Rethinking Country Mouse, City Mouse

Excerpt from Long Scroll, pencil and ink on paper Artist: Bruce Pollack

Excerpt from Long Scroll, pencil and ink on paper
Artist: Bruce Pollack

There was a period of my youth when my family lived ‘off-grid’ for the most part, in wood cabins on the forested coast of northern California. There were parts of that experience I didn’t like – hauling water by hand was certainly low on my list of preferences – but one aspect I liked very much was the lack of pressure to wear shoes.

I went barefoot as much as possible. Shoes were for the City. And the City, for me, was defined by any place that required shoes. It was an easy equation, with my own personal metrics.

There has always been a division between the City and the Country, but the two were once much closer. But as the world has moved to cities and food production has become globalised, it’s easy enough to live a life in a city these days without ever seeing a place that creates the food in the store.

A recent paper, City Regions as Landscapes for People, Food and Nature, is part of an ongoing discussion about how to reintegrate the City with the Country.

“There is a need to deepen our understanding of particular challenges to bringing rural and urban together in order to develop more resilient city region food systems across the urban rural continuum. The urban planner and policymaker need to think outside the urban box and think about their rural colleagues in terms other than just as a supply of goods and services including labor for urban markets. The rural planner may or may not be aware that their communities’ welfare is going to be increasingly interrelated to urbanization and the rural world has much more to gain and more to offer than merely the flows of people, goods and services.”

Urban agriculture is part of this thinking, but the picture is larger than that. At some point, maybe the thought transition between urban and rural can again be as natural as slipping a pair of shoes on and off.

Green Square, oil on linen Image: Bruce Pollack

Green Square, oil on linen
Image: Bruce Pollack

Reaching New Shores

Circular plot of migration flows of at least 170,000 people between and within world regions during 2005 to 2010. Tick marks show the number of migrants (inflows and outflows) in millions.  Click to enlarge.  Image courtesy of Abel et al., Science/AAAS via Co.Exist

Circular plot of migration flows of at least 170,000 people between and within world regions during 2005 to 2010. Tick marks show the number of migrants (inflows and outflows) in millions.
Image: Abel et al., Science/AAAS via Co.Exist

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report on the development of climate change and its effects on humans.

The 2600-page report is the result of three years work and the collaboration of 300 scientists.

It makes for mostly grim reading, with an emphasis on climate impact on food security (not positive), on extreme weather events (increasing), and on poverty (again, not positive).

The global migration patterns in the interactive graphic above illustrate twenty years of migration statistics from 196 countries. Created by the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Human Capital in Vienna, the graphic uses software lifted from the field of genetic research.

It’s interesting to note that the number of people who actually leave their country of birth for good has remained at more or less the same level across decades – a mere 0.6% of the population. As a long-term expat among many long-term expats, it often seems like the number must be much higher, but such is the power of subjective perception. What we think we see up close isn’t always what’s happening if seen at a distance.

Quoted in Co.Exist, the authors say, “These long-distance flows are effective at redistributing population to countries with higher income levels, whereas return flows are negligible.” So, migration has been for mainly economic reasons, or for reasons of security offered in higher-income countries.

Given the IPCC report and its sobering conclusions regarding food security and extreme weather events, I wonder how these migration patterns and numbers will develop over the next few decades – which areas will see more migration inflow. The higher ground countries as well as those with higher-income?

Will we as humans follow many animals, flee an ever-warmer planetary midsection, and migrate north?

And what about that migration number of people who permanently leave their home country, 0.6%, that’s been steady for so long? Should climate change redraw the coastlines of continents and the boundaries of nations, what will count as ‘migration’ and what will count as keeping one’s head above water?

The World - Rising Sea Level, first map of its kind on such a scale and level of complexity, depicts our planet as it would look without its polar ice caps, with sea levels 260 ft higher as they are today. Click map for a larger version. Artist: Jay Simons

The World – Rising Sea Level, first map of its kind on such a scale and level of complexity, depicts our planet as it would look without its polar ice caps, with sea levels 260 ft higher as they are today. This detailed map can be viewed in all its glorious cartographic futurism by clicking on the map or following the link of the artist, Jay Simons.
Click map for a larger version.
Artist: Jay Simons

 

 

 

Pollinator Decline

The Harvard monolithic bee Photo: Harvard Microrobotics Lab

The Harvard monolithic bee
Photo: Harvard Microrobotics Lab

The Harvard Microbiotics Lab is working on tiny robotic insects for a number of applications, among them: pollination. I can understand why, considering how important pollinating insects are for the environment and the human food supply. Most of the news tends to focus on the decline of the crucial honeybee population around the world, but a recent study has shown that honeybees are not the only threatened pollinators.

An international team of researchers investigated the issues related to pollinator decline. Pollinator insects, including bees, enable the reproduction of 75% of crop species, and over 90% of wild flowering plants. The annual economic value of these insects is in the hundreds of billions.

From a Summit County Citizen’s Voice article on the study :

“The review, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment  concluded that:

  • Pollinator populations are declining in many regions, threatening human food supplies and ecosystem functions
  • A complex interplay between pressures (e.g. lack of food sources, diseases, and pesticides) and biological processes (e.g. species dispersal and interactions) at a range of scales (from genes to ecosystems) underpins the general decline in insect-pollinator populations
  • Current options to alleviate the pressure on pollinators include establishment of effective habitat networks, broadening of pesticide risk assessments, and the development and introduction of innovative disease therapies.

“Pollinators are the unsung heroes of the insect world and ensure our crops are properly pollinated so we have a secure supply of nutritious food in our shops,” said co-author Professor Simon Potts, with the University of Reading. “The costs of taking action now to tackle the multiple threats to pollinators is much smaller than the long-term costs to our food security and ecosystem stability. Failure by governments to take decisive steps now only sets us up for bigger problems in the future.””

Insect pollinators include bees, bumblebees, moths, butterflies, gnats and beetles. Their populations can be supported, even in urban environments. From the Pollinator Partnership site:

  • Cultivate native plans, especially those that provide nectar and larval food for pollinators – Free Ecoregional (US) Pollinator Planting Guides
  • Supply salt or mineral licks for butterflies and water for all wildlife
  • Reduce pesticide use
  • Substitute flower beds for lawns

There have been many recent discoveries on previously unimagined levels of interaction between plants and pollinators, from caffeine in nectar to floral electrical charges that entice bees. Interactions are variable, subtle and so much still remains outside our realm of knowledge.

While it’s comforting to know that we can invent mechanical pollinator drones in case of need, it’s still not a bad idea to try and help the biological types survive. So go on: Plant a windowbox, put out a little dish of water, and hands off the pesticide.

Syrphid fly Photo: Eugene Reimer via nativeorchid.org

Syrphid fly, a pollinator which in larval stages is considered a bio-control for aphids and other insect pests
Photo: Eugene Reimer via nativeorchid.org

More:

Harvard Microbiotics Lab website

Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment website

Insect Pollinators Initiative of the Natural Environment Research Council (UK) website

Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of pollinator health, and an excellent resource for those wishing to get involved.