Autumn is a time for flocking and migrating…

… and so this blog is joining the flock over at the new Coyotes Network. My friend the environmental writer and blogger Chris Clarke has just launched this network (softly) of sympatico bloggers who write primarily about biodiversity – as if it matters. I am honored to be asked to join this new group platform, and hope it will bring new ideas and new readers to what has largely been a solo journey for me these past almost 6 years. Time for a fresh start, building upon the themes I have been exploring here.

Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds, and point them to the new home for Reconciliation Ecology. I’ve already migrated all the old posts to the new site, but will leave them up here as well, at least for now.

Do drop by my new digs and check out my fellow bloggers there as well. And if you are interested in joining the flock also – do let me know. See you there!

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Is it too late for us to do anything about climate change?

Bill McKibben answers the question, describing some dire scenarios if we don’t get off fossil fuels soon. And no government is currently planning to do that. One might argue that its never too late to try and at least slow the warming down, maybe, but we’re already in a new domain. So brace yourselves… it will get bumpier on planet Earth. 

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Carl Sagan on our Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan would have been a mere 78 years young today. He’s long gone now, dead at much too young an age, and deeply missed, but we still have his words resonating through our pale blue dot of a planetary home:

Happy Carl Sagan Day!

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Let go of that lawn to welcome some life into your suburban yards

Here is a neat video illustrating how wonderful it can be to convert our yards into ecosystems rich in biodiversity – richer certainly than the manicured lawns that dominate most suburban landscapes. Imagine converting most of that lawn acreage – estimated to be 4x the acreage of corn making lawns the number one irrigated crop in the continental US – into native wildlife-friendly habitats!

Imagine your yard looking and sounding and smelling and feeling like this:

How much more local biodiversity would we be able to support within our increasingly suburban landscape? How many ecosystem services and positive environmental externalities could our suburbs generate? By supporting healthier populations of honeybees, for example, which might go pollinate crops in the surrounding agricultural landscape, and maybe give you some delicious local honey to boot, especially if we give them more beautiful flowers from which to sip! That’s a joy already being experienced by urban apiarists even in megacities, who would no doubt appreciate more flowers for their hardworking bees.

And how much water would we save, especially out here in the arid southwest? After all, water wise yards are also biodiversity friendly yards, which is why we are trying to promote them in the suburban sprawl of California’s Central Valley.

It is high time you let go of that lawn, and welcome some more life into your yards too.

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Waking up to a more progressive America?

America, you beauty!

Not only did you re-elect your African-American “Islamic Socialist” gay-marriage supporting president, you also: elected more women to the senate than ever before (still highly underrepresented at just 18 senators), elected the first ever all-woman state delegation in New Hampshire, shut down the GOP’s senate rape caucus and several of the most virulent tea party leaders, voted in gay marriage in 3 states (making it 9 in total), legalized marijuana in 2 states, and in California, weakened three-strikes law, and voted to raise taxes for education!! All in the middle of an economic depression and in an election where the white oligarchy poured billions of dollars against all of these causes. Could it be that this election has actually been a bigger win for progressives than we had dared hope? Bigger surely than the last time around? Well done!

And my progressive friends: time to really get to work now, harder this time, to hold the President’s feet to the fire on the environment, human rights, Guantanamo, drone wars, foreign policy, and everything else he promised but failed to deliver the first time around. Drop your despair over his failures – recognize that he had the most intransigent and well funded opposition ever faced by any American president – and recognize the big progressive space he seems to have actually opened up in American politics. He galvanized all the racist, misogynist, regressive political forces of the white oligarchy into a frenzy that had us all scared: and beat them handily despite all his apparent failures (in the eyes of the right and the left) in his first term! Yes, I know he is beholden to some elements of the oligarchy too, but this election also shows that money, even unlimited corporate money, cannot buy votes, not yet in this country. Yes, the country is still sharply polarized, but he spoke about the need to change the electoral system to make it more inclusive. Yes he has failed on many environmental issues, but he broke the deafening climate silence last night in his victory speech, and spoke to a recently storm-battered nation that may actually believe in the reality of the threats from climate change now, about wanting our children to live in a world without the destructive power of global warming.

Perhaps I am being delusionally optimistic (optimism is a character flaw I gladly embrace), but this morning I feel that this election is a bigger win (or series of wins) for progressives in America than the last one when Obama was voted in on that wave of hope-and-change. Now lets make sure this country doesn’t slide back.

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Can we actually learn to live in concert with the sea?

Do we have a choice? is there still time? to change course, to find better ways? will we listen to the crashing waves? learn to ride them with the tide? stop trying to hold em back? trying to dominate the relentless ocean?

Can conservation, stewardship, reconciliation… work better in a fluid medium where one cannot draw lines on a map to keep nature bound and separate from us?

Questions I have aplenty… perhaps this film will offer some answers. Here’s a trailer for Ocean Frontiers:

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Reconciliation Ecology in Current Conservation

Current Conservation 5.1As I told a friend earlier today,  I am chuffed!

This is an announcement I have been waiting to make for quite a long while. Sometime during 2011 (or was it 2010?), my friend Nandini Rajamani approached me on behalf of this magazine of which she had just become editor, called Current Conservation, published out of Bangalore. She told me this was a popular magazine that had been around for a few years, and was being revamped to expand its reach among the nature conservation audience in India and elsewhere – but particularly focusing distribution on practitioners. She pointed me to their website where I found some really impressive articles from a variety of international writers laid out quite beautifully in a magazine format (why had I not paid attention to the emergence of this magazine sooner, I asked myself?).

Then she invited me to join the editorial board, and, more significantly, to contribute a regular column of essays about conservation topics! Apparently she, and others involved with the magazine had been reading my blog and thought I would have something useful to say to their readers on a regular basis. And here I thought that I was, a) mostly whistling into the wind, and b) as a blogger, part of some new media in an era where print magazines were on their way out! How could I refuse such a regular writing gig from a magazine, in a region where (Nandini assured me), despite all the hype about the www, print still ruled as the primary means of disseminating information for most people?

But I don’t write about tigers and other charismatic wildlife in the usual media ways, I thought, so will the largely Indian readership go for my somewhat askew take on conservation through reconciliation ecology? Yes, she said, reminding me that my “Tigers are less important than warblers” article remains one of the most-read essays I’ve ever written! She offered to call the column “Reconciliation Ecology”. So I said yes, of course! And looked forward to a more formal and less-ephemeral-seeming home for some of my more coherent ramblings.

In the first essay, I set out to answer a question I am asked repeatedly: “What is Reconciliation Ecology?“. I sent off the essay. And waited. I wrote another essay, “Lost Sounds“, and waited some more. Months passed before I heard that they were revamping the production process and the website and that they would catch up with the backlog of volume 4 before launching volume 5 which would include my debut column. Meanwhile, they had also asked me about artwork for my column, and commissioned an artist to produce something based on some ideas we discussed. The drafts and proofs were very promising. Then I noticed the website sporting a “under renovation” sign, and my pulse quickened as I left it open in an oft-refreshed tab in my browser. Yet more months passed with the site remaining unchanged even as the editor asked me for more essays so they could catch up on all 4 issues of volume 5 soon!

I knew Nandini had been finishing her Ph.D. dissertation when she first took on the job, and had since had other postdoctoral projects calling her away from India. It also seemed that other personnel were being shuffled around, even as months passed with the website remaining moribund, under that dusty “under renovation” sign, which I had stopped checking obsessively.

And then, yesterday, out of the blue, I got an email from the managing editor telling me that the magazine was back in production and issue 5.1 with my column was already out, in print and on the web! The email was accompanied by a pdf containing my article in its final form, a two page spread bordered by beautiful artwork depicting transitions and overlaps between the “natural” and “human” worlds, just like we had discussed, in a vaguely Warli painting style! How carefully and beautifully have they laid down my words on the pages of this beautiful magazine… I can’t wait to smell the ink when I get the actual print copy in hand soon.

Meanwhile, I am quite chuffed to present to you: Current Conservation, whose website is still being renovated. But you can read all their issues online, including 5.1 whose cover is featured above, containing my new column on pages 26-27! Read the whole issue, of course, and all the previous volumes as well. There is a lot of good stuff there, and more exciting stuff to come (and be more accessible too) with the website redesign. You can also follow the magazine on its new Facebook page.

And let me know what you think about my answer to your oft-asked question “What is Reconciliation Ecology?“. I welcome ideas and suggestions for topics to explore in future columns, as well as any of your own writings you may want to submit. I will be happy to email you a pdf reprint if you want one. Also, please consider subscribing to the print issue and supporting this important publication in any way you can.

Now I better go and finish the next couple of essays I had promised months ago!

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Denialism, skepticism, and the neglected moral crisis of anthropogenic climate change

My latest commentary for KVPR‘s “The Moral Is” aired this week. You can listen to me reading this via the program archive. Or you can read it yourself right here in this slightly extended version, with links:

Sunset over a warming northern ocean

As temperatures continue to soar during this long hot summer, the number of Americans willing to accept the reality of climate change also rose slightly. Yet there are many stoking “skepticism” of the scientific consensus that climate change is largely driven by human actions.

Must people experience heat personally to believe that the world is getting hotter? Will they swing the other way if we get a cold winter, likely because climate models indicate not uniform warming, but increases in extremes of weather? Call it global weirding instead of mere warming. The human mind has a tendency to extrapolate based on immediate experience, and is often unable to grasp events unfolding over an arc of time much longer than our lifespans. Yet grasp such trends we must if we are to survive as a species clinging to the thin living crust of this dynamic planet that has seen far worse cataclysms in the past and may do so again in the future, perhaps with our help.

We live in the Anthropocene, a new era in the Earth’s history where industrialized humans have become a true global geological force. Will we also now accept planetary stewardship, and begin to live in ways that minimize rather than exaggerate the fluctuations on this dynamic planet? The first step to recovery is acceptance of the problem, which in this case depends on understanding how our everyday short-term local actions add up to long-term planetary impacts.

Fortunately, we have invented a variety of methods and tools to help us overcome our sensory and cognitive limitations, and through science, develop a better understanding of long-term dynamics. Unfortunately, there are those who would prefer to keep this scientific knowledge at bay to further short-term profits. Two news stories from this long hot summer underscore the tension between these two driving forces in American public discourse.

Physicist Richard Muller of Berkeley, among the most prominent of climate-change skeptics, running the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study with funding from the Koch brothers (who have millions invested in maintaining short-term profits through persistent denial of long-term consequences), published a mea culpa in the New York Times when his own reanalysis of climate data led him to the same conclusions climatologists had reached over a decade ago: that ‘humans are almost entirely the cause’ of potentially catastrophic climate change! While this illustrates how science works, by rigorously testing hypotheses with data, it also shows the pitfalls of not trusting experts from the field who have spent years doing exactly that. Must we remain paralyzed in inaction, or worse, persist in our bad fossil-fuel burning habits for decades while professional skeptics funded by vested interests keep on challenging the experts’ consensus?

Meanwhile, Bill McKibben, that noted environmentalist Cassandra who has been beating his head for two decades against the walls of well-funded climate change denialism, raised a truly terrifying specter in Rolling Stone magazine based on new analyses of the mathematics of our dependence on fossil fuels. To sum up McKibben’s meticulously detailed argument (a must read even if—or because—it may have you curling up in a fetal position): while governments continue to fiddle on their promise made in Kyoto to keep global temperature rise below 2°C, which gives us room to add no more than 565 gigatons more of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we are in fact planning to add over 5 times that amount, 2795 gigatons! That last, truly scary number is from a new analysis accounting for all the fossil fuel reserves that are already factored into the business plans of the oil companies and national economic policies! In other words, we are already going ahead with plans to make climate change much much worse, even as denialist skepticism keeps concern about this looming catastrophe at the bottom of the American public’s priorities in this election season.

In this final stretch of the long Presidential election cycle, when everyone is hurling charges at each other about various “moral values”, where is the leadership on this deepest moral crisis confronting humanity: when will we truly become better stewards of our Earth?

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When the weather itself is going rogue, why not the weathergirl too?

Earlier this week, I wrote and recorded my next commentary for Valley Public Radio’s “The Moral Is” series – this time about global warming / climate change, and the moral costs of denialism. Of course, I couldn’t help but keep up a “serious academic” professorial tone to the whole thing – sadly. What can I say? Its a professional constraint/hazard of being a staid old professor. Now I wish I had really done something more along these lines:

via Weathergirl goes rogue – YouTube

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When I saw Christopher Mims’ tweet about this, I thought: hey, new infographic showing the world’s energy, cool! But this is an infographic that is so mindboggling that you will have to build the image it in your own head, using just the word picture in this post. Astonishing, this world we live in and take for granted.

Originally posted on Heliophage:

I’m fascinated by the fact the Earth-system is a massive conduit of power, with energy flowing into the system in the form of sunlight, flowing out of it as infrared. The flow involved is simply extraordinary: 120,000 terawatts. That’s 10,000 times the amount that flows through our industrial civilisation – all the world’s reactors, turbines, cars, furnaces, boilers, generators and so on put together. Yet so firmly are we tethered, and so smooth is the flow, that we hardly notice this torrent thundering past and through us. It just feels like the world.

So here’s an image to try and capture the immensity of the flow in which we are embedded. Picture Horseshoe Falls, the most familiar, forceful and dramatic cataract in Niagara Falls, in full spate.

Now increase the height of the falls by a factor of 20; a kilometre of falling water, a cascade higher even than Angel…

View original 109 more words

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