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Ecology Today

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Updated: 34 min 13 sec ago

Indigenous Mountain Farmers Unite on Climate Change

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 23:00

Courtesy of Sci Dev Net

Farmers from 25 indigenous mountain communities in ten countries have come together to share traditional knowledge that could help them to mitigate climate change and to lobby governments for greater recognition of their unique knowledge.

The International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples was formed at a workshop in Bhutan last month (26 May-1 June). It includes communities from Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Taiwan, Tajikistan and Thailand.

Member communities from Bhutan, China and Peru had already agreed to exchange seeds at a meeting held in Peru earlier this year (26 April-2 May). The agreement was extended to the other members at the most recent meeting.

The farmers say the network will enable communities to access new seed varieties that are more resilient to pests and drought; will help increase their crop diversity; and will reduce their dependence on corporate-owned seeds.

“This network is a good initiative to fill the knowledge gap and address similar problems between mountain communities with similar farming systems, altitudes and ecological conditions.”

~ Krystyna Swiderska, IIED

“Learning about experiences and strategies from other farming communities — based on local knowledge systems — through this network reaffirms people’s beliefs and faith in their own systems, values and traditional knowledge,” says Reetu Sogani, an activist who works with the International Institute for Environment and Development’s (IIED’s) Smallholder Innovation for Resilience project, which was involved in the workshop.

The meeting also developed what it calls The Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples. The declaration calls on governments to: support climate change adaptation measures based on traditional knowledge; promote indigenous languages; and bridge local knowledge and science to create effective solutions for conservation, food security and climate adaptation.

“Mountain environments are characterised by harsh natural conditions which are being exacerbated by changes in climate,” says Krystyna Swiderska, principal researcher at the IIED, which co-organised the Bhutan workshop.

Swiderska says that a lot of adaptation funding never reaches communities or goes towards developing high-tech solutions, which can replace local crop diversity and knowledge — thereby undermining a community’s adaptive capacity in the longer term.

The 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report also recognises the role and value of local and traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation, noting that such knowledge is often not included in adaptation planning.

The member communities have initiated a seed exchange programme with the International Potato Centre’s (CIP) Potato Park, in Peru, a conservation initiative where indigenous people protect traditional seed varieties and agricultural knowledge.

The programme will focus initially on the exchange of potatoes between mountain communities in Bhutan, China and Peru, with support from scientists at CIP, using in-vitro material (as opposed to seeds) to breed new varieties of potatoes that are both more resilient to local conditions and more productive, says Swiderska.

Manohara Khadka, gender specialist at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, says: “Local policymakers have failed to recognise and conserve mountain people’s traditional knowledge in agriculture and adaptation”.

She adds that the other factors that are leading to the loss of traditional knowledge include loss of indigenous languages, which are not always taught in schools; young people discontinuing farming; and migration to cities.

Khadka says: “This network is a good initiative to fill the knowledge gap and address similar problems between mountain communities with similar farming systems, altitudes and ecological conditions.”

Link to The Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Categories: Ecological News

Cry for Argentina: The Devastation of GMO Soya

Sun, 07/13/2014 - 23:05

by Mark Measures

Agricultural advisor Mark Measures visits Argentina regularly. Following his recent visit last fall, he wrote sent  report on the massive impact GM soya production is having there. Reprint courtesy of Courtesy of

Flying over the North of Argentina you see the organic matter of soils and trees going up in pillars of smoke. No caution, no controls and with the government desperate for taxable exports, farmers are being driven by sheer economic pressure to use GM technology. This is industrialization of food production on a devastating scale. If this is the application of “sound science”, God help us.

Farming to a flawed blueprint

The widespread adoption of genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready Soya and more recently GM Maize during the last 10 – 15 years has fueled an unprecedented agricultural revolution in Argentina. Now 98% of soya in the country is GM and in parts of the Pampa 90% of the crop is soya i.e. no crop rotation.

The reasons why this has happened are quite straightforward, certainly in our part of the Pampa. GM soya allows direct drilling, which minimizes soil moisture loss and consequently increases yields over the non-GM soya.

Be under no illusions, GM soya is easy and it is profitable, in fact it so easy that it does not need a farm manager on site and consequently there are businesses running 100,000 hectares, spread over many sites and farmed to a blueprint. The resulting social upheaval is immense.

Herbicide use is not just a matter of a pre-drilling application of Roundup (Glyphosate) herbicide, as is practiced in the UK. It is also applied to the growing crop, normally once by tractor at the establishment stage and again by air during the later growth stage.

Due to the lack of rotation and repeated use of Roundup the inevitable has happened; there are now 5 weed species that are known to be resistant to Roundup and there are as yet unconfirmed reports of a further 5 resistant species.

The consequence of course is that farmers are increasing the application rates of glyphosate to get the weed kill, these are reported to be up to 20 times standard application rates and other, often more toxic herbicides are having to be used in addition to Glyphosate, including the infamous Agent Orange chemical, 24D.

The chemical treadmill to destruction

Farmers are keeping one step ahead of the game at the moment, but the visible weed incidence in fields observed during the 7 hour bus trip across Buenos Aires province suggests only just. The use of some brushwood killers presumably explains why there are dead trees and shrubs along field boundaries.

There is now multiple herbicide resistance in some weeds and it’s not yet clear whether the seed companies will be able to respond by continually developing new herbicide resistant characteristics in their seed.

What is clear is that the need for higher application rates and use of additional herbicides there is now higher use of herbicides than ever before. Claims that GM soya reduces herbicide use may be true for the first year or so but in the long term it is nonsense.

Adverse environmental impacts are beginning to emerge. There are widespread reports of ground water contamination and effects on wildlife throughout the food chain.

Research from Buenos Aries University by Andres Carrasco, Professor of Embryology, has reported major neurological effects of glyphosate on amphibians at below standard application rates, and further problems associated with the additives which are thought to penetrate the amphibian cells more easily than the main ingredient.

With some notable exceptions, few people connected with Argentinean agriculture voice concerns about possible health effects on humans, but in a country that has only just prohibited aerial crop spraying adjacent to towns perhaps this is not surprising.

Contamination of organic crops, destruction and corporate control

Our estancia is farmed along traditional Argentine lines with a crop rotation including soya, wheat, maize, sunflowers and Lucerne and is grazed by 4,000 Hereford cattle. It is an important wildlife site, now a Vida Silvestre reserve, with a unique 300 hectare area of indigenous pampas grassland and a 250 hectare lagoon.

Genetic contamination of organic and non-GM crops is now happening on two fronts.

Firstly, as we know to our cost, there is contamination of adjacent crops. Soya is self-pollinating but crop contamination does happen and we have to test routinely and at times reject crops from the organic market. The risk is of course much greater with GM maize. All farmed crops, organic and non-organic are also liable to contamination in store and transport.

There are also real risks for us of genetic contamination of our native species in the wildlife reserve. Needless to say we have to bear the costs of all this, not the GM farmers or the seed suppliers.

The second contamination front and one of the most pervasive consequences of the total domination of GM soya is that there is now no development or multiplication of non-GM varieties.

At Las Dos Hermanas we have been saving our own single variety of seed and supplying to a few other organic farmers for 15 years now. The conventional farmers are totally dependent on the two or three seed companies (who of course also supply the herbicides) and the organic and any surviving non-GM farmers are being forced to use outclassed and underdeveloped varieties.

Of ultimate importance is the fact that GM technology has facilitated growing soya in the virgin pastures, scrub land and forest in the north of the country, 277,000 ha were cleared in 2010, often land totally unsuited to cropping but with the potential to grow a few crops before soil structure collapses and the depleted land is returned to grass – by which time the damage is done, not just to biodiversity but through destruction of one of our most important carbon sinks.

A pall of poison and folly

Flying over the North of Argentina you see the organic matter of soils and trees going up in pillars of smoke. The consequences for climate change are dire and inevitable unless there is a major and speedy reversal of this production policy.

It could be argued that the problems experienced with GM Soya are due entirely to misuse of the technology; that with proper rotations, with precise application and use of the herbicides and avoidance of spraying near people and watercourses that all would be well.

But the fact is that the human and environmental safety of this technology is unproven and it is always accompanied by environmentally damaging cropping, corporate control and inadequate regulation.

Argentina is the classic example – no caution, no controls and with the government desperate for taxable exports, farmers are being driven by sheer economic pressure to use the technology to the detriment of all.

Farmers are losing their independence, consumers are losing control of their source of food and we are all losing a globally important biodiversity and carbon sink.

This is industrialization of food production on a devastating scale. If this is the application of “sound science”, God help us.

Mark Measures  has been an agriculture advisor for over 30 years. Since the mid-1980s he has also worked with Las Dos Hermanas, a 4,000 hectare organically farmed estancia in the western Pampas of Argentina,   [short descript w/link & TITLE OF STORY #1]  He is Director of The Organic Research Centre in the UK, a registered charity, formally known as the Progressive Farming Trust Ltd., whose business is to develop and support sustainable land-use, agriculture and food systems, primarily within local economies, which build on organic/agro-ecological principles to ensure the health and well-being of soil, plant, animal, people and our environment.The Organic Research Centre was established in 1980 as a “Centre of Excellence” to address the major issues raised by a resource hungry global economy based on an intensive agricultural system.

Citizens Concerned About GM is a group of people who want a more balanced debate about GM; who want questions asked and answered; and an open, transparent discussion which is not dominated by the interests of multinational corporations. is maintained to provide up to date information and discussion about GM in an accessible form. It is not aimed at campaigners but seeks to act as an information and education resource for citizens of all types.



Categories: Ecological News

OCO-2 Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 04:14
NASA Launches New Carbon-Sensing Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing


A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket launches with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)satellite onboard from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. OCO-2 will measure the global distribution of carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate.
Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide at 2:56 a.m. PDT (5:56 a.m. EDT) Wednesday.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) raced skyward from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. Approximately 56 minutes after the launch, the observatory separated from the rocket’s second stage into an initial 429-mile (690-kilometer) orbit. The spacecraft then performed a series of activation procedures, established communications with ground controllers and unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays. Initial telemetry shows the spacecraft is in excellent condition.

OCO-2 soon will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth’s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world and a critical component of the planet’s carbon cycle.

“Climate change is the challenge of our generation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.”

OCO-2 will take NASA’s studies of carbon dioxide and the global carbon cycle to new heights. The mission will produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks” — places on Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time.

“This challenging mission is both timely and important,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “OCO-2 will produce exquisitely precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations near Earth’s surface, laying the foundation for informed policy decisions on how to adapt to and reduce future climate change.”

Carbon dioxide sinks are at the heart of a longstanding scientific puzzle that has made it difficult for scientists to accurately predict how carbon dioxide levels will change in the future and how those changing concentrations will affect Earth’s climate.

“Scientists currently don’t know exactly where and how Earth’s oceans and plants have absorbed more than half the carbon dioxide that human activities have emitted into our atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era,” said David Crisp, OCO-2 science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “Because of this we cannot predict precisely how these processes will operate in the future as climate changes. For society to better manage carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, we need to be able to measure the natural source and sink processes.”

Precise measurements of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide are needed because background levels vary by less than two percent on regional to continental scales. Typical changes can be as small as one-third of one percent. OCO-2 measurements are designed to measure these small changes clearly.

During the next 10 days, the spacecraft will go through a checkout process and then begin three weeks of maneuvers that will place it in its final 438-mile (705-kilometer), near-polar operational orbit at the head of the international Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train,” of Earth-observing satellites. The A-Train, the first multi-satellite, formation flying “super observatory” to record the health of Earth’s atmosphere and surface environment, collects an unprecedented quantity of nearly simultaneous climate and weather measurements.

OCO-2 science operations will begin about 45 days after launch. Scientists expect to begin archiving calibrated mission data in about six months and plan to release their first initial estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in early 2015.

The observatory will uniformly sample the atmosphere above Earth’s land and waters, collecting more than 100,000 precise individual measurements of carbon dioxide over Earth’s entire sunlit hemisphere every day. Scientists will use these data in computer models to generate maps of carbon dioxide emission and uptake at Earth’s surface on scales comparable in size to the state of Colorado. These regional-scale maps will provide new tools for locating and identifying carbon dioxide sources and sinks.

OCO-2 also will measure a phenomenon called solar-induced fluorescence, an indicator of plant growth and health. As plants photosynthesize and take up carbon dioxide, they fluoresce and give off a tiny amount of light that is invisible to the naked eye. Because more photosynthesis translates into more fluorescence, fluorescence data from OCO-2 will help shed new light on the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants

OCO-2 is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, built the spacecraft bus and provides mission operations under JPL’s leadership. The science instrument was built by JPL, based on the instrument design co-developed for the original OCO mission by Hamilton Sundstrand in Pomona, California. NASA’s Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management. Communications during all phases of the mission are provided by NASA’s Near Earth Network, with contingency support from the Space Network. Both are divisions of the Space Communications and Navigation program at NASA Headquarters. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information about OCO-2, visit:

OCO-2 is the second of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch into space this year, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade. NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:

Follow OCO-2 on Twitter at:
Categories: Ecological News

World Oceans Day 2014

Sun, 06/08/2014 - 05:43
“One Planet, One Ocean
Together, we have the power to protect them both”

Around the world, the World Oceans Day movement is growing exponentially. The theme for last year and for 2014, “One Planet, One Ocean – Together, we have the power to protect them both,” has spawned hundreds of events on June 8. From beach cleanups to ocean dives, from a Paddle out for Sharks in South Africa to screening the BBC’s “Coast Australia” at Mosman, New South Wales, people from all walks of life are fueling the momentum.

2014 marks the 6th year since the United Nations General Assembly officially sanctioned World Oceans Day. It coincides with the first day of the twenty-fourth meeting of the Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which celebrates 20 years since the Law came into force.

It’s unfortunate that mainstream media generally focuses on the negatives surrounding our oceans. We hear plenty about plastic pollution, pesticide runoff, dying dolphins and mercury-loaded fish. What we don’t hear or see much about is the good that is burgeoning behind the scenes.

Preserving the Oceans

Probably the area with the most significant and newsworthy activity is the creation of Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs. Since last World Oceans Day, several Marine Protected Areas and Networks have been established and more are in the works, with ongoing negotiations.

Facts and Figures courtesy NOAA
• Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water and represent 99 per cent of the living space on the planet by volume.
• Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
• Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 percent of global GDP.
• Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions.
• Oceans absorb about 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
• Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 2.6 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein.
• Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people.
• Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are preventing efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$ 50 billion less per year than they could.
• As much as 40 percent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries and loss of coastal habitats.

NOAA describes an MPA as “…any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein.

Most MPA’s are broken into different levels of use. Some areas allow recreational fishing. Others are no take zones. Some allow limited commercial fishing, and again, others don’t. The levels of protection are designed with a holistic view of the overall health of the area.

In June 2013, Australia dedicated a vast Marine Reserves Network covering 3.1 million square kilometres, increasing the number of reserves from 27 to 60. Environment Minister Tony Burke said, “For generations Australians have understood the need to preserve precious areas on land as national parks. Our oceans contain unique marine life which needs protection too.”

Earlier this year, the Government of New Caledonia, which is a French overseas territory, announced the decision to create the world’s largest protected area on land or sea. Covering an area larger than Alaska and three times the size of Germany, the network covers 1.3 million square kilometres (501933 square miles) and will protect its abundant oceans.

About 2,000 kilometers (1200 miles) south of Cape Town, South Africa, deep in the Southern Ocean, The Prince Edward Islands consisting of Prince Edward and Marion Islands form an important global biodiversity hotspot covering 180,000km2 and was declared an MPA early in 2013.

The Antarctic is under scrutiny and negotiations continue with the hope that two areas, the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, nearly three million square kilometers, will be designated MPAs in the very near future. This would also create a penguin sanctuary for the eight species that live in the Antarctic. More than one-third of the MPAs would be a strict no fishing area.

More Good News

Besides the expansion of MPAs, other good things are happening in the ocean world.

The U.S.-based environmental group WildAid, reports that consumption of shark fin soup has dropped more than 50 percent since the group’s campaign in China began in 2006. This decline is partly due to public-awareness campaigns led by former NBA star Yao Ming and also due to the Chinese government declaring it would no longer serve the soup at official functions.

Ocean Conservancy reported an astounding 648,015 volunteers, 150,000 more than 2013, in 92 countries picked up more than 12.3 million pounds of trash in the 2013 International Coastal Cleanup.

On the scientific front, scientists are learning more and more about El Niño. By utilizing bullet-shaped, winged robotic Spray glider drones that collect underwater data, they are tracking the formation of this year’s El Niño. The scientists, from California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, expect “the data to include the most high-resolution repeated ocean transects ever done across the equator during an El Niño.”

Although ocean exploration funding is dwarfed by that provided for space exploration, the energy and excitement generated by grassroots activism and NGO enthusiasm for the ocean can help offset the inequity. We can all do our part to protect and explore the watery world that holds so many mysteries.

Categories: Ecological News

World Environment Day 2014

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 00:50
Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level

Barbados, a small Caribbean island at the cutting edge of the fight against climate change, will be hosting World Environment Day 2014, leading United Nations-wide efforts to draw attention to the plight of the world’s small islands potentially in peril of being lost to sea-level rise.

“On World Environment Day, millions of individuals, community groups and businesses from around the world take part in local projects – from clean up campaigns to art exhibits to tree-planting drives,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, marked every year on 05 June.

Mr. Ban was referring to activities and events taking place worldwide – ranging from a 45,000-strong clean-up campaign involving UN staff throughout Kosovo and the Baltimore Orioles baseball team raising awareness of the environment in Sarasota, Florida, to a bike ride around the lakeside in Geneva, Switzerland – all aiming to raise awareness of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the convening of a youth conference on “Eco-civilization and Green Development” in Shanghai.

In support of the UN designation of 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States, World Environment Day will focus on those countries in the broader context of climate change as its theme. Many of the events under way will also spotlight the upcoming Third International Conference on the Small Island Developing States , set to be held in Apia, Samoa from 1 to 4 September.

“Small island nations share a common understanding that we need to set our planet on a sustainable path,” said the Secretary-General, explaining that reaching that goal demands the engagement of all sectors of society in all countries.

“This year, I urge everyone to think about the plight of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and to take inspiration from their efforts to address climate change, strengthen resilience and work for a sustainable future,” said the UN chief. “Raise your voice, not the sea level.”

Home to 62.3 million people, these island nations play a crucial role in protecting oceans while contributing little to climate change – emitting less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gases.

But they suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change owing to their small size, remote locations, and limited economic resilience. Research shows that by 2100, global warming could lead to a sea-level rise of up to 2 meters, making many of these island States, especially in the Pacific region, uninhabitable.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), warned that the very existence of low-lying nations, such as Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu is threatened by climate change-induced sea level rise.

While climate change adaptation was a top priority for island nations, the lack of financial resources is an obstacle, with, for example, the capital cost of sea-level rise in the Caribbean Community countries alone estimated to reach $187 billion by 2080.

“Investing now to head off such a massive economic impact makes sound business sense,” Steiner said in his message.

UN General Assembly President John Ashe, in his message on the Day, also appealed for a global call to action for people across the world to support SIDS and low-lying coastal States endangered by rising sea levels, and disproportionately impacted by climate change, the loss of biodiversity and forests and overfishing.

“Only by transitioning together to a green economy can we ensure a sustainable prosperous future for all countries threatened by rising sea levels,” Mr. Ashe said.

In her message on the Day, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that while small islands faced many challenges, they are also leaders under that treaty “both morally and practically” in terms of reminding nations of the risks and collective responsibilities to act while driving ambitious national and international action.

She went on to site a host of SIDS-driven initiatives, from improved adaptation of water resources in the Comoros to wind power projects in Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica and methane capture in Papua New Guinea and Cuba, that have leveraged the UN Clean Development Mechanism to build their own clean energy futures. Many of these nations have undertaken National Adaptation Programmes of Action under the Convention.

“Our pathway is clear. Clean energy economies produce profits without pollution, better livelihoods in stable industries, restore health and wider wealth and preserve water and essential resources,” Ms. Said, calling on all raise their voices and their ambition now.

On June 5th, 1972, the General Assembly formed UNEP to, “provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.”

That same day was also designated World Environment Day and has since been celebrated as a worldwide day of environmental awareness.

Over the years it has grown to be a broad, global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated by stakeholders in over 100 countries. It also serves as the ‘people’s day’ for doing something positive for the environment, galvanizing individual actions into a collective power that generates an exponential positive impact on the planet.

Source: UNEP


Categories: Ecological News

Runaway Glaciers in West Antarctica

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 03:22

Courtesy of NASA

A new study by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, finds a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea.

The study presents multiple lines of evidence, incorporating 40 years of observations that indicate the glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica “have passed the point of no return,” according to glaciologist and lead author Eric Rignot, of UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The new study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

These glaciers already contribute significantly to sea level rise, releasing almost as much ice into the ocean annually as the entire Greenland Ice Sheet. They contain enough ice to raise global sea level by 4 feet (1.2 meters) and are melting faster than most scientists had expected. Rignot said these findings will require an upward revision to current predictions of sea level rise.

The glaciers studied by Rignot’s research team. Red indicates areas where flow speeds have increased over the past 40 years. The darker the color, the greater the increase. The increases in flow speeds extend hundreds of miles inland. Image credit: Eric Rignot

“This sector will be a major contributor to sea level rise in the decades and centuries to come,” Rignot said. “A conservative estimate is it could take several centuries for all of the ice to flow into the sea.”

Three major lines of evidence point to the glaciers’ eventual demise: the changes in their flow speeds, how much of each glacier floats on seawater, and the slope of the terrain they are flowing over and its depth below sea level. In a paper in April, Rignot’s research group discussed the steadily increasing flow speeds of these glaciers over the past 40 years. This new study examines the other two lines of evidence.

The glaciers flow out from land to the ocean, with their leading edges afloat on the seawater. The point on a glacier where it first loses contact with land is called the grounding line. Nearly all glacier melt occurs on the underside of the glacier beyond the grounding line, on the section floating on seawater.

Just as a grounded boat can float again on shallow water if it is made lighter, a glacier can float over an area where it used to be grounded if it becomes lighter, which it does by melting or by the thinning effects of the glacier stretching out. The Antarctic glaciers studied by Rignot’s group have thinned so much they are now floating above places where they used to sit solidly on land, which means their grounding lines are retreating inland.

“The grounding line is buried under a thousand or more meters of ice, so it is incredibly challenging for a human observer on the ice sheet surface to figure out exactly where the transition is,” Rignot said. “This analysis is best done using satellite techniques.”

The team used radar observations captured between 1992 and 2011 by the European Earth Remote Sensing (ERS-1 and -2) satellites to map the grounding lines’ retreat inland. The satellites use a technique called radar interferometry, which enables scientists to measure very precisely — within less than a quarter of an inch — how much Earth’s surface is moving. Glaciers move horizontally as they flow downstream, but their floating portions also rise and fall vertically with changes in the tides. Rignot and his team mapped how far inland these vertical motions extend to locate the grounding lines.

The accelerating flow speeds and retreating grounding lines reinforce each other. As glaciers flow faster, they stretch out and thin, which reduces their weight and lifts them farther off the bedrock. As the grounding line retreats and more of the glacier becomes waterborne, there’s less resistance underneath, so the flow accelerates.

Slowing or stopping these changes requires pinning points — bumps or hills rising from the glacier bed that snag the ice from underneath. To locate these points, researchers produced a more accurate map of bed elevation that combines ice velocity data from ERS-1 and -2 and ice thickness data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission and other airborne campaigns. The results confirm no pinning points are present upstream of the present grounding lines in five of the six glaciers. Only Haynes Glacier has major bedrock obstructions upstream, but it drains a small sector and is retreating as rapidly as the other glaciers.

The bedrock topography is another key to the fate of the ice in this basin. All the glacier beds slope deeper below sea level as they extend farther inland. As the glaciers retreat, they cannot escape the reach of the ocean, and the warm water will keep melting them even more rapidly.

The accelerating flow rates, lack of pinning points and sloping bedrock all point to one conclusion, Rignot said.

“The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable,” he said. “The fact that the retreat is happening simultaneously over a large sector suggests it was triggered by a common cause, such as an increase in the amount of ocean heat beneath the floating sections of the glaciers. At this point, the end of this sector appears to be inevitable.”

Because of the importance of this part of West Antarctica, NASA’s Operation IceBridge will continue to monitor its evolution closely during this year’s Antarctica deployment, which begins in October. IceBridge uses a specialized fleet of research aircraft carrying the most sophisticated suite of science instruments ever assembled to characterize changes in thickness of glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice.

Thwaites Glacier. Image credit: NASA

For additional images and video related to this new finding, visit:

For additional information on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and its potential contribution to sea level rise, visit:

For more information on Operation IceBridge, visit:

The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:

Categories: Ecological News

Deep Impact – Safe Passage Project Seeks Sustainable Solutions for Maritime Conflicts

Fri, 05/09/2014 - 01:37

Courtesy of The Santa Barbara Foundation

Photo courtesy of John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research

Nearly 200 blue whales visit the Santa Barbara Channel each summer on their annual pilgrimage up the West Coast – the largest concentration of blue whales anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, thousands of container ships transit the channel’s internationally designated shipping lanes each year, elevating the risk of ship strikes on these endangered creatures.

“The Santa Barbara Channel is home to some of the highest diversity of whales anywhere in the world, including blue whales, grays, humpbacks, fins, and orcas,” said Kristi Birney, marine conservation analyst for the Environmental Defense Center. “In 2007, four whales were struck and killed by cargo ships in a three-week period. It really raised the profile of ship strikes in the community.”

The Environmental Defense Center, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District are leading a collaborative effort to address marine shipping conflicts in the Santa Barbara Channel and implement an incentive-based vessel speed reduction pilot program. Recognizing the many interests at stake, the Santa Barbara Foundation recently awarded an Innovation Grant to initiate this Safe Passage Project.

“As a critical first step in this community project, we have pulled together a new working group under the marine sanctuary’s federal advisory council to discuss strategies for creating more sustainable shipping, decreasing air pollution, reducing the risk of ship strikes, reducing interference with naval testing operations, and enhancing navigational safety,” said Kristi. “In a parallel but separate effort, we will pilot a program this summer to financially incentivize a small number of ships to reduce speeds while transiting the channel.”

Protecting the Whales

It is believed that the historic population of blue whales was at one time over a quarter of a million animals worldwide. Commercial whale hunting, which was banned in the late 1960s, slashed the blue whale population to approximately 10,000 animals, with an estimated 2,000 residing in the Eastern Pacific.

“One of the largest threats to whales right now is ship strikes,” said Sean Hastings, resource protection coordinator for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. “The slower ships go, the better chance whales have of surviving strikes, and presumably they also have more time to get out of the way.”

Every year, Eastern Pacific whales migrate from as far south as Central America to as far north as the Gulf of Alaska. Because the warm and cold currents that converge along the Central Coast create a highly productive ocean environment, the Santa Barbara Channel serves as a critical feeding ground for whales. Diving 200 meters beneath the surface to feed on tiny crustaceans called krill, these 80- to 100-foot whales are easily overpowered by the 800-foot ships that share their waters.

“What makes blue whales excellent divers is that they are negatively buoyant, meaning a whale on the surface naturally sinks rather than floats,” said Sean. “Based on natural history, biology, and the physiology of the animal, it is very likely that more whales are being struck by ships and sinking out of sight than those that float and end up on shorelines. Whale researchers think the number of animals being hit could be upward of five to 10 times more than we are aware of.”

The International Maritime Organization recently ruled in favor of shifting the shipping lanes that run through the Santa Barbara Channel away from the feeding grounds of whales, but geographic constraints within the channel mean that whales are still at risk of being struck.

Improving Air Quality

In addition to endangering whales, marine shipping is responsible for emissions of several air and climate pollutants, including greenhouse gases and black carbon. Shipping accounts for more than 50 percent of Santa Barbara County’s emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), a precursor to the formation of ozone. The county is currently not in compliance with the state standard for ozone, which at ground level can cause significant respiratory health impacts.

“We have been concerned for a long time about the air pollution from large ships going through the channel, and in particular about the NOx emissions they produce,” said Mary Byrd, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District. “A University of California, Riverside study indicates that by reducing vessel speed to 12 knots, ships become more efficient, burn less fuel, and create less pollution.”

If the county cannot reduce pollution from marine shipping, local businesses may continue to take on the burden of rigorous air regulations.

“Over the years, businesses have been producing less pollution with cleaner technologies and stricter regulations. Car pollution has also decreased because of the state’s cleaner fuels rules and smog checks,” said Mary. “Shipping continues to produce the greatest amount of NOx emissions. If we can reduce NOx emissions to meet the state standard for ozone by slowing ships down, it will be better for our economic health as well as our public health.”

A Pilot Program

Vessel speed reduction to minimize air quality impacts and protect whales is not a new concept. For the past four years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tried asking ships to voluntarily reduce their speeds in the Santa Barbara Channel during whale season from June to November. With no incentives or regulations, less than 1 percent of ships complied.

The pilot program will explore the feasibility of adding a financial incentive for companies to reduce their ship speeds, modeled after a program implemented by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with over 90 percent participation.

“The financial incentive is a token amount,” said Sean. “We believe the real incentive is to provide them with the public attention and recognition they deserve for demonstrating a sustainable corporate attitude.”

While the shipping industry maintains concerns about the vessel speed reduction program, representatives have pledged to take part in the working group.

“We do not aspire to regulate the shipping industry. We want to facilitate vibrant maritime commerce, just in a more sustainable way,” said Sean, noting that the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s governing entity, NOAA, is housed under the United States Department of Commerce. “So far the shipping industry is supportive of the project because they understand that we can come up with better solutions by working together, rather than fighting through regulations and lawsuits.”

Ensuring Navigational Safety

Recent changes in fuel regulations have prompted some ships to reroute to the backside of the islands, where the ship strike problem is even more difficult to quantify and where there currently are no shipping lanes.

“We do not want ships going anywhere and everywhere. Ships in shipping lanes are paramount to keeping the ocean safe,” said Sean. “A worst case scenario for our entire county, for whales and every other living thing, is two ships colliding and the resulting oil spill that would happen.”

Unorganized ship traffic and congestion also poses concerns for the United States Navy, which conducts missile testing and training south of the Channel Islands. Naval representatives will join the working group to discuss possibilities for ship relocation and improved scheduling.

“Many of us in Santa Barbara may not realize the Navy is operating the world’s largest test range behind the Channel Islands,” said Sean. “Having thousands of ships pass through their testing range each year disrupts operations and training, and their readiness for responding to threats around the world.”

To help facilitate these deeper discussions, the working group plans to use a web-based ocean planning tool called SeaSketch. Developed by the University of California, Santa Barbara’s McClintock Lab, SeaSketch allows stakeholders to explore marine management solutions through real-time spatial planning and graphic visualizations.

“The ocean is busy and it is getting busier,” said Kristi. “SeaSketch is a powerful communication and data analysis tool that will allow us to input data, share ideas, and have honest conversations about conflicts within the channel.”

A Game Changer

The Safe Passage Project, along with an increasing number of environmental and conservation efforts, is gaining momentum through its unique public-private partnership.

“It is exciting that the Santa Barbara Foundation recognized the visionary aspect of this project,” said Owen Bailey, executive director of the Environmental Defense Center. “This is an attempt to bring everybody to the table and to really find that win-win. Any solution that has everybody contributing to it is going to be a better, longer lasting solution.”

The vision for this project is to transition from a pilot to a long-term program. State cap-and-trade funding – revenue generated from charging companies for exceeding a set level of greenhouse gas emissions – is one option to support a full-scale vessel speed reduction program in the Santa Barbara Channel.

“We hope a successful pilot program here can scale up to other areas in California and beyond,” said Sean. “Rerouting and slowing ships has the potential to be a game changer in terms of climate issues, endangered species protection, and human health beyond Santa Barbara County.”

Categories: Ecological News

World’s Largest Protected Area Created

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 03:53
Government of New Caledonia Makes Historic Announcement

A local guide demonstrates the proper traditional fishing technique on Ouvéa, an island in New Caledonia’s archipelago. The park’s ecosystems generate around 2,500-3,000 tons of fish each year, providing food to New Caledonia’s quarter of a million people and an economic driver for the territory’s sustainable economy. © Conservation International/photo by Chelsea Woods

In an historic move at the end of April, the Government of New Caledonia, which is a French overseas territory, announced the decision to create the world’s largest protected area on land or sea. Covering an area larger than Alaska and three times the size of Germany, the covers 1.3 million square kilometres (501933  square miles) and will protect its abundant oceans.

According to Conservation International (CI), “The new law brings under careful management a multi-use, marine protected area which totals a massive 1.3 million km2, making it the largest protected area in the world. Essential to people, biodiversity and climate resilience, the park’s ecosystems generate around 2,500-3,000 tons of fish each year, providing food to New Caledonia’s quarter of a million people and an economic driver for the territory’s sustainable economy.”

The Natural Park of the Coral Sea covers all of New Caledonia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the marine waters extending 12 to 200 nautical miles from its coasts. New Caledonia is the world’s only stand-alone Biodiversity Hotspot and its coastal waters boast the world’s largest lagoon, which has earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Jean-Christophe Lefeuvre, Conservation International’s program director for New Caledonia said, “New Caledonians have always understood how much we depend upon nature – especially our oceans. The careful and thoughtful management of natural resources is essential to long-term human well-being. This legislation sends a powerful message that investing in the value nature can provide the basis for a healthy and sustainable society.”

“This is a monumental decision for New Caledonia and the entire Pacific,” said David Emmett, Senior Vice-President for Conservation International’s program in the Asia-Pacific. “Such a measure exemplifies what other countries in the Pacific can do to fully invest in the long term health and productivity of their ocean resources.”

Pygmy seahorses in New Caledonia. The region’s unique underwater formations and geological diversity create habitat for an extraordinary number of species. © Photo Rodolphe Holler

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that the park is home to more than 4500 square kilometres of fishery-supporting coral reefs, the deepest site in France (7919m. deep), 25 species of marine mammals, 48 shark species, 19 species of nesting birds and five species of marine turtles.

Plans for the Park were announced at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2012, when New Caledonia made the first commitment to the Pacific Oceanscape, collaboration between 16 Pacific island nations and 6 territories covering 10 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. This initiative “envisions a secure future for Pacific Island states based on ocean conservation and management, strong leadership and regional cooperation.”

According to CI, “Over the next three years, Conservation International experts in New Caledonia and the region will help the government shape the park’s spatial planning and management plan, fund key scientific research to inform that plan, and integrate New Caledonia’s contributions within the Pacific Oceanscape and Big Ocean Network. The management plan will use best practices for integrated management and the protection of ecosystems, habitats and species. It will also strengthen monitoring strategies, preserving cultural values and work to increase international visibility.

Categories: Ecological News

The Poop on El Nino

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 01:58

Domino Effects, it’s what Ecology is all about….the connections we and everything around us have to one another and how any perturbance, from small to ginormous, can rattle the cage. And we’re in the cage. I fertilized my yard last week (being a meteorologist it’s assumed I know exactly when to proceed with such tasks and so all my neighbors were quickly at the Home Depot securing their bags of Magic Mix as well. We all wish for a gloriously green lawn free of weeds and chinch bugs). I can assure you that none of us cared one whit about where that fertilizer came from….most people you would ask not only don’t know fertilizer origins, they don’t even know what it is or what it’s made of….nothing about chemical composition and breakdown and chlorophyll. And who cares? Just get it green!

Peru cares. Peru is home to some of the best, chemically-perfect, lawn-changing natural fertilizer that the ecological world can produce: Guano Bird poop. They even protect Guano bird colonies (wars have been fought over this poop, just google it). These Guano birds are cormorants mostly and it’s the “guano” which is the, um, end result of a good meal. So, in order for the Guano to poop, the Guano has to eat, and it loves to eat anchovies (I know, blech!). Anchovies love to hang out along the coast of Peru in the nice cool water of the Pacific Ocean where upwelling waters provide a nice buffet of plankton which feeds on a rich supply of water organisms. Domino effect….cool water provides nutrients for plankton which is food for the anchovy; the anchovy is food for the Guano bird; the Guano droppings provide the perfect putting-green lawn. Leave it to El Nino to ruin it all.

El Nino, the difficult-to-predict periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean waters, seems to be making a strong comeback, especially in the last month as some of the strongest warming since 1979 has been observed in the central Pacific:

Average sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies (°C) for the week centered on April 2, 2014. Anomalies are computed with respect to the 1981-2010 base period weekly means.

Notice the Red Colors in the center—that’s the warming and it’s there and along the coasts of Mexico, Central America, and South America that we’ll continue to watch for increased warming.

Warming waters in Peru, where the cool water feeds the anchovy and when the water warms, two things will happen: one, the anchovies will swim elsewhere looking for cool water and two, the fierce mackerels which love warm water will sweep in and make a hearty meal of the anchovies that didn’t swim away. What’s left for the Guano birds to eat??? Not much. And their population dwindles by millions. The Peruvian economy takes an enormous hit, as you can imagine, and years pass before the Guano population recovers.

The serious struggle to protect world economies by protecting both fish colonies and bird colonies continues as there is nothing to be done about El Nino. And that‘s why we’ll be on an El Nino watch here at As the spring warms to summer and El Nino development marches on, the effects will be universal. You’ve probably heard of a few in the past….fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic, but more in the Pacific…drought and fires where rain is needed, devastating floods where too much rain falls….perfect snow for downhill skiing, yet houses going downhill on mudslides…all of which can and will take their toll on humans, nature, economies, ecologies. Call it the El Nino Domino effect….I can promise, it will affect you.

Frank Billingsley, EGN’s Weather Ecology Specialist, is the Chief Meteorologist for KPRC-TV2 in Houston, Texas. A Washington & Lee University graduate, Frank received his Broadcast Meteorology Certification from Mississippi State University. He holds the seals of approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has received seven “Best Weathercaster” awards from the Associated Press.

Categories: Ecological News

Earth Days 2014

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 13:53
Earth Day – Every Day

It’s no secret our beautiful world is undergoing great changes. This Earth Day, we look at the progress being made to care for and cherish our planet.

Our correspondents range the globe, providing enthralling articles and stunning photos that show just how lucky we are to be alive at this time on Earth.

We can’t ignore the news headlines flashing catastrophes and disasters around the clock, but the Ecology Global Network strives to provide factual and positive information that you can use. We know that it is the people who make the difference, from grassroots anti-fracking groups to citizen scientists at Project Budburst, observing and cataloging plants in their neighborhood; from scientists discovering Higgs boson at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory to explorer biologists discovering new frog species in the jungles of Borneo.

This Earth Week, we have gathered together a selection of wonderful articles, videos and images that celebrate life in all its fabulous forms. Check back every day this Earth Week for new articles, essays and galleries to enrich your Earth Days.

Aboreal ~ Lori Pond Photography

We all travel the Milky Way together,
Trees and Men.

~ John Muir

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A River Runs Through You

A river runs through you, a rich and hugely varied wetlands ecosystem that sets the foundation for your overall health and well-being. The sheer number and diversity of microorganisms living in this ecosystem is staggering, more than 1,000 different species and up to 100 trillion organisms, ten times more microorganisms than cells in your body! This ecosystem is the gastrointestinal tract.

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Outdoor Learning in the Maya Forest

With the support of the National Geographic Society (NGS) Conservation Grant, Exploring Solutions Past~The Maya Forest Alliance and the El Pilar Forest Garden Network have enhanced the school garden space at Santa Familia Primary School in Belize and developed a school program of study.

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Why We Should Conserve

In a discussion about science, evolution and conservation with a friend who is not a trained scientist, I was asked the following questions: “Why is it important for sea turtles, or any animals for that matter, to be protected? Is it important that they be protected when they are living, or is it important to also protect their ability to produce and create offspring?

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The Probability of Life

Earth Day isn’t just about loving nature, not wearing deodorant and pilgrimages to India – it’s about how we should celebrate the improbability of our own lives.

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Global Perspectives of a Comet

When Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) passed perilously close the the sun in November 2013, millions of eyes were on it, including those looking through lenses. These intrepid photographers captured some spectacular images that have won them recognition in The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences, Astronomy magazine and Discover magazine photo contest.

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In Celebration of Bees

It’s spring and with flowers blooming and birds singing, it’s a perfect time to celebrate the little insects that makes the biggest impact on our world…Bees!

Honeybees are often the first bees we think about but have you ever noticed how different flowering plants attract different bees?

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Conservation and Filmmaking

Environmental and wildlife films have the potential to be incredible tools for promoting conservation. All too often, however, these films fail to live up to this potential and instead, pander to the lowest common denominator of viewers.

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How to Invest in Renewables

The renewable energy industry is well past its training wheel phase and there are now many ways to invest in all types of renewables. I’ve been an investor in renewables off and on for the last couple of decades and I offer in this column a little nonprofessional advice about how best to get into this field as an investor.

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Earth Day as We Face the Future

Earth Day, established in 1970, has been called the “beginning of the modern environmental movement”, spurred by the unchecked rising tides of air, water, land, noise, food pollution from industry, transportation, energy generation, blatant consumerism and waste, rising extinction of species, and the population explosion.

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Earth Day and the Human Revolution

Just over 200 years have zipped by since humans began to truly command the planet’s resources in ways that have taken mankind to unprecedented heights and advances in modern living. That was the dawn of the Industrial Revolution which marked not only the start of society’s prodigious developments in living, business and industry, but also the start of mankind’s dominance…

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Nature in its Place

Planet earth. It’s not only the place where we keep all our stuff, it’s also where all of our stuff comes from. All of it. Everything. The natural world is the source of everything we’ve ever seen, bought, built or experienced.

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What Earth Day Means to Me

Nature photographer, Andy Porter, shares his Earth Day thoughts among beautiful images of his beloved northwestern Washington state.

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The Pale Blue Dot

On Earth day, it is useful to look for inspiration from those who help us understand the beauty of our fragile earth, and the responsibility we each has to look after it. Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, and its companion piece We Humans are Capable of Greatness are segments of “The Sagan Series” from his TV program Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

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What Can a Cactus Teach Us about Earth Day?

The prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) is one of North America’s least welcome exports. This spiny succulent shares many traits with a villain from an alien movie—it can reproduce clonally if it is broken into pieces, the seeds can “come back to life” after lying dormant in the soil for up to two decades, the adults resist arid conditions that would kill many native organisms…

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Redefining the Mother Nature Myth

Global warming, climate change, deforestation, pollution. All words with a negative connotation in today’s world. All damaging acts against Mother Nature, creating despair and angst amongst humans, often making us feel there is nothing to be done to reverse the damage.

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Look into the Future of Earth Day

Acid rain in the Northeast, urban growth in Phoenix, climate change in the Arctic. El Nino and West Coast fisheries, land-use change in New England, nutrients in watersheds in the Midwest. Scientists are peering into the future to discern long-term outcomes of these and other environmental changes.

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More Earth Day Videos for Kids

Enjoy this selection of videos about Earth and Earth Day. Respect and appreciate the Earth every day.

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Abstract Earth

Lest we forget, our Planet Earth is a magnificent place. In these technological times, we are privileged to have access to works of natural art that NASA has made available to us all. In celebration of Earth Day, Ecology Global Network has assembled an astonishing selection of images taken from satellites and from the International Space Station.

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Earth Overview Effect

Of its more than 7 billion inhabitants, just over 500 have had the privilege of seeing the Earth from space, with their own eyes. This transformational experience is called the Overview Effect. This view of earth as one fragile organism, devoid of manmade boundaries, inspires a sense of interconnectedness appropriate to the task of crafting a sustainable future.

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Earth Day Videos for Kids

Children are never too young to learn how important it is to care for the Earth. They, and you will enjoy this selection of Earth Day songs to sing along with, while learning from the important environmental messages.

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Categories: Ecological News

Redefining the Mother Nature Myth

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 10:40

w/ Lori Pye and Ginette Paris

A Myth Fraught with Problems

Global warming, climate change, deforestation, pollution. All words with a negative connotation in today’s world. All damaging acts against Mother Nature, creating despair and angst amongst humans, often making us feel there is nothing to be done to reverse the damage.

An Anti-Humanist Approach

But as revealed in a conversation between Ecopsychologist Lori Pye and Depth Psychologist Ginette Paris, the idea of Nature as Mother is a deep-seated complex, rooted in the human subconscious and creating the despair felt by so many. Ginette describes the Mother Complex as “Mother projected onto nature as an infinite resource, a boundless safety net.”

This consciousness has given rise to the idea held by many environmentalists and environmental organizations, that the world would be a better place with no humans in it. The underpinning to this way of thinking is the association of Earth/Nature with Mother. Lori notes, “Nature as Mother is fraught with all sorts of problems, but a main difficulty is the complex that lies with nature as Mother and that of the Mother Complex.”

“For us humans, there is no future without nature”

Within eco-activist groups’ literature, there is a line that holds true for all; for us humans, there is no future without nature. There is a corollary idea, which Ginette does not agree with, which suggests, “nature has a future with or without us, humans.” She claims this is an anti-humanist approach, revealing what she calls a “mostly unconscious layer of self-destructive despair.”

Understanding the emotion of despair that gives rise to the notion, and sometimes actions, that humans are bad news for the planet, as if humans are only “destructive vermin,” is a crucial issue. “Even if we are a parasitic species, ecologists know that parasites serve a purpose in the natural world. This is not as simple a moralistic story as “good nature” and “bad humans,” Lori said.

Ginette expanded on the idea, suggesting that the despair felt today, what she calls “ecocidal behavior” is a defensive reversal and went on to trace the idea back to a dominant religious myth. For 20 centuries, religions have placed God over nature and human dominion over creation. She said,”Reverse that old theology, and you have nature as Goddess, and humans as pest. It is what [Carl] Jung called an enantiodromia, which is a defensive reversal of a myth into its opposite.”

As an example of this phenomenon, she pointed to early cowboy and Indian movies, where the cowboys were the good guys and Indians evil. Today, roles are reversed and the Indian cultures are revered for their environmental knowledge and spirituality, while the cowboys are the bad guys, depicted as non-nature lovers, destroying the land.

Creating the New Myth

In her book, Heartbreak: New Approaches to Healing, Ginette describes a phase in life one goes through during times of loss and heartbreak, when, in order to change the story and image, one thinks perhaps that one never loved the evil betrayer. She calls this the “Adolescent Phase” of a new myth.

“We are in the adolescent phase now, experiencing heartbreak with nature right now,” she said, “Where good nature and bad humans is a reversal of our old myth of God is good, while nature, women and body are bad!”

As with any simplistic reversal of an old myth, many of the old patterns are left in place. God the Father is replaced by Goddess Nature, but humans’ basic needs as cultural beings are still denied and nature has come to mean something better than culture. This suggests that humans are “struggling with an idealized image of nature as Mother, based on an ideal of purity or innocence that is like the childish projections on one’s mother.”

But there is a rift developing within this myth, between what Stewart Brand, the early environmentalist and creator of the Whole Earth Catalogue, calls the romantic majority (a category in which he places the majority of environmentalists) and the scientific minority, a category in which he places optimistic scientists such as those working on friendly nuclear power. He suggests the conflict between technology (culture) and nature is a false one.

Although Brand considers himself a member of both factions, he is shifting towards the scientific and away from the romantics, because of what he considers the “conservatism, pessimism and anti-scientific attitude of the romantics.”

The Necessary Cultural Shift

This is the necessary cultural shift that Lori stresses is urgent, as she recognizes that human drive toward nature is as intrinsic as the pull away from nature. Many environmentalists and psychologists consider the separation from nature as a problem, but both Lori and Ginette agree that separation from nature is needed, just as an adolescent needs separation from her mother.

As an Ecopsychologist, Lori said, “This is a very different relationship with nature than one of disconnection. The present rupture between humanity and nature mirrors our disconnection between psyche and the unconscious and this is a core issue.” Noting that humans have, and always will “contradict the ways of nature,” she wondered whether humans “would ever do the difficult psychological work necessary to heal the deep rupture between self, other and the earth, so that we feel that we are indeed a part of nature and act from this more rooted position?”

Humans have always wanted to be separate from nature, keeping our children safe from dangerous animals, humans and other deadly harm. We have separated ourselves from nature by destroying resources, diverting and damming rivers and by killing and domesticating animals. Separation is necessary, but Ginette puts it succinctly: “It is not that we do it, it is the way in which we do it: with a lack of intelligence, and in a most destructive way.”

“Abandoning our romantic view of nature and wilderness is painful, a shattering of our illusions of protection and security by good mother and good earth.”

Ginette continued saying the fantasy of nature as the pure way while humans are the rapist suggests “a false polarization” and is the narrative that has endured, carrying the “sins of thousands of years of religious leaders who never stood up to testify against the pillage.”

Abandoning old ideas of nature are painful and shatter the illusions of security and protection by the “good mother” and “good earth” allowing new, more mature relationships to develop between nature and humans.

This is the new myth, where nature and humans are separate but interconnected and working together, rather than in opposition. It is where Lori and Ginette believe humans will heal the despair that currently permeates the old nature myth.

Ginette Paris, Author of “Wisdom of the Psyche: Depth Psychology After Neuroscience” (2007, Routledge) and “Heartbreak: New Approaches to Healing” (2011, World Books Collective) and Core Faculty, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, CA.

Lori Pye, President, Viridis Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, CA, Adjunct Faculty, Pacifica Graduate Institute, University of California Santa Barbara.

 Illustration by Max Engelsiepen

Categories: Ecological News