Savvy environmentalists challenge corporations to go green
An Interview with Michael Brune, executive director of RAN

(01/30/2007) Increasing rates of tropical deforestation in the 1970s and 1980s helped trigger the rise of several forest activist groups specifically interested in rainforests. Among the earliest of these organizations was the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) which got its start in 1985. Today San Francisco-based RAN has expanded well beyond its original mission of protecting rainforests. Recently dubbed "the most savvy environmental agitators in the business" by the Wall Street Journal, the small but efficient organization (36 staff members and a $3 million budget) pressures some of the world's largest and most respected firms to adopt wide-ranging green policies that impact everything from where they source their energy to how they finance development projects. Initially engaging firms with dialog, RAN is not afraid to employ traditional activist tactics -- including boycotts and protests -- to win over targeted companies that are slow to respond. While some of their tactics may be controversial, they are certainly effective. To date RAN has converted Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Home Depot, and Boise Cascade. Michael Brune, executive director of RAN, elaborated on RAN's tactics and broader philosophy in a January 2007 interview mongabay.com.   [ Featured | Interviews | Rainforests]

Colombia Photos

(01/26/2007) I have posted pictures from my travels in Colombia. Please note that I am still working on species identification so there are a lot of unlabeled insects, plants, and even birds. I have also created a slideshow (70+ photos) of highlights from the trip. For clarification, the jaguar picture was taken at a facility on the border of Brazil and Colombia -- the cat was not in the wild.   [ Travel]

Panama Photos

(01/23/2007) I have posted pictures from my travels in Panama. Please note that I am still working on species identification as well as additional index pages so the Panama section should still be considered "beta". I have also created a slideshow of highlights from the trip. Pictures from Colombia will be ready by the weekend.   [ Travel]


California bill would outlaw incandescent lightbulbs to help fight global warming

(01/31/2007) This week California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) will introduce legislation that would ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs in California by the year 2012. Levine says that incandescent light bulbs waste energy and better, more-cost alternatives are available. Citing research by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit organization that focuses on energy policy, Levine says that replacing a 75-watt incandescent light bulb with a 20-watt compact fluorescent would result in the same amount of light but would save 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide and save customers $55 over the life of the bulb.   [ Energy]

Indonesia wants to be paid for slowing deforestation

(01/31/2007) Indonesia voiced support for a proposal by a coalition of developing countries seeking compensation for forest conservation, according to a report from Reuters. Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia's minister of the environment, told Reuters that poor countries should be paid for conserving forests and the services they provide the world.   [ Indonesia | Carbon Finance | Deforestation]

Mongabay launches in Chinese and Korean

(01/31/2007) Chinese- and Korean-language versions of the mongabay.com rainforest site for kids are posted. Special thanks to Sarah Chung, Orlena Fong, and He Li for their help with the translation. The kids' site is now available in 11 foreign languages and I hope to have 20 by the end of February. If you are interested in helping with the translation effort please let me know.   [ Languages]

Cuteness may determine whether a species goes extinct or not

(01/30/2007) Cuteness or physical attractiveness to humans may determine whether a species goes extinct or not, says a conservation biologist from the University of Washington, Bothell. Writing in the online edition of the journal Human Ecology, David Stokes says that human preference for details as trivial as the "small color highlights a creature displays" could influence whether the species is protected or ignored as it approaches extinction. His results lend support to the use of "flagship species" in conservation. A flagship species is one that chosen to represent an environmental cause, such as an ecosystem in need of conservation. Generally this is a charismatic species like the Panda in China that is sufficiently attractive to garner public support for saving an ecosystem.   [ Extinction | Conservation]

Snake becomes poisonous by eating toxic frogs

(01/29/2007) A new study shows that the Asian snake Rhabdophis tigrinus becomes poisonous by sequestering toxins from its prey which consists of venomous toads. While sequestering defensive toxins from prey is unusual among terrestrial vertebrates it is not unknown. Research published last year by Valerie C. Clark of Cornell University showed that poison dart frogs (Dendrobates species) and their Madagascar counterparts, the Mantella frogs, sequester toxic skin chemicals, called alkaloids, from the ants they eat. These alkaloids protect the frogs from predation. Similarly, some garter snakes are known to store tetrodotoxin from ingested newts while birds in New Guinea appear to sequester poisons from insects.   [ Animal Behavior | Strange]

Caves may reveal whether global warming
is causing stronger hurricanes
updated since Friday

(01/29/2007) Scientists have shown that cave formations could help settle the contentious debate on whether hurricanes are strengthening in intensity due to global warming. Measuring oxygen isotope variation in stalagmites in Actun Tunichil Muknal cave in central Belize, a team of researchers lead by Amy Benoit Frappier of Boston College have identified evidence of rainfall from 11 tropical cyclones over a 23 year period. The research could help create a record of hurricanes that would help researchers understand hurricane frequency and intensity.   [ Hurricanes | Climate Change]

Lemurs communicate by scent

(01/29/2007) Ringtailed lemurs can recognize each other by scent according to a study published in the current issue of the journal Animal Behaviour. The research, conducted by Elizabeth S. Scordato and Christine M. Drea of Duke University, looked at olfactory communication in the ringtailed lemur, a charismatic primate that forms complex social groups led by a dominant female, so see what information is contained within the scent marks of the species. They found that a lemur's scentmark provides a lot of information to other lemurs.   [ Lemurs | Primates]

Captive chimpanzees "talk" to humans

(01/29/2007) Captive chimpanzees use specific vocalizations to communicate with humans according to new research published in the current issue of the journal Animal Behaviour. The researchers, lead by Dr. William Hopkins of Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, say these sounds are not used in other contexts -- only to elicit attention from humans. The researchers say the findings may help explain the evolution of language in primates.   [ Animal Behavior | Primates]

New maps reveal causes of Amazon deforestation

(01/26/2007) Brazil's National Statistics Office (IBGE) released a set of maps showing how farmers are converting the Amazon rainforest into cattle pasture and soybean farms. The maps show for the first time the impact of deforestation and agricultural expansion on the Amazon rainforest, according to the agency. Bloomberg reports that the Brazilian Amazon lost "13.3 percent of its virgin forest from 2000 to 2003" or 665,945 square kilometers of primary forest, an area equivalent to the size of Italy and Germany together, but I wasn't able to confirm this figure with IBGE by Friday afternoon and therefore believe that Bloomberg has made an error. The figure they cite seems more in line with the total amount of deforestation in the Legal Amazon since records have been kept, i.e. the 1970s.   [ Deforestation | Amazon]

Biofuels could decimate environment, stymie developing countries, says report

(01/25/2007) In his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, U.S. President George W. Bush highlighted ethanol fuel production as a means to improve domestic security by reducing dependence on foreign oil while at the same time helping to fight global warming. His call echoes a broader shift in sentiment among business and political leaders who believe that biofuels -- liquid fuels produced 'energy crops' including sugarcane, corn, soybeans, oil palms -- are a key future liquid energy source. In fact, next week, biofuels are likely to take a prominent position at the European Union's 'Sustainable Energy Week' in Brussels when 650 delegates will listen to speeches by the likes of Al Gore and UK foreign minister Margaret Beckett. With all the enthusiasm it may seem that biofuels are the end-all solution. A new report argues that this is not the case. In its briefing, "International trade in biofuels: Good for development? And good for environment?" the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) cautions policymakers not to get caught up in all the hype. IIED warns that serious concerns still remain when it comes to the widespread adoption of these renewable energy sources.   [ Biofuels | Energy]

Giant marsupial beasts in Australia not killed by climate change

(01/25/2007) Humans, not climate change, caused the extinction of megafauna in Australia contends a team of Australian researchers writing in the January issue of the journal Science. Australia lost 90 percent of its largest animals, including a saber-toothed kangaroo, a marsupial lion and giant goannas, within 20,000 years of man's arrival some 50,000 years ago. Scientists have long debated whether the demise of Australian megafauna was due to human arrival, climate change, or a combination of the two factors. The new research found that the climate in southeastern Australia was little different 500,000 years ago, suggesting that climate change was not the ultimate cause of extinction.   [ Extinction]

Europeans may have caused extinction of large mammals in Caribbean

(01/25/2007) New evidence suggests that the arrival of Europeans in the New World corresponds with the extinction of mammal species on the Caribbean islands. Dating remains from archaeological and palaeontological sites on Puerto Rico, a team of researchers lead by Dr. Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London, found that nesophontid 'island-shrews' were still present on the island approximately 1000 years ago, suggesting that at least some large West Indian mammals survived for Amerindian colonization some 2000 years earlier. These species "probably became extinct following European arrival," say the researchers, "in protracted pre-European 'sitzkrieg'-style events rather than 'blitzkrieg'-style overkill."   [ Extinction]

Live fish trade depleting coral reef species

(01/24/2007) According to a new study conducted by Cambridge University researchers off the northern coast of Borneo, the live reef fish trade is having a major impact on marine populations. While the trade -- which consists of fish being collected from coral reefs, shipped thousands of miles, then cooked live as a delicacy in upscale restaurants -- is booming thanks to a rapidly swelling middle class in Asia, the new study suggests that high prices are driving ever greater rates of depletion from distant tropical reefs. Analyzing data from three traders in the town of Kudat in northern Borneo, the researchers found a dramatic drop in the populations of target species, including a 99 percent plunge for the Napoleon wrasse and an 81 percent fall for the bluelined grouper during an 8-year period.   [ Coral Reefs]

Congo guerrillas agree to protect rare gorillas

(01/24/2007) Rebels in eastern Congo have agreed to stop hunting mountain gorillas according to a report from the Associated Press. The agreement comes after two endangered silverback mountain gorillas were killed and eaten by rebel forces in Congo's Virunga National Park, a protected area that has been heavily impacted by civil strife in the region, starting with the exodus of refugees from Rwanda in 1994 and continuing on through Congo's bloody civil war.   [ Congo]

Two 'dragon' species discovered in Brazil

(01/24/2007) Two previously unknown species of lizard that are said to resemble miniature ground-dwelling dragons have been found in the threatened cerrado region of Brazil. The species, Stenocercus squarrosus and Stenocercus quinarius are described in the current issue of the South American Journal of Herpetology.   [ Species Discovery]

Strange spiny rodent discovered in the Amazon

(01/24/2007) Scientists have discovered a previously unknown species of arboreal rodent in the cloud forests of Peru. The species, named Isothrix barbarabrownae, is described in the current issue of Mastozoologia, the principal mammalogy journal of South America. The rodent was discovered at an altitude of 6,200 feet in a river valley in Peru's Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve, one of the world's most biodiverse protected areas. The valley proved to be particularly rich, yielding 11 species of mammal that were new to science including one opossum, seven bats, and three rodents.   [ Species Discovery]

Rare fish from Madagascar named after renowned ichthyologist

(01/24/2007) An ichthyologist from the Wildlife Conservation Society's New York Aquarium received the ultimate honor recently, when a freshwater fish discovered on the African island nation of Madagascar was named after him. Dr. Paul Loiselle, who has dedicated much of his career safeguarding Madagascar's little- known freshwater fishes, received the honor from a team of biologists from the American Museum of Natural History, after they named a new species of cichlid Ptychochromis loisellei.   [ Species Discovery]

Unusual prehistoric shark beast captured in Japan

(01/24/2007) A rare frilled shark was captured live by fishermen off the coast of Japan. The toothy eel-like creature was taken to Awashima Marine Park in Shizuoka where it later died according to Reuters. The 5-foot (1.6 meter) long beast was believed to be ill because it was found in shallow waters. Generally the species, known as Chlamydoselachus anguineus, lives at a depth of 488-4550 feet (150-1400 m). It is considered a primitive shark, largely unchanged since prehistoric times.   [ Strange]

Pentagon pushes land conservation, partners with green groups

(01/24/2007) The Pentagon is actively funding conservation efforts around military bases in an effort to stem urban sprawl and other threats to facilities, according to an article in today's issue of The Wall Street Journal. Congress has budgeted more than $40 million in the current fiscal year for the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative, which works with environmental groups to conserve land around bases. The program is currently working to protect more than 45,000 acres near 30 U.S. bases.   [ United States]

5 Komodo Dragons Hatch at British Zoo

(01/24/2007) Five immaculately conceived Komodo dragons hatched at the Chester Zoo in northern England. Scientists say the birth could have conservation implications for the endangered species of reptile.   [ Strange]

Bush calls climate change a 'serious challenge'

(01/23/2007) In his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, President Bush called climate change a 'serious challenge' that needs to be met by reducing fossil fuel emissions. The president asked Americans to reduce their gasoline use by 20 percent over the next decade and called for increases in automobile fuel efficiency standards and use of alternative energy.   [ United States]

Global warming cap to cost U.S. 0.26% of GDP says Energy Department

(01/23/2007) A proposed cap-and-trade system to curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions will cost the U.S. economy 0.26 percent of annual GDP according to a new study by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency (EIA). The EIA says that the plan would lead to higher energy prices including a 5 percent rise in the price of gasoline, an 8 percent climb in the price of heating-oil an 11 percent increase in the price of natural gas and electricity.   [ United States]

American industry jumps on global warming bandwagon

(01/23/2007) On the eve of President Bush's State of the Union address, American industry is fast-jumping on the global warming bandwagon, according to an article in today's issue of The Wall Street Journal. Yesterday the CEOs of 10 major corporations -- Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, FPL Group, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, PG&E, and PNM Resources -- asked Congress to implement binding limits on greenhouse gases this year, arguing that voluntary efforts to fight climate change are inadequate.   [ United States]

Canada pledges $30 million for Great Bear Rainforest

(01/22/2007) Canada announced a $30 million plan to protect the Great Bear Rainforest, a 16-million-acre temperate rainforest on British Columbia's Pacific coast. The forest is the largest intact temperate rainforest left on Earth and is home to the 290-foot (90 meter) tall Sitka spruce, black bears, grizzlies and eagles.   [ Happy-Upbeat Environmental]

Kids' site now available in Brazilian Portuguese

(01/21/2007) Thanks to Dr. Henrique Nascimento of Brazilian Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA - Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da AmazĂ™nia), the rainforest site for kids is now available in Brazilian Portuguese.   [ Translations]

Pesticides threaten cloud forests in Costa Rica - new study

(01/21/2007) Pesticides from coffee and banana cultivation are accumulating in Costa Rica's biodiverse cloud forests according to research published earlier this month in Environmental Science & Technology. The study, led by Frank Wania of the University of Toronto, found that pesticides used in lowland areas are carried by air currents to higher elevations where they are they precipitated out as rain when the air cools. The chemicals -- especially insecticide endosulfan and fungicide chlorothalonil -- then accumulate in the ecosystem, potentially affecting montane forest biodiversity. The findings have implications for conservation efforts in both the Central American country and in other parts of the world.   [ Pollution]

Oil consumption by industrialized countries falls in 2006

(01/19/2007) Oil consumption by industrialized countries fell 0.6 percent in 2006, the first significant drop in more than 20 years according to the International Energy Agency. The decline is fueled by high oil prices which have spurred interest in alternative energy sources -- especially biofuels like ethanol -- and driven energy conservation initiatives, including increased demand by consumers for fuel efficient vehicles.   [ Energy]

China invests in $5.5B biofuels project in Borneo, New Guinea

(01/18/2007) China has agreed to invest in a $5.5 billion biofuels project on the islands of New Guinea and Borneo. The plan promises to be controversial among environmentalists who say that it will destroy some of the world's most biodiverse -- and threatened -- ecosystems on the planet. According to The Wall Street Journal, one million hectares (2.5 million acres) have been reserved for the eight-year plan, which would convert tropical forest for oil palm, sugar, and cassava plantations. China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), Indonesia's Sinar Mas Group, and Hong Kong Energy (Holdings) Ltd. are funding the project.   [ Borneo | New Guinea]

Leaf study could produce better global warming models

(01/18/2007) A new study on rotting leaves could produce more accurate climate models say researchers writing in the January 19 issue of the journal Science The Long-Term Inter-site Decomposition Experiment, involving 21 field sites from seven biomes from tundra to tropical rainforests, found that the processes of leaf decomposition and nitrogen release are relatively simple. The dominant drivers of nitrogen release were the initial concentration of nitrogen and the remaining mass of the leaf and root litter, while the rate of decomposition was influenced by temperature and moisture. The fastest rates of decomposition occurred in tropical rainforests where nutrients are rapidly cycled.   [ Forests]

Biomimicry of white beetle could produce whiter teeth

(01/18/2007) A pure white beetle found in the forests of southeast Asia could eventually lead to brilliant white ultra-thin materials including whiter teeth and finer paper, according to research led by scientists at the University of Exeter. Writing in the January 19 issue of the journal Science, researchers describe the ultra-thin surface structure of the brilliant white shell of the Cyphochilus beetle and note that mimicry of its scales could produce thinner, whiter coatings.   [ Biomimicry]

Colombia and Panama

(01/18/2007) I'm back online after my travels in Colombia and Panama. In Colombia I spent time in the Amazon rainforest outside of Leticia, traveling with an anthropologist from Stanford University. In Panama I visited the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, a leading center for research on biodiversity, climate, forest ecology, and other topics. Pictures should be posted in a couple weeks.


I will be traveling in Latin America for the next few weeks, during which time I will have limited access to the Internet. Site updates should resume around January 21 when I am back in the United States.

In the meantime I have highlighted some news articles that have appeared on the site in recent months. Archives are also available:
December | November | October | September | more

Sections of the site that have also been recently updated include:
kids' site | mongabay in other languages | tropical rainforests

As always, thank you for your patience, understanding, and interest.

Rhett Butler, mongabay.com