Good Oak News

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Global Warming, Apple Computers and Saving the World, One Piece at a Time

Its our busy early-summer season. I hardly have time to eat some days, let alone blog. But a few things have been swirling around the environmental world lately that I feel the need to address in a quick post.


When I was in college at the University of Illinois, I was involved in several environmental clubs. I had some friends who gravitated towards political action. There were big issues on campus and in the state that needed addressing. But for me, I always found political action frustrating. You could work extremely hard on a project, pour your heart into it, and in the end, if a vote doesn't go your way, all that was for nothing.

I gravitated towards hands-on projects. We did clean-ups of some local streams. We did a bicycle repair fundraiser. I got most heavily involved in Red Bison, the student prairie restoration club. Interacting with the plants, animals and other organisms of our little prairie plot was, of course, rewarding, and part of the appeal. But most of all, I felt a great senses of satisfaction at the end of the day looking at the work we had gotten done, pulling weeds or planting prairie seedlings, and knowing I had made a difference that day.

Disheartening Current Events:

The United States pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement is an example of exactly what I find frustrating about politics. I have strong feelings about the issue, as do many millions of Americans, but I feel powerless to do anything about it. But its important we don't give up hope in improving our environment. Forget about politics. There is a lot that homeowners, rural landowners, and businesses (that you!) can do right now, to protected clean water, clean air and counteract human-induced climate change. 

Back Yard Action:

Lori Otto, Found of Wild Ones said: 

"You can do wonderful things on your own property to protect the environment. Each little island, each corridor will help bring back the butterflies and birds."

Lawn doesn't sequester much carbon. A rich assemblage of native plants do. Oh, and they also provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife, help keep our surface and ground water clean, reduce air pollution and urban heat island effect. Learn more here.

Join our local Wild Ones chapter to get involved in the native landscaping movement and learn more about what you can do in your yard.

"If suburbia were landscaped with meadows, prairies, thickets, or forests, or combinations of these, then the water would sparkle, fish would be good to eat again, birds would sing, and human spirits would soar."
- Lorrie Otto

Back Forty Action:

On larger properties, any wild plant cover, even weeds and invasive plants, do a better job keeping our air and water clean than farm fields and lawns (or parking lots and subdivisions for that matter). But healthy natural habitats, prairies, woodlands, wetlands, etc., with a diversity of native plants do a notably better job in providing all of the ecosystem services that keep our environment healthy. Prairies are particularly good at sequestering carbon with their deep roots, and old-growth oaks of our woodlands and savannas can lock-up carbon for decades. These can be big, long-term projects, but start small and expand as you can.

Here is an incredible story from the Des Moines Register of an Iowa landowner who restored a stream, which had been degraded and repressed to the point it was little more than a wet spot in a stream, back into a high quality trout-stream, the trickling of the stream in this video is particularly pleasant knowing the story behind it: 

Learn more about Ecological Restoration here:

Become A Volunteer or Donate to a Local Cause:

If you don't have your own space where you can 'heal the Earth', The Prairie Enthusiasts are always looking for volunteers. Same story at the UW Arboretum, the Lakeshore Preserve, and Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I myself am leading a modest effort at Blue Mound State Park. Come help us pull garlic mustard this Saturday morning!

Considering donating to local conservation organizations need your help to do great environmental work in our local communities:

Business Taking Action:

Honestly, one of the biggest inspirations for this post is a couple things Apple Computers has been working on lately. They are building an impressive new campus, with 80% of the land being dedicated to natural areas with fruit trees, native oaks and a variety of native and drought tolerant, low maintenance plants. Read this interesting article from Backchannel on the project.

Then there's Apple's latest ad, seemingly a direct response to recent political events, which is simply beautiful nature scenes with the voice-over from Carl Sagan reading his book The Pale Blue Dot

I'm not saying Apple is the only business taking positive action. Subaru for example has developed zero-waste factories here in the US, and is supporting the National Parks Foundation. The point is, work to the organization you work for more environmentally responsible, and you can leverage a much greater positive impact.

All Politics are Local

Of course we need to engage in our state, national and international communities and the environmental issues in those areas if humanity is going to have a bright, green future. There are plenty of resources online to help you contact your political representatives and get involved in campaigns to put pressure on our politicians. I encourage you to take a few minutes to do just that.

But I think, taking action locally, whether its getting your own hands dirty or funding projects that you can see the results of in your own community, is extremely satisfying, and a very productive way to make a difference. Or as Mahatma Gandhi said:

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."