Tag Archives: nature

Just days left to save Aceh’s forests – Sumatran Orangutan Society

Last week, I gave yet another talk on orangutan conservation, with student presentations about the problems with palm oil, deforestation, mining and the bushmeat trade and how these threaten nonhuman primates.  Today there’s another urgent plea to save one of our most endangered relatives:

Earlier this year, more than a million people around the worldUrgent Campaign: Save Aceh's Forests, Wildlife and People called on the Governor of Aceh to abandon plans to carve up the irreplaceable Leuser Ecosystem with new roads, plantations and gold mines. The global outcry succeeded in delaying the province’s new spatial plan.

But it hasn’t been abandonned – yet. The decision will be made this month. The plan must be rejected. Please read about the campaign here, and sign the new petition today, there’s no time to lose.

Please share this urgent campaign far and wide – the wildlife, forests and people of Aceh need you now more than ever before.

re-posted from SOS Newsletter


Originally posted on Ekostories:
I came across Studio Ghibli’s Only Yesterday (titled Omohide Poro Poro in Japan) at a time of transition in my life. Having just having graduated from school and secured a job in my field, I had hoped…

The latest orangutan crises…

There are so many other crises unfolding that I am processing and hope to speak to soon, but meanwhile there are two bits of news on the Pongo conservation front that I want to share (shout it from the rooftops) even as they break my heart.

Item the first:

Cargill Admits Buying Palm Oil from Illegally Cleared Orangutan Habitat » Rainforest Action Network.

The Tripa forest mentioned later in the article is near where I did my orangutan research on Sumatra at Suaq Balimbing.  A petition to address this is at http://www.change.org/savetripa.
Item the second:
I got the following in an email from fellow orangutan researcher and conservationist, Stanislav Lhota.

I would like to keep you informed about the disastrous situation in Balikpapan Bay, East Kalimantan, which – among many other things – would lead to an extintion of one of the first successfully rehabilitated orangutan populations. It mainly relates to the proposal of the Balikpapan government to extend a huge industrial park into the orangutan habitat… It raises an important question – what is the meaning of orangutan reahabilitation programs if we subsequently allow the succesfully established populations to get eradicated to make the way for other land use? The situation is already very bad but the campaign to save Balikpapan Bay is still ongoing…  and there remains some chance to stop the industrial expansion.

This genus of great apes is losing ground so quickly now.  Please, sign petitions, get informed about what’s happening, and help however you can.

Painful Topics: Primate Conservation

I realize that the title of my blog probably makes some think that I’d be talking about non-human primates a bit more.  But, despite the fact that I could be called an expert on them, I find it very difficult to devote much time or thought to these creatures that I love.  It simply hurts way too much.

Bonobo (Pan paniscus) - photo by FJ White

I went to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to study female cooperation among bonobos in 1996.  I had to leave after a couple months, in part because a civil war was brewing (it continues to simmer).  War is bad for any primate that’s unwittingly caught in the middle – for large monkeys and apes in Africa, it means an increased threat of poaching as well-armed mauraders move through their habitats.  In Congo, a lot of the money that keeps the war going comes from coltan – essentially, people like us buying electronic gadgets.

Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) - photo by M Merrill

So I changed my research topic to social learning in orangutans, and went to Sumatra in 1999.  While I was there, one of the research sites where I lived was being logged illegally.  I wrote letters and set up a website about it, but I wasn’t able to do much to stop it.  I somehow managed to get through analyzing what data I had and get my dissertation done in 2004, and I haven’t really been involved in primate research since.  The wounds just never healed right.

I face the pain from this every semester when I come to the place in the Introduction to Biological Anthropology classes I teach where I have to talk about my research and primate conservation.  It’s always a hard week.

Now I’ve been asked to co-present on great ape conservation with some of my colleagues at Cabrillo College, so I’m facing it at least twice this semester.  This also necessitated putting together some resources (though Renee found more of them) – I’ve posted those here: Great Ape Conservation.

I keep hoping someday this will get easier, it will hurt less so I can do more, but the news keeps getting worse.  So I try to focus on the things I can do here, just simple stuff like changing the entire culture of consumerism that is driving the destruction.

Wish me luck!

Getting Inspired at Bioneers

There is so much concentrated hope in one weekend at Bioneers, it can get a person like me and thousands of other “reverent, sane people” (a.k.a. environmentalists – Caroline Casey) through the rest of the year.  Here are just a smattering of the amazing things I learned about this weekend:

  • restoration on the Loess Plateau in China (John Liu)
  • the ways Google Earth is being used to protect coral reefs and indigenous Amazonian lands (Rebecca Moore)
  • the design of churches as a metaphoric representation of birth, but administered and controlled by men (Gloria Steinem)
  • the Wampanoag had a prophecy, now being realized, that invaders would take their language from them but then help restore their language to them much later (Nitana Hicks)
  • fungus is smarter than us, and can do almost anything, from cleaning oil spills to designing transit systems to curing cancer (Paul Stamets)
  • slavery is the basis for the modern food production mindset; the first national Food Day is this October 24th (Anim Steel)
  • sometimes the best way to solve problems is to make them bigger – expand the parameters; solar PV on just 3% of existing buildings in the US would replace all the energy we now get from coal (Amory Lovins)
  • we need to think about intergenerational justice: fairness in the ways that living generations interact with those that will follow us (David Orr)
  • almost all of the commercially raised bees in the US meet and mingle in California’s central valley during the couple of weeks that the almond orchards are blooming (the film Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?)
  • restoring the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of old-growth cultures,  and this amazing image (Melissa K. Nelson)
  • if the history of life on Earth were one calendar year, there wasn’t any sex until September 17th, and fungi got to land a week before plants did in mid-November (Dayna Baumeister)
  • a democratically-elected Women’s Parliament was convened in 2009 in India, the world’s largest democracy (Pam Rajput)
  • Co-operators are standing by!” (Caroline Casey)
There was so much else, in the plenary sessions, in the afternoon workshops, and else-when.  I was on a panel called “Education in Action: Leveraging Higher Education for Sustainability,” moderated by Anthony Cortese of Second Nature. In case you missed it, Bioneers sends this:

 If you weren’t able to join us in California this past weekend, or catch the live webcast of the conference, check out archived videos of all three days by clicking here. You can also watch Kenny’s Bioneers 3.0 presentation referenced in the video above by clicking here.


There is as much cause for hope as for horror. As David Orr said, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

It’s all alive.  It’s all intelligent.  It’s all connected.  It’s all relatives.

Mindful Recycling and Waste « The Imagined Worlds of Michelle Yvonne Merrill

As with energy, we should have practices that enhance our awareness that nothing is ever “thrown away.” It is especially important that we think about the disposition of each item, knowing where it is going and acknowledging the different impacts of “disposal.” While the exact words are not crucial, the different sentiments are.

If you are disposing of something that will go into a landfill or will be incinerated, ask forgiveness by raising a hand and saying “Hail Gaia, Full of Grace.” If you are disposing of paper, aluminum, glass, plastics or similar materials to be recycled in industrial processes, raise a hand and say “Go with Gaia.” If you are disposing of food or other wastes to be composted, raise a hand in the air, smile and say “Join Gaia with Joy.”

via Mindful Recycling and Waste « The Imagined Worlds of Michelle Yvonne Merrill, originally posted on Apegrrl’s Meme Garden (29-Aug-2002).

Plan B Updates – 99: A Fifty Million Dollar Tipping Point? | EPI

A bright  bit of happy news burning through the sooty smokestack emissions:

At a press conference on July 21, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, called it a “game changer”. It is that, but it also could push the United States, and indeed the world, to a tipping point on the climate issue.

It is one thing for Michael Brune to say coal has to go, but quite another when Michael Bloomberg says so.

via Plan B Updates – 99: A Fifty Million Dollar Tipping Point? | EPI.

Ripple effects from big action by such a major player could include vast reductions in GHG emissions, improved health and environmental conditions due to drops in other pollutants from burning and mining, preservation of wilderness with the reduction or elimination of mountain-top removal mining… the list of reasons to “Quit Coal” are long indeed.  Yay team!

Twelve year old Severn Suzuki speaking at the UN Earth Summit (1992) « Critical Docs

Came across this on a kind-of wikiwalk… just… wow.  It’s still mostly in “Litany” mode, but I think this is getting at what I meant by the way the stories are told.

The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes

For more info and a transcript, see:

Twelve year old Severn Suzuki speaking at the UN Earth Summit (1992) « Critical Docs.

(and, BTW, sorry ’bout that.)

Timing the Trees (and other wonderful things)

I’ve had a terrific two days because I’ve been able to visit Judy twice!  I’m so jazzed about the idea of creating a local phenology calendar/almanac.  I found three organizations to support this: UCSB Phenology Stewardship Program, Project BudBurst, and USA National Phenology Network.  I’d like to do this as a Cabrillo-College-specific project, documenting the living things on the main Cabrillo campus (and probably expanding to Santa Cruz county, as we go along).  So we start to notice and record when the Liquidambar trees begin to turn colors, when the cherry trees bloom, when the poppies open,

when the cliff swallows arrive (usually around St. Patrick’s Day – March 17th), when the owls nest, and so many other wonderful natural events that make this such a spectacular place to live.  These are the things the Ohlone would have noticed (well, not the Liquidambar or the cherries, since those aren’t native).  They are the things that connect us to place.

I also hope that such a calendar/almanac could include all those wonderful celebrations of nature that are embedded in all cultures (well, probably, I guess I should check…).  Maybe someday, we can have a full 365 day cycle to celebrate these natural events and things ecological, like the God’s Gardeners in Margaret Atwood’s brilliant and amazing The Year of the Flood.

Judy told me that today is the Jewish New Years Day for Trees, Tu Be’Shevat, celebrated by eating dried fruits and nuts in the promise of coming plenty.  For our celebration, we ate chocolate and cherries together, and we made shide paper strips for a shimenawa I will be placing around a redwood near my home (a Shinto tradition).  We talked about the co-evolutionary braid of our early primate ancestors developing along with the angiosperms (the trees that make flowers and fruits) and insects (especially pollinators).  We also talked about the first trees we fell in love with.

Mine was a huge, sweet California buckeye, whose canopy came all the way to the ground, providing a fragrant refuge in the springs and the punishingly hot, dry summers of Concord.  I fled into its embrace often when I was a ‘tween, across the dry blonde grasses of Newhall Park, to get away from the cookie-cutter suburban landscape where I lived.  I imagined I was native to that place, having no idea what those people must have been like, but feeling closer to them and their imagined wildness than to my family or my classmates.  I read books about wolves and horses and dolphins, and I dreamed of escaping into the wilderness.

When, years later, I found myself in wilderness, in the Sumatran rainforest, trying to observe our cousins the orangutans, and illegal loggers moved into the research site and began to fell the amazing trees that were complex ecosystems unto themselves, and each day I wasn’t sure how or if I was going to cope, I vowed that I would do what I could to save all trees, all over the world.  I don’t know if I’ve done right by them, but little-by-little, I keep trying and hoping it’s making a difference.

So, thank you, Judy, for reminding me to think about the trees.  And thank you, trees, for making us all who we are.  I pledge to pay more attention to the wheel of events that mark your years here in my beautiful hometown.