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Aurally Tracking Climate Change With a Soundscape Ecologist

Humans tend to be very visual animals—"seeing is believing," we say. But images can only tell us so much. Soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause has been recording the noises of natural habitats for years, and, through thousands of recordings, he’s been able to hear climate change happening.

“When I first began to record almost 50 years ago,” Krause says in the video above from Great Big Story, “I would put on a pair of earphones and go out into the field and sit and listen, because it made me feel good. It made me aware of the living world around me.”

A musician at the time, Krause managed to sell his nature recordings to Warner Brothers as a record called In a Wild Sanctuary. Decades later, Krause has become one of the world’s foremost experts in the new discipline of soundscape ecology, which uses the sounds of wildlife to monitor the state of ecosystems.

Audio input is incredibly important, he states in his book The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places. “Our ear doesn’t lie,” Krause writes. “I like to say to my students, ‘While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures.’”

The pictures have not been pretty of late. Like a human heartbeat, a habitat’s soundscape is a good indicator of its health. But around the world, coral reefs, rainforests, and forests are in decline, and their soundscapes have flatlined. We have reached, as ecologist Rachel Carson famously predicted, a silent spring.

Scientists are in agreement: global warming is changing the world around us, and now is the time to take action. It would be wise of us to listen.

Header image courtesy of YouTube // Great Big Story.

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Chris Jackson, Getty Images
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environment
There's Only One Carbon Negative Country in the World (Here's How They Do It)
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

In 2017, the small nation of Bhutan became the first and only carbon negative country in the world. That's right: not carbon neutral, carbon negative.

In an article on the subject, the Climate Council—an independent, Australia-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public on matters related to climate change—defines carbon negative status as occurring when a country's carbon emissions are not only offset, but are actually in the negative due to the generation and exportation of renewable energy. There are several reasons for this impressive feat.

Bhutan—a small, landlocked country in the middle of the Himalayas—has a population of approximately 813,000 and produces 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The country is 72 percent forest, and those forests trap more than three times their carbon dioxide output through a process called carbon sequestration, the long-term storage of carbon in plants, soil, and the ocean. This means that Bhutan is a carbon sink: It absorbs more carbon than it releases as carbon dioxide. Specifically, Bhutan is a carbon sink for more than 4 million tons of CO2 each year. In addition, the country exports most of the renewable electricity generated by its rivers, which is equivalent to 6 million tons of CO2.

Bhutan is also exceptionally environmentally friendly. This is partly because it takes a holistic view of development, measuring it with the Gross National Happiness Index instead of the Gross Domestic Product Index, like most countries. Instead of only prioritizing economic improvement, Gross National Happiness balances it with sociocultural and environmental improvement. The eco-conscious country invests in sustainable transport, subsidizes electric vehicles, and has an entirely paperless government.

Bhutan has pledged to remain carbon neutral for all time, and it's safe to say it's doing pretty well so far.

[h/t The Climate Council]

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Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images
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Sip on This: The Queen Has Banned Plastic Straws at Buckingham Palace
Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images
Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II is a big fan of naturalist David Attenborough, and it’s making an impact on royal dining. After working with the iconic Planet Earth narrator (and British knight) on an upcoming conservation film, the monarch felt inspired to take action close to home, banning plastics at royal palaces, Fast Company and The Telegraph report.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Scotland’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, staff will now have to eschew plastic straws and plates, ditching disposable plastic dishware for china, glass, and recyclable paper. The ban will slowly rid public areas of plastic, too. In the palaces’ cafes, all takeout containers will be replaced with compostable or biodegradable alternatives, and plastic straws will slowly be phased out.

While plastic water bottles and bags often get more attention in anti-pollution campaigns, plastic straws are terrible for the environment, and the Queen isn’t the only one taking notice. Plastic straws are one of the most prevalent types of litter, and because of their size, they can’t be recycled. Scotland’s government banned them in parliament in January 2018 and hopes to ban them throughout the country by 2020. Companies like Pret a Manger are already trying to take action against straw waste, introducing paper straws instead.

The problem isn’t limited to the UK—in the U.S., Americans throw away an estimated 500 million straws per day (that’s between one and two per person). In California, several cities have mandated that restaurants provide plastic straws only if customers specifically ask for one, and the legislation may soon spread to the rest of the state. Beginning in July 2018, Seattle restaurants will have to offer compostable or recyclable straws instead of plastic ones as part of a new ban.

Time to make like the Queen and start a BYO-straw movement. Might we suggest you try a reusable silicone or stainless steel option?

[h/t Fast Company]

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