Archive for September, 2010

Celebrate–and Implement–Climate Solutions

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

     We can’t wait for Congress to get going on climate change.  The Senate has failed miserably thus far, and if some of the climate change-denying Republican Senate candidates win in November, meaningful action will be delayed even longer.

     But there is a great deal we can do now, without action from the top.  We can join with others around the U.S. and the world to participate in practical actions to reduce global warming emissions.  October 10 has been designated, by the new organization known as 10:10, a Day to Celebrate Climate Solutions.  Individuals, families, businesses, organizations, religious groups, neighborhoods, and many others in 180 countries are planning thousands of actions for Sunday, October 10.  The goal of this Global Work Party is to cut global carbon emissions by 10% every year, starting this year, 2010.  

     Here are some examples of what will be happening arund the U.S. on Sunday, October 10:

In Oakland, CA, hundreds of citizens, politicians and musicians will party and plant a community garden at Oakland’s Laney College. One of 20 events in the Bay Area.
In New York City, NY, community members in Harlem will paint the roof of a local high school white to reflect the sun and save energy by reducing the need for air conditioning.
In Washington, DC, residents will install 10kw of solar on a local home, host a special farmers market, and rally at the White House for climate solutions.
In New Bedford, MA,  hundreds of residents will join Mayor Scott Lang to weatherize a home as part of the city’s goal of weatherizing 10,000 homes. The event includes a block party, a climate basketball game, and a concert.
In Atlanta, GA, parishioners of many faiths will join together for a climate justice service at the Central Presbyterian Church, and will participate in a church weatherization event following the service.
In Houston, TX, citizens will launch “GreenWeek Houston” by picking up trash and planting trees in the Greater Fifth Ward neighborhood.
In Burlington, VT, Senator Leahy will join Mayor Kiss and gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin for a rally at Battery Park following a day of service across the city.
In Lincoln, NE, hundreds of citizens will get to work planting native grasses to restore the Nebraska prairie.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, hundreds of community members are organizing a bike ride and rally next to the last coal burning power plant in Minneapolis.
In Los Angeles, CA,  thousands of people are expected to take part in “Ciclavia,” when 7.5 miles of streets will be closed to cars and opened to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

     A few of the events planned for other countries:

  • Environmentalists will host an environmental film festival in Dubai.
  • Students at 10,000 schools in Russia and Croatia will plant trees.
  • Over 100 cyclists from Jordan, Israel and Palestine will take part in a 3-day bicycle relay to carry water from the Yarmouk River and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea to symbolize the need for cooperation to stop climate change and save precious water resources.
  • In Ushuaia, at the far southern tip of Argentina, residents will clean up their shoreline where ocean currents bring trash from around the world.
  • In Barcelona, Spain, hundreds of people are expected to take part in a bicycle-powered music festival.
  • In the Namib Desert, Namibia, an education facility will install six solar panels to further their attempt to go carbon neutral.

     You may be thinking that with the Day to Celebrate Climate Solutions just 12 days away, it’s impossible for you to organize an event.  But please consider these two points:

1)  There may already be an activity planned for your area that you can join.  To find out, click on http://www.350.org/en/map.  There you will find a map of planned actions, including the ones nearest you.  You will also find out how to get involved.

2)  You can get together with family, friends, or coworkers to organize a relatively small and simple action to reduce carbon emissions or to raise awareness.  Or you might do something by yourself.  Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Set up clotheslines in a central location and, along with others, bring your laundry and dry it on the line.  Remind your community that ‘solar drying’ is a way to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Decorate cloth grocery bags and give them out to the public.
  • Paint a roof white.
  • Organize a parade of push mowers.
  • Organize a discussion session at your workplace about global warming and solutions.
  • Give a talk about climate change to your local civic group, garden club, or faith group.

     If you do organize an event, no matter how small, please register it at www.1010global.org.   The more events that we can all learn about, the stronger our efforts.  And 10:10 requests that you send in a photo of your event. 

     And have fun.  As for me, I will be speaking next week to the local Lions Club about climate change.  I am told they are a group that largely denies climate change.  I have my work cut out for me!–April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

The Plight of the Hummingbird

Friday, September 24th, 2010

     My husband wrote the following short piece recently.  I love it and am pleased to share it with you.

THE PLIGHT OF THE HUMMINGBIRD
by Andrew Bard Schmookler

 As I came up to the living room I heard the sound.  No mistaking the “hum” of a hummingbird’s wings, though in this case there was a flapping added to the hum:  the little bird had somehow entered the house, and now it was flapping up at the peak of the ceiling, well out of reach, against the large west-facing windows that range from about 8 feet to about 16 feet above the floor. 

The little fellow seemed desperate to find its way back outside.  I was pretty eager for him to make that safe escape myself.  I regard hummingbirds as special creatures, and though my bird-loving wife was out of town, I knew that a dead hummingbird in our house would grieve her. 

I took a screen out of the nearest window, which I opened wide, and I propped open a screen door to provide another exit.  Maybe the darting little bird would catch a whiff of the great outdoors and head for the open space.  I moved a hummingbird feeder to a spot on the railing visible through the open door, in the hope that whatever attracts those intense and voracious feeders to the feeders –the red color, and/or the smell of sweetness—would lure him outside.

But my trapped petite feathered friend apparently only had eyes for the bright sky he could see through the glass.  Soon I figured that so long as daylight lasted, there would be no solution to his problem (and mine).  I went about my business, hoping that he’d at least not hurt himself against the windows as we awaited nightfall.

When it came time for me to go to bed, I listened and looked for a sign of the hummingbird.  Hearing nothing, and seeing nothing, I felt hopeful that, while I was not looking, he’d found his way out into the night.

I woke up in the middle of the night –about 4 AM—as I often do, and, being unable to get back to sleep, went downstairs to the living room to check again for the hummingbird.  I’d about given up when I saw something where usually there’s nothing.  Indeed, there’s hardly room for there to be anything.  It was in a little hook screwed into the ceiling.  Originally, this hook was looped by a link in a small chain that carried a wire out to a hanging lamp that now is mercifully gone from the house.  The hook remains for no good reason, but on this night it served a purpose.

The hook swoops down an inch and then back up about three-quarters of an inch, creating a kind of ‘U’ whose two upward arms are little more than a quarter of an inch apart at the bottom.  Not room enough for me to stick a finger through.  But evidently room enough for my weary prisoner to perch for the night.  I knew these birds are tiny, but this packing job was amazing. 

Evidently, in accordance with the age-old custom of his kind, when darkness came, this bird had evidently looked around for a branch on which to ensconce himself for the night.  And in this hook, the entrapped hummingbird had found the only “branch” around.

Finally, asleep there on his itsy-bitsy perch, his head hunched downward and to the left on his breast and his long pointy beak the only visible break out of the lump he’d made of himself, he was both still and potentially within my reach. 

To get to him, I had to climb up on a half wall that separates the kitchen from the spiral staircase, and from there had to reach up almost to the full extension of my arm.  I had in my hand a soft cloth the better to protect the bird, and I gently curved my fingers around his diminutive frame.  Getting his perch-holding feet off the hook took a bit of doing, and as I removed him from the hook I hoped that he was not as fragile as he was minuscule. 

His body was wrapped in the cloth, but his little head with its delicate long beak was sticking out, like a little camper in a sleeping bag.  But he wasn’t sleeping any more.

Instead, he was making the most pathetic, plaintive sounds, like a piccolo that could be played with exquisitely expressive feeling.  As I made my way with all deliberate haste to the door I’d opened again in advance of my capturing maneuver, the hummingbird beseeched me continuously with his piteous piping plea.  Had there been subtitles to the scene, this is how I believe they’d have translated his cries:

“Please, kind sir, have mercy on me.  I want to live.  I am a small but lovely being and it would be such a shame for you to destroy me.  Oh, God, protect me.  And you, good sir, have mercy.”

I felt so eager for my fearful prisoner to understand that I sought only his liberation and his well-being.  I wanted him to think of me as his tender rescuer.

As soon as I stepped outside, I laid the cloth with its palpitating contents on the railing board, a vast six inches across, and swiftly but gently opened up the envelope.  Within a second or two the little bird’s whole body was disentangled, and I used the cloth to propel him into the air.

With a brief flutter and hum, he darted straight into the saucer magnolia that embraces our entryway, and perched on a little branch.  Probably a good place to spend the remaining hours of darkness, a spot where, unlike inside the little dip in the hook, a fellow like him could actually, if he wished, stretch his wings.

Andy's hand and the hummingbird's indoor 'branch'

Andy's hand and the hummingbird's indoor 'branch'

 

 

Good News–the Ozone Holes Are No Longer Growing

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

     Perhaps you remember back to 1985 when scientists discovered a thinning of the stratospheric ozone layer.  The depletion was most extreme over the north and south poles.   This depletion of the ozone layer was a serious problem, since ozone protects the earth and its inhabitants from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.  The reason for the growing ozone holes was the widespread use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), substances which were used in refrigerators, spray cans, and in many other consumer products. 

     But a 1987 treaty, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, led to a worldwide phase-out of the production and consumption of these harmful chemicals.  According to a recent report by UN scientists, these substances have been cut by 98% worldwide.  As a result, stratospheric ozone is no longer thinning, and the ozone holes over the polar regions have stopped growing.

     If it hadn’t been for the Montreal Protocol and compliance by countries around the world, “atmospheric levels of ozone-depleting substances could have increased tenfold by 2050,” says Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN’s Environment Programme.  Such an increase, he explains, could have led to 20 million additional cases of skin cancer and 130 million more cases of eye cataracts, not to mention damage to human immune systems, wildlife and agriculture.

     Scientists predict that, thanks to the virtual elimination of CFCs, the ozone layer outside the polar regions will return to pre-1980 levels before the middle of this century.  The ozone layer over the poles, however, will take much longer to recover.

     “The Montreal Protocol is an outstanding example of collaboration among scientists and decision-makers that has resulted in the successful mitigation of a serious environmental and societal threat,” notes Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization. 

     In addition to halting ozone depletion in the stratosphere, the Montreal Protocol also reduces climate change, according to the report, “because many substances that deplete the ozone layer are also potent greenhouse gases.”

     The news is not all good, however.  CFCs have been replaced by substances called hydrochlorofluorocarbons.  While these substances do not harm the ozone layer, they are a much more potent greenhouse gas than the most abundant greenhouse gas–carbon dioxide.–April Moore

 

hole in the ozone layer

hole in the ozone layer

 

 

    

    

A Nature Note

Friday, September 17th, 2010

     The following poem marks the end of the summer.

A NATURE NOTE                                                                                                
     by Robert Frost

Four or five whippoorwills                                                                                              
Have come down from their native ledge
To the open country edge
To give us a piece of their bills.

Two in June were a pair–
You’d say sufficiently loud,
But this was a family crowd,
A full-fledged family affair.

All out of time pell-mell!
I wasn’t in on the joke,
Unless it was coming to folk
To bid us a mock farewell.

I took note of when it occurred,
The twenty-third of September,
Their latest that I remember,
September the twenty-third.

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

a whippoorwill, almost hidden in the leaves

a whippoorwill, almost hidden in the leaves

Watch the Wild

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

     When it comes to climate change, many of us feel helpless.   But there is something helpful that anyone can do, and it doesn’t involve a lot of time or a change in routine. 

     In order to mitigate as many of the impacts of global warming as possible, we need to understand just what is going on.  Watch the Wild is a program that uses citizen volunteers’ observations of their immediate environment to augment the growing body of scientific data about how climate is changing in different regions and how ecosystems are reacting to those changes.

     Watch the Wild is looking for volunteers in cities, suburbs, and rural areas all around the U.S. to spend as little as 10 minutes on a regular basis observing weather, wildlife, trees, and plants in their immediate area.  The observations can be made in one’s back yard, along one’s route to work, at a park or a beach one visits frequently, etc.  Only with abundant and accurate data can scientists, policy makers, and all of us address the issues raised by a warming planet.  

     Indeed, seasonal changes are already impacting our ecosystems, according to Nature Abounds, the nonprofit organization that sponsors Watch the Wild.  We are already seeing changes in migration and breeding patterns, a decline in food supplies, as well as variations in temperature and water.  Such changes affect not only wildlife, but human agriculture, trade, transportation, recreation, tourism, and much more.

     You can learn more about how to participate with Watch the Wild, just click on http://www.natureabounds.org/Watch_the_Wild.html–April Moore  

Rooting for Rain

Friday, September 10th, 2010

     The other morning when I went down to the forest for a little ‘spirit time,’ I was saddened to see the state of the trees.  Too many days of no rain have left many of them looking unhealthy.  Some of the red maples and tupelos are changing color prematurely.  And the little giant leaves of the little moosewoods are hanging limp.  The earth beneath my feet felt dusty and dry.

     We are longing for rain!  I am posting below a piece  that my husband Andy Schmookler wrote for his website www.NoneSoBlind.org.

 

ROOTING FOR RAIN
     by Andy Schmookler 

     I’ve spent a dozen years of my life living in the Southwest.  There was a six-year stretch when I lived in Arizona (Prescott for four, then Tucson for two), and more recently (till a year ago) six years in Albuquerque New Mexico. 

     Living in the dry lands of the Southwest has made me always appreciative of water.  I am almost always in favor of some rain. 

     I understand, from living in the desert, what water means to life.  And that recognition, I figure, should surely shape how we feel about rain.  Water is precious.

     The desert is beautiful.  But there’s not as much life in the desert as in a rain forest.

     I live in a forest now, but I still root for rain.

     Even in the deciduous forest of the Shenandoah Mountains, rain is palpably a nourishment for life. The earth, when it rains, breathes through a myriad of living things.

     Before the water comes, when the weather is dry for days on end, even weeks, the earth holds its breath.  Then when the rain comes, the leaves on the trees and other green creatures exhale out into the world their perfumed essence of plant life-process.  The watered forest –stretching down into the valley and up the next mountain– looks more vibrant, as the trees use the moisture to achieve that sacred purpose, the maintenance of life.

     So when I check in on the weather forecast, I’m almost always hoping for rain.

     It’s true, I admit, when the rain settles in for more than a couple of days, because the low-hanging clouds and dim light weigh on my spirit, I’ll wish for the rain to go away. But save when the earth has already been soaked, and my spirit needs more light, whenever I spy dark and heavy-laden clouds climbing across Great North Mountain, with us in their sites, I celebrate.

     So, on this mountain ridge overlooking a vast forest of mostly oaks and maples and pines and hickory and tupelo and witch hazel and mountain laurel –a forest, yes, but one growing in a climate that, with its 33 inches of precipitation per year, is called “semi-arrid,” — I sit and root for rain. 

     Come, oh blessing.  Come and nourish the earth and all its creatures.

a thirsty little moosewood

a thirsty little moosewood

 

Siberian Tigers to be Protected

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

     Two former enemies, Russia and China, are now working together to protect the endangered Siberian tiger.  Only about 500 of these magnificent animals remain in the wild, and most can be found in a region that includes land on both sides of the Russia-China border. 

     This is  great news.  The agreement, facilitated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), establishes the world’s first transboundary, protected area for the endangered Siberian tiger.  And these animals desperately need protection.  They hover at the edge of extinction, thanks to expanded logging in the forest where they live, fragmentation of their habitat, a decline in populations of their prey, and poaching for sought-after tiger body parts.

      More than 300 of the tigers in the newly protected area live on the Russian side of the border.  Since the 1930s, when the  Siberian tiger in Russia had reached a dangerous low of just 20-30 animals, intensive conservation efforts built the population to more than 300.  But recently, their numbers in Russia have again begun to decline.  The Siberian tigers on China’s side of the newly protected area number only 18-22. 

     “While tigers–the species at the top of the ecosystem–are better conserved through the agreement, other species, the forest habitat, and all the biodiversity resources will also benefit from this protected area,” says Dr. Zhu Chunquan, WWF-China’s conservation director.  Such endangered animals as the Far East Leopard, the musk deer, and the goral (a goat-like animal) will gain protection as well.  And so will the tigers’ prey–deer, boar, elk, and other large animals.  A Siberian tiger needs to consume about 20 pounds of meat per day. 

     As part of the agreement, the Russian side (Primorsky Province) and the Chinese side (Jilin Province) will share information and will adopt uniform monitoring systems for the tigers and their prey.  The two sides will conduct joint ecological surveys and will work together to develop an anti-poaching campaign along the Russia-China border.

     Interestingly, 2010 is China’s Year of the Tiger.  One goal of the agreement is to double China’s Siberian tiger population by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.  

     Other countries with tiger populations are also taking action during this Year of the Tiger.  India and Nepal recently signed an agreement to work together to conserve biodiversity, including tigers, and to strengthen ecological security in the transnational region.  And a groundbreaking conservation declaration from the 13 nations in which all the world’s wild tigers live is due to be signed by the end of this year.  The Declaration is to create a global tiger recovery program and to promote transboundary cooperation among the 13 nations in which tigers range.

     To all this good news, I say Bravo!  And thanks to the World Wildlife Fund and to the Russian and Chinese governments for the hard work required to bring about such an agreement and to implement it.–April Moore

    

 

   

Spider Webs

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

     I had the pleasure of taking a long hike with my friend Kathy in the Shenandoah National Park the other day.   Our hike yielded some fascinating observations.  The sights that most impressed us were the spider webs.

     On no hike had either of us so frequently found ourselves staring into a perfect, circular spider web, suspended, shimmering in the bright sunshine, above the trail at about eye level.  These gleaming webs, each about the size of a CD, shone with hints of the rainbow, a trace of blue here, a glint of pink there.  And in the morning light, it was easy to see the detailed work.  We marveled at the  concentric threads, each straight and uniformly close to the next, from the center of the web to its outer edge.  The precision and neatness of the web suggested the work of a highly skilled ‘craftsman!’  

     As we stopped to examine each web, and as we bent to pass beneath each one without destroying it, we wondered how long it had taken the spider to create this highly functional object that to us seemed a work of art.  And what would happen, we wondered, if a web were destroyed.  Would the spider simply set about to rebuild, all in a day’s work?  Or would the spider’s ability to capture the food it needs be seriously compromised?

     As we walked farther, we noticed another kind of web, many of them here and there along the trail’s edge.  I call them funnel webs.  Unlike the ‘classic’ Charlotte’s Web-type orbs that hung across the trail, these webs have mass.  Their threads are thickly woven together in the shape of a funnel.  At the center of each funnel was a small small hole, a dark entrance to a space beneath dried leaves or to an underground home.  We surmised that this type of spider manages to entrap its prey and work it down into the hole where the spider can devour it.  

     Once back home, I did a little reading about spiders.  In addition to weaving beautiful circular, vertical webs, orb spiders know how to avoid getting stuck in their own web.  These spiders avoid walking on the sticky concentric threads that would capture them, but instead tread only on the “spoke” threads, which are not sticky.  It takes about an hour for an orb spider to spin a web.  But, according to  Mountain Nature:  A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians, by Jennifer Frick-Ruppert, it is “a particular hardship” for a spider to take the time and energy to rebuild its web, since it had been fasting while constructing the original web.

     I could find surprisingly little information about the spiders that create funnel webs.  Most of the species I learned about are not native to the U.S.  But having swept many funnel webs from the outdoor stairs of my home, only to see another funnel web appear in the same spot the next day, I know that at least some species of these spiders live in Appalachian forest.  I did learn that while funnel spiders live mainly on insects trapped in their funnel web, they will also eat small frogs and lizards that may also get caught in their web.–April Moore

 

 

an orb spider web suspended over the trail

an orb spider web suspended over the trail

 

 

 

a funnel web

a funnel web

 

 

 

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