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?