Tag Archives | Ecology

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

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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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Vice’s Hamilton Morris Interviewed on Hallucinogenic Fish

Shiny FishVia Technoccult:

In 2006 two men cooked and ate a fish which they had caught in the Western Mediterranean. Minutes after ingesting the fish frightening visual and auditory hallucinations began to overcome them. These intense visions lasted 36 hours. The fish they had caught was a Sarpa Salpa. A species of Sea Bream which is commonly found off the coast of South Africa and Malta and can induce icthyoallyeinotoxism, a condition also known as hallucinogenic fish poisoning.

I recently learned that Vice columnist Hamilton Morris is assembling a team to capture and analyze a live sample of Sarpa Salpa. Morris is a writer and filmmaker and expert in anything psychoactive. In his column for Vice, Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, he mixes his subjective experiences with insights into pharmacology, neurology and chemistry. In one column he traveled to the Amazonian jungle to have the secretions of a “shamanic” frog burnt into his arm.

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I’m Back: First Case of Mad Cow in the U.S. in Six Years

BullReports Elizabeth Campbell in the Washington Post:

The first time mad cow disease appeared in the U.S., beef exports plunged 82 percent. More than six years later, the discovery of an infected dairy cow in California may do little to prevent shipments from surging to a record for a second straight year.

U.S. beef sales to buyers including Mexico, China and Japan will jump 6 percent to 1.34 million metric tons in 2012, exceeding last year’s record, which the government valued at $4.7 billion, said Global AgriTrends, a Denver-based researcher that advises meat companies, investment banks and hedge funds. The company affirmed its forecast after the U.S. reported its fourth case of mad cow since 2003 and first since 2006.

Detection of the tainted carcass before it entered the human food chain should bolster confidence that U.S. meat is safe, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said yesterday, as cattle prices rebounded in Chicago.

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The Stories We Tell and the Future We Create

Rade writes at A Lament for the Tir Nan Og:

It is fashionable, and unfortunate, that among people interested in living sustainably, having children is often seems as part and parcel with the downfall of everything good.  The usual statistics showing how the average America uses an exorbitant amount of energy and resources per-capita are presented, which I think in a subtle way, denigrates the message of a sustainable life.  It is as though people who are most committed to sustainable living are telling a story that says their children will follow the usual path of leaving home, setting out on their own and will eventually become SUV driving, McMansion dwelling boobs.  The question of who will take the sustainable way of living into the future is not dealt with (in most cases).  This is perhaps what I see as the biggest problem with the Permaculture movement as I understand it (aside from the fact that, like every movement, there seem to be a great many who want to put the “cult” in Permaculture).

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Monsanto’s Roundup Can Cause Amphibians to Change Shape

RoundupThese people have to be stopped. Via ScienceDaily:

The world’s most popular weed killer, Roundup®, can cause amphibians to change shape, according to research recently published in Ecological Applications.Rick Relyea, University of Pittsburgh professor of biological sciences in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and director of Pitt’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology, demonstrated that sublethal and environmentally relevant concentrations of Roundup® caused two species of amphibians to alter their morphology. According to Relyea, this is the first study to show that a herbicide can induce morphological changes in a vertebrate animal.

Relyea set up large outdoor water tanks that contained many of the components of natural wetlands. Some tanks contained caged predators, which emit chemicals that naturally induce changes in tadpole morphology (such as larger tails to better escape predators). After adding tadpoles to each tank, he exposed them to a range of Roundup® concentrations. After 3 weeks, the tadpoles were removed from the tanks.

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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Entered Food Chain in the Gulf of Mexico

Deepwater HorizonVia ScienceDaily:

Since the explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, scientists have been working to understand the impact that this disaster has had on the environment. For months, crude oil gushed into the water at a rate of approximately 53,000 barrels per day before the well was capped on July 15, 2010.

A new study confirms that oil from the Macondo well made it into the ocean’s food chain through the tiniest of organisms, zooplankton.Tiny drifting animals in the ocean, zooplankton are useful to track oil-derived pollution. They serve as food for baby fish and shrimp and act as conduits for the movement of oil contamination and pollutants into the food chain. The study confirms that not only did oil affect the ecosystem in the Gulf during the blowout, but it was still entering the food web after the well was capped.

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