Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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7/17/2014
Tags: elephants

Not only do elephants like to get down and boogie to music, some even like to play it. Watch, and listen, as Peter the Elephant plays the piano with his mahout, Pat.

Youtube video posted by Paul Barton

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The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.



7/16/2014

squirrel sq jpg

Squirrels have always been plentiful here — gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and even the occasional flying squirrel. A few years ago, we had a hard freeze in late spring followed by an usual period of drought. Hickory nuts, walnuts, and acorns did not emerge to dot the trees and feed the squirrels. The squirrels died, and I did not see another one for 2 years.

Preparing for Scarcity

So goes nature, feast and famine, flood and drought, plenty and scarcity. As industrious as the squirrels are at preparing for winter, they can’t see what’s coming in these long-term fluctuations and are pretty much at the mercy of these cycles. In good years, they will eat all the mast, grow fat, and have lots of little squirrels. In lean years, starvation will whittle their numbers down to what is sustainable.

And so it is with humans, except that we have the capacity to see the changes that are coming and to alter our behavior accordingly — if we choose. And change is coming. We have spread out over the inhabitable Earth and thrived on its bounty of natural resources. In our current age, we are squeezing/fracking out the last drops of our “mast.” Gas and oil power our civilization and have allowed our numbers to expand.

Unlike acorns and walnuts, new oil is not being formed fast enough to sustain us at our current population level, much less support future growth. If you believe God wanted us to replenish the earth, believe me we’ve done it, and our children, like the squirrel babies of a few years ago, are in for a world of hurt. The best thing we can do for ourselves and the natural world that we are a part of is to control and limit our numbers - now, willingly and of our own accord.

Conflict Over Resources

When resources become scarce, people fight over them. The old are sent off on figurative ice floes, the young die in real wars, and the wealthy grab what’s left and “outlaw” the poor to the far margins of life, eventually pushing them over the edge. The children of the poor will be seen as a scourge - as worse than secondhand smoke, interfering with quality of life for the elite. Human life becomes cheap.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it’s going to take more than recycling and conservation of resources. It’s going to take decreasing our numbers through voluntary population control. We can control our numbers consciously to preserve quality of life for all or we can continue on and it will happen naturally - starvation, disease, war.

Who will survive? and will these people make the kind of neighbors we want to live among? After a long period of hardship and starvation, of watching one another die, we like the squirrels might come back to “replenish” the Earth.



7/15/2014
Tags: ducks

Watch as a brave mama duck leads her ducklings on a harrowing journey across a busy Toronto highway. These cute creatures may be tiny, but they sure are tough.

Youtube video posted by ozebdsheep2

More Videos!

The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.



7/14/2014

on the way to the swimming hole

Here’s how it goes. It’s a hot and dusty day, we’ve worked hard, and it’s not yet time to cook dinner.  We leave the cabin, pass between the scraggly pillars of young balsam to our left and robust cherry sprouts to our right. Jump the hole where we had previously dug a cooler into the ground for summer refrigeration, and step up and over the three-trunk staircase of old pine trees. We head into the woods, walking the well-trodden path along the river’s bank and the shady north slope that brings us past the old sawmill site. The land then levels out to a plateau of hemlock mixed with hardwoods. We arrive at the opposite end of the our property, and the confluence of the South Branch and Rocky Branch of the Baker River.

Here is our swim hole. A natural pool that’s deep and lined with rock; water streams in from the South Branch, warmed by the dam upstream. From the Rocky Branch, water cascades in, jumping and bubbling into the pool over rocks and boulder, much cooler and sparkling.

Early in the season, it’s a matter of much convincing, psyching oneself up to make the plunge, then getting out almost as quickly. Now, though, after a stretch of superbly hot and humid days, it’s refreshing, inviting, and oh-so-comfortable.  

The sun stays shining on this spot until about 3pm, after which the hemlocks on the opposing steep slope shade out the area. Nevertheless, the place doesn’t lose it’s charm. We wade out to our preferred rock slabs, drop our towels and t-shirts, and splash our way in.  

We’ve been taking regular trips of late: upon completing a project, before lunch, after lunch, upon arriving home from work, before dinner, after dinner, after weekend errands ... you name it. It’s our refreshment, our relaxation, our cool-down, our rinse off, and our luxury. We couldn’t feel more fortunate.  

It’s interesting, too, to see how the swimming hole changes with storms and seasons. Just in our few years here we’ve seen big rain events leave boulders in new spots and reshape the water course.  Too, just an evening of pouring rain can leave the confluence high and our favorite rocks underwater.  Consecutive days of hard rain can leave the river muddy, whirling, swift, and dangerous.  Water is powerful, and we don’t let ourselves forget it.

This spot completes the comfort and serenity of our homestead (in our biased opinions, of course!), offering a place of cool refreshment, and wooded beauty that balances the strong sun, physical labor, and verdant plants of our working homesite. It’s one more part of what makes our home a delight.

Garden work is my specialty!  Weeding, planting, mulching and pruning services available, plus edible landscapes and garden designs. Contact Beth via b.a.weick@gmail.com for your annual, perennial, herbal, or ornamental garden needs (see Business Directory listing under ‘Garden Design & Services’).



7/10/2014

Our Electronic Reality by Rahy Christian W

Laptops, phones, mp3 players and other electronic gadgets have become staple commodities in today’s technological era.  Our need for new and improved electronic equipment that becomes obsolete in two or three years has spawned the fastest growing waste stream: e-waste.

The Facts

In 2012 the world purchased 238.5 million televisions, 444.4 million computers and tablets and a staggering 1.75 billion cellphones. Back in 2008, Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resource Defense Council, estimated that in the USA alone we throw out 48 million computers and 100 million cellphones every year. In fact, according to Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, the average US cellphone has a 22 month lifecycle. All these discarded electronics add up to 5-7million tons of ewaste every year from the USA alone. The volume of this electronic waste is expected to increase by 33% by 2020.

What happens to all this obsolete technology? The more conscientious individuals may try to recycle their useless electronics instead of letting them stew in a landfill. However, this task is easier said than done because used electronics are considered hazardous waste and contain toxic components such as lead, mercury, cadmium, phosphors, arsenic, flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride. These products are known carcinogenic substances that can cause liver and kidney damage, mutations and stillbirths and a plethora of other devastating effects to our bodies when not handled and recycled properly. The inadequate dismantling and disposal of e-waste release these toxic substances into the soil and the air, infecting domestic and wild animals alike while poisoning our crops and drinking water. And the bewildering fact is that less than 20% of used electronics are recycled.

Guiyu, China

Another troubling fact is that the lethal byproducts of our electronic consumption, when one actually tries to properly recycle them, are oftentimes just dumped elsewhere. A disturbing reportage done by Scott Pelley for 60 minutes on CBS News back in 2009 provides video footage of the electronic wasteland created in Guiyu China by our failed recycling attempts. We are faced with an unfortunate reality; 80% of our “recycled electronics” actually end up exported to some roadside ditch somewhere far away.

The Solution

So how does one avoid contributing to the creation of an electronic Chernobyl? One solution is to use an ecoATM to recycle our mobile devices. EcoATM is an automated kiosk that buys back most used consumer electronics directly from consumers. The first step is finding the ecoATM closest to you; the ecoATM network is growing, with kiosks opening up all over the country. Then, clean out all your personal data on your phone. You will need your driver’s license and your fingerprints will be scanned during the process; this is done to avoid phone thefts and help return stolen property. The machine offers you a price and the chance to make a donation and then presto, cash for your old device! It should be noted, after reading several online reviews that pretty old phone models are not worth much. Therefore if you just want to make sure you are recycling responsibly, and don’t want to go through what can be a 15 minute process for a mere dollar or two, you can leave your old devices in the donations bin located on the ecoATM. The phones, mp3 players or tablets are refurbished if they can be fixed, and reused, or they are responsibly recycled.

Assorted Cellphones

The key factor in the recycling process is that ecoATM is itself R2 and ISO 14001 certified and only partners with e-waste recyclers who meet R2 or e-Stewards qualifications. The R2 standard is a premier global, environmental, worker health and safety standard for the electronics refurbishing and recycling industry. ISO 14001 certifies that a company or organization has received energy audit training and can identify and control their environmental impact. E-Stewards are a project of the Basel Action Network aka BAN, which was named after the 1997 Basel Convention in which the United Nations ratified a treaty restricting the trade of hazardous wastes, effectively stopping the dumping of lethal waste on developing countries. Interestingly enough, the USA is the only developed country that has not ratified the Basel Convention, making certifications of responsible recycling such as e-steward all the more respected. Thus e-Stewards Certification is used to identify recyclers that adhere to the highest standard of environmental responsibility and worker protection in the electronic recycling, refurbishing and processing industry.

The ecoATM is a great concept, especially for those who would like to receive a couple dollars in exchange for their old electronics. But an ecoATM cannot process old televisions, computer monitors, printers, really old telephones etc. Therefore, using the e-Stewards website to find certified electronic recyclers in your region is the other environmentally sound option.

Innovating ideas, such as the ecoATM provide us with brilliant environmental and business solutions. But they require a clientele who is not turning a blind eye to the dangers of e-waste. It is our responsibility as electronic consumers to ensure our discarded gadgets do not end up poisoning somebody else’s backyard. 



7/9/2014

A few years ago, I had the privilege of presenting a slide show celebrating “Seed People” at the Organic Seed Growers Conference hosted by the Organic Seed Alliance. As the last presenter of the day, I spent the day listening to speakers reflecting on the importance of conserving genetic diversity in the seed world, and  of adapting seed varieties to low-input organic conditions and climate instability. In the face of seed industry consolidation and the GMO monocultures which dominate the agricultural landscape, this all seemed like critical work; the very work that the folks in my slide show (many of whom were in the audience that day) were doing with a passion. As the day moved on I was feeling confident that my presentation would be a fitting ending for the day and leave everyone inspired to continue the important work of breeding, adapting, and growing organic seed to forge a foundation for the burgeoning organic agriculture movement.

True Food System Sustainability

What I was unprepared for that day was the speaker who directly proceeded me. I had the great fortune that afternoon of hearing Fred Kirschenmann of the Leopold Center reflect on the future of agriculture in this country. His talk was both inspiring for the vision he had for moving towards true food system sustainability, and terrifying for the extreme challenges he saw ahead. (Also terrifying for me to have to speak after him!) 

One of the many things I gained from Kirschenmann’s lecture was his reference to a paper by Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute entitled "50 Million Farmers," which I have since read many times. In this seminal essay, Heinberg points out that in a post-fossil fuel era, which is of course inevitable, that it will take one in six of us with our hands in the soil to grow enough food for humanity, as opposed to the current ratio in the U.S. of about one farmer to one hundred eaters. The vision of living in a society where nearly twenty percent of us grow food has been an inspiration for me ever since that day. A lot will have to change to get us there, not least the health of our population.

We often equate the health, or lack thereof, in our food system with the health, or lack thereof in our communities. Our current food system has lead to an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease to name a few ills. Where does this leave us as we look to develop a robust and sustainable, post-carbon food future? Surely one in six of us are not ready for the challenge. While there is a fit and even ultra-fit percentage of our population running, swimming, biking and pumping iron in the gym, many of those folks have little knowledge, time or inclination when it comes to gardening or farming. Those that do have the knowledge base for producing food at scale are largely late middle age, or older and are not necessarily in robust health due to the nature of modern, fossil fuel-based farming and the American lifestyle.

Yoga In The Garden

Photo, above: The author and his son, Jasper, stretching in the garden

A Powerful Question

I recently found myself presenting to another group. This time I was asked to share the work of the Center for an Ecology Based Economy (CEBE) to a group of health and wellness professionals hosted by Healthy Oxford Hills, here in Western Maine. I was also asked to come up with a “powerful question” that the group might dig into to further our thinking and collaboration. All this was to happen in a half-hour. I’m not sure we succeeded completely, but we did begin to realize the interrelated work that we were doing; CEBE focusing on sustainable food, energy, shelter and transport, and the wellness collaborative on the physical health and wellbeing of the community. Of course getting people riding bikes to work, growing organic food and living in eco-villages of energy efficient, earth-friendly dwellings would support the work of the collaborative. What was not so obvious, but began to surface, is that if we are to build a resilient, and ultimately sustainable community, and society at large, we will need healthy able-bodied and inspired people, especially young, strong ones.

Meanwhile, we face a profound challenge: How do we support the work of building a new, dynamic, post-carbon society, based on human-scale agriculture and architecture? On one hand we need to conserve and increase the health and well-being of our current food growers and community builders. To this end, I have been working with a couple of yoga teachers over the last few years to develop a program for gardeners to use yoga practice to turn “back-breaking” labor, into a “back-building” labor of love. It goes something like this: You develop a modest yoga practice in the off-season to increase flexibility, build strength and increase awareness of body and breath. You enter the growing season fit and with a new understanding of body mechanics, breathing, counter-posing against repetitive motion, and you build and maintain fitness in the garden. Invite your friends and it’s almost as fun as going to the gym or yoga studio, or a lot more fun depending on your point of view. As a bonus you get to eat like a yogi. My friend Katey Branch of Halls Pond Healing Arts and I will be teaching a Yoga for Gardeners workshop at the Alan Day Community Garden in Norway, (Maine, not the country) on July 26. If you are in the neighborhood, please come join us. It’s free.

Yoga For Gardeners Workshop

Photo, above: A Yoga For Gardeners Workshop at the Center for an Ecology Based Economy

I have a lot of friends in the community that belong to a gym and practice something called “True Strength.” They are undoubtedly the fittest bunch in town, maybe even more than the spandex-clad cycling group that rides the gorgeous and hilly back roads of the area every week, although many are the same folks. As a farmer, homesteader and timber framer, I and a few work buddies often speculate on how much work we could get done if we could only harvest that “true strength” and put it to the work of building those gardens and dwellings that we will so desperately need to feed and house a growing population in a future of dwindling resources. Somehow we need to make it as sexy and fun as a trip to the gym or hard ride on a fast bike.

There is much to be learned by the growers and builders from the yogis and athletes about how to use our bodies to the best effect and build strength and wellness in the process. There is equally as much for the fitness buffs to learn about the critical work of building healthy, resilient communities and restoring the earth for future generations, and achieving the same excitement of peak athletic experience in the process. Bring on the Homestead Olympics!

Grow strong!



7/9/2014

What’s your favorite outdoor activity? Whether it’s swimming, hiking, boating or fishing, don’t forget to protect your skin and eyes from the sun when you head outside to enjoy long summer days. The sun emits radiation in the form of ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV radiation is highest when and where the sun’s rays are the strongest. This means that UV levels will be highest around noon on a clear sunny day, as well as during the summer months. UV levels will also be highest near surfaces that reflect sunlight, like water, snow and sand.

Exposure to UV can cause sunburn (ouch!), skin aging, eye damage and skin cancer – the most common form of cancer in the United States – and an estimated 76,100 U.S. residents will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2014 (See state data). But there’s good news: skin cancer and other effects of UV exposure are largely preventable.

UV Protection Tips

Tip: July is UV Safety Month, a great time to brush-up on strategies for staying safe – and having fun! – in the sun.

• Know before you go: Check the UV Index, which provides a forecast of the expected risk of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun.

• Wear sunscreen: Sunscreens with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 and higher provide protection by preventing UV radiation from reaching your skin. Reapply every two hours and after swimming, working or exercising outside.

• Wear sunglasses: Protect your eyes with sunglasses that have 100 percent UV protection. Check the label for the protection level.

• Work and play in the shade: When you are outside, seek shade. Wear tightly woven clothing and a wide brimmed hat to reduce the amount of UV radiation coming into contact with your skin.

Learn more about UV safety from EPA’s SunWise program and the .

Estimated Number of New Cases of Melanoma by State

 (Source: American Cancer Society)

Alabama 1,320 Louisiana 750 Oklahoma 650
Alaska 90 Maine 440 Oregon 1,440
Arizona 1,430 Maryland 1,400 Pennsylvania 3,820
Arkansas 490 Massachusetts 1,800 Rhode Island 260
California 8,440 Michigan 2,830 South Carolina 1,350
Colorado 1,400 Minnesota 1,030 South Dakota 200
Connecticut 1,090 Mississippi 560 Tennessee 1,910
Delaware 290 Missouri 1,510 Texas 3,420
District of Columbia 80 Montana 290 Utah 770
Florida 5,320 Nebraska 460 Vermont 220
Georgia 2,180 Nevada 470 Virginia 2,130
Hawaii 410 New Hampshire 400 Washington 2,410
Idaho 450 New Jersey 2,590 West Virginia 540
Illinois 2,440 New Mexico 470 Wisconsin 1,440
Indiana 1,550 New York 4,240 Wyoming 150
Iowa 980 North Carolina 2,540 United States Total 76,100
Kansas 780 North Dakota 160    
Kentucky 1,540 Ohio 3,170

(Sources: EPA SunWise Program. “Action Steps for Sun Safety.” ; “Skin Cancer Facts for Your State,” ;  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Federal Occupational Health. “What’s Your UV:IQ?” ; American Cancer Society. (2014). Cancer Facts and Figures: 2014. Retrieved March 6, 2013, from)












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