Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category


Can You Sea What I Sea?

April 4, 2010

HuffingtonPost offers this disturbing article about the progressive unflooding of the Aral Desert. Evidently, this desert used to be relatively wet… a sea, even. Only about 10% of the fabled sea remains. Watch the video and marvel at the phenomenal Russian language of the Uzbeks, mastery of which they’ve somehow managed to maintain almost 20 years after Borya rescued Mischka by giving an inspired (and miraculously sober) speech from the turret of a tank. Oh, and thank your lucky stars that you don’t depend on goats for your livelihood.


Which Way Will the Amateur Dendros Go?

February 2, 2010

A recent NAS study suggests that trees in the Chesapeake region are growing at a faster rate than they have been in the past. Some scientists hypothesize that this may be due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thereby suggesting that forests may be able to absorb more CO2 than previously thought. To establish this, the scientists in question relied on…wait for it… tree ring studies, an otherwise maligned bastard child of the climate science community. So the question is whether this new finding counts as support for the claim that climate change may not be as dramatic as has been projected.


Smells Like Butterflies

January 3, 2010

If the movie Avatar doesn’t introduce a new wave of Anorexic Blue Man chic, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. “Long, skinny, and four-fingered” has my money for the fashion vogue of the new millennium. Expect trash-bins full of severed pinkies arriving at a teen fan-base near you. Want a little bang for your buck? Buy stock in laundry detergent and black lights.

All kidding aside, the movie really is a sight to behold. It’s certainly worthy of praise as one of the most engrossing sci-fi pictures I’ve seen in a long time. Among other things, it shifts special effects expectations to a new level. The imagery is surreal. The colors are vibrant. The scope is mind-boggling. The reality is virtual.

To put it differently, this ain’t your pappy’s 3D. It’s a whole new experience in holy shit.

Even still, I couldn’t help feeling that the mythology of the movie was drawn a bit too much from yesterday’s environmental movement. The story, in a nutshell — and I don’t think I’m giving anything away, but if you are worried about spoilers, stop reading now…

Here, I’ll even give you a standard screamer…SPOILER ALERT!!!

Read the rest of this entry ?


Tree Ring Circus

November 16, 2009

All the exceptionally well-qualified amateur dendrochronologists who regularly visit this site will no doubt have heard that a bunch of old trees have been given a shot of climatic growth hormone.  Turns out, they’ve grown faster in the past 50 years than they have in 3.7 millenia. Hear that? Millenia!

“This is a cautionary tale,” says Michael Mann, who uses tree rings to gain insights into past climates at Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, most famously to create the “hockey stick” graph showing an increase in temperature. “Only the human impact of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations can explain that warming.”

Oh. No. You. Di’int.

Judging from past controversy, thems fightin’ words. (I anticipate a McIntyre response in less than 12 parsecs.)

On another front, this anti-millenarian discovery looks to be a sure sign that higher concentrations of CO2 are good for old-growth forest health. Yippie! An upside to coal. Looks like we can relax. Indeed, according to some ways of viewing things, maybe the correct environmental position is the position that pumps tons of sweet carbon liquor into the puckering stomata of our dear Gaia.


A Rat Done Bit My Sister Nell

November 13, 2009

And water’s on the moon. Maybe we can send these doctor’s bills, air mail special, to the water on the moon.


Two Images

November 12, 2009

I had occasion this morning to have breakfast with Bron Taylor (Religious Studies, University of Florida), author of Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. As one might expect, the question about environmentalism as a religion (here and here) came up. I asked specifically whether we can’t distinguish between presumed appeals to the supernatural and actual appeals to the supernatural — in other words, whether it is important to distinguish between those who make explicit (or “perceived”) appeals to supernatural forces, and those who, in claiming to be making naturalistic appeals, nevertheless make supernatural appeals. (I might believe that my dead cousin Charlie is all around me, for instance, and in believing this, believe myself to hold a naturalistic view. Charlie’s spirit is just there, a part of nature. But my holding this naturalistic belief about Charlie isn’t what establishes my appeal as supernatural. My appeal is supernatural even though I believe it to be natural. There ain’t no way to establish using naturalistic methodology whether Charlie is or isn’t all around.) Unfortunately, our eggs came too early and I wasn’t able to get an answer. Maybe I’ll be able to get something out of him tonight over beers.

As breakfast continued, we got on the topic of environmental roadshows, and Bron noted that one common method of inspiring people to take interest in environmental issues is by showing before and after photos. I’m sure you’re familiar with the technique, but you can see instances of it here (or by going to a roadshow). Sometimes they don’t employ a before-and-after format, but just show how scarred the earth can be. It doesn’t take much creativity to imagine what the earth would be like without the scar. The idea, of course, is to demonstrate desecration.

This technique is a political reality. It’s a very common way of demonstrating the desecration of nature; and it is supposed to get people to recognize, or appreciate, or find value in, untrammeled nature. But I think there’s a lot more going on in these sorts of events than simply identifying the better and worse states of nature. What these before-and-after pictures do is tweak our reactive attitudes, our quasi-natural reactions to incidents that we take to have certain causes. (‘Reactive attitudes’ are generally used differently in philosophy, but I think they play an important role here insofar as they point us to incidents in which a supposedly “free will” has intervened.)

To see this, now look at the following photographs: herehere, and here. Depending on your view about global climate change, your attitude about the desecration of nature may change. That is, you may not feel the kind of disapprobation that you feel when you look at pictures of clearcuts; or you may just see the melting of the glaciers as a natural process.

Consider further that if I show you pictures of this devastation or this devastation, it seems reasonable that you won’t feel the same level of disapprobation. You may feel sadness, or despair, or pity; but these are likely not identical with the attitudes that you might have if these were the results of multiple intermingling wills.

Also interesting is that if I show you an image of a beautiful building — say, the Helix Hotel — you may think very positively about this construction, even though from one perspective it rests on desecrated soil.

What this points to, at least for me, is not so much the view that one natural condition is preferable to another condition of the world, but rather that when we are culpable for bringing about a bad state of affairs, this is where are moral disapprobation gets tweaked.


That Sinking Feeling

November 11, 2009

Carlsbad, NM evidently faces a mighty difficult challenge in the years ahead. A massive sinkhole threatens to gobble up the town. MSNBC also has the scoop.

The cause of the sinkhole? Decades of oil and gas extraction in the region.

To accomplish the herculean task of positioning a sinkhole smack in the middle of a populated area, ambitious extractors “pumped fresh water into a salt layer more than 400 feet below the surface and extracted several million barrels of brine to help with drilling.” How thoughtful. Fortunately, the local government has set up alarms to notify residents if the cavern collapses.

If it collapses, the unnatural cavern is likely to take with it a church, a highway, several businesses and a trailer park. Massive fissures currently cleave through town, and one business owner has said that structural cracks have even formed in his store.

“It would be like a bomb going off in the middle of town,” said Jim Griswold, a hydrologist with the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division. The problem is so severe that the Eddy County Commission declared a state of emergency last Thursday, and they hope that state and federal funds will arrive in time to fill the cavern before it collapses.

Wanna know more about best management practices for oil and gas extraction in your area? My colleagues at the Natural Resources Law Center have pulled together a phenomenal database on Intermountain Oil and Gas Drilling.


Pock Party

October 28, 2009

Environmental Graffiti has a pretty nice collection of images depicting damages from large-scale mining projects.


Arrested Anti-Development

October 15, 2009

Q+A: Environmental Activist Mike RoselleHere’s an interview with Environmental activist Mike Roselle in Time Magazine. I sat around a campfire with Roselle about twelve years ago, rehashing some of his tales from the early days of Greenpeace.  As should be clear from this interview, he’s a pretty radical dude, he’s taken some pretty aggressive actions, and as a result of this, his stories are truly fascinating.  I don’t think I said anything the whole night.

Among the courses that I teach regularly, one of my favorite is an upper division course on property and protest. The course is ultimately geared to address conceptual concerns that strike me as more centrally at the heart of environmental issues than those that generally frame the debate: namely, nature and wilderness.  Instead, I look directly at what is moving the issue: property and protest.  We address a range of theories about the origin and legitimacy of property rights and then ask questions about the extent to which property rights fall into place against other concerns, like human rights and environmental policy.  We also look at various activist strategies, including symbolic protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, monkey wrenching, property destruction, and sabotage.   As far as readings, the course starts with history from the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Wise Use Movement, and then moves back through the history of property rights, past some of the legislative ‘takings’ cases, and up through the tactics of Earth First! It’s a great class, if I do say so myself.

I may be picking up this book to add to my syllabus.  Any feedback or thoughts on Roselle’s tales would be much appreciated.  Also, if anyone has suggestions for readings from the Wise Use movement, particularly regarding actions and events that have shaped reactions to the environmental crowd, I’d be interested to hear those as well.


Video Killed Our View of the Stars

October 12, 2009

FuturePundit points us in the direction of an article suggesting that perhaps our fat potato butts and our affection for all things flashy are co-responsible for the demise of nature.  The linked article speculates that nobody is hiking anymore because we’re all cooped up indoors watching Batman and gossiping on Facebook.  Since my fat potato ass is sitting right here doing exactly that, I take serious umbrage.

Games for Lunch: 'New Play Control! Donkey Kong Jungle Beat' — WiiI fail to see why cultivating a love of nature is a presiding preoccupation of so many environmentalists.  We don’t need to love nature to be green. In fact, it’s my view that if we consider ourselves environmentalists, it’s not at all clear that our environmentalism should stem from our love of nature.  Just as our commitment to human rights shouldn’t be contingent on whether we like people, but rather should stem from our respect for persons, so too should our environmentalism not be contingent on whether we like the outdoors.  Our environmentalism should stem from respect for nature, respect for one another, respect for the reasons we have for doing what we do.

There’s apparently an interesting empirical question here.  I suspect that the descriptive observations of this video game research find exactly what the researchers purport to find: that those who don’t go out into nature don’t really care much about nature.  That’s hardly surprising.  I don’t care much about the Harry Potter series, mostly because I’ve never read it.  It takes familiarity with a topic to cultivate interest in that area.  A far more surprising result would be if researchers had discovered that hours of wakka-wakking through the toboggan lanes of Pac-Man somehow generated a sensitivity to nature that had otherwise not existed.  Because this is not the finding of note, I think it’s smart to assume that the researchers find their result interesting  for other reasons, like what is implied by their research: that being a video-game junkie may be partly responsible for the apathy that is characteristic of the current ecological crisis.

So I should ask: why does it matter if fewer people care about nature?  Apart from obvious concerns that, perhaps, we’re somehow leading deficient lives if we don’t go on a hike every once in a while — but let’s be honest, we’re naive about a lot of natural things, like what goes on underneath the soil, what happens after we throw away a banana, what rodents do late at night, what happens when e-coli hits the inner lining of our stomach, and so on — why is it bad to be naive about nature?