A new paper in Science today reports that North America has lost 27% of its bird population since 1970, with the biggest declines in grasslands and forests. The authors of the report, ornithologists John Fitzpatrick and Peter Marra, sound the alarm:
As ornithologists and the directors of two major research institutes that directed this study, even we were shocked by the results. We knew of well-documented losses among shorebirds and songbirds. But the magnitude of losses among 300 bird species was much larger than we had expected and alarmingly widespread across the continent.
Much of the loss is among common species. The red-winged blackbird population has declined by 92 million. A quarter of all blue jays have disappeared, along with almost half of all Baltimore orioles. These are the birds we know and love, part of the bird life that makes North America lively, colorful and filled with song every spring. While it remains vital to save the most endangered of these birds, the loss of abundance among our most common species represents a different and frankly more ominous crisis.
What we need most is a societal shift in the values we place on living side-by-side with healthy and functioning natural systems. Natural habitat must not be viewed as an expendable luxury but as a crucial system that fosters human health and supports all life on the planet. The loss of nearly three billion birds signals a looming crisis that we have the power to stop. We call on all our lawmakers, political candidates and voters across the continent to place renewed value on protecting our common home—the great tapestry of natural systems we share with other species and must protect for future generations.
Unfortunately, with our current government, that seems unlikely.
The North and South branches of the river have distinct personalities:
Multiple canoe and kayak rental outfitters operate from the river’s north branch, downtown and in Chinatown, just south of downtown. And enthusiasts are even planning a competitive swim in the river. In these areas, people worry not about pollution but rather the risk of collision between water taxis, tour boats, kayakers and pleasure boats.
In the dirtier water downstream, barges filled with limestone, sand or other heavy material dominate the river, and most residents keep their distance.
Both Little Village and the Calumet River corridor are designated industrial zones, and residents would like to see green industrial development such as solar farms and light manufacturing. They’d also love to have riverside cafes or parks, [resident Olga] Bautista said, but that dream feels far off.
Of course, the Potomac is so much cleaner, isn't it? Never mind the Anacostia...
Lakes Michigan and Huron (hydrologically one lake) are on course to have record water levels this month:
After late snowstorms and record-setting rainfall this spring, Lake Michigan’s water levels are projected to rise to a record level this month.
The rising water, which could swell more than 635 mm above its long-term monthly average, is expected to tie the previous June peak set in 1986.
May’s record-setting torrential rainfall was a catalyst for Lake Michigan’s surge in water levels, said Keith Kompoltowicz chief of watershed hydrology with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ district office in Detroit.
The National Weather Service’s Chicago office on Friday tweeted that water levels already had hit a record — but the service was referring to a daily measurement, and the Army Corps only counts a full month’s average levels for record purposes.
Here's the official chart as of yesterday:
Meanwhile, Lake Ontario has broken its record already, and by a lot:
And all that fresh water just goes down the St Lawrence right into the Gulf Stream...
I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:
Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:
In the month I've owned my Prius, I've driven 439 km and used 8.8 L of fuel. That's a fuel economy of 0.5 L/100 km. My old BMW got around 12 L/100 km, for comparison. Most of the time I don't even use gasoline, because she can run about 35 km on battery power, and I rarely drive farther than that in a day.
I also haven't named her yet—until now. I'm going with Hana (はな or 初夏), which means "early summer." Fitting for a car meant to help prevent global warming.
She's still this pretty:
Yesterday was a bit busy. I spent my morning getting this:
I haven't named it yet. Current thoughts are Hinata (一陽), Hana (初夏), and Asahi (旦陽). (The new car was built in Naguro, Japan; thus, a Japanese name.)
The new Prius replaces Magdalena (built in Munich), the BMW 335iX that I got in 2012. Poor Lena, she was so old and decrepit she just couldn't go on much longer. She was burning 13.9 L/100 km, which is just awful. The new car, so far, hasn't burned any gasoline at all—it's only run off batteries.
Then I photographed a wedding. Two of my friends got married in what they called a "rogue ceremony" at a public building in Chicago. It was intimate, fun, and exactly right. Now I just have to process 450 shots...by next week...
This afternoon, I'm flying to my Ancestral Homeland via Atlanta. Tomorrow, St. Paul's. So it'll be a busy week.
Update: We had about 10 minutes of sun this morning, so I got a better photo of the car:
It turns out, cemeteries provide really good observational data on climate change:
[T]he value of this greenspace has only grown as the communities around them have densified and urbanized — leaving cemeteries as unique nature preserves. In the case of Mount Auburn, people have consciously planted diverse trees, shrubs, and flowers from all over the world and cared for them tenderly over decades or even centuries. In other cases, though, plants that might otherwise be replaced by foreign varietals can thrive under a cemetery’s more passive management style, like the prairie cemeteries of Illinois, or even the woodsy outerboroughs of New York City.
At Mount Auburn [outside Boston], a team of interdisciplinary scientists now train volunteers in phenological data collection. In the spring, they look for things like bursting buds, insect onset, and the effect of shifting timescales on migratory birds. Later in the year, they monitor the duration of autumn. To ensure accuracy, the specific trees under observation are marked throughout the cemetery; this dogwood, that gingko. And all of this data is shared with the national network. “What we know is that plants are now flowering about two weeks earlier than they did in Thoreau’s time, and trees are also leafing out about two weeks earlier,” Boston University biology professor Richard Primack told local radio station WBUR. “And we know that birds are arriving a couple of days earlier than in Thoreau’s time.” What we learn next will come from the logs Mount Auburn’s team is making now.
Just an aside, I live in an 800-meter-wide neighborhood situated between two large cemeteries. They share a population of coyotes who frequently use the streets and alleys to move between them. This is the closer of the two:
No, we have not wiped out 60% of all animals, FFS:
Since Monday, news networks and social media have been abuzz with the claim that, as The Guardian among others tweeted, “humanity has wiped out 60 percent of animals since 1970”—a stark and staggering figure based on the latest iteration of the WWF’s Living Planet report.
But that isn’t really what the report showed.
Ultimately, they found that between 1970 and 2014, the size of vertebrate populations has declined by 60 percent on average. That is absolutely not the same as saying that humans have culled 60 percent of animals—a distinction that the report’s technical supplement explicitly states. “It is not a census of all wildlife but reports how wildlife populations have changed in size,” the authors write.
CityLab's article includes math, that turns out not to be difficult in the least.
The report is still alarming, of course. But not in the way some science reporters seem to believe.
Washington Post political reporter Philip Bump lays it out:
[T]he effects of the increased heat are much broader than simply higher temperatures. In an effort to delineate what scientists expect to see as the world warms, I spoke with Alex Halliday, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Direct effects of higher temperatures
Increased health risks. One of the most immediate effects of higher temperatures is an increased threat of health risks such as heat stroke. As noted above, this is probably the most easily understood risk.
Drought. There will be more droughts. For one thing, higher temperatures will lead to faster evaporation of surface water. For another, they will mean less snowfall, as precipitation will be more likely to fall as rain. In some regions, like much of the Southwest, flows of water through the spring and summer are a function of snow melting in the mountains. Reduced snowpack means less water later in the year.
Wildfires. Higher temperatures and drier conditions in some places will also help wildfires spread and lengthen the wildfire season overall.
It gets better from there. So its nice to know that the world's second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases plans to reduce regulations to allow even more emissions.
The Cook County Forest Preserve District is building "bat condos:"
The 4-by-4-foot structures, which look like doghouses without doors or windows, rest atop 12-foot stilts and are big enough for as many as 2,000 bats, or, more specifically, bat mothers.
“These ‘bat condos’ are really bat maternity colonies,” said Margaret Frisbie, the Friends’ executive director. “You get a whole bunch of bats in there and then they help each other survive.”
Bats help control populations of mosquitoes and other insects, pollinate plants and disperse seeds that play an important role in the ecosystem.
Longtime readers may remember that a bat tried to move into my condo a few years ago: