Copenhagen and Istanbul: The tale of the White Stork

photo: Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin (CC)

photo: Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin (CC)

Another perspective on Copenhagen and Istanbul (see my last post on the city summits)…

A white stork launches itself from its rooftop nest in Copenhagen as cold weather pushes in from the north. Ready to head south, the stork looks for the updraft of the first thermal to ride on its journey towards the Mediterranean.

Like most of the Northern European populations of white stork, it will skirt the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, fly over the Levant and the Sinai Peninsula, and then follow the Nile. A couple months later, the stork will arrive at its wintering grounds in Southern Africa.

2000 km (1250 miles) from Copenhagen the white stork encounters the Bosporus. Also known as the Istanbul Strait, the Bosporus connects the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea; it also separates Europe from Asia. Istanbul, a city of two continents and 19 million residents and a crossroads of cultures, sits astride the Bosporus.

Image courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center.

Image courtesy of NASA

For migrating birds unable to cross the Mediterranean, the Bosporus is a bottleneck. For birdwatchers, the Bosporus is one of the world’s great migration routes and a seasonal spectacle.

Riding on warm thermals, as many as 11,000 white storks have passed over Istanbul in a single day. According to Ben Hoare, in his book Animal Migration: “In all, about 350,000 white storks move through the Bosporus during the species’ month-long fall exodus…”

Photo: Anders Bell (CC)

Photo: Anders Bell (CC)

“White stork gone from Denmark”

According to a fact sheet from the U.S. National Zoo, white stork migrate 20,000 km (12,500 miles) from Denmark to South Africa.

The only problem is that during the last decade, the last breeding couple of white storks disappeared from Denmark. The white stork, once common across Denmark, is now extinct in the wild. The expansion of modern agriculture into small ponds and wetlands, once considered “marginal land,” has been the key factor.

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A tale of (two) cities

photo by Henkik Johansen (CC)

photo by Ivan Mlinaric (CC)

Top: Copenhagen (Henrik Johansen, CC); Bottom: Istanbul (Ivan Mlinaric, CC)

Week two of the climate summit in Copenhagen.

Put delegates from 190+ nations in a city together with NGOs, activists, and media…and shake.

I’m not sure what outcomes to expect. As the conference nears its conclusion, perhaps the participants will eke out a positive agreement. Let’s hope that nations make individual commitments to reduce CO2 emissions and forge greater cooperation towards sustainability.

Amidst the chaos that accompanies crisis and diversity are authentic concerns, ambition, and goodwill. There are positive signs: as I’m writing this, the media announced that the U.S. and five other nations will pledge US$3.5 billion to protect rainforests.

Still, do I expect boldness? Not really. People in power tend not to want to change the rules. Risk averse “leaders” dance around each other at summits. And when a crowd moves towards a precipice, it’s difficult to convince those pushing to change direction. (That’s the real challenge here.)

As others have noted, anything beyond agreeing to agree that global warming is a problem (which nations have been doing since Rio in 1992) and that negotiation will continue, would be progress. Twitter posts (“tweets”) today from Alex Steffens of Worldchanging and Hunter Lovins of Natural Capital Solutions:

Steffens: Having been at both, I agree. @hlovins COP same people as at Rio saying same thing, no advances

Lovins: Insanity at COP 15. Going to event with Bill McKibben. Word is talks completely broken down. Real action in cities anyway, not here

“Cities act”

As Lovins notes, cities are moving ahead to address climate change. This week, two conferences — one in Copenhagen alongside the global summit, one in Istanbul — focus on the role of cities.

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Nature divided by national borders

Nature doesn’t recognize human boundaries…or does it?

The flip side of our being connected by nature is that the divisions created by humans (sometimes to connect humans) — roads, fences, sprawl — can have a profound effect on wildlife.

But what about a simple border line?

Jason Kottke highlights posts from FP Passport and Edible Geography about a series of studies conducted by researchers at the University of Haifa who examined reptile, mammal and insect populations in the Arava desert on either side of the Israel-Jordan border — separated by a yard-high strand of barbed wire.

“The boundary is only a virtual marking that appears on the map and is not capable of keeping these species from crossing the border between Israel and Jordan; but the line does stop humans from crossing it and thereby contains their different impact on nature,” says Dr. Uri Shanas, a participant in the research.

Political boundaries mark off more than territory; they represent an array of land use policies, conservation regulations, and agricultural practices. The corresponding human behaviors, such as more intensive farming on the Israeli side of the border, contribute different selection pressures and support the development of divergent ecosystems.

For example, the antlion surplus in Israel can be traced back to the fact that the Dorcas gazelle is a protected species there, while across the border in Jordan, it can legally be hunted. Jordanian antlions are thus disadvantaged, with fewer gazelles available to serve “as ‘environmental engineers’ of a sort” and to “break the earth’s dry surface,” enabling antlions to dig their funnels.

Meanwhile, the more industrial form of agriculture practised on the Israeli side has encouraged the growth of a red fox population, which makes local gerbils nervous; across the border, Jordan’s nomadic shepherding and traditional farming techniques mean that the red fox is far less common, “so that Jordanian gerbils can allow themselves to be more carefree.”

Those lucky Jordanian gerbills….

FP Passport, the blog for Foreign Policy, also cited articles on red deer and the German-Czech border and the impact of the U.S.-Mexico border fence on wildlife.

In an update to his post, Kottke links to this satellite image of the U.S.-Canada border. No dashed line follows the 49th parallel, but you can see a distinct edge along this “fenceless border.”

Why “Connected BY Nature”?

source (Creative Commons):

source (Creative Commons):

“Connection with nature” — this has been a prominent tag for the first entries of this blog.

And it should be. It’s an important theme. Our cars and PlayStations and suburban homes have distracted us from the plant and animal life that ebbs and flows around us. Kids and adults both could benefit from more time outdoors and some environmental education. Opening our eyes and senses to our natural surroundings will improve our physical, mental, and societal health. So, yes, we do need greater connections with nature.

But the name of the blog is “Connected BY Nature.” Why “BY”?

We also have to explore the natural connection between places, between here and there, between you and me – all connected by nature.

The environmental crisis grows out of the scale and pace of humanity’s impact on the natural world and on the systems that sustain us. Population growth, urbanization, and consumption drive many of the global and local environmental challenges.

But I’m also concerned about the growing gap between people and nature — even as more and more people embrace “sustainability.”

We can make giant strides towards a smaller carbon footprint. Students can gamely pursue carbon-neutral lifestyles. Technological fixes can improve efficiency, and policy shifts can move us toward more “sustainable” practices. These are all necessary. But will they get us where we need to be? How much will change when a relationship between the individual and nature is mainly about carbon and chemicals?

The environmental (with a big “E”) challenges — climate change, pollution, toxics, etc. — are immense. Folks who mainly have the “big picture” in their heads may miss the local impacts of global change on wildlife and people. How will people notice the early warning signs without some appreciation of local nature and natural systems?

Without a greater connection with local nature, how many people will succumb to “climate change fatigue” and fall back into media-anaesthetized, drive-by complacency?

Indeed, “think globally, act locally.” But there are many other levels of interaction — one must now think locally and regionally and even “continentally.” How will local efforts be coordinated without an appreciation of the “networks of networks” that form ecosystems? (Certainly, the growing movements around food are encouraging.)

Exploring the natural connections between places, habitats, resources, people is what this blog is about.

As with addressing many huge and seemingly intractable problems, aligning the interests of different peoples with varying backgrounds and agendas is the great challenge: My well-being is connected to your well-being. My problems are connected to your problems. My nature is connected to your nature. We are all connected by nature.

What do you think?

Do you know “America’s Best Kept Secret”?

Here is a video (11:51) introducing the National Wildlife Refuge System.

O.K., so the voiceover shouts “educational video” — although it’s not quite as cheesy as the voiceover for this video produced for the System’s Centennial. In any case, these videos do provide a glimpse of “America’s Best Kept Secret” and the national and natural wonders that they have protected since 1903.

I just checked the NWRS site and found two Refuges within 30 miles of where I live: Great Swamp NWR and Oyster Bay NWR.

Have you been to a National Wildlife Refuge near you?

Visit a National Wildlife Refuge and connect with nature

source (Creative Commons):

source (Creative Commons):

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a new radio campaign to promote the National Wildlife Refuge System as an wonderful natural resource and opportunity to experience nature.

“Americans can take pride in the tremendous beauty and diversity of refuge lands dedicated to the protection of wildlife habitat,” [Secretary] Salazar said. “By visiting these places and encouraging their children to forge a connection with nature, they can help ensure vital wildlife conservation efforts will continue for generations to come.”

The first four segments of the “National Wildlife Refuge Minute” series are available here.

source: USFWS

source: USFWS

“America’s best kept secret”

While Ken Burns’ series on The National Parks recently highlighted the National Parks System as “America’s Best Idea” (borrowing from a quote by Wallace Stegner), the National Wildlife Refuge System has been known as “America’s best kept secret.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains the National Wildlife Refuge System, a network of public lands with refuges in every state.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the Service, represents the world’s premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants.
Comprising hundreds of thousands of miles and landscapes ranging from southwest desert to Alaskan tundra and nearly every conceivable ecosystem in between, the Refuge System represents the last best hope for survival for many endangered and threatened species. These include the ocelot, manatee, spotted owl, California jewelflower and polar bear.
There are 550 refuges — one within an hour’s drive of most major cities — offering people a welcoming, safe and accessible place to nourish their spirits and reconnect with the land.
Wildlife refuges are home to more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species and more than 200 species of fish. Nearly 40 million people visit National Wildlife Refuges each year, generating almost $1.7 billion in sales for regional economies. In additional to wildlife observation, many refuges provide rich opportunities for hiking, canoeing, hunting and fishing.

The four radio spots highlight: sandhill cranes at the Merced NWR in California; manatees at the Crystal River NWR in Florida; otters at the Alaska Maritime NWR; and pileated woodpeckers at the Wallkill River NWR in New Jersey.

Have you connected with nature at a National Wildlife Refuge?

An urban nature lesson from Philadelphia

Where does environmental stewardship begin?

I came across this wonderful video of second graders in North Philadelphia learning and playing outdoors.

Source: Philly Eco-City

Opportunities to play outdoors and experience nature build upon a child’s innate curiosity. Getting to know a place can lead to a sense of ownership. And this, in turn, becomes the base for further learning about nature and about broader environmental issues and supporting active stewardship of the environment.

As one of the teachers says:

“It starts small, right? It starts with them playing and being outside and appreciating the space. …When they become attached to a space, they feel more responsible for it….”

Mexico City awaits

source (Creative Commons):

source (Creative Commons):

This past weekend, world leaders publicly wrote off hope for a climate accord at the upcoming global summit in Copenhagen. The goalposts may shift to a possible second climate conference to be held next year in Mexico City.

Home to 19 million inhabitants, Mexico City is the largest metropolis in the Western Hemisphere (and second largest in the world). Every year, more than 300,000 people (think Toledo, Ohio, or Riverside, California) are added to this sprawling and fragmented city.

Some 60% of the population — over 11 million people — lives in “popular” or informal or squatter settlements surrounding the Distrito Federal, contributing to the vast environmental and governance challenges across the region. “Mexico City is now taking place outside the city,” according to José Castillo, architect and professor at Universidad Iberoamericana.

Yet even here, there are successes to build upon….

Sustainable transit and ecological parks

Last week, Harvard University’s JFK School of Government awarded the 2009 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership to EMBARQ for Metrobus, the bus rapid transit (BRT) project it developed with the Mexico City government. Metrobus brings sustainable transit to one of the world’s most congested cities; it will help to stitch together some of the farflung reaches of the sprawling metropolis, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and take polluting minibuses off the road. Already, more than 450,000 residents ride Metrobus each day. Building upon the success of Metrobus, the Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico is supporting BRT projects in cities across Mexico. Guadalajara launched its own Macrobus system last spring.

And amidst Mexico City’s sprawl, there are efforts towards preserving and restoring the natural landscape and establishing a “cultura ambiental” (environmental culture) among the residents of the city.

On her blog, “Roads Less Traveled,” Tracy Barnett recounts her visit to the Parque Ecologico de la Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City Ecological Park), which was developed over the past two decades with the help of the Mexican environmental organization, Pronatura. According to the Pronatura website for the Central-West region (in Spanish–and translated into English with Google Translate), the park in Ajusco is a critical area for groundwater recharge as well as local biodiversity. Located up the road from the city’s beltway and Six Flags Mexico City, the park’s oak, pine, and scrub oak ecosystems are home to 611 species of plants, 134 species of birds, and 127 species of butterflies. Some of the environmental educators led Tracy on a tour of the park, which overlooks the city:

The leafy canopy opens here onto a startling view: a yellow-grey cloud smothers the landscape, a clutter of urban sprawl stretching for miles below, barely visible through the smog that envelopes it.

“We use this station to explain to people why the lungs of the forest are so important to protect,” Guadalupe said. “If the government had not stepped in to reclaim this land, all of Ajusco would have looked like that.”

After the devastating earthquake of 1985, thousands fled to the outskirts of the city to rebuild and start new lives, many of them building on land they claimed for themselves. This unauthorized activity occurred everywhere and for the most part was unchallenged.

In Ajusco, however, the government took a stand. The area is not only an important recharge zone, but also is situated along the Chichinautzin Biological Corridor, a conservation initiative stretching from the northern Sierra Madre to Morelos in the south.

Here in the forests of Ajusco, “the place where water is born” in ancient Nahuatl, it’s easy to forget the proximity of what is, by some estimates, the world’s second-largest metropolis.

The restoration projects include plant nurseries, reforestation with native species, and bird monitoring. Educational programs begin with opportunities for preschool children to discover the natural world and also introduce birdwatching, butterflies, and acorns to older visitors. At the mariposario, staff collect eggs of butterflies, allow them to hatch and grow, and later release some into the wild and save the rest for a butterfly house, where children can experience the butterflies up close.

source (Creative Commons):

source (Creative Commons):

The park’s history highlights the difficult choices that arise when population and environment collide. In order to reclaim the land for the park in 1989, the government evicted thousands of people and bulldozed hundreds of homes that were built after the 1985 earthquake. Poor residents had little recourse but to move on, probably to another informal settlement. With urbanization swallowing up the surrounding landscape at a rapid pace, ecological parks like this one may seem but tiny islands. While “nature” may sometimes seem a luxury, these areas are vital to protect or restore wildlife habitat and support the ecosystem services that sustain the city and its residents. The parks also preserve opportunities for urban dwellers to interact with nature that may lead, one day, to a “cultura ambiental.”

From here to there…and back again

The United States National Park Service had a hand in the development of the Parque Ecologico. The Service’s Park Flight Program provided support for educational programs. Why the National Park Service? As the Park Flight brochure notes:

The U.S. National Park System provides habitat critical to many species of migratory birds, from raptors and shorebirds to songbirds. Continental and local declines in these bird populations have led to a concern for their future. Because these species use parks on a seasonal basis, their protection cannot be assured without conservation efforts occurring in the habitats the birds use throughout the year. This requires cooperative and coordinated efforts between the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, such as the Park Flight Migratory Bird Program, to protect breeding, migration, and wintering habitats, as well as a proactive approach to migratory bird conservation within the National Park Service (NPS).

The brochure offers a quote by Aldo Leopold from A Sand County Almanac:

“Hemispheric solidarity is new among statesmen, but not among the feathered navies of the sky.”

Vancouver, Part 4 (Coda)

Image courtesy of Flickr:

Source (Creative Commons):

This image was taken somewhere in downtown Vancouver.

Before we move on from Vancouver, I thought it interesting that the city’s motto is: “By Sea, Land, and Air We Prosper.”

While I wonder how many  residents know Vancouver’s motto (or how often it is used to promote tourism), this is a good expression of how cities and people benefit from — and are connected by — nature.

Vancouver, Part 3

credit: Bradley Davis: BackpackPhotography,

credit: Bradley Davis: BackpackPhotography (Creative Commons)

As part of their trip to Canada, the Royal Couple visited Vancouver this weekend. Prince Charles stopped by Simon Fraser University to speak at a seminar about sustainable urbanism:

“Above all else I believe people should be provided with an alternative vision. Otherwise there just seems to be a rather monocultural approach to the way we do many things. And if you sit down with people and consult them as the inquiry by design technique does, it is quiet revealing to see what people feel about many [environmental] issues.

288067193_091109163732“And just at a time when we find there’s more and more interest in where food comes from, for instance in how it’s grown and the story behind the food we’re eating, so it seems to me it is of even more importance to consider the story about the way we live and the connection to nature and the world around us to culture and to local identity.

“It seems to me of great importance we think about these issues with care and don’t approach things with a monocultural exercise, rather like we do with forestry or anything else, like growing crops.

“So that all these things you can easily interlink, and the fact that we’ve fragmented ourselves in the way in which we look at nature, it seems as though we could do with rediscovering our intimate connection with nature at a time when the world is facing so many enormous challenges over climate change and environmental crises of one kind or another. And thinking of nature’s capital and community capital and how we live off the income of that capital, rather than just the capital, seems to me quiet important,” he said.

It was announced that The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment will collaborate with Simon Fraser University to develop a new advanced education curriculum in sustainable urbanism.