Palm Oil Updates from UCS

Union of Concerned Scientists is starting a new campaign to get McDonald’s to “make a firm commitment to use only deforestation-free palm oil.”

“Tell McDonald’s to go deforestation-free!” Act Now »

For more information on the fast food sector and palm oil, read [UCS's] latest blog on the issue, Palm Oil, Deforestation, and the Fast Food Industry: Would You Like a Side of Forests with That? and our new report, Donuts, Deodorant, Deforestation: Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments.

The living wind stilled

One hundred years ago, the once mighty species Ectopistes migratorius lost its final survivor.  Alone in the Cincinnati Zoo, on 1 September 1914,  Martha was found dead at the bottom of her cage, the last of the passenger pigeons which had outnumbered humans more than 3-to-1 a century earlier (by some estimates)[1].   Her kind had vanished from the wild fourteen years earlier [2].

The death-of-birth among the passenger pigeons was one part of the ongoing Sixth Great Extinction.  It may not have been exclusively the fault of Homo sapiens, but there can be no doubt that our species contributed and it is likely we were the deciding factor. And it’s quite likely that the loss of this species, once so abundant that a passing flock could darken the sky for days, contributed to the steep decline of the once mighty American chestnut tree, whose loss in turn contributed to the rise of moonshine and tobacco in the American southeast.

So take a moment on September 1st to contemplate the loss of this bird: fleet and gregarious flyer, shaper of continental ecosystems, a feathered message penned with a last breath a century ago.

RIP Martha | ca. 1900 – 1 September 1914

Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons. Trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a decade hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.  ~ Aldo Leopold, 1947


The geometry of the human handprint

Take a moment to observe a scene somewhere not crafted by human hands: a forest, a creek bed, a meadow, a hillside, a leaf.  How often do you see right angles?

A snake seen near the MacRitchie reservoir on Singapore (probably a Wagler's pit viper Tropidolaemus wagleri, see Figures 5 & 6 at  Photo by Erik S. Peterson

A snake seen near the MacRitchie reservoir on Singapore (probably a Wagler’s pit viper, Tropidolaemus wagleri; see Figures 5 & 6 at Photo by Erik S. Peterson

There is one place you can easily find a right angle.  Hold your hand out flat, and stretch out your thumb.  Coincidence?  Maybe….

Looking a bit rectilinear, hmm...

Looking a bit rectilinear, hmm…

The human handprint has a long history of being associated with our creativity.

The human handprint has a long history of being associated with our creativity.

#inyourpalm The Power is In Your Palm - to protect wild orangutans from deforestation for palm oil production. Photos by me (M. Merrill).

“The Power Is In Your Palm” What are we choosing to do with our amazingly dexterous hands and spectacularly opposable thumbs? Choose wisely. (See to learn more about how to protect wild orangutans from deforestation for palm oil production.)


In the red again

As a species, we’re into deficit spending for the year on the stuff that really Earth Overshoot Day 2014: 19 Augustmatters, the stuff that keeps us going.  Yesterday was estimated to be Earth Overshoot Day 2014: the day when we’ve used up our budget on ecosystems services for the year, and we start stealing from the future to keep doing what we’re doing now.  And that’s not even taking into account the nonrenewable stuff like minerals that we’re just plain running out of.

How many Earths do these humans think they've got?

Singapore’s not on here – I’m guessing it’s close to UAE level (tiny place, HUGE footprint).


News from Indonesia’s Forests

Visiting is always an emotional roller-coaster.  The reporting is great, and what they have to say is… often not so great.  The latest news out of Indonesia (especially Sumatra) is a typically mixed bag.

Despite moratorium, Indonesia now has world’s highest deforestation rate :-(

Observational Learning in Sumatran Orangutans

Sumatran Orangutans, in lowland/wetland “protected” forest, just before the forest there was illegally, selectively logged in 1999.

ConAgra adopts greener palm oil policy :-)

Elephant poaching soars as Sumatran forests turn into plantations :-(


NTU races toward sustainability

Why would I come all the way to Singapore to do research on education for sustainability?  Here’s why:

NTU’s new icons of sustainability

In 2013, the two new [residential] halls achieved Green Mark Platinum status – the highest award for an individual building given by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for environmental sustainability…

NTU is also set to become the greenest eco-campus in the world, with its aim to have a 35 per cent reduction in energy, water and waste by 2020.

They’re also requiring all incoming freshman to complete a short, multidisciplinary, online course on sustainability.  Learn more…

NTU is serious about becoming a leading world university, and how they plan to get there is by leading the world in sustainability.

I do believe I love my job :-)



Nurturing Asian Networks for Post-Secondary Sustainability Education

This is a virtual presentation I am giving for the Asian Conference on Education for Sustainability 2014.
The paper is by Michelle Y. Merrill, Youngho Chang, Md Saidul Islam and Chang Chew Hung
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

About: The part of the world that reaches from India to Japan and China to Indonesia holds nearly half the current human population, and accounts for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is under-represented in publications on Education for Sustainability (EfS) in post-secondary education. This presentation examines the progress and context of EfS in southeast, southern and eastern Asia, based primarily on an analysis of the proceedings of the “Sustainability in Education: Pedagogical Themes and Practices in Asian Countries” workshop hosted at Nanyang Technological University in February 2014. It discusses the approaches and conclusions of scholars working in over a dozen countries (including most ASEAN members, plus China, India, Japan, and South Korea) on questions of pedagogy for sustainability in secondary and higher education. Strategies for strengthening the social network of EfS higher education practitioners in this region will be discussed, with a view toward nurturing this growing community of practice with the knowledge, skills, access and mindsets required to educate future generations for sustainability.

You may also want to check out my take on sustainability in video form.