Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reading Kolbert . . . .

Field Notes' fourth chapter, "The Butterfly and the Toad," ends Kolbert's first section, "Nature."  Please feel free to post questions or comments on that chapter.

I've been continuing to think about media coverage of global climate change.  If you click on the title to this post, it will take you to an article "Environmental Journalism in the Greenhouse Era: Looking for Climate News beyond Corporate Media."  Check it out.  It provides some vital information as we consider how media in our country cover this urgent topic--and as we decide where to turn for factual reporting by experts.


  1. I found it so extrodinary that for thousands of years the Bufo periglenes (bright orange toad) survived solely because of the consistancy and exact amount of rainfallin the area. For those pools/puddles to remain about an inch deep for that long is astonishing and now because of the sudden alteration of our climate, these creatures are believed to be extinct.

  2. I agree! I think it is easy for us to think of extinction as relatively impossible - at least I have to admit to this thinking. When we learn about the term, we hear about the dodo bird or dinosaurs - both unrelatable species in a past we cannot change. To know that extinction takes place as we speak, and realizing we ourselves are causing this destruction is frightening.

  3. I just wanted to point out an astonishing figure in our reading regarding Bufo toads. In 1987, twenty three years after officially being discovered and named by Jay Savage, a biologist came to Costa Rica and counted 1,500 toads in the pools. One year later, only eight male and two female toads were sighted, and the following year only one male toad! It seems unbelievable to me that not a single Bufo toad has been seen since that day. I also asked the question on page 89 in Kolbert, “is it really gone, or did someone just miss it?” Extinction is such a permanent word that is hard to fully comprehend. Even with the possibility of Earth’s climate eventually returning to what we have known for the past century, these animals are gone forever.

    Taking endangered species into captivity is also another issue to be addressed. We take animals under our own care to avoid extinction. But will these creatures ever be able to survive in their natural habitat after living in captivity? -- Especially with the extreme changes of climate. If the remaining animals cannot survive the changes, then what can we expect from the few in captivity?

  4. I think something a lot of us forget is that humans are pretty remarkable in terms of our ability to adapt. I'm sure there are at least a few other species who have managed to survive on all seven continents, but I doubt there are many. Hearing about the Bufo toads, and how precise the conditions for them to survive needed to be, makes me really wonder how many other species aren't going to be able to adapt in time, how many are already doomed by the changes we've already put into motion. Then consider how long it probably took for all these species to come into being. How many millions of years will it need to be before there are again a comparable number of species to the time before we started causing mass extinctions? There were certainly extinctions before humans ever started interfering (the dinosaurs being just one example), but if we don't take some drastic measures, our planet's about to become a whole lot less diverse.

  5. Humans have an advantage as far as adaptations are concerned: technology. The problem at hand, which is described on page 90 of Field Notes, is the idea of mass extinction due to climate change. Basically, the climate is changing too quickly for species to evolve with it. The food we eat, whether it be crops, livestock, or fish, is being threatened. Diseases will be changing. I loved how Kolbert ended this chapter with the quote, "...we don't know what the consequences are going to be." Heather is right when she says the planet will become less diverse. To add to her statement, this lack of diversity will present huge problems in and of itself. The amazing thing about climate change is that once it gets going, we will be experiencing problems from all directions.

  6. I wasn't really sure where to post this, but here goes...

    I just saw this on the University homepage. I thought it was both interesting and particularly relevant to our class.

    It's a news release about a study that started today about wood pellets and the heating plant.

  7. I just wanted to say that I was interested in the discussion on endangered species. I've always been one who felt that if animals start dying off that it's just part of "survival of the fittest" and we shouldn't worry too much about them. I'm happy to report that I don't agree with that statement any more. To put it simply, I changed my mind because the evolution game isn't fair any more. Humans changed the stakes of the game by adding chemicals to lakes and streams, pouring pesticides on land, and turning up the thermostat. As Elizabeth said, humans have technology, so we can more easily adapt. Take disease. Mankind has numerous medicines and treatments while nature has very few answers: dogs will eat plants so they can throw-up what's causing the problem or bees, once they sense they are infected, will fly away to never see their hive ever again so they won't infect their colony. We have to even the playing field before we can let everyone play.

  8. Reading this chapter reminded of a few instances that I believe have been at least partially affected by climate change. As I was reading the chapter "The Butterfly and the Toad" my mind was obviously drawn to just these things, even in my own experiences.

    I grew up on the same farmland as my mother, and we spent a lot of time outside taking walks together. She would often point out plants and animals that I may have missed without her, and I was impressed that she always seemed to know the names of everything! She pointed out to me milkweed and monarch caterpillars, and told me about how the caterpillars depended on the milkweed as their only food source before becoming butterflies. I noticed over the years, that the number of milkweed plants has been decreasing, and the number of monarch caterpillars and butterflies has decreased as well. It's now difficult for me to find a milkweed plant on the land.

    I have also noticed a decrease in the number of fireflies during the summer months. I remember being in awe of the number of them I could see in the tall grasses around our house during the first few weeks of July and thinking that it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen! Now I have to stare into the darkness to catch a glimpse of a firefly.

    Our house is right next to a small pond, and frogs calling was always a sound I was used to during the summer. The pond is all but dried up now, and hearing frogs is a much less frequent occurrence, most often experienced only after a heavy rain.

    The land in my area is drying up and I can see the effects it is having on the species inhabiting it-my mom can see even more of these effects having lived on the land for a much longer period.

  9. Thanks for sharing those stories with us, Teresa. Most importantly, I want to say that it is a great privilege, in my opinion, that you grew up on the same farmland as your mom! My parents had been long gone from the farm by the time I was born, but I had the same kind of relationship with my dad--touring the backyard, noting what plants and flowers were coming up where, noticing birds' nests, bird song. These are some of my fondest memories. I did the same thing with my son, and such a simple thing as watching each spring for the spot where the trillium would come up, and the jack-in-the-pulpit, was so pleasurable (little kids are great at returning us to these kinds of enjoyments!)--I looked forward every spring day to getting home from campus and touring the yard with my little boy.

    This is the closest I have come to the experience that I read to the class about the Icelanders who track "their" glaciers.

    It's a small comfort, but there are perennial flowers one can plant that are related to the wild milkweed--they attract monarchs. They're quite lovely. A couple of summers ago, having seen their distinctive caterpillars munching away on these leaves, I was excited to see a CHRYSALIS. Like your experiences with fireflies and frog's calling, Teresa, I felt it had been AGES since I'd simply stumbled across any kind of chrysalis or cocoon.

    These thoughts relate, though less drastically than the things I mentioned yesterday, to the NYT Magazine article on ecological consciousness.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.