Here Are 7 of Our Favorite Children’s Books With a Vegan Message

chooseveg.com

Kids love animals. So it’s no surprise that the vast majority of children’s books feature animals as the main characters. Unfortunately, many of these books still refer to animals as something, rather than someone—so finding animal-themed books that teach respect for animals is crucial to nurturing our children’s natural love of animals.

I sat down with a few parents at Mercy For Animals to find out their favorite kids books that inspire compassion for animals. Here are our top picks:

1. Sprig the Rescue Pig by Leslie Crawford

Sprig the Rescue Pig tells the story of Sprig, a pig who leaps—or falls—off a farm truck. As the little pig trades a factory farm for freedom, his world changes from grim to hopeful. Inspired by a true story, the book is a fun, funny, and beautifully illustrated adventure tale with a happy ending.

*Sprig is the first in a series of farmed animal children’s books published by Stone Pier Press. Keep an eye out for the next book, Gwen the Rescue Hen!

2. Linus the Vegetarian T. Rex by Robert Neubecker

Young kids seem to LOVE dinosaurs, so this book is a great treat! It’s a very cute story with a simple message—“I don’t eat my friends!”—that resonates with kids and will help inspire them to eat their veggies.

3. A Book of Babies by Il Sung Na

Il Sung Na is an incredible artist, and his books are all beautiful and animal themed. One of our favorites is A Book of Babies, which features all kinds of animals going to sleep with their parents—showing just how alike we really are—and is the perfect read just before bedtime.

4. Care for Our World by Karen Robbins

This is a wonderful book advocating for all life on the planet. The last lines say: “Please care for all people, and all living things, with leaves, legs, or feathers, arms, fins, or wings. This is their world and it’s yours and it’s mine. If we treat it gently, it will last a long time. This world is our home, we need one another. Please care for our world, we’re sisters and brothers.”

5. Steven the Vegan by Dan Bodenstein

Steven the Vegan is about a boy whose class goes on a field trip to a farmed animal sanctuary. He tells everyone that the foods they are eating come from animals. The kids are shocked and all become vegan. This book is great because it normalizes the feeling of being the only vegan in the class and gives kids hope that they can change their friends’ minds.

6. Dave Loves Chickens by Carlos Patino

This is a favorite among very young vegans. Dave, a monster from outer space, loves all animals and doesn’t understand why humans eat them, especially chickens. In this heartwarming book, kids learn about how wonderful chickens are!

7. The True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig by Steve Jenkins

This brand-new kids book details the adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig. Rescued by her dads Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter when she was only a piglet, Esther has become an internet sensation, opening hearts and minds all around the world. This is her touching story.

Want more? Click here for 17 of our favorite kid-friendly vegan recipes for the little ones in your life!

https://chooseveg.com/blog/childrens-books-with-a-vegan-message/

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“Daylight Saving Time 101” National Geographic

Although Daylight Saving Time affects many lies whenever it’s time to change the clocks, 80% of the global population does not follow the practice.

Deaf Singer Gets Simon Cowell’s Golden Buzzer

‘Confetti’, a New Munker Illusion Where Every Dot is Actually the Same Color «TwistedSifter

https://twistedsifter.com/2018/07/new-munker-illusion-where-every-dot-is-same-color/#like-116729

Watch a Sausage-Size Insect Transform From Larva to Beetle

https://relay.nationalgeographic.com/proxy/distribution/public/amp/2018/05/animals-beetles-insects-larvae?__twitter_impression=true

Environmentally-Friendly Alternatives – Balloons Blow

balloonsblow.org
Environmentally-Friendly Alternatives – Balloons Blow

There are many alternatives to balloon releases. To avoid unintentionally littering with balloons, you can instead have fun, celebrate, and remember with environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Let your imagination soar and who knows what creative, one-of-a-kind idea you might come up with!Unsustainable alternatives
Sky lanterns: (Chinese paper lanterns) are not an environmentally-friendly alternative. Leaving a fire unattended is against fire code. Sky lanterns have started huge fires, caused serious burns, and have killed animals.
Butterfly gardens – not butterfly releases

Butterfly releases: Lepidopterologists warn butterfly releases are not good for the environment. They also promote the breeding and exploitation of animals. Click here or here for more information.

Dove releases: Wildlife rehabilitators advise against the release of all domestic birds. Casualties are still common even when a professional is used. They also promote the breeding and exploitation of animals. http://balloonsblow.org/environmentally-friendly-alternatives/ here for more information.
Here are some ideas to get you started…

Honoring with Living Memorials

Plant in remembrance – A great way to honor and remember a loved one or an important issue is to bring more life to our planet. By planting a native tree, flower garden or butterfly garden you are not only giving life to that plant you are also providing shelter, resources, and clean air to all kinds of wildlife and people. This remembrance will last a very long time and you can visit your tree or flower bed as much as you want and create more life by doing so!

Flowers and trees can also be used at fundraising events as incentives to donate. They could then be planted in a public area, perhaps taking on different shapes or words, or can be taken home by participants to be planted elsewhere as a living memory. Here’s a great place to find trees: GiveTreeGifts.com. There are urns to plant as well. You can also help reforestation with memorial, celebration, or pet loss trees by visiting The Trees Remember.

Flags, banners, streamers and dancing inflatables – Many businesses are realizing the benefits of using reusable eye-catching signage. Colorful streamers, flags and banners save money and time over balloons, ribbons and helium. They are also weather resistant, save Helium, and can be reused again and again! Here are some great companies: Ribbon Streamers, Custom Made Flags, Fort Myers Banners.

Ribbon dancers – Instead of giving kids and guests balloons at parties or events, why not give them something a little more engaging? Balloons will simply sit tied up or be gone in a flash if released (not to mention harm wildlife and deplete helium resources). Ribbon dancers are beautiful and require people to move around and have fun!

A group of people spinning and twirling with a colorful long ribbon following their every move is surely a sight to see. You can even have guests make their own ribbon dancer, decorations and all!

Kites & garden spinners – Vibrant fabric that dance in the high winds or eye-catching colors spinning in the garden. Unlike balloons, kites and spinners can be enjoyed for years. Here’s a couple awesome places to find both, and more: Zephyr Kites, Lainie’s Way, Fun with Wind. Kites can be a great prize to give people who donate and can then be flown to draw attention. Here is an example of a successful group that uses kites for fundraising.

Bunting – A great way to decorate for parties and celebrations is bunting! These beautiful waves of fabric can be made at home and uniquely designed with different patterns, shapes, and colors. They are also reusable, fun to make, and are sure to light up the party! Here is a link to learn how to make your own bunting.

Pinwheels – With flashy colors fluttering in the wind, pinwheels are sure to catch many eyes. They are great for attracting attention to businesses, awareness projects, birthday parties and more! Kids can have fun making their own, find easy instructions here. Click here for printable patriotic pinwheel. Here are examples of pinwheels making a point: Pinwheels for Prevention, Pinwheels for Peace.

Tissue Paper Pompoms – For some color burst at parties or celebrations, tissue paper pompoms are spectacular! These pretty, colorful poof balls can be easily made at home and are reusable. They are also fun activities for kids to make too! Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to make your own pompoms.

Drumming – The drum has been called the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Using drums to celebrate does not create waste or cause danger to wildlife. The beat brings people together and can be used for any occasion. Here is a great example of how drumming can replace harmful celebrations.

Get flocked – A flock of pink flamingos brightens everyone’s day. Fake flamingos can be placed on the lawn of one’s choice for a donation, where they will stay for a few days before moving to the next scheduled location. They can be reused for years of flocking fun. Here is a great example.

Floating flowers – For some, the upward drifting of balloons gives them a sense of letting go, and at the same time thinking the balloon will eventually reach their loved one. Because remembering a loved one by potentially killing another life isn’t exactly the best feeling, there are many alternatives. Floating flowers or flower petals down a calm stream can give you the same sense of letting go. You will be able to be in nature and feel the energy of your loved one and all the life that surrounds you! Be sure to use native flowers and not let go an excessive amount.

Wildflower seed bombs – A great way to give a gift that grows is by making your own flower seed bombs! It’s important to only use native seeds. These little pounces will spread life-giving, beautiful flowers. Learn how to make your own seed bombs here.

Jump rope for a cause – Jump roping is fun, good for your body, and a great way to get people together! Using jump ropes to bring awareness to a cause engages participants and will bring attention from others who see. Here is a cause that has been very successful using jump ropes to bring awareness and funds to a growing issue.

Environmental Fundraising – Fundraising with Earth-themed and eco-conscious products. Raise funds and keep the environment clean of wasteful plastic straws. Fundraising with glass straws or here.

Ten eco-friendly fundraising ideas – Green Child Magazine has a great post.

Birthday parties without balloons – Birthday parties can be festive & exciting without boring, wasteful balloons. Here are some great examples.

Painted rocks – A stone can be used to paint memorials or celebrations! These beautiful stones can be placed in favorite spots, under trees, in gardens, along walkways, or inside. This is great for families or anyone that wants to leave a mark by using your imagination. Please be mindful when finding rocks to paint.

Lighting candles & Luminaries – A great way to remember a loved one or welcome new life is by lighting candles. On the anniversary of the passing or the birthday of new life, everyone can light a candle and remember their loved one or wish and be filled by the light of the candle. This can be a lasting, and comforting connection between you and another life! Luminaries are beautiful at night and can be used to line sidewalks or placed in a group. Learn how to make a frosted Mason jar luminary. You can also find luminaries with designs on them here.

Blowing bubbles – Blowing bubbles is always fun; watching them bounce around towards the sky and twist with the wind. It also requires you to exhale and breathe. This is a great way to release your feelings as well and just let go. Imagine the spectacular sight of a countless number of bubbles floating away into the sky with a piece of every person that have gathered together! Here is a quick homemade recipe.

Giant bubbles – We love bubbles! And the good people at Dr. Zigs can get you started on creating your own giant bubbles. They ‘strive to be a sustainable company and are driven by strong ethical and environmental principles’. These bubbles are a sight to behold and fun for everyone. Easy-to-use wands allow anyone to blow their own. Let the breeze carry them away!

The Bubble Bus is also exciting for events, celebrations, fundraisers or parties. Millions of bubbles big and small will surround everyone with joy! Make homemade bubble wands to create your own big bubbles here.

Mass Gathering – Having people come together to create a shape, word, or image can be very unifying and beautiful! This has been done to bring awareness to an issue/cause, for memorials, and celebrations. Everyone gets to participate to be a part of something bigger than themselves!

Memorials for beloved pets – Turn your pets cremations into nurturing memorials that will encourage more life. Planting native trees or wild flowers is a beautiful way to perpetuate your pets memory. You can find great alternatives here and here.

Origami Whales – Make your own pod of whales with origami whale instructions. Bring awareness to these gentle giants instead of harming them with balloons. Here is an example of how children can come together and make a difference.

Colored lights – Colored lights catch attentions during parties, holidays, and even on certain issues! It can replace a normal white light year-round at a business or be used temporarily on special days. Here is a great example of how colored lights can be used to bring awareness to an issue.

Races, walks and organized games – Engaging your audience is a key to a successful event. Fundraisers and awareness events can have racers, walkers or players donate to participate, all while attracting positive attention to the issue and having fun!

Marches – It is hard to pass by a large organized group of people and not wonder what brought them together that day. Marches are a great way to bring attention to a pressing issue or honorable individual from local people to large media networks!

Book and food drives – There are many items that can be collected by holding a drive like books, nonperishable food, art supplies, shoes, clothes, etc. All of the items gathered can be used to directly help provide to others in need and spread awareness at the same time.

Flying Wish Paper – Write your wishes on these thin pieces of paper, roll them up, light them, and watch them rise. There is very little ash left and way to get the floating effect without harming the environment. Check them out on Flying Wish Paper.

Shaved heads – This look can bring a lot of attention when a group of people are willing to shave their heads for a cause or person. This alternative is used at outreach events and memorials and can catch on fast with participants. The press is sure to pick up on the unusual look that so many people choose to wear.

http://balloonsblow.org/environmentally-friendly-alternatives/

Hurricane season starts today, and Trump still hasn’t learned from his deadliest blunder — Hurricane Maria

grist.org
By Justine Calma on Jun 1, 2018

It wasn’t until five days after Hurricane Maria made landfall that President Trump tweeted about the devastation. FEMA administrator Brock Long arrived in Puerto Rico that same day — he was among the first Trump officials to get to the battered U.S. territory.

This week, a Harvard study revealed that the September 2017 storm is likely the deadliest disaster in modern U.S. history — with more casualties than Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks combined. The analysis places Puerto Rico’s death toll at somewhere between 4,645 and 5,740 people, 90 times more dead than the government’s widely disputed official death toll.

The president has yet to offer any public condolences on the death count in the new study. He has, however, tweeted vigorously in the wake of Roseanne Barr being fired to Disney CEO Bob Iger demanding an apology for “HORRIBLE” statements made about him on ABC.

“What if 5,000 people in any US state died because of a natural disaster? It would be 24/7 news. Well, that happened in #PuertoRico as a result of #HurricaneMaría, and we are now talking about a mediocre sitcom being cancelled,” tweeted journalist Julio Ricardo Varela.

Writing in an opinion piece for NBC news, Varela continued: “Puerto Ricans are not suddenly shocked by the Harvard study … because the proof was already there months ago. But almost nobody else wanted to look for it.”

Trump’s only visit to the island after the storm — when he said that Maria wasn’t a “real” tragedy like Hurricane Katrina — Varela writes, “served to highlight the late response and federal neglect to Puerto Rico’s catastrophe.”

The president’s inattention, critics argue, contributed to a disaster response that was slow, meager, and ripe with allegations of misconduct and corruption. And rather than drive compassion for fellow Americans, his priorities have helped shift attention elsewhere. Cable news dedicated more than 16 times more airtime to the Roseanne controversy than it did to the Puerto Rico death toll.

Because of the silence, Refinery 29 journalist Andrea González-Ramírez has started a viral thread on Twitter in an effort to remember and name the dead:

“This should be a day of collective mourning in Puerto Rico. Thousands dead because of administrations that could not get the job done,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz tweeted on Tuesday. “These deaths & the negligence that contributed to them cannot be forgotten. This was, & continues to be, a violation of our human rights.”

And with Hurricane Season 2018 beginning today, there’s still uncertainty about how prepared this administration is for another storm. Puerto Rico’s power authority announced yesterday that it may take another two months to get power back completely on the island, and officials say it’s likely that the electrical grid will crash again with the next hurricane.

On top of that, FEMA is going through a “reorganization,” Bloomberg reported last week, and several key leadership roles are still vacant or temporarily filled.

“What the impacts from the 2017 disasters show is that there is also still work to do in order to build a culture of preparedness across the country at all levels of government, including improved resilience among our critical infrastructure,” FEMA wrote to Grist in an email.

https://grist.org/news/hurricane-season-starts-today-and-trump-still-hasnt-learned-from-his-deadliest-blunder-hurricane-maria/

What is palm oil? | SPOTT.org

Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil. It comes from the fruit of the African oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis).

Native to West Africa, oil palm has been traditionally grown as a subsistence crop in small-scale farming systems for thousands of years.

Oil palms were introduced to Southeast Asia by European traders in the early 19th century, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the climate is more humid, and therefore even more conducive to oil palm growth. Palm oil trees can grow to over 20 metres tall, and unlike some other vegetable oil crops, the fruit can be harvested all year round.

Large-scale production on monocultural oil palm plantations has become highly prevalent over the last forty years in response to ever-increasing global demand.

Palm oil comes from oil palm fruits

The fruit of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is crushed to extract palm oil. (Image: oneVillage Initiative)

Palm oil production in Ghana
Oil palm fruit harvest, Malaysia

Oilpalmfruitharvest,Malaysia

Oil palm fruit is harvested with peak production occurring between ages seven and 18. (Image: Craig Morey)

Oil palm fruit harvest, Malaysia
Crude palm oil is refined for manufacturing

Unrefined red palm oil is sent to refineries for processing. (Image: oneVillage Initiative)
Crude palm oil is refined for manufacturing
Oil palms use less land than other oilseeds

Oil palms yield up to 10 times more oil per hectare than alternative vegetable oil crops. (Image: Craig Wikimedia)

Oil palms use less land than other oilseeds
Monocultures support fewer species

Oil palm plantations provide far less plant and animal diversity than forests. (Image: Achmad Rabin Taim)

Monocultures support fewer species

Why is palm oil so widely used?

Palm oil is very versatile and widely used in food products, detergents, and cosmetics. At least 50% of the packaged products sold in most supermarkets contain palm oil. It is also increasingly used as a biofuel.

Palm oil has the potential to be a more economically viable and sustainable vegetable oil than the alternatives:

using up to 10 times less land than other major vegetable oils such as rapeseed or sunflower;
producing higher yields per hectare – one hectare of land can produce 4,000kg palm oil, or 500kg of kernel oil;
requiring less fertiliser, fewer pesticides, and storing more carbon than other oil crops.

Despite these potential benefits, business as usual is not sustainable. Industry expansion cannot continue if this is at the cost of Indonesia’s natural ecosystems, as well as forests in many other countries throughout the tropics.
Problems associated with irresponsible palm oil production:

There are many negative environmental impacts associated with unsustainable palm oil production. Oil palms are typically grown in regions that contain high levels of biodiversity (Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85% of the world’s palm oil) on land that was previously occupied by tropical rainforests and peatlands.
This land is often cleared illegally, destroying some of the world’s most diverse habitats and increasing pollution and carbon emissions through slash and burn agriculture.
In many areas, local communities are not respected and employees are treated poorly.

Oil palm plantation in Cigudeg by Achmad Rabin Taim from Jakarta, Indonesia

Palm oil plantation in Cigudeg by Achmad Rabin Taim from Jakarta, Indonesia
Why can’t we just stop buying palm oil?

Over 50 million tonnes of palm oil is consumed every year, around one third of all vegetable oil.
If we stop buying palm oil, palm oil producing companies will sell palm oil to markets that do not value the environment.
Other vegetable oils will be grown in its place which require up to ten times more land to produce the same amount of oil, increasing deforestation.
Palm oil production provides an income for 4.5 million people in Indonesia and Malaysia alone, taking them out of poverty, and accounts for 4.5% of Indonesian GDP.

What is sustainable palm oil?

To develop a sustainable palm oil industry, companies must:

Stop clearing rainforests and developing on peatlands.
Manage their plantations responsibly according to best practice guidelines.
Trace their supply of palm oil back to the refinery and plantations where it was farmed.
Establish safe and fair working conditions for employees.
Properly consult local communities on new developments.

What you can do to support sustainable palm oil:

Explore more about the issue through the Guardian’s excellent interactive: from rainforest to your cupboard – the story of palm oil.
Support companies that have made commitments to using only certified sustainable palm oil.
Don’t just avoid the problem by boycotting palm oil altogether, instead be part of the solution by supporting Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) as a minimum. Look out for products bearing the RSPO Trademark, which show that they contain a minimum 95% of CSPO.
Ask retailers to source certified sustainable palm oil, not only in their own-brand products but in all the products they sell. You can do this by contacting their customer service departments.
Ask manufacturers to source certified sustainable palm oil.
Lobby your parliamentary or government representative to improve national legislation.
Join or support organisations that are actively campaigning for better standards.
Increase your own awareness of what is in your food.
See how some of the most famous products you buy have performed on Oxfam’s Behind the Brands ethical scorecard.
Read through the Union for Concerned Scientists’ palm oil scorecard, and their global warming factsheet.
Learn more about the work of other organisations promoting better management practices in the Palm Oil Innovation Group.

https://www.spott.org/palm-oil-resource-archive/what-is-palm-oil/

10,000 Birds | Can A Hawk Carry Off Your 12-Pound Pet?

My niece came across this and posted it on her Facebook page…

The answer is: no.

No hawk can carry off a 12-pound pet. No hawk can carry off a 3-pound pet. The largest hawk in North America (the Ferruginous Hawk) weighs at most four pounds, so leaving the ground carrying three – let alone twelve – would be aerodynamically (not to mention logically) impossible. Red-tailed Hawks weigh about two pounds.

That did not stop a New Jersey animal shelter from publishing this rabble-rousing flyer on Facebook, all written in alarming red capital letters:

PARK RANGERS AND VET OFFICES ARE PUTTING OUT WARNINGS. THIS YEAR THE HAWKS REALLY SEEM TO BE OUT IN FORCE OFF THE EAST COAST.

THE PETS THAT ARE IN REAL DANGER ARE THE ONES WHO ARE 12 POUNDS AND UNDER. THESE ARE THE PETS THAT HAWKS CAN SWOOP DOWN AND GRAB.

DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS OUTSIDE WITHOUT SUPERVISION.

One could joke about the squadrons of hawks out patrolling the beaches, or the park rangers suddenly worried about the safety of household pets, but before it was taken down the post had over 108,000 views, 4,200 Likes, and 1,000 comments. And since these things never really disappear, it’s still out there.

The frustrating responses went like this: “OMG!” “Yikes!” “I had no idea!” “How awful!” The frightening responses went like this: “Just shoot ‘em.” “That’s why we need more trapping.” “I’m going to string wire all across my backyard!”

Wildlife lovers and rehabilitators, as always, tried to intervene. “I have been caring for raptors for almost 29 years and not even a Bald Eagle can carry off 12 pounds,” wrote Eileen Wicker, the Executive Director of Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky. “Please disregard this for the rubbish it is!”

If you see a flyer such as this and you’re unfamiliar with wildlife, you can 1) believe the hundreds of people who write things like “I know for a fact a Barn Owl can carry off a 3-pound Chihuahua!” (Barn Owls weigh about a pound); 2) access fact-filled sites like the Peregrine Fund or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; or 3) call any raptor rehabilitation center, and whoever answers the phone will tell you that the information on Facebook is bunk.

There’s one more option, if you’d like to combine learning and entertainment: 4) watch this Monty Python clip, which does a fabulous job of explaining exactly what we’re talking about using a coconut, European Swallows, and King Arthur:

Once you watch it, every time someone posts about a murderous hawk carrying off twelve pounds, you’ll be able to set them straight.

One might say the heart of the person who wrote the flyer was in the right place. But they were abysmally ignorant, not only of the facts but of the damage that can be done by posting something so stupid. Predators have a hard enough time surviving without having to deal with the fallout from something they’re incapable of even doing.

3434201_orig

This is not to say they might not take a swipe at a very tiny dog. If you have a one, be careful and use common sense. If you have a cat, keep it inside.

“All birds of prey are protected by state and federal law,” says Eileen Wicker. “If you harm one or threaten one in any manner, you are subject to a fine and prison term. Appreciate their beauty, and their value to our earth.”

All photos courtesy of Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky.

http://www.10000birds.com/can-a-hawk-carry-off-your-12-pound-pet.htm

BBC – Travel – Are Lithuanians obsessed with bees?

Will Mawhood

In mid-January, the snow made the little coastal town of Šventoji in north-west Lithuania feel like a film set. Restaurants, shops and wooden holiday cabins all sat silently with their lights off, waiting for the arrival of spring.

I found what I was looking for on the edge of the town, not far from the banks of the iced-over Šventoji river and within earshot of the Baltic Sea: Žemaitiu alka, a shrine constructed by the Lithuanian neo-pagan organisation Romuva. Atop a small hillock stood 12 tall, thin, slightly tapering wooden figures. The decorations are austere but illustrative: two finish in little curving horns; affixed to the top of another is an orb emitting metal rays. One is adorned with nothing but a simple octagon. I looked down to the words carved vertically into the base and read ‘Austėja’. Below it was the English word: ‘bees’.

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This was not the first time I’d encountered references to bees in Lithuania. During previous visits, my Lithuanian friends had told me about the significance of bees to their culture.

Lithuanians don’t speak about bees grouping together in a colony like English-speakers do. Instead, the word for a human family (šeimas) is used. In the Lithuanian language, there are separate words for death depending on whether you’re talking about people or animals, but for bees – and only for bees – the former is used. And if you want to show a new-found Lithuanian pal what a good friend they are, you might please them by calling them bičiulis, a word roughly equivalent to ‘mate’, which has its root in bitė – bee. In Lithuania, it seems, a bee is like a good friend and a good friend is like a bee.

A bee is like a good friend and a good friend is like a bee

Seeing the shrine in Šventoji made me wonder: could all these references be explained by ancient Lithuanians worshipping bees as part of their pagan practices?

Lithuania has an extensive history of paganism. In fact, Lithuania was the last pagan state in Europe. Almost 1,000 years after the official conversion of the Roman Empire facilitated the gradual spread of Christianity, the Lithuanians continued to perform their ancient animist rituals and worship their gods in sacred groves. By the 13th Century, modern-day Estonia and Latvia were overrun and forcibly converted by crusaders, but the Lithuanians successfully resisted their attacks. Eventually, the state gave up paganism of its own accord: Grand Duke Jogaila converted to Catholicism in 1386 in order to marry the Queen of Poland.

This rich pagan history is understandably a source of fascination for modern Lithuanians – and many others besides. The problem is that few primary sources exist to tell us what Lithuanians believed before the arrival of Christianity. We can be sure that the god of thunder Perkūnas was of great importance as he is extensively documented in folklore and song, but most of the pantheon is based on guesswork. However, the Lithuanian language may provide – not proof, exactly, but clues, tantalising hints, about those gaps in the country’s past.

In Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, I spoke to Dalia Senvaitytė, a professor of cultural anthropology at Vytautas Magnus University. She was sceptical about my bee-worshipping theory, telling me that there may have been a bee goddess by the name of Austėja, but she’s attested in just one source: a 16th-Century book on traditional Lithuanian beliefs written by a Polish historian.

It’s more likely, she said, that these bee-related terms reflect the significance of bees in medieval Lithuania. Beekeeping, she explained “was regulated by community rules, as well as in special formal regulations”. Honey and beeswax were abundant and among the main exports, I learned, which is why its production was strictly controlled.

But the fact that these references to bees have been preserved over hundreds of years demonstrates something rather interesting about the Lithuanian language: according to the Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, it’s the most conservative of all living Indo-European languages. While its grammar, vocabulary and characteristic sounds have changed over time, they’ve done so only very slowly. For this reason, the Lithuanian language is of enormous use to researchers trying to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European, the single language, spoken around four to five millennia ago, that was the progenitor of tongues as diverse as English, Armenian, Italian and Bengali.

All these languages are related, but profound sound shifts that have gradually taken place have made them distinct from one another. You’d need to be a language expert to see the connection between English ‘five’ and French cinq – let alone the word that Proto-Indo-Europeans are thought to have used, pénkʷe. However, that connection is slightly easier to make out from the Latvian word pieci, and no trouble at all with Lithuanian penki. This is why famous French linguist Antoine Meillet once declared that “anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant”.

Lines can be drawn to other ancient languages too, even those that are quite geographically distant. For example, the Lithuanian word for castle or fortress – pilis – is completely different from those used by its non-Baltic neighbours, but is recognisably similar to the Ancient Greek word for town, polis. Surprisingly, Lithuanian is also thought to be the closest surviving European relative to Sanskrit, the oldest written Indo-European language, which is still used in Hindu ceremonies.

This last detail has led to claims of similarities between Indian and ancient Baltic cultures. A Lithuanian friend, Dovilas Bukauskas, told me about an event organised by local pagans that he attended. It began with the blessing of a figure of a grass snake – a sacred animal in Baltic tradition – and ended with a Hindu chant.

I asked Senvaitytė about the word gyvatė. This means ‘snake’, but it shares the same root with gyvybė, which means ‘life’. The grass snake has long been a sacred animal in Lithuania, reverenced as a symbol of fertility and luck, partially for its ability to shed its skin. A coincidence? Perhaps, but Senvaitytė thinks in this case probably not.

The language may also have played a role in preserving traditions in a different way. After Grand Duke Jogaila took the Polish throne in 1386, Lithuania’s gentry increasingly adopted not only Catholicism, but also the Polish language. Meanwhile, rural Lithuanians were much slower to adopt Christianity, not least because it was almost always preached in Polish or Latin. Even once Christianity had taken hold, Lithuanians were reluctant to give up their animist traditions. Hundreds of years after the country had officially adopted Christianity, travellers through the Lithuanian countryside reported seeing people leave bowls of milk out for grass snakes, in the hope that the animals would befriend the community and bring good luck.

Anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant

Similarly, bees and bee products seem to have retained importance, especially in folk medicine, for their perceived healing powers. Venom from a bee was used to treat viper bites, and one treatment for epilepsy apparently recommended drinking water with boiled dead bees. But only, of course, if the bees had died from natural causes.

But Lithuanian is no longer exclusively a rural language. The last century was a tumultuous one, bringing war, industrialisation and political change, and all of the country’s major cities now have majorities of Lithuanian-speakers. Following its accession to the EU in 2004, the country is now also increasingly integrated with Europe and the global market, which has led to the increasing presence of English-derived words, such as alternatyvus (alternative) and prioritetas (priority).

Given Lithuania’s troubled history, it’s in many ways amazing the language has survived to the present day. At its peak in the 14th Century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stretched as far as the Black Sea, but in the centuries since, the country has several times disappeared from the map entirely.

It’s too simplistic to say that Lithuanian allows us to piece together the more mysterious stretches in its history, such as the early, pagan years in which I’m so interested. But the language acts a little like the amber that people on the eastern shores of the Baltic have traded since ancient times, preserving, almost intact, meanings and structures that time has long since worn away everywhere else.

And whether or not Austėja was really worshipped, she has certainly remained a prominent presence. Austėja remains consistently in the top 10 most popular girls names in Lithuania. It seems that, despite Lithuania’s inevitable cultural and linguistic evolution, the bee will always be held in high esteem.

http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20180319-are-lithuanians-obsessed-with-bees

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Life-saving Weather Forecast Cost $3 a Person Annually Trump Wants to Slash Them

Trump wants to cripple storm forecasting just when it’s getting good — and we need it most.

By Eric Holthaus on Oct 23, 2017

As Hurricane Harvey roared toward the Texas coast in late August, weather models showed something that forecasters had never seen before: predictions of four feet of rainfall in the Houston area over five days — a year’s worth of rain in less than a week.

“I’ve been doing this stuff for almost 50 years,” says Bill Read, a former director of the National Hurricane Center who lives in Houston. “The rainfall amounts … I didn’t believe ‘em. 50-inch-plus rains — I’ve never seen a model forecast like that anywhere close to accurate.

“Lo and behold, we had it.”

That unbelievable-but-accurate rain forecast is just one example of the great leap forward in storm forecasting made possible by major improvements in instruments, satellite data, and computer models. These advancements are happening exactly when we need them to — as a warmer, wetter atmosphere produces more supercharged storms, intense droughts, massive wildfires, and widespread flooding, threatening lives and property.

And yet the Trump administration’s climate denial and proposed cuts threaten these advances, spreading turmoil in the very agencies that can predict disasters better than ever. The president’s budget proposal would slash the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget by 16 percent, including 6 percent from the National Weather Service.

Besides hampering climate research, the cuts would jeopardize satellite programs and other forecasting tools — as well as threaten the jobs of forecasters themselves. And they may undermine bipartisan legislation Trump himself signed earlier this year that mandates key steps to improve the nation’s ability to predict disasters before they happen.

Billy Raney and Donna Raney climb over the wreckage of what’s left of their apartment after Hurricane Harvey destroyed it on August 26, 2017 in Rockport, Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It’s hard to overstate how backward that seems after the hurricane season we’ve just witnessed, as well as the deadly wildfires in California, the climate-charged droughts and deluges and, well, you name it. Just when we need forecasting to be better than ever — and need our forecasters to be able to go even further, using those predictions in ways that protect people’s lives and livelihoods — the Trump administration wants to cut back?

Here’s how far we’ve come in forecasting: Three-day hurricane forecasts are now nearly as accurate as one-day forecasts were when Katrina struck 12 years ago. Even routine, “will it rain this weekend?” forecasts are better today than you probably realize. A 2015 paper in the journal Nature called the advancements a “quiet revolution,” both because they’ve gone relatively unnoticed by the general public, and because it’s been cheap. The National Weather Service, an agency of the U.S. government, costs taxpayers about $3 per person each year.

Still, knowing what the weather is going to do tomorrow and understanding how best to warn the public about potential risks are two different things. The first is all about physics; the other is about psychology, human behavior, social interaction, the built environment, and much more. You can guess which is easier.

Forecasts for Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall totals might have been stunningly accurate, but the floodwaters still surprised thousands of people. Days after Harvey’s rains ended, first responders in towns throughout southeast Texas were still rescuing families stranded by rising waters that flowed downstream toward the Gulf.

In the interest of saving lives, forecasters have started moving from simply predicting the weather to attempting to predict the consequences. Call it impact forecasting, an attempt to say what will happen after the rain hits the ground. Scientists hope to answer questions like: Where will water accumulate? Where will floodwaters head? How will it affect people?

The next step is using those “impact forecasts” to get people to safety. Researchers are working to build customized, real-time personal prediction tools that could tell people if their house is likely to flood, or how long they might go without power. There’s also a drive to create easier to understand warning systems, making better use of the latest communication tools and social media.

Besides getting people out of harm’s way, better warning systems could help by letting nonprofits seek donations in advance of a devastating storm, for instance, so they could provide relief more quickly. And they could help public officials do a better job of prepping for the worst.

Residents affected by Hurricane Maria wait in line for fuel donated by the Fuel Relief Fund in the municipality of Orocovis, outside San Juan, Puerto Rico. REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton

The need for this new branch of forecasting was highlighted during the height of Harvey’s rains, when the National Weather Service issued a bulletin that put the deluge in stark terms: “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.”

“This was a good step forward,” says Kim Klockow, a meteorologist and behavioral scientist at the University of Oklahoma who supports the effort to develop impact forecasting. “It admitted something very important,” Klockow says — namely, that the system we have for warning people isn’t good enough.

In fact, experts say the best early-warning systems are ones that start years before the wind picks up and raindrops begin to fall, alerting people who live in vulnerable areas who might be prone to more threats in a climate-charged world.

Following Harvey, Klockow was named to a team of external scientists who will study the National Weather Service’s performance and look for ways to improve. They could start with better flood warnings, she says. “It’s like peering into a black box,” she says. “We give people almost nothing.”

In part, that’s a consequence of insufficient flood-zone maps. Even though rainstorms are getting more intense as the climate warms, FEMA sticks to historical flood data to determine which neighborhoods are required to purchase flood insurance — a policy that’s already leading to skyrocketing losses from floods. A recent study showed that 75 percent of the flood losses in Houston between 1999 and 2009 fell outside designated 100-year flood zones.

If residents don’t know their home is at risk of flooding, they’re less likely to consider that it might, even when a major storm is forecast. So it’s no surprise that, after floods, people report being caught by surprise.

How to keep them from getting surprised? Talk plainly.

There’s evidence that giving people unambiguous information can help move them to action. Recent research has shown that people often need to see the storm with their own eyes before they take cover. They need to see neighbors boarding up their houses before they do the same.

Read, the former National Hurricane Center director, says the same thing applies to him, despite his years of forecasting experience. “Most people, including myself if I’m really honest about it, are in denial that the bad thing will happen to you.”

Before Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area in 2005, the National Weather Service issued a blunt statement that promised “certain death” should anyone be trapped outside unprotected. A post-storm analysis credited that warning with spurring an evacuation rate of more than 90 percent. Read says that’s why the Weather Service is shifting its focus toward making impending storms feel as real as possible to those in its path.

Forecasters need to “personalize the threat,” he says.

Klockow says that she’d like to see flood warnings take a personal approach, too. During a storm, an overlay in Google Street View could show you how high the water is rising in your neighborhood and re-route you away from flooded roads to get you home safely.

The tools to make that happen already exist. Several companies and local governments have already developed mapping tools that to warn of impending floods. North Carolina’s Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network relies on 500 measurement stations across the state that transmit their readings back to a central database. When conditions are ripe for flooding, the system’s software estimates possible consequences and alerts emergency managers.

This budding technology, integrated with databases of rescue supplies, could help FEMA figure out where to put aid and supplies before they’re needed.

Other organizations are working on an initiative called “forecast-based financing.” The idea is to allocate money for clearing out storm drains, as well as distributing first aid and water filtration systems, in the days ahead of a storm. Already tested in Uganda, Peru, Bangladesh and other countries, this innovation is now in the process of being scaled up worldwide. It could help organizations like the American Red Cross craft appeals for donations in advance, instead of relying on scenes of devastation after disaster strikes.


Ramon Sostre stands in front of his damaged house after Hurricane Maria destroyed the town’s bridge in San Lorenzo, Morovis, Puerto Rico. REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton

All of these efforts and ideas show a lot of promise. Yet even as forecasters have come to understand the importance of developing better advance-warning techniques, their ability to undertake those efforts is being undercut by a White House hostile to funding science.

Earlier this year, along with recommending that Congress gut funding for NOAA, President Trump proposed an 11 percent cut from the National Science Foundation’s budget, slashing funds from the institution behind much of the country’s basic scientific research. If Congress agrees, it would be the first budget cut in the foundation’s 67-year history.

At the National Weather Service, the Washington Post recently reported that the agency couldn’t fill 216 vacant positions as a result of a Trump-imposed hiring freeze. As a result, meteorologists were working double shifts when hurricane after hurricane hit last month and covering for each other from afar.

A forecast center in Maryland, for example, provided days of backup to the National Hurricane Center as hurricanes spun toward shore. National Weather Service meteorologists at the San Juan, Puerto Rico, office complained of “extreme fatigue.” Colleagues in Texas stepped in to give them breaks.

The threat of budget cuts is already crimping federally funded disaster research. A few days after Harvey struck Texas, the Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research — one of the country’s top meteorological research institutions — cut entire sections of its staff focused on the human dimensions of disasters, including impact forecasting.

In an all-staff meeting on Aug. 30, the center’s director explained that the anticipation of tighter budgets forced the decision.

Antonio Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which oversees the center, called the cuts “strategic reinvestments” in a statement to Grist. He said the money saved would be reallocated to “the priority areas of computer models, observing tools, and supercomputing.”

But researchers at the center, called NCAR, say the layoffs will hurt efforts to make forecasts more human-focused and effective.

“Our whole group was cut,” says Emily Laidlaw, an environmental scientist at NCAR, whose work focuses on understanding what puts people at risk from climate change and climate-related disasters. “I would absolutely say that these cuts make people less safe.”

Read, the former hurricane center chief, says increases in supercomputing power shouldn’t come at the expense of developing forecasts that work better for people.

“You can’t drop one for the other,” he says.

The cuts to the National Center for Atmospheric Research will result in the loss of 18 jobs. That may not sound like a lot, but consider that these were some of the only scientists in the United States working to prepare our country’s system for predicting disasters in an era of rapid change.

In that context, the recent revolution in meteorology and pitfalls in preparedness become a powerful metaphor: We know that if we stick to our current course, the future will be bleak. Acting on the forecast of a warmer planet in a way that helps us to usher in a safer and more prosperous future is completely possible, and the stakes keep getting higher.

One-third of the U.S. economy, some $3 trillion per year, is subject to fluctuations in the weather, and millions of people endure weather disasters every year — a number that keeps going up as climate change boosts the frequency and intensity of storms.

Despite excellent weather forecasts, hundreds of people have lost their lives, and billions of dollars in economic value have been lost during this year’s record-breaking hurricane season. In some especially hard-hit places, like Barbuda, Dominica, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, recovery will take years, or longer.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Get people out of a hurricane’s path, put aid workers and supplies in the right place, and a raging storm might not lead to a catastrophe.

We are living in a golden age for meteorology, but we haven’t yet mastered what really matters: knowing in advance exactly how specific extreme weather events are likely to affect our lives. Getting that right could usher in a new era of disaster prevention, rather than the current model of Disaster Response.
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Some birds use discarded cigarettes to fumigate their nests


https://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21729739-they-help-keep-parasites-bay-some-birds-use-discarded-cigarettes-fumigate?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/somebirdsusediscardedcigarettestofumigatetheirnests

After the lead crisis started, Flint’s fertility crisis began | Grist

Sarah Rice / Stringer / Getty Images
Climate Desk
After the lead crisis started, Flint’s fertility crisis began
By Edwin Rios on Sep 25, 2017
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This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In the year following the start of its water crisis, Flint, Michigan, saw fewer pregnancies among its residents and higher fetal deaths, according to a working paper published last month.

Kansas University economics professor David Slusky and West Virginia University economics professor Daniel Grossman examined health statistics in Flint between May 2007 and March 2015 and compared them to 15 other cities in Michigan. What they uncovered was alarming: After April 2014 — when, in an effort to cut costs, Flint officials switched its water supply from Detroit to the Flint River, leading to elevated lead levels — fertility rates among women in Flint dropped 12 percent. Fetal deaths spiked by 58 percent.

“This represents a couple hundred fewer children born that otherwise would have been,” Slusky said in a university press release this week. The researchers project that between 198 and 276 more children would have been born from November 2013, when the child was first conceived, to March 2015 had the city not switched its water supply.

The researchers also conclude that the water change and the corresponding increased exposure to lead prompted a decline in the overall health of children born. Children exposed to high levels of lead can suffer from irreversible neurological and behavioral consequences. Moreover, children born in Flint since the start of its water crisis saw a 5 percent drop in average birth weight compared to those in other parts of Michigan during the same time period.

Shortly after the move in April 2014, residents complained about the water’s stench as it became inflicted with lead from old pipes in residential homes. Even after doctors and experts alerted state and federal officials to the elevated lead levels in Flint’s children and in houses’ water, Governor Rick Snyder and other state officials didn’t concede to the public health emergency in Flint until September 2015. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality eventually acknowledged that it erred in not requiring the city to add anti-corrosive chemicals into its water.

Health officials found that between June 2014 and November 2015, 91 residents in Genesee County, which includes Flint, contracted Legionnaires’ Disease, a bacterial illness that can arise out of contaminated water, though not all were conclusively linked to Flint’s water crisis. At least 12 people from the disease died after 2014.

As of September 2017, 15 officials have been charged for their involvement in Flint’s water crisis, with five charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to the Legionnaires’ outbreak. Earlier this year, a federal judge approved a $87 million settlement for the city of Flint that would pay to replace 18,000 water lines by 2020. The state still faces a number of lawsuits. One calls for the state to provide more special education services for children exposed to lead as a result of the water crisis.

After the lead crisis started, Flint’s fertility crisis began

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