“Ocean Soul.” Brian Skerry at National Geographic Live

By Neva Knott

I’ve always lived near water. The home I was born into sat on the shore of a lake in a town surrounded by the Puget Sound. As my world expanded, I learned rivers and the ocean’s shore. When I was six, my father moved my family to Saipan, a small island in the South Pacific. Small, as in 14 miles long and five miles wide. It was there I fell in love with the ocean. I learned to swim and snorkel there, was stung by many man-o-war jelly fish. My father was an ecologist, so it wasn’t enough to witness the fish in the coral habitat; I learned their ways.

The ever-morphing boundary of earth and sea, that line that changes each day, minutely, as the water crashes on the sand and ebbs outward is fascinating. Power and grace.

As an adult, I lived on Maui for a year, another Pacific island, larger, but still small enough that I saw the ocean from every vantage point. I’d often look out across the water and marvel that it was the same body of water that touched my home shores in Washington and Oregon. The Pacific, it seems, connects all the places of my life.

The pervasive connectedness of the oceans underpinned the tone of photographer Brian Skerry‘s recent talk, “Ocean Soul,” given here in Olympia as part of the National Geographic Live series. Skerry has spent over 10,000 hours under water, photographing wildlife and habitat there. His images are saturated in the colors of the sea–deep blues and greens, brilliant oranges and yellows, shadows and darkness in the depths. Much of his work illustrates and promotes the vast beauty of the world beyond that magic shoreline. Skerry has photographed is unique and remote locations. In his book, Ocean Soul, he tells the stories of Leatherback Turtles on Matura Beach in Trinidad; Right Whales in Canada’s Bay of Fundy; Harp Seals in the Arctic Gulf of Saint Lawrence. In his journey to find these stories, Skerry explained in his talk, he began to notice environmental problems under water.

The images for his talk in the speaker series included photographs of seal hunting, the over-fishing of blue fin tuna, the by-catch of trawling for shrimp, and the dangers to sharks of entanglement in disposed fishing nets. He also gave the example of critical mangrove habitat in the everglades being destroyed to make a golf course. Skerry explained that his intent is to use his [beautiful] photography to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of the ocean’s ecosystems and the interdependency between species in these habitats. During his talk he admonished that we can no longer look at species and habitats a separate. The aim of his photography of environmental problems is to make this point.

As I listened to Skerry, his beautiful images on the large screen in front of me–and yes, even the images of the problems are beautiful–I once again saw that the environmental problems stem from human over-consumption…or just plain wrong thinking, like the idea of filling in a mangrove estuary to make a golf course.

Skerry’s images and talk took the audience’s attention well beyond the charismatic species approach of garnering awareness. He is a man who knows the world’s oceans intimately. He promotes the beauty and the need for consideration of these huge bodies of water that connect our worlds.

Featured image by Bryan Skerry, courtesy of The Smithsonian.

Nature, Wondrous and Fragile: The Correspondence Of Rachel Carson and Edwin Way Teale Preserved in the Edwin Way Teale Papers

Please follow the link below to a piece written by EE blogger Richard Telford for University of Connecticut:

Nature, Wondrous and Fragile: The Correspondence Of Rachel Carson and Edwin Way Teale Preserved in the Edwin Way Teale Papers.

Lily pads, Lake weed, and Bullfrog song

By Neva Knott

When the recession hit in 2010, earlier even, for some, I thought to myself, this economic upheaval will bring people around. I thought our culture might come back to some core American values–neighborliness, thrift, value, home-made, waste-not-want-not. Can you tell I was raised by a father and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression?

I honestly thought the recession might bring America back to valuing people and places and interactive experiences over things.

Richard Telford wrote in his post, Lessons from My Father, earlier this week:

While my father’s early childhood years were lean ones—one meat meal per week, an adult border sleeping on a second bed jammed into his bedroom to supplement the family’s meager income, abrupt departures from one rented space to another in the worst times—my father often spoke of them as carefree days.

As I read Rich’s words, I thought of using nature as an alternative to money-stuff. With the recession came money problems anew for many Americans, yet overspending is a cultural norm. I realize I rant often about rampant consumerism as an act of environmental degradation, but what I thought about in response to Rich is deeper, expansive, even.

I began to think of my own carefree days. My family lived on the shore of a lake when I was very young. In the evenings, we would climb into a small wooden row boat and my dad would row us around the lake at sunset. I learned of lily pads and lake weed and bull frog song. I felt the air cool and the lake water droplets on my skin. I was content and I imagine were my parents. I learned to fish off our little dock there. Every weekend, we’d camp, making our way around Washington state.

When I was 12 and 13, I often babysat my cousin. There was a swamp in a small wood near our house. I’d take him there to “hunt alligators.” This was also the time of growing up when my sister and our neighborhood friends would stay out until just past dusk, playing badminton in the cul-de-sac. When we were bored, we were told to go find something to do. Translation: ride your bike, pull weeds, go outside and quit bothering your mother.

How much did my bike and a few badminton birdies cost in comparison to the digital pastimes children have today? These memories are easy to find if you grew up in the 60s or 70s.

Another blogger I admire, Aleah Sato, wrote today on her blog, Jane Crow Journal:

When I was a girl, my family was too poor to own anything, but the countryside itself was ours, a place of unbridled adventure—

Experiencing nature feeds the soul and clears the mind. It makes us healthy. And, it can ease some of the economic burden of today’s prescribed lifestyle. None of us has to buy in…each of us can choose to step outside the economic frenzy of the mainstream American lifestyle by literally stepping outside.

Mitigation of Ocean Acidification

By Neva Knott

I teach at a small college in Washington, Centralia College. Even though we only have 2,600 students, the college has a strong STEM focus. As an extension of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs, the college hosts speakers for the Rising Tide Seminar Series. The speaker for the January 2015 seminar was Dr. Christopher Sabine, Oceanographer and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of NOAA. He opened his presentation at Centralia College with the message that climate change is undeniable and serious, but it’s not too late.

Dr. Sabine gave the following five take-home points:

1. The profound impact of humans on the earth’s climate is “unmistakable at this point”

2. Carbon dioxide released into the climate has fundamentally changed the chemistry of oceans

3. The current amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will impact climate for thousands, if not 10’s of thousands, of years

4. Even though the rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been higher in the past, the rate of increase is 10-100 times faster than ever before in the geological past; this rapid rate of increase has a real, negative impact on adaptation–the ability of species, including humans, to change enough to exist in the changed biotic system

5. That there is a way out

Dr. Sabine’s presentation was largely based on the International Panel of Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (2013), on which he consulted. The latest findings are that the evidence substantiates a better than 95 percent likelihood of human influence as the driver of climate change. In referencing the work of IPCC, Sabine explained that there are “multiple lines of evidence” to support the unequivocal warming of the earth’s climate system, evidence that he suggested climate deniers can no longer avoid. These lines of evidence are: increasing air temperature; increasing atmospheric water vapor; increasing temperature over oceans; increasing sea temperature; increasing sea level; increasing ocean heat; decreasing sea ice.

The statistics behind these factors are staggering and somewhat unfathomable. Dr. Sabine explained that, as the climate has warmed in the last 40 years, 275 zeda jewels of additional solar energy have accumulated in the earth’s system. To illustrate–one zeda jewel is enough energy for the needs of the entire human population for two years. About seven percent of this accumulated energy is stored terrestrially, on land, in plants and soils. The rest is going into the oceans.

Carbon emissions into the atmosphere are measured in parts per million (ppm). Pre-industrial revolution the atmosphere measured 228 ppm of carbon dioxide, whereas today the measurement is 400 ppm or more.

Dr. Sabine illustrated the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide with another measurement, the petagram. The current rate of release is right around 10 petagrams per year. The image Sabine offered in order for the audience to wrap our minds around this huge number was this: a 156,500 mile-long hopper car of coal would release one petagram. Thus, the current 10 petagrams would equal that hopper car of coal circling 70 times around the earth at the equator. To further illustrate, Sabine explained that the annual rate of 28,000 square miles of deforestation equals one petagram of carbon dioxide emission.

The culminating effect of the increase in carbon dioxide in the oceans is that the oceanic carbon cycle has been reversed. Pre-industrial revolution and climate change, oceans were a carbon source. Through their natural processes, they released carbon into the atmosphere that was, in turn, taken up by leaves, which then degraded into the soil system, where the carbon was stored. Now, oceans are a carbon sink. This increase is the cause of ocean acidification–because carbon dioxide is an acid gas. Dr. Sabine stated that pH balance is “very important for ocean ecosystems.”

Acidification makes it difficult for organisms to form shells, using reefs to weaken and bleach. In the arctic, shells are dissolving off snails. The Great Barrier Reef has lost 50 percent of its coral over the last three decades. Not only is ocean acidification problematic to marine species, one billion people globally rely on the oceans as a food source, some for 100 percent of their dietary protein.

NOAA has several programs to help coastal communities mitigate the effects of climate change. One of the organization’s goals is to create a “climate literate” public. In addition to these public support programs, NOAA offers a Climate Stewards Education Project. NOAA’s efforts are also linked with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The solution to ocean acidification is at once simple and enormous–humans must decrease carbon emissions. The time is now.

Featured image courtesy of wikicommons.


If you’ve never stared off into the distance then your life is a shame…                                                Counting Crows, Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby

By Neva Knott

Redmond. This Central Oregon town hasn’t changed much since its founding a hundred years ago. It is a typical Oregon small town in the organizational sense; there is a one-way leading in, through, and out of town to the south and there is a one-way leading in, through, and out of town to the north. There is an intersection with a highway to the west and one with a highway to the east.

I came to Redmond from Oregon’s big city, Portland, from the north. I came over snow-capped Mt. Hood, then across the dusty, sand-orange colored Warm Springs Indian reservation, dropping down into the Deschutes river canyon with the shimmering black-blue of the water, and ascending back up to the sage-covered plateau. After driving a long stretch across the res, I dropped back down and into the green agricultural town of Madras, a place that holds the scent of the garlic grown there. Continuing on, I passed the Smith Rock formation to the left, cross the Crooked River canyon, passed a red cinder rock butte on the right, and will then was welcomed to Redmond by a bronzed statue of a cowboy riding a horse.

The High Cascade Range of volcanoes creates a boundary between Central and Western Oregon. The Redmond side of the Cascades sits in a rain shadow which causes this drastic and immediate change from the Portland side thick and dense Douglas fir forest with its rhododendron, salal, Oregon grape, huckleberry, maple understory to a less dense mix of Ponderosa pine forest, Juniper trees, sage, and rabbit brush. Redmond sits upon an expansive landscape, the High Lava Plains, across which one can see for miles, taking in buttes and mountains.

This is a farm town. The Deschutes County Fair is here, ranching is the industry, and Big R is the place to shop. People here love the land, the hunting life, and outdoor sportsmanship.

I didn’t intend to move to Redmond, but I did. And then some sort of tenacity kept me here.I bought a sweet little ranch style house on the edge of town, near a llama field and the Baptist church.

On the High Desert, I encountered an expansive landscape. Open. Clean. Qualities I was seeking in my life and in myself.

Redmond is the type of place where, on a cold winter’s morning, before first light, a group of tough construction workers sits in Starbucks, conducting a Bible study. It’s a place where the coffee stand man knows your name and greets you every morning when you drive through on your way to work. Where people stop, smile, and wave as they let you cross the street. Where it’s effortless to buy local because every business is owned by someone born and raised here. The grocery checkers are always the same and chit-chat with you in a way that makes you feel you’ve participated in community.

The culture of Central Oregon is built around playing outside. Mt. Bachelor is a ski destination, the Chain Breaker is an annual cyclo-cross race that draws the state’s best riders, the Metolius and the Deschutes rivers provide some of the best fishing in Oregon, and Smith Rock is a world-famous climbing spot. I’m not an extreme athlete as are many I met there, but I hike with my dog. After work I choose a trail along one of the rivers or drive to the Ponderosa forest just outside of town. Within twenty minutes, I can be in wilderness, which is where I spens my weekends and school breaks. On one summer trip, out to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, I drove home after sunset with all the windows down. It took four hours to traverse the various ecosystems. I discerned changes in the landscape by scent and temperature; it was a tactile connection made between me and the Oregon I was traveling across in the night air.

I shape my life here around the landscape. In the process, I found a sense of being grounded, rooted, part of a bigger place than just that which I inhabited. I feel bigger than work and chores and adult-life obligations. Somehow, inexplicably, I needed the lack of familiarity I experienced when I came to Redmond.

When I left, back to Portland, I drove over Mt. Hood, across the reservation, through Madras. As I drove along the plateau, I looked at the sky. At once, across the High Desert, it was a dark and ominous grey, crossed by a swathe of blue-white. A mile off in the distance, a bright spot of sun shone through and illuminated the grey above me as it pulled the blue out from behind a pink-tinted puff of cloud. The sky’s colors and luminescence elucidated for me the meaning of my time in Redmond. As I looked into the distance, I knew that it was the landscape that allowed for my time of expansion.

The Local Yolk–Beer, Backyard Chickens, and the Business of Building a Sustainable Food System

By Neva Knott

When the environmental movement began in the 1970s, the focus was on protecting and honoring nature instead of depleting it for human consumption. While this same protection of nature is still at the core of environmental advocacy, a new environmental perspective has emerged recent years, a more personal movement–that of food sourcing.

I’ve heard that the easiest way to go green is to green your food source. It’s certainly the most immediate and possibly the most effective.

To eat within your foodshed, to eat the 100-mile-meal, to know your farmer are practices that benefit your health and promote a green triple bottom line–people, the planet, and profits. In graduate school at Green Mountain College, I learned that most food on the American table travels 2,000 miles before eaten, a shocking and disheartening statistic. John Emrich’s new book, The Local Yolk–Beer, Backyard Chickens and the Business of Building a Sustainable Food System, tells stories of the good food movement, the alternative to commercial, bland, environmentally exploitive, well-traveled food.

All writers here at The Ecotone Exchange hold Master’s of Science degrees in Environmental Studies from Green Mountain College or similar. John is no exception–he was one of our cohort there. Previously an investment banker, he now runs Backyard Chicken Run, an urban chicken supply business in Chicago, and gathers stories of other entrepreneurs looking join the local food movement.

When I first read The Local Yolk, my heart was warmed by the case studies John had collected, putting faces to the ideal of greening your food source. What most impressed and enthused me, though, was John’s explanations of how to make growing and sourcing good food–sustainable agriculture–a profitable venture. Profitability is story not yet told in, and one that is often easily lost in the check-out line when buying organic, local food. With John’s permission, I give you an excerpt from Chapter 17, Tao Theory: Zen and the Art of Investing in Sustainable Food…

“In my prior life, I had owned shares in one of the publicly traded fertilizer companies, so I understood the “bullish case” for fertilizer from the perspective of the chemical companies: a billion or so people in Asia were moving to the middle class and would switch from a rice diet to a protein diet (i.e., a diet with more meat), generating rising demand for the grains to feed livestock and therefore the inputs of chemical agriculture that made monoculture grain-growing viable on a massive scale. At the time I met with the fertilizer manufacturer, the company was forecasting that the United States would become an exporter of corn to China the following year. The future was bright.

“As I tried to put a value on the organic farm, the light bulb went on. The chemical companies’ gain was the farmers’ pain. The chemical inputs of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium were all either directly or indirectly tied to natural resources that would become increasingly scarce and expensive over time, but farmers had to have them to succeed in conventional agriculture. Moreover, industrial farmers buy seed from a monopoly. The two things that an industrial farmer or farm investor could say for sure were that they had no control over their costs, and their costs were going higher. Farm subsidies are often criticized for being a gift to larger corporate farms. They would be more accurately described as a subsidy to the chemical companies and industrial buyers of grain (food processors). The conventional farmer, big or small, is getting little more than his costs reimbursed over a lifetime of work.

“The sustainable farmer doesn’t have the same exposure to cost pressure. After the sun itself, manure is the ultimate renewable resource, replacing the increasingly costly fertilizers. Yet, because I believed in the secular trend towards organic food, the sustainable farmer would continue to benefit from rising market prices for organic crops (for example, organic grains) over time. I was concluding that sustainable farming was a good business investment.”

John writes on to explain the mechanics of Impact Investing and Micro-Lending, and how these strategies can promote the good food movement while providing economic opportunity and promoting environmentally sound agriculture.

The Local Yolk is a smart blend of case stories, anecdotes, background knowledge, and research. You can follow The Local Yolk and Back Yard Chicken Run on Facebook and can learn more about the book at www.thelocalyolkbook.com.

Rampant Consumerism: Another version of Maggie’s Farm

Maggie’s Farm by Bob Dylan

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind pa
She’s sixty-eight, but she says she’s twenty-four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

By Neva Knott

I founded this blog because I was frustrated by the the doom and gloom environmental messages. Doom and Gloom is even a thing in the environmental world…a thing I wanted to push against, contradict. I wanted to give voice to what is working to save the natural world from human destruction. I wanted to tell stories and publish stories of other writers that might help humans reconnect to nature and inspire them (us), all of us, not just those labeled environmentalists or tree-huggers, to live within the circle of life. I founded this blog to blow a hole in the stereotype of the aggressive and angry environmentalist.

Right now, and I don’t quite know how to define right now–is it the Christmas dash-and-grab? Is it the political fray over fracking and Keystone XL and Obama’s special climate deal with China? Anyway, right now, I am losing my positive mojo.

I have absolutely had it with America’s resource-depleting greed. I have absolutely had it with the climate deniers, whom we are now depicting as suited ostriches with their heads in the sand and asses high. I have absolutely had it with the irresponsibility and lack of common sense that drives the rhetoric, that insists we can continue the getting and the having and continue to exist. I am absolutely done with people like the woman at Target a few days ago.

The county I live in, Thurston County in Washington State, instituted a plastic bag ban in July. A huge positive, built on clear vision and common sense. It passed easily and quickly became habit for the masses (after the first month’s grumbling). This legislation is an example of how easily prudent change can happen, and stands in sharp contrast to the posturing and idiotic mumbo-jumbo going on about climate change and fracking and the need for “fast” consumer goods.

Anyway, this woman had a cart full of over-packaged plastic crap, what’s now called fast goods. Christmas gifts. She was demanding something-something because the store didn’t have the exact Frozen piece of crap she wanted. Then she began berating the cashier because Target “should bring back those big plastic bags, at least for the holidays.”

Her cart and her words are the symbol of all that is wrong. Until people stop holding onto that cart as reality, as an option, as a right, we are doomed.

That cart is filled through repetition of an unsustainable, poisoning circle. Each one of those plastic crap toys is made from toxic materials and by a process that pollutes the air and water and poisons the worker making it. Each piece is wrapped in petro-chemical based plastic that will not biodegrade for hundreds of years, if at all. Each pretty little Frozen doll was shipped from China. All of the energy it took to make plastic Elsa or plastic whomever is called embedded energy–the energy that goes into sourcing and manufacturing and transporting the finished good. Not only do products like these have a high embedded energy (which is bad), they very quickly go into the waste stream. So this circle is not the circle of life; it is the circle of needless resource depletion and waste, the circle that is poisoning our world. And for what?

Producing and consuming plastic crap is the modern-day job on Maggie’s Farm. The workers never get ahead, Maggie–or Elsa–is pretty and alluring, Pa is the fat-cat profiteer climate ostrich, and Ma, well, Ma is the voice of American consumerism, telling us all that our children deserve cheap plastic crap for Christmas.

So, where’s the positive story of the environment in all of this? There isn’t one on Maggie’s Farm.

But there is the beach on which I spent Black Friday, watching my two cousins marvel over whale bones we found buried in the sand.

There is Eld Inlet full of Mallard ducks this past foggy Sunday morning. There is the eagle I watched fly over a tree farm last Saturday.

One recent morning, while walking my dogs, I looked up and watched a gull fly.  The air was warm for December and a bit damp. It was quiet and peaceful, and I watched the gull, circling, within the patterns of the world around him, and I thought, that’s how we should be living. That is the circle of life.

Hope? Still not feeling it, but that gull is far from Maggie’s Farm.


Trash-Less Travel

By Neva Knott

The first time I ever considered that packaging and single-use disposable goods were a problem was on a Spring Break road trip to the Utah desert during college, circa 1988. I was traveling with friends. We stopped at a fast food place. As we un-bagged our food, one of my companions remarked, while looking at the plastic utensils, “So much packaging.”

Naively, I replied with something along the lines of, “Yeah, but if people throw it away instead of on the ground…”. Until that moment, I’d never considered that trash was an issue, unless it was left as litter on the landscape. I’d also never considered the problem with disposables.

My friend’s comment that March day 26 years ago left an indelible mark, and changed my behavior. I began taking my own coffee cup and water bottle to campus with me, started washing and reusing plastic bags and brown paper lunch sacks, and avoiding straws and plastic forks, knives, and spoons. A simple change of habit, and a simple shift in thinking. How many one-use food service items have I saved from the landfill in that span of time?

As I continue to travel, I continue to have an awareness of the trash generated by travel. Airports are full of single-use, grab-and-go products. Each on-board snack, beverage, or meal comes in its own container. Most of the packaging is non-recyclable and most airlines don’t recycle anyway. As I observed while sitting at my gate in Heathrow on my recent trip to Ireland, most people walk by and toss, not even looking to put the plastics in the plastics bin, the paper in the paper bin–signaling that established airport recycling programs are ineffective.

In her article, “Leaving Trash Behind,” Christine Negroni of The New York Times cites National Resource Defense Council figures, “An estimated 7.5 million pounds of trash is generated every day. While the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, says that 75 percent of that trash is recyclable, it has found that only 20 percent reaches a recycling center.” Negroni also acknowledges that research and action on this issue are lacking, “The council’s figures are from 2006, but are the most recent. The lack of current data was one concern of the Air Transport Association and the Airports Council International.”

NRDC’s 2006 report, Trash Landings, explains, “The U.S. airline industry discards enough aluminum cans each year to build 48 Boeing 747 planes.” And “9,000 tons of plastic,” along with “enough newspapers and magazines to fill a football field to a depth of more than 230 feet.” On a personal level, passengers generate 1.28 pounds of waste per person, per departure. On my recent trip to Ireland, I visited four airports to get from Washington State to Cork; if I consumed at the average rate, I would have left behind 5.12 pounds of trash.

But I don’t consume at the average rate. I figure I have a choice as a consumer to buy or not to buy products in a terminal. So, to avoid taking part in the rampant disposability that is modern air travel, I plan ahead:

  • As much as possible, I pack fruit, nuts, and hard vegetables so that I don’t have to eat plane food or stave off hunger with expensive terminal fare. Smoked salmon and tinned meat, like Trader Joe’s smoked trout, also travel well, and don’t have to be kept cold.
  • I always travel with a water bottle. I fill it at a fountain as soon as I’m through the security line, and have found most flight attendants are pleasantly willing to pour water into it for me during the flight. Before I left for Ireland, I upgraded my re-usable bottle. I bought a Klean Kanteen insulated bottle, so now I can use it for water and tea (again, flight attendants obliged).
  • And, I keep a fork and a spoon in my handbag. This way, I can say “no thanks” to plastic utensils when I do have to purchase a meal while waiting for my connecting flight.

On the longest stretch of my recent trip to Ireland, ten hours from San Francisco to Heathrow, I counted–I was offered eight beverage cups (and took none). Multiplied by the 500 or so passengers on an international flight? That’s over 4,000 cups. And that’s just cups–the Federal Aviation Administration, in Recycling, Reuse and Waste Reduction at Airports, published in 2013, states that in flight kitchens, “several types of waste” are generated in preparing on board meals. And, as any flyer knows, those meals come heavily packaged, thus incur more waste when consumed. Times 500 or so passengers per plane.

Green America, in the report, What Goes Up Must Come Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry, February 2010, suggests that “an additional 500 more tons of waste could be recycled each year.”

The social norms of air travel don’t seem to include a focus on sustainability. Thankfully, organizations such as the NRDC and the FAA are working to shift perspectives and habits. NRDC’s report explains that 75 percent of airport waste is recyclable or compostable. The council also calculated that, if airports recycled at the national average of 31 percent, “enough energy would be saved to power 20, 000 households,” and carbon emissions would be reduced by an amount equaling 80,000 cars. Furthermore, “four airports with recycling programs studied by NRDC are achieving savings of more than $100, 000 annually.”

In researching for this article, I did find some interesting programs in place:

  • Oakland International Airport’s website explains that OAK is one of the first airports to recycle pillows–which are normally thrown away at the end of the flight. Oakland’s pillows are recycled into insulation or are used for making furniture.
  • NPR’s Julie Rose reports (December 2012), North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport uses worms to “eat through organic waste.” The worms have helped the airport reduce its waste sent to the landfill by 70 percent. Interestingly, the program even launders clothing left behind when a traveler’s suitcase is overweight, and then donates the clothing.
  • An article in Onboard Hospitality shares the anecdote from the 1990’s of American Airlines flight attendants spearheading an onboard recycling program, selling the recyclables, and then using the $200, 000 they earned to buy a plot of land for The Nature Conservancy.
  • Green America’s report suggests travelers take recyclables off the plane themselves, and recycle them at their destination. The article also includes a recycling report card for the major airlines–and nobody earned an A+.

The push to address the issue of the trash of travel is encouraging news. But, recycling is still a form of waste management. Lowering the amount of waste is crucial, and doable. As consumers, we do have choices. The power of our choices is that we can change our habits, which in turn will change the amount of trash we pile up when we fly.

Featured image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Ireland’s Sensible Energy Conservation Practices

By Neva Knott

Home, and going through my notes and photographs from Cork, Ireland, where I spent a month, late June to mid-July. Two years ago, I travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland for the same writing workshops. On both trips, I noticed the energy efficiency that is a well-integrated part of life in those two countries of the UK. What’s most impressive is that people in Cork and Edinburgh live very similarly to those of us here in the US. They depend on electricity for heat and lighting, have laptops and TV’s and all the other energy-using modern conveniences. Yet, UK household and per capita energy use is almost half of what it is here in the US.

Not only is energy conservation important in relationship to available energy supply, energy waste translates to carbon emissions and increases global warming. Also, energy conservation is smart household money management.

According to Lindsay Wilson of shrinkthatfootprint.com, households in the UK consume 4.6 thousand kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year, while US households consume 11.7 thousand. Wilson gathered these statistics from World Energy Council.

Wilson also cites per capita usage of electricity. Individuals in the UK use 1.9 thousand kilowatt hours per year, in contrast to the 4.5 thousand for each person in the US.

In Ireland and Scotland both, it is common to see on/off switches next to each electrical outlet. These switches accomplish the same cut-off of electricity flow as unplugging does. For example, each morning when I used the electrical water pot to make tea, I first turned on the switch, then turned on the appliance. When finished, I turned off the appliance and the switch. Same for the microwave, clothes washer, wall outlets. Use of outlet switches is an easy common sense measure. Here at home, I have started unplugging lamps in rooms that are only used occasionally, such as the guest bedroom, and I unplug my TV and wireless router each night. I also unplug my phone and laptop chargers as soon as charging is complete. Even these simple steps have lowered my kWh usage. Imagine how much good those little switches do.


While going about my daily routine in both Edinburgh and Cork, I noticed the prevalence of automatic motion-sensor lights in public restrooms, hallways, and other such use-specific spaces.

Also, when shops and businesses close for the day, the last person out turns off the lights. At night in these cities, it’s dark, rather than needlessly illuminated by neon marquees and office windows still bright. Not only is turning off commercial lights at the end of the day an energy savings, it is better for nocturnal creatures, and has human health benefit as well. And let’s face it, leaving on those glaring signs and desk lamps on the twelfth floor serve no purpose anyway.

These common sense measures allow for necessary energy use at the time of need, and allow for abundant energy savings by simply switching off the flow of electricity when it’s not needed or in use. Additionally, Ireland has several programs in place to help residents further decrease their consumption of electricity, and other household energy.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland runs a program called The Power of One Street. The program outlines five steps to follow to lower household energy consumption. All steps focus on eliminating energy waste, controlling energy flow, and using attributes of the home–such as natural lighting, and making thoughtful, practical choices about energy usage.

Step 1 evaluates energy use for space heating, Step 2–water usage, Step 3–small power (appliances and such), Step 4–lighting, and Step 5–cooking. Each step takes just a few weeks to implement.

The SEAI website offers anecdotes of actual families that participated, explaining their initial concerns, the changes they made, and the savings in both energy and money. For example, by following the recommendations for Step 3, the Heffernan Family reduced their small power usage by 20 percent, which reduced their carbon footprint by 1.4 tonnes of CO2, and creating a 334 euro ($468) annual savings. The Brennan Family, by following Step 4, reduced their lighting usage by 34 percent, reducing their carbon footprint by .5 tonnes, and created a cash savings of 110 euro ($154) per year.

Practical measures are at the fore of Ireland’s energy management. The other significant difference I noticed was that the rhetoric is different. Energy conservation is not a topic fraught with tension and derisive language, it is not politicized into an us v. them battle. Take, for example, this from the report, Maximising Ireland’s Energy Efficiency–The National Energy Efficiency Action Plan 2009-2020:

“We have been successful in building a knowledge economy, attracting key international organisations because of a skilled and innovative workforce. We now need to challenge ourselves to replicate this success in the energy sector and create a smart economy, one that is underpinned by green goods and services and which leads the world in innovative adaptation of sustainable research. Internationally, the energy sector is increasingly seen by investors as the single most attractive investment opportunity available in a turbulent market. The United Nations Environment Programme, New Green Deal, seeks to mobilise the global economy towards investments in clean technologies. Ireland needs to position itself as central to this process, bringing knowledge, skills and robust practical research with it.”

This statement co-joins business, economics and the discussion energy conservation in a way I’ve not seen in the US.

I was similarly impressed with a couple of signs I saw. Both made plan and clear statements about energy.

One was posted in the dressing room of H & M, a global women’s fashion retailer, urging customers to wash clothes on a lower temperature setting:


The other was the placard on a fuel tanker that clearly depicted the environmental danger of a spill:


Here in the US the fashion industry doesn’t give voice to the issue of energy conservation by connecting it to the washing of clothes, and placards on tankers are an obscure set of numbers, letters, and colors that do nothing to communicate to the general public the dangers of spills.

People in Ireland and Scotland live very similarly to people in the US, yet it seemed to me that they have a more honest awareness of the interconnectedness between their way of life and their energy sources, and a more real view of the correlation between energy sources, the natural world, and environmental problems. Both Ireland and Scotland have adopted an attitude of solutions. I hope the US will soon do the same.

Green Ireland–Sustainable Land Use


Along the River Lee. Cork, Ireland. Photograph, Neva Knott.

By Neva Knott

I’m in Cork, Ireland for a summer writer’s workshop. Of course, I’ve been experiencing this lovely place with a naturalist’s eye. Here’s what I’ve learned…

The River Lee is beautiful to walk along on a summer’s evening here in Cork, Ireland. As I meander along the banks of the Lee, I find two things interesting about this urban waterway, ecologically speaking.

First, much of the riparian zone is intact as the river flows into Cork’s city center. Between the banks and the footpaths stand chestnut, oak, maple, lilac and other deciduous tree species and shrubbery. This vegetation is important to the river’s health because it regulates water temperature so that fish species can thrive and stabilizes the bank, helping with erosion, keeping the river free of sediment, and absorbs storm water overflow should the river rise rapidly.

The second important detail is that the water is clean. I can see to the bottom in many places. The urban rivers I’ve lived along in Oregon–the Willamette and the Columbia–aren’t clean, after years of industrial use. They are murky.

The River Lee is just one example of Ireland’s water quality. According to the blog Move to Ireland, 85 per cent of the country’s lakes and 70 per cent of its rivers are in good quality. What good quality means in environmental terms is that much of the ecology of the waterway is intact–habitat is functioning, vegetation isn’t too degraded, and the water is clean of sediment, pollution such as farm chemical run-off, industrial waste and other pollutants such as trash and fecal matter from farming or human sewage.

Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine runs a Rural Environmental Protection Scheme, working with farmers to keep waterways clean. This is an important consideration because 65 per cent of Ireland’s land is used for farming.


Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

Food Harvest 2020 is another scheme developed by the Department of Agriculture. The idea is to leverage Ireland’s primary industry–farming–as a globally recognized food source while branding Green Ireland as sustainably farmed products. Much of the livestock here is grass-fed already. Much of the farming here is low-input, meaning fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used. Along with maximizing this sustainable practice already in use, the Department urges “alignment of sustainability across the supply chain” and conservation of biodiversity as the agricultural sector works to meet the economic and environmental goals of Food Harvest 2020.

Even with these robust agricultural programs in place, and the tradition of farming continuing into Ireland’s future, some farmers are looking to diversify their income streams. Afforestation–planting and growing trees on land previously cleared for other uses–is one way for farmers to increase revenues. Forest establishment is 100 per cent “grant aided” by the Forest Service in Ireland, according to Forest Enterprises, Ltd. Currently, 11 per cent of Ireland is used for forestry. Government agencies propose afforestation at a rate of 15,000 ha annually. Not only would this increase in trees allow farmers to make more money, but would significantly increase rural employment. Harvested trees would be used for wood products and for wood energy.

One of Ireland’s environmental issues is the conservation of its unique wetlands, bogs. Conservation of bogs has, to date run at cross-purposes with afforestation efforts. Because wetlands everywhere–until very recently–were thought of as wastelands, swamps to be dammed or filled for other purposes, trees have filled in some of Ireland’s crucial blanket bogs.


Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

Scientists, in the last 20 to 30 years, have begun to understand that wetlands provide important ecosystems services. Ireland’s bogs, according to the Ireland Peatland Conservation Council, store millions of tonnes of C02. They also control river catchment and hydrology and provide habitat for key species. Conservation efforts to keep bogs intact are an integral part of Ireland’s overall environmental protection scheme.

Ireland is a beautifully green place, with encouraging environmental protections in place.