Photo by Ben Ingersoll
Photo by Ben Ingersoll
Photo by Ben Ingersoll
Photo by Ben Ingersoll
At dusk on the Cosumnes River last week, a group of teenagers paddled their canoes under a bridge and then heard some squeaks and flaps above them. Curious, the paddlers looked up, and in the next few minutes, witnessed the fly-out of clouds of bats as they emerged for their night flights.
“I couldn’t believe it; I’d never seen a bat before,” said Ariane Buckenmeyer, 17, one of the paddlers. “What looked like tens of thousands of them were right above us. We were all bewildered, to be honest, yet it was incredible. We didn’t know you could see such a thing. We were speechless, in our canoes, staring at all the bats in the sky.”
The bats darted about as they used echolocation, where they bounce ultrasonic sound waves off flying insects, to track their prey. A dusk fly-out is one of the great spectacles of summer. This group of paddlers had a perfect view as part of a nature-based program for youths.
Buckenmeyer is one of 150 students, mostly young women in high school, who are taking part in an outdoors science and recreation program this summer in 27 states, sponsored by the Nature Conservancy. It is called “LEAF,” which stands for “Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future.” In its 20th year, about 700 young people have completed the program and more than 30 percent of those have gone on to pursue environmental careers.
The program merges outdoors fun with science and conservation fieldwork. This past week, for instance, the LEAF students kayaked to Fannette Island in Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe and then canoed the Cosumnes River near Galt in the San Joaquin Valley. In the process, they also checked Lake Tahoe’s water clarity, removed invasive plants from the Cosumnes River Preserve, surveyed and plotted native plant distribution, and amid drought, examined the health of the nearby Castello Forest. They also visited several colleges, including UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz.
This week, they’ll head to the Dye Creek Preserve east of Red Bluff – the land of Ishi, once known as California’s “last wild Indian” – to explore American Indian sites in canyons that include acorn bedrock mortars in cave hollows. Then they’ll head to the High Sierra and Independence Lake and its feeder streams to kayak, camp and explore the protected habitat of the rare Lahontan cutthroat trout.
“I grew up in the city,” Buckenmeyer said. “I haven’t traveled much. A lot of us don’t know about wildlife outside of the city or what was here before (it was settled). In high school, there hasn’t been much of an emphasis on the environmental sciences.
“My first time camping was last fall,” she said. “It was eye-opening. It was incredible. I’ve never had so much fun. I found out I love backpacking, the wild environment, with no sight of human civilization. We had to get used to the idea of hearing the coyotes howling at night. And there were so many stars. We just stared at all the stars.”
The Nature Conservancy, a non-political organization that buys and protects unique habitats and then provides leave-no-trace public access to them, pays for the group’s overhead.
The outdoor experience has had a big effect on her view of the world, Buckenmeyer said.
“We have responsibilities as humans,” she said. “There are beautiful environments that are slowly being destroyed. We need to promote environmental advocacy.”
One way to do that, says Brigitte Griswold, the Nature Conservancy’s director of youth programs, is to improve environmental and outdoor education.
The LEAF program could be a template for schools across America – especially for young women, who are under-represented in science fields.
“We try to provide that ‘aha moment,’ where a young person experiences something they haven’t seen before or even imagined” to get them hooked, Griswold said.
“There’s very few women in the science fields” – known as “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, math) – she said.
“We’re trying to expose young people to careers in natural sciences before they decide their colleges,” Griswold said. “We can’t wait until they get to college. Four out of five STEM students decide their majors in high school or earlier.”
In addition, jobs in environmental science are expected to grow by 25 percent in the next two years, the fastest among any field of science, Griswold said.
Preparing for her senior year of high school, Buckenmeyer is a testament to the program: a bright young woman, with a zest for life and an engaging natural curiosity for all things in nature, who will decide her life’s course, college and field of study in the coming year. Right now she’s leaning toward becoming a wildlife biologist.
She has her hobbies, of course – “I like playing my guitar, a Stratocaster,” she said – and after being exposed to nature, she finds herself drawn back, out of the city, over and over.
“I love going down to the tide pools,” she said, “I go every chance I get.”
For more information, go to www.nature.org/leaf.
Key findings from the National Survey on Youth and Nature, funded by the Nature Conservancy, the Toyota USA Foundation and the Foundation for Youth Investment:
Computer time: 88 percent of American youths say they spend time online every day.
TV/video games: 69 percent play video games or watch TV with the same level of frequency.
Homework: More than half of American youths, 58 percent, spend more time on the computer, playing video games or watching TV than they do on homework or studying for school.
Outdoors: Fewer than 40 percent of American youths participate in hiking, fishing, hunting or visiting a park, beach or natural area once a week.
Nature rating: 51 percent rate the condition of nature as a “very serious” problem.
Who’s to blame? 73 percent of youths say previous generations have damaged the environment and left the problems for them to fix.
Rating the government: Only 33 percent believe that government is doing a good job addressing problems that face our country.
Outdoor education: 66 percent of youths say they have had a personal experience in nature that made them appreciate it more.
Making a connection: Those who have had a special experience in nature are twice as likely to spend time outdoors, significantly more likely to express concern about the condition of the environment, twice as likely to strongly agree that protecting the environment is “cool,” and substantially more likely to study the environment in college.
Tom Stienstra is The Chronicle’s outdoors writer. He will present the show “Sierra Crossing” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at REI-San Francisco. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @StienstraTom
Is your environment sustainable?
When I give talks about sustainable gardening, I always begin by asking the audience what they think “sustainability” means. They usually say that they have no idea.
Sustainability is a buzzword among environmentalists, urban planners, and landscape architects these days, but its meaning is hard to pin down. The Environmental Protection Agency defines it like this: “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
Sustainability is important to making sure that we have, and will continue to have, the water, materials and resources to protect human health and our environment.
The key idea here is that we depend on natural resources and future generations will as well. So we must use those resources in a way that ensures that they’ll be around indefinitely. That’s a sustainable environment. That doesn’t mean the environment is static; rather, it means it’s healthy and balanced. To apply this concept to our suburban environment, picture two different landscapes: a forest and a lawn.
A forest is sustainable. The only inputs it needs are sunshine and rain; as long as it gets those, it feeds itself and maintains itself indefinitely. It’s diverse: It contains dozens, maybe hundreds or thousands of species of trees, shrubs, flowering plants, grasses, mosses, lichens, ferns, spiders, insects, birds and other vertebrates, as well as myriad creatures too small for us to see. It’s productive: It provides valuable services to the wider ecosystem. It feeds all the animals that live in it, stores and filters water, slows the movement of groundwater to prevent floods, and moderates temperature. It’s variable: Individual plants and animals come into being and die, individual populations rise and fall. It’s adaptable: As environmental conditions change, the plant and animal populations will adapt and change as well. Despite occasional disruptions such as fires or storms, the forest will remain pretty much forever as we humans use the term.
Now think of a lawn. A lawn is not sustainable. To maintain it as lawn, you must provide continual inputs. At the bare minimum, you must cut it frequently, but most people do much more than that. Like the forest, the lawn needs only sunshine and rain, but most of us think it needs more, so we overwater and overfeed it. The lawn is not diverse: It contains only a few species of plants and very few animals of any kind, and most people use herbicides and pesticides to keep diversity as low as possible. The lawn is not productive — it doesn’t make anything we need or want — and it is not particularly useful to the larger ecosystem: It’s inefficient at moderating temperatures and slowing down surface water, although it is better than pavement, and the fertilizer and other chemicals we use pollute the surrounding streams and ponds. As most people maintain a lawn, it’s unsustainable.
Why is this important? Because most of our suburban landscape is made up of lawns. Lawns require more inputs than they provide outputs, so in the long term, they are unsustainable. Nationwide, lawns occupy 20 million to 30 million acres. By several estimates, an acre of lawn receives more inputs than an acre of farmland. Those inputs — fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fuel to run power equipment — are expensive to produce and harmful to the environment.
There are two ways to make our immediate suburban environment more sustainable: You can manage your lawn more sustainably, or you can replace some lawn with more sustainable plantings.
The first option involves simplifying your lawn care.
First, fertilize less often. Most people do it five times per season. Lawns don’t need any fertilizer, but since you probably don’t believe that, try cutting down on the number of applications. Use a slow-release organic fertilizer no more than twice a year, around Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Second, water less, but water smarter. Again, lawns don’t need water, but if you must water, water deeply. One deep watering (one inch of water) per week is much better for the lawn than five or six shallow ones. Water early in the morning to prevent fungal diseases, and don’t water if the soil is already wet.
Third, keep the grass long (at least three inches) and use a mulching mower so the clippings break down and fertilize the lawn. The same goes for the fallen leaves in the autumn. Chop them with your mulching mower and leave them on the lawn. These recycled nutrients are all your lawn needs. A lawn will never be a completely sustainable landscape, but these practices will make your lawn more sustainable than it is now (and save you time and money).
The second option, replacing some lawn, is a more permanent and more sustainable solution. Do you have a shady or wet spot where grass won’t grow? Replace that part of the lawn with a garden of native plants adapted to the specific conditions. (Google “backyard environmentalist” and you’ll find the two columns I recently wrote about native plants for shade and for sun).
There are gorgeous native plants adapted to any site. Plant some, and enjoy the native butterflies and birds that will immediately appear. You’ll have done your part to make our environment more sustainable.
Elaine Silverstein is a horticulturist certified in sustainable landscape management by the New York Botanical Garden. She blogs at naturesurrounds.wordpress.com. Contact her at naturesurrounds@ mail.com.
Today you’d be hard pushed to find a
corner of the biosphere that is unaltered by human hands. In some places, nature
has been rendered almost incapable of sustaining healthy life.
The growth of industrial society has caused
a rapid loss of species that
is estimated to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the rate of
extinctions that would have occurred in the absence of human activity. Manmade
emissions have increased the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to its
highest level in
several million years, and the onset of human-induced
climate change is set to produce ever more devastating
So extensive is the human impact on the
planet that a growing number of scientists think we’ve entered a new geological
epoch called the ‘Anthropocene:’ a new reality that signifies irreversible changes in the Earth’s
In this new reality, it’s our unremitting
mood of indifference and lack of moral restraint that I find most disturbing. How
did we get here, and how is it that we are able to carry on like this?
All cultures and societies provide pre-determined
criteria for moral behaviour. In the West, the inherited framework for morality
is based on individual rights and entitlements that place human interests at
the summit of ethical concerns – an orthodoxy that can be traced back to the ‘Age of
Enlightenment,’ and specifically to Rene Descartes.
Dubbed the father of modern philosophy, Descartes’
bifurcation of all things in existence as either of ‘mind’ or ‘matter’ led him
to conclude that nature, lacking mind, had no value except in human use.
Philosophers have also linked the emergence of an exploitative attitude towards
the environment in the West to the medieval ethos of human supremacy over the
world, with human beings as the crown of creation and the centre of the universe.
Buddhism sees things differently. It is
perhaps the Eastern religion that is most associated with ideas of holism and a
romantic, pre-modern understanding of nature as a source of spiritual fulfilment.
But the Buddha’s teachings, referred to as ‘Dhamma’, are less mystic and more pragmatic than many people believe.
precept is that of non-harm, and the first ruler in history to advocate
conservation measures for wildlife – Indian emperor, Ashoka Maurya (304-232 BCE) – was a Buddhist. For
many environmental philosophers, however, Buddhism’s position on the
environment remains somewhat ambiguous. It doesn’t appear to provide direct
guidance on the proper attitude towards the natural world. This is largely
because there is some discord between Buddhist understanding and environmental
ethics – a recent branch of philosophy which presupposes that the environment
is something external to ourselves.
In explaining this
discord, it is useful to remember the Buddha’s distinction between ‘conventional
reality’ and ‘ultimate reality.’ Conventional reality is the way things appear to be, giving rise to structure
and organisation in the world. Central to conventional reality is the sense of self: a realm of thoughts
and feelings, aspirations and fears, opinions and memories that inhabit a human
body and look outwards at the world. People tend
to have strong ideas about their own personal identity, constituted by things
like family, nationality, religion, occupation and possessions.
Ultimate reality, on the other hand, transcends
this first-person experience. It resembles the ‘Bundle Theory’ of philosopher David Hume, which describes all things
in terms of properties and conditions within an ever-changing universe rather than as independent
for example, means that a river can only be fully understood in terms of the
properties of water and the forces of physics, the geology of the land, the
life it supports and the hydrological cycle. The synthesis of
forces and conditions that we perceive as a ‘river’ remains recognisable in itself,
and yet intrinsically it exists as an element of a much wider system. The emphasis is placed on an underlying
fabric of interdependence.
If the self is considered in the same
way, how much substance is there in what you or I think of as ‘me’? A person is
also a constantly changing ‘bundle’ of mental and physical states, each one
giving rise to another. In accordance with Buddhist thought, Hume describes the
mind as “a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make
appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in a variety of postures and
In Buddhism, the self is understood as an
ongoing process rather than an
underlying thing. Despite what’s
inferred from conventional reality, there is no one, single, abiding entity or essence behind or within our thoughts, words
and deeds. Hence in Buddhism, ‘individuality’ – a notion particularly well embedded
in Western culture – is an oversimplification: an illusion in the sense that our preconditions and assumptions
lead us to believe that we are completely separate from everyone and everything
else in the universe.
On a personal level, problems arise when we get caught up in the
physical, mental and emotional experiences that characterise this individual
sense of self. We become driven by notions of being and having, and in the
process we become the cause of our own suffering by craving for, and becoming
attached to, things that are impermanent. This inevitably leads to
dissatisfaction, unease and anxiety.
But the consequences of these
existential misunderstandings reach far beyond our own individual lives. In
fact, self-centeredness is the
great illness from which all imbalance, insensitivity and abuse ultimately stem
– an illness directly linked to the Buddha’s ‘three poisons
of greed, ill-will and delusion’. These poisonous mentalities seep into the collective
consciousness and are instilled in the norms and structures of culture and
society, helping to direct how politics and economics deal with the environment.
By contrast, Buddhist principals treat
the mind and body, the self and environment, as inseparable. Environmental
destruction is therefore an outer manifestation of an inner affliction. If our
thoughts are polluted, then our actions will be polluted too, and so will their
Therefore, the way we perceive and understand ourselves is crucial in
determining the way we act. It shapes the way we perceive and
understand each other and the environment. By thinking and acting as separate we create
disharmony. Disharmony is both a symptom and cause of alienation from the
natural world, as well as blindness to our own true nature.
Reversing this process means breaking down artificial
boundaries between people and nature to reveal the underlying reality of unity
and wholeness. The perceiver is an
inextricable part of whatever is being perceived,
bound together in a state of interdependence. This viewpoint coheres with the latest
scientific understanding of ecological functioning, perhaps most demonstrably
in the phenomenon of trophic cascades – powerful indirect interactions that can control entire
Both philosophically and ecologically therefore, our own interests can be seen
as the same as the interests of the whole – a realisation
that sets the tone for a more
balanced relationship between society and nature. As the Anthropocene plays
out, the future of the planet is, for the first time, at least partly under the
control of conscious, reasoning human beings. But for any kind of viable shared
future, people must nurture the awareness and understanding that enables the
regulation of their impulses and behaviour – a morality based on
self-discipline, or something Buddhism calls the ‘middle way.’
People must also cultivate a new appreciation and reverence for the inviolable
sanctity of all forms of life, rooted in humility, respect and compassion as the
basis for making every decision and assessing the appropriateness of every action.
As an old Asian
proverb goes, “The careful foot can tread anywhere.” Just as we may come to a
better understanding of nature along the way, so may we also see ourselves as
we really are.
Move aims to prevent local govts from influencing environment cases
China’s top court supports hearing environmental and resources cases without regard to the administrative regions where such cases occur, aiming instead to let nature dictate the jurisdictions in a bid to prevent judicial intervention by local governments.
A guideline issued by the Supreme People’s Court on Thursday on improving trials involving the environment and resources encourages grassroots courts to set up environmental tribunals based on the location of habitats.
“It means the upcoming tribunals will tackle cases that happen in similar ecological areas instead of administrative regions,” said the top court’s spokesman, Sun Jungong.
Ecological areas have no clear boundary, while an environmental dispute usually involves people living in diff erent areas, “so we have to change our current mentality to deal with related cases”, Sun said.
Cross-regional tribunals can also be helpful in solving environmental disputes eff ectively, he added.
In June, the top court set up a special department to deal with cases relating to the environment and resources. The department is also responsible for guiding related trials at grassroots courts and providing a precedent for similar disputes.
The guideline asks high people’s courts around the country to likewise establish an environmental and resource department, while intermediate and grassroots courts can build up similar benches based on the number of their environmental cases.
“For some grassroots areas, we’re exploring the establishment of cross-regional environmental tribunals, which,I believe, not only will better protect the local ecology, but also get rid of governments’intervention,” said Zheng Xuelin, the chief judge of the environmental and resource department in the top court.
Zheng confirmed that some grassroots courts have had pilot programs on setting up such tribunals based on similar ecological areas instead of based on administrative regions, for example in Guizhou province.
The province has been divided into four ecological areas and has arranged four courts to handle environmental disputes based on this division, he said, adding that the top court will help more provinces establish their own cross-regional environmental tribunals.
Lyu Keqin, deputy secretary-general of the All-China Environment Federation, echoed Zheng, saying that the top court’s guideline and its establishment of the environment and resource department will contribute to hearing of cross-regional disputes by grassroots courts.
“It was common in the past to see a local government in the upper reaches of a river shuffle its own pollution responsibility to another government in the river’s lower reaches, which wasted our federation’s investment on ecological improvement,” Lyu said.
“We took about hundreds of billions of yuan to boost the environment of the Huaihe River Basin, but failed. Governments along the river always protected their own interests and interfered with local courts’work,” he said, adding that it is urgent to select a court to hear such cross-regional environmental disputes.
China’s supreme court sets up environment cases division
The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has set up a tribunal for environment cases to better implement the revised environmental protection law, said a court spokesman here on Thursday.
The tribunal will hear civil cases involving pollution, exploitation of natural resources and conservation of natural environment such as forests and rivers, said Sun Jungong, SPC spokesman, at a press conference.
It will also hear appeal cases forwarded from lower courts, supervise the trial of environment cases at lower courts and draft judicial explanations about such cases, Sun said.
The SPC expects that the tribunal can set the standards for trials of environment cases, better protect people’s environmental rights and help fight pollution and other offenses harming the environment, he said.
About 134 special environment tribunals have been established at local courts in 16 provincial divisions since the first was founded in southwest China’s Guizhou Province in 2007.
Following suit of the SPC, all provincial high courts will also set up similar institutions while city courts and lower ones can decide based on their own conditions, said Zheng Xuelin, chief judge of the tribunal, also at the press conference.
According to Zheng, environment cases have taken a very small proportion of all court cases across the country, nearly 30,000 out of more than 11 million.
Zheng admitted that it is still difficult for people to file an environment case since courts are held back by technical problems such as lack of practical standards to assess damage, and in some cases interference from local governments.
With the operation of more environment tribunals, Zheng expects the number of these cases to increase.
China’s top legislature revised the environmental protection law in April, imposing much harsher punishment on polluters and heavier liability on government.
The new law allows public litigation on environmental issues and expands the range of the plaintiff, from parties directly affected by environmental damage to officially registered social organizations that engage in public litigation on environmental issues for more than five years.
China has faced an increasing number of protests, or “mass incidents”, over environmental issues. Cities have seen residents take to the streets against paraxylene projects, which they believe are a major threat to the environment and public health.
Courts are considered a more rational way for people to express their concerns without triggering chaos and violence.
ISTANBUL – 17.07.2014 11:52:19
Economic growth will eventually challenge human development and harm nature. The economic growth rate for 2013 shows a 4 percent increase. When examined closely, the expansion was almost solely due to domestic consumption and government spending; in other words, it was hormone-driven growth. Two weeks ago we got some perspective on the state of Turkish agriculture and found it to be the main victim of this visionless growth.
Today let’s have a look at the environment which, as these four examples will illustrate, is the other loser in Turkey’s economic boom.
Gallipoli National Park status cancellation
In June a parliamentary commission began debating some of the more fundamental changes to the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) National Park law. Turkey will probably bid farewell to one more special area which is the world’s heritage and has been under protection for a century because of changes foreseen in the new law on the “Çanakkale Wars and Gallipoli Historic Area.”
Conquering Fatih’s (conqueror) Forest
At the end of June there was a protest against yet another “destruction” project which seeks to construct villas and bungalows in the last forest of Istanbul. The protest, called the “Defense of the Northern Forests” [Kuzey Ormanları Savunması], declares on its website that the real estate development project named “Nature Park” aims to take both the Fatih Orman and Park Orman into its fold. The call to protest said, “The Fatih Forest project on which Ağaoğlu (a real estate developer) has set his sights now includes new looting projects in which business figures Serdar Bilgili and Ferit Şahenk are also involved.”
The AKP’s forest fairy tale
From the forestry faculty at Bartın University, Professors Erdoğan Atmış and Batuhan Günşen offer up a valuable analysis titled “A critical analysis examining the AKP in light of the forestry policies and practices of Turkish governments.” In this work the AKP’s particular sort of green “fairy tales” are revealed. These two academics explain, quite succinctly, how the AKP’s general stance on forests is not a question of “how to attain maximum benefit from resources in general, but rather how to profit from resources.” In other words, the AKP does not try to maximize forestlands, but rather, sells them. And in selling them, it creates a number of different stories and reasons to justify it.
Here is one telling example of the forestry fairy tales that have emerged in recent years: “Despite the fact that the tree-planting which took place in 2007 covered 31,500 hectares, it was disclosed by officials as having been 450,000 hectares. And while it was announced that as a part of a five year program, 2.3 million hectares of land would have trees planted on it, the real truth of the matter is that 73 percent of this rehabilitation program and used techniques that did not follow modern forestry science.”
This academic study also takes a close and careful look at the “2B Law” that makes it easier to see the sales of wrongfully occupied forestlands. To read the study in full:
Coal versus olive
An SOS from Ayvalık, Turkey’s olive oil powerhouse. Apparently Turkey’s coal mines in Muğla province’s Yatağan district have reached the point of depletion. While experts in Yatağan are still asserting that there is plenty of coal left in the area, the government has apparently set its sights on the coal that lies under the olive groves of Ayvalık to feed the thermoelectric power plant in Yatağan. As we all know, accessing underground minerals takes precedence over everything in this country! In short, there is apparently nothing this government won’t do when it comes to retrieving coal from the ground, despite the fact that not only is this particular Turkish lignite coal one of the least productive of all, it is also the main cause of global warming.
CENGİZ AKTAR (Cihan/Today’s Zaman)
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İSTANBUL | Select City
Health News of Tuesday, 15 July 2014
MR Ebenezer Tetteh, Municipal Disease Control Officer of the Tarkwa Municipality in the Western Region, says the increase in Tuberculosis (TB) cases within the area could largely be attributed to the dusty nature of the environment due to illegal mining.
He also mentioned poor housing and negative lifestyle of the people as another means through which Tuberculosis was gaining roots in the area.
This year alone, the municipality had recorded 50 new cases, with 20 of them being positive.
Mr Tetteh told the Ghana News Agency during an educational programme on Tuberculosis by KICK TB Ghana, to educate school children in the area to serve as ambassadors to the community.
He said the municipality had exceeded the national target of 86 cases per 100,000 population.
Mr George Kluborto, former Metropolitan SHEP Co-ordinator and a Team Member of KICK TB Ghana, said the disease continues to be life threatening, which needed urgent commitment from all and sundry to control it.
He said school children were being introduced to a new method of prevention, which is the use of the arm, instead of the palm, to cover mouths when coughing or sneezing.