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Archive for October, 2010

Image credit: http://www.clker.com

And from some unlikely places in the news today.

From Jamie Crawford, CNN: The White House is installing solar panels and a solar water heater, Energy Secretary Chu said today.  Apparently Carter had solar panels installed on the roof during, but Reagan took them down, and George W. used solar panels to heat the presidential pool.  Full story

And Popular Science reports that the “U.S. military Aims to Use 50 Percent Renewable Energy Within 10 Years,” citing cost and safety of solar energy, relative to the cost of transporting and protecting fossil fuels.

While the installation of solar panels on the roof of the White House is unlikely to kickstart any significant growth in the industry related to research and development, it’s a nice gesture.  They might as well install some.  The military commitment, on the other hand, does carry a lot more weight.  Hopefully it causes a ripple effect of influence on technology, availability, and cost, things that will eventually make their way into the civilian marketplace.

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"The Wolverine Way" Douglas Chadwick. Patagonia Books 2010

I mentioned this book, “The Wolverine Way” by Douglas Chadwick, back in July after posting about the Ocelot sighting in Arizona, and I’ve been meaning to write a full review since finishing it.  (Yes, I know it’s been a while.  Other half-written posts since then have included Experiments in Pickling, How to Build a Cold Smoker, and several food-related summer ideas that could possibly end up at some point in the future as a collaborative food blog.  More on that later if it comes to fruition.)

I first read about Chadwick’s book in an essay of the same title “The Wolverine Way” in a Patagonia catalog, which described the project and the book, and it contains longer excerpts than included here.  It’s what got me hooked on the book.

This book is fascinating, and a must-read for any outdoor enthusiast or armchair biologist.  Chadwick describes his experience on the Glacier Wolverine Project, and he introduces you to this incredible dynamo of an animal with first-hand accounts of his work tracking and tagging wolverines in Montana.  He also brings you into the circle of the dedicated leaders and volunteers who carried out the study; these are people I’d love to sit around a campfire with.  (I was a seasonal wildlife intern for a few years before I started teaching, studying birds, and this is a project I wish I had known about back then, because I’d have been happy to switch over to mammals for a while.  Plus, let’s be honest, who else would you rather sit around a campfire with?  Field biologists, quirky as they are, make for great conversation.)

In the grand scheme of things, for a North American mammal in the 21st century, we don’t know a ton about wolverines.  Their scientific name, Gulo gulo, literally means “glutton glutton.”  Although they consume what they must (when they can) in a quite unforgiving habitat, they have largely been vilified over the course of history through myth, misunderstanding, and hyperbole.  Chadwick provides some insight into their natural history, including new information on its territorial ranges, metabolism, diet, and social structure within family groups.  He also describes the selective forces that have served to shape the wolverine over thousands of years into the creature that it is today, one built for the brutal cold, for survival on ice-covered peaks, where it has a distinct advantage over just about anything.

“…the list of adaptations that allow wolverines to make an ally of winter is impressive.  Yet until scientists started to focus on climate change, no one gave much thought to how creatures with built-in snowshoes, a super-cozy fur coat, smoldering metabolism, and food cached in nature’s refrigerators are supposed to handle swimsuit weather in our ever-toastier Age of Industrial Exhaust.”

I also appreciate that Chadwick is working to bring wider attention to the Freedom to Roam initiative (along with Patagonia), an effort to to connect large areas of wilderness with migratory corridors for animals. He describes wolverines as basically “badass, but vulnerable,” and he explains why in another Patagonia Environmentalism Essay called “The One Thing Wolverines Can’t Take On.”  All are worth reading.

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