ecology

‘Organic Island’ redux: Bhutan takes steps toward becoming the world’s first ‘organic country’; ten year timeline proposed

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So the notion of taking a whole nation organic isn’t so loopy (or original) after all. In Bhutan, political and social leaders are coalescing around a plan to ban a whole slew of agricultural and industrial chemical poisons and promote sustainable, organic methods in their agricultural sector. It runs counter to the ‘what’s good for business is good for [insert nation here]’ thinking that so frequently prevails but this decision represents not some atavistic neo-Luddite groundswell that’s predestined to fail but a fantastic opportunity for innovation and development that employs and educates vast populations in its achievement and maintenance.

Bhutan, by flickr user Christopher Michel. Used by cc: license. All rights revert to originator.
Bhutan, by flickr user Christopher Michel. Used by cc: license. All rights revert to originator.

Organic agriculture relies on the maxim “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” The organic farmer learns more, thinks more, and works harder to produce the same pound of cocoa or tomatoes or sugar cane as his/her conventional compatriots. Organic farmers accept a self-imposed standard of excellence that functionally eliminates 80% of the problem-solving shortcuts available to conventional farmers: the ‘spray-and-forget’ solutions that never ask how the shortcut was manufactured or where it goes after it kills whatever needed killing. National acceptance of the organic farmer’s mindful ways is the opposite of atavistic. It is an evolution: a step forward that equally and unreservedly reveres their shared past, present, and future.

In a nation with so ancient a Buddhist & Hindu tradition maybe the idea of everyone working together to improve everyone’s situation isn’t so alien or unlikely-seeming. I think perhaps that’s why I could see Grenada going the same way. I saw so much real agape on the island I can’t help but believe the political will exists to undertake the same level of national self-improvement & -empowerment. Every human rationale and potential benefit that accrues around this call to action applies to Grenada as well. Someone has to show the world what ‘possible’ means.

New York Times analysis of estuarine development at the mouth of the Elwha

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In the early days before the removal of the Glines Canyon and Elwha Dams that returned the Elwha River to its free-flowing state, most talk was focused on the return of salmon to a once-prodigious Native fishery. Some raised valid concerns about the post-removal turbidity as decades of sedimentary buildup behind the dams washed down to the sea: making the river water too cloudy for hatchery fish to survive in outbound migration much less the return spawning trip from the sea.

Eventually — in a decade or more, Dr. Warrick said — all of the sediment that had accumulated behind the dams will be gone. Then, the researchers predict, the river will revert to its pre-dam pattern, moving about 300,000 cubic yards of sediment downstream each year to the beaches.

Though the geology of California differs from that of the Pacific Northwest, Dr. Warrick said, this project demonstrates that dam removal may remedy beach erosion in both regions.

The idea is popular among some environmental lawyers and legal scholars who have long argued that beaches have “sand rights” — a right to sand that would naturally flow to them if people and their infrastructure had not gotten in the way. Advocates of sand rights say anyone who interferes with the flow of sediment to and along the shoreline should be required to mitigate the effects.

Once the water levels had gone down behind these dams the amount of sedimentary infill in these impoundment lakes was fully revealed. The entire contour of the valleys where the lakes had been had slowly filled up with sand, silt, and gravel. Deprived of their source of natural replenishment beaches and wetlands downstream had become anemic, requiring bolstering with rip-rap or other artificial means (as the law of unintended consequences rears its head). Reconnected with a century of undelivered sediment, the beaches at the mouth of the Elwha and nearby along the Strait of Juan de Fuca are rebounding at a reassuring rate as the turbidity of the Elwha’s waters continues to improve.

Read the full New York Times article from July 15, 2015 here.

Wendell Berry

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“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.” -Wendell Berry

Sperm whale found dead with a stomach full of plastic debris

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It’s useful to revisit Ernest Callenbach’s Laws of Ecology at times like these, in case anyone missed them:

  1. All things are interconnected.
  2. Everything goes somewhere.
  3. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  4. Nature bats last.
Click to go to Daily Mail article
PHOTO: Daily Mail

Last month a sperm whale washed up dead in The Netherlands with a stomach full of plastic debris. Let’s be clear now that there is no naturally-occurring plastic anywhere. Every piece of plastic ever made is still in existence today. Everything in this whale’s stomach was allowed to exit the waste or recycling stream. There is no one else to blame.

In  March of this year, a 10 meter long sperm whale washed up on Spain’s South Coast. This whale had swallowed 59 different plastic items totaling over 37 pounds. Most of this plastic consisted of transparent sheeting used to build greenhouses in Almeria and Grenada for the purpose of tomatoes for the European market. The rest was plastic bags, nine meters of rope, two stretches of hosepipe, two small flower pots, and a plastic spray canister. Cause of death was intestinal blockage.

In August 2000, a Bryde’s whale was stranded near Cairns, Australia. The stomach was found to be tightly packed with six square meters of plastic rubbish, including supermarket bags, food packages, and fragments of trash bags. In April 2010, a gray whale that died after stranding itself on a west Seattle beach was found to have more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, plastic pieces, duct tape, a pair of sweat pants, and a golf ball, not to mention other garbage contained in its stomach. Plastic is not digestible, and once it finds its way into the intestines, accumulates and clogs the intestines. For some whales, the plastic does not kill the animal directly, but cause malnutrition and disease, which leads to unnecessary suffering until death.

Some facts about plastic in handy infographic form here. Understand that the impact the consumption decisions you make has on the environment is entirely up to you. The easiest ways to cut your use of plastics include using reusable shopping bags, choosing products with less packaging (or simply less plastic packaging), and buying household and kitchen items in the bulk section of your grocer. As plastic is ubiquitous to the point of inevitability in 2013, the best way to keep the plastics you do consume out of the environment is to recycle every piece of plastic you can according to its recycling number and place the rest securely in the solid waste stream. Commercial plastic waste comprises much of what’s found in the digestive tracts of dead whales, sea turtles, sea birds, and other creatures. Alas for lack of oversight and stricter controls, commercial contributions to such phenomena as the ‘Great Pacific garbage patch‘ are likely to continue unabated. All you can do is do your simple, little part.

Unusually high sediment load from post-removal Elwha chokes seafloor kelp forests

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Elwha River Dam Removal by flickr user Paul Cooper (pecooper98362). All rights revert to originator.
Elwha River Dam Removal by flickr user Paul Cooper (pecooper98362). All rights revert to originator.

A not-entirely-unexpected result; indeed a return to what is by credible accounts the native state of the seafloor at the mouth of the Elwha:

The changes on the seabed are dramatic, from better than 80 to 90 percent coverage by kelp to an environment that is almost completely devoid of kelp. “It’s shocking,” Berry said. “It’s not subtle.”

It’s a similarly big change on the water surface, where great floating rafts of bull kelp have disappeared because the rocky substrate their hold fasts grab onto on the sea floor are smothered over in soft silt.

But it’s a back to the future type of transformation, experts think. Early maps show no kelp at the mouth of the Elwha, notes Jon Warrick of the USGS at Santa Cruz.

Read more here. Video of the denuded seafloor can be seen here.

Sea surface temperatures reach highest level in 150 years

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I’m certain everything is totally fine; that we’ll commit ourselves to get serious about magic-ing the planet out of the fix we put it into one of these days too:

Sea surface temperatures in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem during 2012 were the highest recorded in 150 years, according to the latest Ecosystem Advisory issued by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). These high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are the latest in a trend of above average temperature seen during the spring and summer seasons, and part of a pattern of elevated temperatures occurring in the Northwest Atlantic, but not seen elsewhere in the ocean basin over the past century.

Read more here.

Car-Free Living :: Grocery delivery found ‘greener’ than driving to the store

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More support for the car-free existence (at least in markets where retailers like Safeway and Amazon Fresh operate):

Ordering your groceries online and having them delivered to your door can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half compared with driving to the store yourself, University of Washington engineers reported Monday.

“A lot of times people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn’t the case here,” Anne Goodchild, UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in a news release. “From an environmental perspective, grocery delivery services overwhelmingly can provide emissions reductions.”

It’s important to note the global warming footprint of many foodstuffs is already high by virtue of carbon-intensive production or the emissive nature of the livestock in question. If you believe (as I do) that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution applicable to personal approaches to climate mitigation you will view this method of carbon savings as another arrow in your personal reduction quiver.

Read the rest here.