Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why I advocate practical environmentalism

For me, every day is Earth Day, given the nature of the writing that I do for a living. So, I was pretty surprised this morning to read that on the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, a Gallup poll finds that just 19 percent of Americans consider themselves to be active environmentally. Another 42 percent describe themselves as sympathetic, but not active. 

The results were based on interviews with 1,104 adults older than the age of 18. The sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Just 62 percent of the respondents say the environmental movement has done more good than harm. That's DOWN from 75 percent in 2000. A full 10 percent are unsympathetic so environmental issues.

That gave me pause. Unsympathetic? That's like saying you don't like water because you breathe air. OK, bad analogy. I just don't get that attitude -- we all share the earth, we should take care of it. What's so hard about that?

Speaking of which, earlier this month, I visited a facility in Hawaii that reminded me of just how destructive and disruptive humans can be. The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kona is the ONLY facility you can visit in the United States that is actively engaged in research and breeding in captivity of seahorses, which are endangered. Yes, they're endangered. Did you know that? I didn't. There's lots of reasons for that status, including the fact that people love plucking seahorses off coral reefs and sticking them in private aquariums (where they usually die quickly). It doesn't help that a whole branch of herbal medicine has endowed them with aphrodisiac qualities. (Not true, guys.)

Here's a photo I took while touring the ranch. It's a top-down view of one of the holding tanks for the adults that the farm has bred and raised:


The owners of the Ocean Rider are the kind of environmentalists that I really appreciate: practical ones.

Rather than get all radical and incensed with the seahorses' endangered status, they decided to do something about it. First, they've come up with some techniques for making sure that their "herd" (school?) has the food that they need, which is a certain kind of high-fat shrimp that loves breeding in the Kona coast tide pools. Just in case you DON'T have a tide pool handy, the marine biologists have figured out how to gut-load brine shrimp with algae; this is significant, because it is the latter that will wind up as a food source for any seahorses that you decide to keep as pets.

Aside from research, Ocean Rider makes its money by selling seahorses to the general public BUT ONLY after they have successfully completed a course in how to take care of them. The average lifespan of the seahorses you buy from an exotic fish store is only six weeks precisely because owners don't know how to take care of them properly.

If you ever get out to Kona, this is absolutely a must-do visit. 

In my next life, I will come back as a marine biologist. But right now, I figure I can do my part by writing about technologies that can help us recalibrate some of the damage we've done to the earth. Some say climate change is inevitable, that we're just in a natural cycle. I say, we're smart enough now to take action to slow it -- if not reverse it.

You can read my stories daily on the GreenTech Pastures blog and on Smart Planet. And, if you appreciate practical environmentalism as I do, check out some of my posts for Earth Day today.

On Smart Planet:

Survey: Facilities managers struggling with commitment to energy

U.S. school districts need course in Energy Efficiency 101

On GreenTech Pastures:

Energy-efficient lighting dominates facilities managers' energy
efficiency efforts