Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Deep clean the ecosystem

Today is January 27, the birth date in 1919 of Arne Naess, the Norweigen philosopher and activist who founded the Deep Ecology movement, sometimes called ecosophy. He died almost one year ago. Naess's name is not immediately familiar, even to many environmentalists, but his philosophy should be familiar to anyone who has heard reference to "mother nature" in the last 40 years. Naess argued for a union of science and metaphysics, and a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, akin to ideas in ancient mythology, Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism. (Although these eastern philosophies are oversimplified and misunderstood in most popular writing by western authors, who, in an effort to circumnavigate the influence of Cartesian body-mind dualism, want show that the mysterious East possesses secrets of the universe that we do not. Which is not to say that there is not a LOT to say about the relationship of humans and nature in these philosophies and religions, including native spiritual beliefs, worldwide.)

Anyways, let the man speak for himself:
Self-realization cannot develop far without sharing joys and sorrows with others, or more fundamentally, without the development of the narrow ego of the small child into the comprehensive structure of a Self that comprises all human beings. The deep ecology movement takes this a step further and asks for a development such that there is a deep identification of individuals with all life.
… the Self in question is a symbol of identification with an absolutely maximum range of beings.
The ecosophical outlook is developed through an identification so deep that one’s own self is no longer adequately delimited by the personal ego or the organism. One experiences oneself to be a genuine part of all life.
We are not outside the rest of nature and therefore cannot do with it as we please without changing ourselves … we are a part of the ecosphere just as intimately as we are a part of our own society … Paleontology reveals that the development of life on earth is an integrated process, despite the steadily increasing diversity and complexity. “Life is fundamentally one.”
Here's a link to the Foundation for Deep Ecology. It's interesting that they cite David Brower's Sierra Club books as their model for publishing large, glossy coffee table books covering various environmental issues. Brower was very adept at bringing issues like mining and dam-building directly to the 1960s-70s American public by taking out hyperbolic ads in newspapers and magazines, and publishing the popular photographic book series. But perhaps in an internet-linked global culture like our own, we need different tactics. Do people still have coffee tables?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Somewhere, beneath the Palouse...

The Palouse is an agricultural area in southeast Washington state that looks markedly different from central and western Washington.  It is home to a legendary white worm, called the Giant Palouse Earthworm.  It's rumored to grow to up to 3 and a half feet in length, and have a sickly sweet smell, like funeral lilies.  SCIENCE has not really confirmed these ideas.

Update, March 27, 2010: Some U of Idaho scientists have found a couple of the worms.  They are long, but not that long.  And they smell like normal worms.  Thanks for killing my buzz, science.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Meet the beetles

Effects of Mountain Pine Beetle infestation.

This article from The Atlantic describes the ongoing effort to protect western US forests from beetles. Richard Hofstetter, a researcher in Northern Arizona University's School of Forestry, uses the beetle's own recorded calls to disrupt their destructive behavior. He enlisted help from a composer named David Dunn, who specializes in nature and animal sounds, to record and recreate the beetle calls, which he then blasts at his lab subjects.  It's unclear if just driving the beetles crazy will take care of the problem (in one instance, the sound-harangued beetle eats its mate, in another, it bores through a plexi-glass panel--unsettling bordering on Greek tragedy, no?) But the idea is that a wall of sound could be created to keep beetles out of the unaffected parts of the forest.  There's no mention of the possible affects it would have on other species, but I don't really expect that in a popular journal--leave the nitty-gritty to the long, slow, boring process of scientific research.

Part of the beetle problem in the West is mild winters--cold weather has been the best beetle deterrent.  The current strategies for controlling the problem focus on selective thinning and harvesting, pheromones, and pesticides. The major culprit of destruction is the Mountain Pine Beetle, who carries a blue fungus along with it's infestation that helps destroy the tree, and leaves behind a blue stain on the wood that is now being used to make craft items and marketed as "denim pine."

The Asian Longhorn Beetle, although quite elegant, destroys healthy trees too.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Crows in Tokyo

Tokyo has a crow problem, according to a story today on NPR.

The crows fly into the city from the suburbs to feast on garbage. They build nests in telephone poles, sometimes stealing bits of fiber optic cable to construct them.

The city has tried eliminating open garbage and trapping and gassing the crows - an option too cruel for some.

Now a privately funded project is using a new tactic: natural predators.

An office block in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district hung hives holding 300,000 bees on its roof. The bees act aggressively toward the crows, perceiving them as a threat.

Plan Bee worked for that city block, but expanding the project seems impractical - unless Tokyo envisions itself the world's largest apiary.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Manufactured landscapes

What do you see in this photograph? Is it the Alps? Maybe the west slopes of the Sierra Nevada? Some unknown Shangri-La in Borneo?

Now look again. The photo seems both familiar and new. The granite crags in the background, the clouds forming in the upper left, the luminous greenery – we know the parts of this landscape, but once assembled, they seem, well…assembled.

This is a manufactured landscape, composed and photographed in a 200-gallon fish tank by New York artist Kim Keever. The result is a picture reminiscent of the great 19th century landscape artists Bierstadt, Church and Moran who painted the western United States with epic strokes. But Keever’s process does not take him to remote vantage points or open ranges. He builds his trees from twigs and his clouds from cotton balls. Alpenglow comes from an ink bottle and mountains from plaster.

Here’s what Keever said about his work in a 2007 interview with New York Arts Magazine:
“When I look at a beautiful landscape I go into a daydream. This is a daydream of escaping briefly into another world. Having lived in New York City for so long, it seems like another world. If there are no elements of humanity in the view I can't help imagining how this could have been a landscape from a million years ago or a million years hence. I hope the viewer sees the timeless qualities that I try to portray in my work through the absence of people and various signs of humanity.”

Like Hudson River School painters from northeastern cities and Sierra Club founders from West Coast cities, Keever is a city-dweller trying to preserve an idea of “the wild.”

Nostalgia, beauty and pavement – these are powerful forces.

(Image shown is titled West 91)