Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: April 2018 Page 1 of 2

Needs, yes. Greed? Not so much.

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Several posts this month have obliquely referenced the difference between need and wildest “want.” as it applies to the use of resources. From the very first post through discussions of respect for the original (animal and plant) inhabitants of an ecosystem, habitat encroachment, the role of corporations, and all the way through sustainable protein, this blogger has explored a range of eco-centric questions that weigh upon the fate of life on Earth–and beyond.

We only have one Earth, so far. Let us not exceed its capacity, until we have the capability to live beyond this sphere!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Seeking Answers from April 2013, via Green Heart at Work, for this image and quote from Mahatma Gandhi.

Sustainable protein–in SPACE!

If meat is an unsustainable protein source, what could replace it?

I ask the question because, unfortunately, meat production from livestock is an extremely resource-intensive exerciseThere literally are not enough resources on Planet Earth to feed everyone in the world a protein-rich, Western-style diet. You don’t have to be vegan to look at the facts and figure that out.

One of the most pernicious myths about meat, in my opinion, is the idea that confined animal feeding operations (abbreviated CAFOs) are more efficient and less expensive than less intensive farming methods. Say what you will about pollutionantibiotic resistance, and other serious problems, its proponents argue, at the end of the day, CAFOs produce more meat, more efficiently.

Well, only if you leave out several, really important costs, and only look at market price, it appears. Kernels of truth may be embedded in those myths, but they don’t stand up well to scrutiny.

It turns out varying degrees of rather large difference could be made if we Westerners made relatively small adjustments to our diets. My April blog posts have mostly been about Spaceship Earth, but questions raised on this terrestrial ball grow more crucial on the Final Frontier.

The designers of the Bernal Sphere in the 1970s envisioned intensive agriculture as the way to feed space colonists. They didn’t know then what we know all too well now. Painting by Rick GuidiceNASA Ames Research Center.

I recently gave Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham, AKA James S. A. Coreya hard time about the diet of fungi and fermentation on their fictional Ceres, but I’ve done much of the same research they likely did. I think they didn’t “sell” their Ceres diet in a very appealing manner, possibly to make an artistic point about the desperate awfulness of life on Ceres.

Truth is, many innovative ways are being developed to use both fungi and fermentation in food production. This includes the creation of milk that is molecularly identical to cow-sourced milk, and logically leads to many other dairy products, made from yeast and sugars.

Cow-free dairy products–brought to you by fungi and fermentation–with some help from Perfect Day Foods.

When you put it that way, life on Ceres might be grim and desperate, but there’d be ice cream! (Well, there SHOULD be). Lactose-free, to boot! Such a deal! This doesn’t answer where the sugars come from, although there’s a variety of options. But the innovations don’t stop with dairy products.

Hampton Creek Foods went through quite a bit of turmoil after the video above was made. They’ve come out on the other side of controversy and scandal as JUST, a smaller company–but their products are still available, and apparently commercially viable. Their egg-less solutions depend on using plant-sourced substitutes: pea protein, for their Just Mayo, sorghum for Just Cookies and Just Dough, and mung beans for Just Scramble.

But many of the best protein sources are meat/animal muscle-basedalthough “the best” depends on how you define “best.” JUST is tackling the problem of “clean” meat, too–and so are others.

The first lab-grown meat was unveiled in 2013 by Mark Post of Maastricht University. It was made using beef stem cells, as well as vegetable-sourced ingredients.

The livestock industry, not surprisingly, has mounted a defense against calling any meatlike cultured protein “meat,” much less “clean meat” (the horror! Although apparently “pink slime” is perfectly acceptable to call “meat”?)

JUST is going for a completely non-animal-sourced clean meat, but most of the pioneering attempts in that field begin with animal stem cells. However they make it, the process won’t require the same levels of resource-use, and it won’t involve slaughtering animals. That strikes me as a win-win, even while planetbound.

Although early attempts at clean meat have turned out to be relatively dry and extremely expensive, this industry is still in its infancy–and already the taste is improving. By the time Balchu tries to take Shady’s mind off her troubles by tossing bacon strips to her, the “carneries” of Rana Station will have perfected a delicious little piece of pork-flavored heaven with nary an oink nor a squeal in its origin.

“Outredgeous” Romaine lettuce in the Veggie Plant Growth Facility: will this someday be an “heirloom varietal” for space-farers?

Whatever we end up doing in space and in artificial, space-or non-terrestrial-based habitats, we’ll have to eat. Plants are likely to be the foundation of all space-grown food. They’ve been doing plant-growing experiments on the International Space Station for years. In 2015, this resulted in the successful cultivation-to-edibility of a type of red Romaine lettuce called “Outredgeous,” which expedition crew members were officially cleared to eat. It was grown in the Veggie Plant Growth Facility onboard.

To quote Astronaut Scott Kelly, it was “One small bite for man, one giant leap for #NASAVEGGIE.” What next? Perhaps to infinity, and beyond!

IMAGES: Many thanks to The World Resources Institute, for the chart of compared resources required to produce types of food; to FranceInfo, for the photo of the US feedlot; to Medium, artist Rick Guidice, and NASA Ames Research Center for the Bernal Sphere image; to Perfect Day Foods, for the “Favorite Things” dairy lineup illustration; to Bloomberg and YouTube, for the video about the chicken-less egg substitutes; to Borgen Magazine for the photo of the pioneering meat patty; and to NASA and, via my Space Station Designs Pinterest Board, for the photo of the space-grown lettuce.


The Artdog Quote of the Week 

No long essay, today: It seems to me that this one speaks for itself, especially on the day after Earth Day.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Green Heart at Work for this image.

Happy Earth Day!

IMAGE: Many thanks to “Green Heart at Work” for this “Make every day Earth Day!” design image.

Reduced to “cabinet skins”?

The Artdog Image of Interest, Image 3 of a planned series of four by John James Audubon

Eskimo Curlew, 1833, by John James Audubon

In my opinion, this is one of the weirder compositions Audubon produced. Although he always had to work from dead specimens, having either shot them himself (then posed them propped up on wires) or having received skins (as with the Bachman’s Warbler last week), he almost never portrayed them as dead, unless shown as prey of an avian predator.

However, in this one the female is laid out on her back as if shot. Some writers believe this is to display the feather patterns of the underside–but it is unusual. It’s also a bit of a weird coincidence that he should choose to do this with a species now feared to be extinct.

Flocks of Eskimo Curlew, © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

It is ironic that this was once one of the most numerous of shorebird species. In the late 1800s, as many as 2,000,000 birds were reported killed in a year. They were reputed to be delicious, but settlers along their migratory route between South America (Brazil, Argentina, and Chile) and the tundra of Labrador and southeast Canada only began to hunt them intensively after the Passenger Pigeon had declined to near-extinction (clearly a major opportunity to learn from experience was ignored, there).

Eskimo Curlew in field, 1962, by Donald Bleitz, held in the archives of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, California, USA

Don Bleitz (a Californian who pioneered the fast photo business, but whose heart belonged to bird photography) captured four photos of a living Eskimo Curlew in 1962, on Galveston Island in Texas; to date, they are the last known photos of living birds. You can see all four in a slideshow on Arkive.

In 1963, a specimen was shot in Barabados by someone who didn’t know what it was. In 1981, David R. Blankinship and Kirke A. King documented a sighting of 23 birds believed to be Eskimo Curlews on Atkinson Island in Galveston Bay (Texas), but they didn’t manage to get photos (while we regret the lack of photos, we thank the gentlemen for not shooting them in the other sense!).

More recent sightings of Eskimo Curlews have been reported, but not confirmed. Thus, while it is possible that small populations still exist, the species definitely deserves its Critically Endangered listing, and it may be extinct.

A drawer full of stuffed, tagged Eskimo curlew "cabinet skins"from the Natural History Museum of London.
Sadly, all we may have left of the Eskimo Curlew today are “cabinet skins.” (© The Natural History Museum, London, via Martin Reid).

In this case, a whole barrage of critical disasters befell this species, and contrived to wipe it out. Aside from the insanely intensive over-hunting in the late 1800s, predation and disease also attacked them, the spread of agriculture led to habitat loss, and a key element in their springtime diet, the Rocky Mountain Locust, also was eradicated. These poor birds had little chance, despite their once-massive numbers.

IMAGES: Many thanks to The New York State Historical Museum and Library for the photo of Audubon’s artwork; to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, via Champagnewhiskey, for the engraving of the flocks of Eskimo Curlew; unfortunately, I was unable to find a better (or larger) image of this piece; to Arkive and the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology for Eskimo Curlew in field, © Donald Bleitz, 1962, held in the archives of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, California, USA; and to Martin Reid, for providing me with a better image, and helping me improve the credit information for the “cabinet skins” photo © The Natural History Museum, London).

When going greener makes economic sense

Last week’s mid-week post discussed one of the major ways we humans intersect with nature: habitat encroachment. Today I’d like to look at a more positive form of interaction–and weirdly enough, this one involves big business.

This cartoon aptly sums up the attitude of the vast majority of the business world–in the past, and unfortunately all too much still today. Small signs of change should not be mistaken for a reason to be complacent. Cartoon created by Mike Adams; art by Dan Berger. Used courtesy of NaturalNews.

I know. Big business is so often portrayed as “the enemy,” in all kinds of contextsunfortunately, with good reason. Let’s face it, unregulated capitalism has historically been unkind to humansanimals, and nature in general.

One has only to consider the Singer Tract, and the egregious role of Chicago Mill and Lumber in the story of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, or remember the sorry history of the Love Canal, to find all-too-common examples of uncaring capitalism in some of its uglier manifestations.

Non-corporate people can be forgiven for thinking of corporate decision-makers as faceless, greed-driven capitalists, because that’s all too often how they come across. But some decision-makers are beginning to wake up to the realities of sustainability. We need to find ways to encourage more of that! Big business is a part of the picture that isn’t going away!

Whether you believe that “corporations are people” or not–they are run by people. And those people are free to follow more or less ethical courses of action, depending on their mindsets, beliefs, and experiences.

There’s growing evidence that at least some large businesses have begun to genuinely consider environmentally-positive practicesThere are a variety of reasons for thisnot the least of which is public relationsThere also has been a recent trend toward investor divestment from companies perceived as environmentally unsustainableespecially in the case of “factory farms.” Another good reason is the extremely pragmatic reality that energy-efficiency saves moneylots of it (gosh, who’d have imagined that?).

A serious installation of solar panels–on a Walmart? Actually, yes.

Take that persistent favorite for the role of corporate villain, Walmart. This company is unfortunately renowned for paying their employees so little they have to go on public assistance to make ends meet and bankrupting small-town business competitors by undercutting their prices (an effect documented for years–and more recently in cities, too). But it’s also spent the past decade-plus seeking ways to run its business in more sustainable ways.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking this means Wamart should be let off the hook. The company still has a long way to go before it comes close to full sustainability, but do not ignore the fact that a large, often-unconcerned business is even talking about these issues at allThat counts as progress, even while we wish it extended farther.

Corporate participation in organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council, the Rainforest Alliance, or Earthwatch Institute offer examples of ways that corporations can support sustainability efforts. Indeed, as the Environmental Defense Council notespartnerships with corporations, business groups, and governmental agencies present an indispensable part of building solutions for a better future.

There is no road to sustainability without involving all the parties with stakes in the game. Corporations are not going away; moreover, they have a great many resources to employ when they get onboard for sustainability.

The one thing we most urgently need to learn from the recent trends of growing divisiveness in politics, it is that when everybody hates everybody else, NOTHING gets done. It may be convenient or even comfortable for environmentally concerned people to think that large corporations bring only environmentally bad options into play–but that’s not necessarily true. And as more and more environmental action groups and individual businesses have discoveredleaving industry out of the conversation on sustainability is both unwise and ultimately . . . unsustainable.

IMAGES: Many thanks to NaturalNews, Mike Adams, and Dan Berger for their right-on sendup of all too many business attitudes; to istockphoto, via Rita Trehan, for the “corporate decision-makers” illustration; to Walmart, for the photo of solar panels on one of its stores (which one was not specified); and to Giving Compass, for the “sustainable development” illustration. I greatly appreciate all!

No such place

The Artdog Quote of the Week

The first thing that leaped to my mind when I read this was the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (although all oceans have them, and there actually are more than one in the Pacific alone, depending on how you look at it/them).

Pacific currents and how they accumulate garbage–particularly troublesome are the plastics.

My second thought moved on to landfills and their limitations–which are many and becoming progressively more difficult to deal with. And that’s not even beginning to talk about the problem of illegal dumping (also called “fly-tipping” and other, less savory things), which is a persistent problem almost everywhere.

Even the familiar process of recycling can be less “green” than we’d like for it to be, since volatile markets for recycled materials and contamination or un-recyclable items can elevate the cost of recycling for municipalities. The problem has been growing for years, and solutions seem elusive.

Sorters in recycling plants are essential, or all sorts of non-recyclables can get through to gum up the works.

As in most areas of life, public education is keysmart government policies can make a huge difference, and realities are always changing, so innovations that change with them are always needed.

We all have a part to play. How’s yours going?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Green Heart at Work, for the wonderful quote from Greenpeace’s Annie Leonard; to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for the diagram of the Pacific currents and trash accumulations; and to The Washington Post and Getty Images, via Fortune, for the photo of the recycling sorters in Elkridge MD.

Lost with the canebrakes

The Artdog Image of Interest, image 2 of a planned series of 4 by John James Audubon.

Bachman’s Warbler, by John James Audubon and Maria Martin (who drew the franklinia branch–named for Benjamin Franklin). It was engraved by Robert Havell Jr. (from an 1833 watercolor by Audubon) in 1863.

This image is fascinating to me as an artist, as well as because it depicts another bird species that is believed to now be extinct. A look at the cutline shows that this was a true collaboration, between the artist-ornithologist Audubonhis protégé Maria Martin, whom he encouraged to explore her interests in natural history and art, even though she was a woman; and the engraver Robert Havell, Jr., who was descended from a distinguished English family of engravers and artists.

The collection of collaborators and associates extends even farther, however, when you consider that Audubon first learned about this species from Maria’s husband, Audubon’s friend the Reverend John Bachman. Bachman was a Lutheran pastor, but also a social activist and an avid naturalist. He collected specimens and documented four previously unknown-to-science species: not only the Bachman’s Warbler, but also the marsh rice ratBachman’s Sparrow, and Bachman’s Hare, now called a western brush rabbit.

Bachman gave study skins to Audubon, from which he painted the birds; he never actually saw a living Bachman’s Warbler. Part of the reason for this was that they tended to be shy, and they never were what you’d call plentiful. A migratory species, it wintered in Cuba, then ranged northward into the south and southeastern regions of the United States, and liked to breed in swamps or canebrakes.

Bachman’s Warbler, 1906, by Louis Agassiz Fuentes, who was a Cornell ornithologist and strong advocate for scrupulously biologically accurate depictions. The male Bachman’s Warbler (L) was more colorful than the female (R).

Once again, the Macaulay Library has preserved a recording of the bird’s call, made by Cornell’s intrepid Arthur A. Allen (remember him from last week?) and Peter Paul Kellogg. This recording was made in the rain on May 15, 1954 (thus, it is almost 64 years old), at the edge of Ft. Belvoir in Virginia (hint: probably one of the strongest, clearest examples of the bird’s call comes very close to the beginning of the 5-minute recording).

A rare photograph of a male Bachman’s Warbler by Jerry A. Payne, taken in 1958.

Credible reports of sightings became rarer throughout the 1940s through 1970s, until the last credible sighting reported in the 1980s. More recent reports from the early 2000s have not been corroborated. The usual reasons are listed for the species’ decline: primarily habitat loss, exacerbated by some plume hunting, and possibly a devastating hurricane in the 1930s in Cuba that may have destroyed part of their winter range.

IMAGES and MEDIA: Many thanks to the New York State Historical Museum and Library for the image of the Audubon/Martin/Havell print of the Bachman’s Warbler; to Wikipedia for the Louis Agassiz Fuentes painting; to the Macaulay Library for the recording of the Bachman’s Warbler’s song; and to Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research, via Wikipedia, for the 1958 photo of the Bachman’s Warbler. 

Habitat encroachment

I’d like to expand on Monday’s meditation a bit more, if you’ll indulge me. It, a recent conversation I had with my sister, and couple of articles I read in, of all places, The Costco Connectionhave inspired me to continue thinking about the intersection of humans with nature.

One of the ways that humans increasingly intersect with nature is through habitat encroachment. It’s a common theme: humans move into an area, change it to suit themselves, and push other species out.

I’ve been unable to find the origin of this photo, or which rainforest it is (my guess is the Amazon). But it’s a pretty stark example.

The story of the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers from Saturday’s post is a classic example. Their last known-for-sure habitat was in the so-called Singer Tract of old-growth forest in Louisiana. Even before it was being logged by the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, conservationists were trying to preserve it. However, the business interests of the time fought these efforts, going to the extent of actually logging it faster than normal, until the final bit was cleared–and the last known-for-sure Ivorybill had disappeared.

As in the photo above, we often think of habitat encroachment as horrifying raw gashes in virgin rainforest, and it’s a major issue there, for sure. Rainforest destruction is actually increasing–even though we know the rainforests are our best defense against climate change and a host of other ills.

Different continent, same habitat-devastation problem. This photo was taken in Africa.

But habitat encroachment is a problem literally everywhere that humans exist. No matter where you live, a few centuries ago it either was virgin land with no humans on it, or supporting a much smaller human population than it is today. We (and our invasive companion animal species) have done untold damage to our own local environments.

Do you ever have raccoons in your garbage (or, more dangerous, bears)? Are you troubled by the fear of foxes or coyotes snatching your pet from your back yard? Before you get all indignant about pesky varmints, it’s well to remember that they were here first. Historically, the human answer to such issues was to kill, or at least remove, the wildlife.

Bears eating unsecured trash may seem like a nuisance, but the situation is dangerous for both the humans and the bears.

But eventually there’s no place left to go. Sooner or later, we either co-exist and take intelligent precautions–or the animals will go the way of too many lost species before them. Whether it’s elephants on the roads of Sri Lanka or coyotes in suburban US back yards, it’s getting to the point where the humans just can’t have it all their own way. Humans now live alongside mountain lions in Los Angeles; across the Pacific, humans live alongside tigers in places like the Sundarbans of India.

In the recent Nature miniseries Animals with Cameras, one of the episodes featured sheepdogs ranging the hills of southern France among a flock of sheep–and very effectively deterring the predations of a pack of gray wolves that had recently returned to an area where they previously had been eliminated. Here and there, people are learning it’s possible–even valuable–to learn to coexist.

Some traditions are really effective: sheepdog with a flock of sheep in southern France. The dog is one of several related local types used to protect the sheep from wolves; this kind of sheep-protection is the origin of the Great Pyrenees breed. (Photo by John Linnell).

Interactions between wildlife and humans will only become more frequent in the future, as climate change further disrupts habitat and changes patterns, to add to the increasing interactions due to urban sprawl and human population growth. A new way of looking at the situation is beginning to emerge–but all too many humans still react with fear, misunderstanding, and deadly force when confronted with unexpected wildlife “invading” spaces that until recently belonged to them.

But these are baby-steps, in the grand scheme of things. It will take a lot more public education before we routinely see developers and civic planners thinking in terms of preserving and planning for wildlife corridorshighways consciously built to minimize roadkill, and many other strategies designed to help wildlife species continue to exist, despite the omnipresence of humans.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Munchee Daily’s article on World Wildlife Day 2016, for the “Wiping out Rainforests” photo; to the African Wildlife Foundation, for the photo of the devastated African rainforest; to Bear-Smart Durango (Colorado) for the photo of the bear cub and the trash; and to John D. C. Linnell and Science Daily for the photo of the french sheepdog with its flock.

Respect for Nature

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

The basic principle of respect for nature, for our fellow living beings, echoes through many wise voices and in many corners of our existence. Observe that all too many infamous murderers start by being cruel to animals. Then consider the words of JesusIf you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large onesBut if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” (Luke 16:10, New Living Translation).

But respect for nature is bigger than any single religion.

Kayashima Train Station

Consider the Kayashima Train Station in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, Japan, where they built around a 700-year-old camphor tree, rather than cut it down. Read the story of the station and the saving of the tree here. Responsive government and respect for nature: it’s a thing!

The Kayashima Train Station has coexisted with a huge, ancient camphor tree in Osaka, Japan since 1973.

Johnson County Courthouse

But not everywhere. Consider the situation in Olathe, KS, a city near my home, where a planned courthouse parking lot has already condemned a neighborhood full of 90-125-year-old historic homes, and may also bring down an enormous, 150-year-old Osage Orange tree, which was designated a “Champion Tree” by the Kansas Forest Service.

This 150-year-old Champion Osage Orange tree in Olathe, KS, may yet fall to add a couple more spaces in the planned parking lot for the new Johnson County Courthouse.

I think my fellow Kansans would do well to step back from immediate economic issues, and consider what the respect for nature (or the lack thereof) in our decision-making says about us. I fear even the appearance of a mystical white snake may not be sufficient for Olathe officials. Yes, we need a new courthouse, and yes, parking is at a premium in downtown Olathe. But surely a balance could be struck?

Surely? Please?

A Happy Epilogue from 2021

I’m delighted to report that the City of Olathe, KS exceeded my expectations. According to a report from the Johnson County Government published in 2021, the tree has since lost its Champion status to a tree in Emporia, Kansas, but it was spared from the parking lot project. Here’s how the County’s report explained it:
“The Olathe tree was spared four years ago in development of the construction site for the new courthouse and incorporated into the project’s northern parking lot. The age of the Osage orange tree at the new courthouse remains only an estimate. It’s believed the tree was a sapling when Johnson County was a toddler.
“’We think it’s been around as long as Olathe and Johnson County have been around,’ Patton said with a smile. Olathe was founded in 1857. The county was created two years before the city.”
So, respect for nature prevailed in Olathe, after all. Read the whole story here.
(Update from Jan S. Gephardt).


Many thanks to Sustainable Human, via Green Heart at Work, for the Albert Schweitzer quote image; to Colossal, for the photo of the camphor tree in Kayashima Station (other photos in the article are attributed to Kosaku Mimura/Nikkei or Studio Ohana, but this one was uncredited); and to The Kansas City Star, for the photo of the Champion Osage Orange in Olathe, KS (they list the photo as “provided,” but not by whom).

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