Guardian: How to Visit America’s National Parks Without the Congestion

Traffic congestion has become part of the experience of visiting popular national parks in the US. Now, more parks are beefing up their public transport options.

The Guardianisland-explorer-jordan-pond-house-1-9-3-09

If you’ve ever visited an iconic national park like Yellowstone, Yosemite or Glacier, your first glimpses of arresting, postcard-perfect vistas were probably framed by a car window. That’s how I first glimpsed Yosemite’s Half Dome. After driving through the tunnels on Big Oak Flat Road, the road curved and the valley came into view. Angels sang. I was so overwhelmed by that monolith’s grandeur and beauty that I had to pull over onto the shoulder and have a good cry.

Years later, I stuffed my backpack with supplies and headed out my front door, Yosemite bound once again. I walked 10 minutes to the nearest San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (Bart) station, which I rode east, to the Richmond station, and transferred to Amtrak. I used the train’s free Wi-Fi to get some work done during the scenic two-hour and 40-minute ride to Merced, California, where I waited a half hour for a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (Yarts) bus up to Yosemite, another two-hour trip.

In total, my fares were double what I’d have paid in gas, but bus riders are exempt from the park’s entrance fee ($20 then, $30 now). The trip took more than an hour longer than driving would have, though slogging through Bay Area traffic could have evened that scale. One less car in the crowded, summer-packed Yosemite Valley that day made an imperceptible difference to the park’s clogged roads and parking lots. But once I was inside the park, the free park shuttles and my own two feet took me everywhere I wanted to go. I experienced zero road rage and could have wept over Half Dome to my heart’s content without worrying about swerving off the road.

Read the full story here.

 

 

Outside: The Race to Build the World’s First Totally Green High-Performance Gear

Gear and apparel manufacturers are big chemical users. A new overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act has them scrambling to innovate—minus the toxins.

Outside

smoky-tent-toxic-woods_hYou might have missed it, but last month President Obama signed into law a bill that many consider the most significant environmental legislation to pass Congress in 25 years. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act overhauls the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a 40-year-old statute that, in theory, empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the use of toxic chemicals in the stuff we buy. In practice, it failed miserably.

If you ask environmental and public health advocates what was wrong with TSCA, they’re likely to respond with another question: what wasn’t? The Environmental Defense Fund posted a good run-down here, but the highlights are that TSCA gave the EPA very limited powers to test chemicals for toxicity and that even when the science showed clear hazards—i.e., “this stuff causes cancer”—the agency often failed to get a ban to stick because a federal court might side with industry groups that complained the ban would hurt their business. That’s what happened when the EPA tried to ban asbestos.

The reforms allow the EPA to evaluate the environmental and health risks that chemicals pose based only on the best available science, without having to also show a cost-benefit analysis of a proposed ban. The new law also includes an important change that can impact outdoor gear and apparel manufacturers, because while the old TSCA allowed the EPA to regulate the sale and use of discrete chemicals, it did not require it to regulate the products in which those chemicals are used. Now, the EPA is tasked to do so, in order to limit consumers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals through the use of those products—and this is important for all manufacturers of non-consumables (products other than food and drugs, over which the FDA has purview). Gear and apparel manufacturers are actually big users of chemicals, so these new regs may impact what chemicals go into their products.

Read the full story here.

Outside: Patagonia’s New Study Finds Fleece Jackets Are a Serious Pollutant

The brand commissioned a study to find out how many synthetic microfibers—the tiny bits of plastic that marine scientists say could be jeopardizing our oceans—are shed from its jackets in the wash. The results aren’t pretty.

Outside

It all started on a beach in southwestern England in the early 2000s. Richard Thompson, then a senior lecturer at Plymouth University (where he now serves as professor of marine biology), was leading a team of graduate students researching microplastics in marine environments. Examining samples of sandy sediment, they expected to find degraded bits of marine plastic from decades-old flotsam or plastic beads that were becoming widely used in cleaners. To their surprise, most of the plastic fragments were fibrous, which meant they likely came from clothing, rope, or some types of packaging.washing-machine-patagonia-clothes_h

Then, in 2011, Mark Browne, one of Thompson’s former graduate students, published a study in which he examined sediment sampled from 15 beaches around the world. He found high concentrations of polyester and acrylic fibers in samples taken near wastewater treatment plants. He then ran a polyester fleece jacket through the wash and filtered 1,900 fibers from the wastewater—fibers that otherwise would have gone to the local wastewater treatment plant. Browne started reaching out to apparel makers to see if they’d help fund research to study this issue more deeply—eventually, he hoped, finding tweaks to fabric design or apparel construction that would stop the microfibers from entering wastewater. He received one offer of help—from women’s clothing brand Eileen Fisher—but Patagonia, Columbia, and other big brands declined, saying they didn’t know if the fibers were anything they needed to worry about.

Fast-forward four more years, and the fibers finally got everyone’s attention. The science was piling on, showing that wastewater treatment plants couldn’t filter out all synthetic fibers, and that toxins such as DDT and PCBs can bind to them as they make their way into watersheds. It also showed that small aquatic species ingest the fibers, and that fish and bivalves sold for human consumption also contain microfibers. Experiments have shown that microplastics can lead to poor health outcomes in some species, and research is underway to find out how the plastics affect humans.

Jill Dumain, director of environmental strategy at Patagonia, was one of the people paying attention to all the news. In early 2015, she and the company’s leadership decided to commission a study to find out if and how Patagonia’s iconic and well-loved fleeces and some other synthetic products were contributing to the problem. The results recently came in, and they’re not good.

Read full story here.

Pacific Standard: The Pleasures — and Ecological Benefits — of River Snorkeling

In praise of river snorkeling, a pastime for fish obsessives that also reminds riparian activists what they’re protecting.

Pacific Standard

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Photo: Russ Ricketts

I’m like the reverse of a fish out of water — a floundering human in water, I think to myself and let out a nervous chuckle. This breaks the seal my mouth has formed around the snorkel’s mouthpiece, and as the frigid Cascadian water of Icicle Creek hits the back of my throat I start floundering more, coughing and thrashing around like a hooked fish.

Jesus, get a grip, continues my inner dialog. Show them you can handle yourself.

Them refers to Matt Collins and Russ Ricketts, my guides for my first foray into river snorkeling. And show them you can handle yourself is something I recall thinking often, back when I used to live in these wonderful central Washington mountains, where the three of us worked at a ski area. It felt important to prove myself: Up on the hill, after a storm had dumped unfathomable amounts of snow, I would struggle to keep the nose of my snowboard floating above the fray, always feeling like the slowest, weakest member of the crew. Usually, I was.

Read the full story here.

Wall Street Journal: Bringing Smart Technology to Old Factories Can Be Industrial-Size Challenge

Installing networked sensors to monitor performance and prevent problems is costly, and every case is different.

Wall Street Journal

It’s a tantalizing vision: Bright and shiny factories where robotic arms and conveyors never break down and production goals are never missed—all thanks to internet-connected sensors that monitor machine health and respond to the slightest supply or logistics hiccup.FT-AA173_DIGITA_J_20160602102334

But for the vast majority of factories today, the reality could hardly be more different. They’re still running on decades-old machinery that isn’t outfitted with sensors.

Getting from where we are now to the factory of the future can be done—has been done—but it isn’t as easy as strapping the industrial equivalent of a Fitbit onto each piece of old equipment in a plant and calling it a day. It’s costly. There are no ready-made solutions—each case is different. And it requires a deep understanding of each machine’s functions and the metrics to be tracked; trial and error to determine the right sensor to use and the best place to put it; and a plan for collecting, filtering and making sense of the collected data.

“Many shop floors are covered in machines from 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago,” says Isaac Brown, an analyst at Lux Research. “Plugging them into the internet is totally not trivial—it’s not like plugging in a PC.”

Read the full story here.

Outside: Terry Tempest Williams’s Dark Love Letter to the National Parks

The acclaimed nature writer’s portraits of 12 parks go beyond perfect postcard tributes, and the resulting book couldn’t have come at a better time.

Outside

I had expected Terry Tempest Williams’ latest book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks (MacMillan), would be a string of tributes to the sacred spaces within our 100-year-old park system. And that’s what Williams says she expected to write. But by the time I’ve reached Big Bend—the midpoint in the dozen parks that comprise a dozen chapters—it’s clear that this book isn’t about our romanticized images of the parks.hour-of-land-big-bend_h

The Hour of Land is about National Parks as battlegrounds. What it means to hold land in trust, who defines its best uses, the tangibility of park boundaries, and whether and how we will reconcile our history with our present and future, are all tested on these lands.

Williams, 60, is an acclaimed nature writer recognized for her lyrical, conservation-minded prose. And there are plenty of passages in which Williams so deftly conveys the magic of a place that you will ache to be there and experience it directly. But she is also an increasingly outspoken activist, and spends most of her words exploring conflicts in and around our parks, as well as some of her internal battles. Even on the system’s 100th birthday, this approach feels more fitting than another book exalting their beauty.

Fossil fuel development undergirds Williams’ family, and it is a thread that emerges when she confronts the resources the landscape holds. In the book, Williams visits Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota with her father, who spent his career laying natural gas pipeline across the West. They tour the park with its then superintendent, Valerie Naylor (she retired in 2014), who describes her Sisyphean efforts to keep fracking pads and attendant gas flares from marring the park’s viewshed.

Williams’ dad is curious about, but then dismayed by, the Bakken shale oil development that envelops the park, which has been criticized for dangerous working conditions. “There’s no dignity here,” he laments, looking on as men sleep in truck cabs and storage units. His own son, Williams’ brother, had done so the previous winter. Williams herself recently purchased a 10-year lease on hundreds of acres of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management in her native Utah. While the parcels, bordering parkland, are earmarked for oil and gas development, she made the purchase with an eye toward protecting them from exploitation.

Read the full story here.

Off the hook: can a new study in the Pacific reel in unsustainable fishing?

The Nature Conservancy-funded program will test how new hook designs and other practices could reduce bycatch while keeping the fishing business lucrative.

The Guardian

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Photo: Jonne Roriz

Within seconds of being hauled onto the Shen Lain Cheng, a 79-foot tuna fishing boat from China, the crew’s most senior member, whose deeply wrinkled face conveys more than his 58 years, is plunging a T-handled spike between the glistening eyes of a 100-lb yellowfin tuna. The hope is that the swift death has minimized the release of lactic acid, which degrades the flesh meat and reduces the crew’s chances of earning a grade-A for this fish once it is offloaded back at port in Koror, Palau, a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean.

He quickly eviscerates the taut, silvery fish, pulling out an assembly of organs that look like something from another planet. He removes the heart and stomach – the scavenged parts that will likely go into tonight’s crew dinner – and tosses the rest of the guts overboard before flushing the carcass with running water, sewing up its gaping mouth, and placing it into the icy waters of the boat’s cold storage tank.

If the buyers back in Koror, who inspect and score the quality of each tuna’s meat, give it a high grade, this particular tuna could net around $2,800 wholesale in Japan, where it will be resold at great profit in a sushi restaurant.

It all looks like a typical day of tuna wrangling on the high seas, except that it’s not. Aboard are Lotus Vermeer, who manages the Pacific tuna program for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a US-based environmental organization. Also aboard are Michael Musyl, principal scientist of the Pelagic Research Group in Hawaii and a shark expert, and Ivan Sesebo, a tuna fishery observer, who works for an auditor hired by the boat’s owner, Hong Kong-based Luen Thai Fishing Ventures, to ensure compliance with fishing regulations.

Read the full story, and see a photo gallery, here.

Pacific Standard: Conservation in the Age of Climate Change: Why Scientists Are Banking on Drones for Tracking Coastal Climate Research

Scientists have been using drones for decades, but as they become more affordable and portable, they’re proving critical to studying—and saving—our most vulnerable environments.

Pacific Standard

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Photo: Scott Taylor/Duke University Marine Laboratory

Journalists like to lean on anecdotes to tell stories about climate change, but for climate scientists, data is everything. But data collection is seldom a quick or inexpensive task, especially when that data is best acquired via a bird’s eye view of, say, an undulating coastline or a vast expanse of ice.

Fortunately, drones (also known as unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs], or unmanned aerial systems [UASs]) can serve as robotic avian minions, filling niches for which the conventional methods of aerial data collection — like chartering planes or tapping into satellite data — are poorly suited.

Drones are not new, nor are climate scientists only now discovering their utility as research tools. “Back in 1998, we used what was considered a smaller UAV at that time” for studying ice cover in the Arctic, says James Maslanik, a research professor emeritus from the aerospace engineering sciences department at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “It was a cutting-edge system, it was way ahead of its time,” he says of the fixed-wing UAV they employed. It had a three-meter wingspan, a four-kilogram payload limit, and was gas-powered. Maslanik recalls having to drag 50-gallon drums of aviation fuel up to their research station in the Arctic just to get the UAV in the air.

Read the full story here.

Can you put a price on nature? A Californian nonprofit thinks it can

Chemical giant Dow is testing new software that crunches data to help assign monetary value to the natural world and calculate the environmental impact of its work

The Guardian

Everyone agrees that nature has value. It clothes, feeds and shelters us – and provides a spectacular playground. Yet we have never put a value on everything nature offers.5095

Now, environmental and sustainable business consultants want to change that by forcing corporate leaders to take stock of the economic impact of how they manage natural resources. By accounting for this so-called natural capital, the advocates hope to see more businesses adopting practices that are both good for the environment and long term profitability, especially as climate change will further deplete natural resources, causing their values to climb and increase the cost of running business. In a 1997 paper in Nature that first introduced the natural capital concept, the 13 researchers involved pegged the Earth’s worth at $33tn. A 2014 revision raised that figure to $134tn.

Assigning values to nature isn’t just good for business – the public and wildlife benefit too. Take the example of the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, which is nearly wholly dependent on tourism. Revenue from scuba diving to view sharks alone accounts for 8% of the country’s gross domestic product. That means the small number of sharks in the prime dive areas are worth a great deal. In 2011, researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science calculated that a shark’s natural capital to the tourism industry is a remarkable $1.9m over its lifetime. The lifetime value of the sharks if they were part of a legal fishery would be less than 1% of that figure.

Read the full story here.

‘Tools for Grassroots Activism’ Is Patagonia’s Guide to Saving the World

Yvon Chouinard thinks environmental activists could learn a thing or two from businesspeople, even if—as he puts it—businesspeople are sleazeballs.

Outside

Outdoor recreation can be a gateway drug to environmental activism. It certainly was for Patagonia founder and co-owner Yvon Chouinard, as he writes in the introduction to Tools for Grassroots Activism, a book the adventure clothier published in February. In the early 1970s, a threat to Chouinard’s beloved Ventura County surf break mobilized him to join with others and take a stand against a development project. This, he writes, was when he “came to realize the power of an individual to effect major change.”patagonia-tools-for-grassroots-activists_h

Sure, Chouinard found success in Ventura—the development plan was defeated (the company he’d headquartered in Ventura not long before did pretty well for itself, too). But the reality is that for every victory, environmentalists lose big battles. This chagrins Chouinard, who believes many environmental organizations falter because they do not recognize what they are: a business selling a product. Just like he is. (Even though, he readily admits, many businesspeople are sleazeballs.) Instead of fleece jackets and aspirational lifestyles, environmental non-government organizations (NGOs) sell a vision of a wrong being righted, of clean air and water, of ecosystems in balance. Sure, they are profoundly different types of products, but selling them requires common tools: planning, strategy, marketing, organizing, technology, and money.

Framed that way, it doesn’t seem so outlandish that a massive clothing company would be qualified to write a guidebook for saving the environment. Still, I wanted to learn whether this how-to book could meet its lofty goal.

Read the full story here.