Saving Birds and Porpoises

If you love animals, and most of us do, you have to feel sad for the way human activity affects them. That’s why when I read about new ways to help counteract what we do, it makes me smile. The first instance I’ve recently came across is about birds. We are glad for wind power and the way it can help us with climate change.  There is a downside to wind power, however: birds, including eagles, and bats run into the blades and die. But now there’s a camera with special sensors that can sense the birds coming and turn itself off. It’s called Identiflight and it can detect bird flights more than 5 times better than human observers and with a 94% accuracy. The system is able to calculate the birds flight speed and trajectory and if there is a conflict, it shuts  the blades down.

The other innovation is with fishing nets. They kill thousands of porpoises,  cetaceans and other aquatic mammals including whales. The simple insertion of plastic beads in the nets makes a crucial difference. These animals use echolocation to orient themselves and find their prey. They cannot sense the nets, but the insertion of beads alters the whole equation, because the beads can be sensed by the acoustic signals of the animals. They are made of  acrylic glass with  the same density as water and do not add weight to the nets.  What’s even more important is that they can also be adapted to the different frequencies of different species.  Daniel Stepputtis a marine biologist in Rostock Germany, is the innovator behind the beads, and for that we thank him.

Neither system is foolproof, particularly the beaded nets, but they are saving animal lives, and their existence makes us, me at least, look forward to other such innovations to help other animals affected by humans—Bees perhaps?

Trust in Science

We’ve all had to make so many adjustments to  Covid, not all of them to our liking. And yet Covid has brought out a few good things, the change in the 8 hours work day for one. Another is our trust in science.  The Wellcome Trust, a charitable organization based in London,  commissioned an international  survey of how people viewed science and scientists. One of their areas of interest is public health, one reason being that public health policy and programs  which usually come from governments cannot succeed without the public’s trust in science. What was surprising to many in view of some of the reactions to Covid  was that as a whole  trust in science has increased.  The report that was issued showed that 80% of people from 113 countries trusted science either a lot or some. Roughly the same, about three fourth of the people surveyed  (119,000), said they trusted scientists also either a lot or some. The percentage of people who said they trusted science a lot rose about 10% in East Asia, including China, Latin America, Eastern Europe and South East Asia. In the United States, as one would expect,  the picture is more complex. 54% of people said they trusted scientists a lot, an increase of 9% over the previous Wellcome Trust poll in 2018. While to no one’s surprise, trust in science follows party line, an important factor here is that more people trust science and scientists than trust government and what government say or ask.  While that finding has big implications for policy makers, and I hope they will pay attention,  the point is that trust in science is making small inroads despite our polarization.

That’s why I wanted to share this with you, because it’s easy to look at our divisions and not see the cracks where the light gets in—if I may borrow a Leonard Cohen’s lyric.

The Right to Repair

The European Commission is presenting a set of rules that rightly applied are meant to make the movement called “the Right To Repair” come alive. As we all know there tends to be a built-in obsolescence to the electronics and other products we buy. These rules are meant to combat this by making products easier to repair. So often glue is used when screws could make the repair doable. We all have the experience of problems with printers, computers, phones, and the like and it is cheaper to buy a new one rather than have the old fixed. But so much waste is not good for the environment nor for the use of the earth’s resources. The European Commission is mainly concerned with the European Union, but manufacturers will not be making products for the EU alone, so despite Brexit  the regulations will have to also apply to products bought in the UK. Indeed the BBC reports many repair workshops springing up in several UK cities. While the repair movement may not be as visible in the US, it is gaining momentum since the same logic applies, manufacturers will not be making one product for the EU and one for the US. The regulations go further than certain guidelines for manufacturing products, they include packaging in a more environmentally friendly way and  in one that can also eliminate waste. And to all this we can all say Yeah!!

Cashmere and Climate Change

Mongolia has a problem, partly due to our increased demand for cashmere and partly due to climate change. Since it became a democracy in 1990 the number of  cashmere producing goats has soared from 9000 in 1999 to 27,000 in 2020. These goats need grazing and certain climactic conditions have affected how much land  there is to graze on to the point where 70% of the  land  is now overgrazed. The goats are taken care of by 1.2 million nomadic herders which make up 40% of the nation’s population and not only is their livelihood in danger as a result so is the economy of the country. Mongolia is the world’s second producer of  cashmere after China, representing a fifth of global supply and it is the country’s third largest export after copper and gold. Now as the world’s demand for cashmere keeps rising, climate change is accelerating the need for more land to graze on. Temperatures in Mongolia have risen 2 degrees Celsius, more than the world’s average, turning a quarter of the country’s lands into desert, obviously exacerbating the problem with  grazing .

What touches me about this story is how our actions, our needs, our preferences, have an effect on the nomadic herders of Mongolia.   You can say it’s oblique, indirect, that other  factors may be more relevant, marketing, or modern transportation systems, to name but two,  but it still comes down to our penchant for the softness of cashmere. And as I think about it, it reminds me of the interconnectedness of the human family and the oneness of humanity. I hope it will for you too.