Nature and Environment

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

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7/3/2014

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $1.8 million in grants for the research and management of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal infection that has killed millions of hibernating bats in eastern North America since it was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006-2007.

Funding was granted to eight projects at universities in New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Projects include studies to better understand bat immune responses to WNS, investigations into methods to control the disease, and ways to examine the molecular infrastructure of the fungus that causes WNS (Pseudogymnoascus destructans), and other cave-dwelling fungi.

“Bats are fascinating animals that are vital for a healthy environment. We are hopeful that these investments into research will get us closer to getting the upper hand on this devastating disease,” said Wendi Weber, co-chair of the White-Nose Syndrome Executive Committee and Service Northeast Regional Director.

Since 2008, the Service has granted more than $17.5 million to institutions and federal and state agencies for WNS research and response. This year’s grants are the second round of WNS research funding awarded by the Service. $1.4 million was awarded to federal agencies that provided matching funds for research and response to the disease.  Another $1.5 million is currently available for state wildlife agencies on www.grants.gov.

“Scientists from around the world are working together to understand this devastating disease, and to develop the tools to manage WNS and conserve our native bats,” said Dr. Jeremy Coleman, the Service’s national WNS coordinator. “Findings from past research have led to improved methods for detecting P. destructans; development of potential tools to slow disease spread and treat infected bats, and the development of a national bat population monitoring program.”

Funding for the grants was provided through the Service’s Endangered Species Recovery and Science Applications programs.

Additional information about WNS is available at www.WhiteNoseSyndrome.org/.

Connect with our white-nose syndrome Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwswns,
follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfws_wns
and download photos from our Flickr page.



7/3/2014

maize

GMOSeralini.org welcomes the news of the republication of the chronic toxicity study on the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup and a commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize, Monsanto’s NK603, led by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini. The republication restores the study to the peer-reviewed literature so that it can be consulted and built upon by other scientists.

The study found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize and low levels of Roundup that are below those permitted in drinking water in the EU. Toxic effects were found from the GM maize tested alone, as well as from Roundup tested alone and together with the maize. Additional unexpected findings were higher rates of large tumours and mortality in most treatment groups.

The study was first published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) in September 2012 but was retracted by the editor-in-chief in November 2013 after a sustained campaign of criticism and defamation by pro-GMO scientists.

Now the study has been republished by Environmental Sciences Europe. The republished version contains extra material addressing criticisms of the original publication. The raw data underlying the study’s findings are also published – unlike the raw data for the industry studies that underlie regulatory approvals of Roundup, which are kept secret. However, the new paper presents the same results as before and the conclusions are unchanged.

The republished study is accompanied by a separate commentary by Prof Séralini’s team describing the lobbying efforts of GMO crop supporters to force the editor of FCT to retract the original publication.

GMOSeralini.org editor Claire Robinson commented: “This study has now successfully passed no less than three rounds of rigorous peer review.

“The first was for the initial publication of the study in Food and Chemical Toxicology. It passed with only minor revisions, according to the authors.

“The second review took months. It involved a non-transparent examination of Prof Séralini’s raw data by a secret panel of unnamed persons organized by the editor-in-chief of FCT, A. Wallace Hayes, in response to criticisms of the study by pro-GMO scientists.

“In a letter to Prof Séralini, Hayes admitted that the anonymous reviewers found nothing ‘incorrect’ about the results presented. However, Hayes pointed to what he said was the ‘inconclusive’ nature of some aspects of the paper, namely the tumour and mortality observations, to justify his decision to retract the study.

“The rationale given for the retraction was widely criticized by scientists as an act of censorship and a bow to the interests of the GMO industry. Some scientists pointed out that numerous published scientific papers contain inconclusive findings, including Monsanto’s own short (90-day) study on the same GM maize, and have not been retracted. The retraction was even condemned by a former member of the editorial board of FCT.

“Now the study has passed a third peer review arranged by the journal that is republishing the study, Environmental Sciences Europe.

Comments From Scientists

Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist based in London, commented, “Few studies would survive such intensive scrutiny by fellow scientists. The republication of the study after three expert reviews is a testament to its rigour, as well as to the integrity of the researchers.

“If anyone still doubts the quality of this study, they should simply read the republished paper. The science speaks for itself.

“If even then they refuse to accept the results, they should launch their own research study on these two toxic products that have now been in the human food and animal feed chain for many years.”

Dr Jack A Heinemann, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Canterbury New Zealand, called the republication “an important demonstration of the resilience of the scientific community”. Dr Heinemann continued, “The first publication of these results revealed some of the viciousness that can be unleashed on researchers presenting uncomfortable findings. I applaud Environmental Sciences Europe for submitting the work to yet another round of rigorous blind peer review and then bravely standing by the process and the recommendations of its reviewers, especially after witnessing the events surrounding the first publication.

“This study has arguably prevailed through the most comprehensive and independent review process to which any scientific study on GMOs has ever been subjected.

The work provides important new knowledge that must be taken into account by the community that evaluates and reports upon the risks of genetically modified organisms, indeed upon all sources of pesticide in our food and feed chains. In time these findings must be verified by repetition or challenged by superior experimentation. In my view, nothing constructive for risk assessment or promotion of GM biotechnology has been achieved by attempting to expunge these data from the public record.

Photo courtesy Fotolia/EcoView



6/19/2014

Symphony of the SoilThis is a listing of some of the green-themed and environmental films that came out in the last couple of years. Click on each of the links below (or go to IMDB.com) to see previews/trailers, reviews, and descriptions of each film. I have not seen all or even most of these films yet, so I can't say whether all of them are worth seeing. Which ones have you seen and can you recommend?

Click here to see my previous listing of green-themed films; it lists movies that came out between 2006-2011.

Scroll to the bottom of this post to see a list of some green film festivals; those websites provide information on more films, including some brand new ones that haven’t been shown widely yet.

Environmental Films by Category

Food/Agriculture

Seeds of Time (2013)
Symphony of the Soil
(2012)

Health/Toxic Chemicals

The Human Experiment (2013)
Unacceptable Levels
(2013)
Toxic Hot Seat
(2013)

(Note: Many of the films in the Energy section below also relate to health issues, especially Hot Water, Gasland II, and the Atomic States of America)

Energy/Power

Hot Water (2014)
Triple Divide
(2013)
Gasland, Part II
(2013)
The Atomic States of America
(2012)
Greedy Lying Bastards
(2012)
Promised Land
(2012, drama)

Water/Oceans & Climate Change

Mission Blue (2014)
Watermark
(2013)
Chasing Ice
(2012)

Environmental Movement

Rebels with a Cause (2013)
A Fierce Green Fire
(2012)
What if we change
(2013) – Entire film is available to watch online
Green Gold
(2012) – Entire film is available to watch online

Animal Sentience/Animal Rights

Speciesism (2013)
The Ghosts in Our Machine
(2013)
Blackfish
(2013)

More: See my list of environmental films that came out between 2006-2011.

If there are other relevant, recent films that you’ve seen and would recommend to others, please mention those in the Comments section below.

Environmental Film Festivals

These are a few of the annual film fests that I’m aware of. Please let everyone know about others by contributing a Comment! Many of the festivals’ websites feature video clips or entire films (short and full-length films), and they list many additional, new, independent films, beyond what I’ve listed above.

Environmental Film Festival, Washington, DC – March
San Francisco Green Film Festival
, San Francisco, CA – May-June
One Earth Film Festival
, Chicago area, IL – March
Wild and Scenic Film Festival
, Nevada City, CA – January
Mountainfilm Festival
, Telluride, CO – May
Planet in Focus
environmental film festival, Toronto, Canada – November (and Earth Day)

Miriam Landman is an accomplished writer, editor, and sustainability advisor with expertise in green living, green building, and green operations. For daily links to sustainable solutions and success stories, connect to her Facebook page for The Green Spotlight.



6/17/2014

If Day 1 on my ecotrip to Asheville, North Carolina, offered an immersion into the culture and natural beauty of this bustling and progressive town, Day 2 -- captured in this blog -- is about the eco-high adventures to be had, both in the trees on a zipline and when hiking to the Catawba Waterfalls.

Like my previous Asheville blog, I discovered, along with my wife and co-author, Lisa Kivirist, some distinctive farm-to-table dining diversions in a city resplendent with options.  While staying at the LEED Silver-certified Hilton Asheville at Biltmore Park, we could take a dip in a pool heated by the sun or plug in an electric car.

Talking for the Trees:  Soar Above Treetops on a Zipline

Navitat Zipline

“Taco okay, burrito -- no bueno,” explains Kevin Thompson, explaining how we’re to hold our hands over the cable to slow, and eventually, stop ourselves as we coast from tree stand to tree stand, high above the forest floor, on a zipline.  A spectator activity, ziplining is not.

As one of our two guides with Navitat Canopy Adventures, Kevin is there to help our group of six thrill seekers and nature lovers feel what its like to experience a forest peering down, like a flying squirrel. Unlike the squirrel, however, our harness is securely tethered through a series of clasps, lanyard and carabiners to two steel cables stretched between platforms up in trees.

As an emersion into nature, our three and half hour journey zigzagged through the forest canopy and floor, hopping from wooden platform to platform, each with a name, like Peace or Flying Squirrel. We were “one with the forest” like never before.  Between zips, Kevin talked for the trees, sharing the American chestnut story. He also pointed out medicinal plants used by the Cherokee people and reminded us that by the end of our adventure we’d be “landing on the platform like a falcon.”  Turns out, he was right.

Our group’s first zip line is a short, 120-foot one. It’s to practice -- and for our guides to assess if we’re good enough and not overwhelmed by the aerial feat – to move up to longer and more spectacular runs, some lasting for more than 1,000 feet.  Putting us at ease, Jaime Barwick, our other guide, cracks a joke as she clips us onto the two lines, “We love redundancy, here.”  There’s two of everything for safety, except for our helmet.

Besides the feeling of exhilaration and the rush that comes with wind in our ears with each zipline run, our “Moody Cove Adventure” provided an opportunity to repel twice, traverse two sky-bridges and take several short interpretive hikes. 

For most of our group, this whole treetop and repelling thing was a first.  Despite the height involved, our sense of safety or comfort never felt in doubt, perhaps because we remained connected to the cables at all times. Less than an hour into the experience, I noticed myself embracing the distant views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and my immediate surroundings more as I became at ease with the process of ziplining. Nothing can compare to coasting through carefully trimmed “tree tunnels” or soaring two hundred feet in the air.

Depending on the run, your skill at forming yourself into a cannon ball, weight (the heavier the faster) and penchant for a thrilling ride, you may be sent flying as fast as forty miles an hour.

Hike to the Catawba Waterfalls

Catawba Falls

There’s nothing like a spectacular end destination when going on a hike.  Around Asheville, make that a waterfall, like the Catawba Waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest, about forty minutes out of town. 

We picked up the trail at the headwaters of the Catawba River and meandered upstream with Kathryn Grover, our guide. She’s with the Blue Ridge Hiking Company, founded by Jennifer Pharr Davis, famous for her speedy hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Her company now offers unique, private, half-day hikes to spots throughout the area, though speed is not a requirement.

After passing through the remains of an old dam, we continue our moderate ascent for the mile and an half hike to the falls, butterflies fluttering about.  We skipped on stones and logs to cross the river twice, staying dry. Slowly, the soothing gurgle of the stream grows louder and more pronounced until we emerge from the forest into a wide, boulder-strewn clearing around the river with the pounding water of Catawba Falls cascading down more than a hundred feet.

After a leisurely picnic of locally-made goat cheese and crackers -- plus some pieces of chocolate, Fair Trade, of course – we turn back downstream.  Along the way, Kathryn shares her hiking stick with Lisa, who gets a little wobbly when navigating between stones to cross the riverbank.  Lisa bonded so quickly with her stick support that it quickly becomes her third arm, and inadvertently ends up in our car after the hike. Too bad carry-on luggage limited our souvenir treasure collecting. 

Hilton at Biltmore Park

Perhaps the greenest hotel in Asheville, with its solar thermal system on the roof, electric charging station and extensive use of repurposed building materials or energy efficient equipment, is the Hilton Asheville at Biltmore Park, owned by Biltmore Farms Hotels. There’s no roughing it here, though, with its luxurious furnishings, spacious rooms and convivial service.

Not to be missed, grab a leisurely breakfast at the hotel’s Roux restaurant, adjacent to the spacious lobby.  Farm-to-table means the goat cheese is from Three Graces Dairy, eggs from Cane Creek Valley Organics and your omelet is cooked to order right in front of you with the fresh ingredients you select. It’s exactly what we needed to start our day of high adventure.  Their commitment continues in the kitchen as food scraps are composted and their waste fryer oil gets turned into biodiesel.

A Spanish Tapas Feast

Curate Tapas Bar

Our adventures continued that night at the Spanish-inspired Cúrate Tapas Bar, located right downtown. Tapas are small plates of various dishes that, taken together, make a meal.

We pulled up a chair at the long bar facing the open-restaurant design, mesmerized by the flurry of activity as each of the tapas is carefully assembled right in front of our eyes. We placed our first order for a classic Catalan dish prepared with local trout and a fried eggplant with local honey. Then we kept ordering, trying out a tasty assortment of traditional Spanish dishes, plated as if a work of art, until pleasantly full.

For Executive Chef Katie Button, co-owned with her husband and parents, farm-to-table can mean fresh salad greens from a local farm or traditional Spanish cured meats from a farm in Iberico, Spain. Between the show behind the counter, gregarious wait staff mixing cocktails while chatting about their favorite dish, or making a new friend adjacent to us at the bar, a culinary experience delights more than your palate here.  It’s slow, great food at its best.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, 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 Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



6/11/2014

beach

Are you one of the millions of people making their way to the beach this year?  Beaches provide opportunities to play volleyball, run, relax, swim and do many other activities, but beach closures can put a damper on summer fun. Beach closures occur in coastal areas throughout the United States – according to EPA’s 2012 Beach Report, 40 percent of monitored beaches had at least one advisory or closure during the 2012 season.  Several factors contribute to beach closures, including excess nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient pollution from rain water runoff and leaking septic systems.

Viewer Tip: Whether you live on the beach or thousands of miles away, there are easy ways you can help protect coastal water quality at home.

Keep your septic system maintained. For typical septic systems, experts recommend a professional inspection every three years and a pump-out every three to five years.  Some systems may require more frequent maintenance. Leaking septic systems can contaminate ground and surface water with excess nutrients.
Use natural substances like compost to fertilize your gardens and lawns. 
This allows you to cut-down on the use of regular fertilizers, which contain nitrogen that can be carried away with rain water during the next storm.
Always pick up after your pet at home and on walks.
 Pet waste contains nutrients and bacteria that can degrade water quality. Throw the waste away in a trash can or pet waste receptacle.

Earth Gauge

Photo: St. George Island, FL; Commander Grady Tuell, NOAA Corps

(Sources:  EPA, “EPA’s Beach Report: 2012 Swimming Season.”)



6/9/2014

At a time when greenhouse gas emissions from cars and electricity generation around the world are at an all-time high, Heifer International in Cameroon is leading initiatives and programming to help reduce such emissions from livestock production there.

Cameroon biogas

Bih Judith lives in the village of Njong in Santa, Cameroon. She first got involved with dairy cattle farming in 2009 as a way to escape hunger and poverty. Five years later, Judith has a steady source of income, and she and her family eat balanced meals three times a day. At 43, Judith has succeeded in establishing a new life for her family. However, more than 70 liters of cow dung are produced daily from her stables, creating a possible threat to the environment.

Renewable Biogas Energy in Cameroon

Through Heifer Cameroon’s training and support, Judith’s household, along with nearly 100 other families, set up domestic biogas units. Judith now cooks with biogas instead of wood, which saves trees and increases access to clean, renewable energy. She also practices integrated dairy cattle farming, rearing three dairy cattle using a zero-grazing system. She has enough dung to maintain her biogas unit year round.

Ban Patience also lives in Njong and benefits from Heifer’s support and training. She says the effects of climate change are felt by the hotter weather they are experiencing in the community. Patience, who is raising three goats and three dairy cattle, was taught that using cattle dung to generate biogas reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and is much cleaner than burning fuel wood and coal. She, like Judith, uses biogas to cook and now plants trees in her community.  She and her family have always used wood to fuel their fires and heat their homes, but now their use of biogas helps to save their environment, time and about $10 each month.

“This is my own little contribution to fighting climate change,” she says proudly.

Patience also uses a biogas byproduct called bio-slurry as a natural fertilizer. Bio-slurry contains 93 percent water and 7 percent waste and is a ready-made, high quality, organic fertilizer that can be used in fields to grow crops. The use of bio-slurry decreases the use of costly chemical fertilizers, which saves the environment and their income. Thanks to bio-slurry, agricultural productivity has increased for Patience and her family.

Patience is now financially empowered and manages a bank account she opened in her own name.

Natural Fertilizer from Biogas Effluent

Fon Linus, another farmer in Njong, is also reaping rewards from biogas. Using biogas helps him cut down on the use of wood, and he uses bio-slurry on his crops and vegetable farm plots. Linus, along with many other farmers in his community, has stopped using chemical fertilizers since adopting the use of bio-slurry.

“I replaced chemical fertilizers with cattle manure and I have adopted organic ways of farming,” Linus explains. “I found that through organic farming, crops had longer lives, generated more income, and were healthier to eat.”

Fon Asa’ah, known in Njong as “His Royal Majesty,” says the farmers who have benefited from Heifer are role models in the community. “They are championing the cause of environmental protection and teaching us how to care for the Earth.”

Heifer Cameroon continues to encourage improved livestock breeding and simple technology practices like zero-grazing, biogas units and the use of bio-slurry. Thanks to their continued support, farm efficiency and production has gone up without damaging the environment. This leads to more food and a higher income for people like Judith, Patience, and Linus.

What do you do to help bring your carbon footprint down?



6/4/2014

elk.jpg

Several years ago when challenging our association about careless spraying of a toxic herbicide, I learned several lessons.

Perhaps the most important lesson was that neither state nor federal authorities are there to stop dangerous practices unless they are sizable. Our community has about 4,000 acres of common mountain meadows which we members have access to for recreational purposes. Because everything ultimately washes down mountains to lower elevations, I believe those living on mountains should have a higher standard or responsibility to protect those lands below them. The leaders from our land owners association decided to kill invasive weeds by liberal application of 2,4,D Amine.

Another lesson learned was that state regulations apply to professional applicators, wherein they have to follow strict criteria. For an organization like ours, there are basically no rules or laws that directly apply. There were two enforcement agents for the entire state and primary enforcement was primarily focused on ranchers and farmers. A professional applicator is required to post where the herbicide has been applied, mix herbicides properly and follow specific safety rules. Our association not only refused to tell us where the spray was being applied but stated the law did not require them to do so. In checking the law I found they were right and no legal requirement was in place for private applications.

Which Government Agency?

My first effort was to enlist the help of the EPA. I incorrectly assumed the Environmental ‘Protection’ Agency was there to ensure that we citizens were protected from toxic materials. I was politely passed off to the state Department of Agriculture (DOA). They in turn listened to my concern and informed me that they did not have the ability or inclination to look into the problem. Because regulation fell under the DOA, this simply did not sound right, so I then wrote the governor explaining their lack of concern.

The same person in the DOA who blew me off initially suddenly had renewed interest and said he would dispatch an investigator to check matters out. The investigator showed up and advised they lacked enforcement ability other than utilization of proper safety equipment while handling the herbicide. I had called, written and pleaded and was right back where I started on getting regulatory agencies involved, with the exception that the investigator did stop the spraying until the applicators could equip themselves with proper safety gear.

Herbicide Impact on Deer and Elk

What initiated my concern was when I had been accidentally sprayed as I drove down the road with the truck window rolled down. The reaction was immediate. I had difficulty breathing and my eyes burned so badly I was barely able to see to drive home. When I asked what I had been sprayed with I was met with stony silence, making me suspicious.

Our property is a natural refuge for wild animals and I had noticed deer and elk with large tumors hanging on them. Whether they were caused by a parasite or from the toxic spray I couldn’t tell. I had never noticed deer or elk in this condition previous to the spraying and when they stopped spraying I did not observe any more deer or elk with tumors. After the herbicide has been applied it can be ingested, absorbed or inhaled by humans or animals. I had additional concerns since it was also used along ditches which were then plowed back onto dirt roads where it was converted into road dust and became airborne when vehicles went down the road.

The U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture provided me a study wherein contaminated road dust which had been previously sprayed with 2,4,D Amine was a legitimate concern. In addition, I had observed spray being applied to specific areas and noticed later the same day deer and elk browsing on the herbicide-treated vegetation. The applicators wore back packs walking throughout the meadows and along streams spraying this toxic material everywhere. All this time those responsible for the spraying were indignantly proclaiming they posed no health risk and refused to reveal the areas treated so they could be avoided by landowners.

Kill Weeds vs. Protecting the Environment

Being made aware of the harmful effects of this toxin was not the issue because there are numerous reports available to detail the dangers of this herbicide. The real problem was indifference by those who would prefer to kill weeds over being responsible for protecting the environment, animals and humans. The government officials quickly stated this herbicide had been approved by the EPA and was therefore acceptable for use and there was nothing they could or would do. It was a bureaucratic morass at its worst when trying to obtain enforcement.

When asked about the harmful effects on animal, bird, insect and human health, the same government agencies would not answer or evaded the issue by repeating it was an approved herbicide. Involving other environmental groups was equally frustrating. They were not interested, because they are involved in so many other destructive areas that they simply did not have time or volunteers to assist but they at least wished me success. Some meaningful information was gained from the environmental watch group Beyond Pesticides, which proved helpful and educational. Most of our applicators believed that if a little works then a lot will work better. It was being used liberally throughout our common lands.

Over-Worked Government Agencies

This is not intended as condemnation of our government agencies. Government agencies have larger problems to deal with than 4,000 acres in a private community. Additionally the state agencies required landowners to kill invasive weeds and their recommended method was with toxic herbicides. The Agency’s primary interest was that the applicator used proper safety gear and they had no additional interest in public safety. It was a learning experience in dealing with all these different agencies and mostly it was like chasing your tail and getting nowhere. I am confident that these agencies have many redeeming qualities but on the specific issue of controlling herbicide/pesticide use, it was not very apparent from my viewpoint. They mandated killing weeds, openly advocated using powerful herbicides, and had very little interest in protecting the public, animals or insects.

Suggestions for Remedy Limited

I can not offer suggestions to help any reader who happens to find themselves in a similar situation. The most valuable resources were properly identifying the herbicide and its side effects, plus exercising perseverance, persistence and patience. Perhaps nothing is more true than the saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," but you have to squeak long, hard and to the right people. It also helps when dealing with reluctant people to stick to the main issue with just the facts and not be drawn into peripheral unrelated issues, which they will try to draw you into. It can be a long and grueling process and a frustrating one. But don‘t give up, because that is what they expect you to do if you have a small violation. 

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their challenges in the mountains go to www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com.












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