t’s not difficult to convey the environmental impacts of clear-cut logging; just look at the big, ugly bald patches of scarred earth after a clear-cut and you get it. But too often, an alternative to clear-cutting — known as selection logging — is offered as a panacea. Wow, it looks so much better than a clear-cut, especially when you’re looking at photos taken by timber companies doing the logging.
But if you get down into the weeds, so to speak, as forest scientists do, you start finding that selection logging also has problems…they’re just not as visible. One of the biggest problems of selection logging is the ground disturbance from the haul roads and skid trails cut into the forest to take the trees out.
Sometimes reading a science article can be downright scary. On September 5, I read a piece in the Guardian, “Plastic fibers found in tap water around the world, study reveals.” U.S. scientific researchers analyzed tap water samples from more than a dozen nations for an investigation by Orb Media (orbmedia.org), a non-profit journalism group. The Orb study, entitled “Invisibles: The plastics inside us,” concluded that billions of people on five continents are drinking water contaminated by plastic micro-particles.
While traveling around the world during the past two years, I reported in this column about many disturbing environmental issues that I encountered. I had to find ways to keep myself amused during this sometimes depressing investigation of air and water pollution, deforestation, overfishing, sea level rise, ocean acidification, garbage dumps, poaching, erosion, and habitat destruction, etc.
Keeping lists turned out to be a simple and entertaining way to pass the time. I kept lists of people I met, foods I ate, wines and beers I drank. But the most interesting list I kept was what I called the “Ubiquitous List.” Things I entered on this list had seemingly nothing in common except that they kept popping up everywhere I traveled. As soon as I noticed something in one country that I had previously noticed in another, I’d add it to the list ... and I didn’t bother listing the most obvious things like people, buildings and cars.
published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel April 20, 2017
Those warm, cuddly fleece jackets and quick-dry synthetic fabrics that fill so many of our closets now have created a big problem for the world’s oceans. Every time they get washed, clothes made from synthetic fabric shed thousands of tiny microfibers. Carried along with dirty wash water to the sewer and on to the wastewater treatment plant, many microfibers are so small they pass right through wastewater filters and are carried all the way out to our bays and oceans.
Tiny microfibers have turned into an enormous problem. In 2011, British ecologist Mark Anthony Browne published research describing the discovery of microfibers—mostly synthetic polyester and acrylic—on beaches worldwide, but most highly concentrated near wastewater disposal sites. Suspecting that these microfibers came from laundered clothing, Browne filtered the water used to wash a single fleece jacket and retrieved 1,900 fibers.
I extensively planned my year-long trip around the world, but considering today’s quickly changing environmental and political conditions, I still expected — and got — the unexpected. A few examples:
On April 30, 2015, I abruptly left beautiful Jasper National Park, heading for the nearest international airport — in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After a death in my family I needed to fly back to California.
During the past 12 months I’ve traveled through 36 countries, but it wasn’t until the last leg of my trip in Guatemala City that I encountered a place like Zone 3, infamous as the site of the Guatemala City Garbage Dump, the largest landfill in Central America.
In 2009 the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported that 30,000 squatters lived around the 40-acre Guatemala City Garbage Dump. An estimated 7,000 of them are known as guajeros, or trash-pickers, and they depend solely on what they can glean from the dump to make a living. But in the process of scavenging, they are constantly subjected to toxic chemicals, disease and filth.
From the seventh floor of the Davenport cement plant cooling tower on a sunny morning last week, I was wowed by a panoramic view of the Santa Cruz County coastline and surrounding Coast Dairies property, now proposed as a national monument.
Have you noticed that, at least in some Santa Cruz neighborhoods, green lawns no longer rule? I’ve observed on my morning walks over the past few months that brown lawns outnumber green ones by about 10 to 1.
Given that we’re in the midst of California’s worst drought on record and that lawns require more water than any other landscape plant, this is a welcome trend.
With 2013 declared the driest year on record in California, water supply and drought top last year's list of environmental issues affecting Santa Cruz County. Below I list some of the milestones of environmental change for 2013:
Even though Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, was defeated in November's statewide election, a nationwide movement forges ahead to require labeling of genetically engineered food.
According to the Center for Food Safety, nearly half of all U.S. states have introduced bills requiring labeling or prohibiting GE foods.
It was the afternoon of July 5. From the backseat of the Mexican police vehicle, we could see that long-overdue rains were about to start here in the remote high mountains of Jalisco, Mexico. As rain clouds formed, we wondered how the rocky dirt road would hold up. In the front seat sat two navy-blue clad policia with closely shorn heads, bullet proof vests and AK-47s. Yet, Dr. Ann Lopez, my traveling companion, was smiling in anticipation of her reunion with old friends in the farming village of Rancho Nuevo ... now just minutes away.
"As the nation develops greater awareness of fracking technology, we have growing concerns about what's pumped into the ground, how it impacts water supplies, and how it undercuts our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said county Supervisor John Leopold. "Add secrecy to the mix, and we have a real need for reasonable and effective regulation."
A recent study by Stanford researchers concluded that organic food is probably no more nutritious than conventional food. This claim generated a nationwide controversy, with many saying the study missed the point.
"The whole point of organic food is that it's more environmentally sustainable," said Michael Pollan, the influential author and organic food advocate. "The reason organic is important has a lot more to do with how the soil is managed and the exposure to pesticides, not just in the eater's diet, but to the farmworker."
Most water utilities are not as fortunate as San Jose Water Company, which owns more than 10,000 acres of relatively undisturbed watershed, much of it forested. Most water utilities own very little land, so they have little control over how their watersheds are managed. They must rely on expensive water treatment facilities to ensure that drinking water meets Safe Drinking Water Act standards.