On the Fourth of July, hundreds of people flopped in chairs and blankets along Shields Lake in Byrd Park to await a fireworks show.
The fireworks came early when an adult bald eagle — shining white head and tail, dark body — landed in a pine by the lake, providing the patriotic crowd a long look at our nation’s living symbol.
It was a huge surprise, particularly on the Fourth. But in one of Virginia’s great environmental success stories, your chances of seeing a bald eagle are the best in decades — maybe centuries.
A new survey shows that the eagle population in the James River region has topped 200 pairs for the first time since good written accounts began in the 1930s.
“My guess would be this is the best the population has been in 300 years,” s上海千花网
I tend of late to take less joy in almost everything I encounter. Even the things that would have brought me great satisfaction only recently now provide me no pleasure and are often occasions to reflect on how empty and worthless so much of what steadily surrounds us truly turns out to be.
Part of this is surely a function of aging and its concomitant inability to pretend that you haven’t seen it all before and don’t know how it’s all going to end up (I don’t want to ruin it for you if you are yourself a young person, but let me just give you this hint: No one walks out of it particularly pleased with anything. The good news is none of it matters anyway, but that is a lesson which does not offer a great deal of comfort. And that’s as good as it gets, news-wise. Sorry, young person.).
Some of it may be a symptom of this profound and perpetual winter under which we have suffered seemingly forever. But the biggest block of it must be the sheer quantity and volume of mental noise blasted at all of us without end in our age of Everything All The Time. There is no quiet moment in which to pause and reflect, or even to just pause, fuck reflecting. It’s always on and always shouting and it has shaken the very ways in which our perception of time itself was once understood.
Consider this: Christmas was two months ago. How many horrible lives have you lived in the nine weeks since Christmas? And yet what have you done with all that time? If you had planned something as simple as spending an evening in to read a magazine no sooner would you have turned the first couple of pages over to find that it was somehow nearly midnight and the lids of your eyes were growing heavy and insistent that you draw down the shades on the day. But at eight you had gotten yourself all settled in on your couch, fully prepared to devote all your attention to the issue at hand. What happened? How did you get distracted?
Asked to account for your time in a court of law or before some other organ of judgment the best you could do would be to mutter under your breath about keeping up with the cultural conversation but you yourself would not even know nor could you accurately account for those hours. This relentless onslaught has reversed our very experience of life’s passing, in that we now live in a world w上海419龙凤 网客here the days go by so quickly but the years take forever. It’s why I have to laugh when well-intentioned people tell me that life is short and I should savor every minute of it. Really? In what world? May is two months from now, and we will all die a thousand deaths between now and then and it probably won’t even get all that much warmer.
Brevity is as illusory as the idea that there might ever be some respite from the chronic cacophony that floods through every crack and crevice of our existence. It’s always on and it is never quiet and it never lets you forget just how terrible everything is and how much worse it is all getting.
And now they’re trying to tell me that, when the time comes where I finally approach my eternal reward, they might prolong my agony by sticking my head on a whole other body? What kind of nightmare world do we live in that would force multiple bodies to have to put up with my horrible head? Anyway, give all of that a good think before you tell me to cheer up again. Asshole.
While America recently elected a new and possibly anti-environmental Congress, we are still ending 2014 on a high note with two environmental victories. Both originated in the executive branch of government–one in our national government and the other in the New York state government. Over the past week: 1) EPA took a small but significant step to begin regulating coal ash, the stuff that remains after coal is burned; and 2) New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to continue New York’s ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
Regulating Coal Ash
According to the New York Times‘ Emmarie Huetteman:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced the first federal guidelines for disposing of coal ash, instructing power plants to implement safeguards against contaminating nearby water supplies. But the agency did not require many of the restrictions that had been urged by environmentalists and other advocates, who point to studies showing coal ash… contains a significant amount of carcinogens… The E.P.A. declined to designate coal ash a hazardous material, but said power plants would have to meet certain minimum structural standards for landfills and disposal ponds, and monitor them for leaks. If a breach is discovered, it will be the utility company’s responsibility to reinforce or close the pond. New ponds and landfills will have to be lined to provide a barrier against leaks. Controls must be used to prevent people from breathing in coal ash dust.
A great deal of coal ash is recycled for use as a building material, but a lot if it is dumped into landfills and waste ponds. We have been living with a variety of forms of pollution from coal for a very long time. America’s environmental regulators have spent nearly half a century playing catch up to this source of pollution. If this is the “war on coal”, I think coal has demonstrated a lot of staying power. Nevertheless, regulating coal ash can help ensure that people and ecosystems are protected from a potential source of toxics largely transported via water.
Banning Fracking in New York State
While natural gas burns cleaner than coal, extracting gas from the earth is far from pollution free. In order to produce gas through fracking, a liquid is pumped deep underground to release the gas. While most of that liquid remains deep underground, about a third of it comes back up to the surface. Fracking fluid is polluted and must be stored locally in ponds or transported off site.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo based his decision to continue New York’s ban on fracking on scientific uncertainty. New York’s Health and Environmental Commissioners told the governor that the scientific impact of fracking on ecosystems and human health was not fully understood. His decision to ban fracking was based on this incomplete knowledge of its impact.
In contrast to the federal government’s regulation of coal ash, New York’s decision makers applied the precautionary principle to the practice of fracking for natural gas. The precautionary principle requires that we test the potential impact of a new technology before we implement it. It is the way we regulate the introduction of new drugs. Before we allow a drug company to sell a new drug, we test it on animals and then on people to ensure that we fully understand the side effects of the drug, and to be more certain that it is safe for use. For other technologies, such as fracking or the use of chemicals in agriculture, we introduce the new technologies first and only regulate them once we are sure they cause harm. This might be called the reactionary principle. Instead of taking precautions to prevent harm, we only react once damage is proven. We assume that the economic benefits of new technologies are typically greater than any costs. We don’t want to slow down innovation and possible economic growth by being careful and taking precautions.
Our approach to regulation is sometimes compared to the “canary in the coalmine”. At one time, before we allowed coal miners to descend into certain coalmines, we tested for poisonous gas by lowering a canary in a cage suspended by a rope into the mine. If the canary came back dead, the miners didn’t go into the mine. In a sense, we are all the canaries in the toxic cave we have created from modern technology. If we can prove a technology makes us sick, we regulate and sometimes ban it. But unlike Governor Cuomo’s fracking policy, we almost never regulate based on uncertain but possible risk. Cuomo’s application of the precautionary principle to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is a significant step forward in the history of American environmental policy.
Fossil Fuels are a Dirty, Outmoded Technology
Fossil fuels get us coming and going. They damage ecosystems when they are extracted from the planet and they pollute the air with toxics and greenhouse gases when they are burned for energy. They are a dirty and dangerous technology, but one that we are all totally dependent on for many aspects of modern life. We are deeply addicted to fossil fuels and pretending we can do without them is a fantasy.
But our addiction to fossil fuels does not make the use of these fuels a good thing. We need to figure out a cleaner and more sustainable way to power our way of life. We need an energy source that is less toxic and possibly even nontoxic. While we are making progress in developing these new technologies, they are still not as inexpensive and reliable as fossil fuels. For the time being, we will need to continue our life as fossil fuel junkies.
Until we develop the cheap and convenient alternatives to fossil fuels that will drive that outmoded technology from the marketplace, we need government to regulate fossil fuel extraction and use. That is why the events of this past week are so important.
Economic Growth Requires Innovation
Nearly all of the economic growth we have enjoyed over the past several centuries has been the result of the development of new technologies or new ways of organizing and managing human enterprises. Innovation is spurred by human ingenuity and human ingenuity is inspired by human need. Our need for food, water, air, clothing and shelter has led to the development of a complex, interconnected global economy. Our desire for intellectual and emotional stimulation, social interaction, and spiritual fulfillment has led to the creation of an international system of communication and information. Our economic, information and communication systems are all connected to each other and all require energy to function.
Right now most of the energy we use to power modern life comes from fossil fuels; a dirty, outmoded technology. These polluting, expensive and capital-intensive technologies are ripe for the plucki龙凤网
Photo credit: Priyadarshini Mitra
Large cardamom yields are falling dramatically across the northeast Himalayas, where a fungal infection caused by climate change threatens one of the world’s most expensive spices.
Large cardamom plantation in Sikkim
Photo credit: Subhra Priyadarshini
As India celebrated its 66th Republic Day this year, chief guest U.S. President Barack Obama watched a display showcasing the rich culture of various Indian states pass by on the Rajpath, New Delhi’s ceremonial boulevard. A beautiful tableau from Sikkim state was covered with rich foliage, showing the tradition of large cardamom cultivation — one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Sikkim, a small state in the northeast Himalayas, accounts for almost 90 percent of India’s large cardamom production, making India one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of the spice. The country earns Rs. 12 crores (nearly $2 million U.S. dollars) for every 1000 million tonnes of cardamom pods.
But all of this is now at stake. The region’s undulating mountains that once offered the perfect climatic conditions and fertile soil for the lucrative crop have turned into a breeding ground for pathogens — which experts believe are caused by climate change. This has proved lethal for the sensitive large cardamom plants, which are now disappearing at a drastic rate.
Surveys show that within the last decade, the cultivation area of this important cash crop, vital for Sikkim’s economy, dropped by half. “According to a baseline survey of large cardamom, the area under cultivation was 23,000 hectares in 2004. This has now [been] reduced to just 12,500 hectares,” says Tilak Gajmer, an entomologist and programme coordinator with Krishi Vigyan Kendra, a front-line agricultural extension centre funded by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in Sikkim.
When large cardamom production was first hit in the late 1990s, people thought it was some mysterious disease. It was only in 2011 that a group of scientists from the Indian Cardamom Research Institute discovered a fungus — known as Colletotrichum gloeosporioides — is responsible for causing leaf blight.
Large cardamoms — cultivated not only in northeast India, but also in Nepal and Bhutan — need cool, humid conditions to grow. They thrive at an altitude of between 800-2000 metres above sea level under the shade of tall trees like Alder, a type of birch. Once attacked by the fungus, usually during the onset of the monsoon — the cardamom leaves develop grey and brown patches that dry out giving a burnt appearance. The seeds of the infected plants do not mature properly and remain white or light brown rather than turning black.
Moreover, since it is a soil-borne fungus, spores stay in the soil for 10-12 years, making it difficult to get rid of — even once large cardamoms have been replanted.
This blight has had a severe economic impact on farmers who depend on the cash crop, which fetches Rs. 1200- 1400 per kg (U.S. $18-22 per kg).
Pointing to the vegetation on the hills, Pashan Sherpa, a farmer from the village of Perbing in Namthang Block, says in anguish, “All these hills where you are see different kinds of vegetables, were covered w上海419女生宿舍