For the Conservation Curious

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Job Loss vs. Health – Cigarettes and Coal April 3, 2017

The current president, Republican congressmen, and others bemoan the “death of coal” and the “war on coal”. They talk about how coal’s demise has resulted in job losses for many across Appalachia and beyond. No one can deny that when a coal mine closes, miners and others lose their jobs, and the surrounding communities’ economies suffer. Yet there is a link that I have not seen anyone discuss or write about, and I think it’s high time someone does… the similarities between health impacts from coal and cigarettes and how no one seemed to say the death of “Big Tobacco” was a job killer that should be re-thought.

The Tobacco Industry

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that smoking kills 480,000 people in the United States each year. That is one in every five deaths per day. As mounting evidence of this, as well as the addictive nature of nicotine and the tobacco industry’s cover-up came to light, there was strong pressure to stop the marketing of cigarettes and educate people on the benefits of quitting. More and more people began to quit smoking, which had a major impact on the tobacco industry’s profits.

The CDC says that the number of tobacco farms in the United States is down from a high of nearly 180,000 in the 1980s to less than 10,000 in 2012, although our country is still a leading producer (4th in the world). Think of how many tobacco farmers, cigarette manufacturing employers, distributers, and others who lost their jobs due to the acknowledgement of the health impacts of tobacco. Where was the outcry about those job losses? Perhaps at a southeastern U.S. scale, where most of it is grown, there was more discussion, but at a national level I don’t recall seeing anything of the magnitude we get about coal.

The Coal Industry

Physicians for Social Responsibility says that the burning of coal can cause asthma, lung disease, and lung cancer, and negatively impact lung development in children. For coal miners, black lung disease is a real and under-reported illness, according to an investigative report from NPR this past December. Hundreds of miners and former miners are dying each year in West Virginia alone, according to the report. Hundreds more in other coal mining states are dying as well.

Why the Silence?

Why is no one making a connection between coal mining and its negative impacts to people’s health with the impacts smoking has on health when trying to counter the “job killing” rhetoric of the current administration? Yes, when a coal mine is shut down people lose their jobs. But the same thing happened when cigarette plants and tobacco farms were shut down as people wised-up about smoking’s negative impacts. The people that worked in the tobacco industry had to adapt and find a new job. Those in the coal industry must do the same. And we as a country must help them take this next chapter in their life.

What the Future Holds

I hope that this blog will inspire others with more far-reaching audiences and greater impact to spread the message that the negative health impacts of mining and burning coal far-outweigh any benefits of keeping that industry going, just as the closing of cigarette manufacturing plants and tobacco farms did in the 1990s and beyond. We need to help miners, coal-burning plant technicians, and others transition to safer jobs that will lead the United States back on a path to innovation and prosperity. Whether that’s through alternative energy sources such as solar and wind or some new, untapped technology, it is high-time for us to move forward together. Let’s let coal go the way of cigarettes and snub it out.

 

Caribbean Conservation March 20, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 1:23 PM
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I arrived home from a week in St. Kitts to see over a foot of snow on the ground. That was quite a rude awakening. It made me long for the warm, breezy days on the beach, watching the palm trees gently sway. St. Kitts is a beautiful place and a welcome respite from the winter blahs, but there were a few things that made me pause.

Monkey Business

St. Kitts is home to vervet monkeys (also known as African green monkeys), which ended up there via colonists from France and/or England sometime in the 17th century. I saw many of these monkeys roaming free along the beach and in the mountains. I also saw them in cages along the roadside, where signs said to pay a donation for taking a photo. There were also men walking the public beaches with baby monkeys in diapers. They charged tourists for a photo op with the monkey on their head.

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One of our cab drivers (you need to rely on these guys to get just about anywhere on the island) told us that the baby monkeys are stolen from their mothers (who are tranquilized) when they are very young so that they then “attach” themselves to their human captors. Most people are unaware of this, so I want to share that anyone who pays for a photo with these monkeys is helping to fuel a cruel practice. Give your kids a better gift than that. The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida also says that these monkeys are rounded up and shipped to the U.S. for animal testing. They offer humane solutions for keeping the monkey population in check. Visit their website for more info.

Dwindling Corals?

One day we spent an hour snorkeling near shipwreck bay, toward the southern portion of the island on the Caribbean side. I’ve only snorkeled one other time in my life – near San Juan, Puerto Rico, so I can’t vouch for home bad or good the snorkeling was there. I loved it anyway, as I saw myriad species of fish, a few different types of sea urchin, and a few lonely coral. It was the lack of corals that I found unusual. I wondered why that was. Walking along the beach later on, I noticed a lot of dead coral pieces, including whole brain corals and large pieces of staghorn corals. It was a bit disheartening. St. Kitts is not alone in experiencing coral bleaching and death. The Ocean Agency tracks global coral bleaching events. Their website does not paint a pretty picture. The bleaching is due to several factors, among them ocean acidification from climate change. Now may be the time to visit extensive corals like the Great Barrier Reef, as they may lose their splendor in the future.

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Staying Optimistic

I am a pessimist by trade but I’m trying to keep an open mind to the fate of islands like St. Kitts. They have some national parks, eco centers, and eco-tourism that are helping to preserve beautiful places like their rain forests, rocky shores, and beaches, as well as protect the many bird and reptile species from introduced predators like the mongoose. I added six new bird species to my life bird list (out of 10 total species), and probably would have had a few more if I was better at identifying bird calls. St. Kitts’ landscape was dominated by sugar cane as recently as the early 2000s. It is slowly growing back into a more natural state. If people continue to care about the land and all the creatures and plants that inhabit it, hopefully it will continue to thrive and impress tourists and natives alike.

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All photo by Jessica Sprajcar Aiello, 2017.

 

 

Keeping PA Green and Beautiful February 7, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 1:41 PM

There is an effort afoot to revive Growing Greener in Pennsylvania. What is Growing Greener 3.0 and why is it important to all citizens of our great commonwealth? This blog post will fill you in on some of the basic details. To learn more, visit http://pagrowinggreener.org/growing-greener-iii.

What is Growing Greener III?

Growing Greener (GG) is a funding mechanism of the state legislature that has three goals:

  • conserve land and water resources
  • restore damaged waterways and land
  • create prosperous and sustainable communities

GG I and II did this from tipping fees on landfills and a voter-approved bond. But the funds from GG I have been diverted to pay the debt service on the GG II bonds, so little remains to pay for conservation and restoration work across the commonwealth. A new mechanism is needed – that’s where GG III comes in.

What will Growing Greener III Do Specifically?

GG III could accomplish so much for the health of our communities and the economy.

  • Nearly 26,000 miles of our streams and rivers are polluted and considered “impaired” – GG III could help restore these to swimmable, fishable quality.

  • There is a backlog of 1,500 farms that could be preserved through easements. The cost of these is estimated at $458 million. By preserving these farms we can encourage the next generation of farmers to stay on the land and provide agricultural resources to the rest of us.

  • There are more acres of abandoned mine lands in PA than any other state. The cost to clean up all these sites is estimated at as much as $15 billion – yes, with a B!

  • There’s quick a backlog of maintenance projects at parks across the state. GG III could help bring these parks back to life and create programs to encourage more young people to get outside.

That is just a small sampling of the need that exists and how GG III could help take care of these problems.

What Can You Do?

Growing Greener III is not a done deal. Our legislators need to hear from their constituents that you care about clean water, opportunities to recreate, and prosperous communities. This is especially important due to the tight state budget right now. Don’t let our environment suffer from legislative squabbling. Send them an email or give them a call and let them know you would like them to support Growing Greener II.

To find the contact information for your representative and senator, visit http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator.

 

The Power of Protests January 19, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 12:14 PM
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This week, the Ringling Brother Circus announced that after 100 years, they are closing their tent flaps for good, come this May. I had a few mixed emotions about that announcement that I would like to share here, especially in light of the upcoming Women’s March on Washington that I will be participating in this Saturday…

The Impact of a Circus

Like many American children, I attended the Ringling circus at least once, probably a couple times, in my life. I am pretty sure I even rode on the back of one of the endangered Asian elephants… a treat for any young kid. While clowns scared me, the animals enthralled me. Aside from the zoo, the circus was the only other place for me to see these amazing creatures up close. It had a lasting effect on me.

But as I got older I came to realize that these wild creatures shouldn’t be put on spectacle for our entertainment. The cramped cages, the stress of moving from town to town, the impact of performing multiple nights a week, the alleged abuses; they all added up to make me dislike the circus.

My First Protest

In college I started an animal rights group at my school. We spent most of our time trying to get more vegetarian options in the cafeteria and educate people about animal testing. It was a rather tame bunch. In grad school I joined the group there (the only grad student in the group, I might add) and was a member of PETA (something I would not continue for long due to their extreme views). Through that group I protested the Ringling Brothers Circus when it came to town.

I was anxious and had no idea what to expect. Would we experience hostility? Would there be violence? I was surprised by what we did experience… the circus performers who I met were cordial and took the time to listen to our concerns. The parents mostly tried to ignore us. Ignorance is bliss, right?! After all, my parents took me to the circus when I was young. It’s almost like a right of passage.

Bittersweet Goodbye

And that is why the announcement of the circus’ closing left me with mixed emotions. I am so very happy that no more elephants, lions, tigers, and other animals will have to live such an unnatural life performing for our amusement. They deserve much better. But I do feel bad for the performers who loved their jobs. I’m sure 99% of them respected their animal co-stars and treated them kindly. And after this March, kids won’t get to experience the magic of Ringling. Thankfully Cirque du Soleil is still around to fill in some of the gaps.

Protests Work

So as I get ready to go to the Women’s March – which I do want to stress is a march, not exactly a protest – I think back to my first protest and how it has left an indelible mark on me. And it’s amazing that it worked… although it took nearly 30 years and much effort to do so. The people taking part in Saturday’s march have many reasons for doing so. Mine are for women’s reproductive rights, environmental protection, and equal pay for equal work, among others. It will be a slow process making progress, but good things mature with time.

 

Goods News / Bad News for Species December 23, 2016

Although it’s the holiday season and I should write about cute puppy dogs with bows and ribbons, there were two stories I saw in the last week that I am compelled to write about. One is rather dreary, the other gives me a bit of hope. Since you’re supposed to tell someone two nice things before you break the bad news, I’ll start with the positive story…

Many news outlets discussed the discovery of many new species in the Greater Mekong Area of China. These included a frog that sings like a bird, a blind fish, a walking catfish, and 123 others. So to me, the fact that in 2016 we are still discovering new species is amazing, especially those on land. I’m sure there are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of new species in the deep sea… but those will be much more difficult to find and catalogue. There are most likely myriad insect species that we don’t know about too, but again, their small size makes them more elusive. The world is still ripe for discovery.

And yet, Nick Cox, manager of the World Wildlife Fund’s Greater Mekong Species Program said, “The good news is new discoveries. The bad news is that it is getting harder and harder in the world of conservation and environmental sustainability.” Just as these species are discovered, they are under threat. That is downer statement number one.

Number two is that scientists are warning that the species extinction crisis is far worse than previously thought. CNN has a great interactive story (videos, charts, etc.) about it here. They discuss the five causes that are speeding up the process: climate change, agriculture, wildlife crime (i.e. poaching), pollution, and disease. That’s a lot to keep you up at night if you care about animals.

However, they offer solutions to help us slow the crisis. And I’d like to offer a thought or two as well.

  • People have the capacity to do great harm to the planet, but we have as equally great a capacity to help and heal the earth.
  • By recognizing the problems, we can develop solutions for them.
  • Iconic species like the rhino and elephant, and even the giraffe, which scientists say are in a downward population spiral, grab people’s attention and pull on their heart strings. By protecting them, we protect other less charismatic species too.
  • No matter how gloomy the news has been this year, and it has indeed been downright apocalyptic at times, we have to keep faith that things change… sometimes at a glacial pace… but they do change. I’ll hope for the best.

(Photo collage from The Telescope)

 

What we do to the earth today has untold consequences for tomorrow December 9, 2016

Filed under: Science,Uncategorized — newdomino @ 3:40 PM
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The Snow Goose Situation

You may have heard that thousands of snow geese recently died as they landed on a toxic lake in Montana. The Berkeley Pit is a 700-acre, 900-foot-deep, former copper open-pit mine that contains high levels of acidic water with heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic. While the employees at the former mine tried their best to scare the geese away, according to the Associated Press, about 10 percent of the birds landed anyway and succumbed to the poisonous water.

Why This Is a Cautionary Tale

The snow geese deaths are sad indeed, but there is more to the story when you think on a grander scale:

  • Think of how many other former pit mines, many of them not being managed as the Berkeley Pit is, are abandoned and just waiting for hungry migratory birds to land there.
  • Think of the tar sands pits in Canada, also full of toxic metals, and very appealing to migratory birds like snow geese.
  • Think of the abandoned underground coal mines that leech toxic metals into our streams, which then become devoid of life.

What these all have in common is that the long-term environmental consequences of mining are not factored into the initial costs of doing business. The bonds that are put in place now may not cover damage decades from now. And the mines dug before bonds were a common practice may just now beginning to show their nasty side effects.

What Can Be Done

We all need to realize that our actions can have devastating and long-lasting consequences. Therefore, we need to think further out than our lifetime when making drastic alterations to the planet. We need to ensure that those who are mining, and drilling, and manufacturing are on the hook, should something go wrong today, tomorrow, or one hundred years from now. Because the health of future generations, not to mention all other species on earth, may be at stake.

Take Action

If you are concerned about the health of our environment, as it has a significant effect on the health of our bodies, please let your elected officials know you are unhappy with Trump’s choice to head the EPA. Or we may have even more incidents like the snow geese deaths to deal with down the road.

 

 

Changing of the Seasons (and My Mindset) November 28, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — newdomino @ 11:30 AM

I haven’t written in a while, mainly because I didn’t want to come across as extremely angry and depressed – both of which are feelings that developed very late on November 8 and are still lingering in the background. The results of the election shocked me to my core and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but that’s not what I want to write about today.

It’s difficult to think of positive things right now, but I’ll give it my best shot, because we need some positivity, especially in light of the recently celebrated Thanksgiving and the upcoming winter holiday season.

I’m looking outside my window and I see blue skies with just a hint of clouds. There are a few remnants of red and orange leaves clinging to the tree beyond the glass. The boughs gently shake in the light breeze. The squirrels scamper up and down the tree trunk, as well as across the shingles of my roof. They stop to nibble on a dogwood tree berry or bury an acorn in the ground. Their biggest care is stockpiling enough food to survive the winter. I envy their one-track mindset whenever my brain starts swirling.

I’ll go for a walk down to the river today to see if there are any late-coming ducks or geese, migrating to some far off locale. Some might decide to stay, given the relatively mild weather, especially this year. A groundhog is cropping the grass along the walking path. A resident songbird flies over my head. The sunlight ripples across the slow-flowing river. Toward sunset the sky’s colors are amazing: red, purple, pink. It’s hard to believe it’s only 4:30 p.m…. it feels much more like bedtime.

At this time of year the days switch between the need for a light jacket to bundled up in wool. Scarf and gloves, or none? A quick stroll or a leisurely ramble? Seeing your breath on the air or not? I like the contradictions that the transition from fall to winter brings. Fall comes in all bright colors and woodsy scents. Winter takes over in stark greys and whites with crisp, almost metallic smells. There’s something positive and almost magical in the changing of seasons, we just have to be open to seeing it.