Thursday, December 3, 2009

Copenhagen: the Policy Ice Thaws

What to make of the upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen?

Not much, say most observers—it looks like there won’t be any kind of deal.

Fine. But we finally have a president who can say “global warming” with a straight face, we may finally be able to base public policy on sound science… and yes, we must make sure science adheres to its own protocols for research and publishing.

But Obama’s laying down a climate change gauntlet—a paltry 17% reduction in CO2 emissions—forced China to put its own number on the table, too, a more aggressive 40%. Will China make that number? Unlikely.

But this is a far cry from where we have been.

So while the ice thaws at both poles, the policy ice is thawing around the climate change issue…

…Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Get Out! Kids and Nature-Deficit Disorder

Not long ago, children spent the lion’s share of their free time outdoors, all pickup baseball games and flashlight tag, bike riding and fort building. City kids played street games and hung out.

The indoor world belonged to our parents. We owned the streets and vacant lots.

But today, numerous trends have colluded to disconnect kids from the outdoors, and Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods” coined the phrase—and garnered a heap of attention—nature-deficit disorder as the new name for this estrangement.

Kids are time-stressed and time-managed, chauffeured from ballet to soccer to play dates. Technology is complicit: kids play inside “’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” one fourth grader says in the book. Parents have colluded in this, fear of strangers, ticks and West Nile preventing parents from allowing kids to play outdoors or walk to school. Overdevelopment and liability issues have kept kids away from green spaces, visitation to national parks has dropped, and, adding insult to injury, schools have downsized recess, giving kids no outdoor time during the week.

And a child in the 1990s roams over a territory only one-ninth of what it was in 1970. Obesity is rampant, as are attention deficit disorders, hyperactivity, and even depression. The average kid watches almost 40 hours a week of screens-- TV, computer, I-phone-- it's their full-time job.

Louv weaves together what Scientific American calls “acres of evidence” showing the need to connect kids to nature. To summarize, children with access to nature and the outdoors learn better, behave more calmly and appropriately, are more creative, and better at critical thinking. Time in nature fills their physical, emotional and spiritual deficits.

And nature needs children, too, but the next generation of John Muirs and Rachel Carsons are locked indoors. Since evidence indicates green giants get their green genes from outdoor inspiration, children will not seek nature as their life’s work.

The solution? What Louv calls “nature-child reunion” that returns kids to the outdoors.

Lots of groups are working on this issue, like the Children and Nature Network, created by Louv himself. I direct a small nonprofit, the Lower Merion Conservancy, that has begun addressing the disorder with a preschool group.

But mostly, it’s the job of parents to open our front doors and kick our kids outside.

Get out! It’s one solution to a world of problems.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Sturgeon is Born!

For those of us who think full-time about nature and the environment, it seems every story is worse than the one before. The Arctic is melting, species vanishing, forests declining, and so on…

So I was thrilled this week by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s front page story on the Atlantic sturgeon, an extraordinary and extraordinarily ancient animal—cruising our waters since the Age of Dinosaurs—that was once a commercially important fish.

As reported here, a biologist doing research in the Delaware River near Wilmington pulled in a net overflowing with piles of the pedestrian perch. Then he spotted a standout: a baby Atlantic sturgeon, hatched just this year.

Only seven inches long, Sandy Bauers writes “it was nevertheless a momentous discovery—long-awaited proof that the species was spawning in the Delaware.”

As the story recounts, sturgeon “was once the basis of a thriving caviar industry on the Delaware, the nation's largest. In the late 1800s, the river swarmed with boats and nets during spawning season, the shores were lined with cleaning stations. Then, largely because of overfishing and pollution, the population of Atlantic sturgeon plummeted to near-extinction in the early 1900s.”

The animal craves clean water, and has the kind of biology that typically dooms critters: long-lived animals themselves—and big, they get to be about 14 feet long—they become sexually mature only after almost two decades, a horribly long period of time.

As WHYY reported just this morning, this is the first record of a spawning sturgeon in the Delaware in 50 years.

Hope springs eternal.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Arctic may be a thing of the past"

Bad news from the north:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 11, 2009) — "The Arctic as we know it may soon be a thing of the past," says Eric Post, associate professor of biology at Penn State University. Post leads a large, international team that carried out ecosystem-wide studies of the biological response to Arctic warming during the fourth International Polar Year, which ended in 2008. The team's results will be reported on 11 September 2009 in the journal Science.

The team's research documents a wide range of responses by plants and animals to the warming trend. The scientists found that the increase in mean annual surface temperature in the Arctic over the last 150 years has had dramatic effects. In the last 20 to 30 years, for example, the seasonal minimal sea ice coverage has declined by a staggering 45,000 square kilometers per year. Similarly, the extent of terrestrial snow cover has declined steadily, with earlier melting and breaking up and an earlier start to the growing season.

"Species on land and at sea are suffering adverse consequences of human behavior at latitudes thousands of miles away," declares Post. "It seems no matter where you look -- on the ground, in the air, or in the water -- we're seeing signs of rapid change."

To read more of this very important study, click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Got Milkweed?

Working in my side garden’s milkweed patch this week, a color combination unconsciously caught the corner of my eye, and my head snapped over. There, hanging head-down along the spine of a milkweed leaf was a very large, likely very happy monarch caterpillar.

Only a few feet away crawled another. Eureka!

You know monarchs, those big orange-and-black flutterers, all Halloween-striped. I’m a Philadelphian, so here’s my frame of reference: they wear Flyers jerseys. But the youngsters are striped like shown here: white, yellow, black. Bold. Dramatic.

Monarchs are ace botanists, only laying their eggs on milkweeds, nothing else. After hatching, the young immediately set to work devouring their world, plowing through milkweed leaves as fast as they can.

After all, that’s all they eat, breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner for several weeks—milkweed. They incorporate the weed’s noxious latexy chemicals into their own body, and gross out any unsuspecting blue jay that tries to eat them.

That’s why I keep the milkweed patch I inherited from the previous owner on the side of the house. Thought the stuff gets to be almost 6 feet tall, it provides sustenance to monarchs.

More milkweed, more monarchs in the world.

And these were the first had seen this year. Eureka!

So, got milkweed?

You can: simply go to and order your own milkeweed today!

p.s. And when these two larvae metamorphose into adults, this is the generation that will fly to Mexico, a stunning feat of migration for such a small critter.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Prettiest Animal You've Never Heard Of!

It is breathtakingly beautiful, but like so much that is beautiful, sadly ephemeral. And I had the good fortune to bump into one yesterday.

At the Lower Merion Conservancy’s cottage office in Rolling Hill Park, a cecropia moth was perched on our foundation wall, a large cinnamon blob fresh out of its cocoon. Since its wings were only starting to unfold, blood pumping through its veins to enlarge them, the moth was misshapen, not yet its regal, winged self.

When done, the creature will be stunning, five inches long, all purples and browns with large quarter moons gracing each wing. The males sport large plumes of antennae, the better to smell the female’s pheromones—which they can detect miles away. And make a beeline for.

After mating, the eggs are laid in trees like maples, birches and cherries, host plants for the caterpillar, which take the rest of summer and autumn to grow—and is itself a creature of beauty, all spiky and neon colored. The caterpillars form cocoons in the fall, large silken pita pockets, hibernating all winter and into the spring.

Until early summer. Now. When this one emerged.

With an agenda: the creature is so focused on mating, it has no mouth parts for feeding, eating nothing—and dying within the week.

We live in a world overflowing with millions of species—life forms, in the parlance of science fiction movies—and yet we know next to nothing about almost all of them.

It’s a shame the phrase “cecropia moth” will likely never once be taught in any classroom in this entire region. Our life would be poorer if it were gone. But most of us don’t even know it’s here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Toilet Paper Problem: Saving the Forests, One Recycled Roll at a Time

Found this essay circulating on the web, and wanted to share it with you.

By Joan Reinhardt Reiss

…If each American family bought a roll of recycled toilet paper just once, 400,000 trees could be saved.

In the 1990s, as the California Director for the Wilderness Society, I spent many days fighting for forests. But I never worried about toilet paper, and that was a mistake. Thanks to multimillion dollar advertising campaigns by paper giants like Kimberly-Clark, Americans demand the softest toilet paper possible. The company Quilted Northern has even introduced three-ply “Ultra Plush” toilet paper, as though two-ply weren’t thick enough. But that super-soft toilet paper comes from cutting real trees and is causing major deforestation.

Welcome to the toilet paper wars. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), deforestation is the single greatest cause of global warming, and toilet tissue is responsible for 15% of all deforestation. Loss of trees results in enormous devastation to entire forest ecosystems. NRDC estimates that on a worldwide basis, deforestation causes more global warming than the combined emissions of all vehicles, airplanes and ships—and that’s not all. When trees become paper, more water is required than converting recycled paper to fiber. Many companies that use tree pulp also employ chlorine-based bleach, which pollutes water systems.
The U.S. is the largest consumer of toilet paper in the world, yet only 2% of our toilet paper purchases are from recycled fibers, according to Information Resources Incorporated, a marketing research firm. Consider the San Francisco Bay Area, a green epicenter where high use of recycled toilet paper might be expected. Annual sales figures show that only 1% of Bay Area toilet tissue is recycled. In Europe and Latin America, recycled materials constitute about 20% of all toilet tissue sales. Shame on us!
NRDC is consulting with some trend-setting clients like Major League Baseball to use only recycled toilet tissue. During the Academy Awards ceremony we were all dazzled by the gowns, jewels and sparkle from the star power. Few knew that all the toilet paper in the Kodak Theater restrooms was 100% recycled.

Companies like Georgia Pacific and Kimberly-Clark promote the softness of their tree-based toilet tissue. But other comparably priced, eco-friendly choices exist. Seventh Generation, a Vermont-based company, makes a host of environmentally responsible products including recycled toilet paper. Marcal Paper Products LLC launched their own 100% recycled content Small Steps line in early April, handing out free rolls of toilet paper from an “urban jungle” set up in New York City’s Times Square. The company’s message at a following press conference was that changing paper product purchases was one of the easiest ways consumers could make a conscious environmental choice—and one with a big impact. As signs in the urban jungle announced, it takes three and a half tons of raw fiber to make two tons of toilet paper. They equated everyone purchasing one roll of Marcal Small Steps paper towels to saving one million trees. “The government’s not going to save the environment," said Marcal CEO Tim Spring."[How someone spends their] fifty dollars a week [in grocery money] is going to save the environment.”

As the major players in this environmental monopoly game, we can make change by talking with our wallets. When sales of all recycled paper products start to take off, every company will want a piece of the action. Shopping for environmentally sound paper products is simple. Look for paper goods that are 100% recycled with a high percentage of post-consumer content—a reference to the waste paper that we place in our recycle bins. The best paper products, Marcal’s for instance, state that no chlorine bleaches were used in the manufacturing process. Chlorinated chemicals are toxic and cause pollution of water systems. Hydrogen peroxide is one of the best products to bleach paper because this chemical breaks down to water and oxygen.

If you doubt your toilet paper and other paper goods, consult the Greenpeace website, which grades a host of recycled items. Check out their printable Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide . Greenpeace calculates that if each American family bought a roll of recycled toilet paper just once, 400,000 trees could be saved. Recycled toilet tissue even costs about the same as rolls that destroy the forest. Surely a slight decrease in toilet tissue softness is worth saving forests, decreasing global warming and leaving our children a better planet.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring Wildflowers: Their Moment in the Sun

On a walk this morning searching for two of my favorite signs of spring, I was immersed in flowers spouting and birds signing. But I was oh-for-two. Dang.

I was sauntering through Saunders Woods, a nature preserve managed by the Natural Lands Trust, looking to see where in spring’s parade we stand. And I wanted desperately to find two classic signs of spring, trillium (left), a classic wildflower, and warblers, the classic birds of spring.

Spring is an elegant procession of delirious natural acts: songbirds migrating through, wildflowers blossoming in sequence, frogs and salamanders mating in vernal pools. For me, the parade begins in February when skunk cabbage blooms in cold marshy areas, its purple hood heating and melting any ice in its way.

So today I’m standing in a carpet of lesser celandine, a beautiful but entirely alien flower that takes over forests and fields. But I’m also seeing early May apples poking their small umbrella-shaped leaves through the celandine. Trout lilies (right), a classic spring wildflower, have sent up trout-speckled leaves across the forest floor—after many years of patiently storing starches in its root, trout lilies have enough energy to finally make a flower. Happily, in a far corner of the preserve is a stand of trout lilies that have flowered, bright yellow flags in the processional.

Near the creek, I find—where it grows every year—blue cohosh, a tall but fragile-flowered plant with blue-tinted leaves and, much later, very blue berries. Virginia bluebells have popped, its pink buds opening into blue flowers. Bloodroot blossomed near the cohosh, a very rare, bright white flower with a reddish sap that Indians exploited as war paint.

And I’m looking for the Holy Grail, white trillium, one of the most beautiful, and in my Pennsylvania suburb, one of the rarest, spring wildflowers of all. After growing in Saunders Woods for decades (if not centuries), it seemed to have vanished in recent years, a victim of deer overbrowsing. Last year, I found some, startled by its discovery. This year, skunked. None. Nada. Nature does not always cooperate…

The forest floor is just a-blossom with these spring beauties because trees haven’t leafed out yet. The bare trees allow sunlight to strike and warm the forest floor, activating the flowers into their moment in the sun. They bloom, make seeds, photosynthesize, and send starches to their roots before leaves have totally shaded the ground-level. And when its dark and the sunlight blocked, these flowers die back, their ephemeral leaves vanishing into the humus, their rootstocks hanging on to next year, patiently, patiently, patiently waiting.

There is a tiny window of opportunity to see these babies. Blink, and the cohosh is dead. So I’m a lucky man: right place, right time for cohosh. But not for trillium. Not yet.

And the sound track of my flower hunt were all the birds were singing around me: titmice for days, flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers screaming, chickadees chanting their names, blue jays and crows yelling, the first wood thrush of the year, the first towhee, a chipping sparrow.

But I’ll confess to a fondness for warblers, the precious gems of the bird kingdom, rare flying jewels that also pass through here in a wonderfully orchestrated sequence of palm (right) and pine warblers early, blackpoll in the rear. Like the flowers, blink, and you have to wait a year to see them again. So I’m dutifully outdoors for the third consecutive April Sunday searching for warblers. And for the third Sunday, no warbler. Not yet.
Spring is nature on parade. To really see the show, you have to be out in it almost every day—tough to do. I came for trillium and warbler, and was instead feasting on trout lily and titmouse. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Go Wild! Add Native Plants to Your Garden

As a beautiful spring day dawns and Earth Day approaches next week, it’s time to go wild! As director of the Lower Merion Conservancy, I want you to know about a great opportunity. We’re selling native plants for your garden, the plants that evolved to live in Pennsylvania and need less water and chemicals—green in BOTH senses of the word. They’re also great for songbirds and butterflies. Take butterflyweed, a stunning bright orange wildflower overflowing with nectar butterflies find irresistible and with leaves that Monarchs lay their eggs on, as it’s the host plant for this species. Plant butterflyweed, and you’ll grow a crop of butterflies too, adding more Monarchs to the world.

We’re offering Monarda and coral honeysuckle (two hummingbird magnets), plus shooting stars, great blue lobelia, Virginia bluebells, and so much more. Check it out at

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Earth Days of Service

April 22nd marks the 39th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the green teach-in and landmark event that jump-started the modern environmental movement, giving birth to the EPA, a raft of environmental legislation--Endangered Species Act and new versions of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts---and a host of eco-nonprofits, like the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth.

Earth Day is important in my household. My career was forged in the fire of that first Earth Day, inspired by the news reports I was reading at the time as a seventh grader (I organized a litter clean-up for the park in the center of town.) My wife and I later met while both helping create Philadelphia’s 1990 celebration, when 120,000 revelers gathered in the city’s biggest park. So my life’s work comes from Earth Day 1970 and my family courtesy of the 1990 edition.

So it is without any attempt at objectivity that I make the following bold prediction: as environmental issues, pardon the pun, heat up, Earth Day will soon emerge as the first truly global secular holiday. One day, kids will have off for school on Earth Day.

And like Martin Luther King Day, it morphs into a service-oriented celebration, people gathering to plant trees, clear invasives, clean streams, rivers and beaches, spruce up parks, and more. And that service lasts a whole month—April sees the concept of an Earth Days of Service gathering steam.

In fact, the environmental groups of the Delaware Valley have begun placing their service-oriented events on the web site of the Greater Philadelphia Environmental Network. If you go to, you’ll see tons of Earth Day events for people across the region to join in, the Conservancy proudly standing with the Delaware Riverkeeper and Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve.

You can help the Schuylkill Center restore its trails, pull tires from the Perkiomen Creek, help start a wildflower meadow on Cobbs Creek, and remove Japanese knotweed from the Remington Road retention basin. Suddenly, greening the earth was never so much fun.

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and with green-collar jobs and the green economy emerging as major stories—and one solution to the catastrophic economic collapse—expect to see the green holiday kicked up a couple of notches next year.

As for my group, the Lower Merion Conservancy, please do visit the Children’s Earth Day Forest on the weekend of April 25-26. As always, hundreds of students will have hand-built a Pennsylvania forest overflowing with artistic renditions of the plants and animals that live here: owls and opossums, deer and dragonflies, flowers and foxes.

So join me for a uniquely upbeat celebration of Earth Day or join any one of a million groups in the outdoors sometime this spring. And happy Earth Day.

Oh, and check out the guy in the 1970 photo above-- RIP, 1990, his sign reads. They honestly thought then we had only 20 years left before the Earth died....

...Which is eerily reminiscent of what people are saying today...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

When the Earth Speaks

Around 6:00 p.m. this evening, angry dark green clouds roiled into our neighborhood. Last time I had seen that color cloud was 1980 in North Carolina, when a tornado passed over the summer camp where I worked.

Well, the skies opened, and an impossible amount of hail mixed with buckets of rain poured over my neighborhood—a river of whitewater rolled down the street and swirled down the storm drain. Mixed with in were half-inch sized hailstones that covered lawns like snow.

It was easily the strangest storm I have ever witnessed—never so much water is so short a time; never hail like this. Our family gathered on the porch to watch in awe.

Oddly, I was just between reading two intriguing pieces in the NY Times, one Thomas Friedman column about needing an ecological Dow to monitor the earth’s health, the other the magazine’s cover story on global warming naysayer Freeman Dyson.

It’s been said here and everywhere before that one weather event is not proof of global warming, but a storm of that violence—indicating large amount so energy—in March is uncommonly rare.

And this storm followed a day of summerish temperatures in the high 70s.

My gut was also right: this same storm had triggered tornados in Lancaster County an hour earlier. The photo above is from the web site of WHTM in Lancaster of a mobile home-- of course-- upended. Those green clouds were, in fact, tornado-makers. In March. Unheard of.

We continue setting records for strange weather—but that’s OK, the weather’s not broken.

Truth is, the Dyson article is extremely important—global warming is the signature discussion of this time, and there should be vigorous debate in the court of public opinion weighing the science. Our knees should not all jerk in the same direction.

But we better talk fast, because when the earth speaks like it did today, we better listen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Study: Fish & Pharmaceuticals

“Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air,” sang Tom Lehrer in his classic 1960s send-up, “Pollution.” All these years later, with our waterways breathtakingly cleaner, he still may be onto something.

One year ago at this time, an Associated Press investigation showed that “a vast array of pharmaceuticals—including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones—were found (albeit in minute quantities) in the drinking water of at least 46 million Americans,” in 24 metropolitan areas, including Detroit, Louisville, southern California and Northern New Jersey.

Today, Baylor University professors, in a study funded by the EPA, revealed that fish caught near wastewater treatment plants serving five major U.S. cities—including my Philadelphia—had residues of pharmaceuticals in their tissues, including medicines used to treat high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression.

The report says the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are “tiny,” in fact, you’d have to eat “hundreds of thousands of fish” to receive one dose of the drug. But it also points out that “the presence of so many prescription drugs—and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen—in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.” Those consequences could include reproductive irregularities, the early onset of puberty, and increasing resistance to antibiotics.

These chemicals enter waterways in two ways. First, we excrete them, and they successfully pass through wastewater treatment plants. (And there as yet no standards for drugs in wastewater.) Then, some are flushed down the toilet directly when we dispose of old prescriptions. But most surprisingly enter through the first method…

The Baylor team studied tissues in rural New Mexican rivers, but these fish did NOT have these drugs in their bodies.

In addition to human impacts, scientists are searching for clues to riddles of animal abnormalities: apparently increasing numbers of creatures born with physical and sexual deformities. These chemicals may be one piece of the puzzle, especially if these drugs mimic hormones.

Findings from this first nationwide study of human drugs in fish tissue have prompted EPA to significantly expand similar ongoing research to more than 150 different locations.

Just what do we eat? And should the EPA create standards. Watch: it's coming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Real March Madness

I get grumpy this time of year: wildflowers have started popping outdoors, birds are singing lustily, woodpeckers are drumming for mates, migrants are returning, insects waking up…

...And we’re all glued to our TV sets and office pools studying “bracketology,” arguing who the Final Four will be, wondering which Cinderella might make it to the ball this year, debating which teams should have been seeded higher or differently.

Yes, it’s March Madness, that time of year when mature adults go gaga for Gonzaga, pray for a Number 16 finally going all the way (it’s never happened!), passionately discuss matchups like Xavier versus Portland State, Illinois versus West Kentucky. I mean, really. Can’t you just let the kids play the game and see what happens?

Meanwhile, the REAL March madness is unfolding outside. The world is bursting forth, shedding winter’s doldrums, cloaking itself in spring finery. The goldfinches at my feeders are turning bright canary yellow; the white-throated sparrows are definitely sporting sharper white throats. A Question Mark butterfly zipped by today, the first butterfly of the year. Hallelujah! Daffodils have taken the baton from crocuses.

And we’re debating whether the Cal State Northridge Matadors can get past the Chattanooga Mocs.
Sometimes I’m not sure we deserve a world as beautiful as the one we have been given…

End the madness: get outside!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

At Last, Economy AND Ecology

These are scary times: the stock market tanking, banks collapsing, jobs vanishing, state and city budgets imploding, the housing bubble burst.

As Bill Clinton’s team reminded him frequently in 1992, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

But wait. If you place your finger on the pulse of the planet, you’ll discover that temperatures are rising, glaciers melting, oceans warming, sea levels rising, rainforests burning, coral reefs dying, old-growth forests disappearing, deserts spreading, the world’s population rising, and species vanishing at record rates.

It’s also the ecology, stupid.

Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden inaugurated his Middle Class Task Force in Philadelphia, presenting a panel discussion on the emerging green economy. Green collar jobs, everyone noted, is a key path out of our economic wilderness.

As an educator plowing the environmental field for 30 years, this is a hallelujah moment, as at long last there seems to be some recognition that the ecology underpins our economy, that the health of the two have been long connected, and that we have a unique opportunity to restore both, to, as it were feed two birds with the same crumb.

Finally, there is a unique confluence of economy AND ecology, and we no longer have to choose between them.

I hope this moment lasts.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Last Polar Bear

An extraordinary book crossed my desk the other day, arriving at a critically important moment.

The Last Polar Bear from Braided River Books is described as a “photographic journey” by photographer Steven Kazlowski. It’s a coffee table book overflowing with photos of polar bears (not to mention seals, whales, walruses, Eskimos, and more), sharing the bear’s incredible natural history while cementing its place in the annals of environmental concern. Like eagles and peregrines were the 1960s symbol of DDT’s impact, the polar bear has become a reluctant poster child for global warming.

But the terrain the book covers is expansive, as Bear includes a series of elegiac essays from notable writers like Theodore Roosevelt IV, Newsweek correspondent Dan Glick, and several Alaskan environmental writers. These essays dive into politics, climate change, natural history, Inupiat Eskimo culture, and a whole lot more.
The book opens with a preface by Helen Cherullo, executive director of Braided River Books, the nonprofit publishing house that released Bear, who took Kazlowski to Congress in 2007 to share his photos. His presentation ended with a photo of a polar bear in a zoo, with him noting that “within decades, this could be the only place on earth a polar bear will be found.”

So the book’s title is a preemptive shot across the bow of American culture. But remember, the Interior Department finally bowed to pressure (and court orders) and listed the bears as a threatened species, threatened because the ice upon which they depend is thawing underneath them—far faster than scientists imagined possible. A study by the U.S. Geological Survey, released last fall, predicts that two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, including Alaska’s entire population, may disappear completely by 2050.

The last two years saw record ice melt in Arctic Ocean summers, and many scientists are now predicting ice-free summers in coming decades. Polar bears, of course, use this ice to move about, find mates and hunt for seals. As temperatures warm, the loss of the pack ice directly impacts their ability to survive.

Right now, as the long Arctic winter winds down, mother polar bears are nursing their young in ice-bound dens while hibernating. In March or April, the mother and pups emerge from their dens to start the new spring season.

What kind of world will the polar bears emerge into this year? That’s partly up to you. Grab this book.

The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World. Braided River Books, February 28, 2008 235 color photos, 192 pages, 10”x12”, Hardcover. Photos courtesy of Braided River Books and Steven Kazlowski.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Into the Frying Pan?

This is amazingly sad. A Worcester's buttontail quail, a shy Philippine bird long thought to be extinct by scientists, was FOUND recently in the wild…

..but promptly eaten. After it was photographed, the bird was sold in a local marketplace as food. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Clean Energy: A Bright Spot in Stimulus Bill

So Obama flew to Denver today to sign the much-discussed $787 billion stimulus package—thank you, Senator Specter—and while we’ll hold our breath waiting to see if it works, as a card-carrying environmental guy, it was hard not to smile, bad as the economy is.

Renewable energy was a bright spot in the bill.

He signed the bill at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, first visiting the solar panels on its roof with the youthful head of Namaste Solar Electric, a small Colorado company that installed similar panels on the governor’s mansion there. Obama saw the future, and it worked.

The stimulus bill “is an investment that will double the amount of renewable energy produced over the next three years,” Obama noted, promising it will “transform the way we use energy.” Included in the package are $5 billion for low-income weatherization programs, several billion to modernize federal buildings for energy efficiency, $11 billion for “smart grid” investments, $3.4 billion for clean coal, $2 billion for research electric car batteries, $500 million in green job training, a three-year extension of the “production tax credit” for renewable energy projects like biomass, geothermal, landfill gas and some hydropower projects, and tons of energy-saving mass transit projects across the country.

Two quick thoughts: First, Obama could easily right a longstanding wrong by putting solar collectors back atop the White House. Installed on the West Wing (photo, below right) by the cardigan-carrying Jimmy Carter in the 1970s, Ronald Reagan’s very first act as president was to remove those offensive symbols of our energy ennui from the rooftop. Putting them back would be an easy symbolic gesture.

Second, Obama’s done a lot right on the environment. But his one error is a whopper: clean coal is a classic oxymoron. It doesn’t work and is not shovel-ready. While King Coal is undoubtedly crowing, we desperately need to shift energy policy in a different direction, and we’ll pour money down a bottomless clean-coal mine shaft and one day realize it didn’t go very far. You watch.

We’ll continue following that story and report as developments occur. Until then, there is plenty of good green news in the stimulus bill.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Top Eco-Doom Movies!

Mel Gibson, Al Gore, and Kevin Costner cracked at least this one Top 10 list.

But wait, where’s Bruce Dern? We wuz robbed!

It’s that time of year where everyone releases their top 10 lists, and the Mother Nature Network,, a new Internet news site created by Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, has just released its top 10 eco-disaster movies of all time.

As a big fan of eco-doom movies, I couldn’t resist.

Their list includes Mel Gibson’s apocalyptic 1979 Mad Max, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, and two flops, Kevin Costner’s Waterworld and Keanu Reeves’ The Day the Earth Stood Still. The really cool The Day After Tomorrow made the list—it should—and here's a surprise: Darwin’s Nightmare, a 2004 documentary about the ecological devastation of Tanzania’s Lake Victoria.

But four animated films make the list, including Wall-E, Happy Feet, Ice Age: the Meltdown, and Madagascar: Escape to Africa. Wall-E belongs, but Happy Feet? The overfishing subplot, while surprising, was just that, a subplot.

Truth belongs—it’s the most important environmental movie ever. So does Waterworld, an underrated ecological adventure. Max Max is great, especially in today’s end-of-oil-era times.

But where’s 1972’s Silent Running, one of the first and still best ecological sci-fi movies? Starring an impossibly young Bruce Dern as a botanist in space, he’s part of a crew caring for a series of satellite domes containing all of Earth’s plant life, as the planet itself is uninhabitable. The botanists are keeping the plants alive waiting for the day when they can return and replant. But budget cuts call for the end of the program, and the plants are to be jettisoned, which Dern, whose character’s name is Freeman, finds unconscionable. Great, underrated movie that played a HUGE role in at least this young environmentalist’s imagination. And I don’t think I’m alone.

I’d also add the magnificent 1982 Koyaanisqatsi with Philip Glass’ haunting soundtrack, and John Boorman’s rainforest-drenched The Emerald Forest (1985), with one of my favorite movie endings ever.
By the way, the Mother Nature News network is designed as “a one-stop resource and an everyman's eco-guide offering original programs, articles, blogs, videos, and how-to guides along with breaking news stories.” Compare to another similar outlet, the Environmental News Network,
And Happy New Year.