Laurel Wamsley: Free Transit Consider for Germans

NPR:

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Germany is considering free public transit in its cities in order to curb car use, as it hurries to meet the European Union’s requirements for air quality. That proposal is put forth in a letter to from the German government to the EU’s Environment Commissioner. The free transit plan is part of a range of measures suggested in the letter, including low emission zones, incentives for electric cars, and technically retrofitting existing vehicles, Reuters reports.

”We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” the letter says, according to Agence France Presse. “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany.”

Cheryl Dybas: Large Rains Mean High Phosphorus Pollution

National Science Foundation:

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While April showers might bring May flowers, they also contribute to toxic algae blooms, dead zones and declining water quality in U.S. lakes, reservoirs and coastal waters, a new study shows. In the Midwest, the problem is largely due to phosphorus, a key element in fertilizers that is carried off the land and into the water, where it grows algae as easily as it grows corn and soybeans.

Previous research had found that waterways receive most of their annual phosphorus load in only a dozen or two events each year, reports Steve Carpenter, director emeritus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and lead author of a new paper published online in the journal Limnology and Oceanography. The paper ties those phosphorus pulses to extreme rain events. In fact, Carpenter says, the bigger the rainstorm, the more phosphorus is flushed downstream.

Linda Poon: Fox and Coyote Interactions in City

The Atlantic

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In the wild and in the countryside, coyotes are not only bigger than red foxes, but they’re also higher up the food chain. They tend to push weaker competitors out of their territories and will even kill to protect access to limited food sources. So while red foxes exist in the same general area and may even establish homes at the periphery of where coyotes live, they rarely venture into the other predators’ domain.

In cities, though, it looks like they’re learning how to get along. That’s according to Drake’s latest study published in the journal PLOS One. Over the years, foxes and coyotes, like so many other wild species, have settled in the city, and they’re inevitably here to stay. Some animal species have adapted to thrive amid the human-dominated landscape of high-rises, fragmented green space, and heavy traffic. Now, at least in the case of these two wildlife predators, they may be changing their behavioral instincts to coexist with each other—thanks in part to the abundance of food.

Jacques Leslie: Self-Driving Cars - Utopia or Dystopia?

Yale360:

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Automated cars, often referred to as “autonomous vehicles” (AVs) — whose passengers determine their routes without having to drive them — are being widely developed and tested, and probably will be used commercially in controlled settings within a few years. Lyft, Uber, and others have introduced ride-sharing, in which customers agree to travel with strangers in return for reduced fares. Put all three concepts together in one vehicle, posit that within a few decades this shared EV-AV technology will take over the nation’s automobile fleet, and the outcome seems environmentally irresistible, verging on fantastical.

But it’s equally plausible that the vision may turn out to be a mirage. Automated vehicles may eventually be widely adopted, but if the fleet is not electrified using renewable energy, or car sharing fails to take off, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution could actually increase. A study last year by University of California, Davis researchers projected that if vehicles are automated but not electrified or shared, greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector would go up 50 percent by 2050 compared to business as usual. But if shared, electrified, automated vehicles flourish, greenhouse gas emissions could plunge by 80 percent, the study concluded⁠.

Kurt Kohlstedt: Taxes Shaping Architecture

99% Invisible:

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Ever noticed how the bricks on newer British buildings are bigger, or stopped to appreciate hand-stenciled wallpaper, or enjoyed a sip from a fancy hollow-stemmed glass? If so, you may well be admiring a product of regulation and taxes as much aesthetic tastes. From basic materials to entire architectural styles, building codes and taxation strategies have had huge historical impacts on the built world as we know it...

Dutch canal houses are another classic example of how rules and regulations can shape structures. Taxed on their canal frontage rather than height or depth, these buildings grew in tall and thin. In turn, this typology evolved narrower staircases, necessitating exterior hoist systems to move furniture and goods into and out of upper floors.

James A. Marcum: Thomas Kuhn's Paradigm Shift

TLS:

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Thomas Kuhn’s influence on the academic and intellectual landscape in the second half of the twentieth century is undeniable. It spans the natural sciences, and the historical and philosophical disciplines that examine them, through to the fine arts and even to business. But what did Kuhn espouse? In brief, he popularized the notions of the paradigm and the paradigm shift. A paradigm for Kuhn is a bundle of puzzles, techniques, assumptions, standards and vocabulary that scientists endorse and employ to undertake their day-to-day activities and thereby make remarkable advances in understanding and explaining the natural world...

In 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – the book in which Kuhn set out his ideas on paradigms and scientific development – was published, as the final monograph in the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. In 1964 he joined Princeton University’s history and philosophy of science programme; and in 1979, he left Princeton for the department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. In 1991, Kuhn became professor emeritus; and he died on June 17, 1996 in Cambridge, MA.

In Structure, Kuhn’s main aim was to criticize the widely accepted view – promoted by the Logical Positivists – that the accumulation of scientific knowledge across time is incremental and contiguous.

Brad Dokken: Vehicle at Bottom of Lake?

Brainerd Dispatch:

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Thompson, who aptly is nicknamed “Seal,” says Tri-State Diving does anywhere from 10 to 15 salvage operations in a typical winter. As of mid-January, the company already had pulled nine ATVs, vehicles or fish houses from lakes across the region, and more jobs await them when weather conditions improve. “It’s getting to be more and more because of how well we’re getting known and insurance companies calling us direct,” Thompson said. “‘Dirty Jobs’ put us on the map.”

Tri-State shoots photos or video of all of its retrieval jobs and posts the footage on Facebook, Thompson said, which also helps to spread the word. “Plus, there are a lot of the areas where conservation officers know the kind of work we do, and they refer (people) to us,” he said.

Tri-State uses a device called a SUVE (pronounced soo-vee)—which stands for Submerged Underwater Vehicle Extractor—for retrieving vehicles. In very basic terms, the SUVE is like a big teeter totter with a winch on the top to raise whatever’s submerged to the surface. Thompson has patents on both the apparatus and the teeter-totter concept it employs, he says. “It’s just two rails (the vehicle) rides up, and once it’s up on top and gets past center, we just bring it down on the ice,” Thompson said.

Richard Conniff: Wildlife in an Urbanized World

Yale360:

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we know almost nothing about what ecologist Meredith Holgerson at Portland State University calls “these cryptic changes happening” as humans occupy and alter a landscape. For her doctoral research at Yale University, she looked at the effects of suburbanization on wood frogs in 18 ponds in the prosperous Connecticut suburb of Madison. The area around the ponds had developed largely with two-acre zoning, allowing for survival of “pretty good red maple swamps and vernal ponds,” says David Skelly, a professor of ecology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies who oversaw the research. But chemical analysis of the ponds demonstrated that, along with other changes, the wood frog larvae were getting as much as 70 percent of their nutrients from materials leaching out of septic systems. “It suggests,” says Holgerson, “that tadpoles and other pond organisms are made up of human waste.”

The consequences of that remain unknown. But it also suggests that we may change the entire nutrient flow of an ecosystem, cause eutrophication, or introduce hormone-disrupting drugs or other chemicals in our waste — and still imagine that we live in a relatively intact habitat.

Sarah DeWeerdt: Leaky Sewers a Source of Pollution

Anthropocene:

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“Wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to remove many pharmaceutical compounds,” lead author Emma Rosi, an aquatic ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, a nonprofit research organization in Millbrook, NY, said in a press release. “We were interested in how stream microorganisms – which perform key ecosystem services like removing nutrients and breaking down leaf litter – respond to pharmaceutical pollution.” Rosi and her colleagues studied biofilms—complex assemblages of bacteria and algae that make rocks and leaves in streams slippery – in four waterways in and around Baltimore, Maryland.

The study sites represent an urban-to-suburban gradient of habitats, and they each harbor a different assemblage of microbes, the researchers found. The biggest differences were between Gwynns Run, the most urbanized stream with a documented history of sewage contamination, and Gwynnbrook, the least developed stream.

First, the researchers looked for six different drugs in the streams: acetaminophen, caffeine, sulfamethoxazole (an antibiotic), diphenhydramine (an antihistamine), amphetamine, and morphine. They detected all of the drugs in all four streams, with the highest concentrations in the most urbanized stream and the lowest concentrations in the least urbanized stream.

Bill Donahue: Aging with Intention

Outside:

Heinrich examining a raven’s skull. (Jesse Burke)

Heinrich examining a raven’s skull. (Jesse Burke)

In 1951, when Bernd was 11, his family wrangled passage to the U.S. and landed in western Maine. They planned to grow pota­toes. Instead they were taken in for a summer by a kind family, the Adamses, whose ramshackle farm was a mess, a melange of dogs and cows and chickens and broken tractor equipment. To Bernd, the place was paradise, as he writes in his 2007 memoir, The Snoring Bird, recalling the adventures he shared with the two eldest Adams kids, Jimmy and Billy. The boys built a raft out of barn wood and spent countless hours watching baby catfish and white-bellied dragonflies. The Adamses taught Bernd English. He killed a hummingbird with his slingshot. He ran around barefoot and shirtless.

Bernd Heinrich is now 77 years old and the author of 21 books. The vaunted biologist E. O. Wilson speaks of him as an equal, calling him “one of the most original and productive people I know” and “one of the best natural-history writers we have.” Runners also revere him, for his speed and for his 2002 book, Why We Run. “He was the first person of scientific stature to say that ultramarathoning is a natural pursuit for humans,” says Christopher McDougall, author of the 2009 bestseller Born to Run. “He did the research himself, in 100-plus-mile races.”

Fascinating story of Bernd Heinrich's interesting and productive life.

Mimi Kirk: A Rational Housing Solution

The Atlantic:

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When Kol Peterson moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2010, affordable housing was a priority, as it was for many newcomers in this city’s booming real-estate market. He looked at two frequently discussed options for high-cost cities—tiny houses on wheels and communal living—but decided on another option: accessory dwelling units, or ADUs—also known as “granny flats,” or basement or garage apartments...

“By 2020, ADUs will take off in tens of cities,” he said. “This doesn’t mean there will be an explosion of them overnight, but the concept will become more popular in the next couple of years.”

Peterson recently wrote a book, Backdoor Revolution: The Definitive Guide to ADU Development, that walks potential ADU builders through the planning and construction process, and tackles the social, economic, and environmental issues that relate to such housing.

Jake Walsh: Learning about Consequences of Non-indigenous Species

UW - Center for Limnology

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For reasons we don’t yet completely understand, nutrients concentrations have been lower and beach conditions have actually been better since spiny water flea showed up in Lake Mendota. Somehow, there seem to be fewer nutrients available to cyanobacteria to feed really big blooms, which means we likely have as much control over preventing summer blooms now as we did before the invasion by reducing nutrient concentrations in the lake.

Getting to the bottom of these new findings can help us get more of something we enjoy in Lake Mendota – good water quality. Of course it’s unlikely that we’re done making mistakes, particularly when it comes to invasive species. Invasive zebra mussels were detected in Lake Mendota in 2015, six years after spiny water flea’s detection. We’re already learning more about both zebra mussels and Lake Mendota as they grow in abundance and transform the lake bottom.

But, like the spiny water flea, there’s still that silver lining – mistakes teach. If we continue to study lakes carefully over long periods of time, we can uncover more about how they work and use that information in positive ways. And, just maybe, we’ll not only learn from these mistakes but also learn how to stop making them.

Andy Balaskovitz: Offshore Wind on the Great Lakes

ENSIA:

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Eight miles north of Cleveland in Lake Erie, the Icebreaker Wind project is poised to become the first offshore wind project in the Great Lakes. The project, lured by LEEDCo, is owned by Icebreaker Wind Power through the Norway-based investor Fred. Olsen Renewables. Pending federal and state approval, developers anticipate construction will begin in 2020 on the six-turbine, 20.7 MW project.

Some renewable energy advocates hope Icebreaker will catalyze further Great Lakes offshore wind development by settling economic, environmental and regulatory concerns. Skeptics fear it could be a one-off demonstration that is unlikely to be scaled up. And opponents like the North American Platform Against Wind Power and others with concerns about aesthetics, renewable energy or potential impacts on wildlife worry it will lead to a flood of projects throughout the region.

Amy Crawford: Need to Rethink Alien Species

Smithsonian:

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In the 19th century, European and American landscape architects expressed a patriotic pride that was sometimes tinged with nativist suspicion of “foreign” plants. In the 1930s, the Nazis took this concept to the extreme with a campaign to “cleanse the German landscape of unharmonious foreign substance.” One target was an unassuming Eurasian flower, Impatiens parviflora, which a 1942 report condemned as a “Mongolian invader,” declaring, “[A]n essential element of this culture, namely the beauty of our home forest, is at stake.”

Today’s critics of invasive species rhetoric are quick to clarify that they aren’t calling their colleagues racist. But Macalester College ecologist Mark Davis, for one, questions whether our modern campaign against non-native species has gone too far.

Davis is perhaps the field’s most notorious heretic, lead author of a widely-read 2011 essay in the journal Nature, co-signed by 18 other ecologists, that argued for judging non-native species based on environmental impact rather than origin. He believes that invasion ecology has been led astray by its central metaphor: the idea that non-native species are invading native ecosystems, and that we are at war with them. “Militaristic language is just so unscientific and emotional,” says Davis. “It’s an effective way to bring in support, but it’s not a scientific way.”

Greg Breining: Road Salt's Problems and Solutions

ENSIA:

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A recent study of 371 lakes in North America — most in the northern states and southern Canada — showed chloride concentrations rising in more than a third. More than two dozen were nudging toward levels harmful to aquatic life. Extrapolated to all lakes in the U.S. northern Great Lakes and Northeast regions, about “7,770 lakes may be experiencing elevated chloride concentrations, likely due to road salt runoff,” the study concludes.

U.S. road maintenance departments have been spreading salt on streets and highways to melt snow and ice since the 1940s, but the use of salt skyrocketed over time — from 0.15 metric tons (0.16 tons) per year during the 1940s to about 18 million metric tons (19.8 million tons) per year today. Road salt use is common and growing throughout Canada, Europe, Japan, China and even South America. As much as 60 million metric tons (66 million tons) may be applied worldwide each year. Unlike chemicals that break down into less harmful compounds, road salt persists and may remain in water and soil for years, until it eventually is diluted and carried away by moving water...

...the biggest single change to use less salt is switching to liquid solutions. The brine spreads more evenly, stays put and begins working immediately because the salt is already in solution. As a result, spraying liquid brine is more effective while using less salt.

Amy Crawford: Need to Rethink Alien Species

Smithsonian:

ajytgk.jpg
In the 19th century, European and American landscape architects expressed a patriotic pride that was sometimes tinged with nativist suspicion of “foreign” plants. In the 1930s, the Nazis took this concept to the extreme with a campaign to “cleanse the German landscape of unharmonious foreign substance.” One target was an unassuming Eurasian flower, Impatiens parviflora, which a 1942 report condemned as a “Mongolian invader,” declaring, “[A]n essential element of this culture, namely the beauty of our home forest, is at stake.”

Today’s critics of invasive species rhetoric are quick to clarify that they aren’t calling their colleagues racist. But Macalester College ecologist Mark Davis, for one, questions whether our modern campaign against non-native species has gone too far.

Davis is perhaps the field’s most notorious heretic, lead author of a widely-read 2011 essay in the journal Nature, co-signed by 18 other ecologists, that argued for judging non-native species based on environmental impact rather than origin. He believes that invasion ecology has been led astray by its central metaphor: the idea that non-native species are invading native ecosystems, and that we are at war with them. “Militaristic language is just so unscientific and emotional,” says Davis. “It’s an effective way to bring in support, but it’s not a scientific way.”

Greg Breining: Road Salt's Problems and Solutions

ENSIA:

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A recent study of 371 lakes in North America — most in the northern states and southern Canada — showed chloride concentrations rising in more than a third. More than two dozen were nudging toward levels harmful to aquatic life. Extrapolated to all lakes in the U.S. northern Great Lakes and Northeast regions, about “7,770 lakes may be experiencing elevated chloride concentrations, likely due to road salt runoff,” the study concludes.

U.S. road maintenance departments have been spreading salt on streets and highways to melt snow and ice since the 1940s, but the use of salt skyrocketed over time — from 0.15 metric tons (0.16 tons) per year during the 1940s to about 18 million metric tons (19.8 million tons) per year today. Road salt use is common and growing throughout Canada, Europe, Japan, China and even South America. As much as 60 million metric tons (66 million tons) may be applied worldwide each year. Unlike chemicals that break down into less harmful compounds, road salt persists and may remain in water and soil for years, until it eventually is diluted and carried away by moving water...

...the biggest single change to use less salt is switching to liquid solutions. The brine spreads more evenly, stays put and begins working immediately because the salt is already in solution. As a result, spraying liquid brine is more effective while using less salt.

Tia Ghose: Can We Manage the World's Largest Organism?

Live Science:

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Pando is a colony of quaking aspen that spans 106 acres (43 hectares) of south-central Utah. Because of an explosion of deer in the area, new sprouts from Pando are eaten before they have a chance to mature, and the venerable organism is at risk of dying out altogether. “The system is not replacing itself; it’s highly out of balance,” said Paul Rogers, an ecologist at Utah State University and the director of the Western Aspen Alliance.

Eliminating or reducing common predators has consequences. 

Michael Casey: Loons Poisoned by Lead

Associated Press:

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More than year after New Hampshire passed one of the nation’s toughest bans on using lead fishing tackle, loons are still dying from ingesting fishing weights and lures.

The 2016 law prohibits the sale and use of lead tackle in the state as part of an effort to revive the state’s loon population. But Loon Preservation Committee senior biologist Harry Vogel says eight loons have died this year from lead poisoning, up from two last year.

”The day this law was passed, we knew we would continue to see lead-poisoned loons,” Vogel said. “As long as Grandpa’s old tackle box is in the dusty corner of the garage, some people will just put lead tackle on the line and continue to fish. The hope is that it will become less and less common over time.”

From necropsy studies, I've estimated that between 100 and 200 Minnesota loons die each year due to lead poisoning.

James Kunstler: The Infinite Suburb is a Joke

The American Conservative:

Jun Cen

Jun Cen

In their visions of the future, the elite graduate schools of urban planning lately see a new-and-improved suburbia, based on self-driving electric cars, “drone deliveries at your doorstep,” and “teardrop-shaped one-way roads” (I think that means cul-de-sacs) as the coming sure thing. It sounds suspiciously like yesterday’s tomorrow, the George Jetson utopia that has been the stock-in-trade of half-baked futurism for decades. It may be obvious that for some time now we have lived in a reality-optional culture and it’s vividly on display in the cavalcade of techno-narcissism that passes for thinking these days in academia.

Exhibit A is the essay that appeared last month in The New York Times Sunday Magazine titled “The Suburb of the Future is Almost Here,” by Alan M. Berger of the MIT urban design faculty and author of the book Infinite Suburbia — on the face of it a perfectly inane notion. The subtitle of his Times Magazine piece went: “Millennials want a different kind of suburban development that is smart, efficient, and sustainable.”

Note the trio of clichés at the end, borrowed from the lexicon of the advertising industry. “Smart” is a meaningless anodyne that replaces the worn out tropes “deluxe,” “super,” “limited edition,” and so on. It’s simply meant to tweak the reader’s status consciousness. Who wants to be dumb?

“Efficient” and “sustainable” are actually at odds. The combo ought to ring an alarm bell for anyone tasked with designing human habitats. Do you know what “efficient” gets you in terms of ecology? Monocultures.

Kunstler at his best. Suburbia is a high-energy development form -- it can only exist with abundant and cheap energy. Suburbs are scaled-up, jazzed-up hunter-gather type communities. The original hunter-gather communities existed in the wilderness where one lived with one's tribe, and they were likely good places to live. However, our big-sized suburbs exist on our cities' outskirts with unknown and sometime friendly neighbors, eating land, wasting resources, and in troubled times often fostering a culture of fear.