Closing Thoughts

December 14, 2011

As I think back on the kind of pessimism and frustration that many of us expressed towards the end, I feel that reflecting on Professor Maxine Burkett’s guest lecture helped me to regain a sense of hope, even in spite of the eye-opening World Without Us reading.  I was very moved by the presentation.  As Professor Burkett said, we hear about bits and pieces of climate change effects, all the time.  I’ve heard about the storms, the floods, earthquakes and tsunamis regularly in the news for at least the past 5-10 years.  I’ve even experienced firsthand the strange weather patterns in Hawaii and the East coast blizzards, well into Spring.  It’s funny how we are so bombarded with evidence of climate change, with “green” conservation messages and media in our popular culture, but are still not able to fully understand or feel the imminent threat that it poses. It’s like we are all in denial or unwilling to process the full picture until it is either in our backyards or someone literally sits us down and lays it all out.  Professor Burkett did that, for me, with this presentation and it really hit home.  Especially damning, was the graph that showed the extreme change in frequency of natural disasters.  Climate change is not only real, it’s already effecting us and will continue to do so…unless we start to make drastic changes, now.

Professor Burkett admitted, herself, that she faced the same sense of hopelessness but then came through with the message that we can do something, and that people are, even as we speak, trying to do something on an international level.  This was really inspirational.  This class has truly helped me to see the scope of environmental issues that our generation and our children’s will be facing.  It’s impossible not to feel frustrated with the many things that prior generations have already set in motion, which we will simply have to see play out…issues like our on-going nuclear legacy and our Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  But, until technology or microbes can aid us, we have to hold onto hope by taking steps as individuals, as entities, as governments and as an international community.  I, for one, pledge to be more conscious of my environmental footprint, and to share what I’ve learned with anyone that will listen, especially my 8-year-old.

Maybe we can change.

Thank you, Professor Matteson.

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Health Alert!

December 9th, 2011

I read an article in the December issue of Environment Hawaii newsletter (which I index for UH’s HPJI journals at work) about Rat Lungworm Disease that was really scary!  Rat Lungworm Disease, or angiostrongyliasis, is caused by a parasite.  A rat eats a snail or slug infected with some stage of the parasite (often the third stage worm), the parasite matures and reproduces in the rat’s heart or lungs (hence “rat lungworm), the larvae come back out as rat poop and are then eaten by snails or slugs.  The problem, for humans, occurs when we come in contact with the rat feces, infected snails and slugs, or even their trails (that means wash your veggies!!!).  We become sick as the worms move through our systems and end up in our brains, where they die but have already left a trail of destruction.  An infected person can experience nausea, abdominal pain, urinary problems but by the time these symptoms manifest it may be too late.  At the very least there can be permanent damage to the affected organs, but there is also a high risk of death.  The added danger of this disease is that its previous rarity, makes it hard for doctor’s to diagnose (although awareness is going up).

Asian semi-slug

Anyway, the scary thing about the Environment Hawaii article is that it seems that on the Big Island, at least, a rise in cases of the disease is already occurring because of a new invasive species.  This species, the Asian semi-slug (Parmarion martensi), has spread like wildfire on the Big Island.  The semi-slug very actively searches for its food and loves to climb, leaving its trails everywhere (read: all over garden furniture).  To make matters worse, researchers taking random specimens of the semi-slug have found EVERY one infected with ratworm parasites!

According to the article, two people on the Big Island became sick after eating food from their garden.  With nine cases of the disease this year, everyone needs to take precautions.  Remember: it’s not just the semi-slugs on the Big Island that carry the disease, there is a high prevalence among many other slug and snail species.  Here’s an article on which species are known carriers of rat lungworm. 

Wash veggies and fruits well, especially those that are locally grown and/or organic, watch small children and explain the danger to older ones. 

Bottomline: slugs and snails are nasty and slimy for a reason…Don’t touch them!

Water Bottle Rant

November 18, 2011

When I thought about my water usage, I thought about water bottles.  Until fairly recently, about two years ago, water was not a part of my daily regimen.  Yes, I would drink water when I was thirsty, like after a run or a workout, but I never really craved it.  I was getting my water from my food, fruits and juice.  Not the healthiest, which is why, when I decided to go into an all out fitness/wellness mode a few years ago I decided to change this.  Everytime I worked out I would drink an entire, large Smartwater bottle, which I would buy new at 24 as I walked in the door at the gym.  After a while, drinking water became a habit and I’d always feel the need to have a water bottle with me at work or at school.  I was proud of myself for finally taking my grandmother’s advice and drinking over 9 glasses of water a day.  By the way, she swears that the water is the reason for her great complexion at 85+ years-old.  Well, that, sunscreen and lots of umbrellas.  Anyway, I’m sure I’ve brought a water bottle to every Environmental History class thus far.

My Best Friend, Ivy Gross and her host family in Makeni, Sierra Leone

So my best friend, Ivy Gross, is a health nut, vegetarian, environmental nut, and in the Peace Corp.  She’s always chattering on and on about not eating partially hydrogenated, what oils at what boiling point are o.k., not eating gluten, not eating sugar, organic this, organic isn’t always organic, buy local.  I remember that a number of years ago, she started freaking out about how sickening it was that we use plastic utensils and straws multiple times a day.  During this period she bought me one of those re-usable Starbucks cups for my twice-a-day iced coffees and for her birthday that year I bought her a set of those uber-fancy portable utensils (she was stoked).  Anyway, partly to antagonize her, and partially just because I’m a lazy American, I listen to what she’s saying but scoff at actually REMEMBERING to bring my re-usable Starbucks cup, at actually bringing my re-usable Feed grocery bag (which Whole Foods tells me fed 100 hungry school children in Rwanda), at actually NOT eating just anything that looks good.

She was especially unhappy about my bottled water situation, and in all honesty, I went and bought a bunch of re-usable water bottles (which I subsequently lost), but that didn’t cut it.  After I did this week’s reading, I folded and watched the Story of Bottled Water, which she’d told me about a while back.

I was amazed and disgusted to find out that Americans buy about ½ a billion bottles of water every week!!!  I am one of those Americans L  In addition, I was horrified to think about what was happening to all those water bottles after we throw them away, or recycle them.  I thought about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and all of the plastic that’s sitting in this room with me, right now.  Then, I thought about my best friend and in retrospect, her very rational freakout about plastic.  I called her today in Sierra Leone to tell her that I’ll be more plastic-conscious.

I will use my re-usable items.

The Cove

October 13th, 2011

(SPOILER ALERT)

On a recent visit to The Kahala Hotel I walked past the dolphin enclosure as some kids were getting ready to “meet the dolphins.”  As I listened to the dolphins chirping happily, awaiting a treat, I thought to myself, “I wonder if they really are happy?”  How great could it be to swim around in circles?  It dawned on me that I’d had this thought before, on one or more of the many times I’d gone to SeaLife Park or The Kahala and watched the dolphins.  This thought and a short dicussion in class, is what prompted me to finally watch the documentary “The Cove.”

As I sat down to watch the film, which I’d held off on seeing because I’m overly emotional, I braced myself for the worst.  Luc Besson (the director) did not disappoint.  The Cove makes you sad, for the dolphins, angry at the insensitive Japanese fisherman and politicians portrayed in the film, and ultimately, disillusioned with the Flipper, friendly, likes-captivity story that we have all been naïve enough to believe.

I like to believe that, to the best of my ability, I try and look at issues from both sides, teasing out questions and doubts that I have about both points of view.  The Cove is completely one-sided.  However, the reason that The Cove is so damning, is that it successfully puts to rest with finality, any doubts you might have about just how horrible and hypocritical the industry that slaughters these dolphins, is.  Any thoughts of empathy I had for the livelihood of the people of Taijii, even that ever-so-slight hesitation at trampling on the “traditions” of another culture, all of that is directly refuted in the movie.

The pure hypocrisy of a museum for dolphins in a town that slaughters them en masse, the aggressive and belligerent behavior of the fishermen, the conspiratorial secrecy about the cove that the Japanese government defends, the realization that dolphin fishing and eating dolphin meat is “not” a cultural practice knowingly shared by the majority of Japanese, the frustration that dolphins are almost completely unprotected by those you’d believe are most likely to take up their cause (activists who are successful forcing the Japanese into legislation about whaling).  What I found the most disbelief in, was that Seaworld and all of those meet-the-dolphin programs, who helped bring dolphins into our collective consciousness and our hearts, are the very ones who support the industry by buying a choice few of the captured dolphins.  In some cases, it seems, Seaworld is even complicit in protecting the dolphin fishing industry.  All of this evidence is given even before the movie comes to its terrible, terrible climax: the actual killing of huge numbers of dolphins, in surround sound.

If you watch The Cove, you will never think of dolphin chirping the same again.

Pill Box Burn

October 1, 2011

Lanikai Pill Boxes

Today I went hiking with my friend, Kaikea at one of our favorite spots, the Lanikai Pill Boxes.  I love the trail because it’s relatively short and there are stunning views and a nice breeze for most of the hike.  It had been the fist time we’ve been there for a few months.  Soon after we started our ascent we noticed that there was a huge area of the mountain that had been recently burnt.  In fact, it looked like most of the entire right side of the mountain had burned.  It was really eerie to walk past the charred Kiawe trees and to smell the burnt ash along the whole trail.  If you’ve ever bbq’d with kiawe wood, it has a distinct smell, which while not unpleasant, was evidence of just how much kiawe had burned.

We were fairly certain that the fire had been recent, so when I got home I looked it up online.  I found out that the fire had actually happened just four days before, on September 28th.  I hadn’t heard about this fire, but I thought back on all the times that I’d heard about brush fires over the years.  Unless you live in the vicinity of the fire, you don’t think too much about the damage that they are causing.  If the remains of this brush fire hadn’t been along one of my favorite hikes, I’d never know.  Then I wondered whether this particular brush fire, was at least a little less damaging to the environment, and more easily recoverable because of the terrain.  The mountain area around Lanikai is very dry, only kiawe really thrives there (not sure if this is because they pushed out native species).  I can’t speak for the insects, animals and other fauna, but the kiawe (an invasive species) seems to be pretty hardy.  It seemed like many of the trees, thought burnt or singed, were still alive.  I will have to take note on future hikes, just how long it takes for the area to visibly recover.

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Wilderness, water and worms…Oh, my!

By the Mckenzie River

September 19th, 2011:

I spent the past week-and-a-half traversing Oregon, from Portland to northern California, on a trip to visit family with my boyfriend, Tanner.  By the time we turned in our extremely gas-economic Kia to fly back home, we’d put in almost 2,000 miles.  From Portland (the closest major airport), it was a 4-hour stretch of I-5 Highway to get to Grants Pass, where his family lives.

Along the Highway the sights quickly change from the suburban sprawl of the city, to miles and miles of agricultural land.  There are orchards, vineyards, pastures of cows and sheep, rest stop signs every 50 miles, fast-food and gas stations every few miles, huge billboards advertising casinos, the odd “Jesus loves you” sign and, yes, the actual casinos.  You notice that many signs are straight-to-the point: “Motel,” “Diner,” “Adult Store.”

Grants Pass was a welcome sight after the long (by Hawaii standards) car ride.  As we drove past the sign that welcomed us to the town, we passed over a bridge crossing the Rogue River and I noticed a beautiful, wooded-park.  There were a number of trees that I could see there, barren of leaves.  I thought it a little early in the season for that, but quickly wrote it off, what did “I” know about what was normal, here?  [Ominous Music…Dun, dun, dun]

One of the first stops we made in town was to Tanner’s grandmother’s house.  She lives right along the Rogue and so we sat outside to enjoy the view, the sounds of the river and the wildlife; squirrels running along the branches of the large walnut tree just off the porch.  As we sat and talked I noticed that a large section of branch on the tree was encased in what seemed like a thick mass of spiderweb.  It was so disgusting, that of course, I had to get a better look.

This is not my picture, but a better one that I found of a walnut tree infestation. Credit goes to this very informative web page. Also, the worms aren't normally exposed this way. I believe this picture was taken in the late larval stage.

For the past 2-3 years southern Oregon has been plagued with an infestation of what Tanner’s grandmother and aunt called “webworms.”  They didn’t know if that was the actual name of the worm or what it turned into, but what I gathered was that the worms build a web around branches of pretty much any leafy tree or shrub.  They eat all of the leaves enclosed in the web and, if left unchecked, they can go on to decimate all of the tree’s foliage.  This in itself is not enough to kill a tree, (they lose their leaves in the fall, anyway) but it IS pretty ugly and…fascinatingly disgusting.  Tanner’s aunt told us that she went out to cut an infested limb off one of her trees and as she got right under it, she could hear the worms writhing against each other and feeding on the leaves.

Suffice it to say, looking for these worms became a little obsession of mine, and they weren’t hard to find.  We saw webs of worms in tree branches as far north as Eugene and all the way down in Northern California.  When we were camping in central Oregon (about 100 miles west of Eugene) and driving north of Eugene, I noticed that there weren’t any worms in evidence.  I wondered whether it was the cooler climate, or that the infestation just hadn’t spread there?

This is a picture I took at Riverside Park of what the worms leave behind. I saw trees like these everywhere in southern Oregon.

Later research would prove that, indeed, the nasty creatures “are” called webworms, Fall Webworms or Hyphantrea cunea, to be exact.  After all that talk of worms, I found this “great” picture that gives me a little morbid satisfaction.  Please note: the photographer mislabeled the worm as a silkworm.

This blog also had a brilliant, albeit simple solution to getting rid of web worms.  I had wondered why birds and other insects weren’t helping to curb the infestation, and the author of this blog answered my question; predators have a hard time getting at them through the webbing!  Therefore, the blog suggests that you simply cut through the web to expose the worms to be eaten…Muahahaha.

Anyway, thankfully, I did manage to get beyond my fascination to do a lot more exploring in Oregon.  I got to go camping along the McKenzie River, bathe in a hot spring pool, watch fly fishing LIVE, drive through the amazing redwood forest of northern California and chill my bones at Harris Beach on the Oregon coast.

And now, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.  Visit the Pacific Northwest!

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