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environmental studies and nature

Earth Day: Sustainability

Earth Day: Sustainability

What does sustainability really mean? On Earth Day, Kent Portney explains why it is up to humans to face up to the role that their behaviors—as consumers, citizens, and political actors—play in creating and solving the planet's environmental challenges. He is the author of Sustainability and Taking Sustainable Cities Seriously: Economic Development, the Environment, and Quality of Life in American Cities.

Earth Day provides an opportune time to reflect on the state of the planet, the quality of the biophysical environment, and the directions in which these conditions are moving. Perhaps equally important, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the actions that humans have taken—personal and collective actions—that affect these conditions. As I see it, this is the heart and soul of what sustainability is all about. Despite the politicization of the concept of sustainability, the fact is that concern for how to provide food, water, energy, and the general ability to improve human well-being will be the overriding concern for the rest of this century.

Zika: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet

Zika: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet

Zika is here to stay, says Dr. Alan Lockwood, emeritus professor of neurology at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY and a senior scientist at Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington DC. He is the author of The Silent Epidemic and the forthcoming Heat Advisory. Heat Advisory details how climate change is affecting public health, including the increased range of mosquitos carrying the Zika virus, and in this post Dr. Lockwood reflects on the recent discovery of mosquitos carrying the virus found in a small section of Miami.

Hardly a day goes by without another news story about the Zika virus. This is a relatively new virus. It was first identified in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947. Originally confined to tropical areas in Africa and Asia, it spread across the Pacific Ocean reaching epidemic levels in the Americas during the last year. Most infections with the virus are mild and may not be noticed. However, after a large number of children with microcephaly were born to Brazilian mothers who had been infected with the virus the fear of this virus rose dramatically. Although these initial reports were treated with the level of caution that is typical of scientists, there is now little doubt that Zika virus infection may cause microcephalus. The relatively recent detailed publication of the brain pathology associated with Zika-induced microcephaly provided additional convincing evidence for the link. The Zika-infected brain was much smaller than normal, malformed, and contained many focal calcifications, evidence of prior injury by the virus. Current research also suggests that Zika virus may cause Gullian Barré Syndrome in adults. This poorly understood but relatively rare disorder is the result of immunological attacks on nerve cells and may occur after a variety of diseases.

Earth Day: Civic Ecology

Earth Day: Civic Ecology

In Civic Ecology: Adaptation and Transformation from the Ground Up, Marianne Krasny and Keith Tidball offer stories of emerging grassroots environmental stewardship, chronicling how local environmental stewards have undertaken such tasks as beautifying blocks in the Bronx, clearing trash from the Iranian countryside, and working with traumatized veterans to conserve nature and recreate community. They make the case for how humans’ innate love of nature and attachment to place compels them to restore places that are threatened, destroyed, or lost. In honor of Earth Day, Marianne Krasny reflects on recent civic engagement projects in China, South Africa, and beyond.

Rethinking Earth Day

Rethinking Earth Day

Here are some thoughts from Benjamin Hale, author of The Wild and the Wicked on how we can rethink Earth Day.

It’s Earth Day! Woohoo! A day to think about, remember, and find our place on this great green globe of ours. A day of sunshine, flowers, laying about, and staring at the grass. A day falling just two days after another great new American holiday that is also about sunshine, flowers, lazing about, and staring at the grass.

I’m not at all clear how many people actually celebrate Earth Day. Presumably many. According to Earthday.org (which is a thing) at least 200 million people in 141 countries spend their Earth Day focusing on a range of important environmental issues, from having a solar cookout to building mini-gardens to picking up litter

Five Minutes with Gay Hawkins, Emily Potter, and Kane Race

Five Minutes with Gay Hawkins, Emily Potter, and Kane Race

Today's Five Minutes with the Authors is with Gay Hawkins, Emily Potter, and Kane Race​ who are the authors of Plastic Water: The Social and Material Life of Bottled Water. Their book closely examines plastic bottles from "commodity to rubbish," and traces their significance in the world.

Bike to Work Week: Old Wheelways

Bike to Work Week: Old Wheelways

Today’s ubiquitous bicycle lanes owe their origins to nineteenth century versions, including New York City’s “asphalt ribbons.” Long before there were “rails to trails,” there was a movement to adapt existing passageways—including aqueduct corridors, trolley rights-of-way, and canal towpaths—for bicycling. Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land by Robert McCullough explores how American bicyclists shaped the landscape and left traces of their journeys for us in writing, illustrations, and photographs. In honor of Bike to Work Week, Robert McCullough recounts how efforts by early cyclists led to better rural roads and bicycle paths.

American cyclists, whether pedaling along commuter corridors or roving cross-country, deserve recognition as valiant adventurers steadfastly exercising their legal and moral rights to use public roads, and their story is a heroic one—all the more so for the absence of respect accorded the bicycle by so many American motorists. Their story is also a time-honored one that begins more than a century ago, and today’s cyclists can summon resolve knowing that they join an august body of men and women who have long recognized that self-propulsion on two wheels can improve our productivity, personal health, outlook, and general ability to observe our surroundings in attentive ways. In turn, those qualities can influence our choices about the way we shape, consume or conserve our built and cultural environments. No small role for a seemingly-modest invention, the fundamental form of which has changed very little over the past century.

Flint, Federalism, and Environmental Justice in the United States

Flint, Federalism, and Environmental Justice in the United States

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan is a tragedy. David Konisky, editor of Failed Promisesdiscusses the effectiveness of the federal government’s environmental justice policies and response.

Three decades of social science research has demonstrated a clear pattern of income and race-based disparities in the distribution of environmental risks in the United States. Poor and minority communities tend to live in closer proximity to various types of noxious facilities and contaminated sites, and more often reside in areas with higher pollution burdens. The unfolding public health crisis in Flint, Michigan is a stark reminder that such disparities—often referred to as violations of environmental justice—are not merely a thing of the past.

International Day for Biological Diversity: The Arid Lands

International Day for Biological Diversity: The Arid Lands

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues, including desertification, land degradation and drought, and water and sanitation. In The Arid Lands: History, Power, Knowledge, Diana Davis challenges the image of deserts as barren, defiled, worthless places, wastelands in need of development. She argues that estimates of desertification have been significantly exaggerated and that deserts and drylands—which constitute about 41% of the earth’s landmass—are actually resilient and biodiverse environments in which a great many indigenous people have long lived sustainably. The following is an excerpt from The Arid Lands.