Amateur botanist Joey Santore talks like a thug; think Tony Soprano going on about the leaf structure of Eupratorium serotinum. A Chicago native, Joey’s internet identity falls under the aegis of “Crime Pays but Botany Doesn’t,” through which he posts videos of plants and his commentary. Affecting… Read the rest
As the years flow by I’ve slowly been losing my hearing, mostly in my left ear but also in my right. I found myself saying “what” more often, and with my wife’s encouragement I went to an audiologist for testing and evaluation. I’m now wearing hearing aids.
“It will take you a while to get used to them,” the… Read the rest
There are so many ways we tell ourselves that everything is going to be just fine. “We’re America,” we’re told, “there’s nothing we can’t do when we work together.” Or, “We’re the greatest country the world has ever known.” Or “America is the world’s beacon of freedom and democracy.” When is optimism … Read the rest
Nature on this planet functions as a complex adaptive system, a self-regulating, self-propagating process responsive to changing conditions. It is a totalistic meta-system with no “off” switch and within which all the individual systems of each biological entity are enmeshed and… Read the rest
Living things occupy space and declare territory; this is true of plants and animals alike. To the extent possible, a matter of both genes and luck, each living thing extends its sphere of influence. In simple one-celled… Read the rest
We humans like to believe we represent the pinnacle of evolution, even going so far as to characterize ourselves as being in the image of God. It is true, insofar as we can tell, that human beings are the only animals on earth with self-consciousness and the ability to use written forms of communication… Read the rest
When we speak of domesticating animals, we’re referring to a guided transition from wild animal to one that tolerates, and even seeks out, people. The word “domestication” shares linguistic roots with the word “domicile,” meaning home. Thus domesticated animals… Read the rest
Well, here you have it. This is how slowing consumerism and seriously reducing greenhouse gas emissions looks and feels: empty terminals, slowed shopping and quiet streets. It’s a lousy way to get there, but ironically the world-wide pandemic is changing habits of consumption in ways a purely… Read the rest
We live in two worlds, the world of the large and the world of the small. The large world includes those things we can see without any instruments, and the small world includes those things we can see only by using instruments like electron microscopes… Read the rest
Life on planet earth is a complex, adaptive system programmed for growth. Thus despite periodic major extinctions over its long history, earth continues to be populated by millions of species of plants and animals which have variously adapted to a wide range of habitats and fill nearly every ecological… Read the rest
A recent article in The Atlantic about seabed mining points out that the metals targeted for collection include copper, manganese, nickel, and cobalt, all used in the production of batteries. The impetus for this sudden industrialization of the ocean bottom, in part, is carbon emissions,… Read the rest
I live amid an urban oasis, a collection of very tall trees, timber bamboo and Japanese maples. Some of the trees are quite old, and know this tiny piece of Gaia’s garden far better than I. In a rainy year like this, the tree’s root-hairs – roots are the tree’s sensory system through… Read the rest
In the end, the skein of civilization turned out to be thinner and less substantial than most anyone had expected. Collapse of modern society took only a matter of weeks, not months. Once the electricity stopped the whole of industrial and mechanized society came crashing to a halt. Assumptions about… Read the rest
Much is being made of current research indicating that the Glyphosate in Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp is a likely carcinogen. A laboratory-made, liquid life-killing poison that turns dandelions to brown, withered husks in a day; that it probably causes cancer should surprise no one.
Weeds… Read the rest
Population pressure plus expanding tourism is quickly pushing Sonoma Valley beyond its carrying capacity. This happened in the Napa Valley years ago, as anyone who has navigated Hwy. 29 in June or July has discovered.
For those who commute to work in San Francisco or Oakland, exceeding carrying capacity… Read the rest
Having now passed the 50th anniversary of the publication of ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson it’s tempting to feel the ecology movement she fostered has made a difference. However, in comparing its successes to its failures, I’d argue the ecology movement has been a colossal… Read the rest
The season is changing. You’d think after 65 years, I’d be used to it, but I’m not. I was born in September, so perhaps that’s sharpened my attention. Whatever the cause, I can feel it.
My wife and I recently spent a week by the ocean. Surrounded by the sound of surf I watched the tides and wondered why I couldn’t… Read the rest
Like water circling the bathtub drain, our consumer society expends a lot of energy but ultimately spirals down a bottomless hole, and unless more water is continuously added, nothing but an empty tub remains.
Of late, the “water” being added is money printed by the Federal Reserve Bank, in the form … Read the rest
Recent reports on the condition of the Fukushima nuclear power reactors in Japan indicate that highly radioactive water used in the makeshift reactor cooling system has been leaking from buried storage tanks damaged in a tsunami several… Read the rest
When a natural event like Superstorm Sandy wreaks havoc and destruction it provides an opportunity to reflect on our preoccupations and priorities and how out of whack they so often are. Disaster strikes and suddenly we realize what’s truly precious; it’s not American Idol, the latest iPad … Read the rest
Charles Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection to describe the mechanism of evolution and the ways in which life on earth reflects a continuum of time and change. His theory challenged generations of belief in an absolute, immutable order of existence, and in his own way,… Read the rest
Acre for acre, natural rainforests contain more biological diversity than any other place on earth, both plants and animals. The rainforest is the likely mother of us all.
Only a small fraction of the many rainforest species are identified, yet modern civilization is systematically destroying the… Read the rest
Package labeling has become the art of deception, the intentional use of language to confuse and deceive the consumer. This is particularly obvious as food companies seek to exploit the organic food movement, currently the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, but the cosmetic and pharmaceutical… Read the rest
This past month marks what looks like the confirmation of the Higgs Particle, or what has been called “The God Particle.” Like most things quantum, the Higgs Particle is simultaneously the Higgs Field, and its confirmation is a big deal.
The Standard Model in… Read the rest
For the vast majority of us, the world is emblazoned in millions of colors, from intense solids to the most subtle shades and blends. While it is impossible to describe color to another person in absolute terms our color sense is consistent enough that to most of us stop signs look red and lines in the road… Read the rest
Roundup (Glyphosate) is a particularly effective herbicide that is widely used in agriculture to control weeds growing among food crops. Monsanto, the developer of Roundup, wedded Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) with Roundup to create a completely integrated system of crops that are genetically… Read the rest
We can’t anticipate all the possible outcomes of every human activity, this is just a simple fact. Each action in every moment cascades through endless time, generating effects. Some effects are obvious to all, others are extremely subtle and beyond ordinary awareness. Effects can be large or small,… Read the rest
One of the strangest experiences while flying across the continental U.S. happens above Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas; soaring six miles above, one looks down upon networks of old missile silos.
The networks stretch for many miles; narrow… Read the rest
Considering the immeasurable diversity of forms of life in this world – tube worms breathing methane at the mouth of 800 degree volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean, lichens digesting the minerals in rocks for survival, worms living inside glaciers, bacteria that grow “legs” to move across… Read the rest
I’ve just completed James Lovelock’s recent book, “The Vanishing Face of Gaia”. Lovelock, now 90, is the scientist-inventor who popularized the term “Gaia” in the 1970’s to define the earth as a single living organism – dynamic, self-regulating, and responsive to global and cosmic forces. Gaia Theory,… Read the rest
“Leaf blowers to right of them, leaf blowers to left of them – into the valley of death rode the six hundred!”
With apologies to Tennyson, I must admit that there are few sounds more detestable than the gasoline-powered leaf blower. On Wednesday my southbound neighbor’s gardener toils, leaf blower raging… Read the rest
Prior to 20th century physics, which established the dominance of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, the concept of an all-pervading invisible aether, the medium through which light, gravity and electromagnetism moved, was commonly accepted. Harkening back to ancient alchemy… Read the rest
In the 1974 book Lives of a Cell, author Lewis Thomas paints a disarmingly sweet portrait of a single cell that all but imparts a charming personality upon a living thing so small it’s microscopic. The life of a single cell, one of 40 trillion in each of our bodies,… Read the rest
We tend to prefer points of view that reinforce our own. This is curious, of course, because we develop our own cherished points of view through our exposure to the points of views of others, such as our parents. In short, no points of view arise or exist in isolation; they are inextricably bound to prevailing… Read the rest
I’ve been spending time lately watching live and recorded transmissions from the International Space Station. Unlike the videos and transmissions of the past with poor image fidelity and sound, the quality of the current transmissions is fantastic. The color is great, the image clarity and focus… Read the rest
In their desperation for reliable food and sustenance, some ancient peoples turned to human sacrifice. The shedding of blood was viewed as a way to satisfy the spirits or gods, who would then, they believed, provide food from the land. If a poor harvest ensued, caused by drought or heat, the assumption… Read the rest
The earth is hiring, dear one,
And you got the job.
What is the job of being human? The job of being squirrel seems quite straightforward: climb trees, find nuts, bury nuts, and make baby squirrels that can find and bury nuts. Ants seem to have a pretty clear job, too: dig holes, crawl around… Read the rest
As America’s energy crisis has accelerated, the subject of nuclear power has reemerged. Three Mile Island and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster have receded into history and an entire generation has no memory of these two near catastrophic events. Nuclear power plant construction is regaining… Read the rest
When it comes to today’s marketing of products, there is no word more powerful and effective than “natural.” Natural evokes the primordial benevolence of nature and qualities of purity, freshness and beauty. It is used to promote food, deodorant, candles, clothing and cosmetics. Almost everything… Read the rest
In a world as old as ours, patterns of natural sound generally fall within predictable and repeated frequencies. Extraordinary natural events do happen from time to time that produce sounds of great amplitude or frequency or both; volcanic… Read the rest
We tend to think of intelligence as something that can be acquired. However, intelligence is a primordial attribute of living things that predates any specifically human activity. Knowledge, of course, can be acquired by people, enhanced, embellished and expanded. Intelligence, on the other hand,… Read the rest
The Earth is a patient Mother.
You can run around all over,
She knows that in the end
You will come back
And crawl into her arms.
Blessed by the forgiveness of the world, human beings by and large have enjoyed a fabled history of playfulness and experimentation. Endlessly patient and accepting,… Read the rest
No, it’s not a novel about depressed bi-valves. It’s a scientific report documenting the collapse of mussel populations due to exposure to Prozac dissolved in wastewater from water treatment plants.
Modern wastewater treatment has advanced to the point that we now use the treated wastewater for … Read the rest
The first of the year marks the anniversary of the 2006 New Year’s flood. Having trundled myself out of bed at 5:30 that morning only to find East Napa Street filled with a foot of water running strongly southwest, I thought to myself that this was no ordinary creek overflow. Unfortunately, it may well … Read the rest
A rather miraculous thing has happened: all the politicians have turned green. In the past, such a statement would have meant “green with envy” or “green like money” or “turned green with disgust.” Today, however, it means “pro-environment.” At least, that’s how it sounds.
There was a time, not long… Read the rest
Sonoma lost two giants a few weeks ago. Towering 125 feet over their domain on Fourth Street East, two twin cypress trees had stood for nearly 100 years, providing shade, scale, character and wildlife habitat. In but two short days they were removed, and a Sonoma neighborhood has been changed forever.… Read the rest