Woods of Wisdom
Spring - 2005
“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively, the land … a land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land – community to plain member and citizen of it … it implies respect for his fellow members, and so also respect for the community as such”--- Aldo Leopold, “Sand County Almanac
The Carolina Wren Effect
With the past winter being unusually warm, Carolina have moved north. They are expanding their range because of the weather, according to my National Geographic Field Guide. A singer during all seasons, their sweet melody is varied and musical; "tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle," or a call which is a short trill. Certain this is a welcome sound to herald the end of a winter season. Carolina Wrens nest in sheds and garages if allowed access. A wren's recent visit to my mother’s garage was not expected. The wren fluttered around away from me, then out the opened sliding door. The eye stripe and brown back color confirm its species. Also the house wren, a similar bird, doesn’t come back until April. It also came to the feeder but didn’t eat much seed, such as the oil sunflower which attracts many birds. I think this one wanted something more tasty to its senses. I noticed under the suet feeder, it picked up droppings of the peanut butter suet. Its song can be heard inside the house if loud appliances are off. October finds it singing just as loud as now in March.
Now to this part of the story. A trip to the hospital for an MRI scan was not a visit I looked forward to making. Toothpaste being shoved back into the tube can only describe the feelings I had when I was squeezed in the scanning tube. I was allowed to listen to music over headphones one other time but couldn’t now because I had to listen to the technician’s instructions. Earplugs somewhat quieted down the noisy machine but I still could hear the hammering sounds all the while keeping my eyes closed to lessen the reality of where I was. The heart monitor must have registered my racing heartbeat and showed my uncontrollable fear. The machine quieted down and I could hear the call of the Carolina Wren. The MRI was duplicating the call almost exactly as I had heard it this past few weeks. Gradually as I thought of the Wren’s antics and its little black, blinking eyes out my window at home, I began to relax. My heart slowed, unrealistic fears vanished and thoughts of the coming spring filled my awareness from the situation I was currently in. This has worked for me in the past. My doctor was giving me a spinal block with a five inch needle through the front of my neck to the spine area. Afterwards he asked why I didn’t wince as other patients do. I told him I was thinking of bluebirds in a quiet woods just perching there for a long time; a sight I have seen many times. The MRI technician said, "all done." The feeling was one of great relief. Still, I think of those times when our natural world calms fears and lets us breathe easier.
---- John Baxter
PBS Recommended Books:
By Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey
Grade Level: PreK-2, 3-5
Rockwell and Halsey's text presents a clear account of seed germination and plant growth for very young botanists. Richly detailed illustration brings the story to life.
One Good Apple: Growing Our Food for the Sake of the Earth
By Cathrine Paladino
Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8
This is an excellent book to discuss agriculture issues with middle scholars. Paladino brings to light many of the problems surrounding agriculture and the use of poisonous pesticides. Here students are offered an alternative: organic farms which use companion planting and composting. The book ends with activity suggestions for students to promote organic farming and gardening.
By Reeve Lindbergh and Jill McElmurry
Grade Level: PreK-2
A child snuggles in bed and listens to a bed time story. The story pursues the theme of nests from birds in trees, cats in piles of clothes, hens in hay, and mice in discarded gloves and gradually enlarges the concept of nest to include a harbor and the cosmos itself. This rhyming tale is accompanied by reassuring illustrations for an uncertain age.
Q is for Quark
By David M. Schwartz and Kim Doner
Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8
This ABC examines some elemental and cutting edge concepts in science and even takes on sacred cows, such as the notion that water in the Northern Hemisphere really spins counterclockwise as it goes down a drain. Schwartz says that it can go either way and that its direction is determined by other factors. Fill a sink and experiment. This enlightening and entertaining book is loaded with marginal illustrations. It also has a glossary.
The Radioactive Boy Scout: The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor
By Ken Silverstein
Grade Level: 6-8, 9-12
In June 1995, David Hahn’s Tom Swiftian quest for an atomic energy merit badge from the Boy Scouts ended when a team of moon-suited men from the EPA chain sawed and vacuumed up every scrap of his parent’s potting shed. This brief and exciting book tells how a high school student researched, procured materials, and nearly built a breeder reactor, endangering the 40,000 residents of his small town.
By Manya Stojic
Grade Level: PreK-2, 3-5
"It was hot." So begins Stojic's colorful tale of the rain returning to the African savanna. In succession, animals use different senses to anticipate the rain. When it comes, life flourishes, and when it stops and the savanna bakes once again. The last page echoes the first, making this book for children 4-8 a powerful introduction to cycles in nature.
Rain Forest Secrets
By Arthur Dorros
Grade Level: PreK-2, 3-5
Dorros, who has traveled all over South American rain forests, gives young readers a good look at the plants, animals, ecology and the consequences of destruction of rain forests in this engaging picture book.
Return of the Osprey: A Season of Flight and Wonder
By David Gessner
Grade Level: 9-12
Widespread use of DDT nearly destroyed the Osprey. Gessner's book chronicles a spring in his Massachusetts town in which more young Ospreys survived than had in more than 50 years. He watched four pairs on Cape Cod from March to September. He details their lives and describes the landscape they inhabit. Be advised, the author uses strong language to convey his emotional states.
The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, 2nd edition
By David Suzuki
Grade Level: 9-12
Suzuki argues that the environment is so fundamental to our existence that it must transcend politics by becoming central in the values off all members of society. There is no environment "out there." We are part of it. Suzuki suggests how we can meet our needs and still create a life that is sustainable, fulfilling, and just. The last chapter lists practical approaches in changing the way we think and live.
Seas of Life - Ocean World
Grade Level: 3-5, 6-8
This photo-packed introduction to the oceans and ocean life examines different water environments, such as tidal zones, coral seas, temperate and tropical seas, the poles, the open ocean, and the deep. A glossary is provided, as are pages of facts for each ocean zone.
The Secret Life of Dust: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter
By Hannah Holmes
Grade Level: 6-8, 9-12
Dust might seem a dry subject, but after reading this book you’ll think differently. Examine everything from space dust to soot, the tiny particles that float on air, drift in cracks, and fill our lungs. Dust became the earth we inhabit. It affects our weather. It can cause disease. Learn abut some of the creatures that live in dust, and meet the scientists who study it. A generous appendix lists related Websites for each chapter.
The Waterfall's Gift
By Joanne Ryder and Richard Jesse Watson
Grade Level: PreK-2, 3-5
A young girl and her family vacation in the cabin her grandfather built long ago. She revisits secret places and does things she used to do with her grandfather. She eats berries, skips stones at a waterfall, and greets an otter. Watson's egg tempera paintings are filled with details of plant and animal life.
Wild and Swampy
By Jim Arnosky
Grade Level: PreK-2
Can you imagine a place where crabs climb trees and birds swim underwater? Explore a mangrove swamp with Jim Arnosky. See cottonmouth moccasins, barred owls, alligators, anhinga, and more. This picture book for 4-8 year olds is a great introduction to an unusual environment.
Spring in the Swamp
Like a child on an amusement ride, the tiny tadpoles
took turns following the gas bubbles with seemingly great joy, from the wetlands
floor. Water striders with their own sense of a pecking order constantly
patrol the waters surface, quite aware of any intrusion of movement in their
tiny territories as the mosquito fish pop from one shallow to another, yet still
maintaining their own niche in the moss.
Public release date: 26-Oct-2003
Contact: Lee Siegel
University of Utah
Bad Mileage: 98 tons of plants per gallon
Study shows vast amounts of 'buried sunshine' needed to fuel society
Oct. 27, 2003 – A staggering 98 tons of prehistoric, buried plant material – that's 196,000 pounds – is required to produce each gallon of gasoline we burn in our cars, SUVs, trucks and other vehicles, according to a study conducted at the University of Utah.
"Can you imagine loading 40 acres worth of wheat – stalks, roots and all – into the tank of your car or SUV every 20 miles?" asks ecologist Jeff Dukes, whose study will be published in the November issue of the journal Climatic Change.
But that's how much ancient plant matter had to be buried millions of years ago and converted by pressure, heat and time into oil to produce one gallon of gas, Dukes concluded.
Dukes also calculated that the amount of fossil fuel burned in a single year – 1997 was used in the study – totals 97 million billion pounds of carbon, which is equivalent to more than 400 times "all the plant matter that grows in the world in a year," including vast amounts of microscopic plant life in the oceans.
"Every day, people are using the fossil fuel equivalent of all the plant matter that grows on land and in the oceans over the course of a whole year," he adds.
In another calculation, Dukes determined that "the amount of plants that went into the fossil fuels we burned since the Industrial Revolution began [in 1751] is equal to all the plants grown on Earth over 13,300 years."
Explaining why he conducted the study, Dukes wrote: "Fossil fuel consumption is widely recognized as unsustainable. However, there has been no attempt to calculate the amount of energy that was required to generate fossil fuels, (one way to quantify the 'unsustainability' of societal energy use)."
The study is titled "Burning Buried Sunshine: Human Consumption of Ancient Solar Energy." In it, Dukes conducted numerous calculations to determine how much plant matter buried millions of years ago was required to produce the oil, natural gas and coal consumed by modern society, which obtains 83 percent of its energy needs from fossil fuels.
"Fossil fuels developed from ancient deposits of organic material, and thus can be thought of as a vast store of solar energy" that was converted into plant matter by photosynthesis, he explains. "Using published biological, geochemical and industrial data, I estimated the amount of photosynthetically fixed and stored [by ancient plants] carbon that was required to form the coal, oil and gas that we are burning today."
Dukes conducted the study while working as a postdoctoral fellow in biology at the University of Utah. He now works for the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Global Ecology on the campus of Stanford University in California.
How the calculations were done
To determine how much ancient plant matter it took to eventually produce modern fossil fuels, Dukes calculated how much of the carbon in the original vegetation was lost during each stage of the multiple-step processes that create oil, gas and coal.
He looked at the proportion of fossil fuel reserves derived from different ancient environments: coal that formed when ancient plants rotted in peat swamps; oil from tiny floating plants called phytoplankton that were deposited on ancient seafloors, river deltas and lakebeds; and natural gas from those and other prehistoric environments. Then he examined the efficiency at which prehistoric plants were converted by heat, pressure and time into peat or other carbon-rich sediments.
Next, Dukes analyzed the efficiency with which carbon-rich sediments were converted to coal, oil and natural gas. Then he studied the efficiency of extracting such deposits. During each of the above steps, he based his calculations on previously published studies.
The calculations showed that roughly one-eleventh of the carbon in the plants deposited in peat bogs ends up as coal, and that only one-10,750th of the carbon in plants deposited on ancient seafloors, deltas and lakebeds ends up as oil and natural gas.
Dukes then used these "recovery factors" to estimate how much ancient plant matter was needed to produce a given amount of fossil fuel. Dukes considers his calculations good estimates based on available data, but says that because fossil fuels were formed under a wide range of environmental conditions, each estimate is subject to a wide range of uncertainty.
Plants in your tank?
Dukes calculated ancient plant matter needed for a gallon of gasoline in metric units:
Dukes made similar calculations for oil, natural gas and coal to determine that it took 44 million billion kilograms (97 million billion pounds) of carbon in ancient plant matter to produce all the fossil fuel used in 1997. That includes 29 million billion kilograms of prehistoric plants to produce a year's worth of oil (including gasoline), almost 15 million billion kilograms of buried plant matter to make all the natural gas used in 1997, and 27,000 billion kilograms of dead plants to produce all the coal used in the same year.
"It took an incredible amount of plant matter to generate the fossil fuels we are using today," says Dukes. "The new contribution of this research is to enable us to picture just how inefficient and unsustainable fossil fuels are – inefficient in terms of the conversion of the original solar energy to fossil fuels. Fortunately, it is much more efficient to use modern energy sources like wind and solar. As the reasons keep piling up to switch away from fossil fuels, it is important that we develop these modern power sources as quickly as possible."
What about modern plant biomass?
Unlike the inefficiency of converting ancient plants to oil, natural gas and coal, modern plant "biomass" can provide energy more efficiently, either by burning it or converting into fuels like ethanol. So Dukes analyzed how much modern plant matter it would take to replace society's current consumption of fossil fuels.
He began with a United Nations estimate that the total energy content of all coal, oil and natural gas used worldwide in 1997 equaled 315,271 million billion joules (a unit of energy). He divided that by the typical value of heat produced when wood is burned: 20,000 joules per gram of dry wood. The result is that fossil fuel consumption in 1997 equaled the energy in 15.8 trillion kilograms of wood. Dukes multiplied that by 45 percent – the proportion of carbon in plant material – to calculate that fossil fuel consumption in 1997 equaled the energy in 7.1 trillion kilograms of carbon in plant matter.
Studies have estimated that all land plants today contain 56.4 trillion kilograms of carbon, but only 56 percent of that is above ground and could be harvested. So excluding roots, land plants thus contain 56 percent times 56.4, or 31.6 trillion kilograms of carbon.
Dukes then divided the 1997 fossil fuel use equivalent of 7.1 trillion kilograms of carbon in plant matter by 31.6 trillion kilograms now available in plants. He found we would need to harvest 22 percent of all land plants just to equal the fossil fuel energy used in 1997 – about a 50 percent increase over the amount of plants now removed or paved over each year.
"Relying totally on biomass for our power – using crop residues and quick-growing forests as fuel sources – would force us to dedicate a huge part of the landscape to growing these fuels," Dukes says. "It would have major environmental consequences. We would have to choose between our rain forests and our vehicles and appliances. Biomass burning can be part of the solution if we use agricultural wastes, but other technologies have to be a major part of the solution as well – things like wind and solar power."
University of Utah Public Relations
Mangroves Could Have Reduced Tsunami Damage, U.N. Official Says
By Sam Cage, Associated Press
GENEVA: Damage from the Indian Ocean tsunami could have been reduced if more coastal areas had maintained their protective shields of mangrove swamps and coral reefs, a key U.N. official said Friday.
Pasi Rinne, who is heading the U.N. Environment Program's response to the disaster, agreed with conservation groups that the swamps and reefs not already destroyed by humans may have reduced some of the damage caused by the tsunami. But, he said, it is too early to tell how much difference they made. These natural defenses "have protected coastal zones from this kind of tidal waves" in previous natural disasters, Rinne told The Associated Press.
Mangroves grow in thickets along tropical coastlines and their complicated root systems help to bind the shore together, effectively providing a shield against destructive waves. "These act as shock absorbers for the types of flooding and the tsunami that we saw," said Simon Cripps, head of the Worldwide Fund for Nature's marine program based in Gland, Switzerland. "It wouldn't have been able to stop it completely, of course, but we've seen areas already ... where there were mangroves, there was substantially less damage." Rinne said, however, that it still has to be confirmed whether mangroves and coral reefs prevented significant damage from the Indian Ocean tsunami.
"It's not only an early warning system that is going to help, we also have to look how we construct, how we use the coastal zones," he said. Many lives could have been saved if mangroves and reefs had been conserved in a healthy state, said the Mangrove Action Program, an environmental organization based in Port Angeles, Washington.
"Instead these vital protective buffers that nature provides against wind and wave had been foolishly degraded or removed for unsustainable developments," the organization said in a statement. An official of the 144-nation Ramsar treaty protecting the world's wetlands said initial assessments indicated mangroves had lessened some of the impact of the tsunami.
"Mangroves are recognized as being one of the coastal systems that provides buffering against storms and storm effects from the sea," said Nick Davidson, deputy chief of the secretariat for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which also is based in Gland, near Geneva.
But, he said, it remains unclear whether mangroves and coral Reefs had a significant protective effect against a "tsunami on the scale that we've just witnessed. "Up to half of the world's mangrove swamps have disappeared in the last 20-30 years because of the development of tourist resorts, transport infrastructure and commercial prawn fishing, Cripps said in a telephone interview.
The Mangrove Action Program estimates that there are 16,000 Hectares (40,000 acres) of mangroves left in the world. This makes coastal areas more susceptible to flooding, as has previously been seen in Bangladesh, which no longer has a protective shield of mangroves. "The advantage of mangroves is several-fold," Cripps said. "They hold the structure of the land together, the coastline together." Coral reefs have been similarly hit by waste water from new developments, dynamite fishing and warmer water because of climate change.
An offshore coral reef also seems to have prevented much more widespread destruction on the low-lying Maldives islands, Cripps noted. Cripps cited the example of the Marriott hotel in Phuket, Thailand, which was built next to a turtle nesting beach and so was developed with strict environmental guidelines. The hotel was built back from the beach and development of the waterfront was severely restricted, so mangrove swamps were preserved along the coast. "Apparently the damage, the actual physical damage, and the human loss of life was very much less than in other areas and other hotels in the region," he said.
"I hear and forget
I see and remember
I do and I understand"
----- Ancient Proverb
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last updated on December 9, 2011