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Category: Ecology

Moving Tribute to the Great Auks

I am packing for 11 days in Iceland where I will see lots of wild life including puffins and arctic foxes. One animal I will not see is the great auk. I knew little about this bird unit I met Kay Cramer. I am reprinting an amazingly powerful piece shewrote for our local paper. Please feel free to share it.

Sunbury Daily Item 4/23/2017

Op-Ed by Kay Cramer

After all these years, I remember how I felt as a sixth-grader reading a library book. It told the story of the very last Great Auks. Black and white like penguins, and almost three feet tall, this flightless seabird nested in Iceland, Greenland and other north Atlantic islands. Back then most people did not believe an animal could ever go extinct, so no one set quotas or monitored the flock. I got to the last page of the book, and learned that on July 3, 1844, three hunters, sent to collect specimens for a merchant, strangled to death the very last mating pair. The pair were incubating an egg. One of the hunters crushed this egg with his boot, unaware his was the final act that led to the extinction of the Great Auk. I sat holding the book and cried. The story has stayed with me for life.

About 15 years ago, I read David Quammen’s book The Song of the Dodo. Turns out the many species, including the woolly mammoth, the giant sloth and the elephant bird, had gone extinct because of over-hunting and habitat loss. Hunters and the officials who oversee annual quotas today try to find a healthy balance when issuing hunting licenses, but in the past our ancestors, sometimes unknowingly,made dangerous mistakesleading to great harm.

While hunting animals out of existence is still a reality in parts of the world, here in the United States we face another responsibility in caring for life on earth. The writer Elizabeth Kolbert explains we are in the midst of a sixth extinction (the other five, including the one that caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs, were in prehistoric times). She warns that the continued fast pace of climate change is leading to a massive die-off in both plants and animals. Many will be lost in our lifetimes. In her book, The Sixth Extinction, she outlines how this process has already begun.

I feel pain when I contemplate a world without the birds, trees, plants and animals we love. It is even more painful to think they will not be here to awe and delight future generations.

Sometimes we are terrified and overwhelmed, thinking things have gone too far for us to make a difference.

And climate change has progressed very, very far. Discouraged people think, “Why change our consumption habits when they are just a drop in the bucket of carbon pollution?” But there is hope. Some changes make big differences.

The Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is a nonpartisan volunteer advocacy group that for the past 10 years has quietly reasoned with members of Congress to consider a carbon fee and dividend plan. Understanding that fossil fuel companies will likely pass this fee onto consumers, CCL volunteers suggest a monthly dividend check for households. This will help families cope with the rising energy costs as our communities move to cleaner, renewable energy. As the price of fossil fuel rises, businesses, government and households will use less. The air will be cleaner leading to significant decreases in respiratory diseases. We will begin the cleanup effort required to make the weather and atmosphere stable for all of us.

I have been encouraged by the formation of a Republican Climate Leadership Council headed by James Baker. They advocate for a carbon fee and dividend. Republican U.S. representatives from Pennsylvania have already shown leadership by joining the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. These include Pennsylvania Republican members of Congress, Ryan Costello, Patrick Meehan and Brian Fitzpatrick. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognize that climate change is happening right now, that it is caused by human activities and that carbon pricing is an effective means to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change.

As a little girl, there was nothing I could do to save the Great Auks. But today we can call on our members of Congress, like Reps. Lou Barletta and Tom Marino, to get serious about addressing climate change to stop further extinctions. The cause is very urgent, and the goal — to preserve our world for future generations — is one of the highest and best actions we can take.

Coal-Blooded – Time To Understand A New Perspective

Factory Smoke, monotype on paper by Degas 1877

A quick Google search regarding coal miners and climate action will spring nearly 1 million results, most of which involve passionate environmental groups exclaiming how terrible and eco-unfriendly this industry is.

Boy, what an ineffective way to accomplish change.

To effect the change required to address this climate crisis, we need as many people supporting and lobbying and agreeing as possible. We need an admirable approach that doesn’t solely point out the flaws of our fuel-guzzling history that we all participated in.


Left: Mingo Central High School cheerleaders and marching band. Right: Alpha Resources, the company that absorbed Massey Energy, donated the land for the new school on top of an old surface mining site


Underground shift workers from a dog mine near Feds Creek, Kentucky. Dog mines are independent and small operations nestled between the big corporate mines.

An approach that recognizes the past – namely how much the coal industry has helped build economies and communities throughout generations – and then understands that the new circumstances call for a nonpartisan solution to climate change during which all demographics are in communication. And last time I checked, shouting problems of an industry to workers in that industry doesn’t exactly encourage an open conversation.


A tour of the Anthracite Coal mine

I find that when I sit down with family members of coal miners, I’m humbled. I used to live happily in my bubble of environmental absolutes where fossil fuels are bad and the people who support them are ignorant. The irony.

But think about the conditions. It’s impossible to delve entirely into a multi-dimensional topic like this, but think for a moment about the lives of coal miners. The only way to make a living might be mining coal. Pay by the hour – maybe around $20, so it’s good pay – and working 6 or 7 days a week. In the dark, sooty tunnels for 10-hour shifts while being able to “pretty much tell sometimes when it is gonna fall and stuff. It’ll start dripping, like raining little pieces. That’s showing it’s taking weight and stuff.”


A memorial for the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster

It’s honorable, keeping a job and taking care of your family. And frankly, immediate pushback against some environmental regulation that will force hard-working individuals to learn new skills for a new career is completely understandable.

That’s why it’s so important to open a conversation, to see other points of view. If we get everyone in on this and talk openly about our concerns and opinions, we will quickly see that we all want the same thing: a livable future – economically, environmentally, and financially.

Check out the eye-opening blog by Stacy Kranitz that’s focused on changing the typically negative presumptions of life in coal country here. All photos were sourced from that page.

Have a great week and don’t be trashy.

(featured image: workers, sketch by Clyfford Still)

Renewables Are Up! But in the the UK, not so much

A worker at Xinyi photovoltaic power station in Songxi, China. China will lead the world for growth in renewable power, the IEA has predicted. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images

A worker at Xinyi photovoltaic power station in Songxi, China. China will lead the world for growth in renewable power, the IEA has predicted. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Images

Slowly but surely, positive change is happening all over the world. Adam Vaughan writing for the Guardian reveals: Renewables made up half of net electricity capacity added last year. China and the US are expanding rapidly. The UK? Not so much.

Green energy accounted for more than half of net electricity generation capacity added around the world last year for the first time, leading energy experts have found.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said the milestone was evidence of a rapid transformation in energy taking place, and predicted capacity from renewable sources will grow faster than oil, gas, coal or nuclear power in the next five years.


Since coming to power, the (UK) Conservatives  have drastically cut or ended subsidies for wind and solar powerbegun the privatisation of the green bank which supports clean energy, and enthusiastically backed fracking for shale gas and new nuclear. “While government support for new gas and nuclear capacity is evident, recent policy changes indicate that the role envisioned for renewables is uncertain,” the IEA said.

The article includes really helpful graphs.

Renewables made up half of net electricity capacity added last year

Unexpected Activism – A Life Turned Around By Birds

The Bird that Saved a Rainforest

Today’s inspiration comes from a bird lady:

People told me you cannot save the forest, but the more they told me, the more I wanted to do it.

Forbes Blackbird

Forbes Blackbird

That’s the determination we need! Anita Studer, ornithologist and Swiss native, traveled to Brazil’s Pedra Talhada tropical rain forest during grad school in 1981. There she found her passion. She became infatuated with a near-extinct species known as the Forbes’s Blackbird – or locally, the anumara – and naturally, Studer wanted to write her dissertation on this local legend.

But she would have to do it quickly: they were predicted to be extinct in a decade due to mass habitat loss. So her objective became pretty simple: save the forest so she could study the birds.

An Ecological Success Story

Very long story simplified, Brazil’s government designated 11,000 acres of the Pedra Talhada a biological reserve in 1989. And “in the 30 years since her conservation work began, Studer says six million trees have been planted across Brazil, including a 15-kilometer corridor known as the Swiss Forest. And the Forbes’s blackbird is flourishing.”

In the spirit of tree planting - my high school's environmental club planting Shady the Sun Valley Maple tree

In the spirit of tree planting – my high school’s environmental club planting Shady the Sun Valley Maple tree

That’s great, it is. She has accomplished statistically impressive goals in the reforestation world. But her most inspiring and impactful effect? Studer got communities to come together. She effectively used her power to convince one region of the importance of restoration, and it spiraled from there, massively increasing consciousness of deforestation’s effects across Brazil. Now children are growing up with the instilled value of environmental protection.

Yes, there’s a long way to go, but I hope this serves as a testament to one person’s ability to bring about change.

Check out How an Endangered Bird Helped Save a Brazilian Rainforest.

Have a great week and don’t be trashy.