Environmental News

ICYMI: Leo Is Smeared, Bird Lovers Cheat & Boris Melts Down

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro claims, without evidence, that the recent fires in the Amazon were financed by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Oil from an unknown source washes up on Brazil’s beaches. In most areas, little effort is being made to clean it up.
A 10-year-old sperm whale that washed up dead on a beach in Scotland has 220 pounds of netting, rope, and plastic in its stomach. 
Meltwater lakes in Greenland are draining through cracks in the ice to the bedrock below, speeding the progress of glaciers to the sea. One lake drained at the rate of one Olympic-size swimming pool every three seconds. 
Russia is taking advantage of increasingly ice-free Arctic waters to ship coal from the Taymyr Peninsula in northern Siberia to India. 
As the world’s nations meet in Madrid for COP25, the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, researchers reveal that atmospheric concentrations of CO2—far from declining sharply as they must to avoid catastrophic warming—instead hit a record high in 2019. 
The city government of Portland, Oregon, is getting rid of its gasoline-powered leaf blowers. 
Moody’s downgrades the Canadian province of Alberta because of the volatility of its reliance on tar sands oil. 
Seven men found guilty of the murder of Honduran environmental leader Berta Cáceres are sentenced to terms of 30 to 50 years.
William Ruckelshaus dies. He was the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency and later deputy attorney general, a position from which he resigned in 1973 rather than follow then-president Richard Nixon’s order that he fire special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox in what came to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” 
In a large-scale trial on several continents, the release of mosquitoes deliberately infected with a bacterium called Wolbachia results in a drop of 70 percent or more in the number of people infected with deadly dengue and chikungunya. 
The last Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia dies of cancer. 
A southern white rhinoceros conceived via artificial insemination is born at the San Diego Zoo.   
The Guardian newspaper’s Australian Bird of the Year poll is marred by voter fraud.
The band Coldplay will stop touring until it can offer carbon-neutral concerts.
When British prime minister Boris Johnson fails to appear at a climate debate, Britain’s Channel 4 puts a melting ice sculpture in his place. Johnson’s Conservative Party threatens to review the station’s broadcasting permit if it wins the upcoming general election.
The Trump administration orders rangers from national parks as far away as Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to patrol the Mexican border. 
Oxford Dictionaries chooses “climate emergency” as 2019’s word of the year. Dictionary.com goes with “existential.”

Read More

Green Gifts That'll Get Kids to Explore, Enjoy, Protect, and Learn

After scouring toy stores, game outlets, booksellers, and the internet for unique gifts that’ll provide kids with some old-fashioned (i.e., screen-free) fun while challenging developing minds, we are pleased to present 10 of 2019’s most Earth-conscious—and awesome—gifts for green-minded kids of all ages.
A recent NPR poll revealed that 80 percent of parents wish their kids were actively learning about climate change. Enter Adventerra Games, a collection of intricately designed board games ($25 each)—including WaterGame, Recycle Rally, PowerHaus (all ages 7+), and Global Warning (ages 10+, pictured)—designed to help kids develop carbon footprint-minimizing habits. The objectives, respectively, are to save maximal community water from a water monster, clean up a town overflowing with garbage, reduce energy waste, and keep the global warming index minimal. The winner? Why, the biggest planetary superhero, of course.
Fact: kids love stickers. The good news is, they’re just as into the reusable kind, which don’t generate any added paper or plastic waste. It’s why the craft mavens behind Ooly made four sets of 60 mess-free, durable “Play Again” stickers ($13 each). Themes include dragons, mermaids, and fairy tales, and each set comes with play boards on which to create scenes. The idea is to encourage kids to reuse their wares to tell (and innovate on) visual stories.

Designed to teach kids as young as five how to code, this starter kit from Robo Wunderkind ($179) turns every child into an inventor. Through a combination of physical hardware (blocks kids can snap together even and turn into robots) and software, youngsters can construct and program a range of robotic tools—engaging in experiential, cooperative, and play-based learning that’ll help prepare them for an increasingly STEM-oriented job market. The versatile kit, used in many school curricula and designed to grow with kids, can help teach disciplines including math and language—and its most advanced users will even be able to use it to write their own code. 

Teach kids to tune into the natural world with help from Put On Your Owl Eyes ($17), a fetching storybook designed for the 8- to 13-year-old set. Author and environmental educator Devin Franklin reveals how to move through nature as stealthily as a fox, grasp the basics of bird language, create habitat maps, and carve out “sit spots;” i.e., accessible outdoor spaces where budding naturalists can stop, observe, and commune with the area’s flora and fauna. This interactive guidebook also comes with prompts and write-in spaces designed for journaling, mapping, and tracking wildlife.

A shiny new bike or scooter is always an under-the-tree hit. But we’re going to up the ante and suggest you spend time with your kid, helping them to build their own sweet ride. Infento offers scoooter- and bike-building kits (starting at $199) designed to ignite creativity while imparting technical skills. The best part is, as kids grow, they can disassemble and rebuild bigger, more advanced rides, thus stopping toy waste in its tracks.

How about some screen-free, alfresco fun for kids, tweens, and teens? You know what, make it glow-in-the-dark, too! Starlux designs family-friendly “glow-based” outdoor games to play in the evening—just when kids get most apt to turn to devices for entertainment. Check out four games for  four to 10+ players, including Capture the Flag ($60, which comes with 40 reusable light-up pieces for up to 20 players) and Wizards & Werewolves (pictured, $40). And yes, batteries are very much included.

Got any budding little explorers on your list? The cartographer artist behind GeoJango makes maps that can be custom-tailored with titles, fonts, and framing options. The popular kids’ map ($149) comes with 100 multi-colored push pins to help youngsters track where they’ve traveled, and where they hope to explore.

OK, so this may be more of a gift for tots’ parents, but kids are also bound to love the vibrant, reusable dinnerware from Repurpose, which features 100 percent compostable, plant-based single-use dining items (cutlery, straws, plates, etc.), and a line of non-toxic reusable goods free of BPAs, phthalates, PVC, and PBDEs. The Kids’ Plastic-Free Dinner Set ($30) is durable, plant-based, microwave- and dishwasher-safe, and designed by a mom. Bon appetit.

A plush stuffed animal is pretty much a guaranteed hit come gift o’clock. Check out Axol & Friends, which creates them in the image of rare and endangered species (and from eco-friendly materials, too). The organization (which also makes wildlife-themed storybooks, enamel pins, and backpacks) also channels a portion of every toy sold into nonprofit programs that empower youths to become activists, and donates plushies to kids in need, too. Stuffed animals start at $19.

There’s nothing quite like being a tween or teen just whetting one’s palate for the vast, wild, and weird wonders of the world. Good news for wanderlusters old and young: Atlas Obscura recently came out with a second edition ($38) of its popular compendium, An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Containing 120 new entries about curious, bizarre, and mysterious places around the globe, this version includes a full-color road trip map and a dream trip itinerary, too. Neil Gaiman says it’s a “joy to read and reread,” and Sierra staffers describe it as “marvelously, delightfully bizarre.” 

Read More

Seal Takes Ocean Heat Transport Data to New Depths

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current flows in a loop around Antarctica, connecting the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. It is one of the most significant ocean currents in our climate system because it facilitates the exchange of heat and other properties among the oceans it links.

But how the current transfers heat, particularly vertically from the top layer of the ocean to the bottom layers and vice versa, is still not fully understood. This current is very turbulent, producing eddies — swirling vortices of water similar to storms in the atmosphere — between 30 to 125 miles (50 to 200 kilometers) in diameter. It also spans some 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) through an especially remote and inhospitable part of the world, making it one of the most difficult currents for scientists — as least those of the human variety — to observe and measure.

Luckily for Lia Siegelman, a visiting scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the rough seas posed no challenge for her scientific sidekick: a tagged southern elephant seal.

Equipped with a specialized sensor reminiscent of a small hat, the seal swam more than 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) on a three-month voyage, much of it through the turbulent, eddy-rich waters of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The seal made around 80 dives at depths ranging from 550 to 1,090 yards (500 to 1,000 meters) per day during this time. All the while, it collected a continuous stream of data that has provided new insight into how heat moves vertically between ocean layers in this volatile region — insight that brings us one step closer to understanding how much heat from the Sun the ocean there is able to absorb.

For a new paper published recently in Nature Geoscience, Siegelman and her co-authors combined the seal’s data with satellite altimetry data. The satellite data of the ocean surface showed where the swirling eddies were within the current and which eddies the seal was swimming through. Analyzing the combined dataset, the scientists paid particular attention to the role smaller ocean features played in vertical heat transport. Siegelman was surprised by the results.

“These medium-sized eddies are known to drive the production of small-scale fronts — sudden changes in water density similar to cold and warm fronts in the atmosphere,” she said. “We found that these fronts were evident some 500 meters [550 yards] into the ocean interior, not just in the surface layer like many studies suggest, and that they played an active role in vertical heat transport.”

According to Siegelman, their analysis showed that these fronts act like ducts that carry a lot of heat from the ocean interior back to the surface. “Most current modeling studies indicate that the heat would move from the surface to the ocean interior in these cases, but with the new observational data provided by the seal, we found that that’s not the case,” she said.

Why It Matters

The ocean surface layer can absorb only a finite amount of heat before natural processes, like evaporation and precipitation, kick in to cool it down. When deep ocean fronts send heat to the surface, that heat warms the surface layer and pushes it closer to its heat threshold. So essentially, in the areas where this dynamic is present, the ocean isn’t able to absorb as much heat from the Sun as it otherwise could.

Current climate models and those used to estimate Earth’s heat budget don’t factor in the effects of these small-scale ocean fronts, but the paper’s authors argue that they should.

“Inaccurate representation of these small-scale fronts could considerably underestimate the amount of heat transferred from the ocean interior back to the surface and, as a consequence, potentially overestimate the amount of heat the ocean can absorb,” Siegelman said. “This could be an important implication for our climate and the ocean’s role in offsetting the effects of global warming by absorbing most of the heat.”

The scientists say this phenomenon is also likely present in other turbulent areas of the ocean where eddies are common, including the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean and the Kuroshio Extension in the North Pacific Ocean.

Although their results are significant, Siegelman says more research is needed to fully understand and quantify the long-term effects these fronts may have on the global ocean and our climate system. For example, the study is based on observations in the late spring and early summer. Results may be more pronounced during winter months, when these small-scale fronts tend to be stronger. This body of research will also benefit from additional studies in other locations.

For more information on how the elephant seal data were acquired, see:

https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2871/data-with-flippers-studying-the-ocean-from-a-seals-point-of-view/

News Media Contact

Arielle Samuelson
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-0307
[email protected]

Read More

Cli-Fi Maven Jeff VanderMeer Talks About His Latest Novel

More authors are writing fiction about climate change than ever before, but few approach the subject with such intensity, inventiveness, and absurdity as Jeff VanderMeer. Prolific and versatile, the Florida writer has built a career on taking the tropes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror—including time travel, alternate dimensions, and biotech run amok—and twisting them into strange and compelling narratives that often extend beyond those genres’ confines.
The New Yorker has dubbed VanderMeer, who spends a lot of time exploring the wildlands near his Tallahassee home, the “Weird Thoreau.” But this author is no recluse—he’s frequently out speaking about climate issues at places like MIT and the Guggenheim, or traveling to promote his books.
With his wife, Ann, an award-winning editor in her own right, VanderMeer has assembled far-reaching science fiction and fantasy story collections, including The Weird, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, and The Big Book of Science Fiction. The VanderMeers’ second Big Book of Classic Fantasy, covering 1945 to 2010, comes in July 2020.
After publishing experimental stories and novels over the course of two decades, VanderMeer’s career shifted into high gear with the 2014 publication of the Nebula Award–winning Annihilation. Adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, Annihilation was the first volume of the Southern Reach trilogy, a critical and popular success published over the course of a single year.
VanderMeer followed the trilogy with Borne, a touching, unsettling novel set in an ecologically devastated “City” ravaged by the pollutants of the “Company,” wherein a young couple looks after a mysterious life form that learns to speak and assert its own identity.
His new novel, Dead Astronauts, out yesterday from MCD Books, is set partly in the world of Borne. Three characters start off on a quest to destroy the Company that brought so much pain and suffering to that world. Their trek involves a giant oracular fox, a mother and daughter haunted by demons, and a centuries-old giant fish. It’s a much more compressed and intense read than Borne, full of stylistic and temporal tricks—a puzzle that may confound some readers on their first attempt.
Sierra spoke with VanderMeer, just prior to his Dead Astronauts publicity tour, about the evolution of climate fiction, his sources of writing inspiration, and biodiversity in his native Florida.
***
Sierra: How do you feel about being the “Weird Thoreau,” and how is Dead Astronauts consistent with that moniker?
Jeff VanderMeer: I am actually very thankful to The New Yorker for that, because it allows me to say, when introduced at events, “I thought that Thoreau was the ‘Weird Thoreau.’” The moniker helps in that the novels tend to be discussed in a more useful and wide context. As for Dead Astronauts, in the sense of continuing a dialogue about our relationship to the world around us, I suppose it’s apt enough. But the influences on the novel are multitudinous.
How does Dead Astronauts mesh with your personal feelings about conservation?
What was really important to me was trying to explore the nonhuman and make sure there were at least some nonhuman characters that were not [conveying] views I would call propaganda. Pop culture sometimes makes animals complicit in their own usage by humans, like logos for a butcher shop can make the animal complicit in its own death. I think about things we don’t recognize as propaganda, but it really is when it comes to the nonhuman world.
How did Dead Astronauts evolve? Was it conceived while you wrote Borne?
No. It came out of Borne, but it wasn’t something I was planning until later, after Borne was published and I was thinking about it more. [There] was a fairly powerful image of dead astronauts mysteriously deposited in a courtyard in Borne—I think my subconscious started thinking first about who were they? What was their story? At some point, I thought, well, what is a dead astronaut? What does that actually mean? In a sense, the title is both literal and figurative and crosses some of the other points of view. At a certain point, the fox, similar to the sacrifice of dogs in the cosmonaut program, is sent on an astronaut mission. That’s literal, but there’s the more metaphorical throughout as well.
You have the three astronauts: Grayson, Chen, and Moss. Where did you take your inspiration in creating these characters?
I think the context is what they’ve been created to be in Moss’s case; what they’ve been complicit in, in Chen’s case; and what their initial job was, in Grayson’s case. There’s the dissolution of Grayson’s [astronaut] mission. Then the three of them have taken it on to try to change the future—a future of apocalypse, if this predatory capitalist Company can’t be stopped.
They seem to be engaged in a Sisyphean sort of quest. In what ways do their interactions reflect your own views of human existence?
What you’re getting at is about activism. What I find, because we’re in this sort of capitalist system that is so difficult to push back against or get outside of, we tend to gauge our success within it. Our metrics are totally bound up in that same system. One of the themes of the book is how does failure advance the cause that we’re working on? We often define success as so absolute that anything short of it seems like complete failure. But a lot of times in the conservation movement, failure is not necessarily something that doesn’t advance the cause to some degree. We’re so connected that failure is broadcast or mourned over by many people not even in the same place. It has an impact on other people’s fight, how they conceive of pushing back against systems giving us ecological collapse, habitat loss, everything else. I wanted to explore that.
Is there a character you’re particularly fond of?
I like the world-weariness of Grayson because she becomes part of this mission in spite of a certain fatalism. She has to push back against her own cynicism to participate.
Also, the anger of the fox appeals to me. The fox came about [from] talking to a radical environmentalism class at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. They were giving me feedback that they liked novels like Annihilation but wanted a more direct, didactic literature of ecology, the environment, and climate crisis. How do I translate that into fiction, because the whole point of fiction is not to be declarative. It is to be ambiguous and to leave space for the reader to make up their own mind. I came up with the character of the fox because as a revolutionary, there’s a directness that’s central to the character. That makes the didactic part of the narrative seem much more natural, or should, than the author somehow shining out from the narrative to give you a lecture.
Your father is head of the US Department of Agriculture Fire Ant Lab in Gainesville, and your mother is an artist. Can you talk about how your parents’ occupations have influenced you?
[They] were really very influential in making me interested in environmental issues, because of my dad studying invasive species. My mom is a painter and was a biological illustrator before computers did away with that job. They joined the Peace Corps, so as a family we lived in Fiji when I was a kid. My dad was studying the predation of the rhinoceros beetle on coconut trees. My mom did both art and biological illustration, a lot of studies of sea turtles. There was a way in which art and science meshed.
Do you see any trends in current science fiction and fantasy that are particularly noteworthy?  
Because of the anthologies, I don’t read a lot of science fiction or fantasy for pleasure. I read short stories for the anthologies, and then I read a lot of mainstream fiction. I’ve been really happy about things like [Richard Powers’s] The Overstory and others where you see all sorts of climate change issues involved. I’d like to see more of that. We’re really in the middle of it, so climate fiction is not science fiction; it could be any fiction at all. I think science fiction can be as oblivious to environmental issues as any other form of literature, or as aware.
You have said you were deeply affected by the Gulf oil spill. Has there been a similarly traumatizing event since then?
Ron DeSantis, our governor, recently allowed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to support exploratory oil drilling in the Apalachicola area. There’s just no way they can actually drill for oil there without causing immense environmental damage. He’s also signed this bill about toll roads to nowhere, which would cut across the heart of the last parts of wild Florida and make a wildlife corridor across the state impossible. Even people on the committees to create the route are aghast. Those two things right now are similar. They cause a great deal of stress for anyone who cares about biodiversity, about the number of species in north Florida that are unique here. Those are things preoccupying me, and the kinds of things I’m gearing up to try and do my part to be active about opposing.
Are you able to find optimism in the face of the developments in the past few years?
My daughter is a sustainability consultant who does work for the World Wildlife Fund but also is helping cities, including Charlotte in North Carolina, to become [zero emitters]. She’s doing things; she knows the data [to the point that] she still has hope. I have hope because she is more of an expert on it than I am.
Also, I have seen a lot of people respond to the idea of making as much biodiversity as possible on private property, in reaction to Trump policy, which is environmentally devastating across public land. People are committing to not using herbicides and pesticides and are planting native plants. That could make a real difference. We need to push back as much as possible. I also think people need something in their day-to-day lives to hold onto, and to show that they can do something positive. In this case, it’s so inexpensive; if you have a yard, [it just entails] not mowing grass, not using herbicide, not spending money, not leaf blowing. Small things that add up, even just for migratory birds. It could be really important, and I see more and more people responding to that.
I understand you got some push-back from neighbors and municipal authorities when you let your landscaping go more native. What happened?
That was at the old house, which was good training for the new house. A neighbor complained about our “weeds,” which were native wildflowers. The city inspected and gave us a citation. I responded by weeding the wildflowers into a rectangle shape and putting a little white fence around it. I also weed-wacked the outer fringe of the yard near the road. What I learned is that the signs and symbols of a lawn are sometimes more important than anything else. The neighbor never complained again, and the city never cited us again. The lesson is that the impression of conformity is often enough for some.
You’ve previously donated a percentage of book royalties to environmental causes. Are you planning to donate a percentage of royalties from Dead Astronauts?
At least 20 percent will be donated to the Center for Biological Diversity and to the Friends of the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge [in Florida]. The center’s been aggressive, in partnership with others, in terms of lawsuits [against] Trump’s worst policy changes. The St. Marks Wildlife Refuge is a truly special place. It’s not just because I’m near it. In terms of biodiversity and the number of different kinds of microclimates in it, it truly is unique [and] needs to be as protected as possible.

Read More

Canada's Next National Park

The western Great Basin is a vast region of hot summers, mild winters, and little rain. From Mexico, the basin unfolds north for more than 1,500 miles before poking across the US-Canada border into British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Within an area roughly the size of Portland, Oregon, a visitor can experience one of Canada’s most unusual and beautiful landscapes. There’s the arid ecosystem of sagebrush, reminiscent of the Arizona desert; golden hills of bunchgrass that could be South Dakota; highlands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests overlooking a river valley that could pass for the Rocky Mountain foothills. After nearly two decades of efforts to protect this unique ecosystem, Canada could find its next national park here, in the heart of BC’s wine, golf, and beach country. 
Last summer, the long-anticipated and fiercely debated South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park Reserve got one step closer to becoming a reality. On July 3, 2019, the government of Canada, the province of British Columbia, and the Syilx/Okanagan Nation, which represents six Okanagan-area Indian bands, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) laying the groundwork for future negotiations. 
“It’s an important milestone for sure,” says Richard Cannings, a member of parliament for the South Okanagan–West Kootenays and the left-leaning New Democratic Party’s natural resources critic. “I grew up in these grasslands, and it’s one of the top-four endangered ecosystems in Canada.” 
But the development of national parks in North America can be polarizing, and like many before it, the Okanagan has created a collision among conservationists, recreationists, and developers. In Canada, where First Nations often have a bigger, though imperfect, seat at the table when it comes to ecological preservation, this new agreement in no way seals the deal.
Cannings is one of many conservationists who support the park, which by Canadian standards is small at roughly 120 square miles (Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park, established in 1888, is more than 20 times larger). The park would be composed of a patchwork of existing provincially protected lands, open crown land, and private parcels. More than 30 federally listed species at risk and 60 provincially listed species (11 percent of all listed species in Canada) live within these theoretical national park boundaries. It’s a naturalist’s paradise and also unfinished business for Parks Canada: BC’s southern grasslands is one of 39 eco-regions identified in the national parks plan as a distinctive component of the national landscape, but so far lacks national park representation. 
However, Cannings, who moonlights as a biologist and field guide author, is also cautious. People want to live and play in the Okanagan. Changing normalized patterns of behavior on the landscape, whether it’s ATVing or hunting, is an uphill battle. And the issue has divided communities like nearby Oliver, whose 5,000 residents live within four miles of the proposed park’s eastern boundary. In April, the anti-national-park group known as the South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society (SOSPS) held a public meeting that drew 300 people, and many in attendance were opposed, including Rick Knodel, a regional director for the Okanagan, who likens a national park to sacrificing local sovereignty to the federal government. Antipathy toward Parks Canada and the federal government runs deep among SOSPS members. The group’s spokesman, Lionel Trudel, an Okanagan Valley–based photographer, insists the group supports conservation of the area’s unique grasslands, just not by bureaucrats based in Ottawa.
“We as a society are looking elsewhere for solutions, and we don’t want Parks Canada as an entity in this region,” Trudel says. He worries that the potential of thousands of new visitors a national park would bring to an already busy Okanagan Valley tourism corridor would add unwanted pressure to policing, ambulance services, and other resources as well as more traffic to an already crowded Highway 97. Trudel also says his group is concerned about potential special hunting rights for First Nations in a national park reserve that would otherwise be off-limits to hunters, ATVs, and other user groups. 
For park opponents worried about hunting access, park advocate Don Gayton points out that national parks can act as a refugia for wildlife, which could benefit hunters in the long run. Though for Gayton, an American-born Vietnam War resistor and grasslands ecologist who lives about 25 miles from the proposed park’s northern boundary, concerns about lost hunting opportunities rank low in importance. 
“Species like antelope brush, badgers, and tiger salamanders are at the very northern end of their range. Their genetics are important because they’ve had to adapt,” Gayton says. “This is an extremely rare and important region ecologically.”  
SOSPS is advocating for a protection model based on the Okanagan-Shuswap Land and Resource Management Plan. Though Trudel could not provide details around how such a model would be regulated or funded, he says it would be “locally managed.”
There is definitely no love lost between SOSPS and Parks Canada. Prior to July’s MOU, the federal agency held a series of 39 informational meetings in the spring attended by over 600 people. The agency also received feedback on the park proposal from another 2,848 people in the form of surveys. The results reflected a sharp divide: 49 percent mostly saw benefits to a national park while 41 percent expressed concerns around issues like land access and hunting and recreation restrictions. Of the seven key recommendations emerging from the engagement process, most related to improving Parks Canada communication and outreach with the public, community groups, and local government.
The process has been unnecessarily opaque at times, according to Cannings, and Parks Canada could do better at responding to public concerns in a timely fashion. However, he believes much of the concerns are based on misinformation that continues to be spread among anti-park activists, such as the claim that Parks Canada will expropriate private land and drive out cattle ranchers—neither of which is true, Cannings says. Parks Canada has repeatedly made it clear that “no lands will be expropriated as part of a national park reserve.” 
“It’s frustrating to be going to public meetings 17 years into the process and still hear people talking about expropriation,” Cannings says. “Honestly, I think there’s a lot of mistrust and dislike of the federal government that’s behind this.”
Not only do conservationists clash with anti-park activists, but also BC’s southern grasslands face pressures from urban sprawl, vineyards, tourism, and other competing land uses. According to Don Gayton, the grasslands “get no respect.” “In mountain parks, the scenery with all the waterfalls, glaciers, and mountains does all the work for you. In grassland country, you have to do the work and get down on your hands and knees to truly appreciate it. If you put in the effort, the quiet and amazing diversity is breathtaking,” Gayton says. “But this is a challenging place to create a national park. It’s basically a suburban area.” 
But these clashes matter little without First Nations consent. Indigenous settlement in the southern Okanagan dates back thousands of years. Spotted Lake, along Highway 3, with its curious kaleidoscopic alkaline patterns, is part of the proposed park and is sacred to the Osoyoos Indian Band. Clarence Louie, the OIB’s tough-talking chief, scoffs at park opponents who suggest a national park would lead to increased crime and wildfire risk, two tropes that are commonly trotted out at anti-park meetings. He also believes much of the opposition is rooted in white people’s mistrust and resentment of Indigenous rights and title in the lands under question. 
Members of the OIB and the five other bands that form the Syilx/Okanagan Nation are far from uniformly in favor of the park. For example, 67-year-old Uthlxanica is a Syilx elder who views a national park as an extension of colonialism. However, their leadership has expressed support in principle. Chief Louie says much work needs to be done before the distinct brown and yellow Parks Canada signs start appearing in Okanagan and Similkameen territory.
“We don’t have all the information. There needs to be hundreds of more meetings and discussions,” Louie says. 
With all the competing interests, for folks like Gayton, national park advocacy is a test of endurance. “The average timeline for creating a national park is 30 years,” says Gayton, who hopes to see one come to fruition in his lifetime. “So I guess we’re about halfway there.”

Read More

NASA, French Space Laser Measures Massive Migration of Ocean Animals

Researchers used the space-based CALIPSO lidar to measure the planet’s largest animal migration, which takes place when small sea creatures swim up from the depths at night to feed on phytoplankton, then back down again just before sunrise. Credit: NASA/Timothy Marvel
Every night, under the cover of darkness, countless small sea creatures – from squid to krill – swim from the ocean depths to near the surface to feed. This vast animal migration – the largest on the planet and a critical part of Earth’s climate system – has been observed globally for the first time, thanks to an unexpected use of a space-based laser.
Researchers observed this vertical migration pattern using the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satellite — a joint venture between NASA and the French space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales — that launched in 2006. They published their findings in the journal Nature Wednesday.
Tiny creatures such as small squid, fish and krill are part of the massive vertical migration pattern in the ocean that has now been measured around the world from space. Credit: Chandler Countryman
“This is the latest study to demonstrate something that came as a surprise to many: that lidars have the sensitivity to provide scientifically useful ocean measurements from space,” said Chris Hostetler, a scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and co-author on the study. “I think we are just scratching the surface of exciting new ocean science that can be accomplished with lidar.”
The study looks at a phenomenon known as Diel Vertical Migration (DVM), in which small sea creatures swim up from the deep ocean at night to feed on phytoplankton near the surface, then return to the depths just before sunrise. Scientists recognize this natural daily movement around the world as the largest migration of animals on Earth in terms of total number.
The cumulative effect of daily vertically migrating creatures on Earth’s climate is significant. During the day, ocean phytoplankton photosynthesize and, in the process, absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide, which contributes to the ocean’s ability to absorb the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Animals that undergo DVM come up to the surface to feed on phytoplankton near the ocean’s surface and then swim back down, taking the phytoplankton carbon with them. Much of this carbon is then defecated at depths where it is effectively trapped deep in the ocean, preventing its release back into the atmosphere.
“What the lidar from space allowed us to do is sample these migrating animals on a global scale every 16 days for 10 years,” said Mike Behrenfeld, the lead for the study and a senior research scientist and professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. “We’ve never had anywhere near that kind of global coverage to allow us to look at the behavior, distribution and abundance of these animals.”
Zeroing in on tropical and subtropical ocean regions, researchers found that while there are fewer vertically migrating animals in lower-nutrient and clearer waters, they comprise a greater fraction of the total animal population in these regions. This is because the migration is a behavior that has evolved primarily to avoid visual predators during the day when visual predators have their greatest advantage in clear ocean regions.
In murkier and more nutrient-rich regions, the abundance of animals that undergo DMV is higher, but they represent a smaller fraction of the total animal population because visual predators are at a disadvantage. In these regions, many animals just stay near the surface both day and night.
The researchers also observed long-term changes in populations of migrating animals, likely driven by climate variations. During the study period (2008 to 2017), CALIPSO data revealed an increase in migrating animal biomass in the subtropical waters of the North and South Pacific, North Atlantic and South Indian oceans. In the tropical regions and North Atlantic, biomass decreased. In all but the tropical Atlantic regions, these changes correlated with changes in phytoplankton production.
This animal-mediated carbon conveyor belt is recognized as an important mechanism in Earth’s carbon cycle. Scientists are adding animals that undergo DVM as a key element in climate models.
“What these modelers haven’t had is a global dataset to calibrate these models with, to tell them where these migrators are most important, where they’re most abundant, and how they change over time,” said Behrenfeld. “The new satellite data give us an opportunity to combine satellite observations with the models and do a better job quantifying the impact of this enormous animal migration on Earth’s carbon cycle.”
The satellite data are also relevant to global fisheries because the migrating animals are an important food source for larger predators that lurk in the depths of the ocean. Those predators are often species of fish that are attractive to commercial fisheries. The larger the DVM signal, the larger the population of fish that can live in the deep sea.
Though CALIPSO’s laser was designed to measure clouds and atmospheric aerosols, it can penetrate the upper 20 meters of the ocean’s surface layer. If the migrating animals reach this layer, they are detected by CALIPSO.
NASA uses the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. The agency’s observations of Earth’s complex natural environment are critical to understanding how our planet’s natural resources and climate are changing now and could change in the future.
For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:
https://www.nasa.gov/earth
News Media Contacts
Steve ColeHeadquarters, [email protected]
Joe AtkinsonLangley Research Center, Hampton, [email protected]

Read More

Oil Is Washing Up on Brazil’s Beaches

The beach surrounding the Brazilian coastal town of Subauma, in northern Bahia, stretches long, straight, and seemingly forever. Palm trees line the tops of the dunes, which slope into crystal-blue surf. Along the coast, near the sandy streets of the town’s main square, tide pools form in the rocks. 
On a Sunday in mid-November, dozens of beachgoers were wading through the turquoise water as kids splashed in the surf and played in the sand. And beside them, only feet away, were little black dots—thousands of them. They clung to the sand and the rocks, or else floated, glistening and metallic-looking, in the water. The black dabs lined the beach, stretching to the horizon in both directions. 
It was oil, heavy crude.
“Look at this. My boy was playing in the sand over there, and look what we found,” said Nelson Cerqueira, who has been coming to this beach for years. He lifted up a plastic spoon filled with clumped, blackened sand. “It’s oil. Everywhere. We got it all over our feet.”
Crude oil began washing up on shores in the state of Pernambuco on August 30, just as Brazil was reeling from the country’s other recent environmental disaster, the Amazon fires. The oil hit the coast of several northern states first and then worked its way south. 
Brazil’s Federal Police said a Greek tanker carrying heavy crude from Venezuela was to blame. Olivia Oliveira, a Federal University of Bahia geoscientist who led the chemical tests on the oil, told Sierra that there was an almost perfect match between oil samples collected on Brazilian beaches and the type of crude produced in Venezuela. But the shipping company said it has proof it was not responsible for the spill. 
Months have gone by, and still it remains unclear where, exactly, the oil is coming from, how much more is out there, when it will arrive, and at which locations.

Oil has now washed ashore in at least 772 spots in 11 states, covering an area stretching more than 1,500 miles. “We are dealing with an unprecedented situation, with an accident that has never happened in the world, in terms of the extension of the impacted area,” Ícaro Moreira, a biology professor at the Federal University of Bahia, told Sierra.
North of the town of Subauma, where the Subauma River meets the Atlantic Ocean and forms an estuary, oil has covered the roots and leaves of mangrove trees. It’s buried in the mud or lays baking in the sun. Oil splotches paint the rocks in jagged designs, as if an elementary school class had a field day with dozens of cans of black paint then got bored. The oil reeks, with a sweet-sour smell. 
The oil contamination on the beaches persists despite local residents’ attempts to clean it up.
Deraldo Santana Brito is a Subauma ambulance driver who has participated in the cleanup efforts. He says he has personally carried 20 bags of oil debris from areas near the mangrove forest. A huge, white, roughly 800-pound bag of oil-contaminated material sits beside the river, where it was left by one of the cleanup crews days or weeks ago. 
“First, the longtime residents started picking up the oil, and then local officials got involved,” Santana Brito said. “Everyone pitched in, but you can see that it still wasn’t done very well, because if it had been done well, it wouldn’t look like it does now. It’s still not clean.” 
When the first waves of oil hit the beaches in big, black, coagulated masses, locals responded as best they could. In the early days, many people attempted to clean up the thick, oily sludge with their bare hands. Friends and acquaintances formed WhatsApp groups like Guardioes do Litorial (Coastal Guardians) in Bahia and Salve Maracaípe (Save Maracaípe) in Pernambuco. They began monitoring beaches and responding with teams of volunteers as oil covered the coast.
The country’s Environment Ministry is the prime agency tasked with responding to serious environmental disasters like the oil spill. But the federal government was slow to act, likely, in no small part, due to President Jair Bolsonaro’s elimination, in April, of two committees involved in the implementation of Brazil’s national oil disaster contingency plan.

 
City and municipal governments attempted to fill the void. In major urban centers, city sanitation crews were dispatched as waves of oil arrived. In smaller towns, the responsibility often fell on the shoulders of municipal security forces. The navy and crews from Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras also took a leading role in clearing the oil from beaches across the northeast. 
Otherwise, the federal government seemed confused and disorganized. Officials said proactive containment measures (used previously in spills around the world) like creating barriers to block the oil before its arrival to the coast could not be implemented, because the heavy crude was floating too far below the surface of the ocean. The federal government only rolled out a federal action plan in mid-October, after public interest groups took to the courts to demand it be implemented. It took seven weeks after the first oil appeared on Brazilian beaches for the military to announce that it was dedicating 5,000 soldiers to the cleanup effort. 
Similar to what happened with the Amazon fires earlier this year, many Brazilians blame the Bolsonaro administration for the inaction. Some say he’s playing politics; Brazilians in the country’s poorer northeastern states voted overwhelmingly against him in last year’s elections. Environmentalists are also calling for the removal of Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, who insinuated that perhaps a Greenpeace ship was responsible for the spill. 
Meanwhile, government officials say 4,500 tons of oil have been cleaned off beaches since the disaster began. Brazilian navy officials say the country has passed the height of the crisis. 

Even as it appeared that the arrival of the oil might be slowing, large clumps of heavy crude washed up in numerous states during the last weeks of November, including on the pristine Morro do Sao Paulo beaches near the Bahia state capital, Salvador. Both the state of Espirito Santo, just to the south, and Rio de Janeiro have been hit. 
“This is new. This is all new,” Santana Brito said in mid-November as he walked the beach a few miles outside of Subauma. At his feet was a thick row of fingernail-size clumps of oil that stretched to the beach horizons—south toward Salvador and north toward Aracaju, the capital of the state of Sergipe. “I was here yesterday, and none of this was here.”
There in Aracaju, a skeleton cleanup crew of 14 sanitation workers has been spending each day walking the beach and meticulously clearing newly arrived pebble-size drops, as if raking leaves. They wear thick orange and green work coveralls and labor with shovels, rakes, and wheelbarrows. “We’re here Sunday to Sunday,” their boss, Sergio da Silva, told Sierra. “Sometimes, we think there’s not going to be any more, and when we come out, here it is.”
Outside a few of the major cities—or the top tourist destinations—most of the oil will never be picked up. There is simply no cleanup plan for it.
“These small remnants are no less harmful,” said Bárbara Silva, a volunteer with the Coastal Guardians. “They can get into the food chain and into the mangrove and the estuaries. And these small fragments also contaminate the local ecosystem.” 
“It’s like cleaning ice,” said Ceudes Reis dos Santos, a fisherman in the northern Bahia village of Sirinbinha. “The moment you clean up the oil, it’s back.”
He said that he has participated in eight cleanups on the sand bar, where the Itapicuru River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. And still the sand is peppered with black dots.
Fishermen like Reis dos Santos have been particularly hit hard by the oil spill. While Brazilian officials say the local seafood is safe to eat, many people have stopped buying it out of fear that it may be contaminated. Seafood restaurants and fish stores have seen sales plummet by 50 percent or more. Many fishermen have gone months without selling any of their catches, and many fishermen and their families are eating the fish to survive.
“I have three children, and they all depend on me. It’s really hard,” said Antonio Santana Pereira, a 58-year-old fisherman in Salvador with a mass of dreadlocks and powerful arms who has been free diving for lobster and octopus since he was a boy. “I have to pay the bills. I don’t have anything else to do. My life is fishing, and this is how I make my living.” 
While the beaches have been the top priority for the official and grassroots cleanup efforts, they are the least of the concerns for many environmental researchers. 
“If you go to the mangrove, or the sea grasses, or the coral reefs, the cleaning process is very very difficult,” Vanessa Hatje, a professor at the Bahia Federal University’s Interdisciplinary Energy and Environment Center, told Sierra. “These environments are the most sensitive. I think we’re going to have very-long-term impacts.” 
Already, oil that has washed into mangrove forests has seeped into the deep mud there. Mangroves have seen little cleanup, since it’s difficult to access the entangled forests. Yet mangroves represent one of the coastline’s most biologically diverse and sensitive ecosystems. Crabs, shellfish, and other marine animals depend on it. Many fish return to the mangrove forests to reproduce.
“There are studies that show that after oil spills, many fish show stunted growth, a reduced size of their children, deformation in the larva and eggs,” oceanographer Mariana Thevenin told Sierra as she stood at the edge of Flamingo Beach in northern Salvador. “These oil substances contaminate the organisms and the environment, and this can easily get into the food chain.” 
But right now, everything is hard to measure, and when it comes to the long-term impacts of the oil spill, there are more questions than answers. 
“The most important thing is that we don’t really know,” Hatje said. “We don’t really know. That’s the scary thing about it.”

Read More

How Do I Minimize the Environmental Impact of My Period?

Hey Ms. Green,
I want to minimize the environmental impact of my period. Reusable pads seem to be similar to cloth diapers: The resource expenditure and waste generation for disposables is high, but the alternatives are also far from ecofriendly. Are reusable pads worth it?
—Julianne in Longmeadow, Massachusetts
What’s the greenest way to catch the crimson tide? Surprise! It’s not single-use items. In 2015, the Ocean Conservancy collected 34,892 used tampons and applicators on beaches. No pads or tampons in the United States are labeled as certified compostable. Plus, imagine municipal facilities sorting compostable versus non-compostable ones (they don’t). Many tampons have petroleum-based plastic wrap, and many name-brand menstrual pads have toxic chemicals that are likely absorbed through skin.
Luckily, what might be the greenest menstrual product is the most comfortable: period underwear that doesn’t give you that everyone-knows-I’m-on-my-period look and feel. I wash mine with cold water that I collect in water dispensers while I wait for my shower to get warm. 
I sleuthed around six swimwear and organic-period-underwear manufacturers to see how they measure up on worker rights and sustainability. Lunapads was the only company that replied, saying that its underwear is made from GOTS-certified organic yarns and many fabrics that are certified, and it has no diisocyanates, according to its US supplier of waterproof polyurethane lamination.

Read More

December Observing Highlights: Hypnotic Venus and a Parade of Stars

Once more for those in the back: It’s not a plane, it’s Venus! 
When Venus appears just above rooftops after sunset, its dazzling brightness means it is often mistaken for a plane or even a UFO. The clouds that cover Venus give it a high albedo, or reflectivity, making it the brightest planet as seen from Earth. This is especially true this month, when Venus is the most eye-catching object in the night sky. It shines at magnitude -3.9 in the southeast for a couple hours after sunset, staying up longer as the month wears on. 
On December 9 Venus is just below Saturn. On the following nights it moves to the left and upward until the two planets are side by side. Around this time, they actually form a triangle with a third, unseen “planet.” On December 11, try to imagine that Venus and Saturn are two points of a nearly equilateral triangle, with a third point to their upper left. In that location, if you had an extremely large telescope, you would be able to spot the demoted planet, Pluto. On December 15, as Venus and Saturn continue to separate, imagine a line stretching between them—the midpoint on that line is where Pluto now lies. You can’t, of course, come anywhere close to seeing the 14.4-magnitude object, even with a backyard telescope, but it’s nice to know that it is there, floating in the far depths of the solar system.
On December 27, a 3-percent-lit young moon is close to Saturn, and on December 28, you can find the crescent moon below Venus. On this date the moon is about 8-percent lit and 2.7 days old. 
Winter Gems
For the Northern Hemisphere, winter officially arrives on December 21 at 8:19 p.m. PST. The longest, darkest nights occur now, but more sunlight will gradually inch its way into our skies with the New Year. For those up celebrating around midnight on December 31, winter constellations will be prominent and sparkling, including Orion, Taurus, Perseus, and Gemini. Don’t miss the Big Dipper toward the north, with its handle dangling down like an icicle.
Winter means that we are viewing the thinnest part of the Milky Way, turning away from some thick star clouds and nebulae, but some of the brightest stars reside in the winter sky. Look up, eliminate the planets, and then find the sharpest point of light. Most likely you’ve found Sirius in Canis Major, the brightest star in all the heavens. The next most visible star is Capella in Auriga, the 6th brightest star. (Stars that are in the Southern Hemisphere or currently close to the sun aren’t visible for your time and location.) The next most visible stars in the winter skies are Rigel in Orion (7th brightest) and Procyon in Canis Minor (8th brightest). Reddish Betelgeuse at Orion’s shoulder is the 10th brightest, Aldebaran in Taurus is the 14th brightest, and Pollux in Gemini outshines his brother Castor and takes 17th place. Can you discern the difference in the stars’ rankings?
Meteors and More
This year’s peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower occurs overnight from December 13–14, but it falls just a day after Full Moon on December 12, so observing conditions are not favorable. With around 100 meteors an hour, you may still catch a few bright fireballs.
The observing conditions for December’s second meteor shower, the Ursids, will have somewhat better conditions due to a waning moon. The peak is December 21–22 with up to 25 meteors an hour. 
On December 26, an annular eclipse occurs around the Indian Ocean. The name comes from the word “annulus,” or ring. During an annular eclipse, a ring of light still surrounds the darkened sun, which means that this type of eclipse is not safe to observe without a solar filter.

Read More

Kids With Disabilities Have a Right to Outdoor Field Trips

The benefits kids reap from nature are well documented, which is part of the reason school field trips often involve excursions into the Great Outdoors. Children with disabilities, however, sometimes get left behind. 
Ryan Neighbors is a Kentucky 10-year-old with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair. She didn’t want to miss out on her class field trip to a state park, but the terrain was going to make it difficult for her to participate. So a teacher volunteered to carry her, and that story went viral—all the way to the Today show, on which Ryan, her mother, and the teacher shared their story, emphasizing the importance of inclusion and celebrating the teacher’s generosity.
But kids with disabilities should be able to join their peers on field trips, such extraordinary acts of kindness notwithstanding. 
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act require schools to provide accommodations to students with physical or mental disabilities, so they have equal access to programs and services. In the classroom, these laws, along with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), might mean that a one-on-one paraprofessional or a sign language interpreter be assigned to a child, for example. 
The ADA and Section 504 also extend to field trips and extracurricular activities. But sometimes, kids with disabilities are told that they can’t go on the field trip, or that a parent will need to come along.
The problem often boils down to a lack of adequate planning ahead of time. This is according to Bruce Goldstein, a Buffalo, New York-based lawyer who has worked with numerous families whose children faced field trip problems. These students’ needs have varied—from a child who has diabetes and simply required access to the right kind of food in the event of low blood sugar, to a student with asthma who needed someone to administer treatment, to a deaf student who uses sign language. 
If the school says it can’t provide the necessary accommodations, sometimes a parent steps in. “Some parents feel boxed into the corner, and they end up going, just to allow their child to participate,” Goldstein says. However, “for the school or school district, it is not a reasonable accommodation to require the parent to go along. It’s something that the district has to take on as its responsibility.” 
Goldstein also points out that having the parent there on the field trip changes the dynamic for the kid.  
Ryan Neighbors had missed field trips before. Normally, she gets an educational day off, and “we’ll kind of create our own field trip,” says her mother, Shelly King. “Well, when she comes back, she is not really included in the lesson plan, because what they learn on the field trip, they work into their lesson plan at school.” 
When King found out that this field trip would involve an outing to the fossil beds at Falls of the Ohio State Park, she figured Ryan would have to miss this one as well. But ultimately, despite knowing that it would be physically challenging to carry her daughter up and down the boulders and steps the group would traverse, King decided she would use a backpack carrier to bring Ryan. That’s when a teacher at Ryan’s school, Jim Freeman, heard about the situation and volunteered to carry her. 
Some areas of the park were accessible—a ramp went part of the way down to the fossil beds, King explains. So Ryan could have gone down to the end of the ramp in her wheelchair, but she would have had to stop there and watch her friends explore from afar. 
“She loved being down there in the fossil beds,” King says. “She was like, ‘I got to pick up the rocks and feel them and hold them, and I got to be really close to the fossils, and if I was up on that ramp, I wouldn’t have really been able to see the fossils.’” 
“I got to pick up the rocks and feel them and hold them, and I got to be really close to the fossils, and if I was up on that ramp, I wouldn’t have really been able to see the fossils.”
The difference between stopping at the end of the ramp and going all the way into the fossil beds is something the school may not have fully considered. It’s not that schools are trying to shirk their obligations—it may be that occasional field trips simply don’t get thought through far enough ahead of time. “The day-to-day is in the forefront,” Goldstein says, “and this sometimes kind of slips off the radar.” He adds, “If parents are aware of what their children’s rights and their rights are, and the school district’s obligation toward those children, these are issues that ought to be addressed and discussed at the planning meetings that are required to be held under law [as part of the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 planning meeting].”
This issue comes up frequently in the San Francisco Unified School District, says Alida Fisher, past chair of the district’s Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. “There are so many schools that do overnight experiential field trips, and our kids with differences who need extra help either get left behind, or parents come along.” 
Fisher’s son has behavioral issues that require a one-to-one para in school. But when his fifth-grade class was planning an overnight field trip for two nights at NatureBridge, a rustic recreational center in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco, his para couldn’t go with him. Without any other alternative that would allow her son to go, Fisher and her husband “basically rearranged our lives for three days,” driving hours back and forth to trade off duties accompanying their son, and meanwhile finagling work and responsibilities for their other children.  

Alida Fisher and her son at NatureBridge in the Marin Headlands | Courtesy Alida Fisher
Two other kids on that field trip had parents come along to help manage their disabilities, Fisher notes. “That was the only way these kids could access the field trip—with parental support,” she says. “When you’ve got a kid with unique needs, you go above and beyond when you can, but unfortunately, not everyone can.” 
A parent’s inability to take time off work or other responsibilities to accompany their child shouldn’t mean the child has to stay behind.
“Field trips are still part of education,” says Nina Boyle, who works with Support for Families of Children With Disabilities, which provides families ith education, support, and understanding around children’s rights. “They’re opportunities for all students to learn about and advocate for their world. They’re also social opportunities—social skills are part of what students are learning.”
Boyle’s son has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. In school, he’s always had a one-to-one para or aide, who would accompany him on field trips. “We’ve been really lucky in that his teams overall have been thoughtful and planned ahead of time [to make sure his needs would be met],” she says. 
Boyle recalls a field trip to the beach when her son was little. Wheelchairs are difficult in sand, but this beach had a path that ran close to the shore, and his aide took supplies such as blankets and pillows so that they could transfer him out of his chair and onto the sand. “They did some thinking ahead of time about what they would need in order to allow him to sit on the beach with everybody else.” 
In providing adequate accommodations, cost is a concern—and overnight camping trips requiring paras clearly incur them. But Goldstein notes that the law requires the school to provide reasonable accommodations—and that one element of reasonability is cost. “But whatever the [school district’s] cost is going to be for this particular student, it’s going to pale in comparison to the annual budget, so it would be hard to argue it’s too costly.”
Fisher notes that her district’s Community Advisory Committee is working on a proposal that would set aside some funding specifically for situations like paying a para to accompany a child on a field trip. 
Schools sometimes offer an alternate activity for a child who gets excluded. But it’s important for kids with disabilities to be included, Goldstein says. “They’re already aware of being different, and as much as we can do for inclusion and normalization—in terms of developing whole individuals and allowing them to grow into adults and feel like an integral part of society—we have a responsibility to support and encourage,” he says. “The message that’s sent by exclusion is one of those things that can have just horrible, lasting effects.” 
Fisher agrees, noting that most of the kids with IEPs are usually in general education. “They sit in the classroom with their neurotypical peers for the majority of the day. To watch all your friends be able to go on this really cool experiential field trip and then come home a couple days later and be talking about it—can you imagine just how ostracizing that would be to not be able to go?” 
She adds, “Morally and ethically, inclusion is critically important. I would say it’s even more important for our kids with various disabilities to be included, because we’ve got kids who learn and think in so many different ways.”
Fisher’s son is a hands-on learner. “The way he learns is through the kind of experience the whole class got at NatureBridge,” she says. He’s now in eighth grade, and he still talks about what he learned on that fifth-grade trip. “He can still give you a whole dissertation on banana slugs, because he got to hold one—because he got to feel its slime.”
Getting out in nature is especially critical for city kids who “barely step outside of the city,” Fisher says. And they don’t have to go far to feel like “it’s a completely different world. It’s that first step for so many of our students in understanding that the world is bigger than what they see and do on a daily basis, which is the first step in building empathy, which is the first step in making us a strong and healthy community.” 

Courtesy Alida Fisher

Read More