Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day: A day to give thanks for our mothers, including Mother Earth

As I sit here sipping my cool ale from an aptly named brewery for the day, my thoughts obviously turn to my own mother, and my wife, the mother of my children.  I am truly blessed to have these two women in my life.  

"Atalanta Fugiens - Emblem 2d" by User:Mattes - Own book scan of Alexander Roos: Alchemie & Mystik, Taschen, 2007, Köln u.a.: TASCHEN, ISBN 978-3-8228-5035-0, p. 10. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - term/concept of "Mother Earth" can be traced back to the Greeks in the 13th or 12th century BC, so it has been with us for some time.  Where a human mother gives birth to a child, feeds it, clothes it, and generally provides for it, with little or no expectation of return (except in the extreme cases).   So too our Mother Earth has brought forth all living things, provides the resources to feed and sustain all living things.  It is an appropriate comparison, for the Earth demands nothing from those you draw from her bounty.  But like our own mothers, we need to give back for all that she has given us, and not overtax her.  It is Mother's Day, tell your mother you love her, and do something special for and for our Mother Earth as well.  Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day 2015: Let's not loose track of the progress we have made

It is Earth Day and as with any annual observance, it gives one time to pause and reflect on where we have come and where we are going.  We most certainly have some major issues to deal with in terms of Earth stewardship, human accelerated climate change, ocean acidification, and deforestation come to mind, but we can also take some solace in knowing that when we put our minds to it, we can CHANGE.
I was born into one of the worst environmental moments in human history, the 1960s.  The image to the right is of the US Steel plant in my home town of Cleveland, Ohio disgorging massive amounts of waste into the Cuyahoga River.  The pollution got so bad that the river caught on fire in 1969.  I was five years old.  At the time you would have been hard pressed to find a fish anywhere in the lower Cuyahoga and the fish there were in Lake Eire, you probably didn't want to eat.  It wasn't only the water that was of concern, I remember driving into downtown and seeing the orange-brown haze hanging over the Flats, generated by the steel plant furnaces.  Scary to think that we were breathing that stuff every day.  This was also the time that the first strong voices calling for clean air and clean water were beginning to be heard, think Rachel Carson, "Silent Spring", 1962.  It took not only a few strong voices, but the collective will of a community to reassess its priorities and put an end such thoughtless disregard for the impacts of our lives on the world we lived in.  Out of this movement was board the Clean Water Act and the Clean Act which drew a line in the sand on what could be spewed from our factories.
We have come a very long way since my childhood.  The image to left is of the Cuyahoga today.  Not only is the waterfront an attractive place for paddling, dinning, and summer concerts, Lake Eire and its rivers are now a sports fishing destination!  Check out the ODNR fishing web site and its Fish Ohio Recognition Program, record fish tracked across 20 species.  The charter and guide business is doing well once again along the shores of Erie.  
This brings me to another key point, often environmental protection is viewed as anti-business, due to the regulation and restrictions imposed on companies.  I contest that if you take the long view, it actually quite the reverse. The human economy is an integral part of the ecosystem we call Earth.  We need it to be health and function just as much as we need clean air and water.  If one studies ecosystems, it can be seen that a healthy ecosystem is one that is in balance.  Business benefit from a healthy environment in many ways.  Production costs are lower if you have access to abundant clean water.  A labor force is easier to attract when the community has clean air, water and quality outdoor spaces.  Whole industries can blossom and thrive around well managed natural resources (tourism, sport fishing, recreation, to name a few).
So on this Earth Day 2015, pause to look over your shoulder and be thankful for all the progress we have made, and tomorrow use that knowledge to motivate you and those around you to continue to be stewards of this place we call Earth and work toward solutions for this generations eco-challenges.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Negligent doesn't even begin to describe my lack of blog posts...

So, it has been over two YEARS since my last post. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.  As I transitioned out of my sabbatical and back into corporate life, this blog was one of the things that set aside.  I have missed sharing my thoughts, musings, and wondering in the natural world.  I will endeavor to begin posting perhaps on a weekly basis.

I have not neglected my need to connect with nature, in fact, I have gone back to another earlier love, photography in recent months.  I have outfitted myself with new gear and have been spending what little free time I have outside of work and family to honing my photographic craft.

I particularly enjoy capturing images in nature that others may not see.  Sometimes capturing those images requires getting up before dawn and wading into a stream, or merely seeing things from a different point of view.

What is most rewarding, is simply getting out of the house and the office and staying connected with the living things around us.  Photographing a scene or a specific subject forces me to look beyond the pretty sunrise or beautiful sunny day, to frame a moment, a feeling, an engagement with my ecosystem.

With Earth Day rapidly approaching, it seems an opportune moment to recommit to sharing my thoughts and perspectives on the natural world and my place in it.

So how will I spend Earth Day, aside from making another blog post?  I will take a walk in the woods, snap a few pictures, and support local environmental education efforts with my time and money.  How about you? 

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Sabbatical is coming to an End

It has been a much needed and enjoyable break from corporate life, but I am feeling the need to return to my career in marketing and have a great opportunity to join a interesting company, Savvis (owned by CenturyLink).  Savvis is a leading provider of data center and cloud computing services.  I know a number of great people there and I am looking forward to reengaging my business brain, not to mention the improvement in cash flow.  I'm not sure where this blog will go from here.  My thanks to all my new friends in the EE community including the board at EENC with whom I have served and the staff at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, where I have spent many hours over the past two years.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Phenology - the study of periodic plant and animal life cycles

I recently completed a workshop on the life and work of Aldo Leopold through the Leopold Education Project while attending the Environmental Educators of North Carolina annual conference.  Leopold is best known for defining the concept of the Land Ethic.  One of the elements of Leopold's study of the natural world was to keep records of when and how the plants and animals around him changed with the season.  This practice is known as Phenology, from the Greek, φαίνω (phainō), "to show, to bring to light, make to appear"[1]. I do not have the time or patients to keep a journal of the changes in my yard, but I do notice the changes as they occur.  The changing of the leaves in fall and the first blooms of springs are signs we all notice and use to mark time in our lives.  I especially note the changing of the birds at my feeders.  Last week marked the beginning of the fall/winter birds with the arrival of the Dark-eyed Junco and the Purple Finch down from Canada and points north.  Weeks before the last Ruby-throated Hummingbird took its last sip from my hummingbird feeder before heading for Central America.  There is a certain reassurance that comes from seeing these changes each year, much like the comfort that comes from family, cultural and religious rituals.  So one could see these changes as nature's rituals.  

The following questions come to mind.  What elements of nature help you mark time?  How have they changed in your lifetime and how might climate change affect them and you?  Please leave your though here and lets see what we learn about the environment and each other.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Environmental Protection Legislation & Enforcement - why can't it be easier

I have been a proponent of strong environmental protection policy at the local, state and federal levels for years.   Until recently, I have rarely been personally involved in achieving compliance, aside from emission testing for annual auto registration, which was always quite easy.

I am now in the process of preparing to build a second garage on my 2 acre lot and have run smack into county ordinances for storm-water management, put in place to protect our valuable watersheds.  The policy/code was put in place to assure that builders do not adversely impact the ecosystems of our streams, rivers and lakes or the use of those waterways as municipal water supplies.  Given my understanding of non-point source pollution and siltation, I completely understand the need and desirability of having policies and processes to assure builders develop in a responsible manner.  What I am now struggling with is the complexity and expense required to comply with these policies for individual homeowners, even responsible, conservation-minded ones like me.

In order to build the garage, and there-by add to the impervious surface area of my lot, I must have a survey done to calculate the percentage of impervious surface (house, driveway, walks, patios, decks, anything you drive or park on).  If the calculated area is over the limit, and for me it is, given my proximity to stream and local municipal reservoir, I now need to hire an engineering firm to design a storm-water management system to remediate the increased runoff that will be caused my the roof area of the new garage.

I was planning on placing a rain water holding tank on the garage anyway, but now I have to pay someone to analyze the site (surface areas, soil types, cover type, etc) to determine the size and type of system required. I will also have to pay a fee to the county to review and process my proposed solution ($400).  So, here I am trying to do the right thing and I have to wade through a sea of red tape and fees.  There has to be a better way to streamline and encourage smart development, while still assuring we have the safeguards in place.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stream Study as Play and Education

I recently took my three sons out to a local creek to help me with a stream study project, a homework assignment for It's Our Water (IOW) educator workshop I am taking online.  As you can see from the pictures, my sons cover a broad range in age (10, 13 & 16).  I wanted to engage my youngest, Colin with more water play and critter hunting and my oldest, Will, with some of
 the more analytical research (water testing, measuring stream profile, etc).  We all had fun measuring the flow rate.  Colin volunteered one of his rubber ducks to float down stream over a measured course (sorry no pics of Capt. Quackers, all hands were busy) to measure the flow rate.  We had a grand time spending a sunny Sunday afternoon wading, netting and discovering
 that our creek is in fact pretty darn healthy.  In terms of critters, we found clams, snails, mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly larvae (all safely return to the same spot in the stream they were found).  We even found a dragon fly that has just emerged and was floating down stream.  Colin caught him and we got him up on a branch along the bank where he could dry off.  It was a fun trip down memory lane for me. 
I grew up on the east side of Cleveland
 where I was able to explore and play in the woods and streams of the Doan Brook watershed and later in college studied aquatic systems as part of my biology major.  Having my boys with me, allowed me to see this stream through their eyes and to get back in touch with all of the experiences.  I encourage everyone to get out and explore your local stream.
You will find interesting creatures and likely some wonderful memories. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Incredible Journey as a Water Droplet - Project WET

I was fortunate enough to participate in a Project WET workshop for educators yesterday at Carolina Beach State Park. One of the many activities and exercises we practiced was The Incredible Journey, where each participant becomes a water droplet and takes a journey through the water cycle.  Unlike other cycles in nature, the water cycle is not a simple sequential circuit.  Water droplets take all sorts of journeys.  This exercise helps participants grasp the complexity of the cycle by becoming water droplets.  The game is a series of stations (soil, lake, river, ground water, glacier, ocean, animal, & plant).  Each station has a bowl of colored beads unique to that station and a large die with other stations and the word "Stay" on its sides.  Participants select a station from which to start, collect a bead, placing it on a string and they roll the die to find out if they stay or move to a new station.  Participants move from station to station based on their rolls collecting beads from the station for each turn they are at that station.  After a dozen or more turns, participants are asked to tell the story of their journey from the point of view of the droplet. Here is my story.

Hi! My name is Diego, Diego Droplet. I just completed the most incredible journey.  It all started in a beautiful lake.  There I was just hanging out in the water column when I found myself being sucked down through a small crack in the lake bed and the next thing I knew I was hanging out with a bunch of my fellow droplets in a bunch of sand and gravel.  Once I got there I did move much and hung out for a long time until a bunch of new droplets showed up.  They told me that they had been rain in a big storm and they had just percolated down here after the storm.  Now with all of us droplets pushing and shove'n on each other around the sand, there just wasn't enough room and I got pushed back up into that beautiful lake again.  Along came a deer and to my surprise, she stuck her mouth in and swallowed me right up.  Let me tell you that was scary!  It was one strange trip through that deer, but I will save that for another time.  Well, you can probably guess what happened next.  What goes in, must come out.  That's right, I ended up in deer urine that she sprayed on soil along the bank of a river.  It didn't take long for me to get swept into the churning torrent.  I was up and down, bouncing of rocks and sunken logs for what felt like days. Then things started to change.  The water slowed and spread out.  It was about that time I bumped into these two guys Sodium and Chloride.  They said they where ions, whatever those are.  Soon there where a whole lot of these ion guys around.  I must have been in the ocean.  I drifted about for a very long time.  I spent more time there than just about any other stop on my journey.  One day while up on the surface I started getting really warm.  The sun was hot that day.  I got so hot that I evaporated.  Let me tell you that was a really trip.  In the ocean one minute and 10,000 feet up in a could the next.  The view from up there was spectacular!  I didn't want to leave, but the cloud was getting heavy with a bunch of other droplets, just like me, and as the cloud drift inland we ran into some very tall mountains, where it was cold and we all froze and fell out of the cloud as snow flakes.  I drifted down and land on a glacier, along with a bunch of my new snow buddies.  All together we deposited 50 feet of snow on the glacier that year.  Glaciers are cold, slow moving rivers of ice.  I think I was there as long as I had been in the ocean.  One summer I found myself close to the terminus of the glacier and I melted.  At last I was a droplet again.  It felt good to be liquid.  I dripped off the end of the glacier onto some rocks and down a crevice back into an underground aquifer, where like before, I hung out for a while among the sand and gravel particles.  Now don't get me wrong, sand and gravel are fine folks, but they can get pretty boring after awhile.  Luckily, I percolated up and found myself in a mountain stream pretty quickly. It was a small swift stream in a steep narrow valley.  So there I was flying down this stream when, bam! I smack into a big'ol rock and got tossed high in the air, in a cloud of spray.  In an instant, I evaporated and was once again water vapor climbing high into the sky.  It wasn't long before my fellow droplets and I found ourselves falling back down at the foot of that mountain as rain and what do you know, I landing back in that very same river.  I even ran into a few buddies that I had met high up on the mountain.  We swap the usual stories of our adventures.  I'm not sure I actually believe the one about being sucked up into some small metal lined lake with no sun.  I think that droplet bounced off a few too many rocks, if you ask me.  Well back to my journey.  It is nearly over now.  I probably should have told you that I'm currently in a muscle cell in the leg of a marmot.  This strange rodent stopped to take a drink and slurped me right up and I went through his stomach and his intestines where I was absorbed into his blood stream, which brought me here.  So, I'm not sure where my journey will take me from here, but I am sure I won't be in one place for too long.  Thanks for listening and safe travels to you my friend.  Maybe we'll see each other again one day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

From Lion King to The Lorax, movies can only start the conversation

I had a hard job this afternoon.  I had to take one of our beloved cats, Bosworth, to be put down.  He has been putting up a valiant fight against renal failure, but he had run out of lives and it was time to help him along to cat heaven.  Intellectually, I know that ending the suffering when nothing more can be done and the quality of life has dropped to a miserable level is the right thing to do, but it is still heart wrenching to hold your furry friend as he takes his last breadth. 

As a father of three boys I had to explain what was going to happen to Boz and why it was the best thing for him.  This was not the first pet loss for any of them, but it was the nine year old with both the questions and the answers.  He had the practical questions.  "Will it hurt him?" and  "What will we do with his body?"  He also had the answers and the understanding I did not expect.  He said, "it is all part of the great circle of life." 

We have watched The Lion King a number of times over the years and we have talked about death and the cycle of life.  Little did I know then that he would bring that wisdom back to me as we readied ourselves to say goodbye to Bosworth. 

I share this story to encourage all of you to talk to you kids about movies they watch that have important messages or lessons.  The movie is not the whole lesson, it is just the start.  Listen to what they have to say and look at the world through their eyes.  If they ask a direct question, give them a direct answer.  You may be surprised at the answers they already have.

The [New] Lorax is in theaters now.  It has a valuable lesson and warning, "Unless".  Unless we talk to our children about the world we live in and how to care for it, the beauty may lost.  Nature will surely adapt to pollution, global warming and habitat loss, but we will lose a great deal and the resulting ecosystem may not be particularly kind to humans.  To me the lesson is to get the kids outside and help them to build a relationship with the plants and animals that live in the local woods, creeks and lakes.  One can not miss something ones does not know.  Don't talk about the loss of rainforests, global warming or saving an endangered species on the other side of the world, until you have first help them get connected to the environment they live.  Once they have developed that bond with the natural world around them, then and only then will they have the perspective and understanding to take in and process that bigger issues.

Let them go into the woods and play.  Let them come home muddy and wet. Ask them what they saw, what they heard, what they touched and smelled.  Talk to them about how nature works as wondrous system with every living thing giving and taking from that system.

On a camp out this past weekend, a group of scouts witnessed a fish eat a small frog (I thought, "how cool").  I was surprised (I probably shouldn't have been) when several of them were horrified and sadden that the fish had eaten the frog.  Unfortunately, it was not the moment to talk to them about the "circle of life" and that the fish was not being mean, it was just hungry. I can only guess that no one has had that conversation with them yet.  We all eat other organisms, plants (salads, fruits, vegetables) and animals, but all too often we are disconnected from the living form of our food and that makes me sad.

I apologize for the long and somewhat meandering post.  The words have been rolling around in my head all day and I just needed to get them down.  Life and death are part of the balance of nature and the more we understand how it works the better able we are to live within it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dogwood leaf buds just opening
Although the calendar says there is still another week of winter, spring is in full swing here in Raleigh.  I have added a photo gallery to my blog on the left side.  I have started it off with a few images from my morning walks the past few days.  This is my favorite time of year to get out into the woods.  The air temperature is perfect, the bugs aren't too bad, wildflowers abound, all the critters (birds, frogs, salamanders, deer, and fox) are out and about.  Get outside and enjoy the wild spots near you.  Take a walk in woods, by a lake or down a stream.  Listen, smell and feel the life all around you as the world awakens from its winter slumber.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Great Morning of Bird Banding

I spent the morning out at Prairie Ridge Ecostation assisting a group of dedicated volunteers band birds.  Bird banding done to identify and track individual birds.  Birds are captured through the use of mist nets (very fine black rectangular mesh nets about 2.5 x 9 meters).  The nets are strung between two vertical poles placed in areas one wishes to survey the bird population.  The birds are carefully removed from the nets and placed in collection bags, which calms them, to reduce stress.  The captured birds are brought to a assessment station where they are given a numbered band which is placed like a cuff loosely around their leg.  The species, and band number are recorded along with weight, wing length, fat content, gender (if it can be determined), molting status, etc.  the birds are then released back into the wild.  All of the data is later entered into a computer database and uploaded to a national database.  around 10% of the time, the birds captured will already have a band.  The individual is weighed and measured as usual and its band ID number is recorded.  Researchers around the country then can comb through this ever growing database to determine migration patterns of different populations as well as overall health of a given population.  I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with this dedicated group of volunteers working to improve our understanding of our environment and the birds that live in it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Enjoyed a wonderful workshop on North Carolina amphibians at the Agapé Center for Environmental Education yesterday. The session was lead by Jeff Hall and Mike Campbell of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.  They make a great team.  I had no idea just how rich North Carolina is in terms of amphibian species diversity.  The class has an interesting mix of folks from school teachers, to environmental educators and folks from various state departments.  We learned to identify over a dozen frogs, toads and salamanders that can be found in the Piedmont and coast plains.  The best part was the field work, searching ephemeral (temporary) pools, streams and the pond on the Agapé Center property.  It location on the edge of the sand hills makes it a wonderful habit for species from both the coastal plains and the Piedmont. Special thanks to Mir Youngquist-Thurow, director of environmental education at the Agapé Center.  She was a gracious host and knowledgeable educator.  I look forward future workshops and exploring the 600+ acres there in the future.
Green Frog tadpoles caught in minnow trap and later released.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Encounter with Grace and Peace

Manatee at Three Sisters in Crystal River, Fla.
I had a special encounter this past Friday.  I swam with manatees.  In fact my whole family swam with manatees.  I had seen them before from docks and from shore, but your really do not know the wonderful creatures until you join them in their world.  They are the most graceful and peaceful creatures I have encountered.  You would think that they would fear humans.  We have loud fast boats that injure and often kill them.  We are not always good neighbors, putting our needs and desires ahead of those of the creatures around us.  The creatures I met were friendly and curious. I felt welcome as we swam into their spring.  As a conservationist, I was really torn on the advisability of swimming with an endangered species.  Their low reproductive rate makes it difficult for them to recover from the population declines caused by hunting and boat accidents.  Any little change in their natural behavior could cause further impact.  After reviewing the new policies for manatee encounters (enforced by law and required by all tour operators to share with swimmers) I decided that I could be a more effective advocate for the manatee after a personal encounter.  The new guidelines, if followed, put the encounters a bit more on the manatee's terms.  You must wait for the manatees to come to you and you may touch them with only one hand at a time.  They are very curious creatures.   I had three different individuals come up from behind and below me to check out my camera and they seemed to like to the contact.  Once in the water you quickly realize that these are large animals.  Adults average around 10 feet in length and can be over a thousand pounds.  Yet, they are silent as they move through the water.  Moving with the grace of a ballet dancer.  I came away from the encounter with a new understanding of what it means to share an ecosystem.  It is all too easy to forget that we are living organisms within a complex ecosystem where all living things affect one another.  Human's have mastered the ability to alter our surroundings to meet our needs that we separate ourselves from the rest of the system.  We have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to all organisms we share this earth with to live in balance within the ecosystem, or the system will rebalance itself and we may not like the result.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Embrace the Wonder and Curiosity

On a recent trip to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences with my three boys (9, 12, & 16), I witnessed the power of wonder and curiosity at work. We went down to see the touring Genghis Khan exhibit (which is marvelous by the way).  On the drive down I shared the plan with the boys that we would tour the new exhibit and then check out the rest of the museum followed by lunch.  Their near universal answer was, "oh, we have been to the museum hundreds of times and we have seen it all.  It will be boring..."  So I was now a bit dubious on the prospects for the day.  They all were thoroughly engaged with the Kahn exhibit, even the nine year old was reading the plaques and watching the videos and checking out the mummy (his favorite part).  So we came to the end of the exhibit and it was now time to explore the rest of the museum and the chorus of complaints echoed once more, but we soldiered on.  Within a few steps down the hall, they were hooked once more and now I heard "ooo, look at this", and "Cool! check out the snakes!" The natural curiosity and wonder of the world around us found in our children is one of the great gifts of parenthood.  Stay close to them and look at the world through their eyes and you too can find yourself marveling at the beauty and variety that mother nature has created.  One of things my boys love to do is come up with their own names of the creatures they discover.  I have found that they often do better than those who defined the official commons we all know.  They long-nosed gar was dubbed, the "Pinocchio fish" and the red-bellied woodpecker, has become the "red mohawk woodpecker", because as the boys point out, their really isn't much red on his belly and what is their is actually more orange anyway.  Now don't get me wrong, we need a commonly know set of names for all living things so that we may share or experiences and organize our research, but while your teaching your kids the names of plants and animals, take a moment and as them what they would name it, if they could.  You might be surprised by fun and insightful answers you receive.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Immerse Yourself in the Wonder and Beauty of Nature

The day after Thanksgiving I wanted to do something special with my boys and my parents who were visiting from Ohio.  I was an avid birder in my youth and continue to enjoy birding, albeit far more casually today.  So we drove out to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge to see the Tundra Swans that winter over in flocks by the thousands, even tens of thousands.  I had always wanted to see this spectacular gathering of stately white birds.  The brief video clip does not do it justice.  It was shot from a long distance at full zoom, but I hope it will give a sense of the scene.  The real joy came in hearing by nine year old say "Wow! that is amazing".  We all need to stay connected to the joy and wonder of nature as seen through the eyes of a child.  No mater where you live, you can find the wonder and beauty of nature every day, if you just take the time to look.  Even city dwellers can find it in the shape and color of a leaf in the park, or the exquisite architecture of a spider's web in the kitchen window.  Make it a point each day to look for natural beauty in your world.  Take a picture and share it with your friends.  See the world, if just for a moment through the eyes of your inner-child and touch that sense of wonder within you. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

LED Lighting, now a real option.

On a recent trip to my local big-box home improvement store I was delighted to find that the selection of LED replacement bulbs had easily doubled, if not tripled since I last looked at bulbs.  They are now available in most sizes, bases, and application types where you would use an incandescent bulb.  Better yet, the prices have really started to come down, some under $15.  If you look at the cost savings from reduced energy usage (uses 10-15% of the power of a traditional bulb of similar light output) and the fact that they way longer, it really does make sense to start installing LED bulbs as your CFLs and incandescent burn out.  I am currently testing a GU10 base LED in my 4" recessed ceiling lights and a candelabra base flame tip LED in a decorative pendent in the kitchen.  The light quality and brightness are quite nice.  The no brainer application for LED replacement bulbs is for those hard to reach fixtures.  I have a dual flood light fixture under the eve on the corner of my 2. 1/2 house.  Changing those flood bulbs requires getting out a very large and heavy ladder.  With LED bulbs in there, I won't have to worry about replacing them for many years to come.  Where have (or could) you use LED replacement bulbs in your home or office?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The 7 Billion Mark - what does it mean?

I have been dragging my feet on writing this post since last week.  I knew I wanted to write about the population milestone we just past of 7 billion humans on planet Earth, but I wasn't sure of where I wanted to go with it.  To begin with, 7 billion is a number that is very difficult to get your head around.  To help bring some meaning to that number, I did a little number crunching.  If all 7+ billion of us joined hands and could  do so around the equator (oceans not withstanding) we would encircle the earth around 160 times! I'm happy to share the numbers, if anyone is interested.  That is a startling fact, at least to me.  So what are the implications?  As a ecologist, I am immediately drawn to the concept of carrying capacity.  Carrying capacity is the measurement of the biomass (living stuff) that a given ecosystem can sustain/hold.  What is the carrying capacity of the Earth?  Some have attempted to address this question by use of computer models (ex: World2 and later World3).  But I think there are some key observations that we can make without the aid of such models.
  1. The human population is concentrated in cities.  This in turn concentrates consumption and waste production in these areas.
  2. Population growth is near flat in Europe and N. America and increasing more rapidly in areas least able to sustain it (lack of clean water, proper sanitation and food supply).
  3. Humans have transformed the ecosystems of the planet in ways no other animal ever could (ex: only 2% of rivers in the US still flow unimpeded to the sea. - Abromovitz, 1996, "Imperiled Waters, Impoverished Future: The Decline of Freshwater Ecosystems")
So the question is, what do we do?
If continue on our current path, nature will change and make adjustments, as it always does.  The trouble is that the changes may not be ones that are favorable to humans.  We have already scene in highly impoverished areas that we have alarmingly high infant mortality rates and shorter life expectancies.  These are signs that in these areas we have exceed the environmental and economic carry capacity and the human population is paying the price.
But the impacts are not limited to developing nations.  The way of life we have grown accustom to here in the US will change (is changing already in some places).  Clean air and water must be assured if we are to survive and thrive.  There is a movement lead by the conservative end of the political spectrum to reduce regulation in an effort to foster economic growth.  I believe this is a very dangerous path.  In effect what is being proposed is to exchange long-term sustainable clean air and water supplies for short-term financial gains.  Effective and appropriate legislation is needed to assure the long-term needs of humanity and ecosystem Earth are balanced against short-term economic benefits.   This ties back to one of my earlier posts that tried to make the case for looking at longer term horizons when making business/investment decisions.  We know that it is far cheaper to protect and maintain a clean water supply than to have to clean it up later, if it can be cleaned up?
The  bottom line for me is that we need to change the way we live and do business such that sustainability and environmental protections are simply how we live and work, not some special cause of overlay to a business plan.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Assuring a Safe and Suffient Water Supply

I spent most of yesterday at the annual Triangle Land Conservancy Conservation Summit.  We heard from a number of great speakers:
The key takeaways from the summit for me were:
  • Water is our most precious natural resource and we must assure an adequate supply of safe clean water now and into the future.
  • People care about having clean water and are willing to pay for it, but they don't want the cost called a tax.  It should be looked at as simply part of the production cost.
  • Investing in "green infrastructure", protecting lands buffering streams within a watershed can be a cost effective part of a broader capital investment plan for any water utility.  In fact it should be viewed in the same way as steel and concrete infrastructure investments are in the utility business.
  • Watershed inputs and outputs (water, pollution, revenues, and policies) often have different geographies and constituencies.  As such, all parties need to be at the table working on a shared cost and benefit solution.
  • Developing productive and equitable relationships between urban areas and the surrounding rural communities is fundamental to long term sustainability.  The communities are highly interdependent on each other and it is in the best interest of one to help assure the success of the other.
A clean and sustainable water supply is in the interest of all, regardless of political alignment.  I am hopeful that this is an issue that can help our elected officials transcend the grid lock of partisanship.

Thanks once again to the terrific team at TLC for assembling an A+ panel of speakers and for hosting this important summit.  Presentations from the summit can be downloaded from the TLC web site.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Framing the Conservation Imparative

Too often issues are framed in terms of two sides of a problem or situation.  Like corporate polluters vs. environmentalists.  There is something about the "us vs. them" model that people like, regardless of the side you are on.  It simplifies the rhetoric, "we're right, they're wrong".  It polarizes the issues, forcing people to to pick sides and it makes for easy headlines.  However, it often causes more harm than good by clouding everyone's eyes to the real problem and the real solution that quite possibly will be in everyone's best interest.
Large corporations are often painted as the villains when it comes to the environment, but if we look at the role and responsibility of a corporation a new and different problem comes to light.  One that I believe will help us frame stewardship of the Earth in a new light.

In simplest terms, a corporation exists to provide a return on investment for its shareholders, typically by providing a good or service to the market in a profitable manner.  Corporations have a vested interest in minimizing their costs and maximizing their revenues so as to maximize the return for their shareholders.  Let me go on record as saying, there is nothing wrong with a profit driven corporate model.  However, in today's world that model is incomplete.  First, all of the costs of production are not captured on the corporate cash flow statement.  As an example, the cost of polluted air and water is born by the entire planetary ecosystem, not just the company with the emissions.  Second, the time horizon for the return on investment is too short.  Wall Street has created a 90 days performance measurement model which forces publicly traded firms to optimize short-term returns at the expense of long term sustainability.  If corporations looked at the cost of production with a 10-20 year horizon, then they would clearly have a vested interest in clean air and water because without it, their production costs will skyrocket.  

So, let us cast the need for conservation, not as an "us vs. them" debate, but as a need to fully account for the current costs of production and the need to delivery long term sustainable growth and profitability. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Getting Out The Message

Marketing sometimes gets a bad rap.  It gets associated with hype and exaggerated claims of a the performance of products and services.  That is unfortunate.  The practice of marketing at its core is all about clearly defining and communicating your message to a target constituency.  Clearly defining the brand and accompanying messaging strategy are critical to growing small conservation organizations.  The national and global organizations like Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club and others do a pretty good job in this area, but local and regional organizations could benefit from some focus on brand development and marketing.  This was brought home recently in a conversation I had with the president of a local conservation group.  His organization has been around for over 20 years and their membership has been flat for the past three plus years.  Local and regional non-profits start off very program driven, and rightly so.  It should be all about doing the work to drive the mission.  One of the keys to growing the organization and doing more of the good work that it does must be to tell its story to more people and to get more people excited about the work that it does.  It starts with clearly defining the "Brand" of the organization.  What does it stand for?  (Core values & core mission).  From there you move to defining the "Core Message" (may have multiple related sub-themes) which will be derived from and validate the brand.  All communications should reinforce the Core Message.  The Marketing Plan then creates the tactical execution framework for getting the message out to the community and to specific targeted segments with a story that resonates with them and links their wants, needs or desires to the mission of the organization.  The other key here is effective listening.  One must listen to not only the existing membership, but to the broader targeted audience to assure understanding of their wants, needs and desires.   If you do not make an effort to communicate beyond your core group of supporters your organization will reach a certain size or capacity and plateau at best or stagnate and decline at worst.  Effective marketing will expand membership, increase volunteers, make large gift solicitation easier, and improve partnerships with other organizations and government agencies.