Something in the water: The polluted politics of fracking

I left Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, so it’s probably time to write about what I was doing there all summer. Especially since it has everything to do with water.

For 10 weeks, I interned at the Sierra Club’s legislative office, lobbying for tougher regulation of the natural gas industry. I was particularly focused on the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has enabled the natural gas boom in the United States over the last few years. Even if you didn’t see Matt Damon’s “Promised Land”—or the more overtly anti-fracking documentary “Gasland”—you’ve probably heard about the increasingly controversial drilling technique. Continue reading

Buy me some peanuts and (water-efficient) Cracker Jack

As a lifelong baseball fan, I’m proud that in 2008, Major League Baseball became the first professional sports league to partner with the National Resources Defense Council, teaming up with the respected environmental organization to launch a wide-ranging sustainability initiative. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig declared at the time that “caring for the environment is inextricably linked to all aspects of the game,” and that baseball “is in a unique position to exert positive influence in the area of environmental stewardship.”

That might sound like pure publicity, but over the last five years MLB has consistently turned its words into action, particularly in the area of water conservation. It’s all too easy to take water for granted, and baseball—America’s national pastime—could play a key role in instilling the idea of water stewardship in the national consciousness.

For  three teams—the Miami Marlins, the Minnesota Twins, and the Washington Nationals, all of which have opened LEED-certified ballparks—the minimization of water use has been particularly impressive.* Continue reading

A Day at the Aquarium: Part 2

When we visited the National Aquarium, I felt sure of two things: 1) I was sympathetic to the plight of the endangered animals and ecosystems on display. 2) I was glad that the animals were behind glass (at that moment, but in general I wish they were free).

As someone who has enjoyed studying water and aquatic ecosystems, it might seem natural to become a marine biologist, but it is difficult for me to move past my fear of being gobbled up by a crazy critter the moment my body enters the water.

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We often worry about our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, but that’s what coral do best! Coral polyps attach themselves to the sea floor and then build limestone skeletons, which leads to coral reefs!

For the sake of threatened organisms and ecosystems, however, we all must “take the plunge” and realize that they are more than just predators—they are essential parts of our natural world. We need not only to end overfishing and poor fishing practices, such as dredging and trawling, but to encourage attitude changes about aquatic life

Let’s take sharks, for example. One display in the aquarium asked visitors to reconsider these notorious fish, pointing out that you’re more likely to get hit by a car on the way to the beach than to be eaten by a shark. Sharks do not seek out human victims, but instead may mistake them for their natural prey, such as seals. Rather than seeing sharks as bloodthirsty, mindlessly belligerent predators, we should think of them as a natural part of a healthy ecosystem and the victim of poor decisions by humans.

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A day at the aquarium: part 1

The National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., is a hidden treasure, tucked into the basement of the Department of Commerce building just a stone’s throw from the White House. When we visited the aquarium on Sunday, we found it to be charming, intimate, and highly educational, full of young children buzzing with excitement to see and learn about an array of dazzling undersea creatures.

The National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., is going to close at the end of this summer. For the first time since 1878, there will be no aquarium in our nation’s capitol.

More on that in a moment. First, some highlights from the aquarium:

AnemoneThis beautiful pink-and-purple sea anemone was one of the aquarium’s most eye-catching sights. It has a commensal relationship with that lone clownfish you see in the center, which is protected from potential predators by the anemone’s stinging cnidae. The evolutionary biology behind this relationship is pretty fascinating.

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Water on the Mall

I’ve been living in Washington, D.C., this summer, and if there’s one thing that’s amazed me about the National Mall, it’s this: There are fountains everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong—pretty much everything about the National Mall is amazing, which is kind of the point. If you haven’t been there before, the Mall is a seemingly endless collection of museums and monuments, stretching from Congress at one end to the Lincoln Memorial at the other. Highlights include the Jefferson Memorial, the National Museum of Natural History, and the gorgeous United States Botanic Garden (which, incidentally, has a pretty neat sustainability initiative.)

I’ve spent several weekends walking up and down the Mall, and even with all of the great museums and historic sights, the thing that’s really caught my attention is all the water. There’s hardly a memorial that doesn’t use water as a means of paying homage, and I’ve started to joke that no government building could possibly be important if it doesn’t have at least three fountains. (I know, I’m hilarious.)

At this point you probably want examples. Some of the best fountains I’ve seen:

ImageYes, that’s the White House! Specifically, it’s the North Lawn. And there’s a second fountain on the other side. Continue reading