Worst Weather Ever: Has It Become a Cliché Yet?

Satellite image of Poyang Lake on November 15, the day after the lake’s water level fell below eight meters. NASA image courtesy LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

Satellite image of Poyang Lake on November 15, the day after the lake’s water level fell below eight meters. NASA image courtesy LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

The troubles of Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, are getting drowned out by the clamor generated by the superstorms Typhoon Haiyan and Cyclone Phailin. A crisis is still a crisis, however, even if it is not punctuated by 150mph winds and catastrophic flooding.

The problem is, Poyang’s waters are receding earlier in the season now.  The local government reported that the lake now enters its dry season more than seven weeks earlier than it did in the second half of the 20th century. The region receives 60 percent less precipitation, and the lake’s water level is reaching a historic low. More than a million people have suffered drinking water shortages as a result this autumn, and the lake’s fishing industry has literally been grounded.

Poyang Lake is the focus of my latest post for National Geographic; to read more please visit: http://on.natgeo.com/19IZ8RG.

 

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Migration By Any Means Necessary

A Siberian Crane at the International Crane Foundation’s facility in Baraboo, WI (Credit: Dan Klotz).

A Siberian Crane at the International Crane Foundation’s facility in Baraboo, WI (Credit: Dan Klotz).

The airplane passenger of the month for October was an unusual breed of traveler, one who gratefully received first-class airfare even though the ticket sent him more than 2,000 km out of his way. He was trying to head south for the winter, got lost along the way, and has ended up with winter accommodations near Moscow—not quite the ideal warm-weather destination.

But this is no ordinary traveler. He and five of his pals tried this trip last year as well, and received an escort from the President of Russia, who was flying an ultralight plane of all things!

The passenger’s name is Raven, even though he is a Siberian Crane. His species is the focus of my latest post for National Geographic; to read more please visit: http://on.natgeo.com/1foj1Tm

Old Growth Rainforest—What Still Stands is More Valuable Than Ever

British Columbia’s Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. Credit: Dan Klotz.

British Columbia’s Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. Credit: Dan Klotz.

No matter where I have traveled in the world, I have found that the many of the larger stretches of primeval forests can only be reached by logging roads. Consider the old growth stands of Sitka spruce and red cedar in the Carmanah Valley, on a remote part of southeast Vancouver Island.  Canada’s tallest tree, 313 feet high, grows in this valley, yet you won’t find throngs of tourists having their picture taken next to it.

In fact, you won’t find any tourists next to it. British Columbia’s Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is only reachable by a rough three hour drive on a gravel road that is the domain of logging trucks, not tour buses and rental cars. To find out why you need to see it (and view a few more photos), read my latest post at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog at http://on.natgeo.com/15aWbIu.

Do Factory Farms Need a Pooper-Scooper Law?

Pooper-scooper signage in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Credit: Dan Klotz

Pooper-scooper signage in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Credit: Dan Klotz

In 1978, New York embraced a major public health and environmental innovation.  The idea, which became known as the “Pooper-Scooper Law,” was that all dog owners must collect their pets’ waste and deposit it in the trash so that it didn’t muck up the urban environment.

Industrial-scale livestock operations—known as factory farms—annually generate 500 million tons of manure in the United States, more than three times the amount generated by people in the U.S. Should all that manure go directly into our environment? More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/19Nj6xa.

Schools Will Now Serve Healthy Food and Drink (But I Haven’t Told My Daughter Yet)

As a parent, there are few thing more fruitless than trying to convince your seven-year-old that she really should avoid the chocolate milk and drink the plain no-fat milk at lunch. Well, I haven’t told her yet, but that’s all going to change.

This week, the USDA announced new rules governing the types of food that schools serve outside of the lunch and breakfast plans. A previous rule addressed the nutritional value of the meals, cutting down on fat and sugar content. But kids could bypass the healthy meals and grab potato chips and a soda instead.

I worked on a successful campaign, producing and placing op-eds in the Sacramento Bee and Savanna Morning Newsthat compelled the USDA to issue the stronger standards.

It’s a solid victory in the fight against childhood obesity, even if my daughter won’t understand it for a few years…

Explosive Agriculture and That Larger April Fireball

Corn tassels. Credit: Huw Williams.

Corn tassels. Credit: Huw Williams.

In mid-April, a humongous explosion rocked the Texas town of West when a fire broke out at an agriculture retail facility storing ammonium nitrate. The blast killed 14 people, injured more than 200, and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. If this and other forms of ammonia are so explosive before being used as fertilizer, what happens when it is used in agriculture? More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/10oCQjh.

Palm Oil, Land Grabs, and the Plight of Communities in Africa (and everywhere else)

Looking out over a new oil palm plantation in Liberia. Credit: Dan Klotz

Looking out over a new oil palm plantation in Liberia. Credit: Dan Klotz

In December, I spent a week in Liberia with an Agence France Presse (AFP) reporter exploring two large-scale land acquisitions in which the Liberian government turned over large swaths of land for oil palm and rubber plantations, ignoring the rights of the communities that live on the land. The trip was part of the outreach work I have been doing for Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

Underlining the dire problems confronting these communities, four people with whom we visited were arrested shortly after we left.

After the trip, the AFP reporter filed two feature-length stories detailing the difficulties inherent in these transactions (http://bit.ly/YaJ0G4 and http://f24.my/UhCU62). Last week, my photos from the trip were featured in a slide show on AllAfrica.com (http://j.mp/15CeiZC) that highlighted two new reports from RRI.