Environment

As I sat in the audience of the NC BREATHE Conference in Raleigh a few weeks ago, I sensed a certain amount of schizophrenia between the science and policy of air pollution in North Carolina. Unfortunately, a similar dichotomy is found in many states across the country.

On the one hand, I was surrounded by a room-full of physicians and scientists who relayed data about the link between air pollution and common human ailments, such as asthma, emphysema and pneumonia, and who talked about the state-led, bipartisan innovation, the NC Clean Smokestacks Act, that connected science and policy and resulted in reduced emissions, cleaner air, and better public, environmental, and economic health.

Are you a smoker or a former smoker? Chances are, you have been pressured to quit by people who love you.  Or maybe you’re someone who has tried to get a loved one to quit—a spouse, a parent, a friend.

Whether you quit, attempted to quit, or tried to get someone to quit, it is almost certainly because you know that smoking is bad for your health. We know this because of the first Surgeon General’s report in 1964, and extensive and continuing work in the nation’s leading medical schools showing the linkage between smoking and lung cancer.

Biochar (formerly known as charcoal) has attracted a lot of recent attention, owing to increasing interest in carbon sequestration in soils for greenhouse gas mitigation. With the use of biomass fuels, the production and burial of biochar could store significant amounts of carbon that might otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.[1] This sink for carbon is potentially highly resistant to decomposition.

It is worth reflecting on how trees contribute to our lives—beyond their role as a source of wood and paper. Should we preserve trees?  Are some species better than others? Are large trees better than small trees?  These and a host of other questions must be carefully considered if landscape architects and town planners are to design the best spaces for human habitation.

Plant growth derives from photosynthesis, in which plants take up water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air to produce carbohydrates for their growth. Oxygen is released as a byproduct. About half of all photosynthesis on Earth occurs on land and about half of that occurs in forests.

Every now and again someone writes me saying that the real source of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere is not human combustion of fossil fuels but volcanic emissions. There are several reasons why this cannot be the case.

First, the emissions from fossil fuels are well known from economic statistics, meaning we know fairly precisely how much oil, natural gas, and coal are traded annually and that the total emission of CO2 from these contains about 10 billion metric tons of carbon each year.

Bill Schlesinger, the retired president of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, has been writing a blog from his home in Maine. He graciously agreed to share his Citizen Scientist blogs with our readers.  We include the last few here. The most recent refers to the atmosphere that he identifies as suffering from tragedy of the commons, a common dump for our carbon emissions. 

An overcapacity crowd at the Cary Institute last Friday evening had the edifying pleasure of listening to Kurt Fausch, a leading stream ecologist, author and lecturer, discuss his book For the Love of Rivers (Oregon State University Press, 2015) and an award-winning documentary his work inspired, “RiverWeb.”

Tall, lanky, angular, Fausch looks like a slightly bent split-cane fishing rod, which fits: his lifelong study involves stream creatures and the riverine environment. He delivered his rather complicated but not entirely dismaying message in a soft-spoken Midwestern accent brightened with sporadic flashes of wit. He’s based in Boulder at Colorado State University, and the rivers, streams and watersheds he knows are those nearby, in the High Plains and the Pacific Northwest.

With the Spring Equinox just a few days away, black bears and their cubs are emerging from hibernation.  They are hungry and starting to forage for food, not only in their natural habitat but in our own back yards especially around our bird feeders, trash cans and outdoor barbeque areas.

Because sightings of Black bears have increased in recent years in our area, it is helpful to learn how to live with these animals. Understanding bear behavior was the topic of a talk by Felicia Ortner, Connecticut Master Wildlife Conservationist (MWC) hosted by Friend of the Great Swamp (FRoGs), at Trinity Pawling School on March 15.  

“If we understand how and why bears behave they way they do, we can learn to respect these animals instead of fearing them,” said Ms. Ortner. “It is critical for people not to knowingly feed bears and not to leave food outside that can attract them, even such as fruit in compost heaps.

Winter is hard on our avian friends. Their food sources may be under a blanket of snow. Cold temperatures, snow and ice challenge their reserves.  According to Sean Grace, director of the Sharon Audubon Center, chickadees, for example, have a 24- to 36-hour fat reserve, which, if not replenished, can cause them to starve to death.  

     “Supplemental feeding definitely helps the birds in winter,” he explained.  “They can find wild grape, fox grape, bittersweet and other berries, but the availability of these is often diminished.”

     We spoke to Mr. Grace, who has been the new director at the Audubon Center for the last nine months, about what kinds of bird feeders and seed mixes are best for what kinds of birds.

Towns are being urged to jump on the green funding bandwagon by addressing cimate change and including resilient infrastructure projects in a new series of grant applications.  

“What we are seeing is a growing trend for funding applications that score more points by including sustainability, resiliency and green infrastructure components,” according to an article in Talk of the Towns (a publication of the Association of Towns) by Donald Fletcher and Chris Lawton, engineers with Barton and Loguidice.  The Association of Towns has its annual training conference on Feb. 16-17 in NYC and includes training on green opportunities in its syllabus.

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