Environment

#1133 Atul Bhide builds toilets that changes lives

Green Toilet

Recently I began subscribing to The Better India, one of many sources of good news that flow into my inbox. That’s how I learned about Atul Bhide. I feel very grateful to him. First, some context for my gratitude. According…

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#1128 When I die, turn me into a tree

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For years I have said when I die I want my ashes dug into a garden. Now there is an environmentally friendly way to turn me into a tree. That sounds like a wonderful legacy, to contemplate my earthly remains…

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#1122 Save the world, starting with bees

Pollinating the lupine in Rotary Marsh, Kelowna, British Columbia

Just when news of the day threatens to make optimism look like a fool’s errand, I learn about a 4-decade-old organization that connects scientists and citizens around an important goal: to protect invertebrates and their habitat. Since 1971 the Xerces…

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#1081 Have you heard your vegetables scream? These scientists have

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Big fat green caterpillar; photo by Richard Wellis Sinyem, via Flickr Creative Commons

Years ago someone told me Joseph Campbell had said, “A vegetarian is someone who has never heard a vegetable scream.” I can’t verify the real author of the quote, but before anyone protests, let me just say he (or she or whoever said that) was on the right track.

Yet another study has confirmed plants have a far richer sensory life than we usually attribute to them. Heidi Appel and Rex Cocroft, both researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, published their research in the July 2014 issue of Oecologia. They did not claim to have heard plants scream, but they did discover plants respond to sound.

The scientists sent some acoustic energy plantward. What that means is that they recorded the sounds of a caterpillar chewing a leaf and then played it to plants with no caterpillar in sight. The plants responded with defensive chemicals that warned the enemy to bug off. So when they put caterpillars on the plants, the greenies were ready, and the caterpillars turned up their mandibles in disgust. What’s more, the plants could tell the difference between the sounds of caterpillar vibrations and those of wind or non-attacking insects.

The findings conjure images of sound equipment in farm fields, maybe even replacing some of the chemicals used in agriculture. Appel told the university’s news bureau, “This research also opens the window of plant behavior a little wider, showing that plants have many of the same responses to outside influences that animals do, even though the responses look different.”

It opens a lot of windows for me. If we internalize the notion, supported by science, that every morsel of food we eat is capable of a far richer inner life than we ever dreamed, maybe we will be filled with gratitude for the gift. And if we are filled with gratitude, we will be better stewards of the earth.

This gives me hope.

The first video will introduce you to the researchers. The second is a satirical song from the Arrogant Worms. Be sure your sense of humour is intact before you watch it.

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