Poet Katherine Larson said the two weeks she spent as the writer in residence at the Cary Institute were an “absolutely fantastic” experience.
The opportunity to talk the institute’s scientists about topics ranging from urban ecology to disease ecology to ecological engineering gave her fresh insights for the two book projects she is currently working on. One project is a book of poetry and the other a “lyrical novel.” Even when writing fiction Larson says, “As someone with a background in science, I’m a writer that’s very invested in getting the details right.”
Larson, who was born and raised in Arizona, has been interested in biology since childhood. Her father was a professor of forestry and her mother a fourth grade teacher with a passion for science. At the University of Arizona in Tucson Larson received a B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology as well as a B.A. in English and creative writing.
The havoc wrought by hurricanes Sandy and Irene heightened awareness of the impacts of flooding.
In a forum sponsored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess, Columbia, and Greene counties; the New York Water Resources Institute; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Hudson River Estuary Program; and the Hudson Estuary Watershed Resiliency project, an impressive roster of experts came together at the Cary Institute to present an overview of major flooding events, which are expected to happen more frequently.
New York has suffered eleven flooding events requiring FEMA assistance in the last 15 years, according to Wayne Reynolds, one of the presenters. In 2007, in Delaware County, four lives were lost, hundreds of homes destroyed, and 11 inches of rain came down in four hours. In 2011, again in Delaware County, $15 million of damage was sustained, with bridges and roads having to be replaced and repaired.
According to the experts who presented at the forum, the answer is not in engineering. We have to work with nature, move away from old infrastructure and understand where we can and cannot develop.
Volunteerism in science has two sides: it helps scientists collect data that needs many hands to accumulate and it saves money, which is in short supply in the research field, but it also subjects the data collected to question as to its reliability. These issues were discussed by Dr. Stuart Findlay, a Cary scientist who runs an annual data collection program called Submerged Aquatic Vegetation on the Hudson. His remarks followed a talk at the Cary by Akiko Busch, whose book The Incidental Steward was inspired by her Cary residency. Her experiences there led her to better understand the role of volunteer scientists and what insights can be gained from being one.
During the last week of April, my brother, Alex Shoumatoff, and I had the privilege of canoeing the Great Swamp with Dr. James Utter, President of FrOGS (Friends of the Great Swamp), who wrote a study called “Birds of the Great Swamp” for Bedford Audubon. He is considered the biodiversity expert of the area.
Alex, who writes about nature and far-flung places, had just come back from Nebraska, where he witnessed the migration of 600,000 sandhill cranes for a story he is writing for Smithsonian magazine.
We put in our canoes in Patterson at the little state park past the train station, and I was immediately impressed by a swath of wild trout lilies growing in a rich and moist clump under the trees.
As we started paddling through stands of ominously gloomy dead swamp maples, my brother said he heard the clucks of red-bellied woodpeckers, who are there in greater numbers now because they have moved north due to climate change. He said he heard but did not see a few yellow warblers, delayed by the late and cold spring weather.
FEEL free to eat any fish that’s caught legally. Be comfortable with the decision. By the way, you’re probably helping the planet
This message comes from one of the world’s most respected, honored, published, and thoughtful ocean fisheries scientists, and it’s emerged from intensive analysis of an accumulating number of fish stocks that now includes 500 species.
Ben Schwartz, founder of Wassaic Community Farm, may be seen driving around in a veggie oil–converted delivery van that says, “Milk not Jails.” The van belongs to one of his partnering organizations that is campaigning to replace upstate prison economies with a dairy-farming economy. Schwartz and his fellow farmers make delivery runs every week in the summer to the South Bronx, to make fresh vegetables available to a community that has no access to fresh food. He is providing CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) memberships for the needy families of inmates in upstate prisons. His CSA takes food stamps.
The CSA bills itself as having “a mission to address food justice issues both locally in Dutchess County and in New York City.”
Chase Farms, a dairy from Pine Plains, is providing milk and cheese to the farm’s prison CSA.
DRINKING water is unlikely to be a major problem in these parts. Elsewhere, clean water will be a big and growing concern—possibly even a casus belli.
The shortfall is twofold, says James Salzman, author of the informative and enjoyable Drinking Water: A History and holder of chairs at Duke University in its schools of law and environment: access to water and water that’s free of disease and poisons. Salzman spoke last Friday evening at the Cary Institute. To either shortage, he said, humans all over the world have had one of two approaches: to guarantee universal access or let the profit motive decide.
The first impulse in early societies was universal access. In Judean accounts it was known as the Law of Thirst: No severely parched person can be denied water, no matter how dire the need to save wilting crops, water horses, or fill the master’s bath. In practice it has meant that water is universally available to anyone free of charge.
According to UN studies, only ten percent of the world’s wastewater is treated. Even here in the United States, decaying sewer lines leak a surprising amount of raw sewage that makes its way into our rivers. An even larger amount of sewage ends up in our coastal zones.
According to Dr. Emma Rosi Marshall, aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute, who spoke last week at a Thursday Science Seminar, pharmaceuticals in groundwater, streams and rivers throughout the world are an “emerging environmental problem.” These substances, known as Pharmaceutical Personal Care Products or PPCPs, range from prescription medicine, drugs - those sold over the counter drugs as well as illegally - pain killers, hormones, anti-depressants, Viagra and Cialis, insect repellents and antibiotics - both those given to humans as well as to cattle and chickens. Cosmetics, soaps, and vitamins are another part of this toxic stew.
A study by eminent scientists at Cornell and Stanford universities shows how New York State can be energy self-sufficient by 2030 without using any fossil fuels.
The study marks a break from the present level of energy discussion, going directly to the practical problem of asking the “how” rather than dwelling on the “why” arguments. A fundamental shift in thinking about the problem of energy is taking place. The study accepts the threat of global warming as a given, and it accepts the necessity of abandoning fossil fuels entirely.
For the past year, fracking has occupied the headlines. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation received more than 50,000 comments from state residents concerned with the potentially devastating effects of fracking on groundwater, human health and the environment. That concern fostered the plan to go 100-percent renewable. It suggests we abandon fracking and natural gas as a bridge fuel and go directly to renewable sources of energy, using presently available technologies.
The loss of any species whether plant, animal or insect is a loss for every other living creature on the planet.
On a trip to Namibia as a volunteer with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, artist Paolo Bari learned that these magnificent animals were among those species threatened with extinction. “It is not just the cats,” Bari says. “Conservation is a big issue with many elements besides the land and the animals. Politics, culture, and economy are also part of the problem.” One solution is education.
When Bari returned to Dutchess County she looked for a way to convince people that to maintain the health of our planet we must protect endangered species as well as their natural habitat. To promote the idea she decided to ask local artists to decorate what she calls “KeepSafe Boxes,” which she could sell on line in a silent auction.