Tag Archives: conservation

Go Back in Time to Combat Climate Change

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I’ll admit it: I almost didn’t participate in Blog Action Day.  I didn’t want to participate unless I had something valuable to add, and to be honest, I was feeling uninspired.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to climate change, even hopeless.  Lately, I’ve found it easier to think about the happy things in my life: family, friends, and our baby boy on the way. 

While I haven’t been thinking about climate change a lot lately, I haven’t dismissed my efforts to live sustainably.  Over the years of studying and teaching about climate change, I’ve developed my own philosophy on reducing carbon emissions.  After all the thought that went into changing my actions, it’s fairly easy to summarize the lifestyle changes I’ve made: Simple Living.  It all boils down to conservation, reducing waste, doing things by hand, cooking locally and from scratch, reducing exposure to chemicals, burning wood to reduce our oil consumption, turning the heat down or the air conditioner off, and living with less in general.

The more I live this lower-carbon lifestyle, the more in touch I become with my history.  My lifestyle is surprisingly similar to my great-grandmother’s.  Except, of course, that I write my thoughts and recipes in a blog and she wrote in journals.  A return to the simpler, more self-sufficient past has improved my carbon footprint.  More significantly, I feel that these changes to my life have made me happier.  Standing over a pot of bubbling jelly and listening to the plink of the jars sealing.  Kneading bread and slicing into the fresh loaf.  Sitting by a fire and knitting a scarf.  Snuggling up with my husband instead of turning up the heat.  Digging potatoes, pulling carrots, snipping greens, plucking tomatoes from the garden.  Raising pigs and turkeys for meat.  Elbow grease instead of bleach.  Planting apple trees.  Planning my future to include further steps toward self-sufficiency.  I started on this journey to reduce my carbon emissions, but I continue along the path because it is fulfilling.

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Filed under Living from Scratch, Sustainable Living

Saving Paper at School

This is my fifth year teaching environmental science (seventh year teaching), and I feel more and more responsibility to be a good role model for my students.

Paper use is a constant battle in our school.  Not only is paper expensive, it’s often wasted.  Nothing frustrates me more than finding a piece of paper abandoned on the floor (except maybe when I’ve lent out all my pens and have nothing to write with).

Over the years, I’ve found ways to reduce my paper usage in school.  It started a few years ago when I threw the problem out to my AP students and asked them to brainstorm solutions.  One of the great ideas that came out of the class was making a CD of supplemental articles,  powerpoint notes, study guides, and lab documents for each chapter.  I’ve done this with my AP class for a few years, and I have to say it takes quite a bit of organization on both ends to make it work.

In my other classes, I’ve found a few simple ways to conserve paper, too.  I find that many handouts are unnecessary (which is why they end up on the floor or in the trash/recycle bin, instead of in notebooks). 

  • In lab, I’ll often project powerpoint slides with directions instead of making a copy for each student.  I’ll then attach that powerpoint to my school website, so students can download it as a resource when writing up their report. 
  • I’ll also use the website by linking to an article that I’d like students to read for homework instead of printing a copy for each student.  It’s actually easier to work this way, since I don’t have to spend time standing in line for the copier or clearing paper jams (which in turn wastes more paper).

Sometimes, however, I have to use paper.  There are some things that just can’t be done without it (think quizzes and tests), and while I’d love to have a “paperless” classroom, I really don’t believe it’s possible without a computer for each student.  Still, when I use paper, I’m always cautious to conserve. 

  • Making double-sided copies is a great start, since it will cut paper consumption in half. 
  • If the assignment is short, for example five analysis questions, I’ll often put two or more copies on one page, then cut them up so each student gets a partial piece of paper. 
  • I’m also conscious of page number in larger assignments.  I always hate when there’s one line that heads onto another sheet of paper.  I’ll fiddle with the font and formatting to get that last line back onto the previous page, being cautious to keep the font big enough to read and to keep the document from looking squished. 
  • Finally, I never make extra copies.  I’ve found that students become more responsible for their papers when spares aren’t easy to come by.  I will, however, link documents to my website so students can download important papers that they’ve lost.

At home, I hardly ever print anything for personal use.  Instead, I copy recipes online recipes into a notebook which creates my own little cookbook.  I’ll also copy driving directions onto a scrap piece of paper or junk mail. 

What do you do to save paper?

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Brrrrr!

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008

We’re doing really well with the Freeze Yer Buns challenge this winter.  I pledged to keep the furnace set at 55 when we’re not home and 60 when we are home, and supplement our heat with the wood stove.  So far, we’ve been keeping our pledge.  We keep the zones we are in set at 60, and the others at 55 when we’re home, and set our bedroom at 55 when we sleep.  The only tough part is getting out of our nice warm bed in the morning! Our hope was mostly to save money on heating oil, but we also wanted to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and be eco-friendly.  It’s felt pretty chilly in our house, but we’ve been bundling up, keeping the fire going, and we’ve been okay.  We’ve adjusted, because now when we go to other people’s warm houses, we feel hot.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t want spring to come soon!!!

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We’re so happy for the warm wood stove! Of course, that means the warmest part of the house is in the basement.  I’m hoping that Ed will hang a clothesline for me there.  While I like using my dryer and only need to do about 2-3 loads of laundry a week, it would be nice to hang sheets, blankets and towels to dry there.  I’ve also been bringing bowls of rising dough down to the basement, and I’m ready to move our bed there for the winter.  But I don’t think that’s going to happen!

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Filed under Home, Sustainable Living

Whale Wars

Last night I caught a new show that I’ve been waiting to see since I first saw a commercial for it.  Whale Wars follows a group called Sea Shepherd to Antarctica on a mission to stop the killing of minke, humpback and fin whales by Japanese whaling vessels.  Paul Watson, the captain, was a co-founder of Greenpeace.  However, he left and began Sea Shepherd because he wanted to do more to stop whaling than bear witness to it.  In last night’s episode, it was explained that it is illegal to hunt endangered species, including whales, as dictated by the United Nations World Charter on Nature.  However, it seems that nobody enforces that, and that the Japanese have found a loop hole.  A limited number of whales are allowed to be taken for scientific study, and the resulting meat is sold.  So the Japanese claim to be doing scientific research on these whales.  The first episode was about the search to find whaling ships and getting prepared.  Highlights were a disastrous launch of a smaller boat which resulted in a capsize and damage to their helicopter by a crew member.

humpback-whale  I have to say that I’m torn about how to feel about Japanese whaling.  Animal research is something that I have taken an interest in throughout my education and career.  While I believe that dissection is a valuable learning tool, I do think that it is important to remember that these animals died so we could learn and that we must out of respect for that learn everything we possibly can and treat these animals with respect.  I have dissected many different vertebrates, from the token frog, fetal pig, and cat of high school classrooms, to turtles, rats, pigeons, dogfish sharks, and I’ve also made use of and learned from animals hunted by my husband.  As someone who focused on vertebrate anatomy and physiology in my undergraduate work, I needed to dissect and study their anatomy in depth.  That said, I see an incredible difference between dissection of dead animals and research on living animals.  Animal research in which chemicals are tested and animals suffer is something that I think is wrong.  In this day and age, it seems that we must be able to conduct testing in a manner that does not force suffering on living things.  Many people hide behind science as an excuse to do things behind closed doors that the majority of us would see a cruel and unnecessary.  But I digress…

If the Japanese are in fact learning from killing whales, I’d like to know what it is.  I saw footage of the Japanese whaling vessel attempts to prove they were doing research.  Such attempts included having the word “Research” on the boat and holding up signs that said “Measuring stomach contents” as the recently slaughtered whales were processed on the decks of the boats.  Um, excuse me? Measuring stomach contents is so lame that I wouldn’t ever allow any of my high school students to even dream of giving me such a poor excuse of scientific research.  Not to say we can’t learn a lot about stomach contents, because of course we can.  However, should we kill endangered species upon endangered species just to see what’s in their stomachs?

Is this so-called research just a ploy to get some profitable whale meat, or are the Japanese scientists actually learning something?  I set out to see what I could find about this research.  If there’s true research going on, there should be published scientific papers in peer reviewed journals.

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The Institute of Cetacean Research’s website clearly lists its disagreement with the Whale Wars program on its front page, and lists articles about it, calling it “Illegal Harassment and Terrorism against ICR.”  Upon further research, I found a listing of published papers coming out of Japan’s research in the Antarctic (JARPA).  While I’m not going to read all of the articles, I can say that I was pleased to see the list.  Many of them had to do with population structure, and others had to do with biological accumulation in whale tissues.  I’m not so sure that the whales need to be killed to learn this.  In a summary of the JARPA results, the following was stated by the IWC Scientific Committee in 2006:

the dataset provides a valuable resource to allow investigation of some aspects of the role of whales within the marine ecosystem and that this has the potential to make an important contribution to the Scientific Committees work in this regard as well as the work of other relevant bodies such as the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and,

the results from the research program have the potential to improve management of minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere.

This seems like a pretty vague conclusion.  It’s like when a student writes in a lab report “I really learned a lot.”  But it’s interesting that they say these results will possibly improve management of minke whales… Really? Because we learned so much that now there’s JARPA II, heading off to kill more whales.

The purpose of JARPA II is: to learn about how to manage the stock of minke whales, learn about the role of whales in the Antarctic ecosystem, learn about how environmental change affects whale populations, and learn about the stock structure of minke whales.  Now, I do not profess to be an expert on whale research.  However, I see no reason why any of these cannot be done with tagging, tissue samples, and tracking programs.  Why do they have to kill the whales to learn this information?

The whaling industry in Japan is worth about $6 million dollars.  However, the whale-watching industry is worth about $1billion dollars worldwide each year.  So perhaps there is hope, from an economic standpoint.  Perhaps Japan and other whaling countries, like Iceland and Norway, will realize that there’s more money in eco-tourism than in hunting whales.  (As a side note, I wonder why Sea Shepherd focuses so much on the Japanese whaling ships and not on Iceland’s and Norway’s, but maybe that’s just not included in the show.)

There certainly is more to learn on all sides of this issue.  I think that it’s important to protect endangered species, and it seems that the UN needs to look into the research being conducted by the Japanese in the Antarctic.  If it is found that they could do the same research without killing whales, then the UN needs to enforce the ban on commercial whaling.  It’s interesting that “Whale Wars” has brought so much attention to the issue.  While I do not necessarily agree with their tactics, I see that Sea Shepherd has a noble cause: to protect endangered species.  It is my hope that “Whale Wars” will bring attention to the issue and cause research and action on the part of everyday citizens of the Earth and groups like the UN that have the power to do something about it.

For more information:

OceanNEnvironment’s summary, history and plan to boycott Japanese goods

Environmental News Service “Australian Court Orders Illegal Japanese Whale Hunt Stopped”

World Wildlife Fund “Japanese Whaling”

Greenpeace “Japanese whale fleet ready”

An educational unit for children: Voyage of the Mimi (I LOVED this when my class studied it in elementary school!!!)

What do you think?

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Filed under Outside, Review, Sustainable Living