News

Extinctions and Other Sad Environmental News

Here’s a well-written lament from The Atlantic about the ongoing extinctions of a huge number of native Hawaiian snail species.

Zooming out from just Hawaii, here’s a map of how many species are being pushed to the brink globally.

This is a sad photographic illustration of how littering - even when the litter is biodegradable - negatively impacts wildlife.

Human-Led Environmental Devastation in the News Again

I’m not sure if it was possible to not hear about the horrific recent United Nations assessment on wildlife decline and extinction as it made front page news all over - but if you missed it, here’s one of the many stories covering its findings.

Relatedly, here’s an article discussing how meat consumption plays a huge role in climate change and needs to decrease by 90%. Of course, that’s only one of a multitude of corporate and cultural changes we would have to make…

The Meaning of a Whole Ecosystem

This well-written and devastating feature in The New York Times Magazine, “The Insect Apocalypse is Here,” is worth reading. You might cry, though.

In conversation, sometimes, a student will wish mosquitoes away. I tell them that mosquitoes are an important part of the food chain for a number of species, and that while I, too, would like to be mosquito-free, we must understand that we are one small part of a whole. We may soon manage to become the whole, though, through chipping and choking everything else out. This article is about the decline of all insects and the overall functional extinction of many species - and our often unnoticed acclimation to it all.

The Degree of Global Warming

I’ve shared before how climate scientists have a very hard time getting the public to accept and understand the reality of our present and future situation.

Now here’s another recent look at the current and projected scale of global warming and how it compares to the agreements and actual international practices regarding emissions.

A Selection of Readings

Trump-Era Environmental Damage

In case you haven't been following along (I do understand the appeal of attempting to ignore that Trump is in charge of the USA), here's a list put together by The New York Times compiling twenty-three environmental laws, regulations, and policies that Trump has overturned in the first hundred days of his presidency.  At least Elon Musk is trying his best to get humanity to Mars, since it seems like it'd be best if we just left Earth to the rest of the species that inhabit it and move to a lifeless planet that won't suffer as much from our short-sighted and morally questionable leadership.

Secrecy Never Breeds Corruption, Right?

In yet another disheartening move by the new Trump administration, the United States Department of Agriculture has removed a variety of documentation regarding animal welfare and enforcement of current standards of care from their website.  In a hilariously disingenuous statement, this decision is explained as being based in part due to the USDA's "commitment to being transparent."

The EPA Was Just Frozen by the New US Administration

The Environmental Protection Agency was just frozen, "temporarily halt[ing] all contracts, grants and interagency agreements."  It's also been placed under a media blackout.  I cannot emphasize enough how problematic this is not only for its immediate effect but also for the implications this action has in conjunction with other decisions and promises - including sharply increasing drilling and mining operations in previously protected land - already made by Trump and his team.  This will lead to short-term financial profit at the short-, middle-, and long-term expense of catastrophic environmental mismanagement.  It's not a unique decision, unfortunately, but it is still a deeply wrong one to make.

Bison Are the First National Mammal!

How cool is this - President Obama has signed the National Bison Legacy Act making bison the first national mammal (though bald eagles are still secure in their national animal status).

To celebrate, here's a gallery of all of my bison paintings completed thus far!

Mimosa Pudica Remembers You

Here's a neat article from The New York Times on one of the plants I work with in my interactive installations, the Mimosa pudica or "sensitive plant."  I do have to qualify their results, however, because none of the plants I've grown has ever stopped recoiling from human touch/interaction.  I wonder just how repeated their "repeated exposure" was.

Anti-Intellectualism - an American Cultural Failing We Need to Fix

Most Americans know who Albert Einstein was, but comparatively very few people know who Neil deGrasse Tyson is.  They know who Kim Kardashian is, though!  In the present in the United States, entertainment and lowest-common-denominator appeal are revered and expertise has less impact than demagoguery.  When people stop admiring intelligence, they stop working to attain it.  That's where we are now.  The United States has a lot to learn from other older, more mature cultures, and I hope we can wisen up soon.

Yellowstone Bison Culling

A great op-ed, "The Bison Roundup the Government Wants to Hide," was just published in The New York Times about the politically motivated annual bison cull that takes place in Yellowstone National Park at the taxpayer's expense.  I'm all for the suggestions of the author, Christopher Ketcham, with the clarification that I'd like any seasonal hunting to be restricted to that which encourages an ecological balance as opposed to one based on farm/ranch priorities, fear, or the desire for trophies.

The Pursuit 2015 Article on 3P Quick Cure Clay

The Pursuit, LSU College of Science's annual magazine, wrote an article in their 2015 issue about 3P Quick Cure Clay, Dr. Pojman, and our collaboration (although they accidentally misattributed my role to a Jessica Nelson).  You can read the article, entitled "LSU Chemistry Professor Creates Multi-Use Quick Cure Clay", on page 23 of 60 here if you're interested!

Domestic Terrorists Currently Occupying Unprotected Wildlife Sanctuary in Oregon

From the Audubon Society of Portland:

The occupation of Malheur by armed, out of state militia groups puts one of America’s most important wildlife refuges at risk. It violates the most basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine and holds hostage public lands and public resources to serve the very narrow political agenda of the occupiers. The occupiers have used the flimsiest of pretexts to justify their actions—the conviction of two local ranchers in a case involving arson and poaching on public lands. Notably, neither the local community or the individuals convicted have requested or endorsed the occupation or the assistance of militia groups.

Apparently a set of keys was found outside by the "militia" thus letting them inside the small, unprotected bird sanctuary.  This ingenious hostile takeover is made even more impressive since while they are claiming to have 150 occupiers, journalists on scene are reporting only 6-15.

The real problem is that these terrorists' repeated claims to federal land are damaging the environment.  From the Center for Biological Diversity on the 2014 Cliven Bundy illegal grazing debacle in Nevada:

"The Gold Butte area south of Mesquite is officially designated as critical habitat for the tortoise – an area essential for its long term survival. But the BLM continues to allow grazing by trespass cattle.
... 
Despite having no legal right to do so, cattle from Bundy's ranch have continued to graze throughout the Gold Butte area, competing with tortoises for food, hindering the ability of plants to recover from extensive wildfires, trampling rare plants, damaging ancient American Indian cultural sites and threatening the safety of recreationists."

The United States needs to step up on federal land management so this type of terroristic action doesn't become seen as a viable option.  These armed sovereignists want to become martyrs or messiahs, but what they really need is to be imprisoned and fined.

Climate Science in the Public Eye

I was sick recently, so I had the time to watch the television series Newsroom.  One clip really stuck with me:

Now given that this is from a fictional television series, viewers could be forgiven for thinking it an exaggeration.  But the facts check out, though sadly a few are outdated and have increased negatively in the meantime.

What really interests me apart from the immediate content is that the whole reason it's funny (admittedly in a macabre sense) is because most scientists are a little less depressingly stark about our situation.  Why is that?

It turns out that a recent paper "Duality in Climate Science" published in Nature Geoscience takes scientists and the media to task for underselling our ecological position due to fear of politically and professionally calamitous ramifications.  The paper summary reads:

Delivery of palatable 2 °C mitigation scenarios depends on speculative negative emissions or changing the past. Scientists must make their assumptions transparent and defensible, however politically uncomfortable the conclusions.  

What that's saying is that unless we can time travel backwards or develop technology in the future that we don't know exists yet, we're screwed.  Here's another not-at-all-comforting review of this and other papers saying in part, "The latest installment of depressing news is the delightful prediction that dozens of American cities are at risk of drowning before the century is out, turning places like New Orleans and Miami into the lost kingdom of Atlantis."