Earth Island Institute logo, tap or click to visit the Institute home page

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News

Latest News

How Artists and Neighbors Converted a WWII Bomb Site into a Medicinal Garden

London community found a way to protect a rare parcel of rewilded land

It was a fenced-off World War II bomb site that had rewilded, and a team of London artists decided it was the perfect place to grow a medicine garden. The site is in the middle of a social housing complex in the Bethnal Green neighborhood of Tower Hamlets, a London borough that has become the UK’s second most densely populated local authority, the basic unit of local government.

photo of London medicinal gardenPhoto courtesy of Michael SmytheThe Bethnal Green Nature Reserve is home to more than 30 edible or medicinal plants indigenous to London.

For the artists, the hardest part of getting the project off the ground turned out to be finding space. Before they found the old bomb site, they spent 2010 to 2012 in negotiations over another piece of land in Tower Hamlets. But it was “the size of a garage” and involved eight different landowners, said Michael Smythe, the founder of Nomad Projects, an independent art commissioning foundation that focuses on socially relevant public art. Then their funders got antsy.

That’s when one artist reached out to Margaret Cox, the chair of the nearby Teesdale & Hollybush Tenants and Residents Association, which had taken stewardship of the 1-acre parcel, known as Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, in the late 1990s. The association maintained the space by removing litter and planting. Cox, who is 62 now and has lived in the neighborhood since she was 9, said she had been visiting and caring for the land for the past 18 years. She referred to herself as its “mum.”

Cox said there were always concerns that the reserve, which is partly owned by the local government of Tower Hamlets, would be developed. Tower Hamlets is experiencing a housing crisis: The borough has the highest poverty rate in London, yet, at the same time, property values and rents have been going up. According to the Tower Hamlets council, 19,000 families are on a waiting list for 1,800 affordable housing slots.

Adding to those concerns, reported Vice in 2016, then-Mayor Boris Johnson had a history of overriding the decisions of local London councils, including Tower Hamlets, to greenlight development projects.

“The mayor’s plan at the time was to build, build, build without any consciousness of the impact that it has,” Cox said.

Smythe and Cox saw the partnership between artists and local stewards as a chance to protect the space. Smythe in particular …more

(1) Comments

The EPA Says Burning Wood to Generate Power Is ‘Carbon-Neutral.’ That’s Not True.

Converting forests into fuel will not help us avoid disaterous climate change

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt recently told a group of forestry executives and students that from now on the US government would consider burning wood to generate electricity, commonly known as forest or woody biomass, to be “carbon neutral.”

photo of biomass energy facilityPhoto courtesy of PSNH Biomass power doesn't introduce new carbon into the system, but it does transfer carbon from forests to the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.

The executives, who had gathered at an Earth Day celebration in Georgia, greeted the news with enthusiasm. But I did not.

Biomass does not introduce new carbon into the system, as its supporters point out. Yet it does transfer carbon from forests to the atmosphere, where it traps heat and contributes to climate change.

As a scientist and the coordinating lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on renewable energy, I have concluded from extensive scientific studies that converting forests into fuel is not carbon neutral. I have also been working with many other scientists to inform governments about the potential for forests to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the climate perils of burning wood and forestry waste at an industrial scale for electric power.

Turning forests into fuel

Energy can be renewable. Or sustainable. Or carbon neutral. Or some combination. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they mean quite different things. Wind power and solar energy clearly have all three attributes. What about bioenergy — the heat released from burning wood and other plants?

Trees can eventually grow to replace those that were felled to produce wood pellets that are burned to produce electricity. That makes biomass very slowly renewable, if the replacement trees actually do grow enough to absorb all the carbon dioxide previously discharged.

Environmentalists generally oppose forest biomass because it contributes to climate change while disrupting important ecosystems and the biodiversity they support. They also object to this source of energy because it appears that burning biomass releases pollutants that endanger public health.

The scientists who study climate change, the global carbon cycle and forest ecology tend to reject the notion of biomass carbon neutrality. Some forest economists and forestry scientists, however, support the notion of carbon neutrality, depending on the circumstances.

Carbon accounting

To settle this debate, many of my colleagues and I believe it is essential to accurately account for all …more

(0) Comments

Wolves Are Losing Ground to Industrial Logging in Southeast Alaska

Clear-cuts reduce security and prey for a struggling wolf population on Prince of Wales Island

For 12,000 years, wolves have roamed Southeast Alaska’s rugged Alexander Archipelago — a 300-mile stretch of more than 1,000 islands mostly within the Tongass National Forest. Now, their old-growth forest habitat is rapidly disappearing, putting the wolves at risk. As the region’s logging policies garner controversy, a new study examines what the wolves need in order to survive.   

photo of wolf on Prince of Wales IslandPhoto courtesy of ADF&GThe Alexander Archipelago wolf is widely considered to be a subspecies of gray wolf genetically distinct from other North American populations. The wolf faces threats from logging and trapping on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska.

Largely isolated from mainland wolves by water barriers and the Coast Mountains, the Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis lupus ligoni) is widely considered to be a subspecies of gray wolf genetically distinct from other North American populations. In the 1990s and again in 2011, conservationists sought to protect the island wolves under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) denied these petitions — most recently, in January 2016.

Despite their decision not to list the subspecies, in their analysis, the FWS highlighted Prince of Wales Island as the area of greatest concern for the archipelago wolves, due primarily to impacts of logging and trapping. Bigger than the state of Delaware, Prince of Wales is the largest island in Southeast Alaska and the fourth-largest island in the US, after Hawaii, Kodiak Island, and Puerto Rico. The island's lowland hills are blanketed with temperate rainforests of spruce and hemlock and strewn with winding rivers and fjords.

Much of Prince of Wales' scant human population of fewer than 5,500 residents makes its living from the island’s natural resources — uranium mining, commercial fishing, hunting, and harvesting timber. The Tongass, which covers most of the island, is the last national forest where the logging industry can legally clear-cut old-growth timber. “The trees are huge… it’s been the epicenter for the logging industry in Alaska,” says Gretchen Roffler, a wildlife research biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

When commercial logging reached Prince of Wales in the 1950s, it hit full force. Between 1954 and 2004, 94 percent of the "contiguous, high-volume old-growth —  the big trees, the really high-quality timber — was harvested,” according to John Schoen, retired senior conservation biologist with ADF&G. “That’s a huge impact.”

“Prince of Wales Island is basically a patchwork of the …more

(2) Comments

An Environmental Leader Is One Who Strives to Inspire, not Impress

Anyone can become a leader by creating awareness and taking action to reduce harm to our planet

When bumblebees pollinate flowers, they don't realize what they do. Without bees we wouldn't have beautiful flowers with bright colors to smell and look at everyday.

A bumblebee does not strive to impress others with his skills, but to complete his job on Earth. To me, every human on this planet holds this same task in their life.

bumblebeePhoto by Elena Ilyinskaya Like bumblebees, we all must contribute to doing good and working hard so that Mother Nature can thrive

Like bumblebees, we all must contribute to doing good and working hard so that Mother Nature can thrive. If we do not, like flowers, our Earth will perish. And there is nothing more sad than for something so beautiful to wilt away.

To me, a leader is not a boss or even a decision maker. A leader is someone who takes the first step as an example and model to others. Environmental leadership is something that anyone can do by taking the first step in creating awareness, consciousness, and action on reducing harm to our planet.

In my personal experience, environmental leadership helped me find my passion to further my knowledge on sustainability and become an activist myself. Once I learned and became aware of the damages mankind performs on Earth, I felt it was my task to do something about it. I joined the environmental club at my school and became passionate on topics such as reducing waste and composting. This started my journey on environmental leadership, as the following year I became president of the club. I never wanted to force facts on to anyone, but continue pursuing sustainable projects to improve my school’s environmental footprint. That year I led a pilot project for a three-bin system to be installed in my school, which was later formally enforced. Taking the first step had led me to my passion.

With my environmental club, I have seen my friends become leaders. I have seen how each of us teaches our classmates and families about saving water, using reusable containers, or going vegetarian. I have seen the different approaches, some more persuasive than others, but all inspiring.

Being able to witness and experience this at my age has given me confidence that I am not only an environmental leader, but that I am surrounded by passionate leaders who are all striving for the same goal. This goal, just like a bumblebee’s, is to contribute what we can. And if we happen to …more

(0) Comments

Humans Have Paved the Way for a Global Lyme Disease Epidemic

Carved-up forests, biodiversity loss, and climate change may not have caused the tick-borne scourge, but they have enabled it

On the day after Christmas in 2015, I took a walk with my 30-year-old son in an old cornfield that long ago morphed, with changing patterns of agriculture, into a gently tended meadow we know well. This nine-acre patch of earth, across the dead-end lane from our home in upstate New York, has a rare and wonderful feature that we have worked, with the cooperation of neighbors, to sustain: a mowed trail around its perimeter that allows access even when summer mustard, milkweed, and goldenrod are four feet high and the blackberry brambles profuse.

photo of ticksPhoto by Jeb Bjerke Ticks have changed daily life in communities across the US and much of the world, and the diseases they infect humans with have altered the course of many lives.

As we often do, we took with us that day a coterie of mismatched family dogs — a Shih tzu, Chihuahua, springer spaniel, and a beige rescue that we call a boxer.

The day was unusually balmy in the last week of a year that had gone down as the warmest in 135 years of weather history, followed only —  but considerably — by the year before. The temperature had topped out at 55 degrees Fahrenheit that December 26th; it had reached into the mid-60s on Christmas and hit 72 in nearby Poughkeepsie the day before. For that time of year, daytime temperatures at or near freezing would have been far more typical here in the Hudson Valley, a hundred miles north of New York City. Instead, it had been so warm that forsythia buds had sprouted in one neighbor’s garden; crocuses peaked through in another’s.

When we came back from our short walk, we did what has become in New York State a routine practice from spring through fall, but not for winter. We checked the dogs for ticks. When we were done, we had picked twenty-one blacklegged ticks from the scruffs of our pups, each about the size of a small freckle, and all with one goal in mind: to latch onto a warm body and suck its blood.

When I moved to this rural county in upstate New York 30 years ago, such things did not happen. Ticks certainly did not show up in December, were indeed rare, and, if seen, were usually of the easier-to-spot dog tick variety, which infrequently carried Rocky Mountain spotted fever. They did not pack the potential arsenal of infection of the …more

(0) Comments

Amur Leopard Population Triples — to 103

Thanks to protective efforts in Russia, there's hope these critically endangered big cats will avoid extinction

Just a few years ago, the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) appeared to be on the fast track to extinction. Surveys conducted in 2000 revealed that only about 30 of these critically endangered big cats remained in the forests of southwestern Russia, with just two more across the border in China. With poaching and habitat loss still so rampant at the time, saving the species appeared to be a “mission impossible,” says ecologist Yury Darman, senior advisor to WWF-Russia’s Amur branch.

photo of amur leopardPhoto courtesy of US The Far Eastern Leopard ProgrammeIn 2000, surveys indicated that there were only 30 Amur leopards left in southwestern Russia. Now there are just over 100.

In fact the situation was so bad that many conservationists felt drastic steps needed to be taken. The only question was which drastic measure to take. “In 2001, during the International Workshop on Conservation of the Far Eastern Leopard in Vladivostok, many scientists and state authorities seriously proposed to catch the last wild 30 Amur leopards to ensure their survival in captivity,” Darman says. That would have protected the cats from poaching and other threats while laying the groundwork for breeding and future reintroduction efforts.

Instead, another dramatic option emerged. WWF started a campaign called “Save each of the survivors” in the hopes of halting leopard poaching and gaining support for the cats amongst local people. Meanwhile the Russian government, encouraged by the conservation organization and spearheaded by former vice-minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Ivanov, laid the groundwork to create a massive protected area for the big cats. That effort proved to be contentious, but it eventually led to the 2012 establishment of Land of the Leopard National Park — about 647,000 acres of prime leopard habitat where the animals could live and breed in safety.

All of those efforts have now paid off. Land of the Leopard National Park announced this month that the population of Amur leopards within its borders has increased to 84 adults and 19 cubs or adolescents. This is a dramatic increase over the 57 leopards counted in the national park in 2015 and the first time in decades that the Amur leopard population has exceeded 100 animals.

Darman credited hard work by “enthusiastic NGOs, scientists and really responsible state authorities” for achieving the tripling of the wild Amur leopard population in under 20 years.

Most of that increase is natural growth …more

(0) Comments

A Nonnative Tree, an Invasive Beetle, and the Endangered Bird Caught in the Middle

Court says federal government must clean up the mess it helped make of riparian ecosystems in the US Southwest

The intentions were noble. The results another thing entirely.

Back in the early oughts, the federal government introduced one invasive species to fight another in the US Southwest. The idea was to rid the region of a hard-to-root-out plant wreaking havoc on fragile river habitats, but one unfortunate result of the effort was the elimination of habitat for an already endangered avian species.

photo of southwestern willow flycatcherPhoto courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife ServiceThe endangered southwestern willow flycatcher migrates to the US southwest each spring to breed. It has adpated to nesting in nonnative tamarisk as the trees have spread across the region.

Salt cedar, or tamarisk (Empidonax trailii extimus), is native to Eurasia, where it is employed primarily as ornamental landscape. It was introduced to the US southwest in 1887 in an effort to stem erosion, and quickly became the bane of southwestern rivers due to its intensive water use and prolific seed dispersal.

Congress passed a law empowering the federal government to find a remedy. In 1997, under the auspices of the Plant Protection Act, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) decided to import another invasive, the Diorhabda elongate, or tamarask leaf beetle, a Japanese beetle with an appetite for salt cedar.

But there was a flycatcher in the ointment. In 1995, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had designated the southwestern willow flycatcher, a tiny bird that migrates to the southwest each spring to breed, as endangered. As tamarisk had taken over in the region, the songbird had adapted, making the flowering tree work as a nesting place in lieu of the disappeared cottonwoods, buttonbush, and willow it preferred.

As such, the beetle represented a threat to the flycatcher's habitat. Birders and scientists alike told USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) entities just that.

The complication triggered “consultations,” as required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fish and Wildlife expressed reservations that echoed concerns of the bird's advocates, noting that without replacing the salt cedar with native vegetation, the flycatcher would have nowhere to nest. But the service eventually signed off on the beetle plan, on the USDA's claim the program would have “no significant impact” on the songbird's ability to survive.

photoname Photo by Dan Bean/Colorado Department of AgricultureTamarisk beetles dine on a salt cedar tree.

Concessions were made. No beetles would be …more

(0) Comments

← Recent   Older →

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author

Subscribe
Today

Four issues for just
$15 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!

 

0.1859