Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘rachel carson’

Clearwater Festival 

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

I’m excitedly anticipating my chance to step sideways into a greener parallel culture this weekend with the Clearwater Festival, and I hope you can join in. I say “sideways” because while many green gatherings in NYC are slick and smart previews of possible sustainable futures, this “Great Hudson River Revival” is an odd amalgamation of innovation and anachronism, of renewable energy and creaky sailboats (and creaky sailors).

 

While continuing to support and enjoy the established festival in Westchester County, might it be time to strike out in new directions here in NYC?

 

Thousands of people gather on the Croton Point Park grounds each June for a weekend of music and other performances, nautical life and lore, and building environmental awareness. Estimates vary, but an attendance high point was reported as 15,000. At root, the campout concert a fundraiser for the sloop Clearwater, which sails the length of the Hudson River carrying educators who preach the environmental gospel and introducing generations of young people to the joys of living with nature. The continuing voyage began with folksinger Pete Seeger, who vowed in the 1960s, to “build a boat to save the river.”

 

Many stretches of the Hudson River were written off as dead at that time, sludged over with sewage where it wasn’t sterilized by toxic industrial releases. Seeger’s quest, despite long odds, wasn’t entirely quixotic. He added his considerable creativity and energy to the environmental movement, which was roused by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Seeger is widely credited with playing a key role in the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act. In the past three decades the Hudson River has become cleaner than in anyone’s lifetime.

 

Over that same time, however, folk music has declined in popularity. In a sense, while the Clearwater Festival started as a way for folk musicians to use their popularity to raise environmental awareness, that dynamic has flipped: “green” is so trendy now that it’s subsidizing folk music.

 

New blood, new funding, and a renewed sense of mission could come with an additional Clearwater Festival at Randalls Island.

 

The music would have to appeal to a younger demographic; positive message hip hop, rap, and new rock. The environmental message would resonate strongly if tied to PlaNYC and health issues like asthma, cancers, lead, and stress-related diseases, which stem directly from our urban ecology. 

 

Randalls Island faces three boroughs (Manhattan, to which it belongs, and Queens and the Bronx), and each opposite waterfront is chockablock with lower-income public housing. East Harlem has the highest density of public housing in the U.S., while the Queensbridge Houses complex in Long Island City is the largest in North America.  The South Bronx is famous both as a place of environmental injustice and marvelous community-based green initiatives like Friends of Brook Park and Sustainable South Bronx.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bordering Harlem River and East River (below Hell Gate) are part of the Hudson River estuary, as defined by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Dockage for the sloop is viable on the west side. Pedestrian and mass transit links, while not perfect, are extensive. Icahn Stadium is already home to popular concerts, and there are many open areas on the landfill-unified Randalls and Wards Islands for tabling and event tents. If instead of a chlorinated water park, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation now focuses on creating a gorgeous wilderness restoration, we could look proudly upon a new annual mega-destination.

 

Governors Island is an invaluable asset to our city, and on July 26 will be the site of the City of Water Day, a confluence of harbor mavens convened by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. It’s the harbor’s navel, and a splendid place of parkland and historic buildings. But access is everything for a grass-roots event that’s inclusive of the poor as well as the comfortable.

 

Perhaps there couldn’t be camping at the Randalls Island event, but there’s no need to replicate all aspects of the mother festival. Plenty of people would come for a day trip, and because the stadium is enclosed, attendees could choose to pay for major attraction concert tickets or to opt for the free music and entertainment on the open greenswards. Walk-up paddles, planting, crafts, and other public participation activities could be offered for free or at affordable prices.

 

I proposed this to the Clearwater organizers a few years ago, when I was the environmental program manager at Citizens Committee for New York City. While they were concerned about the danger of siphoning off too many visitors to the Croton-on-Hudson festival, they were also quite open to new possibilities. The catch was that we New York City greens would have to put it together for ourselves. Are we up to that yet?

 

 

 

And again, in the meantime, come up to the Clearwater Festival this weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

CDC photo of a feeding mosquito.

by Erik Baard

Last night I saw my first mosquito of the season, flying into my bedroom, hot on my carbon dioxide trail. I lost track of it, but minutes later I heard the soft buzz of menace in my ear. One must never underestimate the dangers of mosquitoes. Emperor Titus was driven made by one that flew up his nose and picked at his brain, buzzing ceaselessly until he was driven into madness and death. Well, at least according to the Babylonian Talmud, written by Jews hopeful that God at least took some vengeance on the sacker of the Great Temple of Jerusalem.

 

Actually, those ancient Jewish exiles aren’t unique in offering a slanted view of history centered on this insect. Consider yourself, a person who’s probably an environmentally aware reader. If I mention DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), the first person to spring to mind (okay, bad pun) is probably Rachel Carson. Her book, “Silent Spring,” and crusade against the chemical for its role in collapsing bird populations helped unleash one of the strongest currents in modern environmentalism, and led to the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Few remember Paul Hermann Müller, who won the Nobel Prize in 1948 for synthesizing DDT, which contemporaries saw as an incalculably humane achievement. Some credit the invention of DDT with saving upwards of 500 million lives. Even today, the mosquito threat is real. The species transmits diseases to 700 million people in tropical, often poor, regions each year. Over five million people, usually children, die from malaria annually. Mosquitoes also playing a central role in transmitting yellow fever, elephantiasis, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, several encephalitis type diseases, and Ross River fever.

 

The fight over DDT usage, as policy leaders balance its risk to human health (in 1987 the EPA classified it as a “probable human carcinogen”) and the environment against its benefits. Of course, strains of mosquitoes in some regions developed a resistance to DDT in the intervening decades. Succeeding pesticides are also controversial. Locally, where 57 of the world’s 3,500 species of mosquitoes live, concerns over pesticides grew with aggressive spraying programs to eradicate insects potentially carrying the West Nile virus.

 

A few years back I wrote for the Village Voice about how New York City-bound containers of the insecticide malathion, made by Cheminova, was being stored at temperatures known to cause carcinogenic impurities. Spraying has continued in recent summers, affecting neighborhoods in areas as widespread as the South Bronx, western Staten Island, and northern Queens. A recent article in the Antigua Sun continues to raise the red flag.

 

One troubling passage on the malathion directions label reads:

“Malathion is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the USA.

The EPA doesn’t actually test malathion.  It approves the product based on information supplied by the manufacturer.”

In other words, our safety is in the hands of the industry, from the manufacturer down to the evidently often-negligent distributors.

 

Another aspect of the argument against malathion spraying is that our reaction to the West Nile threat could be overblown, perhaps even hysterical, given how infrequently the disease is fatal.

 

Some argue that given our relatively less-dense mosquito populations we might take less radical measures like wearing light-colored clothing (the species is drawn to dark colors), eating more repellent vitamin B1 (found in brown rice, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, wheat germ, and soybeans, among other foods), applying cinnamon oil, deploying nets and screens, and introducing more animals that prey upon mosquitoes. One odd note: mosquitoes are highly sensitive to women’s menstrual cycles. I’m not sure what that says about interspecies sisterhood…

 

The environmental damage done by spraying is of increasing concern. Parallel to the bee decimation, lobster stocks are historically low. Both marine biologists and the industry suspect malathion spraying, as I reported in the New York Times. Of course there are worrisome inherent contradictions with an insecticide to be used against a wetlands species like mosquitoes when the directions read, as they do on malathion, “Avoid contaminating any body of water.”

 

Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project pointed out to me recently that sprayers near Soundview Park were unaware that just over a ridge they were covering was the Bronx River.

 

What is not heard often, however, is cost of losing mosquitoes themselves. Their importance as pollinators has been greatly underestimated. After all, sugar from nectar is the species’ primary diet, not blood. Males drink no blood at all, and females imbibe blood from a variety of species only as their prenatal nutrient “superfood.” In the Centers for Disease Control photo above, you see the mother-to-be salivating her anticoagulants into capillary and sucking up a meal). Without mosquitoes, our wildflower and community gardens would be impoverished. Mosquitoes and their larvae are a vital food source for shorebirds, amphibians, reptiles, dragonflies, and small fish.

 

I don’t expect to see green activists sporting “save the mosquitoes” tee-shirts, but sober policymakers should perhaps be more considered in their decisions.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Osprey nest relocated by Con Ed. Photo by The Wave.

by Erik Baard

A sharp-eyed photographer for The Wave, serving the Rockaways and the south shore of Long Island, recorded the gentle relocation of an osprey nest from a transformer box to a safer place atop a pole. Our thanks to Bernie Ente for passing the tip along.

 

Like many bird species, the osprey was hit hard by massive DDT insecticide spraying in the mid-twentieth century. That chemical, now banned in the U.S., is widely credited with saving hundreds of millions of human lives from malaria. But indiscriminate spraying took its toll on the environment. A critical problem was that DDT, which concentrates in fatty tissue up the food chain, interferes with calcium processing in birds and weakens their egg shells. Embryos died in “omelets.”

 

Biologist Rachel Carson sounded the alarm in her book, “Silent Spring.” She might have overstated her case (while being honest to what she believed and knew at the time), she helped spark an environmental movement for a new generation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency owes its creation in part to Carson’s advocacy.

 

In osprey population in New York City is rebounding, with nearly a dozen mating pairs in Jamaica Bay. The strange thing about osprey in New York City is that artificial structures like telephone poles have become their standard nesting sites. Sometimes poles capped with “osprey boxes” are erected for them in better locations, like the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

 

I sometimes see these “fish hawks” flying up from the disturbed surface of the water to their boxes with a fish grasped in their talons and barbed foot pads. I haven’t been lucky as often to spot the actual striking dive.

 

If there are young chicks in the nest, they have good reason to hope the hunt is a good one – the clutch hatches on a staggered schedule and older siblings starve the younger ones in lean times. Hey, you don’t have to be nice to be worth protecting.

Read Full Post »