Monday, July 24, 2017

Mammal Monday -- the elephant shrew!

Just thinking about the elephant shrews at the zoo makes me smile -- they have the cutest little movable noses.  So let's learn some more about elephant shrews for Mammal Monday (thanks to Science Friday)!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Time for Stream Monitoring

We were back in the stream to monitor for invertebrates this month!  Unfortunately, our stream didn't score in the healthy range, but that could be due to the fact that we were monitoring in the middle of the summer heat, or we monitored after a major rainstorm, or we didn't search in enough places....  We did find some pretty interesting invertebrates anyway.  We found lots of scuds, which are pretty tolerant to pollution or other imperfect water conditions:

We saw many clams and and true fly larvae (also pretty tolerant):


One interesting find was these neat dragonfly larvae:

And it's always nice to see a katydid on the way back to the car!

Friday, July 21, 2017

So #@*%$& good!

If you haven't yet bought the Thug Kitchen cookbook, you don't know what you're missing.  Yes, the language is bad, but the recipes are great -- I haven't found a loser yet!  Here's another recipe to try (I shortened the instructions a little and made a little change with the veg broth) before buying your copy:

Black Bean Tortas with Coconut Chipotle Mayo

For the Mayo:

  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite chipotle hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tblsp chia seeds
  • 1 tblsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder 
For the Creamy Black Beans
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced, or about 2 tblsp jar garlic
  • 1 tblsp chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 cups cooked black beans (I used 2 cans of black beans)
  • 1 1/2 cups veg broth (I only used 1/2 cup and still needed to pour off a little liquid)
  • juice of one lime
  • salt to taste
Torta trimmings
  • 4 crusty rolls, split and toasted
  • lettuce
  • sliced tomatoes
  • sliced red onion
  • sliced avocado
Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck

  1. Make the mayo first.  Combine all mayo ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Put the mayo in the frig and it will thicken up.
  2. Next make the black beans.  Heat the oil and saute onion, garlic, chili powder, and cumin. Add the black beans and cook until soft (add veg broth to keep the beans moist).  Add in the lime juice and salt.  Mash the black bean mixture with a potato masher until it's chunky, yet spreadable.
  3. Now make the tortas!  Spread the mayo on one roll and the black bean mixture (topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado -- however you like it).  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Plastic Challenge!

There's a new documentary out called STRAWS.  I'm hoping to see it soon -- here's the trailer:

This trailer inspired me! I love a good challenge, so my son and I decided to challenge one another this summer.  His weakness is single-use plastic bottles.  My weakness is straws.  So we bet one another that I'd give up straws and he'd give up single-use plastic water bottles.  The first one to break has to treat the other one to lunch at a favorite restaurant.

I think my son has it pretty easy.  All he has to do is fill one of our numerous water bottles in the morning and he's off!  So far so good!

For my challenge, I decided to start by buying some reusable straws -- I found them (where else?) on Amazon!


I put a couple of these in my purse and headed off, confident that I'd soon be enjoying a nice lunch with my son picking up the check!  Iced tea tasted great through my new reusable straw.

My first challenge came when I ordered a nice, thick chocolate milkshake. My straw was a little too thin for the thick, frosty treat.  What's a greenmomster to do?  Eat it with a spoon! OK, it wasn't the ideal solution, since the spoon was made of plastic, but I'm going with the letter of the law, rather than the spirit on this one.

Still glowing from my straw superiority, I started getting a little cocky.  With my trusty reusable straw, I knew I wouldn't be stopped by a simple iced tea, water, or soda.  But as they say, pride goeth before a fall.  And here's what led to my downfall:

Sadly, my trusty reusable straw was just too thin to allow me to suck up the bubbles in my boba tea.  And I love my milk green tea with boba.  I guess I'm buying lunch, but it was so worth it.  And the bet is back on -- I'm going to win the next round!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mammal Monday -- the Muskox!

I'm planning a trip to Iceland later this year, so I've been thinking about arctic mammals.  Let's take a look at one arctic mammal -- the Muskox!  Check out the following Science Friday video about muskox videos and learn the significance of "little tiny tiny poops":

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Push and Pull of Population Problems

Back in the '80s, I took a sociology course at the College of William and Mary called "Population Problems" which I found fascinating.  The questions about human population, its current size, and future growth have been hot topics for well over 35 years.  The current human population is estimated at approximately 7 billion; human population is expected to top out at about 9 billion during the 21st century.

How do demographers know how many people to expect in the coming decades?  They use tools called "age structure diagrams" which show how many people are currently alive in various age groups.  Age structure diagrams can be used for cities, states, countries, or the entire world.  They basically allow us to see how many new people will be added to a population, depending on how many children each female has in her lifetime.

Why do we care about human population size?  It's an ecological question actually.  We know that the environment has a "carrying capacity" for every species.  Each ecosystem has just enough resources to support all the species found in that ecosystem.  The forests near my house have enough resources to support a certain number of oak trees, a certain number of squirrels, a certain number of mourning doves, etc.  If the population of squirrels is below the carrying capacity of the forest, the squirrel population can grow.  If the population of squirrels is above the carrying capacity, squirrels will leave or die until the population is close to the carrying capacity.  The environment has a carrying capacity for EVERY species, including humans.  Here's the catch:  no one knows Earth's carrying capacity for humans.

In addition to using up Earth's finite (yup, finite) resources, the number of humans on Earth also affects climate change.  An article in The Guardian this week reported on a study which found that having fewer children, or slowing population growth, is the personal strategy that has the biggest impact on slowing climate change.  The next best actions or strategies included living car-free and eating a vegetarian diet.  This study re-enforces what environmental experts have been saying for decades -- not a lot of new news here.

But just as the news about human impacts on resources and climate change are nothing new, neither are the nay-sayers.  The Washington Post this week published an opinion piece by Christine Emba in response to the Guardian article.  The opinion piece includes much mis-information that has been circulating for decades.  I am re-publishing this article here with my comments inserted to try to clear up the facts.

The overpopulation doomsayers are at it again. And they’re still wrong.

By Christine Emba

July 14, 2017 at 4:39 PM

Children are ruining the world, according to this week’s reporting at least. Greenmomster: The report did not say that children are ruining the world. The report stated that information regarding human carrying capacity and impacts on climate change is simply not being reported. The researchers found that environmental education focuses on much less effective means of controlling climate change, rather than focusing on the most effective means. The overpopulation doomsayers are at it again. Greenmomster: I'm assuming that the author is referring to the book, The Population Bomb (written several decades ago), which did indeed overstate population issues.

On Monday, France’s bright-eyed new president, Emmanuel Macron, found himself in hot water after a Group of 20 news conference in which he soliloquized about Africa’s “civilizational” challenges, including women who “have seven or eight” children.

On Wednesday, the Guardian published an article headlined “Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children.” That was its take on a newly published study suggesting governments and other influencers don’t spend enough time promoting the “most effective” (in terms of tonnage of carbon dioxide emissions avoided) personal strategies for climate mitigation: living car-free, avoiding airplane travel, eating a plant-based diet and, yes, having one fewer child. Researchers calculated that in the West, at least, choosing not to have an additional child meant a reduction of 58 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Greenmomster: indeed, this is what the researchers stated. Nothing about children ruining the world.

There’s no doubt these arguments come from a place of sincerity, based on real concerns for the future. Yet the natural response also seems the correct one: You can’t be serious. Greenmomster: No that is not my natural response, and yes, I am serious. There are many reasons why people choose to have a certain number of children.  The health of the planet and the survival of future generations might very well be two of those reasons.

Demographic transitions are not without their difficulties. Growing populations can strain resources; an abundance of youths lacking opportunity can lead to instability. But increases in wealth and women’s education tend to lower fertility over time on their own. Greenmomster: This is exactly correct. As women's educational levels and family incomes increase, we see lower fertility levels. So what, exactly, are we recommending here? If not something akin to China’s heavy-handed demographic disaster, perhaps more countries that, like the French Republic Macron himself represents, are slouching toward sterility? Greenmomster: We are suggesting neither. As the author states in this opinion piece, the choice of family size is a deeply personal one based on many factors. No one is suggesting a draconian policy ala China's one-child policy. But neither are we suggesting burying our heads in the sand. What most demographers and environmental scientists suggest is increasing women's educational levels and family incomes throughout the world to help achieve a goal of a stable human population size. I suggest the author take a look at this TED talk. The suggestion that the rest of the world should hurry to imitate our way of life may not be as appealing as we think.

And then there’s the environment. To be clear: Climate change is real, is significantly influenced by human activity and is a problem of steadily increasing importance. If the near-100-degree weather in Washington this week did not agree with you, a Washington several degrees warmer in the coming decades will probably please you even less.

Yet solving the carbon dioxide emissions crisis will be more difficult than wishing away your oddly fecund neighbor’s fifth child. (And, yes, they see the way you look at their larger-than-average family when they’re in line at the grocery store.) Greenmomster: Wait. What? Did anyone proofread this opinion piece? No one is "wishing away [his] ......neighbor's fifth child." The discussion concerns the decision about family size. If you see me looking at you funny in the grocery store line, it's probably because one of the five kids is about to fall out of the cart or beating up his sibling. If that's not happening, you're just seeing my resting Kanye face -- I've got my own stuff to ponder, thank you very much. The culprit behind the greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere is less the child himself than the consumption ramped up alongside the child: the resources that wealthy (and usually Western) parents demand and the corporations they enable. Having one fewer child — or haranguing those who choose not to — won’t shut down ExxonMobil, reverse the Industrial Revolution or even push our president back into the Paris climate accord. Greenmomster: The writer is exactly right -- the issue isn't the absolute number of people; it's their consumption level. So I'd like to follow up with a question -- how has the author cut her consumption lately? Did she give up any overseas trips this year? Does she own a car? Does she eat meat? And even if the answer to all of those questions is "yes", that's still not enough to slow climate change significantly if she lives in a "developed" country. Is she planning to scale back her consumption to the levels of the average citizen of Kenya or Peru? If so, can she guarantee that her offspring -- as many as she wants to have -- will also limit their consumption to developing world standards?

Of course, this much is obvious. And of course there’s the obvious reply: “Well, if everyone did it, it just might work.” But funnily enough, that never quite seems to pan out. Greenmomster: It's sad when someone, whom I presume is much younger than I am, has such a jaded outlook on life and our potential for improving the world.

After all, Western finger-waggers seem to have no compunction with traveling around the world to expand their families by any means necessary, pursuing anything from expensive (and no doubt resource-intensive) fertility treatments to surrogacy in the same countries where they urge citizens to contracept more fervently. Greenmomster: I'm not sure how many "finger-waggers" the author has met, but the people who limit their fertility for environmental reasons are not the folks who are trying to build a family through fertility treatments or surrogacy. These are two different groups of people. And by the way, I think adoption is a great option -- here's my earlier post on the topic.

When the enlightened advocates among us hand down recommendations, one has the nagging feeling that they’re envisioning less themselves and their compatriots than more easily caricatured others — the poor, the black and the brown, those Third World women whose lives, they imagine, are sad and difficult anyway, who would probably welcome having one or two fewer children. Greenmomster: untrue and again insulting. Many environmentally aware folks choose to limit their own fertility and do not just point at "the poor, the black and the brown." I am one of those people. It’s an ugly sort of paternalism, well-meant but fundamentally chilling. At its core, it denies the humanity of others. Greenmomster: Again. Wait. What? On what evidence does the author base her statement, that is -- anyone who encourages a slowing of population growth is a paternalistic racist? Climate change will most harshly affect the poor, both in the U.S. and in the Third World (think about Bangladesh). The people of Kiribati don't see a plan to curb climate change as "an ugly sort of paternalism." Never heard of Kiribati? Time to do your homework -- here's a primer.

But the deepest argument, perhaps, is more philosophical than scientific. It’s the rare person who isn’t saddened by environmental degradation. We all want to make the world a better, more liveable place. But children are not interchangeable widgets that we choose one more or one fewer of according to the dictates of emissions efficiency. For whom are we scrambling to save the planet, if not future generations? What is the world if there’s no one to live in it? Greenmomster: No environmental scientist is suggesting that children are "interchangeable widgets". Let's remember that, as citizens of Planet Earth, we are all on the same team. We want to hand to our children a healthy environment with resources for all. I agree with the writer that we must reduce consumption, but I also know that we greatly stress the environment when we allow the world's human population to soar over 9 billion. I've committed to lower fertility and a vegetarian lifestyle, along with other lifestyle choices. What is the author's commitment to the goal?

Friday, July 14, 2017

It's watermelon season!

And that means that it's time for my annual posting of this tasty watermelon recipe for meat-free Friday!  This recipe might sound a little odd, but it's really tasty.  It comes to us from our friends Howard and Trish -- Howard is my husband's biking buddy and time-trial coach.  The recipe doesn't have specific amounts, so just use your greenmomster kitchen skills and keep tasting as you cook.


  • 1 watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced
  • about 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  1. Combine watermelon, onion, and cheese
  2. Toss with balsamic vinegar

Be sure to "like" greenmomster on Facebook for all your meat-free Friday recipes!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mammal Monday -- the armadillo!

I just got back from a great vacation on the coast of South Carolina.  I've written several times about the loggerhead sea turtles, and I saw another turtle nesting during this trip (she didn't finish until 1:30 am, but it was worth it) -- what an amazing site!  But the mammal I saw was a big surprise -- the 9 banded armadillo. Here are 15 fun facts about armadillos: