Altered Planet

wyeth 1 treeAndrew Newell Wyeth (1917 – 2009)
Detail, Snow Hill

 


by Robert Macfarlane

In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht  coined the term solastalgia to mean a “form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change”.

Albrecht was studying the effects of long-term drought and large-scale mining activity on communities in New South Wales, when he realised that no word existed to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control.
He proposed his new term to describe this distinctive kind of homesickness.

Albrecht’s coinage is part of an emerging lexis for what we are increasingly calling the “Anthropocene”: the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record.
And what a signature it will be:
We have bored more than 31 million miles of holes in our search for oil.
We remove mountain tops to get at the coal they contain.
The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads.
Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally.
The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries.
We have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come.

Plastics in particular are being taken as a key marker for the Anthropocene.
We currently produce around 100 million tonnes of plastic globally each year.
Because plastics are inert and difficult to degrade, some of this plastic material will find its way into the strata record. Among the future fossils of the Anthropocene, therefore, might be the trace forms not only of megafauna and nano-planktons, but also shampoo bottles and deodorant caps – the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals.
What will survive of us is plastic – and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.

Recent publications indicate that scientists will recommend the designation of the Anthropocene, and that the “stratigraphically optimal” temporal limit will be located somewhere in the mid-20th century.

This places the start of the Anthropocene simultaneous with the start of the nuclear age.
It also coincides with the so-called “Great Acceleration”, when massive increases occurred in population, carbon emissions, species invasions and extinctions, and when the production and discard of metals, concrete and plastics boomed.
Jason W Moore argues that the Anthropocene is not the geology of a species at all, but rather the geology of a system, capitalism – and as such should be rechristened the Capitalocene.

In 2010 Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject to denote some of the characteristic entities of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are “so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality” that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension.
Among the examples Morton gives of hyperobjects are climate change, mass species extinction and radioactive plutonium. “In one sense hyperobjects are abstractions,” he notes, “in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.”

We are living through what is popularly known as the 6th great extinction

A third of all amphibian species are at risk of extinction.
A fifth of the globe’s 5,500 known mammals are classified as endangered, threatened or vulnerable.
The current extinction rate for birds may be faster than any recorded across the 150 million years of avian evolutionary history.
We exist in an ongoing biodiversity crisis – but register that crisis, if at all, as an ambient hum of guilt, easily faded out.

A remarkable artwork by the American writer and conservation biologist Julianne Lutz Warren is called “Hopes Echo”.
It concerns the huia, a bird of New Zealand that was made extinct in the early 20th century due to habitat destruction, introduced predators and overhunting for its black and ivory tail feathers.

The huia vanished before field-recording technologies existed, but a version of its song has survived by means of an eerie series of preservations: a sound fossil.
In order to lure the birds to their snares, the Maori people learned to mimic the huia song. This mimicked song was passed down between generations, a practice that continued even after the huia was gone. In 1954 a pakeha (a European New Zealander) called RAL Bateley made a recording of a Maori man, Henare Hamana, whistling his imitation of the huia’s call. Warren’s exhibit makes Bateley’s crackly recording available.
It is, as Warren puts it, “a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today”.

Many of the new words we have had to invent are ugly coinages for an ugly epoch.
Taken in sum, they speak of our stuttering attempts to describe just what it is we have done.


excerpted from, Generation Anthropocene

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/01/generation-anthropocene-altered-planet-for-ever

 

Silent Spring

SilentJan van Kessel (baptized 5 April 1626 – 17 April 1679)

By http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/may/27/rachel-carson-silent-spring-anniversary

Near a brook in south-east England, the bird-spotter JA Baker stumbled on a grim little scene in 1961. “A heron lay in frozen stubble. Its wings were stuck to the ground by frost. Its eyes were open and living, the rest of it was dead. As I approached, I could see its whole body craving into flight. But it could not fly. I gave it peace and saw the agonised sunlight of its eyes slowly heal with cloud.”

The bird’s plight was clearly unnatural. But its fate was not unique. That year, large numbers of dead birds were found strewn across the countryside. On the royal estate in Sandringham, for example, the toll included thrushes, skylarks, moorhens, goldfinches, sparrowhawks, chaffinches, hooded crows, partridges, pheasants, and wood pigeons. Nationally, more than 6,000 dead birds were reported to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a massive leap on previous years. “We were inundated,” says the RSPB’s conservation director, Martin Harper.
The UK was not alone. For years, reports in the US indicated that numbers of birds, including America’s national bird, the bald eagle, were dropping alarmingly. Something was happening to the birds of the western world.

For most of 1961, Rachel Carson had locked herself in her cottage in Colesville, Maryland, to complete her book, Silent Spring. It would provide an unequivocal identification of the bird killers.
Powerful synthetic insecticides such as DDT were poisoning food chains, from insects upwards.
“Sprays, dusts and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests and homes – non-selective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, to still the song of the birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film and to linger on in the soil – all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects,” she wrote.

Rachel Louise Carson was born on May 27, 1907. She studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and later Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. She was a brilliant marine biologist and a superb writer whose prose was exquisite in its precision and lyricism. She began writing for the Baltimore Sun and in 1936 was made editor-in-chief for publications for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Silent Spring was a brave effort. Even legitimate criticism of government policy was a risky act in the US then. “Science and technology and those who worked in these fields were revered as the saviours of the free world and the trustees of prosperity,” says another biographer, Linda Lear. “Rachel Carson exposes these experts to public scrutiny and makes it clear that at best they had not done their homework and at worst they had withheld the truth.”

DDT was banned not just because it was accumulating in the food chain but because mosquitoes were developing resistance to it, say science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway.
Nevertheless, groups still blame Carson for the current blight of malaria.

She denounced the links that had been established between science and industry. “When a scientific organisation speaks,” she asked, “whose voice do we hear – that of science or of the sustaining industry?” The question remains as pertinent today as it did in 1962.

Martin Harper of the RSPB says, “It took 10 years to get DDT banned after its effects had been demonstrated. And similarly today, when warned about a chemical’s danger, governments wait until research results are unequivocal. Then they suggest industry takes voluntary action. Only when that fails does it issue a ban, years too late.”
As Carson wrote: “Chemical war is never won and all life is caught in its violent crossfire.”

“In the 60s, we were only just waking up to the power that we had to damage the natural world,” says Jonathon Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth. “Silent Spring outlined a clear and important message: that everything in nature is related to everything else.”

Butterfly – Ten Percent Remain

Butterfly detail

Monarch populations down 90% in 20 yrs. They need help, @USFWSHQ. Add them to the threatened species list under ESA! http://bit.ly/ProtectMonarchs

De Wonderen

de wonderenJan Sepp (1739-1811)

Monarch butterflies need milkweed. It is the only plant they can lay their eggs on and that the caterpillars can eat.

But the combination of genetically engineered corn and soy and weed killers like Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide has wiped out nearly all the milkweed that used to grow along the monarchs’ migratory routes, leaving the butterflies nowhere to lay their eggs

Every fall, for thousands of years, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies have taken to the skies, flying more than 2,500 miles across Canada and the U.S. to reach their winter home in the thick forests of tall oyamel fir trees that grow in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains.

This winter, only 33.5 million butterflies made it to Mexico – the lowest level ever reported.

Like honey bees and other pollinators, monarch butterflies are now in crisis, with populations plummeting dramatically since the introduction of herbicide-ready corn and soybean crops in 1997.

They may disappear. Soon.

The huge increase in the usage of GMO crops and the toxic herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup that accompany them is a major culprit for the monarch’s disappearance, along with rapid deforestation in Mexico and extreme weather caused by climate chaos.

The world needs monarch butterflies. But they can’t survive without milkweed. And milkweed can’t survive weed-killing chemicals . . .

Tell the USDA and the EPA to adopt tough restrictions on pesticide-resistant crops and the toxic herbicides responsible for the rapid disappearance of monarchs.

No One Immune

insectsMatthäus Merian der Ältere  (1593 – 1650)

 

Our Bees, Ourselves
by Mark Winston, Op-ed contributor, The New York Times

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — AROUND the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade.

Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.

The real issue, though, is not the volume of problems, but the interactions among them. Here we find a core lesson from the bees that we ignore at our peril: the concept of synergy. A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides; together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.

These findings provide the most sophisticated data set available for any species about synergies among pesticides, and between pesticides and disease. The only human equivalent is research into pharmaceutical interactions, with many prescription drugs showing harmful or fatal side effects when used together, particularly in patients who already are disease-compromised. Pesticides have medical impacts as potent as pharmaceuticals do, yet we know virtually nothing about their synergistic impacts on our health, or their interplay with human diseases.

Observing the tumultuous demise of honeybees should alert us that our own well-being might be similarly threatened. The honeybee is a remarkably resilient species that has thrived for 40 million years, and the widespread collapse of so many colonies presents a clear message: We must demand that our regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined chemicals may affect human health before approving compounds.

Bees also provide some clues to how we may build a more collaborative relationship with the services that ecosystems can provide. Beyond honeybees, there are thousands of wild bee species that could offer some of the pollination service needed for agriculture. Yet feral bees — that is, bees not kept by beekeepers — also are threatened by factors similar to those afflicting honeybees: heavy pesticide use, destruction of nesting sites by overly intensive agriculture and a lack of diverse nectar and pollen sources thanks to highly effective weed killers, which decimate the unmanaged plants that bees depend on for nutrition.

Recently, my laboratory at Simon Fraser University conducted a study on farms that produce canola oil that illustrated the profound value of wild bees. We discovered that crop yields, and thus profits, are maximized if considerable acreages of cropland are left uncultivated to support wild pollinators.

Such logic goes against conventional wisdom that fields and bees alike can be uniformly micromanaged. The current challenges faced by managed honeybees and wild bees remind us that we can manage too much. Excessive cultivation, chemical use and habitat destruction eventually destroy the very organisms that could be our partners.

And this insight goes beyond mere agricultural economics. There is a lesson in the decline of bees about how to respond to the most fundamental challenges facing contemporary human societies. We can best meet our own needs if we maintain a balance with nature — a balance that is as important to our health and prosperity as it is to the bees.

Such Birds are Seldom Seen

dead bird ruskin partridge

John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)


Birds need places to feed, to hide, to rest in shade, and to nest and raise their young.
The expansion of human habitat, often in the form of dense housing with lawns, pavement, and cats, makes it more difficult for birds to find the food, water, shade, and safe cover they need, all of which has been significantly diminished by development and deforestation.

By following a few basic principles, you can turn your backyard garden into an oasis for birds.


ADD WATER

Birds need water to drink and also to bathe and keep their feathers in shape, but water is a limiting factor in many backyard habitats.

The easiest way to provide birds with a reliable water supply is with a birdbath. To be effective, the bath must be shallow—only 1-1/2 to 3 inches deep with gently sloping sides. It must also have a rough surface, such as concrete, so birds have secure footing. The bath should be kept clean, with frequent hosing, and even soap, every month to prevent disease. Finally, birdbaths should be located in an open space so that cats can’t stalk and attack birds.

If you’re ambitious, consider creating a small re-circulating pond or wetland in your garden. See sources at the end for more information on this kind of project.


…AND SOME FOOD

As bird habitat has been diminished by development and deforestation—both in North America and also in the wintering habitats of central and South America–the amount of food and cover available for birds has been significantly diminished. Backyard gardeners can help address the food problem in two ways.

Bird feeders 
Feeders allow you to watch birds closely, and they offer birds needed energy during migration periods and winter.

To feed responsibly, use high quality foods and make sure your feeder has a roof to prevent rain from creating molds that can be toxic to birds. Moldy and damp seeds are the leading cause of feeder-related diseases. Also prevent crowded feeding conditions by offering several feeders spread out across a wide area. You can stock each feeder with a different type of foods to attract different kinds of birds. (For example, chickadees love sunflower seeds, gold finches love thistle seed, and woodpeckers love suet.)

To avoid disease problems, clean your feeders and the wastes around them frequently. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends cleaning feeders each week, or twice a month, with a solution of 10 percent household chlorine bleach and 90 percent water. Be sure to rinse and dry after washing. If you ever notice sick birds, take your feeders down for 3 to 6 weeks.

As with bird baths, be sure to locate feeders about 10 feet away from cover that can harbor cats, yet close enough to trees or hedges that give birds places to escape to if predators, such as hawks, threaten. Also place feeders away from reflective windows to prevent collisions.

Add native and bird-attracting plants to your garden
The second and less costly approach is to plant the flowers, shrubs, and trees that offer food to birds, especially into the winter months.

Native plants are best for birds and wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation has found that native plants support 10 to 15 times more wildlife species than non-native plants. They are also easiest to maintain because they don’t require summer watering after they are established.

Garden perennials and annual flowers can also be beneficial to birds. Pick a variety of different plants to provide nectar and pollen through the summer months. These will attract and benefit not only hummingbirds but bees and butterflies, too. (For more on attracting pollinators, check out this Plants for Native Bees fact sheet)

Also include plants that produce seeds and fruits for in the late summer and fall when young birds are growing and preparing for migration. For example, wild roses (not the hybrid types) that produce brilliant red hips hold their fruits and offer birds a particularly useful food source into late fall. Pacific wax myrtle is a lovely native shrub that produces waxy berries favored by yellow-rumped warblers. Other shrubs that provide berries and fruits for birds include snowberry, evergreen huckleberry, elderberry, native trailing blackberry, and Oregon grape.

Deadheading blossoms typically gives gardeners extra blooms, but in the late summer and fall, consider allowing flowers to develop into seed heads. This will give birds extra high-energy food as the days shorten and cool, and seed heads often provide their own distinctive fall beauty as well.

Let some of your vegetable garden go to seed for birds during the winter. Goldfinches, chickadees, juncos, sparrows, and house finches will eat the seeds of parsley, broccoli, and greens. Sometimes, I hang uprooted plants–seed heads and all–onto my bean trellises and teepees; then I can enjoy watching birds pick off seeds. You can also plant sunflower and millet specifically for their seed heads. Locate them near your windows so you can watch the birds come to feast.


PROVIDE SHELTER AND COVER

Birds need places to feed, to hide, to rest in shade, and to nest and raise their young. The expansion of human habitat, often in the form of dense housing with lawns, pavement, and cats, makes it more difficult for birds to find the cover they need.

Enhance natural habitat
If you live in town, you can help to improve bird habitat by adding structure and cover in your garden. To accommodate the greatest diversity of birds, it is best to have a wide range of different kinds of habitat–from low ground covers, grasses, flowers and vegetables, to shrubs and hedges, and then tiering up to mature trees—both deciduous and coniferous.

In Oregon, city right-of-ways are often vegetated with brambles, shrubs, and trees that provide excellent shelter and cover for birds as they move about town. Loose piles of brush left in an unused corner of the yard can also offer habitat for birds such as chickadees, sparrows, wrens, thrushes, towhees, and quail.

If your home is in a forested area, it is likely that your property already provides valuable habitat for a range of birds—from the flycatchers and pine siskins that find insects and spruces seeds in the upper canopy, to the woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and owls that make use of the middle canopy—from the brown creepers, nuthatches, and chickadees that prefer the lower canopy and shrub layer, to the towhees, thrushes, and winter wrens that favor the ground vegetation and duff. Leave dead snags standing (if they don’t present a hazard) for the benefit of woodpeckers and cavity nesting birds.

Add birdhouses
Some birds require cavities or holes in trees for nesting, but nowadays, few large old trees with holes remain. Backyard gardeners can help by adding bird houses. Birds that take easily to bird houses in town include violet green swallows and chickadees. In open meadow land, blue birds will also nest in houses. On Garrison Lake, some residents have put up special boxes designed to attract colorful wood ducks. Consult with sources listed at the end to learn which bird-house features attract which birds.


PRINCIPLES TO FOLLOW FOR A BIRD-FRIENDLY GARDEN

Keep part of your yard wild
Rather than aim to landscape a large area in a manicured fashion, leave some parts of your yard wild. Such rustic areas can provide excellent food and shelter for birds. They also make your life as a gardener easier because they require less maintenance.

Keep invasive plants in check
Invasive plants become troublesome when they elbow out the native plants that birds and wildlife depend upon. For example, I’ve seen quail unable to find needed cover when a dog chased after them because there was only a dense thicket of gorse nearby.

Some examples of invasive plants around here are Himalaya blackberry, scotch broom, gorse, English ivy, and purple loosestrife (on Garrison Lake). Butterfly brush and Pampass grass also have the tendency to be invasive. Do what you can to control gorse and scotch broom in your yard and on city right-of-ways, too, so that it doesn’t spread. Also, keep tree- killing ivy under control.

Prune hedges in winter only
Restrict your hedge pruning to winter –after any remaining fruits have been eaten and before birds start nesting.

Use a bird-friendly approach to harmful insects
Your yard may contain as many as 1,000 insect species–fewer than 1 percent are pests, yet many people reach for a spray bottle and indiscriminately kill both harmful and beneficial bugs. A recent National Academy of Sciences study revealed that home and backyard landscapes receive more harmful pesticides than any other type of landscape in America.

It is estimated that pesticides kill 67 million birds each year, both directly and indirectly. Birds may ingest pesticides directly when they eat insects still present on sprayed plants, or when they sip water droplets on plants in a recently sprayed area. Birds may also come into contact with pesticides sprayed on soil surfaces where they walk; the bottoms of many birds’ feet are permeable to pesticides toxins. Poisoned birds may become weakened or lose use of their legs; such birds are seldom seen because they find places to hide and die quietly.

Pesticides harm birds indirectly by reducing the populations of insects that birds eat. About 70 percent of breeding birds in the Pacific Northwest feed on mostly insects. Most young birds are fed insects and spiders, snails, and worms. Even young seed eaters, such as finches, receive this diet from their parents because it contains more protein calcium and other nutrients needed by growing bodies.

For these reasons, it is best to avoid use of pesticides in your garden unless absolutely necessary. Instead, choose plants that are pest resistant. Monitor your plants closely, and then pick off caterpillars by hand or spray water to remove aphids.

Also add plants that attract beneficial insects to your garden (Check out Let Bugs do the Work). Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings, and ground beetles, prey upon insects that are damaging to plants, such as aphids. Spiders also eat damaging insects.

Recognize that a small amount of insect damage is tolerable in a bird- friendly garden.

Keep housecats indoors
This may be the single most important principle for creating a bird-friendly garden. I have friends who say: “my kitty doesn’t kill birds,” or “I feed her well so she doesn’t kill birds.” They are in denial. The truth is that cats are hardwired to pounce when they see movement. It is an instinct that cannot be untaught. Every year, tens of thousands of birds and other small wild creatures seriously injured by cats are brought into the Audubon Society wildlife rehab center in Portland alone (they keep count!), and chances of recovery are always exceedingly slim owing to infections associated with cat scratches.

To avoid contributing to this problem, keep your cat indoors. If you feel you must let your cat out, do so only for supervised periods. Another thing you can do is put bells on your cat’s collar to give birds warning, but this does not always work. Do not leave a cat outdoors all the time. Also make sure to spay and neuter your cat, and don’t encourage the growth of feral cat populations by leaving food outdoors. You may feel that you are being kind to cats, but you may not realize that you are actively harming birds.

http://www.kalmiopsisaudubon.org/gardening

Named for the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society has been the primary local, conservation advocacy group in Curry County for over 30 years.

SOURCES AND RESOURCES
Material for this section was drawn from Russell Link’s classic book, Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s book, Naturescaping: A Landscaping Partnership with Nature (2001), and conversations with local, bird-loving gardeners. The two books contain more complete listings of plants, shrubs, and trees that can be used to create excellent backyard wildlife habitat, plus ideas and information about building bird houses, ponds, and more. Both are highly recommended

Published in: on April 12, 2014 at 4:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Fragile Populations

1280px-Studies_of_Flowers_and_Butterflies,_watercolor_painting_on_parchment_by_Joris_Hoefnagel,_Flanders,_1590,_HAA

Sharp Decline of the Monarch Butterfly

A new census found this winter’s population of North American monarch butterflies in Mexico was at the lowest level ever measured. University of Kansas insect ecologist Orley R. Taylor talks to Yale Environment 360 about how the planting of genetically modified crops and the resulting use of herbicides has contributed to the monarchs’ decline.

Taylor talked about the factors that have led to the sharp drop in the monarch population. Among them is the increased planting of genetically modified corn in the U.S. Midwest, which has led to greater use of herbicides, which in turn kills the milkweed that is a prime food source for the butterflies.

“What we’re seeing here in the United States,” he said, “is a very precipitous decline of monarchs that’s coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans.
The glyphosate used in agriculture has tripled since 1997, when they first introduced these Roundup-ready crops. The developers of these crops not only provided the seeds that were glyphosate-resistant, but they also provided the glyphosate — the Roundup. And, boy, that was a pretty good system. You could make money on both, right?

It’s a collateral damage issue. And one of the things that we’re worried about now is that it looks like there’s going to be a lot of collateral damage from the use of various herbicides and pesticides coming down.’

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/tracking_the_causes_of_sharp__decline_of_the_monarch_butterfly/2634/


In fact, insects such as butterflies, moths, bumblebees and mayflies have been disappearing for a long time, although hardly anyone except specialists has noticed or cared . . . http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/michael-mccarthy-this-isnt-just-about-bees-ndash-it-affects-everything-2189269.html

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/bees-facing-a-poisoned-spring/

A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. -Emerson

weed

Mira Calligraphiae monumenta,  Joris Hoefnagel   (1542 – 1601)

 

In the middle of nowhere


Genetically modified seeds, scattered during harvest, or fallen off a truck during transport, lead to transgenic plants cross-pollinating in the wild.

 

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=genetically-modified-crop