Rooftop gardens offer hope in India

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Rooftop gardens, which are also sometimes called “Green Roofs”, have been encouraged in the developed world as a way of moderating urban temperature and rain water flood surges. In India, a new program is developing rooftop gardens with different goals in mind.

Rooftop gardens offer urban farmers a chance to turn squalor into nutrition. Equally important, they offer diversity to the household income. In a country where many women and low-caste men are often shut out from job opportunities, green roofs can do more than minimize the impact of weather.

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Is Human activity causing dust storms?

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A new study by the University of Colorado at Boulder has found a direct link between human activity in the American West and dust storms. This is the first time that the effects of human development (such as the introduction of wild horses, cattle grazing, and intensive farming) have been directly linked to dust. Researchers studied the sediment found in the bottoms of alpine lakes and concluded that dust levels have been 500-700% higher in the American West since the 1860’s.

On the plus side, dust levels have been declining since the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, which was introduced during the Dust Bowl to prevent further erosion in American farmlands. So, while the study proves that humans can cause dust events, it also suggests that we can take steps to reduce our impacts.

Is there a silver eco-lining to the housing bubble burst?

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As the housing bubble continues to burst, it turns out that there’s an unexpected silver lining in the economic downturn. The sharp decline in property values may lead to reduced development in environmentally sensitive areas, and fire sale prices are making it easier for conservation groups to buy tracts of land on the cheap.

There’s not a whole lot of good news coming from the housing sector right now, but this is at least one small ray of sunshine to hang onto.

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For the Birds is the Audubon’s Society’s online birding checklist that you can use to record your observations and compare them with other people across the continent and in other parts of the world. Why would you want to do this? Here’s some info from their website:

“eBird’s goal is to maximize the utility and accessibility of the vast numbers of bird observations made each year by recreational and professional bird watchers. It is amassing one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence.”

And furthermore:

“The observations of each participant join those of others in an international network of eBird users. eBird then shares these observations with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists. In time these data will become the foundation for a better understanding of bird distribution across the western hemisphere and beyond.”

I learned about the program at a recent organic gardening coference. Farms and backyard habitat are some of the best remaining habitat for a variety of birds. Knowing what kinds of birds live in and visit your area is a great way to help us understand their behavior and protect them.

Plus, eBird is pretty cool to play around with! It’s got interactive maps, charts, and more. And it takes about 2 minutes to sign up and start using.

Green fences and animal highways


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Robert Frost famously wrote about how “Good fences make good neighbors,” but the type of fence that pioneers built in the American West can be a drain on the environment. Picket fences block animal migration routes and are often painted with toxic chemicals. Building a wooden fence kills trees and fossil fuels are burned transporting lumber. These fences can also cause erosion by transferring the force of the wind into the soil, and they take constant maintenance.

Centuries old techniques offer a green alternative. Just as the Normans used hedgerows and Native Americans used Osage-Orange, botanists are exploring new ways to use living plants to regulate property lines. For example, Phung Tuu Boi is building a green fence to keep people from areas contaminated with Agent Orange. As the director of the Center for Assistance in Nature Conservation and Community Development in Hanoi, he’s developed a fence that keeps animals from foraging in contaminated sites while also restoring the soil and growing a cash crop:

Mr. Boi has developed a low-tech solution to overcome these problems: a fence made of trees covered with cactus-sharp needles to deter humans and animals alike. Mr. Boi hopes this so-called green fence will not only discourage trespassers, but also provide them with an economic incentive to leave the barrier intact. Once mature, the trees he has chosen to make up the fence, Gleditschia australis, produce a fruit that residents can sell to make soaps and medicinals. Gleditschia, a type of honey locust, is disease and insect resistant, and its thorns and soft wood should deter residents from cutting it down for firewood.

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Another advantage of living fences is that they offer habitat for wildlife. These slices of greenery often act as highways for wild animals on the move and dense tree lines are just as effective at controlling domestic animals.