Tag Archives: nature

An Intimate Connection with Nature

For the last 40 years, Norman Hallendy has spent his life learning about the Arctic and the many Inuit people who call the land home. His deep interest in this area has brought him across the Arctic, studying different communities and their connection to nature and one another.

Norman Hallendy began his Arctic journey in 1948, at a time in which many Inuit peoples were moving from the land into permanent settlements.

His work in the Arctic and his role in interpreting the inuksuit earned him the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Gold Medal in 2001.

An Intimate Wilderness: Arctic Voices in a Land of Vast Horizons (Image courtesy Greystone Books)

In his memoir,An Intimate Wilderness: Arctic Voices in a Land of Vast Horizons(Greystone Books, 2016), Norman writes of his adventures as an ethnographer in the far north, including wildlife encounters with polar bears, profound friendships and what it means to live alongside nature.

Also an Arctic researcher and photographer, many of his talents are woven within the pages of his book, which is filled with stories about the people and the Arctic and illustrated with stunning imagery.

I recently spoke with Norman about what drew him north and how his bond with Inuit elders strengthened his connection to nature.

As a cultural researcher from Ontario working in the Arctic, Norman had to set aside his previous perceptions of how people live and work in these rural communities and open himself up to new experiences. By faithfully recording everything he saw, he was able to develop a better understanding of Innu culture.

I had to put aside how I was taught to think, along with the beliefs, biases, opinions, and values I learned, shaped by the only material and intellectual culture I knew, says Norman. I had to learn the abandonment of who I thought I was and who I thought they were.

According to Norman, one of the difficulties of living in the Arctic is dealing with the distance and remoteness of communities from the rest of Canada. Away from technology, residents of the Arctic live a different life than someone with easy access to electricity and a Wi-Fi signal. Instead, many residents of the remote north may be more intimately dependent on nature and the land than Canadians in the southern portions of the country.

The Inuit perfectly adapted to their environment, ensuring not only their survival for more than 400 years, but the development and sustainability of a unique culture, says Norman. The expression inuutsiarniq asini,which means living in harmony with nature, is an ancient and powerful metaphor.

As Norman learned through his many interviews with Inuit elders, the Inuit are not only dependent on the land for survival; they have a spiritual connection to nature. This connection forms the foundation of their philosophy and shapes the way they see and care for the environment.

[The Inuit] believe that [nature] is both a physical and metaphysical entity. It is a living thing, says Norman. To behold, respect and understand the forces and behavior of the land, sea, sky and weather was the bedrock of their unique culture.

FromAn Intimidate Wilderness, one develops a sense of looking at nature in a more personal way. By reading this book, you are immersed in a new way of viewing your surroundings. It opens you up to seeing nature, other humans and wildlife as a full circle rather than as individual elements.

This post originally appeared onLand Linesand was written by Raechel Bonomo, editorial coordinatorfor the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Post photo:Author Norman Hallendy with Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak (Photo courtesy Norman Hallendy)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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An Intimate Connection with Nature

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What Would Happen if the World’s Soils Disappeared?

The United Nations designated December 5th as World Soil Day to raise awareness about the dangers of soil loss. Youve likely heard about the environmental importance of soils. But how important are they, really? Lets take a quick look at how losing our precious soils would impact the world.

Could soil ever actually run out?

Yes. If we continue to harm and degrade topsoil at the current rate, its estimated that the world could lose all its topsoil within 60 years.

Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil on the surface of the earth. Its the most fertile type of soil that typically contains lots of nutrient-rich organic matter from broken down plants and other organisms. Topsoil is also alive with beneficial microbes, fungi and critters like earth worms, which feed on the organic matter.

The deeper layers of soil beneath the topsoil are not nearly as rich. They are primarily made up of decomposing rock that provides the raw material for future topsoil as well as a substrate for deeply rooted plants to anchor in.

If the delicate ecosystem within topsoil is disrupted, it will essentially die. Plants cant grow in topsoil that doesnt have abundant organic matter and thriving populations of microbes.

Agricultural Affects

Modern agricultural practices often use chemical fertilizers instead of organic matter. This does not feed the soil. It only provides a quick blast of limited nutrients that the plants soon consume. Whereas, plant debris and other organic matter will slowly break down and provide ongoing nutrition for growing plants and soil microorganisms.

The organic matter content that was once naturally high in topsoil is becoming more and more depleted as industrial farming practices continue. Due to this, topsoil is being lost between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished.

If this continues, agricultural soils will become less fertile and it will be more difficult to grow food. In areas where this is already happening, forest and wild areas are often being destroyed in order to make more agricultural land. Deforestation like this reduces organic matter in the soil even more, making the problem worse.

The extreme outcome of topsoil degradation would be widespread food shortages because depleted soils cant produce enough crops to provide food for everyone.

Impact on Water

Healthy topsoil will naturally retain water. Organic matter helps to maintain a good structure within soil that can absorb and release water as needed by the plants and surrounding ecosystem.

A few issues can start when topsoil becomes degraded. Flooding is perhaps the most dramatic result. When a landscape cant hold water, rainfall can only run off the surface and eventually wind up in the ocean. It will also cause erosion and take a great deal of soil with it.

Poor topsoil also creates a need for more irrigation. Many parts of the world already have water shortages, so an increased pressure on the local water supplies could lead to serious problems.

Plant and Animal Losses

If we lost the health of our soils, significant amounts of wild plants would die off around the world. This would clearly be a massive blow to biodiversity, habitat for animals and food sources. But it could also have a significant impact on climate change.

Plants naturally take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This is the primary way carbon is removed from our atmosphere. If plant populations collapsed around the world, there could be a huge increase in the amount of circulating carbon.

Another issue is that all living things release carbon when they die, so any large-scale plant and animal die-offs would produce carbon as the organisms decompose. High levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have already been linked to climate change and global warming. Mass die-offs would only add to this problem and potentially lead to more severe climate change.

How can we stop all this from happening?

Plant more plants. This is a vital step towards helping the worlds soils. More plants will create more organic matter, which will feed more soil microorganisms and keep soils thriving. You can start in your backyard or volunteer with an organization that reclaims and replants degraded areas.

Learn about soils. A lot of the damage done to our soils has been out of ignorance or simply taking whats under our feet for granted. But the more we can all learn about soil, the better well be able to take care of it.

Minimize hard surfaces. Large areas of pavement or other hard surfaces cause increased soil erosion around the edges and create soil dead spaces underneath. Consider making driveways, decks or sidewalks with paving stones or other materials that allow water to flow through them and the soil underneath to breathe.

Make a rain garden. This is a shallow depression you can create in your yard that will capture excess rain water and prevent soil erosion. You can plant moisture-loving plants in your rain garden, or leave it to provide water for animals.

Support your local farmers. Small-scale agriculture is often better for the health of soil. Many small farmers take the health of their land very seriously and promote fertility by non-chemical, sustainable means. Get to know the farmers at your local market and ask how they support their soils. Or better yet, go to visit their farms and check out the soil yourself.

Recycle human waste. It may be a solution no one wants to talk about, but a huge amount of organic matter that could go back into our soils is currently being flushed down the toilet. This has prompted a movement to make use of whats known as humanure, or human manure. The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins is a great place to start if youd like to explore this option.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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What Would Happen if the World’s Soils Disappeared?

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The Heartbreaking Reason Plastic Kills So Many Birds

Plastic waste is slowly taking over our oceans.

For years environmentalists have been warning us about “garbage patches,” swirling gyres of floating plastic bigger than entire countries.

Scientists estimate that millions of plastic trash end up in the ocean each year, a number that’s to increase tenfold in the next decade.

Related: The Dangers Of Plastic

The effects of our plastic addiction and refusal to dispose of it responsibly are worse than just the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, however. There’s also the direct impact that marinewaste has on the creatures who depend on the ocean for their sustenance.

Mistaking bits of floating plastic waste for food, sea creatures consume these items, often with fatal results. But it’s not just how plastic looks that confuses wildlife. Scientists at UC Davis recently discovered that birds are also choked and poisoned by marine wastebecause of how it smells.

“Marine plastic debris emits the scent of a sulfurous compound that some seabirds have relied upon for thousands of years to tell them where to find food, reportsKat Kerlinfor UC Davis. “This olfactory cue essentially tricks the birds into confusing marine plastic with food.”

The culprit is dimethyl sulfide, or DMS. This smelly compound is releasedwhen algae is eaten by animals like krill, one of the birds favorite meals. Unfortunately, it’s also released by the algae that coats floating plastic. When they smell DMS, birds assume it’s time to eat, and they swoop in on what they thing is the source. But instead of krill, it’s a plastic twist tie, bottle cap, bead or straw.

Many seabirds, like this Tristrams storm-petrel, mistake tiny plastic particles for food, and the effects can be fatal. Credit: Sarah Youngren/ Regents of the University of California, Davis campus.

The study also found that the DMS phenomenon affects certain birds disproportionately.

“…species that dont receive lot of attention, like petrels and some species of shearwaters, are likely to be impacted by plastic ingestion, Nevitt said. These species nest in underground burrows, which are hard to study, so they are often overlooked. Yet, based on their foraging strategy, this study shows theyre actually consuming a lot of plastic and are particularly vulnerable to marine debris.

TheEllen Macarthur Foundationprojects that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.

Related:7 Tips For Reducing Plastic Pollution and Saving Our Marine Species

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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The Heartbreaking Reason Plastic Kills So Many Birds

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Stuff Matters – Mark Miodownik


Stuff Matters
Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World
Mark Miodownik

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: March 17, 2015

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Seller: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

New York Times Bestseller • New York Times Notable Book 2014 • Winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books “A thrilling account of the modern material world.” — Wall Street Journal “Miodownik, a materials scientist, explains the history and science behind things such as paper, glass, chocolate, and concrete with an infectious enthusiasm.” — Scientific American Why is glass see-through? What makes elastic stretchy? Why does any material look and behave the way it does? These are the sorts of questions that renowned materials scientist Mark Miodownik constantly asks himself. Miodownik studies objects as ordinary as an envelope and as unexpected as concrete cloth, uncovering the fascinating secrets that hold together our physical world. In Stuff Matters , Miodownik explores the materials he encounters in a typical morning, from the steel in his razor to the foam in his sneakers. Full of enthralling tales of the miracles of engineering that permeate our lives, Stuff Matters will make you see stuff in a whole new way. ” Stuff Matters is about hidden wonders, the astonishing properties of materials we think boring, banal, and unworthy of attention…It’s possible this science and these stories have been told elsewhere, but like the best chocolatiers, Miodownik gets the blend right.” — New York Times Book Review  

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Stuff Matters – Mark Miodownik

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Are Bonds Opaque and Confusing Because They Have to Be?

Mother Jones

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A few days ago Brad DeLong tagged a piece by David Warsh that promises to be a preface of sorts to a 14-part series about some new research into the nature of finance and the origins of the Great Recession. It actually looks pretty interesting, but I confess I’m a little unclear about one of its central points.

As we all know, one of the problems the Great Recession uncovered was the brave new world of rocket science derivatives, which were so complex that no one truly knew what they represented. Warsh suggests that this is no accident:

Stock markets existed to elicit information for the purpose of efficiently allocating risk. Money markets thrived on suppressing information in order to preserve the usefulness of bank money used in transactions and as a store of value. Price discovery was the universal rule in one realm; an attitude of “no questions asked” in the other.

….This new view of the role of opacity in banking and debt is truly something new under the sun. One of the oldest forms of derision in finance involves dismissing as clueless those who don’t know the difference between a stock and a bond. Stocks are equity, a share of ownership. Their value fluctuates and may drop to zero, while bonds or bank deposits are a form of debt, an IOU, a promise to repay a fixed amount.

That economists themselves had, until now, missed the more fundamental difference — stocks are designed to be transparent, bonds seek to be opaque — is humbling, or at least it should be. But the awareness of that difference is also downright exciting to those who do economics for a living, especially the young. Sufficiently surprising is this reversal of the dogma of price discovery that those who have been trained by graduate schools in economics and finance sometimes experience the shift in Copernican terms: a familiar world turned upside down.

I can’t do justice to the whole idea in an excerpt, but this gives you a taste of Warsh’s thesis. But it confuses me. Certainly he’s right that mortgage-backed securities of the aughts were astonishingly opaque, but why does that lead us to believe that bonds, in general, “seek to be opaque”? For most of the 20th century and before, bonds were considerably simpler than the derivatives of the 21st century. The value of a corporate bond depended on the likelihood of bond payments being made, which in turn depended on the profitability and overall growth prospects of the firm. The value of a company’s stock also depended on the profitability and overall growth prospects of the firm. If you knew one, you knew the other. Bonds, in general, were no more opaque than stocks. And none of this had any relation to bank money, did it?

Maybe this will all be explained later. If Warsh is arguing that the transparency of the debt and equity markets have changed over the past decade or so, that’s one thing. But if he’s arguing that they’ve always been fundamentally different, then I have some questions. I hope he answers them over the next 14 weeks.

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Are Bonds Opaque and Confusing Because They Have to Be?

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