For the Conservation Curious

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Wine for the Conservation Curious July 16, 2014

I am a big fan of wine – reds in the winter (Malbec and Cab Sauv. being my favs), whites in the summer (Pinot Gris. and Sauv. Blanc preferred). I like craft beer too but drinking more than a couple of those can leave me feeling so heavy and full. Wines are a much lighter feeling, more easily drinkable alternative and they go better with a nice meal. Sometimes I wonder though about the environmental impacts of drinking wine. Am I contributing to some horrible habitat impacts when I down a glass of the alcoholic grape juice?

So I decided to do a little digging that will clue me in and perhaps educate you as well…

Wine Spectator magazine had some helpful information that I have summarized here:

There are two types of organic listings on wine bottles. Wines can be made from certified organically grown grapes, avoiding any synthetic additives, or, to take it a step further, “organic” wines are made from organically grown grapes, and are also made without any added sulfites (though naturally occurring sulfites will still be present).
The term “biodynamic” is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. A biodynamic wine means that the grapes are farmed biodynamically, and that the winemaker did not make the wine with any common manipulations such as yeast additions or acidity adjustments. A wine “made from biodynamic grapes” means that a vintner used biodynamically grown grapes, but followed a less strict list of rules in winemaking.

“Sustainability” refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.

Got that? You may also see the term “natural” on a bottle of wine but that’s about as helpful as seeing it on a box of crackers or a tube of toothpaste. The term “natural” is unregulated so it lacks any meaning. Sure, lead is natural but I certainly don’t want it in any product I ingest or put on my body. So don’t fall for the greenwashing there.

I haven’t noticed a large number of organic or biodynamic wines in the local liquor store, but there does seem to be an emerging niche for them. Just because a wine comes from organic grapes doesn’t necessarily mean that is environment-neutral (the vineyard could have been placed on prime habitat for wildlife or the wine was shipped a thousand miles via aircraft to get to your door) but it can be a better alternative than one made from traditionally-grown grapes. According to an article in Slate, the best bet to be environmentally-friendly when drinking wine is to avoid purchasing any wine in a bottle that had to be flown to get where you live. You would think that would make it quite difficult to enjoy a wide variety of wines if you live on the east coast of the U.S. but that’s actually not true. Most international wines are shipped via container ship, so it’s better to purchase a bottle from Europe than it is to buy one from California, where it would have been shipped, most likely, via airplane or truck – both of which have higher emissions and greater carbon footprint. That’s excellent news for Bordeaux lovers!

Another way to balance your wine consumption with your environmental footprint is to purchase wine in bulk… and yes, I mean via the box. Boxed wine doesn’t have the heavy glass bottle that contributes to more carbon emissions. The box itself may be recycled in some areas. You get more wine for your buck so you don’t have to drive to the store as often. The wine stays fresher much longer so there’s less chance of waste. And nowadays the wine in those boxes can be just as high quality as many bottled wines. What’s not to like?

Now that I’ve given you plenty of reasons to enjoy some wine, why not grab a box of biodynamically produced wine, call some friends over, and enjoy?! Can I come too?

 

Job Searching in the Conservation World July 2, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 12:40 PM

I’ve been looking for a new job for the last two years, although I’d say my efforts really didn’t ramp up until the last four to six months, for a couple reasons I won’t get into here. I’ve used a variety of job search sites to find that “perfect” job, including Idealist, StopDodo and GreenBiz. I’d say I apply to anywhere from one to five jobs a month and until recently had two to three interviews a year. Doesn’t sound like great odds but I just saw a tweet from someone who’s applied to thousands of jobs over the last two years and only had four interviews. The odds are more in my favor I guess. I can’t imagine applying to 1,000 jobs – actually I can’t imagine finding that many job openings that would appeal to me, but I digress.

That was in the past. In the last three months I had five phone interviews and two in-person interviews. Some of those interviews were for the same position, advancing ahead in the laborious process of getting hired. The two non-profit jobs that I interviewed for looked great on paper, but once I found out about the salary I had to decline. I realize that working for an environmental or animal rights-based nonprofit will never make me rich, but this seemed extreme even for the nonprofit world (especially for the job in Bethesda, where the cost of living is so high). I’m willing to take a small pay cut if it means doing something I’ll love and really believe in, but I do have a mortgage to pay.

One of the in-person interviews was for a large, national corporation, while the other was for a relatively large city. The interviews couldn’t have been more dissimilar. One was nearly five hours and involved six people. The other involved a mayor sitting comfortably in a rocking chair. One involved sustainability, the other night-time economy management. Yeah, I couldn’t believe they interviewed me for that given how strongly focused on the environment my background has always been. But they did, twice, which boosted my confidence for sure. Unfortunately I found out today that I was not their chosen one. Oh well… it’s probably a good thing… did I really want to stay up until 2 a.m. to inspect bars? Hmm… actually, maybe!

Anyway, I am rambling again. The whole point of this blog, now that I’m getting to the point, is that finding a job in the conservation/environmental/sustainability world can take you in interesting directions. I’ve worked for my state for 10 years now (officially yesterday… happy anniversary to me) and sometimes I fret that I won’t be able to escape. If I continue to advance my career here then I guess it wouldn’t be such a bad thing, especially now that I know my salary isn’t that bad compared to what I might otherwise make. I thought I would enjoy working for the private sector, and maybe I would, but after my interview with the corporation I start to wonder. The culture and focus on making money is so different than everything I’ve ever known; could I make that transition? And would I really want to?

There are so many questions when you are looking for a job and so much uncertainty. The stress can be palpable. I just am very thankful that I have a job right now so that there’s less pressure. I really feel for anyone who is employed right now, trying to find a fulfilling position. We all want to find meaning in life, and since we spend so much of our life working, what better way to be meaningful? But I know that many, perhaps a majority, of people out there aren’t fortunate enough to find meaningful employment. My current job may not be what I really want to do in life but it does have its value. I’ll try to remember that the next time I start to grumble about it.

 

Why I Love Kayaking June 27, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 12:30 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve been doing so much writing and editing at work the past few weeks that I don’t have much motivation to blog on top of all that, but I’ll at least post a quick bit here since it’s been too long between posts…

I love kayaking. For many years I would rent one or borrow one from a friend. Then finally three years ago I bit the bullet and bought one of my own. Getting a good kayak isn’t cheap, especially when you throw in the roof rack, paddles, PFD and other gear. Hence my reluctance to swipe my credit card. But I did and it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

Why? Because kayaking is so awesome in many ways. For one, it is a nice form of exercise. I can see a difference in my arm and shoulder muscles by the end of the summer. How else can I strengthen them, with weight lifting? Ugh! You get to be outdoors, on the water. That’s an experience many people never have. There is something so peaceful about being in the middle of a river or lake. All the day’s troubles seem to disappear for a while. You can see lots of neat wildlife. I was once on the lake at Little Buffalo State Park when I saw something strange swimming on the surface of the water. I was clueless as to what it was at first, but then realized it was a muskellunge hunting (that’s a type of fish with scary, long teeth). Plus I’ve seen butterflies puddling along a creek, great blue herons hunting, dozens of turtles including some stacked on top of each other. A white-tailed deer scared me, as I scared it, paddling around the corner of a stream. I think I “eeked” as loudly as it grunted.
butterflies

Kayaking can be enjoyable solo or in groups. When I just want to paddle around for a bit and unwind, I head for a nearby lake by myself. But what I really enjoy is getting a group of friends together to explore a new stretch or stream or river. What will we encounter? What fun stories will we share? On the water, you can learn a lot about your friends!
turtle

So if you’ve never been kayaking I highly recommend you go rent or borrow one, grab some pals, and get on the water. P.S. If you’ve been canoeing before and think, I didn’t enjoy that so I’m not going to try kayaking, think again. I’m not a huge fan of canoeing… it is more cumbersome, slow and reliant on having a partner that you can get in sync with. Kayaks offer much more independence, speed and fun. What are you waiting for?!

 

3D Printers – Will They Help Save the Planet? June 5, 2014

3DPizza_inhabitat
(Photo: Inhabitat.com)

I am fascinated by the idea of 3D printing. I read about it frequently in the online press and see it in action on the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” I have seen articles about 3D printed pizza, human tissues, works of art and plastic children’s toys. It seems straight out of a science fiction novel or episode of Star Trek, but 3D printing is a reality today that is poised to become more mainstream over the next few years to a decade.

What is 3D printing and how does it work? According to 3DPrinting.com, it is “a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.” Each 3D printer has a 3D modeling program that takes the digital design and turns it into a real-life object. The applications for 3D printing are nearly limitless. 3D printed objects can fit into the realms of architecture, healthcare, entertainment, manufacturing and so much more.

Of particular interest to me are the conservation and sustainability aspects of 3D printing. According to an article on The Guardian’s website on March 21 by Chat Reynders, 3D printing will lead to great fuel and material waste reductions, not to mention cost savings. In the manufacturing process, typically numerous prototypes are created and shipped overseas before a final product is developed. That takes a lot of time and resources. With 3D printing the printer is usually able to create a perfect final product the first time around, cutting down on not only shipping fuel costs but also reducing material waste, which might otherwise end up in a landfill. Items will be able to be designed and printed closer to the markets that want them, fueling local economies and reducing green house gas emissions.

However, digging deeper I found a study done by researchers at UC Berkeley (http://sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com/blog/environmental-impacts-3d-printing) to compare the electricity and material waste generated by two types of 3D printers and traditional manufacturing processes. What they found differed a bit from what was written in The Guardian article. They looked at an “FDM” machine (fused deposition modeling), which is like a 3D version of a hot glue gun, and an inkjet 3D printer, that uses layers of polymeric ink to create objects. The FDM machine proved to be more environmentally-friendly than traditional manufacturing, yet the ink jet printer wasted up to 40% of its ink during printing. However, it all depends on how often the machines are used and if they are left on all day when not in use. The electricity waste of keeping these printers on makes them more environmentally-degrading than traditional manufacturing processes. So in order to maximize the environmental benefits of 3D printing is to use electricity sourced from alternative energy sources like wind and solar, and to maximize efficiencies in the use of the printers.

What about the fact that most 3D printers in use right now use plastic… isn’t plastic bad for the environment? It is true that 3D printers melt plastic down and form it into new shapes. Melting plastic creates fumes that are harmful to people if inhaled. There are greener alternatives, including bio-plastics and wood pulp, and these technologies will be used more often as 3D printing takes off.

3D printing can be a reality for just about anyone. A printer can be purchased for as little as $250. Maybe I’ll pick one up and start printing out some thin crust pizzas. Anyone up for dinner?!

 

Is There a Humane Way to Deal With Invasive Animals? May 29, 2014

I read an article today (http://maryland.newszap.com/crisfieldsomerset/132290-92/chesapeakes-marshes-may-see-end-of-invasive-nutria) about how the Chesapeake Bay Nutria Eradication Program is working well, and that the people involved in the program may actually succeed in removing all these large, invasive rodents from the Bay. It also mentions the success people have had with eradicating the invasive mute swan from the region. As someone who worked on invasive species issues for many years, albeit mostly related to plants, I applaud the efforts of these folks and am excited for their success story.

However, the animal lover in me cringes a little bit when I read articles like this, especially when they describe how the nutria are trapped and killed. The traps are similar to what people use to trap beavers for their pelts… the animal is snared by the leg and drowned. I’ve never agreed with how beavers are trapped, so I cannot agree with their use here, even if nutria are highly destructive to the wetland and marsh habitats they live in. There has to be a move humane way to do this.

nutria_wikimedia
(Photo:Wikimedia.com)

Many animal rights activists oppose the culling of invasive animals on the grounds that the practice is inhumane. When looking at the issue from the 40,000 feet view, I disagree with them. Invasive species cause significant damage to habitats, in turn negatively affecting and sometimes killing other, native wildlife. Most invasives are here because of foolish or unintended consequences of human actions, so I feel that it is our duty to do something about them. But it’s how we do something about them that I may have an issue with. I used to be very opposed to herbicides, no matter what. I thought of them as a poison with which we contaminate the earth. Yet as I learned more through my job, I came to realize that sometimes herbicides are the only solution to eliminating certain invasive plant species. Herbicides shouldn’t ever be the only line of defense, and hopefully aren’t the first choice in many situations, but they do have their place.

So it is with invasive animal control. Think of the Burmese pythons that are taking over the Everglades. These are long, strong, animal eating machines. Should we just let them slither their way across the state of Florida? No, I don’t think so. The same goes for nutria, mute swans, feral hogs, snakehead fish, Asian carp, and a whole host of other invasive animal species in the U.S. Yet how we control these animals says a lot about how we treat animals in general. If someone has no problem drowning a beaver for its pelt, then of course they have no problem drowning a nuisance species by the same method. Changing this process will take considerable education.

How can we deal with the invasive species problem in a humane way? Better minds than mine will need to think about that. But I hope that someone is thinking about that. I certainly want the Chesapeake Bay to become a healthier, more productive ecology in the future, but I hope that can be achieved with less brutality in the future.

 

Bee Kind to Bees April 23, 2014

Last night at my Rotary club meeting we heard from a fellow club member, who talked about his beekeeping hobby. This is a fascinating occupation and one with a lot of conservation value, so I thought I would blog a bit about it today.

Egyptians may have been the first people to raise their own domesticated bees. Jars of honey were found within Tutankhamun’s tomb, and as stories would have it, the honey was still edible. According to my Rotarian friend, as long as no water gets into the honey, it can stay edible. If water gets in the honey ferments… although to me that sounds like a good problem to have. Mead anyone?!

Anyway, many cultures over the years domesticated bees and created different hive structures. Yet it wasn’t until the 18th century and the creation of the moveable comb hive that made apiculture (i.e. beekeeping) more sustainable. Why is that, you ask? Well the original forms of bee hives had to be destroyed in order to get at the honey, killing the bees in the process. Now you can easily open up the different combs of the hive, taking the honey you want and leaving the rest intact. In fact, I learned last night that there is a queen bee excluder, a metal grate that keeps the queen bee from laying eggs in most of the hive. This keeps the edible honey bee brood-free yet allows her to lay enough eggs in a portion of the hive. I guess I never thought that deeply about honey before, but know I am glad to know about the excluder!

Why is beekeeping important for conservation? There are more than 20,000 species of wild bees out there, but they’re not doing so well. With the way we tend to grow crops in the U.S. and elsewhere – a monoculture of genetically-engineered corn or soy, with lots of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, for example – native bees can’t find enough pollen to bring back to their hives to make honey. No honey, no food for any of the bees, the hive dies. We have also paved and built over a lot of prime bee food habitat – meadows and other grasslands – further reducing their pollen supply.

Colony collapse disorder is a major concern for bee colonies. It was first documented in 2006, according to the USDA, and showed up to 90 percent mortality among affected hives. The population of managed honey bees in the U.S. has declined from five million in the 1940s to less than 2.5 million today. What causes colony collapse disorder? While no one has an exact answer, scientists believe that it is a combination of Varroa mites, fungi and viruses, pesticides, lack of food and other stressors. It may be the perfect storm of problems for honeybees worldwide. And since honeybees and their pollination skills contribute $15 million annually towards the economy, losing the bees will harm us in our stomachs and pocketbooks. Like almonds? Then you should really be concerned… all almonds must be pollinated by bees. No bees, no almonds!

Beekeeping is a challenging hobby, but also very rewarding. Not only do you get tasty honey, but you can help support populations of healthy honeybees for the future. Don’t have the room or desire to have a hive or two of your own? Not to worry… you too can assist native bees by planting native, flowering plants like bee balm, purple coneflower, goldenrods and milkweeds. To learn how to plant a pollinator garden (that will attract butterflies as well as beneficial bees) go to http://beespotter.mste.illinois.edu/topics/beegarden.

Bees are fascinating insects. From the queen to her female worker bees to the male drones, the hierarchy of the hive and the important tasks each bee is born knowing how to do will astound you. I encourage you to learn more about both native and imported bees so that the next time you see one you won’t be so quick to squash it. Instead admire it from a distant and thank it for the great job is does pollinating our flowers and crops. Without that little bee, your dinner wouldn’t be quiet as diverse and tasty.

 

Trees do so Much April 9, 2014

Filed under: Science,Uncategorized — newdomino @ 1:15 PM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trees are terrific! Can anyone argue with that? Well, I guess I should add a caveat to my statement, “MOST trees are terrific!” There are invasive tree species out there that are the bane of many people’s existence, including mine, like Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) and Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), to name just a few. And some trees are more terrific than others. Trees native to your specific area are generally better than non-natives, although if you live in an urban area you may need some non-invasive, non-native trees to withstand road salt, the urban heat island effect and the other tough growing conditions found in urban areas. Trees like Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate) and Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrate) will grow well under tough conditions, yet not grow uncontrollably like an invasive.

Spring is a great time to plant trees, but you need to make sure you’re planting them in the proper site, with the proper techniques. Check out the TreeVitalize program website to learn all about proper tree selection, siting, installation and maintenance – http://www.treevitalize.net. Plus, if you live in certain parts of Pennsylvania you can download a coupon to save $15 off the purchase of a tree at participating nurseries. Municipalities and non-profits can even apply for grants to help defray costs on bulk tree plantings.

redbud_paul wray
(Photo of Eastern Redbud by Paul Wray, Iowa State U., http://www.forestryimages.org)

I live in a city center, surrounded by a lot of pavement. In such situations adding tree canopy cover is essential. Trees provide us with cleaner air and cleaner water, shade to lower heating bills and make sitting outside on a hot day more enjoyable, and aesthetic beauty. There was already a Japanese maple in my backyard when I purchased my home, but I added a native Eastern redbud tree too. It has grown a lot over the last three years, even given the poor quality city “soil” and is just plain beautiful in the spring with its pinkish-purple flowers. The flowering dogwood in front of my house provides food for the squirrels (they love to eat the fruits, sometimes to my chagrin) and blocks some prying eyes from being able to look into my living room window. Trees do so much for us!

 

 
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