Towards a personal stewardship ethic – monthly sustainability challenge

We tend towards waste. As a nation, as a community, and in our personal lives, waste is ubiquitous and often imperceptible. That we can afford to discard is an unfortunate side effect of having a high quality of life. Waste is not always a bad thing, either. We’re comforted by the fact that our doctors use disposable needles, that food can be packaged and preserved, that soiled diapers can be discarded. Disposability is freedom from the tedious chores of our grandparents and great-grandparents. It is access to time that can be spent with our loved ones or engaged in more fruitful pursuits. But there is still plenty of unnecessary waste that exists purely for convenience.

Those of us who consider ourselves environmentalist, good stewards of the earth, are often just as guilty of waste, myself included. Over the next several months, I will be exploring ways to reduce my own waste production. Each month I will identify some aspect of my personal life that generates unnecessary waste and explore solutions. Plastic is my major target, but I will also be looking for other resources drains that could be made more efficient (or, if possible, eliminated).

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Four fish fight for the future

How much of the world’s food supply is locked up in a few crops – corn, wheat, rice (for example) – and even fewer livestock – cows, pigs, chickens? Of the major commercial food production industries, only fish, and even then, only some fish, are still hunted. In a very real sense, fish are the last wild food. That may be changing. In Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, published last year, Paul Greenberg highlights the ways in which commercial fishing is becoming less like hunting and more like agriculture, with a few, often farm raised species, dominating the market.

Greenberg, a native of Long Island Sound who fished there since the 1970’s, documents the changes in four major fisheries – salmon, sea bass, cod, and tuna – and the changing attitudes of the (mostly) men who catch them. He travels to Alaska to meet with First Nation salmon fishermen, to Greece to visit groundbreaking aquaculture facilities, he charters a tuna boat to experience the fight first hand, and across the world he talks to those of whom fishing matters most, including himself. At times, the book becomes autobiographical, focusing on Greenberg’s personal journey – but this is a book about fish and fishermen, and he is, if only recreationally, a fisher.

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The Birth of Sustainability Science

Every once in a while, with predictable regularity, I will encounter a call to be more interdisciplinary in order to fully understand the many aspects of a given issue. The world forgot to compartmentalize its problems for ease of solution. Solutions require scientists to think big and basic at the same time – recent estimates that 7 billion people will roam the planet by the end of this year – and that creates a big demand for resources such as food, water, fuel, and fiber. Ecologists clearly have something to say on the matter and designated 2011’s meeting theme  “Earth Stewardship”, meant as a way to kick off new thinking on research process and connecting research to problem solving.

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Wording Matters: Conservation vs. Preservation

In a world where words like sustainability are used in many contexts with widely varying meanings, we forget that the environmental community was once very choosy in its wording. Terms have specific meanings such that a single word can communicate a philosophy and accompanying ethics. Conservation and preservation are two such terms. The first denotes an effort to sustain a space or resource for perpetual use. Preservation denotes a fortress-like approach to nature, walling off human influence in order to maintain pristine “wilderness”. The terms are linked to big figures in American history, each of whom established a land ethic according to their philosophy now codified in US law. Read More

Seven Billion Strawmen: Population Bombs and Demography

As Halloween welcomed the world’s seven billionth person, there has been renewed interest in meeting the food, shelter, and water needs of a large and growing global population. One recent article in the Washington Post (10/30/11) attempted to make 7 billion a tangible number that kids can wrap their minds around by describing 7 billion M&M’s filling three Olympic-sized swimming pools. While I think this is a useful exercise, when thinking about 7 billion people, not all people can be counted equally. In terms of resource use, each of the over 300 million United States citizens are like bloated, entitled M&M’s squeezing their smaller brethren out of the pool.

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Hooray for California, but there’s still much work to be done to save sharks


Photo credit: Jessica King, Marine Photobank

Earlier today,  the California legislature voted to approve AB 376,  the excitingly titled “act to add section 2021 to the Fish and Game Code,  relating to sharks”. The ocean conservation community is happy,  and we should be. The bill and its backing from Hollywood stars have generated substantial media coverage of the plight of sharks,  and,  if signed into law by the Governor and properly enforced,  it could well save a lot of sharks. However,  fin bans aren’t the perfect solution to the shark conservation crisis,  and we still have a lot of work to do to protect sharks and closely related species around the world.

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Adventures in Backyard Agriculture: A Summary and More

fireweed, a delicious wild edible in alpine climates

This week, Southern Fried Scientist and I have written about our personal adventures in making town life a little more sustainable. First, building a chicken coop – a deluxe one, complete with green roof and made out of recycled materials. Next, dwarf goats as milk-producing pets and clarifying some of the tall tales about goats (no, they don’t eat tin cans but yes, you can teach them to head butt on command). The chicken story continued with how to raise them – whether to get chicks or pullets, what they need as they grow to be egg producing hens or the cock-a-doodle-doo producing rooster. Plus, it’s hard to beat chicks in a basket. Finally, what you might have thought backyard agriculture was all about – the garden.

After our miniseries, you might be left wondering ‘now what’? Where to begin or maybe there’s still some hesitation over whether it’s all worth it.  Here’s some other practical considerations you might think about before beginning your urban agriculture adventure.

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Adventures in Backyard Agriculture: Raising Chickens

I have a basket of baby chickens. Your argument is invalid.

So you’ve decided to commit to a more sustainable lifestyle, you’ve built a Pico-farm and are ready to stock it with a flock of happy, egg-laying chickens. Congratulations, you’ve reached the fun part.

Before you go out and buy chickens, you need to ask yourself a few questions: do you want hens only, or do you want a rooster for breeding? Do you want to raise them from chicks or buy adults ready to lay? How big a flock do you want?

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Adventures in Backyard Agriculture: Dwarf Goats

Following Southern Fried Scientist’s sustainable pets movement, two Nigerian Dwarf goats have recently joined my life. While they have garnered traffic-stopping attention in town upon their arrival, goats are not such a foreign idea to the old-timers in the neighborhood. Goats used to be fairly common in the urban homestead back when the line between city and rural was a little less clear.

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Adventures in Backyard Agriculture: Building the Pico-farm.

Several months ago, I began a new personal challenge to live more sustainably. I wanted to do something more substantial and larger in scale than the conventional methods of reducing your environmental impacts, which involve changes in habit, not changes in lifestyle. After many discussions, Bluegrass Blue Crab and myself decided it was time to try our hands at backyard agriculture.

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