03 October 2019

Action at Different Scales

Yesterday, I sat in a faculty meeting concerning the fate of our first year seminar (it lost) while fighting the urge to jump up and point out that it was 94 degrees outside, demolishing the previous record for October 2 in our coastal town, which will surely be threatened in coming decades by rising seas.

I went home and sat outside my house in the remnants of the day’s heat. I read the day’s news out of Washington, pondering what looks like the collapse of the American experiment in democracy, and scrolled social media posts about the explosion in medieval studies, with senior scholars (white and privileged) ignoring or outright denying the need for changes in how we teach and talk about our discipline given its roots in British imperial expansionism and its current appeal to white supremacists.

I heard squealing. Two squirrels were fighting, and when I got up to investigate, the larger squirrel fled, leaving the smaller one nearly unconscious.

My partner wrapped the little guy in a piece of old towel and deposited her / him in the crotch of a tree to recover. When we investigated an hour or so later, she looked brighter of eye, but frightened by flashlight-wielding humans. By morning she was gone. The scrap of towel was undisturbed, and we hoped she had scurried away under her own power, rather than being taken by a hunter seeking weakened prey, or a scavenger.

In the face of what looks like impending global catastrophe on both climatological and political grounds, it seems ridiculous to worry about squirrels or professors fighting for territory. It seems pointless to plant a few flowers to support the local monarch butterfly population when global systems appear to be on the verge of collapse.

But I think it’s precisely because catastrophe seems so imminent that it’s important to keep attending to the small things. Being able to hold in mind and heart the fate of the smallest beings keeps me from getting lost in the whirlwind of terrifying global events. Helps keep me from losing faith in the possibilities for positive change. Maybe, too, it keeps me human.

I didn’t get a photo of the little squirrel. But here’s a chipmunk that visited my back yard a few weeks ago. Stay grounded, y’all.

25 September 2019

Wildlife-Friendly Flowers and Shrubs

This post is written as part 2 of a series to help students in my First Year Seminar course at Monmouth University, Humans and the Environment, to understand and participate in our ecological restoration project at Ross Lake Park in Long Branch, NJ.

In the first part of the project, students removed aggressive invasive species, focusing on Japanese knotweed, porcelain berry, multiflora rose, and oriental bittersweet, and in the process revealing oak  and pinchberry seedlings as well as native flowers that were being choked out by the faster-growing vines and other invasives.

In part 2, they planted several varieties of native flowers and shrubs that support pollinator species of bees and butterflies, and also provide haven for the numerous insects needed by native and migratory birds. Many native plants are quick to establish themselves, growing back from roots year after year as well as reseeding themselves, and are ideal as the base of a food chain that supports the growth of numerous varieties of insects that in turn feed cardinals, wrens, and woodpeckers, among many other species of birds either local to New Jersey or that migrate along the New Jersey coast.
 brown-eyed susan
 coneflower (echinacea)
 goldenrod (foreground) and boneset
 mountain mint
 New England aster
For more information, visit the Native Plant Finder website, where you can enter a zip code for anywhere in the US and get information based on the research of Dr. Doug Tallamy, who is an expert on the science of interactions between insects and plants (and Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware).

All photos courtesy of Catherine N. Duckett, Associate Dean, School of Science at Monmouth University, whose research is on evolutionary entomology.

23 September 2019

Identifying and Removing Aggressive Invasive Species

This is written for students in Humans and the Environment, a first-year seminar at Monmouth University in central New Jersey, but may be helpful for others working to shift their lawns toward species that support local and migrating pollinators and birds.

Students in class undertake a two-day "ecological restoration project." Part one is removal of invasive species and part two is planting native flowers and shrubs. On day one, we will focus on four different invasive species that have colonized the park.

Japanese Knotweed (native to Japan)
Note the large leaves that alternate along the stem, red bamboo-like stems, and small white flowers. Japanese knotweed flowers in late summer to early fall. In spring and early summer, the leaves are red.

Porcelain berry (native to Siberia)
Porcelain berry has five-sided leaves of various forms, long, branching vines, and tough stems. Whitish berries appear in midsummer and ripen to purple and blue. Porcelain berry has long branching taproots that are quite difficult to pull up, especially once established.

Multiflora Rose (native to China, Japan, and Korea)
This is a thin-stemmed bramble with small but tough thorns requiring leather gloves to remove. It has small flowers in mid-summer and small fruits later in the season.

Oriental Bittersweet (native to China)
Oriental bittersweet has medium sized, medium green leaves with a pronounced point.
Long, tough vines climb the trunks and branches of trees, blocking sun and choking them out.

Tools and Information

Tools include gloves, pitchforks, shovels, and clippers. For more information about these and other aggressive invasive species, see the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Fact Sheet.

All photos courtesy of Catherine N. Duckett, Associate Dean, School of Science, Monmouth University, whose research specialization is evolutionary entomology.

04 September 2019

Media Fail to Explain Climate Crisis Role in Weather Events

From Public Citizen, via email. Key information: 7.2 percent of television coverage and 2.5 percent of news coverage in the top television stations and newspapers mentioned climate change in coverage of Hurricane Dorian.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although Hurricane Dorian exemplifies what climate scientists have warned about, major U.S. media outlets are failing to connect the climate crisis to the strongest Atlantic storm ever to hit land, a Public Citizen analysis shows.

Scientists say that global warming makes hurricanes intensify faster, dump more rain and move more slowly. All these things have happened with Dorian; it has moved over water that is warmer than usual, intensified at an unprecedented ratedumped 24 inches of rain on parts of the Bahamas and slowed to a crawl, moving at as little as 1 mile per hour.

But between Friday and Monday, climate or global warming was mentioned in just 7.2% of the 167 pieces on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox. The top 49 newspapers by circulation didn’t do much better. Of them, 32 covered Dorian in their print editions, but only eight papers connected Dorian to climate. Of 363 articles about Dorian in those papers’ print editions, just nine (2.5%) mentioned climate change.

“It is mind-boggling that major media outlets can report about a storm of epic proportions that is exactly what climate scientists have warned about yet fail to mention two key words: ‘climate change,” said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “We can’t address the looming climate catastrophe if we aren’t talking about it.”

Meanwhile, Dorian is still lingering over the Bahamas, and damage reports are still coming in. The storm is growing and will head next to the East Coast of the U.S. As reporters cover this story, Public Citizen is urging them to include climate change.

Public Citizen’s analysis was a snapshot; it didn’t include online stories, and because of a limitation of the database, it didn’t include the Wall Street Journal. Because Public Citizen looked at top papers by circulation, many significant local dailies were not included, such as The Palm Beach Post and The Post and Courier in South Carolina. The same is true of papers that cover Capitol Hill, like The Hill, Politico and Roll Call. This analysis also does not include radio, local television or online news articles.

The results are in line with media coverage of Hurricanes Florence and Michael last year. A Public Citizen survey found that of the 24,968 total pieces mentioning Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018, climate change was mentioned in only 10% of online news pieces, 8% of television news transcripts and 5% of print news articles. This was, however, an improvement from 2017, when the rates were 6% for online media and television and 3% for newspapers.

15 August 2019

Medieval Ecocriticisms: CFP

Medieval Ecocriticsms at ICMS: CFP

Medieval Ecocriticisms seeks submissions on the theme of “ecological embodiment” for a roundtable session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, May 7-10, 2020. 

How do human differences impact how individuals and communities interact with the environment? We seek position statements on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity and orientation, and/or dis/ability.

Please note that individuals can present at both a roundtable and a traditional paper session at Kalamazoo.

Expanded papers will be considered for submission in Medieval Ecocriticisms, the journal published by Amsterdam University Press.

Contact: Heide Estes, hestes@monmouth.edu, or medievalecocriticism@gmail.com

Deadline: August 30

27 June 2019

Environmental Commitment Project

Dr. Heide Estes, Professor, Department of English, and Dr. Catherine Duckett, Associate Dean, School of Education, Monmouth University

This project is assigned in our team taught First Year Seminar, Humans and the Environment, which combines literary study with climate science to help students to understand climate science -- and how they can be part of the solution.

Rationale: Your development as a citizen is one of the many goals of a liberal education. Taking responsibility for one’s contributions, both positive and negative, is part of being a citizen and an adult. In this course, we want to encourage civic engagement by asking you to think about how you can make a contribution to improving the environment. Habits require practice; your project involves making a semester-long commitment to changing some aspect of your daily or weekly activity in a way that is environmentally constructive. Because feedback and support from others is helpful, we have structured this assignment as an ecampus discussion and hope you will use this as an opportunity to get to know one other.

Instructions: For this project, you will choose a project involving making an environmentally informed commitment to change your habits. You will document this project during the semester by posting updates on eCampus in September, at the beginning of the project, and in October, approximately at the midpoint. At the end of the semester you will use your updates as data to write a reflective paper. In your initial post, your midterm update, and your final reflective paper, explain how your project helps the environment.

For the first ecampus post you will describe, in 400-500 words, the commitment you have chosen, explain how you anticipate it will improve the environment, discuss what changes you need to make in daily or weekly routines in order to succeed, and think ahead to possible challenges in maintaining your commitment. NO FLUFF! Provide a one-sentence introduction, at most two sentences of conclusion, and make every word count.

After you have submitted your ecampus post, read what your classmates have posted. React to three different posts from classmates: have you learned something from their posts? Do you have advice for them? Are you intrigued by their choice of commitment? Don’t just say “hi” or “that’s a good project” -- for credit for a response, you need to add to the conversation.

Your eCampus post will be graded on thorough attention to the instructions, careful explanation of your project, thoughtful analysis of potential pitfalls, and good use of detail to support your ideas, as well as on organization, conciseness, and mechanical accuracy.

 Some possible projects:

● Reduce your meat consumption. Limit the amount you eat at every meal, or pick a meal or a day every week to eat vegan or vegetarian
● Write a letter to an elected official twice a month demanding environmentally responsible policies
● Limit food waste: buy what you will eat, and eat what you buy
● If you live at home, turn down the thermostat in the winter or up in the summer
● Buy clothes only from thrift shops for the semester—or, don’t buy any clothing atall
● Purchase a reusable water bottle and coffee cup and skip disposables
● If you live within walking distance of campus or work, pick a day a week to walk orbike instead of driving
● Avoid food packaging, for instance from take-out food, and by choosing lowestpackaging options at the supermarket
● Reduce electric consumption by turning off lights, switching to LED bulbs,unplugging unused appliances, and similar activities. Bonus: Get a solar or hand-crank generator to power your smartphone, or organize a competition between MU dormitories to see which one can reduce electrical consumption the most.
● Reduce your waste stream. Reuse, recycle, repurpose, rethink how much garbage you’re contributing to the local landfills every day and how you can cut back.

If you choose a different project, please consult with one of the instructors for the course.

Humans and the Environment: Syllabus

Dr. Catherine Duckett, Associate Dean, School of Science
Dr. Heide Estes, Professor, Department of English
This course integrates perspectives from literature and biology in investigating contemporary climate issues. Students are challenged to understand the impacts of rising atmospheric and oceanic carbon concentrations in long-term ecological perspectives, to learn about the recent history of climate science debates, and to understand how literature can help to understand the development of current attitudes about environmental issues. Course assignments include a personal environmental project and letters to public officials or news media to encourage students to engage with civic engagement and the ethics of climate decisions.

Readings and Web Sites
Gaines, Susan M. Carbon Dreams. Creative Arts Press, 2001.
Hawken, Paul. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global
Warming. Penguin Books, 2017.
Robert Frost, "A Brook in the City" (1923)
Earth System Science Partnership, Global Carbon Atlas. Global Carbon Project, 2001-2018.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, EarthViewer app. HHMI Biointeractive, 2012-2017.
Schmittner, Andreas. Introduction to Climate Change. Open Oregon State, no date.
Tallamy, Doug. Bringing Nature Home, 2007. “Why Insects Can’t Eat Alien Plants” and “Blending in
with the Neighbors.”
United Nations report No 2013/3: "Demographic Components of Future Population Growth," K. Andreev, V. Kontorova, J. Bongaarts.
“The Day the Mesozoic Died: The Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs.” Howard Hughes Medical
“How do greenhouse gases actually work?” @minuteearth, YouTube
“The Wolves of Yellowstone” BBC Natural World
“Some Animals Are More Equal than Others: Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades” HHMI

Environmental Commitment Project 
Ecological Restoration Project 
Carbon Atlas Project 
Final Project: What Should We Do?