An Ecologist’s Guide to Writing Obituaries

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a young ecologist in the Anthropocene—how my job will be different from ecologists who came before. Perhaps my generation will be defined by our capacity to handle death and dying.

In 2004, I submitted an application that was to be my first step toward being a fourth-generation funeral director. My college sophomore self presented an audacious vision for applying sustainability sciences in an effort to “green” the toxic practices employed by most Catholic-serving funeral homes, including my family’s in Newark, New Jersey. The application statement was inspiring but, admittedly, sloppily compiled. Understandably, the business-mentoring-for-liberal-arts scholars program declined my submission. Then, in that very same week, a very different door opened: Dr. Janet Mann, renowned biologist and dolphin behaviorist, emailed to offer me a semester-long undergraduate position in her lab. The familiar gave way to the exciting, exotic unfamiliar.

If you were an elephant …

That will be too much for most. Indeed, it’s a mistake to assume that in order to have a mind one has to have a mind that is like human minds. So let’s just say that, according to the evidence, it’s not obviously ridiculous to invite you, the human, to imagine yourself as an elephant. There’s some biological justification for what sounds like a whimsical, sentimental literary device. You and the elephant both have minds, wrought from the same stuff. And your minds engage with the world using the same devices. Your neurological hardware differs only in sensitivity: sodium and potassium surge in the same way through the same molecular gates when you and the elephant step on a nail; the same ancient hormones mediate pleasure, anger and stress. “If you prick us,” ask the elephants (using a chromatic orchestra of sounds, and well over 100 distinct body movements), “do we not bleed?” Indeed they do.

We can be cautiously Beatrix-Pottery with elephants. When the temporal glands near their eyes stream in circumstances that, for us, would be emotional, they’re crying. When a bereaved elephant mother carries her dead baby round on her tusks, or trails miserably behind the herd for weeks, her head hanging down, she’s grieving. When other elephants sit for hours around the body of a dead elephant, they’re mourning. When they cover an elephant corpse with soil or vegetation, or move elephant bones, they’re being reverential. When they cover a dead human, or build a protective wall of sticks around a wounded human, they’re showing an empathic acknowledgment of our shared destiny that we’d do well to learn. These, dear reductionists, are, as you would put it, the most parsimonious hypotheses.

An Orthodox Christian Response in Support of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous Water Protectors in Standing Rock, North Dakota, and their Principles

In as much as the assembly of Indigenous Nations in Standing Rock, North Dakota, in union with those that have gathered to support them, are calling for the protection of our valuable and God-bearing water and earth, and in as much as they do so as Protectors in prayer for the whole world, Orthodox Christians like me will stand in solidarity with their efforts and lend our prayers to their own.

Healing Earth: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Ecology and Climate Chage

Healing Earth

Healing Earth Conference: Orthodox Christian Perspectives On Ecology & Climate Change Conference Themes Include:

Discovering God’s presence in all cultures; Discovering God through Beauty; Listening to creation – Christ as revealed through creation.; Discovering the voice of nature; Seeing nature through the timeless wisdom of the elders; Faith and hope in the age of Climate Change; Resource conservation and the Christian faith; Love as the guiding principal for all change and adaptation; Rewilding the heart

October 13 - 15, 2016 Cranbrook, BC. Canada

AS OF May 2016: Climate Change in Pacific

Sea-level rise, erosion and coastal flooding are some of the greatest challenges facing humanity from climate change.

Recently at least five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have been lost completely to sea-level rise and coastal erosion, and a further six islands have been severely eroded.

These islands lost to the sea range in size from one to five hectares. They supported dense tropical vegetation that was at least 300 years old. Nuatambu Island, home to 25 families, has lost more than half of its habitable area, with 11 houses washed into the sea since 2011.

This is the first scientific evidence, published in Environmental Research Letters, that confirms the numerous anecdotal accounts from across the Pacific of the dramatic impacts of climate change on coastlines and people.

The Beetles: Eighty-Nine Million Acres of Abrupt Climate Change

The Beetles: Eighty-Nine Million Acres of Abrupt Climate Change

During the peak of the attack, all across western North America there were so many pine beetles that they began attacking other species like fir and spruce. The total of 89 million acres of mortality, at a conservative 80 trees per acre, amounts to 7 billion red conifers. And all this is due to only 0.74 degrees Celsius of warming by 2014, on average across the globe. Young trees are sprouting up in the oldest kills because the young are very vigorous. But their ecosystem has changed. These forests are no longer located in the climate where they evolved. In our current and exponentially warming climate, young lodgepole in these impacted forests will inevitably succumb to beetles, disease or fire before they mature. What remains will be ecosystem chaos. We are undergoing the beginning of a grand reordering of ecological systems. This is more than simply a harbinger of things to come. An extinction bomb has gone off and it will not stop going off until we stabilize our climate.