J500 Media and the Environment

Humans’ environmental interaction: Part 1 by jjdesimone
May 9, 2008, 11:17 am
Filed under: Nature + Travel | Tags: , ,

As humans, we collectively tend to be self-absorbed and not think outside our sphere of influence. More specifically, if something in the world doesn’t directly affect us we give little or no attention to it (I’m one of the worst culprits, myself). As such, it’s very easy for us not to think about what human wastefulness and global warming are doing to our plant and animal life. However, losing our earth’s bio and eco-diversity has frightening ramifications for humanity.

Photo credit: Adam Bowman

Taken in the Uintah Mountains, this photo illustrates what humans could lose unless they act to preserve open spaces.

According to Baker University Biology Professor and Natural Areas Director Roger Boyd, said biodiversity is the amount of species in a given area. More broadly, eco-diversity refers to the number of ecosystems there are on the planet. If eco and biodiversity continues to decrease on the planet, then less food is available to sustain life. In essence, all of the earth’s biological life is interconnected; if our furry and scale-covered brethren run out of food, so do we.

But food purposes aside, bio and eco-diversity are extraordinarily important for several other reasons. Species contribute ingredients to human medicines. Less species means less potential lifesaving medicines.

“There are many species we aren’t aware of yet that could help us cure cancer,” Dr. Boyd said.

Additionally, we derive most of our industrial materials from biological life. Finally, biological life helps to moderate our ever-increasing carbon emissions. There are hundreds of additional benefits to maintaining eco and biodiversity, but you get the picture.

Scientists have concluded humans are changing the earth too quickly without taking time to understand or even become aware of all we’re doing. Needless to say, this is bad news.

Although there might not be a true panacea to our problems, we can act at the individual and governmental level to lessen our impact. Dr. Boyd said we do have the scientific prowess to protect our diminishing species. Unfortunately, the U.S. federal government has cut funding to multiple species protection acts. We have the obligation to ourselves and our longevity by informing our senators and representatives that decreased funding for these important acts is inexcusable.

It’s inevitable; if we can’t make the earth habitable for organic life, what chance do humans have in the long run?

J.J. De Simone

Humans’ interaction with fauna: Part 2 by jjdesimone
May 9, 2008, 11:14 am
Filed under: Nature + Travel | Tags: , ,

Photo credit: Adam Bowman

Waterbuck in the Okavango Delta

While it is obvious that climate change affects humans across the globe, it also affects the animal kingdom as well. For millions of years, animal extinction and endangerment has been a major problem. The Endangered Species International Web site states, “Today, 99.9 percent of all species that have existed on Earth are extinct.”

That is truly a shocking statistic. In order to get a better idea of how this problem is becoming more prevalent, I spoke with Liz Harmon who is the curator at the Kansas City Zoo. Harmon, who has a degree in zoology, has worked at the Kansas City Zoo for four years. Her job as curator entails overseeing the animal department, which includes the staff, animals and exhibits.

Harmon identified over twenty species of animals currently listed as endangered that live at the zoo. Some of the more well-known animals include cheetahs, chimpanzees, gorillas, black rhinos and slender-snouted crocodiles. She certainly agrees that animal endangerment can be attributed to humans. “Animals become endangered for a number of reasons. Man made reasons include loss of habitat, over hunting, pollution, and changes in the environment (such as global warming).”

Even scarier than that is the fact that not all animal life around the world has been discovered yet. Harmon said, “There are species that haven’t even been identified that are becoming extinct.” So essentially, we are not even aware of exactly how many animal species we are selfishly killing every day.

Animals are responsible for generating huge commercial dollars throughout the world. For example, the Why Save Web site stated, “Commercial and recreation salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest provides 60,000 jobs and $1 billion annually in personal income.”

However, as salmon quickly become endangered, that large amount of revenue will soon be lost.

Harmon said, “People will begin to take notice once a major species such as the orangutan or gorilla becomes extinct. They will then begin to make changes, but hopefully it won’t be too late.”

Lindsay Crupper

Human’s Interaction with Flora: Part 3 by acbowman
May 9, 2008, 11:12 am
Filed under: Nature + Travel | Tags: , , , ,

I spoke with KU professor, ethnobotanist, and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie author, Kelly Kindscher about the sustainability of Echinacea.

Echinacea is a species native to Kansas that is used as a general cure all and as protection against the common cold. In the United States, herbal medicine has gone by the wayside and today the main importer of Echinacea is Europe. The demand has leveled off, but there are still people harvesting the species.

The plant was heavily harvested during the herbal products boom of the late nineties. Harvesters were using shovels and pick axes to dig up roots and capitalize on the rush. Kelly’s work focuses on the harvesting techniques associated with Echinacea. He’s found that Echinacea is a very resilient species and will re-sprout even after a great amount of harvest.

Kelly believes the preservation and respect for native prairie habitat is the primary means for maintaining the species. Kelly’’s work stresses the resilience of nature. Even after heavy harvest, Echinacea stands strong.

Listen to podcast.

-Bobby Grace

Ethics of humans’ involvement with the environment: Part 4 by jjdesimone
May 9, 2008, 11:10 am
Filed under: Food + Health, Nature + Travel | Tags: , , ,

Baraboo, Wisconsin and Basra, Iraq might have nothing in common, but fighting a war and killing endangered species has prompted a common human response – to do an about turn and nurture that which we have destroyed.

Baraboo is known for efforts in saving its whooping crane population, while Basra is emerging from the ashes of war with a skyline dotted with cranes, symbolizing the reconstruction and development initiatives under way. At least that’s the intention. Two words stand out in either respect: Reconstruction and reintroduction.

Wars aside, what is it about man’s insatiable desire to kill animals, whether it’s for hides, horns or a hunter’s trophy? If only animals were like humans, they’d be completely cynical and sarcastic:

“Well, sir you might as just save me the trouble of running off into the bush and hiding. So load your bolt-action rifle and oh, don’t worry about the telescopic sight since I’m just going to be a few feet away. And when my head’s mounted above your fireplace in say 10 or 20 years from now, you can brag to your guests what a tough contest it was.”

Actually, I’ve become more cynical about attempts at redress after seeing so many species pushed to the brink of extinction. My knee-jerk response is to leave well alone. But, as custodians of wildlife, we’ve no choice but to do something or many will go the way of that archetype of extinct species, the dodo.

That efforts must be sustainable is a given. We have to learn from the failed attempts at reintroducing species into nature – the wild dogs into parks in Southern Africa, the Oriental Magpie Robin in Singapore to mention but a few.

On the positive side, we can take heart from successes like the recovery efforts of the American bison, the reintroduction of lemur in Madagascar and how we’ve managed to save the last remaining rhino populations through capture and relocation to protected reserves. Such measures inspire confidence in other areas, like the bane of many farmers, the wolf, whose reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park not only presents opportunities to correct misconceptions, but show how such interventions can be positive.

Photo credit: Adam Bowman

In the 1990s, the Canadian wolf was introduced into the Yellowstone National Park.

Cat Lazaroff, from Defenders of Wildlife said she knows there are some ranchers opposed to the wolves program, but she provides a compelling argument as to why it’s been good for the environment.

“Whenever you remove a species, particular one at the top of the food chain like the wolf, you leave behind unexpected consequences with those left behind. Elk, which were the prey of wolves, become overabundant. They ate the willow, which in turn became scarce and you have a spin-off effect that continues. And so we say it’s not a good idea to remove a species from its habitat,” Lazaroff said.

But that trend continues today. Not only does it result in a complex imbalance in the food chain, but permanently changes our ecosystem and evolutionary links to the beginning of time.

Denzyl Janneker

Human’s Interaction with the Grizzly Bear: Parts 5 and 6 by acbowman

This two part Webisode series illustrates the current debate about how to manage a growing Grizzly Bear population in the Norther Rocky Mountains.

-Adam Bowman

Climate Change is Forever by jseverin

Climate change really is inconvenient. Despite all of the scientific study being poured into this issue, the impacts remain difficult to predict. And although its effects may not be noticeable for decades, the window of time we have left to address it could be very small. Meanwhile, our US leaders are elected for 2- or 4-year terms. Oftentimes, this leads to a focus on short term solutions that keep constituents satisfied. Sounds like a major conflict.

When asked about this balance between short and long term policy consideration, Congressman Dennis Moore notes that “in the short term, we need to utilize the tools we already have available – implementing energy efficiency measures, encouraging responsible behaviors and investing in the research and development of technologies that will ultimately aid in us achieving our long-term goals .”

However, it is sometimes difficult for me to believe that our government is going to make a difference on this issue. I may even agree with Wall Street Journal editorialist Joe Rago who seems to think Congress is stretching out the discussion on carbon emission controls in order to maintain credibility with environmentalists while putting off a decision that could have serious economic impacts.

To some degree, I don’t blame them. We have no idea if potentially costly programs put in place today will really make a difference 50 years from now. But that shouldn’t stop us from giving it a try and hoping that our collective efforts will help us turn the corner on climate change. All we have to lose – and gain – is a more sustainable future for ourselves and for our planet.

– Jeff

Turning the Corner on Climate Change? by jseverin
May 8, 2008, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Business + Politics

Michael Dorsey says we are screwed. He says It is too late to worry about fixing climate change and time to start focusing on adapting to its impacts. At least that is what I gathered from his virtual visit to Media & the Environment this month.

So is Congress just spinning it’s wheels discussing carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs? When questioned about dealing with climate change, Congressman Dennis Moore (D-KS) thinks it is high time we get something done.

“The longer we wait to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the more expensive it will become. With big policy changes, there are bound to be growing pains, however, we simply cannot afford to continue business as usual.”

Congressman Moore feels the legislature has turned the corner on responding to this issue.

“The House leadership has not only made it one of our top legislative priorities, but support for many of these energy efficiency efforts seems to be bipartisan. Of course, a few of my colleagues and others involved in our national dialogue on this issue still refuse to acknowledge the problem is real, as well as a few of my colleagues who are trying to protect the interests of their districts (like big coal districts, etc.), but generally, the support is widespread. As we move forward, therefore, we will have to work together to draft legislation that we can all support – legislation that will make real progress on this issue while understanding that we can’t fix the problem overnight.”

If Dorsey is right, overnight may be all the time we have.

– Jeff