A friend recently reported to me that she was taken to task by a green-leaning colleague for selecting a juice box to drink at a networking function. Juice boxes, the eco-narc proclaimed, were NOT recyclable in their municipality. My friend sheepishly sucked on her tiny plastic straw, convinced that all her attempts to live green — riding her bicycle to work, growing her own organic produce — were wiped out by this one transgression.
We’re almost midway through the first month of the new year, and if you’re like the majority of resolution makers, you’re likely already starting to falter. According to a recent New York Times article, “By the end of January, a third will have broken their resolutions, and by July more than half will have lapsed.”
That’s why now is a great time to recommit to those oh-so-noble goals. Two ways to do that? Checking in with your resolutions often and rewarding yourself for your progress. Sure, losing weight, saving money and getting more sleep are their own rewards, but a little extra motivation never hurt, right?
Two kayakers paddling off Redondo Beach, south of Los Angeles, got the thrill of a lifetime recently — the kind that most of us will never experience. They met a blue whale, the largest creature on Earth.
The 50-foot cetacean came within arm’s reach of the small kayak. But, not content with this closest of encounters, Rick Coleman, one of the kayakers, plunged into the water for a face-to-face session with the whale — all the while keeping his video camera running. Of course, that video soon appeared on YouTube and the inevitable interviews on TV news shows followed.
In many of those interviews, the Colemans (Susan Coleman was the second kayaker) made the comment that it is important to remember to always approach wild animals with the “utmost respect.”
But is pulling your kayak up to a blue whale and then jumping into the water next to it showing respect for wildlife — or is it more indicative of a desire for renown?
Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai wouldn’t suffer a single tree to be cut down for her coffin; her body was laid to rest in a casket made of hyacinth, papyrus and bamboo. At her funeral service this September in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, which she fought to save from obliteration by a 60-story skyscraper, her family planted a tree in her honor. That brings her total up to roughly thirty million and one.
As the founder of the Green Belt Movement — a reforestation project that paid impoverished Kenyan women to plant seedlings in order to renew the environment and increase their access to firewood and clean water — Maathai was responsible for the growth of some 30 million trees. Her battle with ovarian cancer ended on September 26; since then, environmentalists, feminists, and democracy advocates have voiced their grief and admiration.
When one of America’s best-known and finest actors, Marlon Brando, bought his own private island in 1966, people generally wrote the news off as just another eccentric act by the rich. Until his death in July 2004 at the age of 80, Brando “owned” Tetiaroa, a 2.5-square-mile atoll in the South Pacific, 37 miles north of Tahiti. (He obtained a 99-year lease to it from the French Polynesian government.)
Brando was a nature purist and hoped Tetiaroa would be part environmental laboratory — mostly for sea turtles — and part modest eco-resort. In a will he signed in 1982, he put Tetiaroa in a trust so it could be preserved for posterity. “If I have my way,” he once wrote in a memoir, “Tetiaroa will remain forever a place that reminds Tahitians of who they are and what they were centuries ago.” His wish was to keep the island from becoming overly developed and in as natural a state as possible.
This summer — like almost every summer for the past decade or so — was rife with headlines about people being assaulted by wild animals. “Seven teens attacked by grizzly in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains,” read a headline in the Anchorage Daily News on July 25, 2011. And, “Two teenagers have life-threatening injuries after being mauled by a grizzly bear while on a survival skills course in the Alaskan wilderness,” the first line of a Guardian feature informed us.
The italics on the words “mountains” and “wilderness” above, however, are mine. I think it noteworthy where these events took place. Against our ever-increasing penchant for developing remote areas and fragmenting wildlife corridors, the world’s largest predators have been squeezed onto smaller and smaller pockets, with nowhere to go but the mountains and the wilderness. Today, grizzlies, wolves, tigers and lions are having trouble finding room to be grizzlies, wolves, tigers and lions. And, without them, our planet is in big trouble.
“These darn trees are in the way of my view of nature,” joked one of my guides on a trip to British Columbia a few years back. We had stopped during a hike on a forested esker and were trying to look through the woods to a lake far below. We couldn’t see it through the dense foliage. Of course, his comment made us all laugh. Little did we know then that such an absurd idea would years later — this fall, in fact — become a reality in Yosemite National Park.
Starting later this year, thousands of trees will be cut down in Yosemite to provide better views of the famous granite faces, such as El Capitán and Half Dome, and the breathtaking waterfalls, such as Bridalveil or Yosemite Falls, that ring the valley. But the sounds of lumberjacks and the sights of downed trees — felled only for the purpose of providing better photo ops — are somehow discomfiting in a national park, prompting some to ask, “Why must so many succumb to the saw?”
The street you live on, your neighbor’s garage or even your own back porch probably has one: a light that goes on when it gets dark. Most likely, it was installed with the hope that it would make your neighborhood a safer place to live.
The conventional wisdom is that better outdoor lighting deters criminals — those who would do their dastardly deeds in the cover of darkness. But whether or not the facts bear that out, we do know that lighting up the night eradicates something else: the ability to see the stars in the night sky.
The Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park was once described by naturalist John Muir as, “A grand landscape garden, one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain mansions.”
But in 1913, the U.S. Congress authorized the city of San Francisco to construct a dam and reservoir on the Tuolumne River in Hetch Hetchy to ensure that San Francisco would have a dependable water supply. It is said that the act broke John Muir’s heart, and some have even suggested that this great sadness hastened his death in 1914. By 1923, the dam was completed and the valley was flooded under several hundred feet of water.
Today, the Hetch Hetchy Valley, like many of America’s natural landscapes, is at the center of a restoration debate. But is trying to turn back the clock on natural areas we altered long ago the best way to spend environmental funds, especially in these cash-strapped times? Or would working to protect those wild places we still have in their original state be a better use of scant resources?
The “official” first day of spring may have been March 20, but with the cold weather, it certainly didn’t feel like it then. Now it seems like spring has finally sprung!
I may have “reached that age” when I appreciate each spring just a little more (or maybe it’s just my recent memory of the brutally cold winter), but the colorful spring buds are making me extremely happy this year. Another thing that makes me happy is the feel of a de-cluttered, freshly cleaned home, so spring cleaning is on my mind. Some of you may not have gotten around to this annual rite of passage yet, while others may feel ready for a second pass at it after all the recent rain (and the inevitable mud it invites in). Either way, before you start cleaning your home, consider doing a clean sweep of your chemical cleaning products first.