Archive for November, 2009

A Marvelous Bird is the Pelican. . . .

Friday, November 27th, 2009

 . . . .His beak can hold more than his  ‘belican.’

     I am very happy to report that this big, brown shorebird with its famed beak-pouch that can hold whole fish, is no longer endangered!  Once nearly exterminated as a result of hunting and the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, the brown pelican has just been removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened species.

     “This is truly a success story that the whole nation can celebrate,” says Sam Hamilton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director.  “We once again see healthy flocks of pelicans in the air over our shores,” adds Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

     The brown pelican, a resident of southern U.S. shores, was first declared endangered in 1970.  For years, it had been hunted for its feathers, and the widespread use of DDT had led to a build-up of the pesticide in ocean fish consumed by the pelican.  Many pelicans died from ingesting the toxic fish.  And the eggs of the pelicans who survived were rendered so thin-shelled by the DDT that they were crushed under the weight of incubating birds.

     Once DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972, brown pelican populations began to rebound.  By the 1990s, the brown pelican population had returned to pre-DDT levels.  Today, about 650,000 brown pelicans are flying, swooping, and swimming across Florida, along the Gulf and Pacific coasts, and in the Caribbean and South America.

     Even after ‘graduating’ from the endangered species list, the brown pelican will still receive federal protection through the Migratory Bird Act and a federal program that continues to verify that delisted species remain secure from the risk of extinction.

     The brown pelican is indeed a marvelous bird.  It captures fish by spotting them from the air and diving into the water to catch them.  The pouch under the bird’s beak serves as a net to scoop up the fish from the water.  After capturing a fish, the pelican rises to the water’s surface, points its  beak upward and swallows the fish whole. 

     The brown pelican is about four feet long, with a wing span of seven feet.  A graceful flyer and a strong swimmer, the pelican moves clumsily on land.  The pelican is long-lived;  the oldest recorded age for the bird is 43 years.  

     It is a particular joy to me to know that the brown pelican population is once again abundant.  Although I lived near the Florida coast from 1964 to 1974, I never in those years saw a single pelican.  Not until 2000 when I was back visiting did I see pelicans flying about the shore.  Now, nine years later, it makes me happy to think that the pelican population is truly thriving.–April Moore

photo by Arthur Morris

photo by Arthur Morris

 

an AP photo

an AP photo

 

        

photo by Rodney Cammauf

photo by Rodney Cammauf

 

  

photo by Tom Grey

photo by Tom Grey

We Return Thanks

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

     I am filled with gratitude for so many things.  Now that Thanksgiving time is here, I want to share the following with you.  It is an adapted Iroquois prayer from Earth Prayers from Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon.  Happy Thanksgiving!–April Moore

We return thanks to our mother, the earth,
     which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams,
     which supply us with water.
We return thanks for all herbs,
     which furnish us with medicines for the cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters,
     the beans and squashes,
     which give us life.
We return thanks to the wind,
     which, moving the air
     has banished diseases.
We return thanks to the moon and stars
     which have given to us their light when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to the sun,
     that he has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit,
     in whom is embodied all goodness,
     and who directs all things for the good of his children.

What a planet!

What a planet!

Insects in the Fall

Friday, November 20th, 2009

   A few days ago, I went outside in the morning to see what I could see.  I am often amazed that spending a half-hour outside, open to whatever is there, yields wonders to observe, and so different from one day to the next!  And that morning was no exception.

     I stepped out onto the deck and took in the air around me.  The morning was damp and mild.  The air felt languid and still, at rest after days of blustering wind and rain.  I leaned my elbows on the railing and looked out to the west, across the valley at the long, high ridge that is Great North Mountain.  Layers of muted greens and browns, punctuated here and there with a dot of red, gave the mountain her soft, autumnal look.  The top of the ridge was so softened by a deep mist that it had disappeared, blending with sky and land.    

     After a moment or two of gazing out on Great North Mountain, I noticed a couple of small yellow jackets, very still, on the wooden deck railing where I was leaning.  Then I noticed four or five more of them, also unmoving on the railing.  They appreared to be resting. 

     So perfect were these insects’ proportions of yellow and black, it was as if they had been designed by an artist.  Six yellow legs, a round black, furry head with a couple of well-placed yellow spots and tapering, dark antennae, a round, black mid-section, and a long yellow and black striped abdomen.  

     After a little while, I noticed that the abdomen of one of the yellow jackets had begun to move.  It appeared to be pulsing.  When I peered through my magnifying glass, I could see that the abdomen was actually shortening and lengthening like an accordion.  And sometimes the yellow jacket would bend its abdomen to the left and rub its back-most left leg against it, or to the right and rub it with its back right leg.

     Then, other parts of the body would begin to move as well.  The antennae would come to life, reaching out this way and that.  I delighted to watch as the little bug extended its front most legs, rubbing the left leg over the length of the left antenna, while also doing the same on the right side.  This yellow jacket rubbed its antennae again and again, bowing its head to bring the antennae within reach of the front legs.  It then walked around a little bit and suddenly flew off. 

     Each yellow jacket seemed to show a similar pattern–from stillness to a pulsating abdomen to movement of antennae, a little walking, and then flight. 

     Occasionally, another yellow jacket would land on the railing, stand in stillness for awhile, and then go through the pattern I observed in the others.  Eventually, the railing was bare of yellow jackets.  A few stayed close by, flying about the corkscrew willow tree near the deck.  Others became tiny black dots in the sky and soon disappeared.

     After my morning observations of the yellow jackets, I read a little about them.  Apparently, these insects are very active in the summer and fall.                                                              

  Perhaps the yellow jackets I observed were resting or ‘drying out’ after the rain, collecting their energies that had been slowed by all the rain of the previous days.–April Moore

 

 

Who Needs Bottled Water?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

     I have long been concerned about the environmental impact of bottled water.  All that discarded plastic that will be hanging around for thousands of years!  I thank my niece Kia for forwarding me this informative article from the Union of Concerned Scientists: 

 

A World of Reasons to Ditch Bottled Water

Bottled water manufacturers’ encourage the perception that their products are purer and safer than tap water. Bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water. But the reality is that tap water is actually held to more stringent quality standards than bottled water, and some brands of bottled water are just tap water in disguise. What’s more, our increasing consumption of bottled water—more than 22 gallons per U.S. citizen in 2004 according to the Earth Policy Institute—fuels an unsustainable industry that takes a heavy toll on the environment.

Approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil—enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year—are used to make plastic water bottles, while transporting these bottles burns even more oil.

The growth in bottled water production has increased water extraction in areas near bottling plants, leading to water shortages that affect nearby consumers and farmers. In addition to the millions of gallons of water used in the plastic-making process, two gallons of water are wasted in the purification process for every gallon that goes into the bottles.

Nearly 90 percent of water bottles are not recycled and wind up in landfills where it takes thousands of years for the plastic to decompose.

So the next time you feel thirsty, forgo the bottle and turn to the tap. Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for tap water are more stringent than the Food and Drug Administration’s standards for bottled water, you’ll be drinking water that is just as safe as, or safer than, bottled.

If, however, you don’t like the taste of your tap water or are unsure of its quality, you can buy a filter pitcher or install an inexpensive faucet filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria. If you will be away from home, fill a reusable bottle from your tap and refill it along the way; travel bottles with built-in filters are also available.

If you’d like to know more about your tap water, the EPA has a list of frequently asked questions about tap water on its Web site. Depending on where you live, you can find a water quality report for your area.

by Union of Concerned Scientists

These Are the Days

Friday, November 13th, 2009

     I thank Diane C. for introducing me to Emily Dickinson’s poetic celebration of Indian Summer.  Diane recently recited the poem with great gusto in a Virginia mountain forest, and I enjoyed it very much.   Although the possibility of a real Indian Summer day is probably past, now that it is mid-November, I still want to share this lovely poem.–April Moore

These Are the Days When Birds Come Back
     by Emily Dickinson

These are the days when Birds come back --
A very few -- a Bird or two --
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies resume
The old -- old sophistries of June --
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee --
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear --
And softly thro' the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.

Oh Sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze --
Permit a child to join.

Thy sacred emblems to partake --
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!

Beat the Peak

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

     Conservation is not just about using lessWhen it comes to home electricity use, conservation is also a matter of timing

     Here’s what I mean: 

     Utilities must be able to meet consumers’ demand for electricity whenever they need it.  But consumer demand is greater at some times of the day than at others.  In the winter, peak demand is typically from 6-9 am and from 4-7 pm.  These are the times when people are taking showers, preparing breakfast and completing chores, and then cooking dinner and doing evening chores.   Summer peak demand is from 3-7 pm.  This is when the day is hottest, and air conditioning is running. 

     Utilities build power plants to meet peak demand, even though most of every day, power plants are not generating electricity to capacity.  If consumers’ peak demand were lower, then the perceived need to construct new power plants would be reduced.  And we must stop building new coal plants if we are to have a chance to stop global warming before it is too late.  One relatively simple way to lower peak demand is to spread our demand for electricity more evenly throughout the day, before and after the hours of peak demand.

     Fortunately, many utilities are encouraging their residential customers to shift some of their electricity use to non-peak hours.  For example, running the washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher before or after peak demand time will spread out demand.  And appliances like these, that generate heat, require significantly more electricity to operate than equipment that does not generate heat.

     Taking showers and, where possible, preparing meals during non-peak hours will also help spread out demand.

     And, of course, avoiding waste at all times of the day will help reduce overall demand.  Turn off all lights that are not needed, and unplug small appliances, like the cell phone charger, when they are not in use.  Using the switch on a power strip to turn appliances on and off is also a good idea, since a small amount of current continues to run whenever appliances are plugged in, even when not in use.

     If your utility seeks your help by asking if you are interested in being contacted when the system is experiencing overload, say yes.  Some utilities notify interested customers of an overload situation, so that people can make a point of shifting some of their electricity use to off-peak hours.  It all adds up!–April Moore   

Thoughts on Global Warming

Friday, November 6th, 2009

     At this moment, I am feeling buoyed by the recent show of support by millions of people around the world for tackling global warming (October 24 Day of Action, see the ‘People Are Waking Up’ posting on this site).  

     But that’s not how I usually feel.  Much of the time I am worried and anxious.  I can’t believe that so many Americans–in fact, most Americans, according to some research–do not regard global warming as anything to worry about.  Global warming came in dead last in a recent survey asking people to rank a list of 20 societal problems in order of seriousness.      

     The overwhelming majority of climate scientists  are persuaded that global warming is real.  They say that if it continues unchecked, it will result in great suffering for humans and many other species.  So why, I ask, do so many of my fellow citizens remain unconcerned?  And worse, why do some people deny global warming as a lie, a hoax!  Even some Members of  Congress, arguably the body that can do more than any group in the world to address global warming, refuse to take the problem seriously!  (I am hopeful that Congress will enact climate change legislation this year, although the bill under consideration is little more than a baby step in the right direction.)

     So why are so many people unconcerned about global warming?  I’ve been mulling the question for quite awhile, and here is what I have come up with: 

     First, I believe it is very hard for people to imagine a future that is much different from the present.  In our minds, the future looks like an extension of what we see around us right now.  Our comfortable, middle-class homes, the abundant, affordable food in the grocery store, readily available clean water, the opportunity to drive wherever and whenever we please, our easy access to amusements of all sorts–all seem like rights to which we are entitled.   And they all depend on massive carbon emissions.

     Not only is it difficult to imagine the future with any accuracy; we don’t want to try.  It’s frightening.  After all, who really wants to visualize our children and grandchildren fighting for survival on a planet transformed by persistent, widespread drought, social upheaval, and an impoverished biosphere, characterized by decline and extinctions of a great many animal and plant species?

     Besides, we have nothing from the past to draw on in addressing global warming.  Unlike other critical issues humanity has struggled with for millennia–war, famine, poverty, disease, etc.,–global warming is without precendent.  Many wise people have offered guidance for dealing with the serious issues humans have faced throughout history, but we have nowhere to turn for help with this one except ourselves.  We are in uncharted territory, and it’s scary.     

     In addition, for now, at least, we can turn away from the damage global warming has already caused.  We don’t have to look at the polar bears drowning as the Arctic ice melts.  We can avoid listening to the people of the Maldives beg the rest of the world to keep their island home from disappearing under a rising sea.  We can believe, for at least awhile longer, that we can continue to live in the relative luxury to which we have become accustomed.

     But the biggest reason this planetary emergency is so widely ignored, I think, is a spiritual one.  Most of the world’s societies today have become so oriented toward the material that nature has become little more than the backdrop against which we live our lives.  As America and the other industrialized countries have become richer, more able to secure comforts, appliances, and amusements, our lives have become increasingly oriented toward the environments of our own creation.  We have turned increasingly away from the natural environment, the core of what truly sustains us.

     I can’t bring myself to end this piece on such a pessimistic note.  So, if you are still reading, I do have some thoughts about how to get out of this mess! 

     First, we must face the truth.  Global warming is real, and we should educate ourselves about it.  Quality research and accurate information are abundantly available.  While I believe that the actions we take as individuals, groups, and businesses to lessen our carbon footprint are important, it is much more important to focus our efforts on educating and pressuring our government to take decisive action.  The federal government can make much more sweeping change than any of us can, acting independently.  We citizens should educate our elected officials and elect people who will make dealing with global warming their top priority.

     For me, I have recently decided that I need to work with others to tackle global wrming.  I can at least be a little more effective than I can working alone in just my infinitesimal, individual ways.  Besides, the best antidote I know for the pain and despair I so often feel about global warming is to engage in action.

     Am I too gloomy?  Do you agree with me?  How do you deal with the cloud of global warming over your own life?  I hope to generate a discussion here on www.TheEarthConnection.org.  I invite your thoughts.–April Moore

People Are Waking Up

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

     On Saturday, October 24, people in more than 180 countries came together in what was the most widespread day of environmental action ever.  At more than 5,000 events in cities and towns across the planet, people gathered to call for strong leadership and bold action to deal with the world climate crisis.

     I am greatly encouraged that so many people all over the world are insisting, loudly and clearly, that the world’s governments get with it and take the decisive actions necessary to avert the worst effects of global warming.  And I am happy that these actions were witnessed by lots more people, who are now more aware than they were before, of just how important it is that we address this planetary emergency. 

     People organized attention-grabbing events and showed in many vivid ways that we must lower the proportion of carbon in our atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm) if we are to maintain a planet that resembles the one on which we were born.  Currently, we are at about 385 ppm of carbon, and that proportion is on the rise. 

     Here are a few examples of the events that took place on the International Day of Climate Action:

  • In the Maldive Islands, scuba divers demonstrated that their island nation is rapidly disappearing under rising seas by descending beneath the waves with signs and banners calling for a sustainable 350 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere.  
  • In Kitale, Kenya, people held a bicycle parade through town, complete with banners and signs, followed by the formation of the numerals 350 by hundreds of people in a field.
  • In Johannesburg and Sydney, people spelled out giant 3s with their bodies.  Then in London and Zurich, people made immense 5s, followed by people in Copenhagen and Quito forming huge zeros.  “CNN will have to do our work for us,” says 350.org founder Bill McKibben, “putting together the puzzle to show that you can’t solve this problem without crossing borders, without thinking of the planet as, well, a planet.”
  • The Handmowers League scythed ’350′ into numerous hayfields in Vermont, Nova Scotia, and Scandinavia. 
  • In Afghanistan’s first ever public climate change action, young people created a 300 square meter message on the slopes of  the Paghman Mountains that read “SAVE OUR WORLD–AFGHAN YOUTH FOR 350.”
  • In Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia, 1,000 schoolchildren participated in a fun run and a massive tree planting.
  • At 8 pm in Barcelona, churches throughout the city rang their bells 350 times. 

     To enjoy a short video of some of the actions that took place all around the world on October 24, click on the link below. 

A Day of Action and Celebration

     How can I not be heartened by such a show of love and caring for our planet?  Yay!–April Moore

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