In celebration of the end of this year and the start of a new one, I thought I’d point out a few feel-good news items:
— Italy is outlawing plastic bags. Given the fact that this nation alone consumes 20% of all the plastic bags distributed in the European Union, this is a highly cool thing. Whoever would have thought that Berlusconi’s government could actually do something useful?
Plastic bags are a scourge upon the earth. The slightest breath of wind will loft them up and carry them, so even when they’re properly disposed of, they will fly out of trash barrels and landfills and end up in streams and oceans. Fish, sea turtles and some whales will eat them, filling their stomachs with indigestible plastic and slowly starving to death. That’s not even to mention what an eyesore they are. I once saw a village in Baja California, Mexico where the entire landscape, all the way to the horizon, was full of plastic bags caught on every spine of every cactus in sight. Those things are evil, and I give full kudos to Italy for banning them. (Note: Ireland also effectively banned them back in 2002, simply by taxing them 15 cents per bag. Usage plummeted, because if there’s one thing humans of all cultures have in common, it’s that we’re cheap bastards.)
— The freshwater habitats of the United Kingdom are making a dramatic recovery. The Guardian says “the number of serious water pollution incidents has more than halved since 2001, while major conservation programmes have protected and restored rivers, streams and lakes.” Otters, water voles and some species of fish, which had all but vanished, are now making a remarkable comeback, with otters thought to already be reaching maximum capacity in some areas. And water quality tests in 2008 on rivers and streams in the Thames drainage have resulted in 80% being rated as “good” or “very good” — quite an improvement over the mere 53% of 1990. The Environmental Agency’s head of water said, “Rivers in England and Wales are at their healthiest for over a century, with otters, salmon and other wildlife returning in record numbers.” Fantastic news.
— The US Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, has restored the system for assessing and protecting wild lands which was broken back in 2003. That’s when Gale Norton, Bush’s Secretary of the Interior, cut a back-room deal with the governor of Utah to remove protection for 2.6 million acres of public land, opening it up for oil and gas drilling, mining, and commercial development. Her policy, nicknamed the “No More Wilderness” policy, also stated that the Bureau of Land Management could not recommend any new areas for wilderness protection (which is the highest designation of protection for US lands, prohibiting not just extraction activities but also roads and anything using a motor). The lands that policy put at risk weren’t limited to the 2.6 million acres in Utah — they included hundreds of millions of acres overseen by the BLM. Salazar says the agency is now reviewing 220 million acres not currently protected as wilderness in order to determine which should be given a new “Wild Lands” designation, a new step for lands that are in consideration for full wilderness protection. This is two years overdue, but still a deep breath of joy for anyone who cares about America’s greatest treasures.
— And finally, a video that can’t help but make you smile. The image at the top of this post is from a bit of extra footage produced by a crew who were making a documentary on polar bears. They created several different types of spy cameras, designed to record the bears’ activities without being noticed. The bears, however, noticed them. And found them highly interesting. And destroyed three of them. Turns out that making cameras tough enough to survive -30C temperatures is just not good enough — they need to be tough enough to survive the curiosity of some large and toothy mammals, too.
After you watch that first video of the demise of three cameras, check out this one, in which the first steps of a polar bear cub outside his den are recorded by…his mother.
Happy New Year!