Wednesday, April 18, 2018

When going greener makes economic sense

Last week's mid-week post discussed one of the major ways we humans intersect with nature: habitat encroachment. Today I'd like to look at a more positive form of interaction--and weirdly enough, this one involves big business.

This cartoon aptly sums up the attitude of the vast majority of the business world--in the past, and unfortunately all too much still today. Small signs of change should not be mistaken for a reason to be complacent. Cartoon created by Mike Adams; art by Dan Berger. Used courtesy of NaturalNews.

I know. Big business is so often portrayed as "the enemy," in all kinds of contexts--unfortunately, with good reason. Let's face it, unregulated capitalism has historically been unkind to humans, animals, and nature in general.

One has only to consider the Singer Tract, and the egregious role of Chicago Mill and Lumber in the story of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, or remember the sorry history of the Love Canal, to find all-too-common examples of uncaring capitalism in some of its uglier manifestations.

Non-corporate people can be forgiven for thinking of corporate decision-makers as faceless, greed-driven capitalists, because that's all too often how they come across. But some decision-makers are beginning to wake up to the realities of sustainability. We need to find ways to encourage more of that! Big business is a part of the picture that isn't going away!

Whether you believe that "corporations are people" or not--they are run by people. And those people are free to follow more or less ethical courses of action, depending on their mindsets, beliefs, and experiences.

There's growing evidence that at least some large businesses have begun to genuinely consider environmentally-positive practices. There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which is public relationsThere also has been a recent trend toward investor divestment from companies perceived as environmentally unsustainable, especially in the case of "factory farms." Another good reason is the extremely pragmatic reality that energy-efficiency saves money--lots of it (gosh, who'd have imagined that?).

A serious installation of solar panels--on a Walmart? Actually, yes.

Take that persistent favorite for the role of corporate villain, Walmart. This company is unfortunately renowned for paying their employees so little they have to go on public assistance to make ends meet and bankrupting small-town business competitors by undercutting their prices (an effect documented for years--and more recently in cities, too). But it's also spent the past decade-plus seeking ways to run its business in more sustainable ways.

Please don't make the mistake of thinking this means Wamart should be let off the hook. The company still has a long way to go before it comes close to full sustainability, but do not ignore the fact that a large, often-unconcerned business is even talking about these issues at allThat counts as progress, even while we wish it extended farther.

Corporate participation in organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council, the Rainforest Alliance, or Earthwatch Institute offer examples of ways that corporations can support sustainability efforts. Indeed, as the Environmental Defense Council notes, partnerships with corporations, business groups, and governmental agencies present an indispensable part of building solutions for a better future.

There is no road to sustainability without involving all the parties with stakes in the game. Corporations are not going away; moreover, they have a great many resources to employ when they get onboard for sustainability.

The one thing we most urgently need to learn from the recent trends of growing divisiveness in politics, it is that when everybody hates everybody else, NOTHING gets done. It may be convenient or even comfortable for environmentally concerned people to think that large corporations bring only environmentally bad options into play--but that's not necessarily true. And as more and more environmental action groups and individual businesses have discovered, leaving industry out of the conversation on sustainability is both unwise and ultimately . . . unsustainable.

IMAGES: Many thanks to NaturalNews, Mike Adams, and Dan Berger for their right-on sendup of all too many business attitudes; to istockphoto, via Rita Trehan, for the "corporate decision-makers" illustration; to Walmart, for the photo of solar panels on one of its stores (which one was not specified); and to Giving Compass, for the "sustainable development" illustration. I greatly appreciate all!

Monday, April 16, 2018

No such place

The Artdog Quote of the Week

The first thing that leaped to my mind when I read this was the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (although all oceans have them, and there actually are more than one in the Pacific alone, depending on how you look at it/them).

Pacific currents and how they accumulate garbage--particularly troublesome are the plastics.

My second thought moved on to landfills and their limitations--which are many and becoming progressively more difficult to deal with. And that's not even beginning to talk about the problem of illegal dumping (also called "fly-tipping" and other, less savory things), which is a persistent problem almost everywhere.

Even the familiar process of recycling can be less "green" than we'd like for it to be, since volatile markets for recycled materials and contamination or un-recyclable items can elevate the cost of recycling for municipalities. The problem has been growing for years, and solutions seem elusive.

Sorters in recycling plants are essential, or all sorts of non-recyclables can get through to gum up the works.

As in most areas of life, public education is key, smart government policies can make a huge difference, and realities are always changing, so innovations that change with them are always needed.

We all have a part to play. How's yours going?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Green Heart at Work, for the wonderful quote from Greenpeace's Annie Leonard; to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for the diagram of the Pacific currents and trash accumulations; and to The Washington Post and Getty Images, via Fortune, for the photo of the recycling sorters in Elkridge MD.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Lost with the canebrakes

The Artdog Image of Interest
Image 2 of a planned series of 4 by John James Audubon

Bachman's Warbler, by John James Audubon and Maria Martin (who drew the franklinia branch--named for Benjamin Franklin). It was engraved by Robert Havell Jr. (from an 1833 watercolor by Audubon) in 1863.

This image is fascinating to me as an artist, as well as because it depicts another bird species that is believed to now be extinct. A look at the cutline shows that this was a true collaboration, between the artist-ornithologist Audubon; his protégé Maria Martin, whom he encouraged to explore her interests in natural history and art, even though she was a woman; and the engraver Robert Havell, Jr., who was descended from a distinguished English family of engravers and artists.

The collection of collaborators and associates extends even farther, however, when you consider that Audubon first learned about this species from Maria's husband, Audubon's friend the Reverend John Bachman. Bachman was a Lutheran pastor, but also a social activist and an avid naturalist. He collected specimens and documented four previously unknown-to-science species: not only the Bachman's Warbler, but also the marsh rice rat, Bachman's Sparrow, and Bachman's Hare, now called a western brush rabbit.

Bachman gave study skins to Audubon, from which he painted the birds; he never actually saw a living Bachman's Warbler. Part of the reason for this was that they tended to be shy, and they never were what you'd call plentiful. A migratory species, it wintered in Cuba, then ranged northward into the south and southeastern regions of the United States, and liked to breed in swamps or canebrakes.

Bachman's Warbler, 1906, by Louis Agassiz Fuentes, who was a Cornell ornithologist and strong advocate for scrupulously biologically accurate depictions. The male Bachman's Warbler (L) was more colorful than the female (R).

Once again, the Macaulay Library has preserved a recording of the bird's call, made by Cornell's intrepid Arthur A. Allen (remember him from last week?) and Peter Paul Kellogg. This recording was made in the rain on May 15, 1954 (thus, it is almost 64 years old), at the edge of Ft. Belvoir in Virginia (hint: probably one of the strongest, clearest examples of the bird's call comes very close to the beginning of the 5-minute recording).

A rare photograph of a male Bachman's
Warbler by Jerry A. Payne, taken in 1958.
Credible reports of sightings became rarer throughout the 1940s through 1970s, until the last credible sighting reported in the 1980s. More recent reports from the early 2000s have not been corroborated. The usual reasons are listed for the species' decline: primarily habitat loss, exacerbated by some plume hunting, and possibly a devastating hurricane in the 1930s in Cuba that may have destroyed part of their winter range.

IMAGES and MEDIA: Many thanks to the New York State Historical Museum and Library for the image of the Audubon/Martin/Havell print of the Bachman's Warbler; to Wikipedia for the Louis Agassiz Fuentes painting; to the Macaulay Library for the recording of the Bachman's Warbler's song; and to Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service,, via Wikipedia, for the 1958 photo of the Bachman's Warbler. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Habitat encroachment

I'd like to expand on Monday's meditation a bit more, if you'll indulge me. It, a recent conversation I had with my sister, and couple of articles I read in, of all places, The Costco Connection, have inspired me to continue thinking about the intersection of humans with nature.

One of the ways that humans increasingly intersect with nature is through habitat encroachment. It's a common theme: humans move into an area, change it to suit themselves, and push other species out.

I've been unable to find the origin of this photo, or which rainforest it is (my guess is the Amazon). But it's a pretty stark example.

The story of the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers from Saturday's post is a classic example. Their last known-for-sure habitat was in the so-called Singer Tract of old-growth forest in Louisiana. Even before it was being logged by the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, conservationists were trying to preserve it. However, the business interests of the time fought these efforts, going to the extent of actually logging it faster than normal, until the final bit was cleared--and the last known-for-sure Ivorybill had disappeared.

As in the photo above, we often think of habitat encroachment as horrifying raw gashes in virgin rainforest, and it's a major issue there, for sure. Rainforest destruction is actually increasing--even though we know the rainforests are our best defense against climate change and a host of other ills.

Different continent, same habitat-devastation problem. This photo was taken in Africa. 

But habitat encroachment is a problem literally everywhere that humans exist. No matter where you live, a few centuries ago it either was virgin land with no humans on it, or supporting a much smaller human population than it is today. We (and our invasive companion animal species) have done untold damage to our own local environments.

Do you ever have raccoons in your garbage (or, more dangerous, bears)? Are you troubled by the fear of foxes or coyotes snatching your pet from your back yard? Before you get all indignant about pesky varmints, it's well to remember that they were here first. Historically, the human answer to such issues was to kill, or at least remove, the wildlife.

Bears eating unsecured trash may seem like a nuisance, but the situation is dangerous for both the humans and the bears.

But eventually there's no place left to go. Sooner or later, we either co-exist and take intelligent precautions--or the animals will go the way of too many lost species before them. Whether it's elephants on the roads of Sri Lanka or coyotes in suburban US back yards, it's getting to the point where the humans just can't have it all their own way. Humans now live alongside mountain lions in Los Angeles; across the Pacific, humans live alongside tigers in places like the Sundarbans of India.

In the recent Nature miniseries Animals with Cameras, one of the episodes featured sheepdogs ranging the hills of southern France among a flock of sheep--and very effectively deterring the predations of a pack of gray wolves that had recently returned to an area where they previously had been eliminated. Here and there, people are learning it's possible--even valuable--to learn to coexist.

Some traditions are really effective: sheepdog with a flock of sheep in southern France. The dog is one of several related local types used to protect the sheep from wolves; this kind of sheep-protection is the origin of the Great Pyrenees breed. (Photo by John Linnell).

Interactions between wildlife and humans will only become more frequent in the future, as climate change further disrupts habitat and changes patterns, to add to the increasing interactions due to urban sprawl and human population growth. A new way of looking at the situation is beginning to emerge--but all too many humans still react with fear, misunderstanding, and deadly force when confronted with unexpected wildlife "invading" spaces that until recently belonged to them.

But these are baby-steps, in the grand scheme of things. It will take a lot more public education before we routinely see developers and civic planners thinking in terms of preserving and planning for wildlife corridors, highways consciously built to minimize roadkill, and many other strategies designed to help wildlife species continue to exist, despite the omnipresence of humans.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Munchee Daily's article on World Wildlife Day 2016, for the "Wiping out Rainforests" photo; to the African Wildlife Foundation, for the photo of the devastated African rainforest; to Bear-Smart Durango (Colorado) for the photo of the bear cub and the trash; and to John D. C. Linnell and Science Daily for the photo of the french sheepdog with its flock.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Respect connects us . . . or not

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

This basic principle of respect for our fellow living beings echoes through many wise voices and in many corners of our existence, from the observation that all too many infamous murderers start by being cruel to animals, to the words of Jesus: "If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities." (Luke 16:10, New Living Translation).

Consider the Kayashima Train Station in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, Japan, where they built around a 700-year-old camphor tree, rather than cut it down. Read the story of the station and the saving of the tree here. Responsive government and respect for nature: it's a thing!

The Kayashima Train Station has coexisted with a huge, ancient camphor tree in Osaka, Japan since 1973.

But not everywhere. Consider the situation in Olathe, KS, a city near my home, where a planned courthouse parking lot has already condemned a neighborhood full of 90-125-year-old historic homes, and may also bring down an enormous, 150-year-old Osage Orange tree, which was designated a "Champion Tree" by the Kansas Forest Service.

This 150-year-old Champion Osage Orange tree in Olathe, KS, may yet fall to add a couple more spaces in the planned parking lot for the new Johnson County Courthouse.

I think my fellow Kansans would do well to step back from immediate economic issues, and consider what the respect (or lack thereof) in our decision-making says about us. I fear even the appearance of a mystical white snake may not be sufficient for Olathe officials. Yes, we need a new courthouse, and yes, parking is at a premium in downtown Olathe. But surely a balance could be struck?

Surely? Please?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Sustainable Human, via Green Heart at Work, for the Albert Schweitzer quote image; to Colossal, for the photo of the camphor tree in Kayashima Station (other photos in the article are attributed to Kosaku Mimura/Nikkei or Studio Ohana, but this one was uncredited); and to The Kansas City Star, for the photo of the Champion Osage Orange in Olathe, KS (they list the photo as "provided," but not by whom).

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The elusive Ivorybill

The Artdog Image of Interest
Image 1 of a planned series of 4 by John James Audubon

John James Audubon, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis (1827-1838), hand-colored engraving. Male on the left, female on the right.

I'll never forget the day my mother thought we'd seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker at our backyard bird feeder. I was a little kid: I'd never heard of one, before. And it was the biggest bird we'd ever seen at the feeder.

Pileated woodpeckers (top) compared
with Ivory-billed woodpeckers.
It wasn't an Ivorybill, of course. This was sometime in the 1960s, and the last confirmed sighting had been in 1944.

Eventually, Mom reluctantly decided it probably had been a Pileated woodpecker, which was marked similarly, but somewhat smaller in body length (Ivorybills have been reported up to 20 inches [51 cm] in body length; Pileated top out around 19 inches [49 cm] long), without as much white on their backs, and with a darker bill.

It may only have been one afternoon's excitement at the time, but I've had a soft spot in my heart for the species ever since. I was very interested when possible sightings were reported in Arkansas in 2004-5, and in Florida in 2006.

But it's hard to get sightings confirmed. If they do still exist, Ivorybills live WAY back in the most remote swamps you can imagine (habitat loss was the main reason for their decimation). The way there is literally "fur [far] an' snakey," as my grandparents used to say. A great many of the experts in the field remain unconvinced that there are still any Ivorybills out there somewhere. I sincerely hope that eventually it is found they do still exist. But I'm not holding my breath till it happens.

And let's PLEASE not follow the example of Mason Spencer, who in 1932 proved there were still Ivorybills along the Tensas River in Madison Parish Louisiana by shooting one, then bringing it back to the state wildlife office in Baton Rouge! Even more awful is the story from 1924, when Cornell University ornithologist Arthur A. Allen discovered what he feared might be the last nesting pair in Florida. Once word got out, a couple of taxidermists promptly went out and shot them (presumably to sell their stuffed bodies). Yes, we're demonstrably a gun-loving nation, but can we please think first?

Granted, it would be hard to haul the photographic equipment of the 1920s and 30s back up into the woody swamps to prove they still existed, but Cornell's intrepid Dr. Allen, accompanied by several colleagues, managed it in 1935, when he photographed and recorded the sounds made by a nesting pair in and area of old-growth forest known as the Singer Tract in Louisiana (Mason Spencer's neck of the woods, actually).

Two photos made in April 1935 by Arthur A. Allen in the Singer Tract, Madison Parish, Louisiana. These are among the last and best photographic images of wild Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. A breeding pair is shown here with their nest-hole. That's the male departing to hunt, upper L, and returning, lower R; his mate looks out from their nest.

For a trip back in time to 83-years-ago-this-Monday (the recording was made April 9, 1935), here's the recording Dr. Allen made of the Ivorybill pair shown above and below.
I I think it's worth a look at the comments section of the Macaulay Library's webpage devoted to the recording, too, but I'm kind of a geek.

Two more photos by Arthur A. Allen taken in April 1935: at left, the male Ivorybill emerges from the nest hole after the female returns from hunting. At R, the female takes over nest-guarding duties while her mate takes his turn.

The Singer Sewing Machine Co. later sold the 81,000-acre Singer tract to the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. Despite efforts to secure the irreplaceable virgin forest for a nature preserve, Chicago Mill and Lumber logged whole thing. It's where the last known-for-sure Ivorybill, a female, was seen in 1944 by Don Eckelberry, an artist working for The Audubon Society.

If you've ever questioned why some folks think public land in nature preserves shouldn't be opened for exploitation by private logging or mining concerns, just think about the Singer Tract, and the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, who apparently thought their ephemeral profits were more important than some stupid bird.

If you've ever wondered why some people think it's important to make it illegal to kill specimens of endangered species, just remember Mason Spencer and the Florida taxidermists. We may (probably) have lost the marvelous Ivory-bills, but there are many other endangered and critically endangered species now. Which ones will disappear on our watch? How many will we save?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Audubon Galleries for the photo of the Audubon Ivorybills; to Wikipedia for the field marks comparison of Pileated with Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and the four 1935 photos of the nesting pair by Arthur A. Allen; and to the Cornell Lab's Macaulay Library website for the recording of nesting Ivorybills calling and rapping.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Being critiqued

They're all coming back home to roost.

A Hinkley Buzzard comes in for a landing.
Somewhat like the buzzards returning to Hinkley, Ohio (albeit several weeks later--I can't believe I missed Buzzard Day, which was March 15), my manuscripts are slowly returning from my beta-readers.

I sent drafts of my science fiction novel What's Bred in the Bone out in March, to a collection of willing souls. Some are published writers, some are working-on-being-published writers, some are much-prized living embodiments of my "target audience," and some are simply friends who've been hearing me talk about "the book I'm writing" for years, and were curious. A few are even friends of the volunteers, who became interested.

Some wanted e-book format, some wanted Word documents, some PDFs, and a few wanted hard copies, which I put in binders with a quick-and-dirty cover so they'd be quickly able to distinguish what side was "up."

One and all, I deeply appreciate the time they've spent reading my manuscript and answering my questions. Not all have reported back in, yet, but I've begun reading the comments of those who've finished. They've proved quite interesting, and in many cases very helpful.

I'm a veteran of several decades' worth of writers' groups and critique partnerships, so I know how to compartmentalize (I learned that studying journalism!). It's still sometimes a challenge not to take it personally, but the writer with a tender ego is a writer afraid to grow.

I also know how to evaluate. Not all critiques are equally valid. Some seem to come straight out of left field. Some are internally contradictory. Oh, but then there are those other ones, the ones that hit you dead-center, with a deeply resonant, "Oh, man, s/he's right!"

Very few people will be able to resist at least a few little nitpicks, and there's almost always an "outlier," someone who gives such radically different feedback from what everybody else said that you wonder "what manuscript were they reading?"

At the end of the day, the best a writer can do is tell her story as well as she is able at the time, read or listen to every critique with an open mind and her heart safely tucked in a padded box somewhere, then make the changes that won't let her ignore them. And after that, MOVE ON.

IMAGES: Many thanks to the "Haglund's Heel" Blog, for the nice photo of the Hinkley buzzard; to Scribendi, via Pinterest, for the quote image from H. G. Wells; and to Pinterest again, for the "Read-Write-Revise-Eat-Sleep-Repeat" image (no other associated link still seems to work). I took the photo of my pile of manuscript printouts in recycled binders. Please feel free to use it if you like, but have the grace to give an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks!