One Cubic Foot
How humans’ choice to grow just one crop can affect nature’s balance.
A typical terrestrial ecosystem is a living mosaic of hundreds or even thousands of species, balanced on one another’s existence like a biological house of cards. From plants and bugs down to microscopic fungi and bacteria, there’s a world of life in just a cubic meter.
That’s what David Liitschwager’s new book One Cubic Foot set out to capture. Anything that came through a plastic cube one foot on each side was photographed and catalogued. It’s stunning just how much life there is right under our feet, or above our heads, at any moment. Move the cube just a few feet away? You may see a completely different slice of the biodiversity pie.
However, there are tales of caution within those pages. See those two photos at top? The top photo shows the biodiversity present in a typical slice of shrub land. Cooperative populations of over 100 plants and insects. The bottom? It’s from an Iowa cornfield, home to less than an actual handful.
That cornfield is the victim of the modern agricultural practice of monoculture.
Where there were once hundreds of species, living together on the richest soil in the midwest, there remain a sparse few. In manipulating nature to grow only one crop on a piece of land, we have created an almost alien world. It’s beyond a debate between organic vs. conventional (neither of which are perfect). It’s a question of simple biology, and I don’t like the answer.
Be sure to read Robert Krulwich’s review of One Cubic Foot. And then check out Michael Pollan talking about the danger of monocultures to nature and our diets.
Instant Egghead - Are We Facing the Sixth Mass Extinction?
According to the United Nations, we are losing about 200 species per day—a thousand times the normal background rate of extinction. How does this stack up to previous mass extinctions? Scientific American editor Fred Guterl explains.
We’re losing species at an alarming rate. Here’s a look at how that compares to previous mass extinctions. Unlike those extinctions of the past, we have evolved enough to do something about species conservation today.
Click to embiggen. At UMass-Amherst, I recall a professor (a one Mr. Dr. Jack Ahern) showing us Massachusetts was deforested not once or twice, but four times in its near 400 year history. Now it’s one of the most forested states (yep!).
Amazing photos of vintage logging industry in the Redwood Forests of California via U of C
Any image of deforestation is synonymous with the construction of contemporary metropolises. What’s most profound about the industrial moguls of the 19th century is that even though they were fierce in the utilization of natural resources that led to a catastrophic decline, they recognized the need for conservation practices and restorative developments.
The Pinchots, millionaires from the wallpaper industry, pushed their son Gifford into forestry. What started as an investment in an industry led to conservation of natural resources, support for academic programs, and further development of infrastructure in the United States. The US Forest Service gave us telephone poles, railroad ties, land for grazing livestock, and timber to fuel construction for modern life.
Yes, it is a tragedy that natural history was destroyed by old logging practices. But we’re lucky enough to be living in an age where more people are understanding the limitations of our landscape. The thing we need to work on now is our frivolous consumption (ie: disposable goods).
Seeing a living organism of this size is just flabbergasting. As Richard Feynman reminded us recently, trees big and small grow out of the air. That’s about 98% right (they do need water and nutrients from the ground to complete their photosynthetic reactions).
But think about the sheer volume of carbon dioxide that a tree like this takes in over its lifetime! Think about the effect these have in balancing the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere! A 25-inch redwood can hold the equivalent of ONE TON of carbon dioxide. These trees are at least six times that diameter, and would have held orders of magnitude more than that. It’s called a “carbon sink”, and these would have been gold-medal winners in that event.
On one hand, it’s amazing to see an immobile living thing capable of growing to this size, over hundreds of years, felled by the humble tools of man. On the other hand, it’s tragic to see these Fort Knoxes of the carbon cycle laying useless on their side. Let’s keep this in the history books, and not in the current events pages.
Don’t Worry, Drive On: Some Real Talk About “Peak Oil”
I’ve received a couple of questions from you fine folks about whether it’s true that new technologies have opened up access to untapped oil resources, and that “peak oil” is no longer something we need to worry about.
It’s wonderful news when innovative science and new technologies improve how we harness and use energy, but only when it’s based in reality. So yes, technology has provided new ways of accessing hard-to-reach oil and fossil fuels, and there’s a lot of oil left in the ground. That is true.
But when cost, environmental policies and climate change are added to the equation, just because we can get at it doesn’t make it good, or right, or worth it. We can’t afford it, financially or scientifically. Let’s keep moving forward and come up with a way to stop pumping the biomass of the Jurassic into our gas tanks and power plants.
A rap exploring the pros and cons of GMOs when it comes to feeding a growing planet! This comes from David Holmes, a grad of NYU’s Studio 20 digital journalism program, the same folks behind “My Water’s On Fire: The Fracking Song”.
We’ve got legal concerns, and some unknown effects, but we gotta weigh the impacts so we can come correct.
That little flow was mine. I’m a natural.
(via NY Times)
Source: The New York Times
As captured from the Landsat 3 satellite, this infrared-range image shows the loss of vegetation due to urban growth around China’s Pearl River Delta over a 30 year period.
What’s with the colors? Vegetation shows up as red in images like these thanks to the expanded infrared spectrum, and urban areas as gray. You can even see a completely new man-made island pop up in the bottom center! Today this region is home to over 36 million people.
More shots of urban growth from space at Wired Science.
As usual, The Onion’s best comedy is that which is just barely beyond truth. If you don’t laugh, you just may cry.
"Our expedition has shown that the Amazon Rainforest is simply teeming with a multitude of creatures never before glimpsed in this region," said lead researcher professor Courtland Gere, who personally observed a rare form of spider monkey as it huddled, shaking, inside the stump of a freshly felled tree. "Just mere minutes after our vehicles entered the forest, our team was lucky enough to hear the grief-stricken whimpers of a fascinating, previously unknown species of striped jaguar locked in the fetal position under a pile of leaves."
(via The Onion)
Source: The Onion
Oh hi, aliens, I didn’t know you were coming over. I would have cleaned up.
SMBC takes a look at a future Earth, where we’re all a bunch of bachelors and an alien race is coming over to our pad to visit.
We’ve got some cleaning up to do. Hint: It doesn’t go as planned. But it ends with hope. Check out the full saga.
"Perhaps it was good that we believed aliens were coming. Perhaps we should always live as if we’re about to invite an otherworldly mate over to dinner. Perhaps… perhaps… for a moment, we all inhaled the chamomile odor of perhaps."