Sustainable Living

Posted on 11/23//14

Photo credit: Nickolay Lamm and Climate Central

Photo credit: Nickolay Lamm and Climate Central

Though Mayor Menino is surely missed in Boston, his presence was felt strongly at the Sea Level Rise and the Future of Coastal Cities meeting at Boston University last week. Most speakers credited Mayor Menino for bringing them together to engage in the topic of how climate change and the resulting sea level rise will affect cites across the world.

City officials from Helsinki to Melbourne came to collaborate and learn about what cities are doing to increase their resilience to protect their communities with smart design choices involving government, urban planners, developers, the private business sector, academia and scientists. Erika Spanger-Siegfried from the Union of Concerned Scientists explains in a video shown shown at the event that extensive research shows that over the next 30 years, sea levels will increase up to a foot or more in some east coast locations and that when storms occur on top of already typical tidal flooding, higher tides will magnify the risk of severe coastal events.

The conference highlighted the importance of communication between those entities working in different domains, especially from scientist who are learning the language that will be crucial to delivering the message of climate change that causes sea level rise to governments, insurers and the public. “Inherit uncertainties make it harder to make the message clear,” said Bud Ris, past president of the New England Aquarium and a contributor to environmental education and policy around the topic of climate change. But Tony Janetos, director, Fredrick S. Pardee Center for the Studay of the Longer Range Future and co host of the event with the Initiative on Cities, reminded us that “we (scientists) were never trained to communicate this way.” It is an urgent message they are tasked with delivering- one that he says is not that climate change is “50 years out, like we thought” but here faster than we even imagined. “We do not have the luxury to ignore what the science or the experience of others tells us. We must manage the risks while learning more.”

Everyone wants to know, “What will the future hold?” According to Janetos, “it depends on what future we choose.”

*The computer enhanced photo on this page is from a prediction project of the collapse of the Western Antarctic glaciers from Climate Central. Yes, that is the Boston Harbor Hotel. Check out the rest of the photorealistic work depicting iconic places around the globe (and maybe where you live) by photographer Nickolay Lamm.

Posted on 08/07//14

W2O’s summer intern Elise Green gives us a lesson about Marine Protected Areas and why they are important to all marine life, especially sharks.Elise Green USC intern

As part of my work as a biology student at University of Southern California, last month I visited Palau, a group of islands that are part of Micronesia, in the Pacific ocean. Apart from hosting some of the pristine white beaches featured on the television show, “Survivor,” Palau is best known for its untouched coral reefs that feature an incredibly high rate of marine biodiversity and its popular “Jellyfish Lake” in which tourists can swim with millions of sting-less jellyfish. It is also home to the world’s first shark sanctuary, the Palau Shark Sanctuary. As W2O is preparing to host a shark-centered event in October, you might be interested in understanding exactly what a “shark sanctuary” is. According to the BBC, each year, about 100 million sharks are captured by fishermen and contribute to the 39 percent of shark species that are classified as “threatened” or “near threatened” for risk of extinction*. Shark sanctuaries strive to address this problem and hope to replenish shark populations worldwide by forbidding the fishing of sharks and preserving shark habitats.

The main goal of the Palau Shark Sanctuary is to end shark-finning in the waters around Palau. Shark fins are sought after for use in popular soups and for medicinal purposes in some countries. Shark-finning has led to a large decline in shark populations and refers to the act of catching sharks, cutting off their fins, and releasing the sharks back into the water. Without their fins, sharks struggle to swim and often die soon after their fins are severed.

Elise Green & Amanda Semler diving in Palau Photo: Tom Carr

Elise Green & Amanda Semler diving in Palau
Photo: Tom Carr

Because I was scuba diving in Marine Protected Areas to collect data as a part of a University of Southern California project focused on reef regeneration, Palauan rangers accompanied my group to our various dive sites. The rangers informed us that, while shark-finning was a major problem in Palau in the past, since the establishment of Palau as a Shark Sanctuary in 2001 and since the addition of more rangers to help enforce regulation, shark-finning incidents have noticeably declined.

Not only did I feel extremely lucky to have the chance to dive amongst beautiful animals such as Napoleon Wrasse and Eagle Rays, but, thanks to Palau’s waters being mostly free from shark poachers, I also had the opportunity to admire sharks such as the Gray Reef and White Tip shark. These sharks can grow up to eight feet long and enjoy warm, shallow waters near corals or atolls. Because these sharks, like most, feed mostly on fish and crustaceans, I had no fear of diving close to them and greatly appreciated their extreme grace as they maneuvered the waters with subtle yet strong thrusts of their fins. Hopefully general awareness about shark conservation around the world will increase, and these marvelous animals will prosper for generations to come.

Grey Reef Shark photo: marinebio.org

Grey Reef Shark
photo: marinebio.org

 

Posted on 08/02//14

beach pathShelly Kaplan from Monroe N.J. has a fabulous response to “Why the Beach is a Bummer” a rant about feeling less than comfortable at the seaside by Roxane Gay (Sunday NYTimes Review, July 27th.)  Ms. Kaplan writes an eloquent retort with deep respect for the beach, ocean and its emotional benefits. She writes, ..”I feel the most sadness for the 61 percent of Americans who have never seen the ocean with their own eyes.”  She seems to want to defend what she loves, beautifully and simply. You can read the entire letter to the editor here.

I am never so peaceful as when my feet are in the sand, when the smell of the Atlantic permeates the air I breathe, and when I hear the lullaby of ocean waves.

Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichol’s new book, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Douses neuroscience to explain the benefits of the ocean. A review here by The Guardian, addresses the naysayers like Ms. Gay; “Anyone whose experience of the sea is limited to grey skies and the indignity of wriggling into a damp bathing suit on a rain-swept beach might well balk at such utopian talk.” For the rest of us, we love that Blue Mind gives us some science to explain what we already know.

 

Posted on 07/17//14

DSCN4570Like most beach communities, Martha’s Vineyards population swells in the summer. Renters descend and take advantage of MV’s beautiful setting.  “Seasonal residents and tourists flock to the Island to bask and hike on its beaches, swim in its waters, catch and eat local fish and shellfish, and go boating on its sparkling bays”, reads The Island Blue Pages, a “phonebook” published by concerned locals wanting to education everyone on the Island about this vulnerable treasure. The Island Blue Pages is only a phonebook in such that every household on the Island received one free, with hopes that it would remain a guide for year round residents and everyone visiting the Island. Yes, there is a list of phone numbers in its reference material, but mostly the book is a wonderful guide to the islands watersheds, sound water usage, and waste management. It even includes a “12 Step” program for “Dream Lawn Addicts” that guides homeowners and business to make smart pesticide free, water conscience lawn care choices.

The idea for The Island Blue Pages ruminated in biologist and director of Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group Inc. Rick Karney’s mind for years. Each time he visited a hatchery or community near water, he picked up packets of information regarding best practices for the community around water usage and sustainable living. It was the Puget Sound Blue Pages that stood out as the most comprehensive and user friendly of any of the publications that he had seen. With funding through an EPA grant awarded to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and keen editing by Amandine Surier from Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, The Island Blue Pages relied on local full time residence of the Vineyard to author each chapter making this a true community conservation effort.

Amandine Surier and Rick Karney

Amandine Surier and Rick Karney

The unique layout of The Island Blue Pages appeals to all ages.  The graphic are simple enough to engage a child but not “kid-ish” enough to turn off a teen. The layout is easy to navigate and engaging with enough science to satisfy the well versed hobby conservationist.  The Island Blue Pages is tailored to Martha’s Vineyard specifically by including local stories and maps, but any community could adapt a version to represent its own environmental concerns.Graphic from The Island Blue Pages

This wonderful reference book with tips on gardening, septic tanks, and boating includes a section about marine animals called “Vineyard Neighbor.” It should be poured over, updated regularly and passed from generation to generation.

Graphic from Island Blue Pages

Posted on 07/03//14

A cool reusable cold cup from crunchybeachmama.com

A cool reusable cold cup from crunchybeachmama.com

Reusable cups are not only for hot drinks. Bring your own cup on the road this summer so that when you stop for that iced drink, you can be satisfied that you are not adding another plastic tumbler and straw to the landfill. Plastic is forever. It breaks down and seeps into our waterways, is eaten by wildlife and in turn eaten by us.  Be cool, be responsible. There are tons of options out there. Here are just a few fun and economical choices for cool drink containers:

http://www.starbucksstore.com/drinkware/cold-cups,default,sc.html

http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/o2cool-reg-20-ounce-insulated-mason-jar-beverage-cup/1040814957

http://www.reuseit.com/travel-mugs-and-cups/dci-iced-coffee-cup-16-oz-eco-cup-on-ice.htm

Posted on 06/16//14

Activist Abby in field Some time after the W2O event “Plastics in the Ocean, Plastics in You,” I remember stumbling upon information about Abby Goldberg, better known in the conservation world and on her Facebook page as “Activist Abby.”  I was so impressed to find out that this then 13 year old had gathered 174,000 signatures to protest a bill that would block the introduction of bans of single use plastic bags in the Illinois legislature.

Abby cleaning up on Earth Day 2014

Abby cleaning up on Earth Day 2014

Abby lives in a small picturesque town north of Chicago where her neighbors meet during summer at a lake for swimming and recreation. She is an avid horse back rider and would like to someday study marine biology. She says that when she was in seventh grade, she was spurred into action by a school project called “CP” or “Culminating Project.”  She choose plastic bags as her topic because she lives less than a mile from a landfill and sees plastic bags on the local beach and hiking trails.  She feels like they “go mostly unnoticed” by her community and friends. She thought she would introduce a plastic bag ban in her town. Area petroleum and chemical manufacturing companies countered with a different plan. After some research and with help from her family and environmental groups, Abby made it her mission to collect signatures to protest the bill that they introduced and that she thought would make banning single use plastic bags give way to “down cycling.” She knows that plastic is forever. After all her hard work, her meeting with then Governor Quinn to present him with the signed petition made national news and helped to convince him to veto the bill.Abby and bags at table

Recently, Chicago, just south of Abby’s town, passed a bill to ban single use plastic bags that will go into effect in August of 2015. Abby will be watching and working to spread the word to the rest of the state of Illinois. She won’t stop there, though. Abby would like everyone everywhere to ban single use plastic.

“Activist” Abby is the perfect name for this articulate now 14 year old high school student with thousands of new “friends” sharing an important message about refusing single use plastic. She is an inspiration!  Take her advice: “You’re never too young (or old) to make a difference.”

 

Posted on 05/18//14

This time of year, some of us that live in urban areas are enjoying spring preparations for our garden and lawns. With this privilege comes responsibility to our blue planet.

Photo: thegardeningblog.com

Photo: thegardeningblog.com

Run off from our lawn flows directly into what Tufts University’s Institute of the Environment calls the “three giant watersheds” comprising of streams, rivers and lakes that flow into the sea: “Watersheds can be nested one inside the other. For example, the United States could be divided into three giant watersheds: one to the west of the Rocky Mountains that drains into the Pacific Ocean, one to the east of the Appalachian Mountains that drains into the Atlantic Ocean, and one in between those two that drains into the Gulf of Mexico. However, within each one of these watersheds, there are many watersheds that drain into rivers and smaller bodies of water.”

So what are your plans for a healthy beautiful, pesticide free garden this spring? On her website for the Great Healthy Yard Project,  Dr. Diane Lewis explains why using pesticides can be bad for our own health as well as the health of our wildlife, planet and oceans. Read her blog, listen to her mission and take The Pledge to garden pesticide free because, as she states, it’s “Our yards, our children, our responsibility.” Protect what you love. Garden pesticide free for healthy oceans and a healthy you.

 

 

Posted on 04/30//14

MTSOfan:Flicker of bagsChicago is poised to be the next US city to implement a bill that would ban single use plastic bags in large retail outlets.  It’s not perfect, some say, but it is a step in the right direction. On NPR today, San Francisco’s spokesman from the Dept. of the Environment, Guillermo Rodrigues, reminded us of the baby steps taken by San Francisco before a wider and finally, a complete ban on single use plastic bags. It took three steps which started with a bill similar to the current Chicago bag bill and over the course of a couple of years, with three amendments, banned single use plastic bags altogether.  San Francisco had the same reservations about the ban that Chicago retailers are voicing now: higher costs and loss of jobs due to the bag ban. But NPR found out that “Those are all concerns that San Francisco dealt with when it became the first major city in the country to issue a plastic bag ban in 2007.”  According to Mr. Rodrigues, retailers are not complaining.  He says that the main issue turned out to be that retailers didn’t want to deliver the “bad” news to customers. To smooth the transition, San Francisco put an aggressive education campaign in place to support the retail community by delivering a compelling message about how single use plastic pollutes, causes health risks and costs taxpayer money from cleanups. “We haven’t heard from retailers that it is a economic loss for them,” says Rodrigues.

 

Posted on 04/23//14

Celine Cousteau tweeted  yesterday, Earth Day, (and it is one of those rare tweets that stay in your head because she, as usual, just nails it),””Ahh, Earth-every Day!!” I see it as a call to really appreciate, take a long look around, reflect gratefully and step up to the plate with some action.

Gina McCarthy, US EPA Administrator, also gave us a live sound bite that resonates still; “Your turn, your turn, pick it up!” She was encouraging the ClimaTeens, a group of Boston area teens, volunteering and learning at the New England Aquarium, that have been taking action and will encourage the community “to join a citywide effort to reduce carbon emissions called Greenovate Boston”.

ClimaTeens at the New England Aquarium

ClimaTeens at the New England Aquarium

 

Yes, every day should be earth day…”Ahh, Earth-every Day!!” sounds about right… and it is your turn!  Take some action!

 

 

Posted on 04/14//14

A collective sigh could be heard from W2O when the U.N. Climate Panel published their findings today. At first glance, it seems like the same old doom and gloom story. It might be easy to throw up our hands and feel helpless when the news is so dire about what is referred to in a New York Times summation of the findings as “the profound risks in coming decades.”  But the article also offers hope, “Not only is there still time to head off the worst, but the political will to do so seems to be rising around the world.”

At W2O’s recent event Women emPowered: Leading the Future of Clean and Efficient Energy at the New England Aquarium, our assembled experts echoed feeling hopeful about energy options and about how we can be a part of the growing moment to protect our planet, oceans and health by educating others about how to curb emissions.

“Think about how over air conditioned your office is, how cold your hotel room is when checking in on a hot day and lights your kids-or you-don’t bother turning off. Energy efficiency is about the supply we can avoid buying,” according to Massachusetts Dept. of Utilities Chair Ann Berwick.

And women are at the center of that hope. “Women are driving the choices. They are the decision makers,” Tom King, Executive Dir. and President of National Grid USA offered. Home energy usage is one of the leading contributors to climate change. “But if you don’t know how much energy you are using”, commented Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy, “how can you make a change?”  Signing up for an energy audit to find out your energy usage might be a good place to start because, according to This Old House’s Kevin O’Connor, “customers care about cost, comfort and convenience.”    Says Callahan, “Legislation for climate change may not be soon but the sweet spot on the hill is energy efficiency.”  Callahan recommends taking further action by writing in favor of the Shaheen-Portman energy bill which supports investment for innovative energy efficient solutions.

Ann Berwick wants us to take a closer, more analytical look at the data that tells us that hope lies in renewable energy sources. Her slide, included here, focuses on off shore wind because “although it comes with enormous challenges, and is expensive-no getting away from that- its nowhere near as expensive as the failure to address climate change. It is scalable to an extent that other renewable resources simply are not”. The Wall Street Journal quotes the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, as saying “Analyzing the costs and benefits of mitigation is a “complicated question,” but warned against putting a dollar value on the loss of human lives, ecosystems, oceans and marine life threatened by climate change. “The affordability question has to be seen in what will happen if we don’t take these steps,” Mr. Pachauri said.

Ann Berwick concluded at our event; “Given the current state of technology, no renewable resource can match off shore wind in terms of the potential size of the suppy and accessibility-right off our coast. It’s expensive, but it’s pay now or pay a lot more later.”

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Kevin O'Connor, Kateri Callahan, Tom King and Ann Berwick (photo: David Parnes)

Kevin O’Connor, Kateri Callahan, Tom King and Ann Berwick (photo: David Parnes)