Nature and Environment

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1/14/2015

Addiction-Environement

For an increasing number of Americans, the writing is on the wall when it comes to climate change. We have achieved scientific consensus, and the international community has finally recognized the shared responsibility that this problem represents.

Even so, skeptics remain who argue that accelerating climate change is neither humanity’s fault nor our responsibility.

What might be a little less taxing for the human imagination is the fact that we constantly affect the natural world around us in smaller and more easily observable ways. And one of the unexpected ways this happens concerns the worldwide illegal drug trade.

Let’s take a quick look at some of our drugs of choice and how they bring harm to the world’s already-fragile ecosystems.

Marijuana

Let’s ignore for a moment that 51 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization; that’s a debate for another day. We’re going to focus instead on some of the unintentional collateral damage of our fondness for cannabis.

Among the casualties are America’s national parks – particularly those in the Western US. Sequoia National Forest, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, is reportedly a popular haunt for some of Mexico’s drug traffickers who wish to stay under the radar. Their presence constitutes a risk to protected forests, which are often cut down to make room for staging areas and even runways.

Cocaine

But even cartel presence on protected land pales in comparison with the wholesale deforestation in Colombia. The thriving cocaine trade has taken a significant toll there, where it’s estimated that about 21.5 percent of the country’s coca fields were created by cutting down primary forests.

The cocaine trade spreads environmental damage other ways as well; in Peru and Uzbekistan, chemical agents known as mycotoxins have been in use since the 1980s in an effort to eradicate illegal crops and curb the spread of drugs. The problem is that these chemicals are known to be harmful to both humans and animals. The unauthorized use of mycotoxins constitutes a breach of the Biological Weapons Convention.

Prescription Drugs

Let’s take a moment to explore a problem that lives a little closer to home: in our medicine cabinets, to be exact. Antibiotics have done amazing things for our quality of life, but they also pose a significant risk to us any time they’re disposed of improperly, which happens all the time.

Research out of South Carolina indicates that, of the 128,000,000 prescriptions filled in the state each year, about 40 percent of it is never taken and eventually finds its way into the water table after people either flush them down the toilet or throw them out.

The damage goes far beyond “mere” water pollution; the problem actually exists at the cellular level. Medication in the water supply has the nasty habit of creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a phenomenon that results in a reported 65,000 deaths per year in the US.

A Shared Responsibility

This has been just a brief look at some of the ways that the chemicals we use to alter our bodies and minds may also alter the world around us. For a more comprehensive look, Clarity Way’s newest infographic (portion of the infographic pictured above) is well worth a look.

This isn’t about fear mongering or beating the Zero Tolerance drum. Drug policy is a complex issue, and one that will likely challenge us for a long time to come.

In the meantime, smaller battles can be won every time we recognize a new way that our habits hold the world hostage.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/13/2015

natural gas

In an effort to live a greener, more eco-friendly lifestyle, you may be questioning the way you’re heating your home. This is especially true for those living in houses which are fitted with natural gas furnaces.

While the word natural is contained within the description of this fuel source, there’s great debate about how truly renewable and organic it may be.

Where Natural Gas Comes From

First, it’s critical to understand where and how we actually get natural gas. The gas, which is a combination of mostly methane mixed with other gases, occurs as a geological formation within the Earth. Once a large enough amount has been discovered, it is tapped by drilling wells. Using specialized equipment, the gas that is released from these wells is brought to the surface of the Earth and ultimately distributed to users across a region.

At first glance, this process seems to be entirely green; after all, we are taking a naturally occurring fuel and simply bringing it into our structures to burn. However, there are more elements to this picture to consider when determining the greenness of this product.

The Top Issues With Natural Gas

While the gas itself is natural, the methods used to bring it to market may be disconcerting for some people who want to live in an environmentally conscientious way. For instance, the machines that are utilized at drill sites use a wide variety of other fuels, including diesel fuel, oil and electricity (which is sometimes created using coal) to complete their jobs. This means that fossil fuels may be burned at high rates to get natural gas into our homes.

Another concern is that fracking – a method of bringing natural gas to the surface of the ground – may contribute to water pollution because chemicals are used. The levels of toxicity within the water and soil due to fracking is much debated among scientists, and is being studied widely to determine its validity as an argument against finding and uncovering natural gas. Additionally, when deposits of natural gas are removed, there is the chance for mini-earthquakes to occur.

In terms of renewability, natural gas is essentially a limited commodity. Although new sources of natural gas are being uncovered across the nation and world, it takes hundreds of thousands of years for reserves to be built back up. This means there will likely be some point in the future when natural gas is no longer feasible as an affordable fuel.

A final concern is that although methane only releases carbon dioxide and water when it is burned, any methane that escapes during the drilling process stays in the air for more than a decade. This may or may not be contributing to climate change.

Alternatives to Natural Gas

For green-driven consumers whose questions about natural gas production and usage create a desire to find an alternative fuel source, possibilities do exist. These can include burning wood, choosing solar power, harnessing wind power, using biofuels like sunflower oil or trying (pricey) radiant heat.  

Of course, if you don’t have the cash on hand to completely redo your heating system, you can always take the path of least harm. In the winter, you can simply keep the thermostat as low as possible, wear heavier clothing, insulate windows and doors, and use space heaters.

Just remember to follow recommended safety precautions when you’re using a natural gas furnace; this means being able to recognize any problems before they become major disasters.

Key Takeaways to Remember:

1. It’s critical to remember that when discussing natural gas or any heating source, we must always think beyond the obvious.

2. It isn’t just the fuel itself that makes it green, but how that fuel is brought into your home, how often it needs to be replenished and what it leaves in our atmosphere.

3. In the end, every homeowner must make the best decision for his or her family based on all the facts.

What are your thoughts about using natural gas for energy? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Photo by kobiecanka


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


1/9/2015

Seed Sharing Header

Sharing seeds is an innocent enough practice — people plant seeds, grow food, harvest it, save the seeds, and share the best ones with their neighbors. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years. But recently, seed sharing has come under attack. In June, agriculture officials in Pennsylvania cracked down on the Joseph T. Simpson public library’s seed library, stating that in order to comply with state law, the seeds needed to be put through burdensome, cost-prohibitive seed-testing procedures. Other states have followed suit.

But seed activists are fighting back. The Sustainable Economies Law Center has partnered with Shareable, Richmond Grows, and other seed sharing organizations on a multifaceted-campaign, including a petition urging state officials to protect seed libraries from aggressive regulation. The focus of the campaign is to get the word out about seed issues, educate people on the importance of sharing seeds, and address unnecessary legal restrictions placed on seed libraries.

9 Ways to Join the Seed Movement

Want to join the seed movement? Here are nine ways to get involved.

1. Use your local seed library. First things first: find a seed library and connect with the seed activists near you to find out what’s being done with the seed movement on a local level. SeedLibraries' “sister libraries” resource is a listing of nearly 400 seed libraries around the world.

2. If there isn't a seed library near you, start one. Seed libraries may be one of those things you can’t have too many of. Perhaps one day we’ll have an over-abundance of seed libraries. Until then, the more the merrier. Starting a seed library is definitely something you can do. Read Shareable's guide and check out Seed Libraries' website for more information.

Seed Sharing Petition

3. Protect your right to share seeds, sign the petition. Care about seed diversity and the future of seed libraries? Want to help protect seeds from being regulated into extinction? Sign the Legalize Seeds petition. Sponsored by the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Shareable, and Richmond Grows Seeds, the petition calls on the directors of all 50 U.S. State Departments of Agriculture to issue a public statement declaring that their state’s Department of Agriculture’s seed enforcement policy does not include seed libraries, and begin implementing regulations formalizing this policy.

4. Get educated. Check out the Community Seed Resource Program. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is on a mission to “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.” SSE also offers dozens of educational resources. The Community Seed Resource Program, a collaboration between SSE and Seed Matters, provides tools and guidance for creating seed-focused events, exchanges, libraries and gardens. Resources offered include community seed toolkits, including seeds, educational tools, and seed saving supplies; access to SSE's national seed exchange; and mentorship.

5. Get the ultimate seed saving handbook, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth

Widely considered the best book about seed saving, Seed to Seed is a detailed guide of specific techniques for saving the seeds of 160 vegetables. Covering everything from botanical classification, flower structure and means of pollination to the proper methods for harvesting, drying, cleaning, and storing the seeds, the book also provides regional knowledge from seed experts around the US.

Handful of Seeds

6. Teach the kids using Handful of Seeds: Seed Saving and Seed Study for Educators. Created by the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, a non-profit education center in Sonoma County that works to promote ecologically and culturally resilient communities, A Handful of Seeds is an introductory seed-saving curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade. Seed saving can be used to teach science, language arts, math, social science, drama, music and more and the guide is a useful starting point for a variety of garden and environmental programs.

7. Join the Organic Seed Alliance. The Organic Seed Alliance is on a mission to advance “the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed." Through research, education, and advocacy, the organization "addresses the consolidation of the seed industry by empowering regional seed networks to create change locally and nationally." Among the alliance's offerings are events, publications, webinars, and a seed saving guide for gardeners and farmers.

8. Read the Guide to Saving Seed, Seed Stewardship, and Seed Sovereignty Created by the Seed Ambassadors Project, an Oregon-based group of seed stewards with a global perspective, this guide is a collection of seed information and know-how created as a way to share the collective seed knowledge of the Seed Ambassadors to secure a resilient future. As the guide states, “We are losing diversity, biological and social, at an unprecedented rate. This erosion of diversity directly limits our ecological and social resilience and adaptability within this changing world.”

9. Find the other seed activists. Join the Seed Library Social Network The Seed Library Social Network brings seed activists to together online to brainstorm and strategize. Created in 2011 by seed activists working at the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Demeter Seed Library, the network now includes members from around the world.

A version of this article originally appeared on Shareable.

Top photo: Kate Ter Haar (CC-BY).

Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/8/2015

 RedPoll

The dark days of winter are upon us in the Northern Hemisphere. By the time Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year, most birds have migrated to their winter locations, following their food sources. In northern latitudes, year-round residents continue to forage, even on the coldest winter days. Do you ever ask yourself, how do they survive?

Birds have evolved over thousands of years to survive seasonal changes. Keeping warm is a high priority. Access to quality, sheltered roosting sites, such as in large conifers, means birds have places to hunker down for long storms. In the winter, birds often roost early, before the sun sets, anticipating that temperatures will drop quickly. They frequently will puff out their plumage while roosting, creating heat pockets in their down-covered bodies. Titmice, chickadees, and bluebirds seek shelter in the holes of trees — sometimes old woodpecker nesting cavities. Goldfinches and redpolls grow extra feathers in the winter, increasing their insulation. And all birds who experience colder than normal temperatures can shiver. Black-capped Chickadees normally maintain a temperature of 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but if temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, they are adapted to shift their body temperature to around 86 degrees Fahrenheit and shiver through the night to survive. Many birds, including chickadees and hummingbirds, can enter a state of torpor in which their respiration and other body processes are slowed, conserving energy until they can forage for their next meal.

Chickadee 

Keeping warm takes a lot of energy (a chickadee can lose up to 25 percent of its body weight in a single cold night) and finding enough food in northern latitudes during winter is tricky business. Survival is often dictated by the availability of native habitat. Native flowers such as cockscomb, aster, purple coneflower, sunflower, daisy, goldenrod, tall marigold, and zinnia, develop seed-rich flower heads with supportive stalks that can withstand early snow storms. For larger-billed birds such as woodpeckers, jays, juncos, and sparrows — native pine, spruce, and fir provide power-packed seeds buried beneath the cone scales.

Birds are survivors. In the presence of native habitat, they have numerous adaptations to maximize their survival. So the number one thing you can do to protect birds in the winter? Preserve or plant native habitat and work to encourage your community to follow suit.  

 Swallows

Top 5 Things You Can Do at Home For Birds During Winter

1. Next spring or fall, plant native conifers and flowering plants that can withstand the snow while providing shelter and/or a food source.

2. Forget fall garden clean-up! Leave your native flowers in the garden without deadheading or pulling them.

3. Dead snag, cavity-filled, trees should be left standing to provide shelter, unless they are a danger to people or buildings.

4. Keep nest boxes up year round, some birds may escape inside them to stay warm during a storm.

5. And, for those that love to support birds with feeders and bird baths, brush snow off bird feeders as soon as possible during a heavy snowstorm and keep unfrozen fresh water available.*

To learn more about birds, bird-friendly backyard and native plants, visit us on-line YardMap or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

* Though many people enjoy feeding birds, planting and maintaining native habitat in and around your home and community is still the best choice for bird conservation.

Reference: Roth, Sally. (2009) Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season. Rodale Publishing


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


1/5/2015

Beside my ecotourism blogs, I’ve delved into some of the latest happenings within specific industries, like toys or recreational boating. This blog is no different, exploring the restaurant industry.

Even the hardiest of homesteaders may find themselves out on the road (perhaps at a MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR), looking around for a place to eat. In fact, the restaurant industry’s share of the American food dollar has risen from 25 percent in 1955 to 47 percent today, according to the National Restaurant Association. Of course, many of you grow upwards of 50 to 70 percent of your own food. Like us, you prepare much of it in your own kitchen, too.

However, during a visit to the NRA’s Restaurant Show this past May, my wife and I had a chance to taste how eating out — or in our home kitchen — can be better for the environment and our pocketbook.

Below are a few of our green finds, some for the home and others to bring up with your waiter next time you’re out for a bite.

1. Sip wine by the bag.

For those of us who don’t make our own wine from dandelions or farm-fresh fruit, Bonfire Wines’ Ignite and Ember, white and red wine blends respectively, ingeniously solve numerous issues associated with savoring wine at the same time. Their portable wine pouch uses fewer raw materials, chills in 65 percent less time, and has a fraction of the weight and space needs of traditional bottles — thus cutting down both transportation costs and carbon dioxide emissions related to hauling them around. The wine pouch's innovative built-in spout keeps the wine fresh for four weeks after opening.

Bonfire Wines

“Our packaging has fewer raw materials and an improved product-to-package ratio,” says Eric Steigelman, Bonfire Wines Founder and CEO, as he serves up a glass of his Ignite wine at the show. “Overall, our packaging creates 80 percent less carbon footprint than the equivalent glass bottle.” The math: one truckload of pouches saves fourteen truckloads of glass bottles; each pouch is 98 percent less weight than the equivalent glass bottle.

We sampled and enjoyed both their Ignite sweet white wine and Ember sweet red wine blends. Can’t wait until they come out with an organic option.

2. Skip the aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Instead, use the COOKINA Cuisine Reusable Cooking Sheet from Poirier Richard Inc. The cooking sheet creates a non-stick, easy-to-clean alternative to aluminum foil, parchment or wax paper. Place it on your sheet pan or baking tray to bake without oil. The sheet is easy to clean with soap and water afterwards and does not hold odors or flavors from previous uses. It is 100 percent non-stick and PFOA-free, reusable and reversible. The company also makes a COOKINA Gard Oven Protector to catch spills and a COOKINA Grilling Sheet for barbecues.  We should have picked these up years ago, given all the time, energy and water saved just in cleaning our cooking sheets before we discovered these.

3. Compost Your Disposables

Thanks to products like Stalk Market, Jaya and Planet+ Compostable Products from Asean, when using a reusable container is not possible, choosing disposable cups, plates, boxes or cutlery made from rapidly renewable natural materials like sugar cane, corn sugars, plant sugars and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood pulp is the next best thing. After all, compost is essential to any organic farming operation. Styrofoam is, well, so last Century.

4. Eat More Mussels

For seafood lovers, farmed mussels are one of the better options when dining out, especially given that more than 75 percent of the planet’s fish stocks are overly exploited. Rope-grown mussels do not require supplemental feeding since they filter tiny plankton from the water as their food, actually improving the water quality as they grow. Nor are they raised in crowded pens.

Quality, food safety and environmental stewardship guide Atlantic Aqua Farms’ certified organic mussel farming and processing in the pristine waters of Prince Edward Island in Canada. Marketed under the Canadian Cove brand, the rope-cultured mussels have been certified as an Ocean Wise Seafood Choice by the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. The company also introduced the first 100 percent recyclable mussel pack.

5. Support Restaurants That Go Green

When you’re on the road and hunger pangs hit, consult the Green Restaurant Association’s listing of certified restaurants that had to exceed comprehensive evaluation criteria that cover everything from food sourcing to restaurant material décor and energy efficiency. Their Dine Green section lets you research possible restaurants to try out, many in cities where MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS are held, like Asheville, North Carolina.

The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve program, started in 2008, also helps push operators to implement conservation practices that are good for the environment and their bottom line. “Diners want to learn as much as possible about what they’re eating,” said Jeff Clark, director of the NRA’s Conserve sustainability program. “They want to know why something tastes a certain way, how a farmer planted it and how far it traveled to get to a restaurant. Chefs and operators know this and are embracing it. They understand their guests are seeking foods that are good for them, flavorful, and minimally impact the environment.”

6. Savor Numi Organic Teas

Certified organic, verified non-GMO, Fair Trade Certified and made with 100 percent real ingredients (aka, not “natural” flavorings), Numi Organic Indulgent Teas feature Chocolate Rooibos, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate Earl Grey and Chocolate Spice. With 45 to 55 percent cacao blended into each tea bag, these aromatic, flavorful and rich teas live up to their chocolaty names but without the calories and expense of a mocha latte.

(Top) Photo courtesy Bonfire Wines.

(Bottom) Photo courtesy COOKINA.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



12/12/2014

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

When you spot a bird in flight or perched on a fence row and you simply can't rest until you know what kind of bird it is, what family it belongs to, where it ranges and how it sounds, then you, my fine-feathered friend, may be a birder. And this encyclopedic bird guide may be just the thing for your bird-watching pleasure.

At 700+ pages, the National Geographic Complete Birds of North America probably isn't something you'll schlep around with you on a camping trip, and, arguably, an app might be more useful in the field. (The smaller, lighter-weight National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America would be easier for schlepping.) Still this big book is a large delight. I spent an afternoon dreamily thumbing through it as I did when I was a kid, sitting in my room surrounded by encyclopedias. I had no particular destination, and I certainly enjoyed the journey.

This second edition is a fully revised and updated version of National Geographic's most popular birding guide, with fascinating, detailed information on more than 1,000 species of birds. Edited by best-selling birding author and field-guide illustrator Jonathan Alderfer, the book is a comprehensive reference that covers all North American wild bird species, as well as a variety of exotic species that are already becoming established or simply frequently visiting our climes.

More than 4,000 annotated illustrations by expert bird artists fill its pages, along with color photos and updated range and migration maps. More than 800 maps can be found in this edition, showing range, routes and historical data.

My one complaint is with the index, which required a bit of frustrating detective work on a couple of species. It seems intuitive that, if I want to read about the Tennessee Warbler, for example, somewhere in the index I might locate it under "Tennessee" or "Warblers." I did find it (see below), but only after thumbing through several pages on "Warblers."

If you have a birder on your holiday gift list, this might be precisely the thing to delight and inspire them. It is available on the National Geographic website as well as other retail outlets.

By the way, if you want a way to identify birdsong when you're out in the field, some dandy apps can be had for not too much money. The Nature Conservancy has rated several, and the comments on their blog provide additional feedback. I like iBird Pro, designed for iPhone or iPad, which has been around for years, and friends who have Android phones have recommended the Peterson's app.

Here are some illustrations to give a sense of the visual detail and bird-y personality found in National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, Second Edition. Many illustrations are new to this edition and replace those in the first edition.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler
Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt

This diminutive but full-throated singer nests on the ground at the base of small shrubs or trees, loves to eat spruce budworms and can be found in forests and bogs. Adults are less than 5 inches long, but those tiny wings take them from Southern Mexico and Panama up to the Great Lakes area and even into Canada. If that doesn't make you feel better about taking a walk today, what will?

Mallard Ducks (Anas Platyrhynchos)

Mallard Ducks
Illustration by Cynthia J. House

When I say, "Duck," you'll probably see "Mallard." The most widely recognized (and widely distributed) duck in North America, mallards can be found throughout most of Canada and the United States (other than Hawaii). The male have a distinctive, flirty flip of feathers at the tip of their tails, and both sexes feature distinctive bright blue speculum feathers that telegraph, "I am a mallard and don't you forget it!"

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Barn Swallows
Illustration by David Quinn

This beautiful, ubiquitous bird is familiar throughout North America. Their striking blue crown and back contrasted with the rich dark-cream to rusty-brown under-parts look designed by someone paying close attention to a color chart. Though their cup-sized mud nests can be an annoyance when they're plastered to your barn, they're a lovely bird to watch as they kite across the skies.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Northern Cardinal
Illustration by Diane Pierce

These spiky-headed singers are found in gardens, thickets, woods and backyards throughout the eastern part of the U.S. and Mexico. The male's vibrant plumage makes him an especially welcome backyard bird, along with his mate, who is more discreetly decked out in her subtle buff and brown motif. 

Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)

Pine Grosbeak
Illustration by Diane Pierce

This plump little finch is a "true" finch, unlike those phony waxbills and buntings that often are mistaken for finches. It's sort of the pug of the bird kingdom, with a stubby, curved bill that can make quick work of the seeds, buds, berries and bugs that form its diet.

Cover and all illustrations courtesy National Geographic Complete Birds of America, 2nd Edition


K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. She grew up in rural Oklahoma where watching wildlife was called "childhood." Find her on .



12/11/2014

NYC

“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.”― Edward O. Wilson

As the holidays approach, many of us scatter to all parts of the globe to celebrate the passing of another year with our families, or close friends who are chosen family. Wherever you find yourself over the holidays, take note of the frequency with which you find yourself drawn to, or immersed in, nature. With time away from our day to day existence, some people gravitate toward green spaces, or snow-covered open spaces, for those in northern latitudes. Why do some find themselves drawn to these natural places when there is time to relax and reflect? According to one of the most eminent biologists of our time, E.O. Wilson, it is because the natural world is essential to what it means to be human--to what it means to feel whole.

For the first time in human history more than 50 percent of the world's population lives in urban environments. In the U.S. this number is closer to 80 percent. We are inhabitants of built environments, which are hugely fragmented, carving green space up into smaller and smaller areas. With this can come a separation from that which makes us feel whole.

Community green spaces may have a vital role to play in mitigating the detrimental effects of urban life by providing a critical outlet to reconnect people to nature. Aside from providing a place for mental and emotional peace, these spaces also combat the urban heat island effect, reduce air pollution, reduce city noise, and increase the health of city inhabitants by providing a place to exercise. They also provide wildlife habitat in otherwise low biodiversity areas. Preliminary research reveals that animals can thrive in conjunction with urban landscapes, like the bumblebee populations that take refuge in San Francisco city parks. City planners, designers, and urban landscapers are taking E.O. Wilson’s words of wisdom to heart and redefining what it means to be urban by taking the role of green spaces in city life seriously.

Chicago

YardMap is a part of a growing movement to encourage green spaces in our communities. In addition to nearly 9,000 maps of homes--429 schools, 254 city parks, 237 nature preserves,126 community gardens, and 66 offices are documented. Many of these community sites are mapped in and around urban areas. This does not even include the growing use of wildlife medians and curbside storm water gardens as a means to both protect natural resources and green our urban landscapes.

San Francisco

Even while our understanding of the complexities of human/nature systems grows it is clear there is still work to be done in our more urban spaces. Individual gardens on private property are the most common place that urbanites find green spaces. The next wave of this green space movement is to supercede viewing our isolated gardens as individual entities by piecing together all the gardens that exist in our urban centers. How can all these spaces benefit from being seen as a small part of a larger whole? This unification will make our cities even more habitable to bird, bees, butterflies — and humans —by creating green or wildlife corridors. Similar to work done by conservation biologists who are building strategic bridges, overpasses and underpasses for mammals near busy roads, creating green corridors in cities provides space for urban wildlife to move more safely, and with greater access to resources in the urban environment.

Our urban ethos is shifting. We can seek a sense of community everyday in the places we inhabit and with the people who share our built environments. We can connect daily, not just around the holidays. Community green space can be at the center of those connections. Take an inventory of what is around you, and consider getting to know it well enough to add it to your YardMap.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.












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