It’s one of nature’s most perfect contradictions: a substance that is ubiquitous but unseen; humble but essential; surprisingly strong but profoundly fragile. It nurtures life and death; undergirds cities, forests and oceans; and feeds all terrestrial life on Earth. It is a substance few people understand and most take for granted. Yet, it is arguably one of Earth’s most critical natural resources—and humans, quite literally, owe to it their very existence.
Drylands cover 41 percent of the Earth’s land surface. Of that area, desertification has rendered 20 percent unfit for human use, and an additional 70 percent remains vulnerable. According to the United Nations, desertification is degrading soil quality in 110 countries, directly impacting 250 million people and threatening a billion more, all without creating a single new desert.
Randy Miles likes to teach soil science from pits dug deep into the earth. The University of Missouri soil science professor enjoys taking his students into the field, prying clods from the pit face and showing the distribution and properties of soils across Midwestern landscapes.
If soils do indeed achieve the higher profile they so desperately need, John L. Havlin will be one of the people to thank. The professor at North Carolina State University is past president of the Soil Science Society of America, and a dedicated campaigner whose work is helping to establish the House of Representatives Soils Caucus and a $4 million Smithsonian educational exhibit on the subject, opening in 2008.
Can toxic waste be turned from a disposal problem into a useful and benign fertilizer? That’s the question some scientists and activists are asking about a product that is routinely used by farmers and home gardeners to feed their soils.
Federal involvement in soil conservation began with a very passionate and motivated soil scientist by the name of Hugh Hammond Bennett, whose career as an agronomist began in 1903 when he joined the Bureau of Soils in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Ghosts linger in Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish. Before you meet cancer survivor Ken Ford of Chalmette, you must first meet the ghosts. They come on wings of natural and man-made disasters. They slip in through the cracks of poverty. You can spot them in the worst manifestations of American culture. You hear their voices murmur from history, always challenging the irony of who gets to live, and die.
Labor Day is coming, so summer camps are closing and bees are flying in lazier circles on cooler air. The squash season is ending, though apple pie is starting to look like a real possibility, and the kids are outside this morning, waiting for the bus. Perhaps one of the children standing in line holds a hemp backpack, a gift from his eco-conscious parents made by Artisan Gear.
There are few hidden chemical threats in a natural futon. A simple version is just puffy cotton or wool, sometimes certified organic, within a cover made of cotton or other material. Layering several futons on the floor and storing them in the closet can save space. You can also buy a wooden futon frame, which gives you a couch during the day and a bed at night.
To support the 13 elephants they’ve given sanctuary to, plus a large staff of trainers, a South African couple opened Camp Jabulani, an exclusive, luxury safari lodge that balances the impact of tourism with the demands of conservation.
SustainableBusiness.com goes through the process of selecting 20 top publicly traded companies each year. The goal is to showcase companies that have either made substantial progress toward driving sustainability through their business or are leading the way with a technology that can make a significant difference. Here’s this year’s winners.
According to Project Laundry List, a pro-line drying website, 6-10 percent of residential energy use goes towards the electric dryer. If Americans, or even just New Englanders, would use the clothesline or wooden drying racks, the savings would be enough to close several power plants." E investigates the alternative methods for drying clothes.
A number of recent scientific studies suggest that nighttime exposure to light is one factor in the increased incidence of breast cancer. With light pollution invading bedrooms at night, as well as more nocturnal lifestyles that keep people awake in artificial light during prime hours of darkness, it may be that people are simply not getting enough of a critical hormone.
Organic food is firmly established as the fastest-growing market in the food industry, boasting annual growth of 20 to 24 percent for the past several years and sales projected to reach $32 billion by the year 2009. So it’s not surprising that we’re seeing a new trend: the organic frozen convenience meal. So how do five frozen lasagna entrees compare?
This May marked the first time any species of Caribbean coral was designated as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (see "Clouds Over the Coral," Features, March/April 1999). The two species added, staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn (Acropora palmata), have both suffered a 97 percent decline since the late 1970s due to a combination of disease and human disturbance. By far the greatest culprit, however, is coral bleaching caused by rising ocean temperatures.
In the past few decades, houses have gotten greener, but they’ve gotten bigger too, leaving lingering questions: Is super-sized housing defeating conservation efforts? Can McMansions truly be green?
Although looking at natural resources in terms of dollars and cents may call to mind greed-mongering capitalists lighting cigars with hundred-dollar bills, in reality a failure to account for the financial value of a nation’s natural resources and environmental services unwittingly promotes taking the environment for granted and retards the development of poor nations.
Relations between Israel and Jordan are strained, largely due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the Arab world in general, study in Israel is verboten. But Jordanian students opt for environmental studies at the Albert Katz Institute in Israel because the school’s team of professors and researchers is renowned globally for its breakthrough environmental research, including drip irrigation, solar energy harnessing, algae cultivation and brackish water salmon farming. The Jordanians also come to experience a different culture and "see these people we’ve fought with and heard about all our lives with our own eyes," one student confides.
With 3,700 stores in all 50 states, Wal-Mart is well known as the country’s top seller of diapers, toothpaste, DVDs, breakfast cereal and organic lettuce? It may not hold that honor yet, but it’s well on its way.
Long Island Sound is a celebrated estuary stretching from New London, Connecticut and Long Island to New York City. Its shores are home to nine million people and its watershed stretches 17,000 square miles.
In El Portugues, a small fishing camp in Mexico’s Baja California Sur, moustachioed fishermen with tobacco-colored skin glide to shore in 21-foot panga boats and unload their modest catch of small sharks and devil rays. It seems innocuous enough, given that most of the sharks, skates and rays (a class known as elasmobranches) are being harvested via small-scale, non-industrialized methods. But according to a two-year survey led by Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research in Sarasota, Florida, there are 147 fishing camps along the Gulf of California supporting 4,000 to 5,500 active pangas targeting elasmobranches.
Today, the 1.3 million-square-foot structure that once served as a Montgomery Ward warehouse and a rotting symbol of Baltimore’s decay is not only the city’s largest office building, but it also serves as the area’s most extensive use of green design and technology.
For most visitors to the Big Island of Hawaii, the beautiful black sand beach at Punalu in the rural district of Kau is synonymous with one thing: giant sea turtles. But these awesomely beautiful marine reptiles may soon lose their visitation rights. Sea Mountain Five, a collaboration of California and Big Island investors, has recently proposed building a 2,000-unit resort complex on the site, which had previously hosted several failed hotel development plans. Environmentalists worry that the complex would put turtles, especially the critically endangered hawksbill, at risk.
More than 90 percent of Ghanaians still rely on fuel wood or charcoal as their main source of energy. According to government estimates, every person in Ghana uses around 1,400 pounds of fuel wood annually—the bulk of it for cooking. Along with logging, agricultural practices and mining, reliance on fuel wood contributes to the depletion of two percent of Ghana’s forest annually. In an effort to curb this rapid decline, the United Nations, in partnership with the government and local groups, is promoting the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — butane or propane—as an alternative to wood fuel.
Tamsyn Jones’s very informative cover story this issue serves to remind us, among other things, that great civilizations of the past have prospered or withered depending upon their relationship with their natural environment. Vibrant, healthy economies survived where soils, because of sensible agricultural practices, remained rich and fertile enough to produce food—and fell when farming became unsustainable.
President Bush famously admitted in his State of the Union address last January that “America is addicted to oil.” E took a look at our addiction in The Outlook on Oil (cover story, January/February 2006). Now the International Energy Outlook (IEO) reports that the U.S. actually decreased its oil consumption in 2005.
As if songbirds didn’t have enough to contend with! Not only is their Latin American winter habitat threatened as forest canopy coffee growing gives way to full-sun plantations (see "Grounds for Change," cover story, November/ December 2005), but a recent survey of the birds in New York State finds they’re also dealing with high body levels of mercury.