Tag Archives: environment

The Trees of the Northwest

The trees of the Northwest are old and large and as a rule, rarely lose their leaves.

They are Ever Green in the Evergreen State.

Except when they’re not.

The Douglas Firs, the Western Red Cedars, the giants whose girth took a dozen loggers to fell —

These are the iconic trees of the Pacific Northwest.

Except when they’re not.

Except when the tree, as common as pancakes, is a maple.

Its stature and shape won’t catch your eye like the thousand-year giants with the bark that puts off rotting for another rainy day.

But the maple’s blocky gray skin still reads like Braille beneath a girl’s fingertips, telling her to look up.

To see the spaces where the new leaves — Bigleaf but not yet big — overlap up to the canopy,

where the wind shuffles their new cells,

still supple with growth.

Looking up into the branches of a Bigleaf maple tree

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Wet Winter Reflection

Even in winter,

Seattle’s five o’clock shadow is moss,

Its ferns hold fast to the hillsides,

And its evergreens keep their eponymous promises.

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A World Without Ice

Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park.

Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park. Ashley Braun/All rights reserved.

Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts.

— University of Michigan geophysicist Henry Pollack, A World Without Ice

Arctic Sea Ice Breaks 2007 Record Low

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I take my World Oceans Day marinated in oil

Or, at least, that’s the way it seems this year for the new U.N.-declared holiday, in light of the crude catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

While the salty seas off of Louisiana could definitely use some lovin’, the rest of the oceans aren’t faring much better. The following issues wouldn’t mind it at all if you started throwing out some life preservers:

  • Life in plastic, it’s gone gastric: That is, for this albatross chick and other sea animals that mistake tiny bits of discarded plastic in the water for food. Unfortunately, some of that little plastic debris adds up to a huge, floating Pacific garbage patch about twice the size of Texas. And there’s another one in the North Atlantic too.

    Claire Fackler, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

  • Bleach out and touch someone: One of the first sure signs of climate change was warming ocean temperatures which started bleaching coral reefs. Which means they — and many of the tiny organisms at the bottom of the food chain — die.

    Bleached staghorn coral ... the water ain't fine here. Photo: Matt Kieffer via Flickr Creative Commons

  • On acid: A neat trick of what’s known as the “carbon cycle” is that the oceans absorb about 25% of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by, for example, burning fossil fuels. However, when it dissolves into sea water, a weak acid known as “carbonic acid” forms, which disintegrates the shells of sea life. This less-than-neat phenomenon is known as ocean acidification. Get more info from Sigourney Weaver and the Natural Resources Defense Council:
  • Go fish: Actually, don’t. My good-natured environmental policy professor, Dr. Bill Evans used to work with the International Whaling Commission, and I believe, also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And one thing I learned from his class was that there are now waaaay too many boats — rather than fish — in the sea. According to scientists, if fishing continues at the same rate, most of the world’s seafood stocks will collapse by 2048. (Source: Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Worm et al. Science 2006;314:787–90)
  • Bluefin tuna is blue to the albacore over its threatened status. Photo: bzibble via Flickr Creative Commons

Now, for some good news: The collapse of the world’s fisheries can be avoided. The same doomsaying scientist published a more optimistic outlook last year, but it has lots of big ifs, including the effects of fisheries management, climate change, and ocean acidification. So don’t think you’re off the hook quite yet! (Source: Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Worm et al. Science 31 July 2009: 578-585)

And here’s a little Gristy advice for how to help the oceans by eating more kindly: How to choose sustainable seafood. Or, like me (even in pre-vegetarian days), you could skip the seafood altogether. Happy World Oceans Day!

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The most pun you’ll have all day

That’s how I’d describe my job at green news site, Grist.org, where I’ve been working (and previously, volunteering) for the past 2.75 years. Because Grist is a nonprofit media organization, much like NPR, every now and again we ask our dedicated readers to support the important work we do explaining, analyzing, and making fun of the vital environmental issues of the day. And when that’s not enough, we bug you, our generous and good-looking friends and family (did I mention how clever you are?).

appeal email header

Why should you donate $5 or $15 or $35 (or whatever you can) to support intelligent, analytical, and punny green news?

  1. You could help me continue living the dream of writing stories and headlines as if I worked for the most important fake news site of our day, The Onion. Example: National parks close for annual remajestification (The Onion); BP oil chief says catastrophic oil spill really not all that big (me).
  2. You’ll be helping bring more brilliant works like these into the world when you adopt an environmental journalist (me):
  3. If I reach 20+ donations made in my name (of any amount!), I’ll be all-but-assured total domination in the Grist staff donation contest. And if everyone in the office gets at least ONE donation made in their name, we get to throw a pie in the face of our founder and president, Chip Giller. If you’ve never been able to pie your boss, please, allow yourself to live vicariously through me.
  4. Seriously, if you want to live in a healthy world with clean water, air, and soil, then please consider sparing a dime to educate the public (and/or yourself) via Grist about how we can get there as smoothly and punly as possible. It’s tough times for everyone right now in this economy, but especially so for nonprofits and journalism, and Grist represents both of ’em. Lucky us!

If you do donate, please do so through one of the special donate links I’ve sprinkled around this blog post, like this one: DONATE HERE PRETTY PLEASE. Thank you! (And look for a snail-mail thank-you card.) See how happy you can make me?

me heart ice cream

Your donation will go directly to Ashley's Emergency Organic Ice Cream Fund*. *Not actually true. It goes indirectly.

And if you can’t afford to donate at this time, please consider spreading the word through Facebook or Twitter. Muchas gracias!

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