By Aaron Teasdale
"There's snow up here, I promise," I assure my son Jonah, as we grunt up a south-facing mountainside in Glacier National Park in July. A mountain goat cocks its head as if to say, "What kind of crazy people hike up bare mountains in ski boots?" He's not the only one to wonder what in the name of Bode Miller we're doing up here with ski gear.
Our day began at Logan Pass, the high point of the park's famed Going to the Sun Road, where plows work for months to carve a byway through walls of deep snow. By July that snow has melted into a predictable patchwork, and even on the highest summits the south slopes are bare. As Jonah and I set out from the parking area on skis, tourists raise their phones to take pictures of the spectacle while children from warmer climes throw snowballs.
An hour later the crowds are far behind us as our snow patches run out and we arrive at the foot of a south-facing mountainside and remove our skis. A bare-chested man with a vigorous hiking stride looks up the daunting pitch above us. Our plan to ascend it, he opines, "sounds like a lot of work."
Despite my confident response to Mr. Bare Chest, I'm secretly worried. There's a fine line between passing on your love of the mountains to your kids and alienating them by pushing them too far. Jonah is 15 and a high school athlete. He can handle this. I hope.
But so far he's a bit morose in that dispiriting way particular to teenagers, so I offer him the option of turning around and doing something easier in the tourist zone. To my pleasant surprise he opts for the bigger, much more challenging adventure. So we lash our skis to our packs, find one of Glacier's many informal climber's trails, and begin our climb into the world of mountain goats and summer snow.
Hours later we gain a knife ridge at 8,000 feet. Sharp peaks laced with waterfalls spear the sky in every direction. The northern side of the mountain drops steeply into a sheltered alpine bowl harboring a thick snowpack. "Told ya we'd get to snow!" I exclaim to Jonah—who is focused on trying to communicate telepathically with the mountain goats lounging on the snowfield.
Below us stretches a beautiful, wild ski run of 1,000 vertical feet. Its high alpine fastness makes it virtually unreachable in winter, but its shady northern aspect in a sheltered cirque preserves it for a fine run in July. We strap on helmets and click into our skis. The slope is steep enough that only the beginning is visible before it plummets away out of sight.
I tell Jonah to follow my line closely, as there are rock bands, small crevasses and other hazards to avoid. After I take a couple turns to test the snow, which has an amenable surface perfectly softened by the day's sun, I tell him to drop in behind me. He's on my old skis, which are a bit long, but he carves his way down the mountainside like he's been doing it all his life. Which is probably because he has.
His father is what you could call a skiing addict. Nothing mainlines joy for me like the wild poetry of gliding down snowy mountainsides, and I've tried to instill proper values in my two sons. If it snows more than six inches, abandoning school for a ski day is optional; more than 10 inches and it's mandatory.
But it wasn't until well into adulthood that I realized you needn't put skis away when winter ends. It started with May. I figured out that even by that late date, snow sticks to high mountains and provides stable glissè opportunities on steep slopes that would be too perilous in avalanche-prone mid-winter. From there, it was only a matter of time until I found myself skiing in the first days of June, when most people are gardening. But making the jump to true summer skiing took a bit longer because, well, snow is harder to find in summer.
Then a friend who's a backcountry skiing guide showed me the hidden side of Glacier's Logan Pass and began inviting me on adventures into remote places that involved fording creeks with skis on our backs and other alpine shenanigans. As you might imagine, we were always the only people back there. Which was all I needed. Wilderness exploration with glorious ski runs far from madding crowds? Sold.
Soon I was exploring the Northern Rockies' other hotbed of summer skiing, the Beartooth Mountains on the Wyoming-Montana border. I heard stories of people doing the same in the Cascades, Rocky Mountain National Park, and California's Mount Shasta. Many of them are part of an ever-growing tribe of year-round skiers—calendar-obsessed souls who've vowed to ski at least once in every month of the year. I now have multiple friends who've been doing so for over 10 years. From them I've learned of the ever-more esoteric locales they use for August and September runs, shadowy creases and perennial snowfields hanging in alpine basins. I'm not quite there yet—I'm loathe to let things like calendars and clocks dictate my agenda. But I no longer think they're crazy. Summer skiing, it seems now, is little more than a day hike in the mountains with a more elegant route back down.
Jonah is all smiles as we fill our water bladders from a snowmelt creek at the bottom of our first run. From there we have another big climb up a steep slope of loose rock. Again I'm worried it might break his effervescent spirit. But letting him choose our climbing route and lead the way imbues him with newfound energy. Although we've been clambering around for at least six hours, he moves up the rough terrain with enthusiasm and we chatter cheerfully without pause.
It's a perfect example of what happens when you bring kids into the wilderness: Removed from civilization's coddling hands, young people perk up, sensing they have only themselves and their companions to rely on. Give them responsibility and that sense of wild agency crystalizes and before you know it, you've got an adventurer on your hands. At least that's what it felt like watching Jonah scramble up that mountainside as if the mountain goats had passed on to him some secret caprine wisdom.
We high-five at the top where the world opens up again. Logan Pass sprawls below us, tourists marching in a line like ants up the snow-covered boardwalk. There's another long ski run at our feet and more tourists will stop and point and take pictures as we carve our way down it, marveling at the crazy people skiing in mid-July. I marvel, too, as I watch Jonah gleefully and even expertly soar down the mountain below me. It's then that I realize that I've been wrong to think that nothing brings me joy like skiing. I now know that nothing brings me joy like watching my son ski a wild mountainside—and then plunging down behind him.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
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For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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