Tag Archives | Ecology

U.S. Fails on Happy Planet Index

Reports Peter Aldhous on New Scientist:
It's easy not to trash the planet — if you're dirt poor and die young. But is it possible for all of us to live long and satisfying lives without costing the Earth? That's the question behind a measure of national well-being called the Happy Planet Index (HPI). Its latest update, released this week ahead of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development, names Costa Rica as the world's most "developed" nation and puts the US on the sick list. To show how different the world looks when viewed according to the HPI, rather than conventional wealth, New Scientist applied distorting lenses. In the top map, countries are sized according to their GDP, and shaded by GDP per capita. As sub-Saharan Africa almost shrinks from view, western Europe, the US and Japan swell and flush a deep red. But this wealth has fuelled massively unsustainable use of natural resources. Nic Marks of the New Economics Foundation in London developed HPI as an alternative measure, "to capture the tension between good lives now and good lives in the future"...
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Land-Sea Ecological Chains of Life Threatened With Extinction Around the World

Manta RayAnd it’s not like we humans aren’t part of such chains. Via ScienceDaily:

Douglas McCauley and Paul DeSalles did not set out to discover one of the longest ecological interaction chains ever documented. But that’s exactly what they and a team of researchers — all current or former Stanford students and faculty — did in a new study published in Scientific Reports.

Their findings shed light on how human disturbance of the natural world may lead to widespread, yet largely invisible, disruptions of ecological interaction chains. This, in turn, highlights the need to build non-traditional alliances — among marine biologists and foresters, for example — to address whole ecosystems across political boundaries.

This past fall, McCauley, a graduate student, and DeSalles, an undergraduate, were in remote Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific tracking manta rays’ movements for a predator-prey interaction study. Swimming with the rays and charting their movements with acoustic tags, McCauley and DeSalles noticed the graceful creatures kept returning to certain islands’ coastlines.

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Animal Poachers In India Can Be Shot on Sight

PoachingReports Talia Ralph on Global Post:

Animal poachers in India can now be shot on sight, after lawmakers in the western state of Maharashtra passed legislation Wednesday to defend tigers, elephants, and other wildlife from attacks, the Times of India reported.

The state’s forest guards should not be “booked for human rights violations when they have taken action against poachers,” Maharashtra’s Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

There have been no cases of tiger poachers being shot or killed in Maharashtra, but guards have been charged in the past for shooting illegal loggers or fishermen, the state’s chief wildlife warden S.W.H. Naqvi told the AP.

The state also announced plans to put more rangers and jeeps on patrol in the forest, and will offer secret payments to those who tip off officials about poachers and animal smugglers, according to the AP.

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51 Japanese Food Items Exceed New Radioactive Safety Standards

RadiationWell, it's good to know Japan's government is seriously testing the food supply. Via the Japan Times:
Radioactive cesium was detected in 51 food products from nine prefectures in excess of a new government-set limit in the first month since it was introduced April 1st, according to data released by the health ministry Tuesday. The limit was exceeded in 337 cases, or 2.4 percent of 13,867 food samples examined by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. Cesium exceeding the previous allowable limit of 500 becquerels per kilogram was detected in 55 cases, while the new limit of 100 becquerels was exceeded in 282 cases. By prefecture, there were 142 cases in Fukushima, 69 in Tochigi, 41 in Ibaraki, 35 in Iwate, 32 in Miyagi, 13 in Chiba, two each in Yamagata and Gunma, and one in Kanagawa.
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Futureconomics of Food

Vandana Shiva writes on the intersections of capitalism, the state, agribusiness, and a burgeoning organic movement in South Asia. Via Al Jazeera:

The economic crisis, the ecological crisis and the food crisis are a reflection of an outmoded and fossilised economic paradigm — a paradigm that grew out of mobilising resources for the war by creating the category of economic “growth” and is rooted in the age of oil and fossil fuels. It is fossilised both because it is obsolete, and because it is a product of the age of fossil fuels. We need to move beyond this fossilised paradigm if we are to address the economic and ecological crisis.

Economy and ecology have the same roots “oikos” — meaning home — both our planetary home, the Earth, and our home where we live our everyday lives in family and community.

But economy strayed from ecology, forgot the home and focused on the market.

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Witches: An Ecofeminist History Lesson

Magic CircleAlison Parker writes in Bitch Magazine:

To me, witches are the quintessential ecofeminists.

“Witch” is a word that was sullied by various groups of long ago, but it’s been reclaimed by herbalists like me. Witches and the word “witch” have many meanings in many cultures, but for the purposes of this post, I will touch on just one context, one dark moment of history: The suppression of witches—or healers who were mainly women—in medieval Europe that went on for centuries, and the themes behind those witch hunts that still appear in society today.

My mind began to swim with this idea of witch-as-ecofeminist while working at a medicinal herb farm as a farmhand long ago. I had been seeding herbs in the greenhouse alongside another worker, who was semi-complaining about the job, but then finally shrugged. “This one is way better than my last job at an herb farm,” she said.

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Natural Selection Driving Human Evolution As Late as the 19th Century

Writes ScienceNow via WIRED Science:

In a world where we’ve tamed our environment and largely protected ourselves from the vagaries of nature, we may think we’re immune to the forces of natural selection. But a new study finds that the process that drives evolution was still shaping us as recently as the 19th century.

The finding comes from an analysis of the birth, death, and marital records of 5,923 people born between 1760 and 1849 in four farming or fishing villages in Finland. Researchers led by evolutionary biologist Alexandre Courtiol of the Institute for Advanced Study Berlin picked this time period because agriculture was well established by then and there were strict rules against divorce and extramarital affairs. The team looked at four aspects of life that affect survival and reproduction, key signposts of natural selection: Who lived beyond age 15, who got married and who didn’t, how many marriages each person had (second marriages were possible only if a spouse died), and how many children were born in each marriage.

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“Too Much Magic” With James Howard Kunstler

"Too Much Magic" With James Howard Kunstler | The DisinfoCast with Matt Staggs: Episode 07 toomuchmagiciTunes | Download (mp3) | RSS | iPhone App

Social critic and peak oil provocateur James Howard Kunstler is on The DisinfoCast to discuss his upcoming book Too Much Magic: Technology, Wishful Thinking and the Fate of the Nation. Kunstler believes that the end of cheap, readily available oil is very near, and with it the collapse of the industrial society as we know it. According to Kunstler, alternative energy sources and other technological solutions are just wishful thinking, and the future that awaits us may very well resemble our past.
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Where’s The Beef? Meat-Seeking Early Humans Wiped Out Most of the Prehistoric Large Animals

SmilodonAnn Gibbons writes on Science:

When human ancestors began scavenging for meat regularly on the open plains of Africa about 2.5 million years ago, they apparently took more than their fair share of flesh. Within a million years, most of the large carnivores in the region—from saber-toothed cats to bear-size otters—had gone extinct, leaving just a few “hypercarnivores” alive, according to a study presented here last week at a workshop on climate change and human evolution at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Humans have driven thousands of species extinct over the millennia, ranging from moas—giant, flightless birds that lived in New Zealand—to most lemurs in Madagascar. But just when we began to have such a major impact is less clear. Researchers have long known that many African carnivores died out by 1.5 million years ago, and they blamed our ancestor, Homo erectus, for overhunting with its new stone tools.

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Wind Turbines That Learn Like Humans

Wind FarmVia ScienceDaily:

Depending on the weather, wind turbines can face whispering breezes or gale-force gusts. Such variable conditions make extracting the maximum power from the turbines a tricky control problem, but a collaboration of Chinese researchers may have found a novel solution in human-inspired learning models.

Most turbines are designed to produce maximum allowable power once winds reach a certain speed, called the rated speed. In winds above or below the rated speed, control systems can make changes to the turbine system, such as modifying the angle of the blades or the electromagnetic torque of the generator.

These changes help keep the power efficiency high in low winds and protect the turbine from damage in high winds. Many control systems rely on complex and computationally expensive models of the turbine’s behavior, but the Chinese group decided to experiment with a different approach.

The researchers developed a biologically inspired control system, described in the American Institute of Physics’ Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, that used memory of past control experiences and their outcomes to generate new actions.

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