Archive for 2011

A Great Way to End the Year

Friday, December 30th, 2011

     In the closing days of 2011, a truly great thing happened.  The EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, an amendment to the Clean Air Act that will have a significant, positive impact on Americans’ health for many years to come.

     On December 21, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced the new rule, which will cut mercury emissions from power plants by 90%.  Coal-fired plants are one of the largest emitters of mercury, a potent neurotoxin known to damage the developing brains of fetuses and young children.  Power plants’ mercury emissions also contribute to cardiovascular disorders, cancer, and asthma.  

     “This is a great victory for public health, for the health of our children,” Jackson told reporters gathered at the Children’s Medical Center in Washington, DC.  Public health leaders agree.  The rule is ”a step in the right direction for protecting our families by limiting the amount of mercury that will enter our environment, contaminate our water supplies, and wind up in our food chain,” according to Lexington, Kentucky physician Dr. Vicki Holmberg.  The levels of mercury currently coming out of power plants, Holmberg explains, “can overwhelm the capacity of our bodies to metabolize and eliminate toxic metal pollutants.”

     Americans who live near the older, more polluting power plants will benefit the most from the new standard, with fewer illnesses and fewer asthma attacks.  The new rule is expected to result in as many as 11,000 fewer premature deaths a year, 4,700 fewer heart attacks a year, and other widespread health benefits.  In addition to mercury, the rule also targets coal plants’ emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium, and acid gases.

     While health experts and environmentalists hail the new standard, the coal industry and many utilities have been fighting for years to stop the issuance of such a ruling.  Kentucky’s Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul recently tried unsuccessfully to block the new rule through legislation, and are already calling for the rule’s repeal.  It’s too costly, they insist.

     Compliance with the ruling will cost the nation’s utilities $9.6 billion, according to EPA.    About half of the nation’s coal-fired plants are more than 40 years old and must be replaced or modernized.  And 44% of coal-powered plants have never bothered to install technology that could easily reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins.  While some coal industry jobs will be lost, Jackson notes, the ruling will actually mean a net job increase, with the creation of 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 longer term utility sector jobs.  Utilities will have up to four years to comply. 

     With this new ruling, coal-fired power plants are finally joining every other major industrial sector in dramatically reducing mercury and other air toxins.  Oil refineries, chemical plants, plastics companies, the iron and steel induustries, and heavy manufacturers have all been subject to air toxic standards for more than 10 years. 

     I applaud the EPA for issuing this very important new rule.  We can go into the new year breathing a little more easily.–April Moore

Gifts from Our Fellow Creatures

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

     At this season of giving, I am reminded of how much we humans are given by the animals and plants with whom we share our planet. 

     I am posting here a lovely, short piece by Joanna Macy, a woman I greatly admire for her work in helping people to experience their grief over what we have lost and are yet to lose of this beautiful world that nurtures us every minute.

     And I add, here at year’s end, a heartfelt thank-you to EARTH CONNECTION readers.  I am grateful that many people are interested in reading my postings.  Happy Holidays to you.  And a healthy New Year–for all of us humans and for the planet we love.–April Moore

     “We hear you, fellow creatures.  We know we are wrecking the world and we are afraid.  What we have unleashed has such momentum now, we don’t know how to turn it around.  Don’t leave us alone;  we need your help.  You need us too for your own survival.  Are there powers there you can share with us?

     “”I, lichen, work slowly, very slowly.  Time is my friend.  This is what I give you:  patience for the long haul and perseverance.”

     “”It is a dark time.  As deep-diving trout, I offer you my fearlessness of the dark.”

     “”I, lion, give you my roar, the voice to speak out and be heard.”

     “”I am caterpillar.  The leaves I eat taste bitter now.  But dimly I sense a great change coming.  What I offer you, humans, is my willingness to dissolve and transform.  I do that without knowing what the end-result will be;  so I share with you my courage too.”"–Joanna Macy

Make Two Phone Calls to Stop the Tar Sands Pipeline

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

     Big Oil and its Republican friends in Congress are determined to win approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, a 2,147 mile channel to transport extremely dirty tar sands oil from Canada to Texas.

     Despite the President’s recent announcement that he would delay his decision on the project for another 12-18 months, in order to fully assess its environmental impact,  Republicans are trying to force his hand.  On December 13, House Republicans included in a bill to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits language that would force the President to make his Keystone decision within 60 days. 

     Very soon, the measure will be voted on by the Senate.  The good news is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has told Republicans he will halt negotiations on another important year-end spending bill unless Republicans drop their insistence on premature action on Keystone.  And President Obama has said that if a measure forcing him to decide on Keystone reaches his desk, he will veto it.

     Even so, we must make sure our Senators know that we citizens strongly reject this carbon-spewing, water-contaminating project.  You can be sure that Senators are all hearing from the big oil companies involved in the project.  As the wealthiest industry on the planet, Big Oil can–and does–spend vast sums of money to ’get the attention’ of our Members of Congress.

     So please pick up the phone and make two calls, one to each of your U.S. Senators.  You can leave a message on the Senate office constituent voice mail.  Or you can ask to speak to the aide who handles energy matters.  I suggest the latter, even if it means leaving a message on the aide’s machine.  I don’t have the feeling that the constituent message line carries much clout.  You can get your Senators’ names and phone numbers by clicking  http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm  Or you can call the U.S. Congress Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and ask to be connected to your Senator’s office.

     Please call today  (Wednesday) or tomorrow (Thursday).  The Senate may be voting very soon. 

     For more information on the harm that would come from proceeding with the Keystone XL pipeline, click here:  http://www.tarsandsaction.org/spread-the-word/key-facts-keystone-xl/  –April Moore

Winter Boys

Friday, December 9th, 2011

     A friend, Fred Andrle, is also one of my favorite poets.  I post here his poem Winter Boys.  Fred captures beautifully, I think, his memories of being a boy out with his friends on a snowy day.  Mostly, the boys are about action, but the poem also depicts a moment of awe at winter’s beauty.

     Winter Boys is included in LOVE LIFE, Fred’s latest book of poems, published by XOXOX Press in Gambier, Ohio.–April Moore

WINTER BOYS

It’s the full life of winter’s blustery height
ice and flurry and sharp-scented cold
could be mistaken for nature’s call to death
but it’s character, soft landscape, chill flame.

So we’ll pull on big boots and tussle out the door
trek on back to the river frozen deep
jump up and down on the ice until it cracks
walk across water like apprentice Jesus.

Then up along the railroad track, hollering down the valley
teetering on the slippery rails, pounding our chests
at the approaching engine, falling away
at the very last second, down into warm and
                 welcoming drifts.

We pack up solid ice balls, lob them over the precipice
listen for their smack against the distant shivery pavement
then clamber down the hill to the snow-snarled street
dart out suddenly, grab rear bumpers, pogey on the cars.

All the neighbor girls are trying on their delicate skates
they’re ready to giggle across the ice in frilly skirts
they need our trusty shoveling to open up reluctant ponds
and that we do, but we disdain their dainty pirouetting.

We’re tough guys body-slamming each other on the ice
the pond is a great hibernal wrestling ring
it’s only when some peewee warrior cracks his head
                and wails
that we shrug away from rowdy bickering.

We’re headed out for an icy exploit
ready to revel in the frigid winter world
we’ll chop and stack an igloo fort, or roll up a snowman,
push in lumps of coal for eyes and a dead carrot nose.

All the frail adults indoors, but this our wild universe
we stride right forward into the knifey wind
breaking a path out back to the trees
and we don’t need any big-brother snowshoes.

It’s there in the woods that we’ll build a fire
with matches purloined from mothers’ purses
crisp sticks gathered by our aching mitten hands
suddenly we’re warming and invincible.

All around the sky is milky white and falling
not a sound in the little tree grove
our piping voices hushed and still
as the great being of winter embraces our small daring.–Fred Andrle

Kissimmee River Makes a Comeback

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

     The Kissimmee River in south-central Florida is an environmental success story.  In a way.  

     The story of the Kissimmee is an example of humans ruining a river and then working hard to restore it again.  

     The Kissimmee River originally meandered this way and that, along a wide, shallow path from Lake Kissimmee southward to Lake Okeechobee.  The river’s 50,000 acre floodplain supported numerous and diverse wetland communities–birds, fish, and a wide variety of other wildlife.

     But in the early 1960s the Kissimmee River fell victim to a program that was popular at the time–river ‘straightening.’  In an attempt to avoid major flooding during hurricane events and to enable people to build homes and other buildings in a floodplain without fear of floods, many rivers during the 1960s were channelized;  they were straightened and deepened.  The Kissimmee was one such river.  Its meanders were sliced off, a deep-channel canal was dredged along the Kissimmee Valley, and the once winding, 103 mile-long river was transformed into a straight, 56-mile long, lifeless gutter.    Even the name was changed.  The former Kissimmee River became the C-38. 

     The goal of keeping the river out of the floodplain was largely achieved.  But at a great price.  Water that had once slowly wound its way southward, now shot through the trench and poured, unsettled and unfiltered,  into Lake Okeechobee.  C-38 was an inhospitable place to the many fish that had inhabited it.  The surrounding wetlands dried up and the birds disappeared.

     “The folly of ditching the Kissimmee River was recognized almost the day it was completed,” states the Everglades Foundation on its website, “and the magnitude of the ecological crisis led to a public outcry.”  In 1992, Congress approved a plan to restore the Kissimmee River.  The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct the restoration.

     While the restoration project won’t bring the entire river back to its original health, normal flow is being returned to more than 40 miles of the river’s historic channel, and about 40 square miles of the river/floodplain ecosystem will be restored.

     Restoration efforts got underway in 1999, and the results have been inspiring.  “Recovery of wetland function was much faster than expected,” according to the Everglades Foundation, “with rapid recolonization by native plants and animals.  The Kissimmee Restoration  is a true Florida environmental success story three decades in the making.”  Almost right away,   shorebirds returned.  So did ducks, songbirds and wading birds.  Aquatic invertebrates like insects, mollusks, crayfish, and freshwater shrimp again inhabited the river, and the river became home once again to fish and alligators.  

     Unfortunately, I cannot end our story here.  While I salute former Floida Republican governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist for their strong support for restoration efforts, the current governor, Tea Partier Rick Scott, elected in 2010, has been working to slash funds for restoration efforts and has tried to get the EPA to relax clean water regulations that affect the Kissimmee River.  If the investment by the public of more than $3 billion in state and federal funds to restore the Kissimmee River are not to be wasted, we must hope that Scott (currently out of favor with his Tea Party base) will be a one-term governor. April Moore  

 

a restored section of Floridas Kissimmee River

a restored section of Florida's Kissimmee River

 

 

 

  

If I Love Them Enough

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

     Georgia O’Keeffe once made a comment that has stayed with me for many years:  “God told me that if I painted the Pedernal (a mountain in New Mexico) enough times, He would give it to me.”

     The artist’s comment came to my mind recently as I watched a bright-eyed titmouse, perched on the edge of the feeder, while I also savored the sounds of a couple of juncoes nosing about in the brush.  If I love these birds enough, I wondered, can I save them?  Can my love protect them from the hardships imposed by global warming and a degraded environment? 

     As I savored the sights and sounds of the birds around my home, I remembered something else.  I recalled how, many years ago, I told a wise woman of the grief I felt for the planet, of my sense of helplessnes and frustration that, despite my great love for many of my fellow species, I was impotent, utterly unable to help them survive the threats they face.  

     Then, a thought I’d never had before popped into my head, and I asked her:   “Do you think it’s possible that my love itself could make a difference?” 

     “Of course it does!” she answered, without a moment’s hesitation.   Her reply comforted me.  Someone whose opinion I respected so much was sure that my love actually benefitted the creatures I love so deeply.

     Was she right?  Well, I’m at least certain that my love does no harm to the birds and all the other creatures whose beauty fills my heart.  And I’m sure that the love I feel is good for me, even though it is inextricably mixed with grief.  After all, I am more alive than if I turned away from the love because of the pain.  

     A poet I admire, Stanley Kunitz, said it very well:  ”The heart breaks and breaks, and lives by breaking.”–April Moore 

 

a titmouse at our feeder

a titmouse at our feeder

 

 

one of Georgia OKeeffes paintings of the Pedernal

one of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings of the Pedernal

 

    

The Life of an Island

Friday, November 18th, 2011

     Biological evolution fascinates me.  I find it truly wondrous that life began where there was no life and evolved over millions and millions of years into the astonishingly complex web of life that exists today.

     Because I love learning about evolution, I am reading THE SONG OF THE DODO:  ISLAND BIOGEOGRAPHY IN AN AGE OF EXTINCTION by David Quammen.  In an effort to understand the implications of the ‘islands’ that human activity is creating on our continents, Quammen explores the ways in which life evolves differently on islands than it does on large mainlands.  We humans are turning once vast stretches of wilderness into small, isolated chunks, with our roads, pipelines, shopping centers, and subdivisions.  By better understanding the ways of evolution on islands, Quammen believes we can better understand why diversity declines on isolated ’islands’ of wilderness.  

     Despite the book’s sobering premise, it reads like a novel.  Quammen, an award-winning science writer, tells us so interestingly why some kinds of creatures abound on islands, while others are rare or non-existent there.  He writes with humor and a great sense of ‘Wow!’  And you don’t have to be a scientist–or even particularly science-oriented–to love this book.

     I would like to share here a short passage from THE SONG OF THE DODO that explains why mammals are found only in small numbers, if at all, on islands.–April Moore

     “If I haven’t said much about mammals in this discussion of island colonization, it’s because there is not much to say.  Mammals don’t travel as well as most other vertebrates.  Their dispersal ability across salt water is generally low.  They are burdened with urgent physiological needs and blessed with only modest endurance.  Starvation and drought can kill them quickly.  So can drowning.  If they do manage to make a crossing, their prospects of establishment are still poor.  Since they reproduce sexually, give birth to live young, and suckle those young, they don’t enjoy the same adaptive advantages as many plants, insects, and reptiles.  An adult mammal needs a mate;  an infant mammal needs a mother.  All these factors reduce their chances of colonization.  Rarely a species of mammal does reach an island and establish itself, but more commonly an island remains empty of mammalian fauna despite the passage of eons.  As reptiles and ferns and pigeons tend to be disproportionately present on islands, mammals tend to be disproportionately absent.”–David Quammen, THE SONG OF THE DODO

 

Red–in Flora and Fauna

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

     I just had to post this lovely photo taken recently by my friend Monika Kienzle.  So much red!–April Moore

cardinal-and-red-leaves

Fall Colors, Including White

Friday, November 4th, 2011

     Last weekend we got eight or more inches of snow in the freak October snowstorm that hit the east coast.  My husband Andy Schmookler wrote this nice little piece about our experience: 

     “We were caught in that early snowstorm of yesterday–heavy, wet snow on trees whose leaves had not yet dropped off.   One much-loved tree on our place sustained damage I’ll do my best to repair with ropes and splints.  But our day was most affected by presumed tree damage elsewhere:  as predicted by the weather channel, the storm brought massive power outages, and we were among those cast suddenly back into the 19th century, except that we are not set up for life without electricity.

     “Our heat depends upon electricity, our well uses electricity to pump water.  We do, however, have candles, and after the sun went down, we read by candlelight while under the blankets.

     “Finally, after about 12 hours without power, some blessed crew somewhere on the landscape re-established the connection and, “Let there be light!”  And heat.  And the Internet.

      ”It all makes us appreciate how much our lives are enriched by the power we so often take for granted:  switch a switch and one goody or another is ours to enjoy.

     “Powerlessness for 12 hours was an adventure–shaking snow off bending trees, helping neighbors, walking in the woods, cobbling together a cold dinner, measuring reading light by candlepower.  But we were glad for the adventure to end.

     “In the political sphere, powerlessness is not so easily overcome.  But the urgency is no less great!” 

snow and fall color--together around our house

snow and fall color--together around our house

Birdland

Friday, October 28th, 2011

     I decided the other morning to go outside for awhile to nourish my spirit.  I thought I might shuffle through some leaves and enjoy the fall color.  But as often happens when I go out for a little ‘spirit time,’ the wonders that I actually experience turn out to be different from those I’d imagined.

     As I strolled down into what was formerly an orchard, I noticed movement in the nearby butterfly bush.  There, in the cover of leaves and branches was a little grey bird.  Could it be a junco?  This early in the season?  While I couldn’t see whether this bird had the distinctive grey and white junco breast, this fellow did sport a short, stout junco beak.  And it was making those slight, sweet chipping sounds that juncoes make.  And then I noticed a second grey bird a little higher in the bush.  Yes, both were juncoes!  Soon, the first bird flew up and out, to perch in the top of a big oak tree farther down the hill.  Within seconds, the second junco swooped off to join the first.

     No sooner had the juncoes flown off than I began to notice quite a bit of avian activity right around me.  At the center of the action was the nearby pole bird feeder.  Titmice made their way to it from at least 100 yards off, from beyond the other side of the house.  I watched individual titmice, as they flew under the deck, close to the ground,  navigating with ease around deck support posts.  Once out from under the deck, the birds would make several stops en route to the feeder.  After perching for a second or two in the corkscrew willow, a titmouse would lift and then settle in the magnolia tree a few feet closer to the feeder.  Then closer.  Once a bird reached the tree just over the feeder, it would let go and glide down, gracefully wrapping its little feet around the feeder’s edge.   

     Standing on the hillside below the feeder, I watched each titmouse, perched on the rim of the feeder.  It would turn its head sharply from side to side, as if to satisfy itself that it was indeed safe to dip down and pluck out a sunflower seed.  Then, having done so, the bird would take off.  Back under the deck it swooped, to eat its snack in peace in an undisclosed location.–April Moore 

 

the center of the action--the pole and umbrella shield are liberally greased with shortening in an attempt to deter squirrels

the center of the action--the pole and umbrella shield are liberally greased with shortening in an attempt to deter squirrels

 

 

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