Social advice for the environmentally conscious among us

Grist, the sassy Seattle-based webzine focused on environmental news and commentary, has been running a series of advice columns called “The 21-day apathy detox.”

The title says much about the series, which is written for environmentally minded folks who have given up late-night Facebook fights and fancy salads and now find themselves parked in front of the television doing nothing but wondering if there is a future for our species.

Umbra Fisk // Image: Grist

“Can I learn to hope again?” comes the question from such a person begging for help from Umbra Fisk, Grist’s advice columnist who writes on the environmental and climate-change front.

“Well, you’ve found the right advice columnist,” Umbra replies. “I’m here to quietly change your Facebook password and not-so-quietly offer the best tools, tricks, and advice to help you fight for a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck. You’ll build civic muscles, find support buddies, and better your community!”

Umbra’s 21 tips, coming to a conclusion tomorrow, focus on personal, social and political habits. The ideas are crafted so thoughtfully that one might be tempted to try them all — from “meet your neighbors” to “green your power sources” to “fight city hall.” But even if you do none of the specific actions, the series may convince you that personal actions really do count.

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Protecting the Puget Sound ecosystem involves urban planning

I often write about Puget Sound restoration, sometimes forgetting to include the word “protection.” It really should be “Puget Sound protection and restoration” — with protection getting the first billing and the highest priority in our thinking.

Puget Sound from space // Image: NASA

Protection isn’t very exciting — not like restoring hundreds of acres of degraded estuaries, floodplains and wetlands. Of course, restoration is absolutely necessary to gain back lost habitat, but the immediate result is never as good as habitat that avoided damage in the first place. Even restored habitat generally needs to be protected for a long time before it functions as well as an undisturbed site.

These are issues I have been pondering as I wrote the latest story in a series about Implementation Strategies — a focused effort to make a measurable improvement in the Puget Sound ecosystem. For details, check out the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

If we could freeze everything in place, then habitat restoration would help rebuild the fish and wildlife populations that require special conditions. But we cannot stop time, and we are told that 1.5 million more people will soon be living in the Puget Sound region.

Where can all these future people find homes without further degrading the environment? Will they choose to live in places that minimize the ecological damage or will it even matter to them? Needless to say, this remains an open-ended question — a question that is both public and very personal, touching on issues of freedom and property rights.

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Amusing Monday: Human super powers and other oddball things

Humans have at least five super powers that few people know about, according to Mind Warehouse, a video producer with nearly 2 million subscribers on YouTube.

The one so-called “superpower” that intrigued me the most was the ability to distinguish warm water from cold water by sound alone. The super-powers video, found first on this page, challenges viewers to close their eyes and listen as someone pours two glasses of water — one hot and one cold.

According to the video segment, which begins at 2:34, between 80 and 90 percent of people who listen to the video can tell whether it is hot or cold water being poured into the glasses. It has something to do with bubbles, according to the video.

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New game lets you travel with wacky steelhead as they try to survive

In a new game open to everyone, 48 colorful cartoon fish will soon follow the wandering paths of real-life steelhead that have been tracked during their migration through Puget Sound.

Just like their counterparts in the real world, some of the young steelhead in the game will survive the trip from South Puget Sound or southern Hood Canal — but many will not. The game’s basic tenet is to choose a fish that you feel will be lucky or cunning enough to make it through a gauntlet of hazards from predators to disease. You then watch and learn about the needs and threats to salmon and steelhead as the game progresses over 12 days, beginning May 8.

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Green crab invaders settle in on Dungeness Spit, Olympic Peninsula

An invasion of the European green crab, which started last summer in northern Puget Sound, appears to be continuing this spring with 16 green crabs caught in traps at one location on Dungeness Spit near Sequim.

European green crab
Photo: Gregory C. Jensen, UW

The new findings are not entirely unexpected, given that invasive green crabs have established a viable population in Sooke Inlet at the southern end of Vancouver Island in Canada. From there, young crab larvae can move with the currents until they settle and grow into adult crabs. Last summer and fall, green crabs were found on San Juan Island and in Padilla Bay.

The big concern now is that a growing population of invasive crabs could spread quickly to other parts of Puget Sound, causing damage to commercial shellfish beds and disrupting the Puget Sound ecosystem.

“It knocks the wind out of your sails for sure,” said Emily Grason when I asked how she felt about the latest discovery. “You feel kind of powerless, and you want to get out there and start doing things.”

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Amusing Monday: All sorts of animals can be viewed live online

Millions of people watched and waited online for April the giraffe to give birth at Animal Adventure Park near Harpursville, N.Y. — although I am not sure how many were viewing live at the moment of birth. Of course, it is now recorded on YouTube for anyone to see.

As of yesterday, zoo officials announced on Facebook that a new camera will be installed to allow occasional viewing at times to be announced. For a $5 subscription, you can sign up for text alerts about the baby. This has become a real money-maker for the zoo. Frankly, I’m amazed at the level of interest, but it will probably decline now that the baby has arrived.

Each spring, I post an Amusing Monday piece showing where to find some of the best critter cams around the world. I’m pleased to report an ever-expanding number of cameras, not only those in zoos and aquariums but also those in outdoor locations where wildlife experts can study animals without disturbing them. Because of the Internet, we are able to essentially look over the shoulders of researchers and even watch the animals when official observers are not around.

Explore.org, a division of the Annenberg Foundation, is becoming the go-to website for connecting people live with animals via webcams. As I write this, the number of live video feeds listed on the website totals 65, although the number changes frequently as a result of shifts in animal activity as well as technical issues. Scroll down below the video player for text messaging related to each camera for interactions between video operators and online observers.

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Earth Day on Saturday includes old events plus new March for Science

With Earth Day falling on a Saturday this year, all sorts of environmental activities have been scheduled for this weekend. On top of your typical Earth Day activities, there will be a March for Science in Washington, D.C., as well as in Seattle and hundreds of other communities across the country.

It just seems like a great time to get out and do something. I’m hoping the weather cooperates. The National Weather Service predicts that warm weather tomorrow will give way to a low-pressure trough moving over Western Washington on Saturday. That weather system might be traveling slowly enough that the rains won’t appear until later in the day when most activities have been wrapped up in the Puget Sound region.

I should mention that Saturday also is the annual Kids Fishing Party in Gorst, which coincides with the opening of trout season. Sponsored by the Kitsap Poggie Club, the family-fun event allows youngsters to catch a fish at the fish-rearing facility at Otto Jarstad Park in Gorst. Fishing rods and bait are provided, and the Poggies will even clean the fish for cooking. For details, go to the Poggie Club’s website.

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Amusing Monday: Ocean trash is still attached to art and education

Trashy art is getting better and better. Some years ago, people started transforming debris found on the beach into sculptures worthy of an art show. Now the trashy art has gotten so good that we can actually attend an art exhibit where trashy sculptures are on display.

Called “Washed Ashore Exhibits,” one group of sculptures has been placed in an ongoing display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

A traveling exhibit will open at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium beginning next week and continue until Oct. 21. I don’t believe the pictures on this page or in the photo gallery of sculptures on the Washed Ashore website truly capture the effect of seeing these large sculptures up close.

Of course, the whole idea is to raise awareness about marine debris, most of which begins with a careless discard of trash — although some of the interesting items were probably lost by accident. Regardless of the source, these plastics and other materials don’t belong in the ocean, where they can harm sea life in various ways, from ingestion to entrapment. Such debris also turns our beaches into a trash dump.

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Floodplains by Design solves problems through careful compromise

Water

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Floodplains by Design, a new program that combines salmon restoration with flood control, is a grand compromise between humans and nature.

I got to thinking about this notion while writing a story for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound regarding the need to protect and restore floodplains in order to improve habitat for salmon and other species. The story is part of a series on Implementation Strategies to recover Puget Sound. Check out “Floodplain projects open doors to fewer floods and more salmon.”

Floodplains by Design is an idea born from the realization that building levees to reduce flooding generally causes rivers to rush faster and flow higher. Under these conditions, the rushing waters often break through or overtop the levees, forcing people to rebuild the structures taller and stronger than before.

Flooding along the Snoqualmie River
Photo: King County

Salmon, which have evolved through untold numbers of prehistoric floods, were somehow forgotten in the effort to protect homes and farmland built close to a river. Absent the levees, floodwaters would naturally spread out across the floodplain in a more relaxed flow that salmon can tolerate. High flows, on the other hand, can scour salmon eggs out of the gravel and flush young fish into treacherous places.

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Bremerton loses ground in annual ‘water pledge’ competition among cities

Bremerton may need some help to get back on top in the National Mayor’s Water Pledge Challenge, an annual competition that encourages people to take specific steps to save water and help the environment.

As usual, Bremerton started out on top in its population category when the contest began on April 1. The city held its own through most of last week. But now the city has slid down to number 4, which means that more water customers are needed to take the pledge. Go to My Water Pledge.

Bremerton has always done well in the competition, perhaps largely because of the enthusiasm of Mayor Patty Lent, who likes to see people conserve water and always wishes the city can come out on top in the competition. This year, a good showing in the competition would be especially nice, considering that Bremerton is celebrating the centennial of its unique water system.

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