Nature News Roundup June 28

A king's Covid trek, mythical cranes nest in Ireland, solar pays teachers, and more

Wild horse wells: A new study shows wild horses and burros dig water wells that help other species, like badgers, elf owls, and toads survive the dry times. This doesn’t sound too earth-shattering, except that under current public land management practices, wild horses and burros are considered non-native and the BLM (as in Bureau of Land Management) is striving to significantly reduce their numbers. Horses as we know them were introduced into the west by the Spanish, but 10,000 years ago in the Pleistocene — not terribly long ago in ecological evolutionary terms — there were species of equines in the American west. So maybe this study will retool the debate.

Food futures: In a great example of taking your profession and making it nature-friendly, the cooking site Epicurious announced that it will add no new content about beef. In their statement, they noted, “We believe that what we cook, and how we cook it, is a powerful action that anybody can take to fight climate change …Our hope is that the more sustainable we make our coverage, the more sustainable American cooking will become.” Chic Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park recently dumped meat off its menu entirely, saying it is “becoming ever clearer that the current food system is simply not sustainable.”

Coal posturing: Wyoming is poised to sue states that stop buying their coal. Some argue it might be wiser to instead help prepare their residents for the inevitable end of coal (or the end of civilization, if we don’t stop burning their coal, whichever way it ends up going down). But many speculate this legal feather fluffing is simply to make the hard workers of Wyoming think their government has their backs. After all, from those worker’s perspectives, they’ve kept the country’s lights on by mining 40 percent of the nation’s coal. Now they have suddenly gone from heroes to villains, and are stuck with leaders making decisions from nostalgia, versus science.

Oh give me a home, where the PCBs roam: Similarly, politicians in Louisiana want their state to be a pollution sanctuary. That sounds pretty sexy. Maybe they can put that slogan on their license plates.

Long before there was pollution, there were the bristlecone pines of the Great Basin. This one is thought to be around 3,500 years old and counting. Imagine watching 1,277,500 sunrises. Photo by Karuna Eberl.

Mike Rowe’s dirtiest job: If you’re vegging out, do yourself a favor and skip Mike Rowe’s new show on Discovery+. He’s the guy from the hit series Dirty Jobs, and his new show, Six Degrees, is sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute. The premise is to show how we are all connected — by the wonders and joys of oil and gas, of course. Row “shouts out the oil and gas industry in some capacity in every episode,” journalist Dharna Noor wrote in an article in Earther, which sported the headline “Mike Rowe’s New Discovery+ Show is Big Oil-Funded Propaganda.” Apparently he loves his new dirty job, or at least his new paycheck so much that he wrote a 6,000 word facebook post to his 5.3 million followers, somewhat misogynistically bashing Noor and explaining how truly awesome fossil fuels are.

Rising Climate Star: Jerome Foster, an 18-year-old climate activist, protested every Friday for 58 weeks in front of the White House. Under Trump, he stood alone outside with his “School strike for climate” sign, but once Biden took over, he got invited inside as the newest member of the climate team. In an interview with the Guardian, Foster had something to say about people like Rowe (though he didn’t single out Rowe, just people who share similar opinions). “I thought, ‘I’m done convincing people. We’re just going to work around you.’ We don’t have time to be slowed down by people that don’t understand and don’t acknowledge the science. It’s far beyond that. You got 50 years to read the papers. You had 50 years to understand this crisis and you still are doing nothing. So we’re done spoon feeding you. We’re moving on, next step, next phase.”

No surprises here: A new report exposes how chemical companies knowingly covered up the health dangers of forever chemicals for years. No biggie. These are only the chemicals that are now found in nearly every human and most other living organisms on earth.

How about some good news: A pair of cranes are nesting in Ireland. That’s pretty amazing, as it’s been 300 years since the last ones were spotted there. The birds were once numerous in the country, so much so that they are an integral part of ancient Irish mythology. No word on if they’re planning on hatching an egg yet, but if so, it would be the first crane chick born in Ireland since before we made ‘Merica.

Solar for Teachers: More good news. A small town in Arkansas installed solar panels a plenty to power their school. That saved them more than $600,000, which allowed for “massive salary raises” for teachers. This is how we can start reimagining the future, and curing multiple ills with one action.

Hope in Florida: It’s nice to report that Florida is doing at least one thing that isn’t crushing the world’s dreams for environmental and racial justice. Orange County passed a “rights of nature” law in November, and now they are suing developers who want to destroy wetlands.

But of course, there are also plenty of Florida fails: In November, Key West residents overwhelmingly passed a law to severely limit cruise ships in their port. That is good news. The ships cause myriad environmental ills from spilled sewage to sediment damage to reefs, not to mention social ills in the city, while only benefiting a small handful of already wealthy property and business owners. Days later, the state legislature responded, giving the city a big middle finger by passing a law that says towns can’t make laws banning cruise ships. It’s currently on Gov. DeSantis’ desk, with little hope for a veto, since he loves ‘em cruises so much he also wants to make sure they can’t mandate vaccinations. To find out how to help the people who are tirelessly fighting Key West ships, visit Safer Cleaner Ships.

More cruising chaos: Cruise ships are ecological disasters. Between the CO2 and particulate emissions, unregulated raw sewage dumps, churned up silt, marine noise pollution, oil spills, and enormous plastic waste, they amount to a gruesomely destructive industry. Now Disney is pushing through approval of a $400 million cruise ship port on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. The site has been discussed as a Marine Protected area, but now it looks likely there will be an extra million visitors a year there instead. The Puerto Rican’s call these sort of tourists “shiny people,” because they show up coated in sunscreen, bug spray, and makeup, and then wash it all off on the reefs. It’s okay, when the reef dies Disney will just build a plastic one, with an underwater Saving Nemo ride.

Ode to oysters: Here’s an enlightening, interesting essay on oysters, especially if you’re thinking about kicking the habit.

Another win for activists: While the death of the Keystone XL pipeline made headlines, another win passed by more quietly. Northwest Innovation Works, who wanted to build the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery, abandoned their project in Kalama, Washington. By the way, the Onion newspaper most poignantly summed up the death of Keystone, by saying, “Wow, imagine wasting all those years fighting against something that never ended up getting made.”

Perfect kingdom, again: The tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan often makes the headlines for its progressive thought, especially its decision to base its economy off of the Gross Domestic Happiness of its people versus Gross Domestic Product. When Covid hit, the King took off with a backpack, through a country of very few roads, trekking across rainforests and up to isolated Himalayan villages, to make sure everyone was informed about how to keep themselves safe. He figured if they heard it from him, they would take it seriously. It seems to have worked. So far, there has only been one death in the country of 700,000. If only other leaders were so humble, and compassionate toward the people they are charged with looking after.

Takshang monastery in Bhutan. My dad and I have a lot of good slides (and memories) of the country from when were were there in 1996, including Takshang, but I can’t find them right now, so this one is courtesy jboots from Pixabay.

And apologies for the lapse in posts. I’ll have some more news and thoughts up later this week.

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