Archive for January, 2010

A Prayer for All

Friday, January 29th, 2010

     This prayer for the planet and for us comes from the UN Environmental Sabbath Program.–April Moore

We join with the earth and with each other.

To bring new life to the land
To restore the waters
To refresh the air

We join with the earth and with each other.

To renew the forests
To care for the plants
To protect the creatures

We join with the earth and with each other.

To celebrate the seas
To rejoice in the sunlight
To sing the song of the stars

We join with the earth and with each other.

To recreate the human community
To promote justice and peace
To remember our children

We join with the earth and with each other.

We join together as many and diverse expressions
     of one loving mystery:  for the healing of the
     earth and the renewal of all life.

Smarty Plants

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

      I am fascinated by the growing body of research on plant behavior.  That’s right–behavior.  While ‘behaving’ seems to be the province of animals and not of plants, scientists are learning about a variety of ways in which plants ‘behave’ in ways that are comparable to animal behavior.  Plants move, and they release chemicals that help them find food, improvethe soil where they are planted, and call for help.  Some researchers cite evidence that plants even ’learn’ from past experience.

     Plant growth is not just a matter of moving upward toward the sun.  Time-lapse photography shows that the leaves and stems of growing plants make eerie, circular, sweeping movements.  These movements, called nutation, occur because shoots grow unevenly, with the cells on one side elongating faster than the cells on the other.  “Over hours or days, the growing tip moves like a turning searchlight,” reports Susan Milius in Science News (6/20/09).   

     At the root end, plants ‘hunt for food’ by sending out roots.  Scientists have learned that root growth is directed toward areas of ground where nourishment is likely to be found, and away from ’dead zones that offer little nourishment. 

     Plants can even improve the nourishment available to them in the soil where they are planted, researchers say.  When scientists placed fava bean plants into a phosphorus-poor agar gel, the plants acidified the material around their roots.  This caused an increase of other substances in the gel that lowered the gel’s pH significantly within hours.  A lower soil pH increases plants’ uptake of phosphorus, a substances plants need.

     Not only do plants move more than we think they do, seek the most nourishing soil, and alter soil to meet their needs, but some even call for help when under attack!  For example, when mites or caterpillars bite into a plant’s leaves or stem, the plant releases volatile chemicals.  These chemicals often attract another insect species that typically preys on the first species.  The second group devours the first, thus protecting the plant.  Further, scientists have found that the predatory insects respond selectively.  While they will ‘protect’ plants being attacked by insects they like to eat, the insects do not protect plants being attacked by insects they do not typically eat.

     Plants ‘learn’ from the experience of other plants, and from their own as well.  For example, plants have been shown to heighten their own defenses when a neighboring plant releases the chemicals that indicate it is under attack. 

     A poplar leaf once scarred in an insect attack kicks its defense genes into high gear faster during a second attack than does a leaf during a first attack, reports Consuelo De Moraes, a researcher at Penn State University.  When De Moraes ‘attacked’ one poplar leaf, the released volatile chemicals wafted to neighboring leaves with ‘information’ about the nature of the attack.  When the scientist ’attacked’ these leaves later, they responded more quickly than did leaves that were prevented from receiving the informative volatile chemicals.  Getting the word out made a difference, it seems. 

     Plants are far more sophisticated actors, learners, and communicators than most of us ever imagined!–April Moore

A Meditation on Milkweed

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

     I have been concerned for some time about milkweed.  This humble plant, the sole food source for monarch butterfly larvae, is in decline thanks to land clearing and pesticide use.  A reduction in available milkweed is one reason the beautiful monarch butterfly’s numbers have also diminished.  Since I learned about the threat to this once abundant North American plant, I have been ‘on the lookout’ for stands of milkweed.

     Near my home, by a road that runs along a ridge, is a hearty stand of milkweed.  I watch the plants change with the seasons, and I find them beautiful, even in winter.  The other day I took a walk to photograph them

     Leaning this way and that, the bare, grey stalks support no leaves this time of year, only spent seed pods.  Once plump and green, the pods are now dry, open husks.  They split wide open months ago, and offered up their seeds to the wind. 

     But the wind was capricious;  she ignored–or only lightly touched–many of the open pods.  Even now in January, some of the open pods are still waiting, neatly lined with long silken strands, each one tipped with a brown seed, like dozens of matches pressed together in a matchbox. 

     Other pods are a disheveled mess.  Some of their threads have been ripped out and blown away, while other threads, tousled by the wind, remain in their pod.  And some of the threads are now matted clumps, stuck for months now to the milkweed stalks.  Blown from their pods, these seeds never made it past the little stand of milkweeed.   

     And some pods have been scoured clean of silk and seed.  All that remains in their tawny interiors is what looks like a divider, a brittle, brownish strip separating one side of the pod’s interior from the other.

     The milkweed seems an example of nature in its extravagance.  For countless generations, some of its many seeds have been carried away, and some of those have resulted in new milkweed plants.  Yet every year many other seeds ‘never leave home,’ never reproduce.  

     I will be watching in the spring, as the next generation of the humble but pretty milkweed begins to grow and green.–April Moore  P.S.  Please take a look at my photos below.

 

 milkweed2milkweed3milkweed4milkweed51

Bird Mysteries

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

     I am totally in love with birds. 

     I delight in watching them glide from the magnolia tree down to the edge of our window feeder, where they pluck out a seed and swoop back to the tree with it, to break it open on a branch.  I love observing the little beings flit about, as they make their hushed rustling sounds in the trees and shrubs.  And I savor their singing.  Late in the day, when all the birds have disappeared, I think of them, and I look forward to their return in the morning.

     But there are so many things I don’t know about birds.  So much of their lives is mysterious to me. 

     For example, how do birds know when food once again appears in the feeder, after it’s been empty for the better part of a day?  A few days ago, I filled the feeder after letting it remain empty much longer than usual.  As I placed the little, seed-filled tray back into its plastic frame, I looked around to see if I could spot any birds watching me.  No, not a titmouse, chickadee, junco, or nuthatch in sight.  So, I wondered, how long will it be until the birds discover that the feeder is back in business?    

     In less than 15 minutes, I began to hear the soft thuds of little feet landing on and grabbing the feeder’s edge.  Sure enough.  When I looked out, I saw that they were back, all the usual customers taking their turns at the feeder,  just as if there had never been a break in the action.

     How did they know, I wondered, that the food was back?  Were they watching me from unseen places, as I refilled the feeder?  Did one nearby bird notice the change and somehow spread the word?  Had the birds been waiting, knowing from experience, that the feeder would indeed be refilled?  And do I, as the filler of the feeder, mean anything to the birds?  I would like to think that they view me favorably as the source of easy food.  But I see no sign that they regard me any differently than any other approaching animal who might be dangerous.

     The birds at our feeder always knock off for the day earlier than I would expect.  While it makes sense that birds would settle into their roosts early in the evening, since they are–well–early birds, I am surprised to see that the feeder is completely abandoned by 3:30 or 4 pm.  Do they not need to spend the last couple of daylight hours eating?  What do they do with their late afternoons?  Do they ‘go to bed’ even before the sun sets?

     Speaking of ‘going to bed,’ where do birds sleep anyway?  I did a little reading on this question.  While my brief research told me very little about the roosting habits of particular species that frequent our immediate area, I did learn a few general facts.  The majority of bird species, including those that are not tree dwellers, prefer to roost in trees.  Some excavate a sleeping cavity in a tree, to which they return night after night.  Many species roost in groups.  I imagine that by nestling together, the birds keep one another warm.  And perhaps there’s strength in numbers.  Many sets of eyes may increase the chances of spotting an approaching predator. 

     Another bird mystery I contemplate is junco migration. This little charcoal-grey and white cutie migrates to Virginia for the winter from its home in Canada!  Apparently, our cold, sometimes snowy winters are just the respite from Canada’s frigid winters that these fellows like.  But I don’t understand.  If they head south every winter anyway, why not keep going until they encounter a place where the winters are actually warm?  Are they interested in being less cold, but not in being actually warm?

     I wonder a lot of things about my feathered friends.  But so far, they’re not telling me the answers.–April Moore

tufted titmouse, painting by Clarence Stewart, Originalbirdart.com

tufted titmouse, painting by Clarence Stewart, Originalbirdart.com

black capped chickadee--AP photo

black capped chickadee--AP photo

dark eyed junco--photo by Terry Sohl

dark eyed junco--photo by Terry Sohl

white breasted nuthatch--photo by Terry Sohl

white breasted nuthatch--photo by Terry Sohl

    

 

     

Please Contact Your Senators By January 20

Friday, January 15th, 2010

     Since the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1970, the landmark law has kept millions of tons of pollutants out of the air we breathe. 

     But now, important authority granted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Clean Air Act is  threatened.  Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), with help from the powerful fossil fuels lobby, is making her second attempt in six months to amend the Clean Air Act. 

     If passed, Murkowski’s amendment would strip the EPA of its much of its enforcement authority and funding, taking away a key tool the agency has for addressing carbon pollution.  Murkowski’s amendment would prevent EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson from fulfilling her pledge to achieve significant reductions in carbon pollution.  Passage of the amendment would let coal plants and many other major emitters of carbon pollution off the hook for the next year.

      Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has granted Murkowski a vote on the Senate floor on Wednesday, January 20, although a later date is also a possibility.  One would think this amendment would be easy to stop, but many Democrats are considering supporting it.

     Please contact your two Senators, whether Democratic or Republican, to urge them to vote against the Murkowski amendment.  Make your contact before Jan. 20.   The message is simple:  “Sen. XX, please vote against the Murkowski amendment, which would weaken EPA’s authority to regulate coal plants and other major carbon emitters.”  

     To get your message to your Senators, you can simply make a call to each of their Washington offices.  Just call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3131.  Ask for the office of one of your Senators.  When you get through, you will be invited to leave your comment on an opinion line.  If you prefer to speak to an aide, you can opt for that, but increasingly, Congressional offices seem to prefer the opinion line approach.  Once you’ve left your message, just hang up, call the Capitol switchboard again, and ask for the office of your other Senator.  

     Or, if you prefer, you can email your Senators.  To find your Senators’ email addresses, just click on the site below:

http://www.contactingthecongress.org/ 

     A third approach is to contact your Senators’ local offices, which are set up in most major cities around each state. 

     And thanks.  In 2010 we need our Congress to pass clean energy and climate protection legislation.  We must not slip backward by undoing important authority already wielded by the top environmental protection body in the land.–April Moore

Forest Therapy

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

     I thank my friend Kathy Ferger for alerting me to research on forest therapy.    

     For those of us who go to the woods for the peace and well-being we experience there, the results of some recent scientific research will come as no surprise.

     Since the 1980s, scientists in Japan have been studying the effects on people of taking walks in the forest.  The researchers have found that people who take even short walks in the forest are measurably more calm, relaxed, and less stressed.  Walking in the woods has also been shown to strengthen the immune system and to lower blood pressure.  

     Japan’s leading scholar in forest medicine, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, found that the average concentration of the stress hormone salivary cortisol was 13.4% lower in those who gazed on forest scenery for 20 minutes than in people who stayed in an urban environment.  

     Another study, in which 25 adults spent two nights at a forest hotel and took three leisurely strolls in the woods while there, showed that the activity of a cancer-fighting component of the subjects’ immune system increased.  The author of the study, Li Qing, a senior assistant professor of forest medicine at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School, also noted that the increase could still be  observed 30 days later.  Li attributes part of the benefit of time in the forest to breathing air containing phytoncide, essential wood oil given off by plants. 

     The research shows that the conventional wisdom–that the scents of trees, sounds of birdsong, and the feel of sunshine through the leaves have a calming effect–is right, says Miyazaki.  After all, he points out, humans lived in nature for several million years.  “We were made to fit a natural environment, so we feel stress in an urban area.”  Miyazaki believes that ”when we are exposed to nature, our bodies go back to the way they should be.” 

     The forest therapy research in Japan is being embraced by governments and citizens alike.  In 2006, a government-affiliated organization began designating certain forests ‘forest therapy bases.’  To date, more than 30 such bases have been designated, based on evidence documenting the sites’ relaxing effects. 

     Forest therapy bases are typically maintained by local governments.  At some of the bases, visitors can take guided walks with experts on forests and health care.  At one base, medical checkups among the cypress trees are offered to visitors for free every Thursday.  And some companies are even including forest therapy in their employee health care programs.  Li Qing believes that in a few years, a forest therapy program will be developed to help patients whose immune systems have been compromised.

     In the next few years, Miyazaki hopes to see the establishment of 100 forest therapy bases.  And he would like to see them in a variety of forest environments.  “Some people like broadleaf forests,” he explains, “and others prefer forests of  conifer trees like hinoki cypress that give off a strong aroma.”

     While it seems obvious to me that time spent in a forest promotes physical and mental well-being, I’m glad that some of the benefits of a walk in the woods have been scientifically documented.  With concrete evidence of such effects readily available, the enormous value of forests may be appreciated by more people.–April Moore

photo by Sabine Simons

photo by Sabine Simons

 

    

A Religious Dimension to Environmentalism? Nothing Ridiculous About It

Friday, January 8th, 2010

     The piece below was written by my husband Andy Schmookler.  It has appeared in The Baltimore Sun and on Andy’s website www.NoneSoBlind.org. –April Moore

People often speak dismissively of the spiritual aspect of environmentalism. “Environmentalism is a religion,” they say, as if the ridiculousness of such an attitude were patently obvious. But they never look further to examine, let alone evaluate, what the environmental vision is and what is the moral/spiritual ethic behind this supposed religion.

A close and honest look would show there’s nothing ridiculous about it.

Environmentalism is about the relationship between humankind and the natural world—the natural world in which we are embedded and on which we depend for our very lives.

Environmentalism calls for that relationship to be one of care and harmony rather than reckless destruction.

Environmentalism sees in the living systems of the earth something worthy of respect and even reverence. Something sacred.

There’s nothing unusual about people having religious feelings about the natural order. Indeed, in the context of the many human cultures throughout the ages, what is strange is the failure to see anything sacred in nature.

As an ethic for honoring the sacred, environmentalism seems as legitimate as other religious ethics.

“Live in harmony with the earth,” as we are all too slowly beginning to learn, is ultimately as essential to Wholeness in the human system as “Love Thy Neighbor.” Indeed, it is a form of the same ethic.

“Give us this day our daily bread” is a request that will be granted only so long as we maintain our soils and waters and a stable climate with which to grow the staff of our lives.

Like the Biblical commandments, “Live in Harmony with Nature” entails a kind of obedience to an authority bigger, and more important, than our own desires.

With the environmental ethic, as with the Biblical commandments, there is also –in this obedience to commandment– an indissoluble element of self-interest: obey or else.

In the case of the Bible, one of the motivating factors behind obedience is to avoid God’s wrath. With environmentalism, the punishment for misbehavior is a form of “natural consequences.” It is simply a natural property of the system that if it goes down we go with it: a moral order not of wrath expressing itself from above but of karmic justice.

Destroy your home and you will be homeless.

But the environmental ethic –also like the Biblical teachings—is not just about self-denial or self-protection. It is also about love, and appreciation, and reverence. Only a person incapable of awe can go very far into knowledge of the mind-boggling complexities, the dynamic harmonies, of the living systems of the earth without being struck by their beauty and wholeness.

In both the environmental and Biblical ethics, some desires must be suppressed, some pleasures must be denied, because there are more important values at stake.

The spiritual dimensions of environmentalism are not necessarily alternatives to our civilization’s religious traditions, but can be a legitimate aspect of those traditional religions.

Many evangelical Christians recognize this: with the ethic of being Good Stewards of God’s creation, they honor the Creator of this marvelous natural order. (And Judaism, too, has its environmentally focused communities of belief, who see in the fostering of reverence for nature, and a harmonious relationship with it, a profound connection with traditional Jewish ethics.)

For those who see nature less in terms of the role of the Creator in fashioning the profound beauty of the natural world, but who focus instead on what science has shown about the development and workings of this amazing order, another mind-boggling and spiritually numinous vision can open up.

In contemplating the miracle of life’s rise on this planet over the past almost-four billion years, one can experience the sacred. Over this vast stretch of time, there has grown up on the surface of this planet an order of almost inconceivable intricacy– from the molecular level within the cell to the essential flows of matter and energy at the global scale. Overcoming planetary traumas that have occasionally assaulted the earth from outside the biosphere, the increasingly integrated systems of life have created a self-sustaining foundation supporting all earth’s creatures.

As with other religious visions, this understanding leads us to see ourselves in a larger context. This living order deserves our reverence for many reasons, not least because it is out of that order that we came into existence, and not least because we still depend on that order for every breath we take and every bite of food we eat.

That dependence engenders another reason –one besides awe and gratitude, one based in prudence—why we are called upon to give the living system of the earth deep respect. We are the creatures who NEED to be inspired by such reverence.

That’s because, of all the creatures this system has produced, we humans are the ones who have innovated and stumbled our way into a situation where we, as a species, now wield power sufficient to disrupt and destroy the biosphere’s life-sustaining wholeness.

Our beautiful earth now reels under our wanton exploitation: the species are going extinct, the reefs are dying, the fisheries disappearing, the climate undergoing changes too swift for life to adapt.

We need to transform ourselves from acting like weak creatures eking out survival any way we can, as we were when we emerged onto the scene, to conducting ourselves like the mighty creatures we have become and who –out of a sense of the sacred values at stake– align our powers with the needs and the structure of our planet’s natural order.

Thus it is at this point in human history –where our impact has become so great, but where we so clearly have developed collectively neither the wisdom nor the moral discipline to exert our powers in a harmonious and sustainable way—that the religious dimension of the environmental ethic becomes not only justified but essential.

Throughout history, it is when people contact that deep place where spiritual meanings come alive in their hearts that they find the motivational strength to overcome the destructive forces around them, and within themselves as well. It is from a rightly constituted sense of the sacred that people and cultures have been able to transform themselves.

In the face of this rapidly developing emergency, therefore, we need those passions of reverence and awe and love and loyalty, that the sacred inspires, to give us the strength of will and character to make a profound and life-serving change in ourselves and in how we act on our planet.

Clean Energy Is Becoming a Reality

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

     Kicking the fossil fuels habit and switching to clean, green energy sources is an essential step toward a healthy planet.  And we can’t wait to make that switch if we are to beat global warming.      

     My hat is off to New York City for leading the way and for setting an example for the rest of us.  Thanks to a joint effort between the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, residents and small business owners in the Big Apple can now easily switch from using electricity that comes from fossil fuels to electricity generated by clean, renewable energy sources.  

     By visiting the Green Power NYC website, http://www.greenpowernyc.com/  New Yorkers can purchase renewable energy certificates.  Then, for each kilowatt hour of renewable energy purchased, a kilowatt hour generated by wind–or wind combined with hydropower–is supplied to the grid, replacing a kilowatt hour that would have been generated by the burning of oil or coal.  And all the renewable energy purchased through Green Power NYC comes from wind and hydropower generated within New York State.

     The Green Power NYC website makes it easy to “switch from fossil fuels to clean energy,” says Brandi Colander, attorney in the Air and Energy Program at NRDC.  “This new project is exciting for energy providers, environmentalists, and New York City residents alike,” adds Carol Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York.  It is now “easier for New Yorkers to use alternatives to dirty fossil fuels,” she explains.

     The potential benefits of the Green Power NYC program and others like it are many:  a reduced carbon footprint as less electricity is generated by fossil fuels; decreased regional air pollution; greater energy security and independence;  and increased economic development in the clean energy sector.

     While it now costs more to purchase renewable energy certificates than to stick with the fossil fuel-based status quo, it is hoped that as demand for green energy grows, economies of scale will reduce the cost of renewable energy sources.–April Moore 

    

Savor Nature’s Abundant Beauty

Friday, January 1st, 2010

     May 2010 be a year of healing for humanity and the earth.  May we all fall in love with our extraordinary planet and help to heal it.  I invite you to start the new year by enjoying a selection of remarkable nature photos.  Just click on the link below.  And Happy New Year!–April Moore

http://www.scribd.com/doc/19357123/INSPIRING-NATURE-PHOTOS

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