Down to Earth: The Science Is Clear on Climate Change
Sep11

Down to Earth: The Science Is Clear on Climate Change

During the summer 12 years ago, I interned at Science News, a national magazine that reports on science for the public. As a young and inexperienced writer, part of my reporting included visiting the offices of my more experienced colleagues to ask them what good ideas I might fruitfully pursue. “Write about hurricanes and climate change,” said Janet Raloff, a writer I deeply admire to this day who’s now a Science News editor. “I...

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One Good Tern Deserves Another; Saving The Birds One Nest At A Time
Aug07

One Good Tern Deserves Another; Saving The Birds One Nest At A Time

One favorable consequence of always carrying binoculars in plain view is that they help create an international citizenry of nature lovers. I’ve just returned from a trip to England visiting family. There, we camped in the chilly, Scotland-like region of northeast England called Northumberland – in Latin, the “North Shadows” – an island-pocked coastline of temperamental weather and steep cliffs wedged between rocky and sandy beaches....

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Down to Earth: No, The Car Is Not King
Jul10

Down to Earth: No, The Car Is Not King

We’re in the middle of a national crisis of public life. The idea that we can make life better by sharing our collective wealth (money and natural resources) and brainpower (science, engineering, literature and the arts) is under threat. In a recent article for Salon, Henry A. Giroux called it “the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life and the erosion of any sense of shared...

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Down To Earth: The Valley’s Own Dinosaur Tracker
Jun05

Down To Earth: The Valley’s Own Dinosaur Tracker

As we struggle with tough questions surrounding science today, we could do worse than look for guidance to the great figures of the past. One such figure, it turns out, belongs to our own Pioneer Valley, and many argue he’s received too little attention:  Edward Hitchcock, geologist, botanist, minister, teacher, and president of Amherst College from 1845 to 1854. I first encountered Hitchcock during a field trip as a geology student...

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Investigation: Yes, There Is Lead In Pioneer Valley Schools’ Drinking Water
May01

Investigation: Yes, There Is Lead In Pioneer Valley Schools’ Drinking Water

The very schools we depend on to educate our children could be making them less smart. Drinking water in schools across Massachusetts, including here in the Pioneer Valley, has been found to contain lead significantly exceeding safety standards.  Lead exposure, experts say, can cause lower IQ, increased attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other cognitive problems. Yet many parents don’t realize that a great part of the...

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Down to Earth: Trump’s cuts to science are a knife to my heart
Apr10

Down to Earth: Trump’s cuts to science are a knife to my heart

We tell stories to know who we are. Speaking our own stories, we rediscover ourselves. And by hearing and identifying with one another’s journeys, we discover and reach each other, too. My world — my story — is one of science. I birdwatch. I teach students how to write about science. As a graduate student, I studied geology — the science of the vast, beautiful, complicated earth — then applied it as an environmental consultant helping...

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Down to Earth: The Power of Nurture, the Antidote to Fear
Feb06

Down to Earth: The Power of Nurture, the Antidote to Fear

Nurturing. It’s so often a feminine term, bringing thoughts of mothers, sisters, daughters; of Gaia, the Mother Earth. For a synonym, my thesaurus gives me “motherly.” It’s a term linked, too, with gentleness and tenderness, which in turn are associated with deference, docility and mildness. But in the past few weeks, I’ve seen nurturing become an act of strength — an act of resistance and assertiveness. And not just for women. On...

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Down to Earth: When Life Gives You Lemon Peels, Make Compost
Jan09

Down to Earth: When Life Gives You Lemon Peels, Make Compost

My first container of compostables was beautiful. Inside a repurposed chipped ceramic crockpot lay a smorgasbord of broccoli stems, wilted lettuce, carrot shreddings, sprouted potatoes, onion skins, outer cabbage leaves, asparagus ends, and tomato stems. It looked almost good enough to eat. My second, I admit, was less pleasing. I’d begun broadening my idea of what’s compostable, throwing in chicken bones and soiled napkins and a...

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Down to Earth: Hope, the Environment, and the Election
Dec05

Down to Earth: Hope, the Environment, and the Election

I sometimes startle people by saying I don’t have much hope for the environment. “But you’re an environmentalist!” they stutter. “Surely, you must think we can prevent nature from being destroyed? That taking action is worth it?” The other day, for instance, I chatted with a friend about the recent election and Donald Trump’s anti-environmental stances, like claiming he’ll disband the Environmental Protection Agency and falsely...

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Down to Earth: Is the Valley Prepared for Another Flood?
Nov07

Down to Earth: Is the Valley Prepared for Another Flood?

Just across from one of my favorite writing spots — the window counter at Northampton Coffee — I can see a dark mark on the former lumber building: “Flood Level — 1936.” When I walk past, the mark is almost a foot over my head. After writing, I often hop on my bicycle and cross the levee meant to guard the town from rising waters. As I cycle over it, I ponder the 2005 collapse of New Orleans’ levees during Hurricane Katrina and the...

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Down to Earth: A Vote for Clinton is a Vote for the Environment
Oct10

Down to Earth: A Vote for Clinton is a Vote for the Environment

Our natural environment needs us now, and the stakes have never been so stark. I’ve been frustrated this election season at how little attention the environment has gotten. In the first presidential debate, moderator Lester Holt didn’t ask a single question about environmental issues. Just one was asked in the second debate this Sunday. Maybe that’s because only about half of Americans worry “a great deal” about the environment — down...

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Down to Earth: Sustainable Farming 101, Five College farms face challenges teaching the next generation about food
Sep19

Down to Earth: Sustainable Farming 101, Five College farms face challenges teaching the next generation about food

I arrive at Book and Plow Farm to find production farmer Tobin Porter-Brown on a tractor, forking a pallet of canvas sacks off a pickup truck. He’s wearing a Book and Plow shirt, khaki shorts and thick boots that will later serve him in better stead than my sandals when we happen across a stretch of poison ivy. Under a nearby awning, dozens of garlic plants are strung up to dry; red onions sprawl on a plastic sheet. Cultivated flowers...

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Down to Earth: Go Ahead, Watch That Cat Video, an animal bill of rights may depend on it
Aug08

Down to Earth: Go Ahead, Watch That Cat Video, an animal bill of rights may depend on it

Very little seems more like a frivolous waste of time than watching cute animal videos on Facebook. But the more I’ve watched them, the more I’ve thought there’s something important, something vital even, that we’re communicating through critter videos — a shift in cultural perception necessary to human development and to our time. I can hear you scoffing. Oh, come on. Cute animal videos? Necessary to human development? Give me a...

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Down to Earth: Saving Honey Bees, One Person at a Time
Jun06

Down to Earth: Saving Honey Bees, One Person at a Time

I’ve always had a thing for creepy crawlies. I was the kid who caught the wasp stuck in the classroom to let it out the window. And I still crouch to move a worm from the sidewalk into the grass. So, when a colleague of mine, Sara Eddy, started her first beehive, I devoured her Facebook posts about the process. And this spring, I had a chance to visit her and the bees. The hive sat pertly in her Amherst backyard, painted lavender and...

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Down to Earth: Fair pay for natural treasures – Coke calls Northampton’s water fee a ‘burden’ all the way to the bank
May09

Down to Earth: Fair pay for natural treasures – Coke calls Northampton’s water fee a ‘burden’ all the way to the bank

It’s one of the things we need most for survival, yet take most for granted. We need it to drink, to cook, to bathe, to brush our teeth. Water. We’re blessed to live in a zone of abundant rainfall, and the Mill and Connecticut Rivers pour through the Valley. But even here, clean water isn’t a given. Water for our homes and businesses must be treated, tested, pumped, and disposed of — requiring money and infrastructure. To help pay for...

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