What Would Aldo Leopold Say?

A year ago this past May, wolves in the Northern Rockies lost their federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The wolves in this region were delisted as an ESA success story and were claimed to no longer require Federal oversight.

Though this might have been true a year ago, the federal decision to shift the power of wolf management over to the states has begun to undo the success that has been achieved.

      • Wolves in this region are being hunted, trapped, and aerially gunned.
      • In the span of one year, the state of Idaho has reduced its wolf population by 40% (to approximately 600) and has permission from USFWS to reduce the population to less than 200.

And while I could go on about my opinions of this decision and the seemingly mismanagement of these wolf populations, it would not make a difference to those gunning down the wolves.  Why?  Because our value system is completely different.

Animals such as wolves are caught in the court of public opinion.  They are falsely portrayed as savage and ruthless monsters, varmint.  They are not easily anthropomorphized, and thus the public struggles to see them beyond what they have been told.

One of the first things I remember learning as a freshman Environmental Studies major was the role a person’s values play with respect to the environment and how this influences an animal’s portrayal.  Naturally, animals you can anthropomorphize are favored over those you believe to be savaged, flee-invested pests.  This only adds fuel to the fire in situations like wolf management, where the public may have a bias, feeling reducing populations is the key to their livestock and game dreams.

The court of public opinion, whether for better or worse, influences environmental issues.  We must begin addressing the value system in order to create real, transformational, environmental change.  The environment is a complex and delicately balanced, interrelated system.  When we fail to step back and look at it from a 30,000 ft view, failing to connect how everything relates, we begin to initiate a domino-effect of disruption.

Those working on environmental issues already find value in the environment.  It is those who do not naturally connect who could be enlightened by a value based approach.  Yelling at someone and telling them they are wrong will only go so far, but if you can dig deep and get to the root of a person’s values, it could generate transformational environmental change.

The only question now is, how do we successfully do that?

I suspect until we figure it out, Aldo Leopold will continue to roll over in his grave until those in the Northern Rockies begin to find value in the role wolves play in the delicate balance of the ecological system.

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.  I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.  I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise.  But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”   – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac



The Brick Walls are There for a Reason

Last week I stumbled upon a commencement speech Paul Hawken delivered to the University of Portland’s graduating Class of 2009.  If there is any assigned reading for those working on environmental issues, the transcript of this speech should be one. 

His speech was incredibly motivating.  I could spend hours analyzing the message, but there was one phrase in particular that really stood out as a reason behind why we all continue to have a dog in the environmental fight.

If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data.  But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

Environmental progress is not easily accomplished.  It can be extremely discouraging to think of the brick walls that lay ahead.  But just as easy as it is to become discouraged, so too can you be inspired by the headway and small environmental victories that are achieved.  When you see how many people are working on environmental issues, you cannot help but feel hopeful that the challenge is not as great.

In the words of the inspiring Randy Pausch, The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people.”  

If you wave the white flag and surrender in the face of uncertain success and unrelenting challenges than you do not deserve to succeed.  If a simple “no” or a small bump in the road is enough to dissuade you, than you do not belong in the fight.  You have to have heart and passion; it is what will encourage you in the face of the mounting brick walls. We have made great strides towards environmental prosperity, but this is only the beginning of the fight and there is a lot of rounds left in the ring.



Why are we still having the same conversation?

In 1972 a monumental victory was achieved for the environment and public health with the passing of the Clean Water Act.  The Act was not a matter of political ideology, but a matter of common sense.  It even survived a presidential veto by Nixon.

(And after that historic win we all lived happily ever after… right?  Wrong.)

40 years later that historic win for the environment remains vulnerable to waves of legislative attacks and the changes in our administration every 4 to 8 years.

In light of learning about the current threats to the CWA, I decided to do some light reading on the history of the Act and the subsequent legislation introduced to weaken it.  Did you know that there seems to be a constant wave of new legislation aiming to undermine and weaken the CWA?  Why is there even thought of weakening this legislation when it is clearly a necessity for our nation?  If you do not particularly care about the health of an ecosystem and the organisms that depend on it, fine, but what about the health of your family and the potential for polluted waters surrounding your homes?

I am genuinely curious as to the thought process of someone who aims to weaken the CWA.  Part of me hopes that it is done out of sheer ignorance of the ramifications, because then at least it is not a deliberate, meticulous attack.

Are those that oppose this Act, and other legislation like it, proud of themselves?  Do they think they are cool?  That they are the big, tough bully on the playground?  Because last time I checked it was not looking to good for the bully’s in our society any longer.

Clean, healthy, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, and any other “-able” you can think of in relation to water, is a right not a privilege, everybody deserves it.  We are still trying to clean up our waters, so what gives a legislator the right to try to weaken the CWA and endanger the health of the public and the environment?

Our waters might not be on fire like the Cuyahoga River in 1969, but the pollution is still there.  And no matter your political ideology or economic stature, everyone depends on fresh, clean water to survive.

We have made tremendous strides in Bay restoration, such as the issuance of the TMDLs and the WIP.  Not to mention the countless organizations working to defend and maintain the progress made in the watershed.  But even if we lived in a perfect world where everyone worked to clean up the Bay, we still have a long hard road ahead of us.

Just because the nation’s waterways are not physically on fire, does not make them any more clean or requiring any less restoration and regulatory measures.  What does it say about our progress when you have to be mindful of where you swim and fish?  Or if it rains, or if there is a storm, you have to throw any idea of entering the water, right out the window for at least a couple of days.

Two weeks ago I heard a news anchor assure the public that the smell in at the Inner Harbor was okay because it was just a decomposing algae bloom.  Um, hello?  Does anyone else find that a little disturbing that the public was reassured that a decomposing algae bloom was okay?  Why are we not highlighting and educating the public on what caused the algae bloom, the pollution that fed it, and the implications that “safe” algae bloom has for the health of the Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay?  The Chesapeake Bay is iconic to Maryland, cleaning it up should be common sense and threats to the CWA should not even be entertained.

We have come so far, but there is still so much to be done.  Why are we letting our legislators jeopardize our clean water future?  Legislators represent us, the constituents, so why are we letting some of them threaten our health by repeated attempts to undermine the Clean Water Act?


Climate Change Advocated By a Childhood Classic

The 90s were a FANTASTIC time to grow up.  I mean where do I even begin?  The music was pure poetry.  Songs like MMMBop and Tearin’ Up My Heartgenius.  And Nickelodeon just had ever great childhood show you could think of:  Doug, Hey Arnold, All That (but for the sake of time and brevity I will stop my list while I’m ahead).

And when you weren’t hooked on the cartoons and sketch shows of Nickelodeon, you may have found yourself being educated by Bill Nye the Science Guy and his theme song that never failed to get stuck in your head.

But sadly the 90s have come and gone and the children of the early 90s are affronted with the real world and the fond memories and the classic shows of their childhood.  Unless of course, you were lucky enough like me to see the article and supplementary video of Bill Nye (the Science Guy – because who can really only just say his full name?) donning his wardrobe staple: the bow tie, on CNN speaking out on climate change.

While his segment and input on climate change was not preceded by the iconic theme song, Bill Nye (the Science Guy) was still geared at educating the public, albeit a slightly older audience.


Bill Nye (the Science Guy) put it best when he said “..the two sides aren’t equal here.”  The media is trying to portray both sides of the story when the facts of one side deserve significantly more weight and attention than the other.  Nye went on to say, “You have tens of thousands of scientists who are very concerned and you have a few people who are in business of equating or drawing attention to the idea that uncertainty is the same as doubt. When you have a plus or minus percentage, that’s not the same thing as not believing the whole thing at all.”

Climate change is a serious issue and the media’s portrayal of it to the American public should reflect that.  While, climate change remains a seriously heated topic, maybe Bill Nye (the Science Guy) will resonate with the generation he educated throughout their childhood.  Maybe this will start the conversation in a positive (well as positive as you can get) direction.  Because as Bill Nye (the Science Guy) put it, “[t]here are a couple of things that you can’t really dispute…[s]ixteen of the last 17 years have been the hottest years on record. That’s just how it is.”

For those who want to reminisce or see what they missed out on growing up here is one of many educational lessons taught by Bill Nye the Science Guy (I tried my best to find one on climate, but searched to no avail, so one on atmosphere will have to do).

Have a safe and happy 4th!