Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Eco-Inspiration 6: Confession

Alright guys, I have a confession to make.  I have never actually finished reading A Sand County Almanac.  Those of you who know the book are, I'm sure, instantly scandalized.  The much acclaimed work by visionary and Land-Ethic developer Aldo Leopold has been inspiring conservationists and green warriors since 1949.  I have owned not one, but two copies of this book.  I leaf through it and sort of treat it like poetry.  It is, after all, beautifully written.  But for some reason, I have never read it cover to cover.  I am always so moved and uplifted by Leopold's words, and I have decided that this spring I will read this book!  So, with blog as my witness, I will finish this book by the end of the spring quarter (June).  Once I have finished, I will report back with my feelings about the text and how reading it straight through differed from my cafeteria style readings of the past.  Anyone else want to read along?

In keeping with the theme, I thought I would share with you all one of my favorite passages from the book.  This is equal parts sad and inspiring to me, as it really sets into clear context what we stand to loose if we do not make concerted efforts at conservation.  I hope you enjoy it.

The last Passenger pigeon. Crd. Wikipedia
"Our grandfathers were less well-housed, well-fed, well-clothed than we are. The striving by which they bettered their lot are also those which deprived us of [Passenger] pigeons. Perhaps we now grieve because we are not sure, in our hearts, that we have gained by the exchange. The gadgets of industry bring us more comforts than the pigeons did, but do they add as much to the glory of the spring?

It is a century now since Darwin gave us the first glimpse of the origin of the species. We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravan of generations: that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution. This new knowledge should have given us, by this time, a sense of kinship with fellow-creatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise.

Above all we should, in the century since Darwin, have come to know that man, while captain of the adventuring ship, is hardly the sole object of its quest, and that his prior assumptions to this effect arose from the simple necessity of whistling in the dark.

These things, I say, should have come to us. I fear they have not come to many.

For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The sportsman who shot the last [Passenger] pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auck thought of nothing at all. But we, who have lost our pigeons, mourn the loss."

Aldo Leopold, from A Sand County Almanac 

Last Word:  As I said, I find this rather sad quotation inspiring.  Perhaps you don't agree, but this is exactly the sort of situation I strive to avoid.  If you would like some more information about the Passenger pigeon, start with this pretty good Wiki article.  It is a truly sad story, but one worth knowing.  In related news, there are a few classic, popular ecological novels I've been meaning (literally for years) to read.  Silent Spring and the Sea around Us are at the top of that list.  Anyone interested in a book club via the blog?

What do you think?  Have you ever heard the story of the Passenger pigeon?  Have you ever read A Sand County Almanac?  Would you have any interest in an ecologically themed book club?  

Monday, April 1, 2013

EcoNews Round-up: April 1, 2013

Along the trail in Cache Creek Canyon Regional Park
Happy April!  I've got some fun things planned for spring on the blog.  Hopefully, you will see these coming up in the next few weeks (sneak peak of a new travel post via this pretty picture).  For the moment, I wanted to share with you all some more of the interesting science news I have been hearing lately, or at least thinking about lately, as some of it is not super-duper recent.  Spoiler alert, none of these are April Fools Day stories (or are they...).

This is a little less "breaking news" at this point, but I couldn't resist telling you guys about how amazing dung beetles are!  These little guys are using light from the Milky Way to navigate around their habitats!  The point of this navigation is to roll the dung ball (a precious resource!) away from the dung pad in as straight of a line as possible.  This helps the beetles avoid competition from their potential dung ball stealing fellow.  This Science Friday story is worth a listen for several reasons, not the least of which is the great explanation by the study author and the amazing mental image of a dung beetle wearing a Milky Way obscuring hat (just listen, believe me).  These sorts of findings are adding to the growing field of sensory ecology.  Researchers are learning about how organisms perceive the world, and how that world view, or umwelt, impacts the ecology of different species.  It's more than just cool facts too!  Sensory ecology can be used to help plan protected areas or understand the impacts of a new development.

I like this article mostly because of the title:  Somewhere Over the Brainbow.  Thanks NPR.  I'm also genuinely intrigued by the idea of a brain activity map.  Obama claimed in a speech that this project would help with the treatment of brain disease, specifically mentioning Alzheimer's Disease.  The story starts by comparing this project to another major government science initiative, The Human Genome Project.  It's an appropriate comparison, I think, but the brain is so complex results will likely be very slow in coming.  One issue brought up by the article that interested me was the argument against the project, which stated that such large groups organized by the government aren't the best for science.  In any case, I'm excited to follow the story!    

If you want to talk about Fracking,  pro or con, you should understand how it works.  Here is how these wells are supposed to work under ideal conditions.
For more on Fracking, check out the cover story for the March issue of National Geographic.  Here is another interesting article by Nat Geo about the same issue but centered in New York.  I would love to know some people's opinions.  Do you think Fracking has a place in America's energy future?  Not at all, or as a stepping stone to more green technologies?      

Last, here is an Ecological Society of America press release about one of my very favorite habitats:  the salt marsh.  Unfortunately, as the press release explains, these already threatened habitats are not doing too swell.  Specifically, on the east coast, erosion is slowly eating away at these valuable habitats.  This is due, at least in part, to some of the same food web processes discussed in the last EcoNews Round-up.  Another contributor to the erosion are drainage ditches meant to draw off standing water in the marsh and, thus, decrease the available breeding ground for mosquitoes.  It's a complex problem, but, as so many love to say, that's ecology.  It's always very interesting to see how human alterations to an environment have so many unforeseen consequences.  This is another excellent example of that phenomenon.

Again, I like to leave these news segments, which can often be kind of depressing, on an up note.  Check out this gem sent to me by a friend during finals week.  Love.

 Last Word:  I love these news round-ups because they encourage me to stay (at least a little) up to date on what is popular with the media.  One thing I highly suggest for those who aren't scientists themselves, is to check press releases from organizations like the Ecological Society of America.  They have trained scientific journalists writing these articles, so you are must more likely to get a does of quality scientific reporting

What do you think?  Is there a place for Fracking in America?  Do these news round-ups amuse or depress you?  Is there any sort of news you would like to see more of on this blog?  Probably, you just want more nerdy boys singing about beer.  I'm right, aren't I?
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