A Q&A with Marcus EriksenPlastic can entangle wildlife, but much of the harm comes from ingesting micro plastics. Single-use products that leave our land are shredding in the oceans to form microplastics the size of grains of rice or smaller. These absorb other pollutants, like pesticides and industrial chemicals, in high concentrations. The literature is showing that these chemicals then migrate into the bodies of marine life when ingested. Plastic is proving to be a vector for pollutants to get into the food chain, which much of humanity harvests to feed itself.
By Wen StephensonThere’s a popular image of Henry David Thoreau as an apolitical hermit, a recluse, aloof and detached, even misanthropic, a crank indulging his private fantasy in his cabin in the woods. This has always been a caricature; his active involvement in the Underground Railroad and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act put the lie to it. We know that he helped multiple fugitives on their way to Canada, guarding over them in his family’s house—the Thoreau family were committed abolitionists, especially his mother and sisters—even escorting them onto the trains, which entailed no small personal risk. And of course, we know that he wrote and spoke forcefully and without compromise against slavery and for human freedom.
By Tom Montgomery FateIn Walking Thoreau writes “Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present.” In his Journal he writes. “Both for bodily and mental health court the present.” But how is that possible in the modern world?
By Howard AxelrodApple Sirs, I thank you for your appreciation of my lecture at the recent TED Dead conference: “Thinkers of Yesterday, Challenges of Today.” (Your company, as Mr. Jobs declared in his own lecture, truly has eyes and ears everywhere.) I must confess some of your letter eluded my understanding—for instance, the polite imperative: “Please drill down to deliverables.” Am I to understand that you view my ideas as buried underground, like a vein of gold or a healing spring?
By Claire Hope CummingsThe flooding of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault comes as a warning. Although the seeds are safe for now, this close call should caution us not to assume we can control and predict the natural world. Climate change, natural disasters, and social unrest are ever-present threats to seeds. The best response is to take action on two fronts: globally, as the Svalbard Seed Vault is doing; and regionally, by supporting traditional plant breeding on farms and by local seed banks, as well as conserving natural areas that protect plants.
By Marc Bekoff and Jessica PierceThe number of animals kept captive as pets is mind-boggling. In US households alone, there are an estimated seventy-eight million dogs, eighty-six million cats, ninety-six million freshwater fishes, nine million reptiles, and twelve million small animals. These numbers have been steadily growing for the past four decades. Even in the economic downturn, the pet industry was one of the few that showed continued growth. Unlike farming and laboratory research and especially zoos, where good welfare for animals lines up with productivity and quality, the same is not true within the pet industry.
The critical role that scientific research plays in our health, safety, understanding of the natural world, and future as a species is under threat. With an administration that is pushing to suppress scientific evidence and keep scientists from communicating their findings, our need for empirical inquiry into how to protect our home and sustain our resources is more important than ever. That’s why the March for Science, an emerging and growing grassroots movement, is launching nationwide tomorrow, April 22. Scientists and science supporters, teachers and parents, global citizens and policymakers will take to the streets, united, to defend and advocate for science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity.
By Wen StephensonSome of you have heard me say this before. I’ve said it many times, and I’m going to keep on saying it, because it’s true: Given what scientists know, and have known for decades, about climate change—indeed, given what Exxon Mobil has known for decades about climate change—to deny the science, deceive the public, and obstruct any serious response to the climate catastrophe, is to ensure the destruction, the eradication, of entire countries and cultures; and the suffering and death of untold millions of human beings. There’s a word for this. These are crimes. And they’re not just financial crimes. They’re not just crimes against shareholders. They’re crimes against humanity.
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerThe resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline taking place at Standing Rock right now is the most significant political event in Indian country since those struggles of the early 1970s, and there was no way I was going to miss it. I managed to carve out a few days and take a side trip to Standing Rock during Thanksgiving weekend, with a story assignment in my role as a journalist at Indian Country Today Media Network. I was there to bear witness to what is an unprecedented historical moment.
The results of the 2016 presidential election have left many people in shock and disappointment. In a time where people are fearing that a new administration will work to reverse much of the progress made in the last eight years, we are left wondering what the future holds. How do we continue to fight against climate change, fight for reproductive rights, LGBTQ protections, and racial and economic justice?
Throughout this election cycle, we’ve seen the rise of the radical right reminiscent of the pull of ultraconservative organizations from the past; increasing calls to prevent new immigrants from entering our country; increased calls to improve gun control legislation; a resurging wave of religious intolerance against Muslim Americans; and nationwide protests imploring racial justice and economic progress. These issues and others that have made headlines in the news have become focal points in this year’s presidential debates. To help inform the conversation about these topics, we’re recommending a list of titles from our catalogue.
By Stephen KendrickAutumn: New England’s residing glory, what people from all over the world come to see. Maybe we are used to it, or simply through familiarity do not realize our trees produce the greatest profusion of fall color in the world—but there it is. Nowhere else in the world are concentrated such orange-tinged russets, golds, and vivid reds. Our trees do us proud. There is only a short time to see all this; “leaf-peepers” are simply seekers of something rare and ephemeral. Mount Auburn, although a small player within these thousands of miles of burning fall tints, asserts itself every year as one of the special sites in the midst of nature’s color show.
By Marc BekoffI am always incredulous that the AWA does not consider rats of the genus Rattus and mice of the genus Mus to be animals. Other animals also are conveniently tossed out of the animal kingdom. When I tell people this they are shocked. We know from detailed scientific research that they have highly evolved cognitive and emotional capacities, they experience empathy, and rats laugh and like to be tickled. And, we know that tickling laboratory rats is good for science. What more do we need to show that these are sentient beings with rich and deep emotional lives?
By Roxanne Dunbar-OrtizThe first international relationship between the Sioux Nation and the US government was established in 1805 with a treaty of peace and friendship two years after the United States acquired the Louisiana Territory, which included the Sioux Nation among many other Indigenous nations. Other such treaties followed in 1815 and 1825. These peace treaties had no immediate effect on Sioux political autonomy or territory. By 1834, competition in the fur trade, with the market dominated by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, led the Oglala Sioux to move away from the Upper Missouri to the Upper Platte near Fort Laramie. By 1846, seven thousand Sioux had moved south. Thomas Fitzpatrick, the Indian agent in 1846, recommended that the United States purchase land to establish a fort, which became Fort Laramie. “My opinion,” Fitzpatrick wrote, “is that a post at, or in the vicinity of Laramie is much wanted, it would be nearly in the center of the buffalo range, where all the formidable Indian tribes are fast approaching, and near where there will eventually be a struggle for the ascendancy [in the fur trade].”
By Marc BekoffA number of people have asked me to weigh in on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recent announcement that they would like to lift the ban on research on animal-human chimera research. Basically, a chimera “is a single organism composed of cells from different zygotes. This can result in male and female organs, two blood types, or subtle variations in form.” I’m against this sort of research for any number of reasons.
By Lynn HallThe wilderness is where I continuously re-establish my present-day safety. Here I reduce my survival to basics: Have I had enough to eat? Where will I find more water? Can I stay warm enough or cool enough? Even in these untamed places—with bears and snakes, lightning, cliffs and exposed ledges—I prove again and again that I am no longer the girl of my past. I reconnect with my most true self who has grown into her strength and confidence. I know my past is behind me.
By Bill McKibbenThoreau posed the two practical questions that must come dominate this age if we’re to make those changes: How much is enough? and How do I know what I want? For him, I repeat, those were not environmental questions; they were not even practical questions, exactly. If you could answer them you might improve your own life, but that was the extent of his concern. He could not guess about the greenhouse gas effect. Instead, he was the American avatar in a long line that stretches back at least to Buddha, the line that runs straight through Jesus and St. Francis and a hundred other cranks and gurus.
By J. A. MillsCall it superpower leadership, sibling rivalry, or rising to the occasion. Whatever the label, the presidents of China and the United States have joined forces to literally save the world. This is how the world achieved game-change on climate change: U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping spoke one-on-one about concerns over human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions speed-warming the planet. The U.S. acknowledged that it, too, has a problem with GHG emissions. Then the world’s number one and number two GHG emitters—China and the U.S. respectively—jointly pledged to limit their climate impacts and lead the world to do the same.
By Wen StephensonOn Wednesday morning in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood, an interfaith group of sixteen Boston-area religious leaders—Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu—sat down and held a prayer service in the middle of Grove Street, physically blocking construction of Spectra Energy’s fracked-gas West Roxbury Lateral pipeline, part of a major expansion of its Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline system. All told, their civil disobedience brought the number of arrests for nonviolent direct action along the construction route to more than eighty since October (including my own on April 28).
By Stefan Bechtel“In March, 1886, I received a severe shock, as if by a blow on the head with a well-placed mallet. I awoke, dazed and stunned, to a sudden realization of the fact that the buffalo hide-hunters of the United States had practically finished their work.” The writer was William Temple Hornaday, then a thirty-two-year-old taxidermist at the U.S. National Museum (later the Smithsonian). He’d been asked by his boss to put together a mounted display of the museum’s collection of Bison americanus, only to discover that “the people’s official museum was absolutely destitute of good bison specimens of any kind.” These great shambling creatures, with their magnificent prehistoric silhouettes, in their unimaginable numbers, symbolized the wildness and grandeur of America better than any other animal, perhaps even the bald eagle.