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Global Temp ChangeDo you think that climate change is something to be concerned about?

Yes.  Even though scientists may disagree about the causes and extent of global climate change, it is difficult to deny that the planet’s climate is warming.  The trend in temperature rise is causing weather extremes and environmental changes locally, such as four feet of snow in Northern Minnesota in April and flooding beyond any prior recorded levels in Iowa, as well as around the globe, such as the ice mass loss on the Antarctic Peninsula, worldwide glacier retreat, rising ocean levels, and melting Arctic sea ice.

The fact that our global environment is changing should be a cause for concern worldwide for every individual who cares about what kind of world we leave behind for our children.

Are you going to change anything about your lifestyle?

  • I have reduced my use of fossil fuels by
    • Commuting by bicycle when possible
    • Decreasing lawnmower use by 70%
    • Maximizing gas mileage while maintaining safe driving practices
    • Turning the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer
    • Minimizing electricity use in my home
  • I am refusing
    • To purchase environmentally costly plastic containered products, such as bottled water
    • The use of petroleum produced plastic grocery bags – green bags instead
    • The purchase of more “stuff” – time to downsize the toy category
    • Junk mail by using organizations that limit the ridiculous influx of unnecessary propaganda
    • To purchase domestic meat products – wild game instead
    • The use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides
  • I am reducing
    • The amount of paper products I use
    • The amount of unnecessary refuse in my waste water – even though I have a septic system
  • I am reusing
    • Water bottles
    • Paper products
    • Clothing
    • Ammunition
  • I am recycling even more conscientiously than previous to this course
  • I am planning
    • A greener property with native plant restoration
    • Research into renewable personal energy sources
    • To purchase more locally grown and organically grown produce
    • To purchase more environmentally friendly toiletries and cleaning products
    • To purchase more previously owned products – if purchase is necessary
    • Building a greener, more environmentally friendly home

The list can and will be longer, but this is a good start!

NebraskaOur latest reading for comment in People and the Environment, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website’s analysis and outlook in “Global Climate Change and its Impact on Minnesota”, starts the imagination running.  Our planet is getting warmer.  True.  Climate change has happened before in the Earth’s history, but this is the first time it has been influenced by human society.

The first paragraph beyond the summary of Governor Pawlenty’s 2006 introduction of his Next Generation Energy Initiative sets you up for the facts and hypothesis to come:

While some scientists may disagree about the causes and extent of global climate change, few doubt that the Earth’s climate is warming.  Some University of Minnesota researchers predict that if trends continue, Minnesota could look a lot like Nebraska in the coming years.

Nebraska?  Part of what was once termed the Great American Desert?  This reminds me of a line from the film Unforgiven, in which Gene Hackman’s character Little Bill Daggett says:

Hell, I even thought I was dead ’til I found out it was just that I was in Nebraska.

Now, I don’t mean to be making light of a very serious subject, but there is good reason for my sarcasm.  For the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Land of Sky-Blue Waters, and the North Woods, or as I affectionately call it, God’s Country, to become predominantly grassland and savanna drastic changes would have to occur.

This is mostly speculation of course, no one can say for certain what our future holds, but to imagine that all this change is possible in our children’s lifetime is difficult to fathom.  Yet it is a very real possibility.  We are risking the odds of our future on a cultural game of chance.

Trying to imagine what would become of the infrastructure of our local society, environment, and ecosystem, what we are familiar with, helps bring the broader view into focus.  If I said your children’s environment would resemble very little to nothing of your own, an environment you have chosen, love, and cherish, yet the geographical location remained the same, would you make the personal choices necessary to curb the imminent changes?

Mixed MessagesChemicals!  Chemicals everywhere!

The latest article comment reading assignment in People and the Environment was the feature from the January-February 2002 issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer“Mixed Messages” by Mary Hoff.

The article details the increasing discovery of endocrine disruptorsin the environment and their relation to anomalies of nature.  In particular, this article revealed the presence of vitellogenin, a protein female fish produce as part of egg-making, in Mississippi River malecarp and walleye.  The fish tested were pulled from waters downstream of the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant effluent in St. Paul.

“Nobody blinked at the carp data, but when we found vitellogenin in male walleye, it was on the front page of the Star Tribune,”  explains Leroy Folmar, the research physiologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who conducted the study highlighted by Hoff’s article.

Well, of course, a carp is – well – a carp, an overgrown minnow, a rough fish, a Eurasian invader introduced to North American waters by humans long ago.  But the walleye is the Minnesota state fish, and, for its beauty and table fare, the prize catch and most sought after game fish in the land of 10,000 lakes.

The extent of the affects, the damages to the global ecosystem, of endocrine disruptors are largely unknown, but increased studies are producing more prevalent evidence.  The process of recovery is slow because of the daunting task of identifying the vast array of individual chemical culprits and the equally vast array of abnormalities they produce.  Then there is the “harmless” chemicals that bond with other seemingly harmless chemicals to form yet another endocrine disruptor.

A web search turned up a 2005 Institute for Environment and Health compilation of published lists of Chemicals Purported to be Endocrine Disruptors – it’s 91 pages long!

What are we putting into our environment?  Why are we only concerned to a sense of urgency when it threatens human life or a desirable part of human life, if at all?  Our environment is trying to tell us something – we’re poisoning our Earth.

Thinking Like a MountainRecently, while comparing educational pursuits with another returning college student who is seeking teaching licensure in literature, I conveyed my aspirations of redirecting my career in the outdoors and environmental industry beyond a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative and Professional Writing and a Bachelor of Science degree in History at Bemidji State University.  Aspirations that include pursuing a writing and educating career in some aspect of the outdoors and environment in order to fulfill my personal ambition to “leave something behind” when I am no longer a physical presence in this world, something to show that I have done my part to contribute to the betterment of society.

By this, the co-ed asked if my inspirations included Aldo Leopold.  Embarrassed to admit that I was only slightly familiar with the name and what it stood for, not the man and his work, I deflected his inquisition to what my experience included, the work I was doing now, and where I hoped that would lead me.

A recent reading assignment of the essay “Thinking Like a Mountain” by Aldo Leopold for my People and the Environment course provided the opportunity to research and the life long work of Aldo Leopold, the forester, ecologist, conservationist, environmentalist, philosopher, educator, writer, fisherman, hunter, and outdoor enthusiast.

Leopold is considered by many to be the father of wildlife management and of the United States’ wilderness system.  His life’s work was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness preservation.  His introduction at The Aldo Leopold Foundation website begins with this quote:

“As a society, we are just now beginning to realize the depth of Leopold’s work and thinking.”

- Mike Dombeck, Chief Emeritus U.S. Forest Service, Professor of Global Environmental Management UW-Stevens Point, UW System Fellow of Global Conservation

In Leopold’s greatest written work, and the culmination of his life’s work, A Sand County Almanac, completed just prior to his death in 1948 and published postmortem, he wrote “The Land Ethic”, a chapter where he lays out his conservation plan for the human culture.  Under the Community Concept of this land ethic, Leopold wrote:

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 also respect for the community as such.

In “Thinking Like a Mountain,” we are offered a view of a precursor to Leopold’s land ethic.  A profound moment in his life when he realizes the value of a community that includes the land, and the tragic consequences that occur when any component of that community is severed, lost, or no longer permitted to exist. 

Leopold demonstrates through his own experience the recognition of changing mindset.  The wolf as a member of the land, the natural world, must persist for the good of the overall quality of life on this planet.  The example of his killing the wolf and ultimately his realization of what has become of the wilderness without it shares the knowledge learned through the act of recklessness and disregard for the delicate balance in the ecosystem.

In short, he is warning society not to duplicate this reckless disregard on a global scale.  Our culture owes an ethical responsibility to the place that gives us life.

Ditches

DitchesDo you think counties should be spending money on mowing ditches?

I found the following detail of the Minnesota statute pertaining to mowing ditches at the Minnesota State Legislature website, or more specifically at the Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes website:

2007 Minnesota Statutes

  • 160.232 MOWING DITCHES OUTSIDE CITIES.
    (a) To provide enhanced roadside habitat for nesting birds and other small wildlife, road
    authorities may not mow or till the right-of-way of a highway located outside of a home rule
    charter or statutory city except as allowed in this section and section 160.23.
    (b) On any highway, the first eight feet away from the road surface, or shoulder if one
    exists, may be mowed at any time.
    (c) An entire right-of-way may be mowed after July 31. From August 31 to the following
    July 31, the entire right-of-way may only be mowed if necessary for safety reasons, but may not
    be mowed to a height of less than 12 inches.
    (d) A right-of-way may be mowed as necessary to maintain sight distance for safety and
    may be mowed at other times under rules of the commissioner, or by ordinance of a local road
    authority not conflicting with the rules of the commissioner.
    (e) A right-of-way may be mowed, burned, or tilled to prepare the right-of-way for the
    establishment of permanent vegetative cover or for prairie vegetation management.
    (f) When feasible, road authorities are encouraged to utilize low maintenance, native
    vegetation that reduces the need to mow, provides wildlife habitat, and maintains public safety.
    (g) The commissioner of natural resources shall cooperate with the commissioner of
    transportation to provide enhanced roadside habitat for nesting birds and other small wildlife.

I agreed with most of this Minnesota statute, then I found the information at the Office of Environmental Services website for the Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM) process

IRVM is a decision-making and quality management process for maintaining roadside vegetation that integrated the following:

  • the needs of local communities and highway users
  • the knowledge of plant ecology and natural processes
  • design, construction, and maintenance considerations
  • monitoring and evaluation procedures
  • government statutes and regulations
  • technology

…with cultural, biological, mechanical, and chemical pest control methods to economically manage roadsides for safety plus environmental and visual quality (NVRMA, 1997).

First of all, you can be sure that county ditch mowers run wild during the month of August if not before that every year in this state.  It happens nearly every year across the front of my property; every once in a while my ditch, the one you see pictured above, eludes the razor’s edge.  If a ditch being mowed would resolve a safety issue I could understand that, but I believe in most cases it falls on those last two words in the IRVM statement…

“visual quality.”

Mother Culture has beaten into our minds that a freshly mowed expanse of grass is the only acceptable form of appearance for that piece of real estate, which in fact, by the statutes own words is habitat for wildlife and native vegetation.  What’s wrong with the wildflowers that bloom in my ditch each summer and the beauty of the grasses waving in the wind?  Isn’t that “visual quality?”

Then there is the mention of “chemical pest control methods.”  Are these really necessary?  Where do those chemicals end up?  In the water supply?  In the lakes I fish?  Not to mention the fuel consumption and emissions produced just to maintain this unjustified taxpayer expense of visual quality.

Wouldn’t the first eight feet mentioned in the statute, if that is even necessary, be enough to solve the safety issue at all times?  Don’t come around here mowing my ditch.  We don’t need your habitat destruction in the guise of management.  There’s already plenty of it going on in this world.

Live and Let Live

Howling WolfDo you think humans should decide whether or not another species lives or dies?

I would think that the answer to this question to be an obvious no.  That is, if we are talking about simply, as if this could be a simple discussion, the existence of a species, period.  If a species were to fade into extinction, it should only be at the hands of an evolutionary demise.  I believe all humans have some basic type of understanding about the importance of each individual species’ role in its habitat or environment, our environment.

Should we knowingly disregard the extermination of any species at the hands of human society?  NO

Should we continue to study the effects of human society on the global environment to prevent any species’ extinction, and work to aid the recovery of any endangered species?  YES

However, the slant of this discussion where the line blurs and the black and white blends to gray is the debate that ensues when a species is no longer a welcome inhabitant of a geographical space, or is perceived to be an alien intruder in that space.

The reality is civilization’s encroachment on the unique habitats throughout the world causes the confrontation between humans and the most visible threatened species; the large mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and trees.  It is a debate that began with the advent of the agricultural age, when human proliferation began to threaten the surrounding and coexisting species.  Whether directly affected by the urbanization caused by the rampant, relatively recent, explosion in the human population, or disrupted by the blatant misuse or mistreatment of our natural resources by the increasing agricultural and economical demands imposed on our natural capital, the first and biggest losers will always most likely be the species that require the most space in comparison to our own demands.  In competition with the human species, they don’t stand a chance.

But what about the invasive species of the world’s unique habitats?  Are these species invasive because we deem them to be a threat to the invaded ecosystem and our way of life, or is it part of the evolutionary cycle?  Certainly Eurasian watermilfoil, sea lamprey, zebra mussels, and Asian carp for example are negative influences to the delicate balance in the ecosystems of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers.  But I would argue that, while undesirable, these intruders still deserve the right to coexist with humans because of their intrinsic, and possibly yet to be discovered, value.

Also, there is this question, are we the invaders in every ecosystem on the planet?

Check out the following sites to learn more about invasive species:

A Bike Trip

Thursday’s bike trip from campus to the participating downtown businesses started from home to campus for me.  But my preparation for this little group excursion actually started over a week ago.  Since moving to Bemidji, my mountain bike has been one of those toys that has taken a back seat to other toys and activities.  When I found out there was a bike trip planned for one of our field trips for People and the Environment, the time came for a good reason to pull the bike from its suspended animation in the rafters of the garage, blow the dust off, take it in for a tune-up, and shake the rust off my butt.

The bike shop said two weeks turn around time as they were inundated with projects from patrons who apparently had the same idea I did with the long awaited hint of summer making an appearance.  The only problem was whether they could find the parts to repair what 10 years of hard riding and five years of sitting on the shelf had inflicted.  She needed a good lube, brake adjustments, gear shifters repaired or replaced, and, as I found out after the fact, new tires and tubes; both the tires had deteriorated to the point where they blew in the shop after I dropped it off.  My apologies to the folks at the Home Place Bike & Ski shop for that one!

I didn’t know if I would have it back in time for the big ride, but to my surprise there was a voicemail Monday saying it was ready to go.  I immediately headed down for pick up, hoping to get as much riding in as possible before Thursday in order to get, well, certain parts of the body use to it again.  One more piece of new equipment would be vital to this – a new seat to replace the worn out, cushionless original.  So, $120 later, my Giant ATX 760 had new rubber, a new seat, properly functioning brakes, and working gear shifters.  Not bad, considering the alternative was a MegaLowMart special for a similar price or a comparable Trek replacement for for over five times the cost.

Now, I just needed to get the old muscles reacquainted with the bike.  The first few strides told me the worry would not be my gluteus maximus, but my quads.  Apparently, parts of those muscles had forgotten what it was like to ride a bike.  Ol’ Jake remembered the days when we used to tackle the trails of the Three Rivers Park District, as he headed down the road beside me – one sorry old butt after another.  Well, the bike rode like new again, the quads were a surprise, but I’m happy to report the new seat worked great.  It felt good to be back on that bike again.

Thursday morning I timed the commute from my place to Deputy Hall so I could begin implementing a bike commute for summer and fall classes – 16 minutes flat without pushing it really, well, at all.  I had no idea how long it would take me to cover the few miles to campus – I was the first one to arrive by about 15 minutes!  I suppose there was about 40 of us on bikes, students and faculty alike, and we finally were blessed with a gorgeous day in this rain-filled spring to enjoy the ride.

There would be five businesses we would be visiting in the downtown area as part of the reacquaintance with this mode of transportation:

At Wild Hare, co-owner Reed spoke with us about the integrity of the benefits of organic agriculture and fair trade, such as a fresher, higher quality product produced with little to no hormones, pesticides, and herbicides by producers being paid a fair price that covers the costs of sustainable production and living in order to establish balance between industrialized and non-industrialized countries involved in international trade.  He talked about how the produce they use in their cuisine have a naturally better flavor than the genetically engineered “cardboard” products you’ll find from corporate farms.  Their “About Us” introduction on their website states:

We envision a space where people of all walks of life can come together and share in good food and conversation, get to know their neighbors and break down social barriers.

At Harmony Foods, Lisa introduced us the benefits of local produce versus products shipped in from all corners of the world giving the consumer a better quality, fresher product that has ripened on the vine or grazed natural grasses rather than the lesser quality, truck-ripened, hormone-injected, whatevercide-laced, growth enhanced, vitamin and nutrient free products you’ll find at the any nationwide MegaLowMart.  She informed us of the ability for their consumer to buy bulk products by ordering or bringing in their own receptacle to the store which saves the all parties involved, from producer to consumer, the extra costs of packaging and advertising.  She also spoke of the benefits of fair trade, their community-based service niche, and, although shelf price is shelf price, for a $60 lifetime membership, members can share in profits and benefit from price discounts on bulk items.

At Pawn USA, Goodwill, and the Twice But Nice consignment clothiers, each store explained how their business worked from the pawn or sell option at Pawn USA, to the tax-deductible donation option at Goodwill, to the percentage based profit if sold option at Twice But Nice.  Overall, the message portrayed by these businesses is one of reducing by reusing when it comes to clothing and “stuff,” and, with my mother and sisters’ garage sale and my own eBay success, I can attest to the fact there seems to be quite a market for fraction-of-the-cost-of-new, second-hand goods.  In affect a second hand purchase preserves the amount of our natural capital it would take to produce the same item, albeit new, but for an inflated price tag of the slightly used.

OK, OK, I agree with most of the stuff these businesses are pitching, but I draw the line at clothes someone else has lived in – but that’s just me and my opinion.  I’ll just have to make up for that part of my ecological footprint somewhere else.  I think the thing that left the biggest impression on me was the realization that Goodwill uses the money from their profits to help create training programs for people with disabilities.  I didn’t know this and it will help me the next time I am reluctant to give away some of my “stuff” in the form of a tax-deductible donation.

I was most intrigued by the introduction to Wild Hare and Harmony Foods Co-op.  The convenience of shopping the MegaLowMart has robbed me of the quality produce local, organic agriculture can provide.  I had shopped Harmony Foods prior to this encounter but I never really understood the value of the co-op and the products they provide.  I plan to shop there more frequently in the future.  Wild Hare is a no-brainer for me as I am always on the lookout for a new, great place when it comes to dining – any type of dining.  I will be back often.

However, I think the bike trip for me was about the bike trip itself.  The bike had spent too many summers hanging from the roof of the garage and I have spent too much time behind the wheel of the truck.  It’s time to get right back on that bike.

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