this is when life begins may argue for the prohibition of voluntary terminations or contraceptives used after conception, such as IUDs and hormonal methods that prevent pregnancy; that is, the implantation of a fertilized egg to the uterine wall.

  1. Quickening

The mother’s first sensation of the fetus moving—known as quickeningtypically occurs between 16 and 20 weeks after the last menstrual period, or roughly the middle of the pregnancy. “Animus, soul, or life enters the body of the unborn infant when it first moves or stirs in the womb,” said the great 11th century theologian Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church viewed the animation of the fetus in the womb as evidence of ensoulment, or the moment when a physical body has been joined with a human soul.

  1. Viability

The age of viability refers to the time during pregnancy when a fetus could be born with a reasonable chance of survival. The time at which a pregnancy becomes viable is typically around 24 weeks; however, babies born around this time have an increased risk of disability and other complications. Most delivered before the age of viability do not survive because the lungs and other vital organs aren’t sufficiently developed.

In Roe v. Wade, the Court divided pregnancies into trimesters. During the first trimester, the woman has sole discretion to terminate the pregnancy. During the second trimester, states can regulate—but not outlaw—voluntary terminations for the sake of the mother’s health. The fetus becomes viable at the start of the third trimester, at which time states can regulate or outlaw terminations in the interest of the potential life, except when termination is necessary to preserve the life of the mother.

  1. Breath of Life

The breath-of-life theory is that a new life begins at the baby’s first breath. This theory reflects the Christian creation story in Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This theory makes the most sense to me. When, as a child, I helped my uncle pull calves, some died and some lived. To live, they had to breathe. My uncle himself died eventually, precisely when his breathing stopped.

Even birth and breathing haven’t always granted an individual protection under the law. Infanticide was common throughout the Roman Empire and many other parts of the ancient world, and has been documented in 27 countries. For instance, China’s one-child policy, implemented between 1980 and 2016, resulted in a wave of female infanticide. Scholars who have extensively studied infanticide have found a positive relationship between income inequality and female infanticide. These researchers concluded that societies with extreme poverty may use infanticide to conserve resources, reduce financial strain, or improve the family’s quality of life.

A purple bus with a large banner covering the back with a smiley face reading "We're pro-life."

What does it really mean to be “pro-life?” (CC BY-SA 2.0, infomatique)

While there are some denominational differences amongst Christians regarding ensoulment and the beginning of life, we can safely assume that those against a woman’s right to choose believe this divine moment occurs sometime in the womb. Scripture, however, provides no guidance on voluntary terminations.

The closest The Bible comes to the topic is in Exodus 21:22-23, where Moses writes, “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve. But if any harm comes to the woman and she dies, he shall be executed.” If the embryo or fetus was ensouled, wouldn’t the men have received a more severe punishment according to the “eye for an eye” doctrine? Such is the case if the men kill the living, breathing woman. In other words, Scripture clearly implies that the fetus does not have a right to life equal to that of a breathing person.

The Science of Reproduction

Galileo begged the Inquisition to “look through the telescope” to see the truth about the solar system. Those against abortion services should look through a microscope to observe the lengthy, complex processes of conception and gestation. The authors of The Bible did not have the benefit of microscopy, and accordingly wrote nothing on the science of reproduction. To reconcile theology with science though, we must understand the biological facts of conception, fetal development, and birth.

First, the terms “moment of conception” and “beginning of life” are misleading, as these processes don’t occur in an instant. The actual beginning of life took place circa 4 billion years ago when DNA (or possibly even simple RNA, ribonucleic acid) first replicated. Some of the earliest “experiments” may have blinked out, but for several billion years—while innumerable organisms have died and species have gone extinct—life has continued with no interruption.

Nor is conception a “moment,” but rather a multi-step process—prefaced by episodes of meiosis and the production of male and female gametes—taking several hours for a sperm cell (male gamete) to penetrate an egg’s (female gamete) cell wall, stimulate the zona pellucida to deploy (preventing other sperm from entering), shed its axial filament (the “tail”), burrow into the egg, and redeploy genetic material until the collective 46 chromosomes have been linked into 23 pairs. By then, a fertilized egg (zygote) exists, ready for mitosis and another very gradual process of fetal development, but precisely when did the fertilization transpire? And is that unclear moment equivalent to “conception?” Or would conception be more appropriately consigned to the first mitotic division of the zygote?

One thing we do know is that only a relative handful of the quadrillions of potential combinations of DNA win the lottery, manifesting in zygotes and ultimately children. People across the political spectrum can agree that life is sacred, but even in the absence of abortion, most potential humans—even after conception—never experience the breath of life. While often tragic for aspiring mothers, stillbirths and infant mortality are nonetheless common features of human biology. In 2019, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. In poorer parts of the world, infant mortality is in the hundreds per 1,000 born.

Even with the advancements in medical technology, maternal mortality is still a risk everywhere. In the USA, the risk of death associated with childbirth is roughly fourteen times higher than that with legal abortion, making responsibly provided abortion significantly safer than childbirth. This is a point worth pondering for those who oppose abortion because they value human life, especially considering the Exodus distinction between the value of an adult woman relative to a fetus.

The Odds of Life

Charles Darwin discovered not only how species evolve via natural selection, but explained why organisms produce so many more than can survive. All species have an innate propensity to multiply. More specimens are born than can survive to adulthood; far more in the case of most species.

Meanwhile, the way organisms interact with and adapt to their environment determines their survival and reproduction. In this way, the most “fit” organisms (given the environmental conditions) begin to overtake less fit organisms, passing along more of their genetic code for traits ranging from eye color to blood type and even cognitive ability (which is influenced by genetic and non-genetic variables). The species evolves, in other words, and—assuming moderate rates of environmental change—becomes ever more fit or “successful.” One of the prerequisites of this progressive process is a surplus of specimens, from which the most fit are naturally selected.

Ensouled or otherwise, Homo sapiens is no exception. In the process of ovulation, an egg is released from the human’s ovary each month for roughly 30 to 35 years of fertility. This amounts to 350 to 400 chances of pregnancy. Of the roughly 300,000,000 sperm ejaculated during coitus, only around 200 reach the fertilization site in the oviduct. Even when one lucky sperm fertilizes an egg in the fallopian tube, half of fertilized eggs fail to implant in the uterus, becoming lost after conception and before pregnancy.

Table 1 reflects the reality of surplus reproduction from conception onward. Even given the substantial “drawdown” of zygotes and fetuses in 2020, there were 140 million births and only 59 million deaths, resulting in 81 million more people on Earth.

Table 1. Global Conception, Pregnancy, and Fetal Drawdown, 2020

Total in Millions
% of Conceptions

Conceptions
475
100%

Pregnancies
238
50%

(Unintended Pregnancies)
107
45%

Involuntary Termination
47
10%

Voluntary Termination
50
10%

Births
140
30%

To the best of my knowledge, no woman has ever experienced 350 or 400 pregnancies. Cases such as the Octomom (fourteen children) and the Radford family (16 children) are famous because of how extreme they are (although a Russian woman supposedly produced 69 babies in the 18th century). What if all women could have fourteen to 16 pregnancies during their 30 to 35 years of fertility? Should that be the goal of a pro-life movement?

No society, even those with early marriages and lack of contraception, has averaged more than a dozen births per woman. Contraceptives and other family planning services have allowed most societies to reduce births per woman to more manageable levels. It would seem eminently logical that maximizing the number of human lives is neither desirable nor moral compared with moderating reproduction for purposes of healthy, happy, and sustainable lives.

Choosing Life

One of the cornerstones of steady-state economics is democratically stabilizing population; another is achieving fairness and quality of life. For these purposes, access to contraceptives, comprehensive sexual education, and family planning services are needed.

Abortion rights protest with signs reading "Pro-choice is Pro-life"

Considering the wellbeing of all life forms—or all God’s creatures—pro-choice is  congruent with pro-life. (CC BY 2.0, Debra Sweet)

Better contraceptives and family planning services have already proven to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions. In countries that restrict abortion, the percentage of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion has ironically increased from 36 percent to 50 percent over the past 30 years. In the end, if preventing the frequency of abortions is truly the goal, then widening access to sex education, contraceptives, and other forms of reproductive healthcare—even abortion itself—is the most effective course of action.

Ending abortions altogether, were it possible, would increase the number of children born each year by at least 50 million globally. These children would be born to families that, in many and probably the vast majority of cases, couldn’t afford them or are otherwise not prepared to assume the responsibilities of parenthood. Banning abortion would also increase maternal mortality and the presence of negative health effects in mothers and children.

In my opinion, an abortion should be considered a responsible parenting decision to the degree the pregnancy is unwanted. Unintended teen pregnancies are one of the leading circumstances for abortions in the USA. Among teens 15 to 19, 75 percent of pregnancies are unintended. Teenagers have many other chances (about 350 to 400) to be a mother when they are more prepared for the responsibility. An abortion allows the teenager to choose a better time to have a child who will grow up better cared for.

For a woman already with children, a decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy lessens her family’s financial and psychological strain, and leaves more resources to be shared by her pre-existing children. In other words, terminating an unwanted pregnancy can reduce the burden on the mother, on society, and on the planet, or the fullness of God’s Creation for the faithful among us. In that sense, abortion too has a pro-life element.

Max Kummerow portraitMax Kummerow is a population activist and researcher, and author of the forthcoming book, Too Many People.

The post Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The government has backed away from compulsory climate change disclosures by business, suggesting it’s now walking away from this issue like it does everything else

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 4:50pm in

The FT reports this morning that:

Ministers made a last-minute decision to withdraw plans to force big UK companies and asset managers to disclose their environmental impact from Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech, according to government sources.

The decision to drop the “sustainability disclosure requirements” from a new financial services bill comes amid a wider retreat by the government from tightening corporate governance.

Leave aside for a moment that I think that the measures that the government were going to introduce were inadequate. Note instead that they were at least movement in the right direction. And now note that this has been abandoned. Like audit reform, the issue has been kicked into the long grass.

I have long argued that a truly neoliberal government is cowardly. When it sees a problem what it does is run away from it, claiming that the market is better equipped than it to tackle the issue.

This is what the government has done with Covid. We now have a government in denial about a disease killing more than 75,000 people a year. They won't even let medics test for it.

We also have a government in denial in the cost-of-living crisis. They say growth will deal with it. We are in a recession. They will do nothing else.

More mundanely, they have heralded audit reforms, and now they have announced incredibly weak legislation that no one thinks will actually be legislated in this session of parliament.

And now we can see how it will respond to climate change. When push comes to shove it will say it cannot possibly impose burdens on business, who must be allowed to let the planet burn if that is what markets dictate. This is, I am certain, the start of a trend on this.

We cannot afford any of these failures.

We cannot afford to have cowards running the country.

But that is what we have got.

And the Opposition is not a lot better.

We are in trouble.

The Colorado River: Devoured by Growth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 12:49am in
by Gary Wockner

“The nature of consumption is the consumption of Nature” – Jordan Perry

Map of the Colorado River Basin

The Colorado River Basin, a life source for the Southwest, is being drained for growth. (CC BY-SA 4.0, Shannon)

The natural environment of the American Southwest is sending out a loud call of distress, but few people in positions of power are listening. Economic and population growth are straining nature, especially across the Colorado River Basin, which encompasses parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

From 2010 to 2020, Colorado gained about 725,000 people, Arizona gained 760,000, and California gained a whopping 2.3 million. At the same time, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico grew considerably, and the population even inched upwards in slow-growing Wyoming, the least populous U.S. state.

Similarly, the GDP of each Colorado River Basin state increased by two to four percent annually in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Despite the pressures of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the collective GDP raced upward even faster.

Growth in the Southwest is largely due to state and local policies that incentivize, subsidize, or otherwise lure people into the area. A researcher could craft an entire career out of cataloguing pro-growth policies in just one state.

In Colorado (where I live), a succession of governors—including incumbent Governor Jared Polis—have promoted and celebrated every uptick in statewide GDP, consumption, and population. Thanks to these pro-growth attitudes and initiatives, the Colorado River Basin’s water, landscape, and biodiversity are continuously under assault.

GDP Goes Up, Water Goes Down

The Colorado River, which sustains over 40 million people across the Southwest, has been hit hard by climate change, drought, and resource exploitation. Nearly every month, news reports paint a worsening picture for river flow and the water levels of reservoirs. The two largest reservoirs in the USA—Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both on the Colorado River—are at their lowest levels in history with further decreases predicted.

Lake Mead levels are at historic lows.

Lake Mead water levels have dropped to historic lows. (CC BY-SA 2.0, Bureau of Reclamation)

The Bureau of Reclamation has announced “emergency” measures to increase Lake Powell’s water level so electricity turbines may continue spinning at Glen Canyon Dam’s hydropower plant. Meanwhile, California, Arizona, and Nevada have decreased their water diversions out of Lake Mead. Yet, as drought and climate change intensify, upper basin states—Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming—continue building more dams to support the growing population.

There’s not enough water to support the population and economy that already exists in the Southwest, but continued growth means stretching water supplies further by transferring water from farmers—who control about 75 percent of water in the basin—to cities. The city of St. George, Utah, for example, is struggling to find alternative water sources to accommodate growth. Officials recently warned that the “stalled water supply could put the brakes on the growth economy.”

The ecological health of river systems across the basin has been deteriorating for as long as I remember. Now, flows are at historically low levels, fish and aquatic life are suffering from low flows and warmer water, and pollution levels continue increasing. Furthermore, the parched landscape is burning more frequently and intensively, increasing the runoff of river-clogging soot and debris into the rivers and reservoirs.

Landscapes, Open Space, and Farms Disappear

Growth in the Southwest is devouring open space, farms, and wildlife habitats. A March 2022 comprehensive report, published by Numbers USA (which advocates for U.S. population stabilization) is titled, “From Sea to Shining Sprawling Sea.” The report offers state-by-state insights into the way growth is devouring the landscape in basin states. According to the report, from 1982 to 2017:

  • Colorado lost 1,126 square miles of open space, farms, and wildlife habitats due to growth and sprawl
  • California lost 3,420 square miles
  • Nevada lost 498 square miles
  • Utah lost 713 square miles
  • Arizona lost 1,744 square miles
  • New Mexico lost 1,018 square miles
  • Wyoming lost 251 square miles

Some policymakers and activists concerned about this loss of open land for growth argue that the solution is to pack people in more densely to reduce sprawl. However, as I have described in other columns and posts, dense housing increases the ecological footprint of growing economies and human populations as surely as sprawl does. The Global Footprint Network describes how Americans’ environmental impacts extend far beyond our housing choices and spatial arrangements.

Our ecological footprint includes the roads we drive on, the malls we shop at, and the pipelines that bring natural gas to our homes. It also grows with plane trips to Europe, electronic devices imported from China, produce shipped from South America, granite countertops sourced from Brazil, and even the various materials extracted to construct our houses. Any additional activity producing the goods and services we consume entails a larger ecological footprint.

Biodiversity and Habitat Fragmented and Diminished

In March, the New York Times published a series of maps illustrating the threat to biodiversity across the USA. The report included a disturbing image of nature being destroyed in the Southwest. Healy Hamilton, chief scientist at NatureServe, said, “There are hundreds of species known to be globally critically imperiled or imperiled in this country that have no protection under federal law and often no protection under state law.”

Panoramic view of a Southwest desert city overtaken by urban sprawl.

Natural landscapes across the Southwest are being overtaken by urban sprawl. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, scaredpoet)

The map shows the basin states as having some of the most imperiled biodiversity in the USA, most notably the Colorado River’s aquatic diversity. California—including Southern California, which receives Colorado River water—appears particularly stressed. The New York Times report quotes Wade Crowfoot, California’s natural resources secretary as saying, “We have this tremendous biodiversity, but we also have these major stressors, including that we built ourselves into the fifth-largest economy in the world with 40 million people.”

Several NGOs work throughout the Southwest to protect biodiversity. One NGO, Defenders of Wildlife, catalogues the biodiversity threats as “urbanization, agriculture, water diversion, fossil fuel extraction/conveyance/processing, and open-pit mining.” And, the so-called “green economy” is creating new threats.

Proposed lithium mines in Nevada and Arizona are some of the latest flashpoints of enviro-political controversy. These mines further destroy the landscape, pollute streams and rivers, and imperil biodiversity that relies on intact and healthy ecosystems.

America the Beautiful?

Given the extreme threats to water, land, and biodiversity throughout the Southwest, the U.S. government appears to be making an effort to manage the degradation caused by growth.

In May 2021, President Biden launched the “America the Beautiful” initiative with the goal of “conserving 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.” Sometimes called the “30 by 30” (or “30×30”) campaign, this initiative has been broadly embraced by conservation leaders, nonprofit groups, tribal governments, and eleven U.S. states. Further, in April 2022, Biden doubled down on the campaign, pledging a $1 billion investment to bring the 30×30 campaign to fruition.

Beyond the 30×30 campaign, however, other U.S. policies are absurdly designed to pursue more growth. It will be increasingly difficult, if not completely impossible, to accomplish the goals of the 30×30 campaign if the U.S. population and economy continue to grow.

At local and state levels in the Southwest, we routinely see tax incentives for new businesses, subsidies to cut development fees, and aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at luring new residents. Eliminating these growth subsidies and pro-growth campaigns is critical for any semblance of sustainability, but that elimination is almost unheard of in any local or state-level discussion throughout the region.

Steady-state policies, including an ethical approach to stabilize population, are the only options that can protect water, land, and biodiversity across the Southwest. We’ve been warned, “The nature of consumption is the consumption of Nature.”

Gary Wockner, CASSE's Colorado River Chapter DirectorGary Wockner is CASSE’s Colorado River Chapter director, and an environmental activist and writer.

The post The Colorado River: Devoured by Growth appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Fracking and the Conservative Attack on Net Zero

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 9:32pm in

Thomas Perrett explores how the Government has opened the door to an assault on the UK’s climate change targets

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The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has commissioned a review into the environmental and safety concerns raised by fracking, which critics say could hand a lifeline to the previously moribund industry.

Following soaring energy prices resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, compounded by a cost of living crisis which has driven inflation to its highest level in three decades, Conservative ministers have sought to consult a wide range of options to expand Britain’s domestic energy supply.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s review, which asked the British Geological Survey to reconsider the viability of fracking – drilling to extract oil and gas – has stated that “while shale gas extraction is not the solution to near-term price issues, it is right that all possible energy generation and production methods are kept on the table following the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by President Putin’s regime”.

The prospect of the acceleration of fracking, a controversial procedure which was suspended in 2019 following tremors near active shale gas sites in Lancashire, has drawn criticism from environmental campaigners and Shadow Cabinet ministers, who allege that this is a contravention of the Conservatives Party’s 2019 moratorium on shale gas extraction. The Conservatives had promised that they would rule out support for fracking “unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”. 

Rosie Rogers, head of energy at Greenpeace has argued that “trying to restart fracking now would only mean wasting more time when we have little,” adding: “It will take many years to develop and if it ever gets produced, it will be sold to the highest bidder on the international market, with no impact on our energy bills”.

The Government’s refusal to rule out the return of fracking also calls into question its commitment to the legally-binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which involves reducing carbon emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels.

Moreover, a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has concluded that “warming cannot be limited to 2C or 1.5C without rapid and deep reductions in energy system CO2 and GHG emissions”. The report called for “decommissioning and reduced utilisation of existing fossil fuel installations in the power sector as well as cancellation of new installations,” which would be contravened by lifting the moratorium on fracking.

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A Lifeline for Shale Gas

At the end of March, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) – the oil and gas regulator – permitted fracking giant Cuadrilla to delay the closure of its wells in Preston, stating that “Cuadrilla now have until the end of June next year to evaluate options for the Preston New Road and Elswick sites”.

“If no credible reuse plans are in place by then, the North Sea Transition Authority expects to reimpose decommissioning requirements,” the authority added.

Several prominent fracking firms have seized upon opportunities handed to them by the Government, persistently advocating for the 2019 moratorium to be lifted. Despite opposition from Mark Menzies, Conservative MP for Fylde in Lancashire, who described fracking at the Preston site as “a danger to the public”, and referred to Conservative backbenchers supporting oil drilling as an “unrepresentative rump”, Cuadrilla boss Francis Egan has told the BBC that tremors from the wells at the site were “largely imperceptible”.

The Government’s review has also been praised by IGas, a leading onshore gas exploration firm which courted controversy back in 2015 after preventing an environmental expert from investigating contamination levels at a drilling site near Salford, described by geologist and environmental consultant Dr Aidan Foley as “dangerously high”.

Stephen Bowler, chief executive of IGas, has described Kwarteng’s review as “a significant development,” stating that “the IGas Board believes it can make this vital, indigenous supply of energy available to British consumers and businesses in a short timeframe”.

INEOS, a firm led by the country’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, has sought to take full advantage of any potential changes permitting future shale gas extraction. Ratcliffe, who according to Sky News has described opponents of fracking as an “ignorant minority”, offered to drill a test site for shale gas, “to show that a competent operator can be trusted to develop the technology safely”. Ratcliffe disputed the viability of renewable energy, suggesting that shale gas could insulate the country from Russia’s energy market and lessen the blow of spiralling energy costs.

Representatives from INEOS appeared at the Conservative Party Conference back in 2016, highlighting the alleged benefits of increased shale exploration.

Indeed, INEOS has an extensive record of lobbying the current Government for lower taxes and the relaxation of environmental legislation. In 2017, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Friends of the Earth revealed that INEOS had sought an exemption from legislation requiring the firm to subsidise the cost of low carbon energy sources.

Undermining Net Zero

Amid sustained parliamentary opposition to net zero, led by organisations such as the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) – a collection of Conservative MPs with links to climate science-denying think tanks and trade associations – the Government’s decision to review the science behind fracking may encourage these forces.

Conservative peer Peter Lilley, for instance, has called on the Government to immediately commence fracking, arguing that Britain is “the only country in Western Europe sitting on massive gas reserves”.

Lilley is a member of the NZSG, which has consistently attempted to undermine the Government’s net-zero targets. Back in February, the group wrote a letter to Prime Boris Johnson, calling on the Prime Minister to end the “unconservative” ban on fracking, asserting that it would “allow us to combat the cost of living crisis, level up, create jobs, opportunity and a renewed sense of community in the north, improve our energy security, reduce our reliance on imported gas, stabilise energy prices and achieve net zero without increasing the cost of living for already hard-pressed working families”.

The Government’s fracking review has not explicitly called for the controversial practice to be reinstated, acknowledging that “any exploration or development of shale gas would need to meet rigorous safety and environmental protections both above ground and sub-surface”. 

However, the fact that it has reconsidered the viability of shale gas extraction as a solution to rising energy prices while having failed to roll out home insulation or clean energy – which according to the think-tank E3G could cut dependence on Russian gas by up to 80% by the end of this year – illustrates the potency of political pressure from climate sceptics.

Rosie Rogers of Greenpeace has argued that “if the UK and Europe want to end their dependence on Russian gas, the quickest way to do that is by insulating homes, installing heat pumps and boosting renewables. These are tried and tested technologies, quick to deploy and getting cheaper all the time”.

That the Government has refused to rule out fracking, in direct contravention of the warnings of multiple energy watchdogs, indicates that policies mitigating climate breakdown still face considerable corporate and political opposition.

Fracking campaigners and Conservative MPs, having already advocated for the acceleration of North Sea oil drilling, regard the Government’s review as an opportunity to launch a concerted pushback against net zero. 

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Nuclear Crocodiles Invade Florida — in a Good Way

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), the Sunshine State’s largest power utility, employs all the people you might expect: electricians, lineworkers, mechanical engineers — and a few you might not. For over 40 years, the company has kept a team of wildlife biologists on staff. Their task? Monitoring the giant carnivorous reptiles that reside in one of the state’s nuclear power plants. 

What sounds like a low-budget creature feature is actually a wildly successful conservation story. It goes like this: In 1975, the shy and reclusive American crocodile was facing extinction. Over-hunting and habitat decline caused by encroaching development had pushed its numbers to a record low. By 1975, when it was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, there were only 200 to 300 left. 

Three years later, in 1978, workers at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Homestead, Florida happened upon something that must have made them gasp: a crocodile nest along one of the plant’s 5,900-acre “cooling canals.” Rather than drive the crocs away — perhaps the easiest solution — FPL hired a team of biologists and implemented a Crocodile Management Plan. Its goal was unconventional: provide a suitable habitat for the crocs within the workings of the nuclear power plant, allowing both to coexist.  

floridaTurkey Point nuclear power plant. Credit: Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Over the course of the next 30 years, FPL’s wildlife biologists monitored nests, tagged hatchlings and generally created a hospitable environment for the reptiles. As it turned out, the plant’s cooling canals provided an ideal habitat: drained earth that never floods on which to lay eggs directly adjacent to water. Over the years, more and more crocs made the cooling canals home. By 1985, the nests at Turkey Point were responsible for 10 percent of American crocodile hatchlings in South Florida. In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded the American crocodile’s status from endangered to threatened, singling out FPL for its efforts. 

The program continues to this day. To date, biologists have tagged some 7,000 babies born at the plant. In 2021, there were a record-setting 565 crocodile hatchlings at the Turkey Point facility. 

Turkey Point’s efforts are an example of what is known in the conservation world as “reconciliation ecology.” Rather than create separate areas where nature or animals can thrive in isolation from humans, reconciliation ecology suggests that we can blend the rich natural world with the world of human activity. Michael Rosenzweig, an emeritus professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, was a leading force in establishing this concept. The author of Win-Win Ecology: How the Earth’s Species can Survive in the Midst of Human Enterprise, Rosenzweig has pointed out that although human encroachment has typically been considered a threat to biodiversity, the notion that the world must be either “holy” or “profane,” ecologically speaking, is simply not true.  

“In addition to its primary value as a conservation tool, reconciliation ecology offers a valuable social byproduct,” writes Rosenzweig in his first chapter. “It promises to reduce the endless bickering and legal wrangling that characterize environmental issues today.”

Dr. Madhusudan Katti, an associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University, was inspired by Rosenzweig when he did his postdoc at Arizona State. Katti has now been in the field of reconciliation ecology for two decades and teaches classes on the subject. “To me it’s finding solutions to reconciling human development with biodiversity conservation,” Katti says.

This common ground between development and conservation can be consciously planned, like FPL managing a crocodile habitat at a nuclear power plant or the state-sponsored vertical gardens and commercial farms on high-rise buildings in Singapore. Other examples include the restoration of the coral reef around an undersea restaurant in Eilat, Israel, or recent legislation in New York City requiring patterned glass on high-rise buildings, making windows more visible to migratory birds. Other planned examples of reconciliation ecology can be more individually scaled: a rooftop garden in an urban setting, modifying your garden to earn a “backyard bird habitat” certification from the Audubon Society, or even just mowing your lawn less often.

“Urban lawns are among the largest crops in the U.S. in terms of acreage,” Katti says. “And they are mowed constantly. Research by one of my colleagues shows that mowing once every three weeks rather than every week can make a big difference in terms of allowing flowering plants to grow.” Allowing these flowers — including dandelions — to grow even for two to three weeks increases insect diversity, including pollinators. (Pollinators play a critical role in the food supply — a full two-thirds of the world’s crop species require pollination.) “So, lazy gardening is good for the environment,” Katti says. 

Credit: Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr

But there are countless examples of “accidental” incidents of reconciliation ecology, as well. One of Katti’s favorites is the kit fox of California’s San Joaquin Valley. “The kit fox was one of the very first species listed on the Endangered Species Act,” Katti says. Its decline was caused by habitat loss through agricultural and industrial development, as well as the extermination of the gray wolf population, which led to an increase in coyotes. So kit foxes adapted and moved to new habitats. One of these was the city of Bakersfield, California.

“Bakersfield, surrounded by oil pumps, would be the last place you’d expect to find an endangered species,” Katti says. But researchers think kit foxes have migrated to Bakersfield because they actually have more protection there from predators like coyotes and bobcats. “The kit foxes have figured out that if they can tolerate the human disturbance and live with people, then they are safer from all these other predators,” he says. 

Living in the city has led to some interesting behavioral changes. In the wild, for instance, a female kit fox gives birth to her young and raises them by herself in a den. But in the city, researchers have observed multiple females raising their litters together in the same den. “It’s like a form of cooperative breeding,” Katti says. “That wouldn’t happen in the wild.” 

Other examples of “accidental” reconciliation ecology might include the increase in the number of pileated woodpeckers on the edge of cities in North Carolina, where tree canopy has increased in recent years; and the Slender Loris, a nocturnal squirrel-sized primate that has somehow survived in Bangalore, one of the world’s fastest growing cities. 

Reconciliation Ecology isn’t just we humans welcoming animals like crocodiles and foxes into our environments, though. It’s also living with nature in a way that most Western societies haven’t done since the Enlightenment. “In recent years, there’s been a recognition that the ‘fortress conservation’ model — keeping nature separated from humans and not thinking of or valuing human-inhabited landscapes — those ideas are outdated,” says Katti.

In fact, in Katti’s classes on reconciliation ecology, he embraces the notion of reconnecting people with their land if they have been unjustly separated from it. “The term reconciliation also applies to all the colonial legacies where both nature and people have been harmed,” Katti says. “For Indigenous communities, the harm done to ecosystems, it’s happened together. So you can talk about addressing both. That’s where a lot of my thinking is at the moment.” 

A hopeful version of this sort of reconciliation is happening in California where colleagues of Katti’s who are tribal members are re-introducing “tribal burns” in some areas. Controlled burns have been a part of many Indigenous cultures for millenia, both as a way to prevent devastating forest fires, but also to encourage the growth of certain plants like hazel that are used for basket-weaving and other crafts. 

“The notion that people don’t belong there and ‘let nature take care of itself’ doesn’t really work,” Katti says. “That’s the legacy of Western European Enlightenment thinking — a divide between human and nature. That is a real faulty view of nature. People have been part of the ecosystem forever.”

That said, reconciliation ecology is not without complexities. In 2016, a Florida journalist reported that high levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope, had been discovered in Biscayne Bay — leakage from the Turkey Point nuclear power plant. A Tallahassee judge had already ordered the utility and the state to clean up the plant’s cooling canals, which had caused an underground saltwater plume to leak into local drinking water supplies. Both contaminants point to the potential messiness of reconciliation ecology, and the difficulties of coexistence between wildlife and human development. There’s the threat of unanticipated zoonotic diseases, and the negative ramifications of development, namely toxic pollution. 

That said, what choice do we have? In Win-Win Ecology, Rosenzweig estimates that only five percent of the world’s terrestrial habitat remains in something approximating a natural state. And, as Katti points out, climate change is shifting climate zones so the plants and animals that certain natural parks were meant to protect or conserve will no longer be viable in those habitats.

“That is still a fundamentally static view of nature, that you are going to put a fence around it and protect it and it will stay that way forever,” Katti notes. “The reality is nature is more dynamic. We need to allow for migration and we have to think how to make the entire landscape hospitable to biodiversity and to people. All of that, to me, is reconciliation ecology.”

The post Nuclear Crocodiles Invade Florida — in a Good Way appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Welcome Back, Condor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 2:28am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Return flight

The last time California condors soared over the state’s far-north redwood forests, Ellis Island was receiving its first immigrants and Sherlock Holmes was closing his first case. This week, they took to the skies there again — a major milestone in their comeback from virtual extinction.

North America’s largest native bird had nearly vanished by the 1970s due to habitat loss and lead poisoning from ingesting hunters’ buckshot. In the 1980s, the remaining 22 birds were captured and bred in captivity, and in 1992, biologists began rereleasing them in Southern California. This week’s release, however, was the furthest north the condors have been since 1892. “They just jumped up and took flight off into the distance,” said Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director for the region’s Yurok tribe.

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The Yurok tribe, which considers the condor sacred, is leading the reintroduction, working in tandem with federal and local fish and wildlife agencies. This is just the latest expansion of the birds’ range — they now number more than 500, and have spread across the central California coast, as well as parts of Mexico, Utah and Arizona. 

Read more at NPR

City of noise

Ahh, Paris. The romance, the mystique, the unmuffled motorbike roaring by at 3 a.m. The storied French capital is one of Europe’s most cacophonous cities. More than 5.5 million residents in and around Paris are exposed to road noise above 55 decibels, defined by the World Health Organization as the threshold for certain health implications.

parisCredit: drburtoni / Flickr

Now Paris is attempting to reign in the noise, as detailed in Bloomberg CityLab by RTBC contributing editor Peter Yeung. Among the most notable of these efforts are the installation of sound radars on certain streets. Equipped with microphones and cameras, the devices can photograph the license plates of loud vehicles, which will soon face fines of 135 euros ($142 USD).

The devices are but one part of a larger plan to reduce the din in a city that formally defined noise as a pollutant in 2019. Other efforts include the installation of sound-baffling barriers, roadside noise checks, housing designs that face residents away from noise, and even cutting-edge low-noise asphalt. Even the police have been asked to turn down their sirens at night. “For a long time, noise was seen more as a quality of life issue, but not a health risk,” said one advocate. “But the reality is that there are massive health consequences, and more and more research is proving this.” 

Read more at Bloomberg CityLab

Cash crop

A proposed California law could tailor the concept of universal basic income to help farm workers hurt by drought in an era of climate change.

The bill, introduced in the state senate, would provide unconditional monthly cash payments of $1,000 for three years to farmworkers whose jobs have been affected by drought. It was prompted by the loss of about 8,000 jobs from the state’s agriculture industry due to drought last year, when farmers were forced to leave nearly 400,000 acres of farmland fallow.

If approved, the pilot project would run from 2023 through 2026. “Farmworkers have been long neglected and continue to be neglected,” said State Senator Melissa Hurtado, who introduced the bill. They need “the right policies for them to be successful.”

Read more at CalMatters

The post Welcome Back, Condor appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Fresh Signs of Mosquito Insecticide Resistance in South Africa

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/05/2022 - 8:54pm in

South Africa could soon join the list of countries that have relegated malaria to history - although this post highlights the worrying possibility that a spike in malaria cases might occur, as a consequence of insecticide resistance

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