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By: Alex Guyver,
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, Earth & Life Sciences
, Science & Medicine
, David Gibson
, Methods in Comparative Plant Population Ecology
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“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Experience, 1844.
The concept of looking at nature through multiple lenses to see different things is not new and has been long recognized. As always, the devil is in the details. Recent developments in analytical tools and the embracement of an integrative metapopulation concept and the newly emergent field of functional biogeography, are allowing exciting new insights to be made by population ecologists that have direct bearing on our understanding of the effects of environmental change on biodiversity patterns.
The metapopulation concept posits that isolated populations of organisms are connected through dynamics of dispersal and extinction. Across a landscape, areas of suitable habitat occur, which at one point in time may or may not host a viable population of a particular species. I study this concept with terrestrial plants, and have asked what environmental conditions determine suitable habitat for metapopulations.
Much of the foundational work in this topic was conducted on butterfly populations in meadows across otherwise forested habitat. Regardless of study organism, embracement of this concept has been enough to make population ecologists realize that studying single populations may give only a limited view on generalities of ecology and evolution. Indeed, taking this concept on board, has led population ecologists to want to predict in which areas of suitable habitat across the landscape a new population may establish.
“There’s no getting away from field work!”
There are obvious conservation and management implications that result from being able to predict the geographical distribution of a species, whether an invasive exotic spreading across the globe, or an endangered organism. Unfortunately, just knowing where a species or a group of species may occur across the landscape is not enough. Individuals in some populations may have low fitness and their populations may be barely hanging on. For some species such as potential island colonizers, it has been proposed that limited ability to colonize vacant habitat patches may be due to the occurrence of closely related species occupying a similar niche.
Important ‘missing pieces’ from a full understanding of the metapopulation puzzle have been through inclusion of population growth rate estimates and incorporation of species evolutionary relationships (i.e., their phylogenic ancestry). Population ecologists have been toiling away making fitness estimates of their species of interest in the field. Systematists, on the other hand, have been grinding it out in the lab to generate the molecular data necessary to construct phylogenetic trees to help classify their species.
Community ecologists studying multispecies assemblages, as a third-dimensional angle to this question, have been working with geographers to develop species distribution models. It is only recently that the analytical tools have emerged that allow these groups of scientists to collaborate and address questions of common interest about metapopulations.For example, Cory Merow and colleagues have recently shown how Bayesian models can be used to propagate uncertainty estimates in the application of integral projection models (IPMs) to forecast growth rates as part of predictive demographic distribution models (transition matrix models could also be used). In other words, species geographic distribution predictions can be improved by accounting for population-level fitness estimates.
In another study, Oluwatobi Oke and colleagues have shown how phylogenetic relationships among 66 co-occurring species in populations across a metapopulation structured landscape of Canadian barrens can improve understanding of species distribution patterns. The basis for Oke et al.’s phylogenetic patterns among their species was the large angiosperm supertree based upon nucleotide sequence data of three genes from over 500 species.
The basis for all of the work described above are precise and accurate estimates of individual fitness and population growth rates. There’s no getting away from field work! Methods for carrying out the field work component of these studies, to allow the use of modern statistical methods including Bayesian analysis, IPMs, and transition matrix models, have to be planned and carried out with care. We have come a long way in the last decade in enabling population studies to scale up to address fundamental questions at higher levels of the ecological hierarchy.
The field of population demography is moving fast. For example, the recent launch of the COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database, with accurate demographic information for over 500 plant species in their natural settings worldwide, will make addressing these scale-related types of comparative evolutionary and ecological questions even more tractable in the future.
The post Population ecologists scale up appeared first on OUPblog.
Tiny Creatures: the world of microbes
Written by Nicola Davies; Illustrated by Emily Sutton
Candlewick Press. 2014
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library.
Nicola Davies has penned some terrific science books. I really like Surprising Sharks! and Gaia Warriors. Davies excels at explaining the natural
world and our
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold
Poems written by Newbery Honor Award Winner, Joyce Sidman;
Illustrations by Rick Allen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014
All ages; birth to infinity.
To write this review, I borrowed a copy from my
local public library.
I am writing this review on the morning after a nasty
snowstorm that caused massive
power outages here in the
OwlKids Books promotes awareness of
our world to encourage young readers to become more astute observers of
how their choices can affect the natural world. OwlKids Books appeal to readers who enjoy bold graphics with quick facts using minimal text.
Why We Live Where We Live
Written by Kira Vermond; Illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
Vermond takes readers on a
Buried Sunlight: how
fossil fuels have changed our world
Written by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm; Illustrated by
Blue Sky Press. 2014
To review this book, I borrowed it from my local public
Author-illustrator Molly Bang has now written four books about the sun’s life-sustaining role in our world. She began with My Light that explained
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, Earth & Life Sciences
, Science & Medicine
, CO2 reduction
, Energy efficient
, International Journal of Low-Carbon Technologies
, renewable energy
, Sustainable energy
, Water protection
, World Water Monitoring Day
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World Water Monitoring Day is an annual celebration reaching out to the global community to build awareness and increase involvement in the protection of water resources around the world. The hope is that individuals will feel motivated and empowered to investigate basic water monitoring in their local area. Championed by the Water Environment Federation, a broader challenge has arisen out of the awareness day, celebrated on September 18th each year. Simple water testing kits are available, and individuals are encouraged to go out and test the quality of local waterways.
Water monitoring can refer to anything from the suitability for drinking from a particular water source, to taking more responsibility for our own consumption of water as an energy source, to the technology needed for alternative energies. Discover more about water issues from around the world using the map below.
Image credit: Ocean beach at low tide against the sun, by Brocken Inaglory. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The post World Water Monitoring Day 2014 appeared first on OUPblog.
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, scaling analyses
, Earth & Life Sciences
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, Aleksandra birn-jeffery
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Biomechanics is the study of how animals move. It’s a very broad field, including concepts such as how muscles are used, and even how the timing of respiration is associated with moving. Biomechanics can date its beginnings back to the 1600s, when Giovanni Alfonso Borelli first began investigating animal movements. More detailed analyses by pioneers such as Etienne Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge, in around the late 1800s started examining the individual frames of videos of moving animals. These initial attempts led to a field known as kinematics – the study of animal movement, but this is only one side of the coin. Kinetics, the study of motion and its causes, and kinematics together provide a very strong tool for fully understanding the strategies animals use to move as well as why they move the way they do.
One factor that really changes the way an animal moves is its body size. Small animals tend to have a much more z-shaped leg posture (when looking at them from a lateral view), and so are considered to be more crouched as their joints are more flexed. Larger animals on the other hand have straighter legs, and if you look at the extreme (e.g. elephant), they have very columnar legs. Just this one change in morphology has a significant effect on the way an animal can move.
We know that the environment animals live in is not uniform, but is cluttered with many different obstacles that must be overcome to successfully move and survive. One type of terrain that animals will frequently encounter is slopes: inclines and declines. Each of the two different types of slopes impose different mechanical challenges on the locomotor system. Inclines require much greater work from the muscles to move uphill against gravity! On declines, an animal is moving with gravity and so the limbs need to brake to prevent a headlong rush down the slope. Theoretically, there are many ways an animal can achieve successful locomotion on slopes, but, to date, there has been no consensus across species or animals of differing body sizes as to whether they do use similar strategies on slopes.
From published literature we generated an overview of how animals, ranging in size from ants to horses, move across slopes. We also investigated and analysed how strategies of moving uphill and downhill change with body size, using a traditional method for scaling analyses. What really took us by surprise was the lack of information on how animals move down slopes. There was nearly double the number of studies on inclines as opposed to declines. This is remarkable given that, if an animal climbs up something inevitably it has to find a way to come back down, either on its own or by having their owner call the fire department out to help!
Most animals tend to move slower up inclines and keep limbs in contact with the ground longer; this allows more time for the muscles to generate work to fight against gravity. Although larger animals have to do more absolute work than smaller animals to move up inclines, the relative stride length did not change across body size or on inclines. Even though there is much less data in the literature on how animals move downhill, we did notice that smaller animals (<~10kg) seem to use different strategies compared to large animals. Small animals use much shorter strides going downhill than on level terrain whereas large animals use longer strides. This difference may be due to stability issues that become more problematic (more likely to result in injury) as an animal’s size increases.
Our study highlights the lack of information we have about how size affects non-level locomotion and emphasises what future work should focus on. We really do not have any idea of how animals deal with stability issues going downhill, nor whether both small and large animals are capable of moving downhill without injuring themselves. It is clear that body size is important in determining the strategies an animal will use as it moves on inclines and declines. Gaining a better understanding of this relationship will be crucial for demonstrating how these mechanical challenges have affected the evolution of the locomotor system and the diversification of animals into various ecological niches.
Image credit: Mountain goat, near Masada, by mogos gazhai. CC-BY-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
The post What goes up must come down appeared first on OUPblog.
The U.S. Embassy (Kingston, Jamaica) is hosting its first competitive youth poetry slam, “Understanding the World around You: The Environment and Climate Change” on August 12, 2014 from 10am-12pm.
Winners of the “Best Performance” and “Best Written Piece” will receive iPads and tablets! If you are interested in competing send an original poem about the environment or climate change to email@example.com by Aug. 8th. Must be ages 10-19 to enter.Everyone is welcome to come and watch as members of the audience! There will be an open mic intermission for anyone who wants to perform a poem outside the competition. To attend one must also RSVP at the email address above or call 702-6172.For more information about rules and regulations visit http://goo.gl/vlUvV2 or call 702-6172/6229
I've written here about liking an immersion-type thing with environmental books, books that don't wear a sign saying "It's eco-time" but just make readers part of a natural world or lifestyle. Maybe what I'm thinking of is some kind of wholistic experience.
That's what I think happens with Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends by Wong Herbert Yee. The book has a Frog and Toad vibe, which is good, though wordier. Fine Feathered Friends is all about Mouse and Mole watching birds. And drawing them. And writing poetry about them. The whole thing.
Over the course of a story about the two friends having to find a way to get close to the birds they want to draw, Mouse and Mole pass off a small amount of avian info. But what really makes this book at all environmental is that Mouse and Mole want to do this bird stuff. They want to draw them and write about them. They want to have a life that involves birds.
Listen, when I had little kids, I would have read them this book, got out their artists' journals (yeah, we all had artists' journals), and gone out with them to find us some birds. It would have worked as an environmental book for me.
Suzy Kline wrote an interesting post for the Authors for Earth Day blog. In Love Every Living Thing, she writes about Horrible Harry's love of nature.
It's been years since I've read a Horrible Harry book, so I can't address the issue of just how great his interest in environmentalism is. But I like the idea of appreciation of nature/environmentalism being a thread within a story, as Kline describes.
Plant a Pocket of Prairie
Written by Phyllis Root; Illustrated by Betsy Bowen
University of Minnesota Press. 2014
Preschool and up
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.
When Laura Ingalls and her family
were traveling from the Big Woods in Wisconsin to their Little House on the
Prairie, over 40 percent of the United States was covered in native
Now that this year's Earth Day is behind us, I'm not stumbling over children's books obviously related to the environment/ecology all over the Internet. Which leads me, again, to be thinking about what kinds of books I should be considering for encouraging an appreciation of the world in children. I still like the idea of providing experience, rather than a lesson.
I'm also still loving the interview I heard a few weeks ago about Thoreau recording all kinds of information about Concord's flora and fauna. This weekend I'm hoping to get a very young family member started on a Thoreau-like experience, maintaining a nature journal filled with dried leaves and flowers and maybe pictures of that creepy flock of turkeys in his backyard. (Recognizing that turkeys are disturbing is a sort of appreciation.) While I know a wild turkey when I see one, I'm only familiar with a few trees.
Fortunately, there are books to help with that sort of thing. Scholastic has a whole list of Books for Teaching About Plants and Trees. I'm particularly interested in that apple pie book. When we do our apple tree thing, we can finish with pie.
Park Scientists: gila monsters, geysers, and grizzly bears
in American’s own backyard
Scientists in the Field series
Written by Mary Kay Carson; Photographs by Tom Uhlman
Houghton Mifflin. 2014
The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review
Grades 5 to 12
Take a road trip across American with husband and wife team,
Carson and Uhlman to learn more about our
Blog: The Open Book
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In an era of great global change, it’s more important than ever to take a moment today to think about how the Earth sustains us and how we can help to sustain it in return.
We asked author Jan Reynolds, whose work we have been showcasing throughout April here on the blog and whose travels have taken her from a hot air balloon over Mount Everest to the Sahara Desert, to share a few of her favorite photos and some thoughts on celebrating Earth Day:
I chose photos for Earth Day that aren’t big landscapes on purpose. We think of Earth Day as the Earth, pristine, something separate, while in reality…
…the Earth is one big party with all kids of life on it, not just plant life and oceans.
We are all a part of it, including man.
So therefore, the baboon pics. Hoping we can see ourselves in the baboons, and vice versa.
Further Reading and Resources:
Don’t miss our Pinterest board of recommended books about Earth, the Environment, and Human Impact:
Raising Global Citizens: Jan Reynolds Author Study
Teaching Geo-Literacy Using the Vanishing Cultures series
Where in the World? Using Google Maps to explore the Vanishing Cultures series
Filed under: Curriculum Corner, Holidays Tagged: common core, Earth Day, environment, environmentalism, informational text, nonfiction, photos
Ecologists and entomologists. Natural history buffs. Bloggers with green thumbs. We're among many WordPress.com users focused on nature and the environment. Today, let's celebrate the work of some of these bloggers.
Chasing Cheetahs: the race to save Africa's fastest cats
Scientists in the Field Series
Text by Sy Montgomery; Photographs by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin. 2014
Grades 5 thru 12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library
The decision as to who reviews what goes fairly smoothly between Cathy and I until there is a new Scientists in the Field book, then,
Saving the Planet & Stuff
is featured today at CT GreenScene
. As you might suspect from the blog's name, the questions I was asked there relate to environmentalism. Or Connecticut.
Be sure to check out Question 3. Seriously, I obsess over that stuff.
Blog: Perpetually Adolescent
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, Book Reviews - Childrens and Young Adult
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A week or so ago I rubbed shoulders with some of Kids’ Lit most illuminating talents at the Book Links’ QLD (The Centre for Children’s Literature) third Romancing the Stars event. The objective of these evenings is to meet and listen to as many authors and illustrators wax lyrical about their latest publication as possible in a frenzy of succinct deliveries and rotations – rather like speed dating, but with books and ultimately more satisfying.
Amongst them was, rising star, Andrew King. I first met Andrew and Engibear, both instantly likeable fellows, last year when Andrew and I were amongst the ‘daters’. I confess the first time I laid eyes on his non-typical picture book, I baulked at the complexity of its design and presentation. Perhaps it is the poor mathematician in me, but there seemed too many labels and numbers and graph grids! The detail overwhelmed me and the thought, ‘too much’ flickered through my mind like an wavering light bulb.
But Andrew’s compelling fervour for his work convinced me to look more closely. So I did, and fell in love with what I saw. Engibear’s Dream is neither too busy nor over-detailed, but rather a masterfully thought out and delivered tale of simplicity and perseverance. Engibear’s life is too full to pursue both his dreams and work. He needs help and being a clever engineer like his creator, sets out to design a Bearbot to help him achieve more. But grand schemes are rarely realised first time round. It takes Engibear several attempts to ‘get it right’ but he never gives up on himself or his Bearbot.
More than just a cute rhyming counting book about the rigours of planning and design, Engibear’s Dream covers the themes of sustainable living, finding balance in a world of progress and change and being innovative and tenacious in the face of failure. Mighty issues for small minds, but ones they will assimilate as they follow Engibear’s attempts to succeed, all superbly illustrated both schematically and in explosive colour, by qualified architect Benjamin Johnston.
I needed to find out more about the man behind the bear, behind the robot. So this week I have a bona fide, qualified engineer behind the draft table. Here’s what he had to say…
Q Who is Dr Andrew King? How would you best describe present self?
A 48 year old mixed bag: self, husband, dad, son, brother, relative, friend, engineer, co-worker, band member, aspiring author, committee member, community member, etc…
Fortunately, from my perspective, I have been very lucky and the mix has been good to me – I am trying to be good back.
Q Describe your 10 year old self. Did you have any concept then of what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? If so, what?
A 10 year old mixed bag – just a bit less in the mix – son, brother, relative, friend, school student, footballer, etc…
Fortunately (again) I had a very pleasant and carefree childhood. So carefree that I don’t think I had any real idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up. Interestingly though, I remember that a friend and I were writing and illustrating small books of jokes back in grade 6 and trying to sell them (for about 2 cents each). It has been more than 30 years since I last tried but I am now trying to write and sell books again.
Q Writing for children is not your first chosen occupation. Why take up the challenge now?
Kelly and I have been writing and drawing with our kids for years. We ended up developing characters like Engibear and the Bearbot and writing about their adventures in Munnagong. A few years ago my daughter, Marie-Louise, suggested that we should write a book.
Q Engibear’s Dream is your first picture book for children. What are you trying to impart with this book and why choose the picture book format?
The book started as a way of making engineering more accessible to young children. However, we wanted to make the book something more than an instruction manual. Therefore, we included a storyline (in this case a story about perseverance) and tried to include humour. We have also added numbers so that it can be used as a counting book.
To me drawing is a very powerful communication tool. The combination of words and pictures used in engineering drawings is a particularly useful way to communicate design ideas. The opportunity to include these types of diagrams and images of Engibear and the Bearbot meant that the book had to include pictures.
Q What sets Engibear’s Dream apart from other picture books currently on the shelves?
Engineering – in two ways.
Firstly, having a character that is an engineer, there are very few engineers in children’s literature. To me this is surprising as children seem to be very interested in the things that engineers do. Engibear provides a “friendly face” of engineering and therefore a way to introduce engineering to young children at the right level.
Secondly, including detailed engineering drawings. Ben Johnston is an architect who is used to working with engineers. Ben has created loveable characters and has also been able to contrast them with fantastically detailed design drawings of Munnagong, Engibear’s house and workshop, the Bearbot and its working parts. I think this combination of drawing styles allows children to enjoy the characters and the story and then also spend time thinking about how things work and making things (engineering).
Q How long from conception to publication did it take to realise Engibear’s Dream?
Building Bearbot was an early family story that is about 10 years old and was the basis for Engibear’s Dream. It sat in the cupboard for a long time. However, once we decided to write a book and chose this story it took about three years to get to publication.
Q It takes Engibear up to 10 types from prototype to final version before he engineers the perfect Bearbot. Does it take engineer Andrew the same number of attempts to design something new before getting it right?
If it is a book, yes – easily!
Depending on the complexity of the project I think engineering design can also take a lot of work. However, engineers have developed systems such as standards, computer modelling and design reviews to help make the design process robust.
Q Engibear’s dream is to have a life less strenuous with more time for enjoying the simple pleasures. What’s the one thing on your non-writing wish-list you’d like to tick off /achieve / produce?
I would like to read more fiction.
Q Do you have other writing dreams you’d like to fulfil?
I have a series of Engibear books planned. Munnagong is a busy place; there is a lot of engineering going on and a lot to write about.
Q Engibear is written in quatrain rhyming verse. As a first time author, did you find this difficult to pull off? Why did you choose to tell the story in this way?
We wrote the book in quatrain rhyming verse because this is how we made up verses when my children were younger – it just seemed to be a natural way to rhyme. However, while this worked for family stories, it was very difficult to do it properly. As an engineer I have some technical writing skills but I had to learn a lot about writing verse. Therefore, I did a course with Dr Virginia Lowe at Create a Kids Book and Virginia then mentored me.
Q You chose to publish your book via a partnership publishing company (Little Steps Publishing). Why? What other publication avenues did you explore if any?
I did contact some traditional publishers and received very polite rejections. I thought that rather than keep going down that route it would be better just to get on with it – self publishing seemed to be the answer.
Q What is on the design board for Andrew? What’s your next ‘writing’ project?
We have been making models of the characters in Engibear’s Dream and we have created a rsk based engineering game. I am also working on the next planned Engibear book “Engibear’s Bridge”. This book is about construction of an iconic “green bridge” near Munnagong State School which will be opened as part of the Munnagong Festival.
Brilliant Andrew! You know I can’t wait to meet your new characters and see their designs.
Like the most enthralling kids’ movies, Engibear’s story doesn’t just end with a ‘happily ever after’ moment. Keep page turning and be fascinated by full page project drawings of BBT-10, the Final Version, resplendent with some side-splitting specifications. My young miss could not go past the line drawn end pages detailing Munnagong, home of Engibear either. A fascinating read.
Designed for 3 – 8 year olds. Also riveting for boys, those with inquisitive minds, budding designers and anyone who likes to dream big.
Little Steps Publishing 2012
The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal
Text by Sy Montgomery; Photographs by Nic Bishop
(Scientists in the Field)
Houghton Mifflin. 2013
Grades 6 to 12
My review copy was sent to me by the publisher
Put that video game on pause!
Grab a cuppa and...settle in with the newest title in the Scientists in the Field series.
The Tapir Scientist
Potatoes on Rooftops: farming in the CityHadley DyerAnnick Press. 2012ISBN: 9781554514250Grades 3 and upI borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.Did you know that city dwellers can grow food too? In Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City author Hadley Dyer will show you there are a myriad of doable possibilities to having your own garden; anything is possible.Using a
by Jennifer Keats Curtis; illustrated by Chad Wallace
Henry Holt and Company. 2013
Preschool to Grade 2
I borrowed this book from my local public library.
Two new books about what lives in our oceans.
In Seahorses, Jennifer Keats Curtis uses rich language to give a brief overview of the life of this fascinating sea creature.
In the warm, salty water, a
The Race to Save the Lord God Bird
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004
Grades 6 and up
The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library.
Louise and I read a lot of nonfiction, but we both enjoy fiction as well. Last week I read The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker plays an important role in this
For me, a nightmare.
I admit it. I’m one of those anti-litter freaks. My intolerance of litter goes way back. It wasn’t instinctual and, like many people, I had to learn it. Thankfully I had someone there to teach me.
When I was 11, I visited my uncle in Missoula. He lived near the University of Montana. I would go exploring the foothills by myself and sometimes he would join me. On one hike, we kept passing bits of trash along the trail. A beer can here, a McDonald’s wrapper there. I would hike past them but my uncle kept stopping and going out of his way to pick the stuff up. I sighed, impatient. Then he handed me some. “Why are we doing this?” I asked. “Do we really have to carry all this trash around all day?”
He was not exactly amused and probably surprised by my bratty whine. He didn’t shed a tear like the Indian in the commercial, but he did sternly explain that if everyone littered and nobody cared enough to pick it up, the whole mountain would look like a dump. Then he took the trash away from me to carry it himself and didn’t say much for the rest of the hike.
I was embarrassed and felt like a complete loser, but the message was driven home. Ever since that day I have made it my mission to pick up any litter I find. Even if it’s out of my way.
Yup, I’m that guy.
Imagine how hard it was for me to live in NYC. Manhattan is like litterZILLA, so what would otherwise be a pleasant walk on the Upper West side was an exercise in restraint. Must… keep… enjoying… too much… garbage…can’t… ignore…
Still, litter irritates me to no end. I just don’t get it. I see an empty Big Gulp cup lying on its side, not three feet away from a trash can and my skin starts to turn green. I grunt and burst out of my shirt, leaving only knee-length cutoffs. That cup is now in mortal danger.
So yeah, I have this thing about litter. And when I can, I do something about it. So for my birthday on Saturday, I’ll be in litter cleanup heaven. Yup, I’m that guy.
Join us this Saturday, September 21st for Heal the Bay‘s Coastal Cleanup Day! We’ll be there with our buckets collecting old water bottles, cigarette butts, wrappers, and other trash that makes our beaches and creeks nasty.
Here’s a quick visual recap of our Saturday, cleaning Topanga State Beach with Heal the Bay. Our Keep our water clean t-shirts were a hit and we promise they’ll be available for purchase very soon! From the Heal the Bay website, it sounds like people from all over cleaned up 24,000 lbs of trash on Saturday. I’ll remind our teen of this fact every time he has to haul our own garbage to the curb.
For even more photos (of people besides us), check out Heal the Bay’s Flickr page: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/healthebay/sets/72157635737501184/
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Sometimes you’ll find a screen printer who touts their enviro-friendliness by advertising, “We only use water-based inks!”
Maybe you care about chemicals that go into our water supply, and maybe you don’t. For people who do care, this kind of claim really shouts out to you. “These are my people! They care about the Earth like I do!”
That may be true. I give a lot of credit to intention. Before we wave our hands in the air like we just don’t care… I also give a lot of credence to the Buddhist saying about the finger pointing to the moon, which is about looking beyond the finger to find the truth. Sometimes the truth is that the printer intends to do the right thing for the environment by using water-based inks. They are moving in the right direction by being conscious about their screen printing practices. That’s very mindful of them and I applaud it. But to be truly “earth-friendly,” we need to look deeper and understand what’s behind the curtain of water.
People sometimes assume that because it’s water-based, it’s automatically earth-friendly. It definitely sounds friendly, like we could drink a tall, cold glass of screen printing ink and not die. Or, we could just wash it all down the sink with the moldy salsa. The problem is that water-based ink is not just water. There are pigments, binders, thickeners, and sometimes, even co-solvents in the ink residue (source:Ryonet).
So even though it sounds enviro-friendly, water-based ink can still be toxic and not good for municipal sewage systems – or the oceans and rivers where the water eventually winds up.
If the ink itself weren’t enough, we have to consider how the screens are cleaned. Water-based inks can be cleaned with water… unless they dry out. Then we need to use much stronger solvents. While they do make solvents that are more enviro-happy, we can’t assume every shop who says they use water-based ink is using them. Or that they’re following other earth-happy shop practices.
In our shop, we use plastisol inks for most of our printing. They are PVC-based, Phthalide-free inks that when cured with heat turn to a solid. We clean our screens with a soy-based cleaner and cotton rags. There’s no water involved, so no ink goes down any drains.
Is that better than water-based? It’s not a death match between water-based and plastisol. There are good reasons for using both, depending on the situation. For example, we need to print on spandex with plastisol ink (it’s stretchy). We print posters with water-based ink (you can’t heat cure paper).
Good shops are never perfect, but they are open about their methods (truth) and always improving (intention). Those shops that tout their use of water-based inks should be just as knowledgable and open about their ink’s content and cleaning methods.
Do you care? Then do this!
If you care about the environment, ask lots of questions of your printer before you assume they’re more earth-friendly than others. Try these:
What type of ink do you use? Can you point me to the manufacturer’s web site?
What solvents do you use to clean your screens?
Where does the water go when you clean screens? Is it municipal drainage or you have a different disposal solution?
What are the right answers? They’re the answers that make you feel comfortable about getting your printing done. It’s that simple. But I will say that if a printer refuses to answer them, you should keep looking.
If this sounds like a lot of work just to get some frikkin’ t-shirts printed, you’re right. If you care, you care. If not, you probably stopped paying attention a few paragraphs ago.
The point is, you can never assume that something is environmentally friendly by reading an advertisement. Do a little homework. If you really do care about the environment, it won’t hurt a bit.