Inside or Outside?

A few months ago, my dad built a nice patio in our front yard. It is outside and only 15 feet from the street, but trees offer privacy. There are shaded parts and sunny parts and there are always birds chirping and a nice breeze. When the sun was out, I would do all of my homework sitting there, and it was much more enjoyable than sitting inside.

I found a very interesting expose in the New York Times, on kids spending time outdoors. It featured an editorial by Nicholas Kristof, an article about kindergartners that spend three hours a day in the forest, and a chance for students to talk about what they think of nature.

Kristof mentions a book called Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. Louv’s thesis is that the baby boomers are most likley that last generation that will share an intimate connection with the land and water. What this means, is that our generation will be far less connected (face it we are) and further generations will be even less so. It’s almost inevitiable. I remember reading a book by Isaac Asimov, a reknowned science fiction writer, in which cities became enclosed metropolitan areas, completely distinct from nature. I think that is a entirely possible, however disgusting it may be. Granted, it will take hundreds of years to get there. But still, it could.

The most interesting thing I saw was something that Louv calls ‘nature defecit disorder.’ Essentially, not being in nature is linked to depression, obesity and ADD. It makes sense. There is an overwhelming sense of calm and serenity you can gain from reflecting in nature. At the same time, it encourages young kids to be active. When I was young, my friends and I didn’t need video games to keep us busy. Our imaginations took us everywhere in parks and backyards. And this activity fights obesity.

I think that a big problem is that nature often comes into conflict with efficiecy. If you put computer engineers on laptops on a park bench in Central park to work, they would not get work done. That is, unless they were already so lost to the world. And these days, its all about cramming as much into your day as you can. That leaves no room for some time for fun or relaxation in nature. Too many people would rather run on a treadmill than go run at a county park. Too many people would rather hurry home than stop and smell the roses.

I have been trying to understand how this relates to our heightened awareness of environmental problems and the trend to going green. It seems hypocritical to drive a prius and use cloth bags at the grocery store, but not spend time outdoors. If we are trying to save the world for later generations, why not enjoy it for ourselves in the meantime?

While it may not be the most productive thing to sit and watch a sunset from a hilltop, or the tide come in on the beach, it is certainly worth the time. Nature, like friendship and family, goes beyond having a monetary value and for that reason we should treasure and cherish it more than we do. It deserves our love, respect and attention.

the beach in half moon bay CA

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Oh, Christmas Tree

One of my favorite things in the entire world is Christmas trees. When I was little, I used to sleep under my family’s Christmas tree on Christmas Eve because I loved the safety and warmth that gigantic tree brought. My family would spend hours at a special Christmas tree lot on a pier in San Francisco. There always seemed to hundreds and hundreds of rows of Christmas trees waiting for a home just for a few weeks. My brother and my sister and I would spend hours agonizing over which tree was “ours.” The same determination that was used in finding a pet was put into finding this tree. We would always choose a perfect, 12 ft tall coniferous fir that was so wide it would require my two older brothers and my father shoving it through the door to get it inside. After it was inside, the twinkling lights would go on, and then the ornaments. Each ornament had a memory, a feeling, an emotion, and every single one was special.

Now, I have very little time for decorating Christmas trees, with finals in 10 days and projects and essays due this week. So instead, I have resorted to analyzing the idea of a Christmas tree for one of my blog posts. It seems odd to me, after studying nature for this past semester, that humans would knowingly invite a tree into their home. I mean honestly, it’s a little weird. They shed, they are dead in a month, and they are overall pretty useless. Sure they can look pretty at times, but people tend to dump so much stuff on their trees that it kind of has the adverse effect. It seems odd to me that something natural and beautiful when in nature looks so perverse when put inside. Once inside, a tree needs to be decorated so that it resembles the rest of the house, not the forest from which it came. And then there is the huge debate that occurs in some households over the holiday season- Real or Fake? Why would anyone choose a fake tree over a beautiful, majestic, yummy-smelling real tree?

As a Christmas tree expert, there is nothing as sad as the end of the holiday season, when the tree is stripped of its decorations, and stands cold and naked in the living room, ready to be taken to the dump. When I was five, I was inconsolable the days following Christmas because I knew my beautiful Christmas tree would be left out in the cold. To this day, I get a little sad the day I go back to school after break and I see old Christmas trees unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road.

A Christmas tree brings so much happiness during the holiday season, but we see coniferous firs everyday. So what is it that makes Christmas trees so perfectly amazing? Is it the decorations? It is a blank slate on which the memories that ornaments and presents can bring. It is not so much the specific tree that makes a Christmas tree great; it is the memories of having a tree can bring.

So, amidst the stress and pressure of colleges and finals, I will find some time next weekend to pick out a tree, attempt to stuff it through my front door, wrap it in lights, and pile it with ornaments, though truthfully I think that a bare fir tree in nature is more beautiful than any artificially decorated, overpriced Christmas tree.

Ancient Peruvians were Stressed

I recently read an article that studied the hair of ancient peruvians who lived between 550 A.D. and 1532. They found the stress hormone cortisol in ancient hair. Cortisol is produced in response to real and perceived threats. After its release, the hormone travels to nearly every part of the body, including to blood, saliva, urine and hair. Interestingly they found the stress levels of these individuals to be higher than individuals today. The reason I thought this article was so interesting was because recently in class we’ve been talking about whether we impose our morals and values on other animals, thinking maybe they don’t even have them. But from an evolutionary point of view, stress can be explained. Perhaps, we can explain morals and values from an evolutionary perspective as well, which might indicate reason for other animals to want to have them. Although we know the human brain is very complex and very develop, we seem to think no other animals can ever have the amount of thought and complexity that we have. But maybe if we know early humans had things like stress, which helped them react and respond to bad situations, we can explain morals in similar ways. For example, we know that our morals tend to guide the actions of our lives, and from an evolutionary perspective they make sense since in general morals tend to protect human life.

“When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth’s biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory”

I read an interesting article about voluntary human extinction in which a group of people believe the best solution to climate control (and many other things) is for humans to wipe themselves out. Supporters of this group believe the best way to cause human extinction is by refusing to reproduce. In their minds, the goal would be to get every human to agree not to reproduce. The article led me to a website of the group, where they claim “Each time another one of us decides to not add another one of us to the burgeoning billions already squatting on this ravaged planet, another ray of hope shines through the gloom.” What’s interesting about this group is that they believe humans have essentially destroyed earth, and there is no in between in which earth can be surviving at it’s fullest and humans can be living. Another interesting thing is that they don’t seem to talk about the connects humans have with animals now– for example if humans were suddenly to go extinct, what about all the animals that are just holding on to their survival because of human intervention? Or animals like dogs who have basically become dependent on humans? They do say “the hopeful alternative to the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals is the voluntary extinction of one species: Homo sapiens… us.” But they seem to think that if humans go extinct, we will be the only ones to do so, and that will solve the problems we’ve left behind. If you believe in global warming, humans may not be able to stop it, but it also will not just simply go away if humans do.

Last Chance To See

yangtze river dolphin, or "bajii"

Miles’ video of the horny kakapo parrot reminded me of one of my favorite books of all time, “Last Chance To See” by Douglas Adams.  It was published in 1990, accompanied by a “Last Chance To See” BBC radio show hosted by Adams.  In the book and radio show, Adams traveled to some of the most remote places on earth to try to get a “last chance to see” some of the most critically endangered animals in the world, such as the Yangtze River Dolphin, the Kakapo, and the Amazonian Manatee.  The book is very funny, but it also brings awareness to a very important issue.  Whole species of animals are going extinct by human means before our very eyes, and in some cases we are doing little to stop the massacre.  The Yangtze River Dolphin was officially declared extinct in 2006.  They were polluted to death by sewage and waste, shredded by boat propellers, and contained by dams.  With their late maturity and low birth rate, the dolphin didn’t stand an evolutionary chance against the rapidly developing human world.  There is only one surviving Kakapo parrot in the world, and its stuck humping people out of loneliness (well, maybe loneliness, maybe just horniness).  The Amazonian Manatee isn’t doing too well either; its river is being polluted by farming, logging, and development.

Now, 2o years later, Adam’s two friends Steven Fry and Mark Carwardine are continuing the book’s legacy with the series “Last Chance To See” on BBC Two.  Some of their videos have become popular all over the world, such as Miles’ video of the raunchy parrot.  This publicity is good; it brings awareness to animals in remote corners of the earth that we wouldn’t think about in our everyday life.  I hope that this awareness brings people to act and not just watch, because tragically, these animals lives now depend on our choices.

Why we can’t predict the future

The video that Jake brought in was quite interesting and a bit hysterical.  How people think they can determine what the world will be like in 100 million years absolutely baffles me.  Honestly, it is clear that they came up with something that would be interesting to the viewer and would make money.  They know that it is impossible to predict that far into the future, but because people are interested in things like this, they saw it as a money making opportunity.

The reason why we can’t predict far into the future is simple.  Because there are so many examples of unknowns in the world today, it is inconceivable to try to predict the state of the world in 100 million years.  New species are found everyday.  I found one example on the front cover of National Geographic’s website.  It’s about a new species of worm that eats whales.  Also on the front cover was an article about the newly discovered world’s smallest orchid.  These are just two examples of species that were discovered recently.  Imagine how many species there are that are still undiscovered.

We simply can’t predict the future of our world if we don’t even know all the species that could be part of that future world.  Who knows, maybe whale eating worms will be the king of beasts in 100 million years, or something that has yet to be discovered.  The bottom line is that we can’t know what animals will dominate in the future if we’re not even sure what animals exist and dominate today.

Death Penalty for Dogs

I don’t know about any of you, but I had no idea that there was a such thing as a death penalty for dogs. I knew that they went to trial and sometimes had to be put to death, but I never really thought of what happened after that. Well, it turns out the process is very similar to that of a human’s death. In Dallas, there has been a recent shift changing from using gas chambers to a lethal injection. Officials have said that by 2010, only the most vicious dogs, feral cats, and wild animals will get the gas chamber.

One director said, “I will not allow anything inhumane to be done in my watch.” I think it is very interesting that they are talking about inhumane treatments when we are talking about killing animals. Those two things don’t seem to relate. I don’t mean to suggest that we should administer the cruelest method of killing possible, but simply that this seems to be another occurrence of humans imposing our morals upon animals.

The reason these animals are getting the death penalty in the first place is the product of the human moral system. It is simply not acceptable for a dog to brutally attack a human, whether provoked or not. Secondly, we are administering the same kind of death treatment for animals that we are for humans. Although the lethal injection was imposed for humans years ago, the animals are now planning to receive this treatment also. One reason I think a switch is even necessary is due to human breeding of dogs. We are breeding pitbulls and other dogs who have it in their nature to attach. It is ridiculous to breed these dogs for a violent purpose, and then kill them when they don’t conform to our “peaceful” society (Our society is anything but peaceful, but we would like the believe it is.). We have interfered with nature when we breed, and then we become unhappy with the result when our creation hurts or kills one of us.

I think the important thing to take from the article is not what method of death penalty is used for animals, but rather how to stop this problem. I have not been able to come up with an answer, since there is no real way to completely train a pitbull and humans will always be angered when they are endangered. For the meantime, I guess the only thing we can do is pretend that we are killing the dogs in a humane manner.