Archive for 2015

Some Big News–Part II

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

My husband Andy, our friend Laura, and I were talking over lunch recently about how I might reach more people with my climate message.  (See Some Big News–Part I)

Andy, who is remarkably creative and a great strategic thinker, came up with the idea that there was a platform right here in Virginia’s political arena, available to me.   Andy saw a perfect intersection between climate change and the high degree of corruption in our Virginia government.  Even people who are not receptive to my climate message most likely don’t want a state government that regularly sacrifices the public good to wealthy special interests.

When our current state senator Mark Obenshain, a powerful, well-funded, savvy politician, acts to impede responsible action on climate, that’s just part of a much larger picture of the corruption of our legislature by big money.  The General Assembly’s deplorable refusal to address the climate crisis takes us directly into the deep sickness in Virginia politics today.  Obenshain, who came close to winning statewide office two years ago, and many of his fellow legislators, are serving as lackeys for big corporate interests.  

For example, the General Assembly just passed a bill to exempt the utility Dominion Power from state oversight for five years.  Obenshain supported the legislation (written by Dominion itself) that will increase the monopoly’s profits, at the cost of higher utility bills for more than two million households (including tens of thousands of customers here in the district Obenshain is supposed to represent). 

Related to the grip big money holds over the General Assembly is the refusal by Obenshain and many of his colleagues to enact meaningful ethics reform.  In the wake of an ethics scandal that resulted in former Governor McDonnell being sentenced to prison, Obenshain and others succeeded in blocking real reform.  Instead, the legislature passed a toothless gesture that changes little.

And ethics reform is sorely needed!  The nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI) ranks Virginia 47th among the 50 states when it comes to government integrity.  Further, Virginia earns an F on the corruption risk report card CPI issues for each state.

These terrible ethics scores are unacceptable to me, and I imagine, to a great many other Virginians, liberal and conservative alike.  Mark Obenshain is on the wrong side of the ethics issue, and a vigorous truth-telling campaign against him might get even good conservatives who have supported him in the past to see that.  

Fighting for a General Assembly that serves the people, rather than big corporate interests, is an essential part of fighting for an effective response to the climate crisis here in Virginia.  We can’t let Obenshain and his ilk sacrifice our grandchildren for the short-term profits of a giant monopoly utility.

And so, on March 17, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I will officially announce my campaign against Mark Obenshain to represent this district in the Virginia state senate.  So my work as a climate warrior is taking a new and unexpected turn.

And now I have a special additional reason to move outside my comfort zone for this mission.  More on that in the next installment!–April Moore


Some Big News–Part I

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

I didn ‘t see this coming.  As recently as two weeks ago this big decision wasn’t even on my radar.  But because of an unexpected turn in the trail, I find myself taking a leap that I hadn’t anticipated or planned.  

If you are a regular visitor to this site, you likely know how determined I have been for quite awhile in my efforts to address climate change.  I love this planet.  I love the living earth. That’s what this website–The Earth–is all about.  And it pains me deeply to contemplate what we’re doing to this marvelous planet and to the well-being of life on earth. 

Because of my grief, anger, and fear about the planet we are likely leaving to my two dear granddaughters and to all young people, I have made myself a ‘climate warrior.’  I’ve made several January plunges into the Potomac River to raise money for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), an organization Bill McKibben describes as “the most effective regional climate organization in the entire world!”  I am honored to now be a member of  CCAN’s board.  I have also been going around, every chance I get, talking to various groups about the climate crisis.  Reactions are often quite chilly–stony faces, arms crossed tightly across chests.  The only audience in which most react with the concern and commitment I want to see are high school students in a gifted and talented program.  But these speaking opportunities have been few and far between.  And turnout is often trivial, making the energy and effort I expend far out of proportion.

On one such day, Monday, February 9, after I spoke to a group of just eight elderly ladies, I had lunch with my husband Andy and my friend Laura.  In our conversation, a question arose–how could I get bigger audiences for my talks?

That question precipitated a quite unexpected, creative breakthrough and life decision.  Stay tuned for the ‘rest of the story!’– April Moore  

Greening Your Pet’s ‘Output’

Sunday, February 15th, 2015


For a great many of us, our dog or cat is a dear companion.  

How we care for our pet matters, for the animal’s well-being, of course, and also for the well-being of our planet.  One way our pets impact the environment is through their waste–that’s right, poop.  Our nation’s dogs and cats produce more than six million tons of it a year!  And there are pathogens in these dogs’ and cats’ feces that are transmissible to humans and wildlife.

Dog poop can contain E. coli, Salmonella, Giardia, roundworm, and more.  But cat poop is much worse.  It can contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, a pathogen associated in humans with miscarriages, fatal food poisoning, encephalitis, and even schizophrenia, scientists say.  Toxo is common in urban and suburban soils, where house cats use flowerbeds as litter boxes.

Toxo is also very harmful to wildlife.  In the 1990s, a mysterious die-off of sea otters off the California coast turned out to have been caused by toxoplasmosis.  The parasite could have reached the otters through runoff from the land and also through the flushing of cat poop down the toilet.  While sewage treatment kills many pathogens, it unfortunately does not reliably kill toxo.  Scientists attribute about 16% of current sea otter deaths to toxo.

Toxo has spread through the oceans and has been found in dolphins, walruses, beluga whales, and even polar bears.  The health consequences to these animals is not known.

So how can you manage your dog’s or cat’s ‘output’ in ways that do not harm humans and other animals?  Audubon writer Susan McGrath recommends the following:


  • Check online to learn what your local sewage utility wants you to do.  Some utilities call for bagging the poop tightly in plastic and throwing it in the trash.  Don’t bother to invest in biodegradable dog poop bags.  Given the low-oxygen environment of the typical landfill, very little biodegradation can take place anyway.  So save your money and use ordinary plastic bags instead. 
  • If your utility prefers that you flush dog poop down the toilet, you can scoop up the poop in a plastic bag, empty the contents into the toilet,  then tie off the bag and dispose of it.
  • If you have a small dog, you might consider buying flushable dog poop bags.  These bags are not recommended for use with large dogs because their larger output may be toilet-clogging.
  • If you’re willing to go to some trouble, you might follow the example of Sharon Slack of Vancouver, British Columbia, who composts her dog’s poop!  She cut the bottom out of an old trash can and bored some holes in the sides.  She then buried the can, to just below the rim, in an out of the way spot in her garden.  With a small shovel, she adds each poop deposit to the can.  Now and then she sprinkles in water and an over-the-counter enzyme product used in septic systems.  When the compost is finished, she spreads it in her garden and starts another batch.


  • Because of toxo, do not flush cat poop down the toilet.  Instead, bag it tightly in plastic and put it in the garbage.
  • Some kitty litters are more environmentally friendly than others.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends avoiding clay-based silica, clumping, and sand litters.  They are obtained through strip-mining, which is very harmful to land. 
  • Litters EWG considers greener include plant-based products made from wheat, corn, ground corncobs, alfalfa pellets, and recycled newspaper pellets.–April Moore





Wintertime Observations

Saturday, February 7th, 2015


Starting in June of 2013, I spent a year making weekly visits to the same little spot in the forest on the side of the ridge where I live in the Shenandoah Valley.  During each visit I jotted my observations in a little book.  It was a fascinating experience to notice the changes in one small patch of forest over the cycle of four seasons.

Here, at THE EARTH CONNECTION, I have been, from time to time, sharing some of those observations.  Below are some of my jottings from the months of January and February of last year:

  • The ground is covered in snow.  And with the leaning tree trunk that always marked the spot now fallen, I have to do some searching to find my ‘spot.’  I notice quite a few footprints.  Clearly, animals have been making their way across my spot.
  • Crows call in the distance.  I hear the wind blowing in the treetops, high overhead, but all is quiet on the ground, where I sit on a log.
  • Subdued winter beauty in all directions.  The snow-covered ground is punctuated with brown twigs poking through the whiteness, angling every which way.  To see some green, I must raise my head and look high into the tops of the giant White Pines.
  • The air is still, except for a woodpecker, hard at work in the distance.
  • The forest is mainly brown now, except for a stripe of snow here and there, hidden from the sun in the curve of a log or the lee of a stump.
  • The wind picks up.  Downed, dead leaves whisper among themselves as they whirl about, disturbed by the wind.  I hear from down the hill a tree creaking under the wind’s push.
  • Now, toward the end of February, bits of color are starting to emerge.  The tiny, outermost twigs growing from the thin, woody plants in my spot are red!  Just a few of them!  They are even tipped with tiny red buds.  Spring can’t be far off!–April Moore      




Report from a Plunger

Friday, January 30th, 2015

“We did it! On Saturday over 200 of us braved the elements to make the 10th annual “Keep Winter Cold” Polar Bear Plunge our biggest yet. Neither the rain nor an incredibly high tide could stop us from jumping, wading and even diving into the Potomac River! Plungers were as young as nine and as old as 85, including students, community activists and Franciscan priests,” reports Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). 

photo by Bruce Rosenthal

photo by Bruce Rosenthal  

Mike is describing last weekend’s CCAN Polar Bear Plunge that I wrote about last week in The Earth Connection.  It was indeed great.  Spirits were high among the crowd gathered to demonstrate our commitment to a healthy climate!  

My friend Diane and I arrived early at National Harbor.  And even though this was to be my fourth Plunge, I felt my familiar ‘pre-plunge jitters.’  The prospect of stepping out into frigid water on a winter day just doesn’t seem to get easier.

Soon Diane and I were met by our friend Barb, who had brought a most welcome pre-plunge treat–hot chocolate!  And this was not just any hot chocolate.  Barb had made it with a yummy liqueur, and she even brought whipped cream.  Sipping hot chocolate while enjoying the pre-plunge rally somehow calmed me.  I felt warm and centered, ready for the shock that lay ahead.

One rally speaker, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus, inspired the crowd with his updated version of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous statement:   “One day this generation will say, ‘we are fossil fuel-free at last!’”  Who wouldn’t be willing to take the plunge after that!

Another highlight of the rally, for me, was Mike Tidwell’s salute to the 10 ‘Plungers’ who raised the most money, including me as the top fundraiser.  I am thrilled that, thanks to the support of friends and family, I raised more than $4,000 for CCAN!  And CCAN raised more than $82,000 overall, its highest total yet in 10 years of Plunges!

photo by Bruce Rosenthal
photo by Bruce Rosenthal

A few more speeches, and then the moment was here!  Off to the tents went the Plungers, a women’s tent and a men’s tent, where we all shed our sensible coats, hats, and gloves for–bathing suits!  Aaargh! 

Because the water level was higher for this year’s Plunge than for any of the previous nine, there was little beach on which the Plungers could gather.  So instead of all thronging into the river en masse, we plunged in small groups.  As I made my way out of the tent toward the river, I envied a woman who was on her way in, dripping and shivering.  Her Plunge was over!

There we were, some picking our way over the rocks to the water, others wet and moving as fast as they could back to the tents.  Were it not for all the shivering, we could have passed for a bunch of people enjoying a summer dip in the river. 

Every year I vow to walk out as far as my shoulders.  But until this year, I had never succeeded;  my feet went numb too soon.  But either the water was warmer this year or I’m more used to it.  I did manage to go out almost up to my shoulders.  

Back in the tent, I could hardly feel my feet.  My friend Diane, kindly and patiently, helped me get dry again and dressed.

Then for the best part.  Diane and I joined the other Plungers and supporters at the adjacent restaurant for the Plunge Afterparty.  Did it ever feel good to warm up and celebrate with longtime friends Diane, Barb, Bruce, and Bonnie, and enjoy a hot lunch and a good visit! 

Sitting there in the warm restaurant, I felt deeply happy–for a lot of reasons.  I was glad to have been part of such a rousing event, to have raised so much money for CCAN, to enjoy time with some dear friends, AND to savor the knowledge that I will have no reason to step out into frigid waters again for a whole year!–April Moore  

P.S. Please click here to look at some fun photos from thePlunge that CCAN posted on its website:   photos from the 10th annual ‘Keep Winter Cold’ Polar Bear Plunge




Crazy for Our Climate

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
photo by Ira Shorr

photo by Ira Shorr


This is the fourth January that I am doing something crazy.  On Saturday, just three days from now, I will walk out into the Potomac River, wearing only a bathing suit!  Oh yes, and also a fleecy headband to give me the illusion of warmth!

Actually, I’m plunging into the river not because I’m crazy but because I’m passionate.  I’m passionate about the urgent need to address our climate crisis.  And I will not be alone:  I’ll be plunging with more than 100 people, all who feel strongly about protecting the climate.

This Saturday’s Polar Bear Plunge, at National Harbor, near Washington, D.C., is the annual fundraising event for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).  CCAN works throughout the mid-Atlantic region to enact policies that increase the use of clean, alternative energies, phase out our dependence on fossil fuels, and put us on a path to a stable, healthy climate.  And CCAN is a first rate outfit!  International climate leader Bill McKibben has called CCAN “the most effective regional climate organization in the entire world!”  

So spending a few minutes in frigid water is a small price to pay for a strong, well-funded CCAN.  We Plungers  are raising money for CCAN by inviting our friends and family to sponsor our plunge by making a donation to CCAN.  This Saturday’s event will be CCAN’s 10th annual Polar Bear Plunge, and organizers hope it will raise $100,000.

I think CCAN’s Polar Bear Plunge is a brilliant fundraiser.  Many people, when they see that their friends are willing to make a sacrifice for something important, feel moved to make a financial sacrifice of their own for the same worthy cause.  And dramatic acts, like more than 100 people jumping into a frigid river in the middle of winter, attract attention.  So this event, coupled with a media campaign, can help publicize CCAN’s needed work.   

And the Plunge is quite an event!  It always begins with a boisterous rally, which fortifies us Plungers for the   uncomfortable minutes ahead.  Every time I have taken the Plunge, my friend Diane has accompanied me, encouraging me and greeting me with a towel when I return, shivering, from the river.

I have seen Plungers as young as 10 and as old as 80-something.  In fact, one year an old woman relied on her cane to stay upright as she carefully made her way out into the river!  Last year it was so cold that the Plunge organizers had to hack up river ice so that we Plungers could get into the water!  

As a Plunger, I’m afraid I’m not like the young men who energetically dive into the water head first, and then splash wildly as if it were a hot summer day.  Instead, I approach the water as the fairly timid 60+ woman I am.  I  take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other as I move from the water’s edge out into deeper water.  

It has  surprised me how quickly my feet lose all feeling.  Then my calves.  Then my thighs.  Last year I had planned to go out up to my neck, but because of my fear of falling and being too numb to get myself out, I turned back when the water was just above my waist.  (My friend Kathy playfully demanded half her money back because I didn’t completely immerse myself!)  But I needn’t have been concerned.  A first aid team is at the ready, perched in a boat nearby. 

The best part of all, though, is the joyous celebration after the Plunge, when Plungers and supporters all gather at the nearby restaurant.  It feels great to sit inside where it’s warm and visit with my friends who have shown up to support me, and to know that the next Plunge is a whole year away.

By the way, I have set an ambitious personal fundraising goal for this year’s Polar Bear Plunge, $4,000.  If you would like to support my Plunge with a donation to CCAN (we know that constructive climate work anywhere in the world benefits all of us no matter where we live) I would, of course, be grateful.  You can click this link to my personal fundraising page, where you can quickly and easily donate online.  April Moore’s Plunge  

I’ll report back next week.–April Moore



The Strange History of Birds

Saturday, January 17th, 2015


     A dramatic expansion in genetics research capacity has enabled scientists to learn some surprising things about birds and their evolutionary history.

     Using new DNA research techniques, scientists have gained knowledge that turns traditional groupings of bird species upside down.  For example, field guides typically grouped bird species by observable similarities like size, color, and habitat.  But the new research shows that living bird species may be far more genetically similar to birds that seem very different than they are to species that seem similar.

     Recent research reveals that falcons, for instance, are more closely related to parrots than they are to hawks, even though they look much more like hawks.  And flamingoes, it turns out, are more closely related to pigeons than they are to almost all other waterbirds!

     The new bird research, according to Science News, was conducted by a consortium of 200 scientists from around the world and funded by the Chinese genetics institute BGI and other sources.  Findings suggest that many bird species that appear closely related are not examples of close ancestral relationships after all.  

     Instead, such bird species’ similarity is the result of convergence over time.  These different species evolved in different parts of the world.  But they developed in some of the same ways because they occupied a similar environmental niche.  With similar environmental forces operating in these species’ distant niches, birds in far distant areas developed some of the same characteristics, even though they are not related genetically.

     Sorting out which modern bird species are truly related to one another and which are not had long posed a problem for researchers, explains ornithologist Shannon Hackett of the Field Museum of Chicago.  An avian ‘big bang,’ she explains, took place around the time dinosaurs went extinct and sent many lineages ‘flying’ off in different directions.  

     Before current genetic research techniques became available, it had been hard to figure out which fossils belonged with which emerging group, Hackett explains.  In fact, many scientists believed it would never be possible to sort out which birds were truly most related to which other species.

     One fascinating aspect of this new research is that parrots, songbirds, and humans, for that matter, have converged on very similar genes involved in vocal learning.  In fact, birds may prove to be a useful species for further insights into human speech disorders.  The usual medical research species–monkeys and mice–don’t learn sounds as birds and humans do.–April Moore 





So What Is Plan B?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015
A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to speak about the climate crisis to a group of bright high school seniors.  I love speaking to these Virginia Regional Governor’s School students;  they are intelligent and interested.
     And instead of feeling crushed by the weight of my message, these students respond with hope and with the confidence that they have what it takes to deal successfully with the problem.
     But two months after my last gig with these high school seniors, I find still echoing in my mind a question that one young man asked that day.  We had spent at least an hour in engrossing discussion about what must be done if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe, the roles for nations, localities, institutions, and citizens.
     After all of this, the young man, groping for words, asked haltingly, “Well, what if we don’t do all the things we need to do?  What if we can’t manage to do it?  What do we do then?  What is the. . . . plan?”
     I could have wept on the spot.
     I saw a 17-year old who had not yet grasped that the grown-ups he’d always trusted to be in charge could completely let him down.  He just assumed that the generations running things were making at least the minimum necessary arrangements to ensure that the future would be okay for him and his generation.  Surely there must be some ‘Plan B.’
     The people in charge could not just sit back and expose us to catastrophe.  Could they?
     I was so struck by the young man’s question, I really don’t remember how I answered.  I wanted to be truthful, but I didn’t want to puncture his sense of security, his faith in those in charge.  As a mom, perhaps, I didn’t want him to be afraid.
     As I have continued to think about this student’s question, I see that he was really speaking for all of us.  Even among those who ‘get’ the seriousness of our climate crisis, most don’t really get how very bad life could get for the generations to come.  For one thing, we have never experienced anything like what might well lie ahead if we fail to act decisively.
     In addition to a natural reluctance to envision how bad life could become, there is the deliberate misinformation campaign on the part of the fossil fuel industry, whose wealth has induced one of our two major  political parties to make it party dogma that the science on climate is to be ignored.  The fossil fuel industry, through its political lackeys, lulls us into inaction with its deceptive message that climate science is a hoax, that we should stay addicted to fossil fuels.
     I wonder what the people who are running this misinformation campaign would say to their own children if they came to them and asked, “What’s the plan?”–April Moore

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