Electrical engineer, Perry Marshall, asserts that although “the semiotic school of thought is presently a minority view in biology, one can easily verify that it is supported by substantial published research.” As DNA is demonstrably linguistic,” he argues, “we have good reason to entertain the hypothesis that other forms of cellular communication are linguistic as well.” He quotes molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler whose research has verified that “bacteria know and describe the difference between themselves and others. They sense how many of their own species and how many of another species exist in any population. And they speak multiple languages—a native language for their own species, and foreign languages for other species."
Lars Chittka, Professor of Sensory and Behavioral Ecology at Queen Mary University of London, explains in his 2022 book, The Mind of a Bee, “that even tiny-brained bees are profoundly intelligent creatures that can memorize not only flowers but also human faces, solve problems by thinking rather than by trial and error, and learn to use tools by observing skilled bees. They even appear to experience basic emotions, or at least something like optimism and pessimism. The possibility of sentience in these animals raises important ethical questions for their ecological conservation, as well as their treatment in the crop pollination industry and in research laboratories.” Bees have memories that they can recall apart from the environment in which they learned the memory.
Recently my wife and I visited the Effigy Mounds National Monument in the northeast corner of Iowa. Driving to reach the Effigy Mounds we were struck by the numerous Native American names for towns, rivers, and parks, in a state named after the Ioway tribe decimated and disenfranchised by white settlers. Of the Native America Heritage Sites in twenty-five national parks only three are in the Midwest. The other two are the Hopewell Cultural National Historical Park in Ohio and the Grand Portage National Monument in Minnesota. The word Ohio comes from the Seneca-Iroquoian word meaning “good river” and the word Minnesota is the English spelling of the Dakota-Sioux word “Mnisota” for what we now call the Mississippi River.
Facing the Dark
I took the photos in the video in 2005 when I was living in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was a volunteer for the World Council of Churches in the “Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel.” I accompanied Palestinian students to school in Hebron where Israeli Jewish students had called them names or thrown stones at them. The photo of two girls was taken at a Palestinian elementary school in Hebron. The woman in green was the principal of the school. Sometimes an eco-choice requires defending the right of landowners to cultivate their farmland or care for their trees, when powerful interests ignore the law and try to take control of the land.
Biologist Rob Dunn in his book “Never Home Alone” explains new research identifying about 200,000 species living in homes around the world. Most of these species are insects and micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi. He writes: “More species of bacteria have been found in homes than there are species of birds and mammals on earth.” Most of the bacteria in homes pose no danger to us as these organisms live off the cells that continually die and float off our bodies and clothing. “We all fall apart at a rate of about fifty million flakes a day,” Dunn says. “Each flake floating through the air has thousands of bacteria living and feeding on it.”
The Marind people of West Papua deploy mourning not only to grieve their animal and plant kin but as political resistance. Marind communities have traditionally depended on the forest for their everyday subsistence, which they collectively procure through hunting, fishing and gathering. These plants and animals include sago palms, taro, yam, rambutans, papayas, bananas, rusa deer, riverine eels, lorises, possums, cassowaries, fowl, kangaroos, crocodiles and pigs. These sources of food are considered kin by Marind and often referred to as their ‘grandparents’ (amai in Marind) or ‘siblings’ (namek). They share common descent with Marind clans from ancestral spirits (dema) who fashioned them from primordial mud at the beginning of time.
Mussels tether themselves to underwater rocks with stringy fibers called byssal threads. Each thread has a foamy adhesive “plaque” at the end containing a mixture of proteins. One protein repels negatively charged ions on the surfaces of rocks, like a magnet turned the wrong way, clearing the path for another protein to latch on. Inspired by the ability of mussels to adhere to surfaces submerged in water, researchers at Pennsylvania State University have developed a nanocellulose (MINC) adhesive coating that uses negatively charged ions and little energy to pull rare earth elements from water. This rare earth extraction method addresses 3 of the 17 UN sustainability goals: clean water & sanitation, affordable & clean energy, and industry innovation & infostructure.
Honeybee colonies have been dying more often in recent years, largely due to the stresses inherent in commercial beekeeping. Commercial honeybee colonies are transported across the country and then placed in orchards, “where they are overcrowded and exposed to pesticides.” Thomas D. Seeley suggests in his 2019 book, "The Lives of Bees," that the solution involves creating more natural environments for bees. The challenge now is to mimic a more “natural environment” that will enable natural adaptation. Seeley says this means creating small hives the size of a natural nest in the wild, and in urban areas maintaining at least 100 feet between hives. Also, hives should be far from areas treated with insecticides.
How is climate change, caused by excessive and increasing human carbon emissions, affecting our butterflies? Drought reduces the nectar that flowering plants produce and that means less food for butterflies. Wildfires not only kill butterflies but also the vegetation sustaining them. “Warmer weather makes the eggs, caterpillars and pupae of the butterfly more susceptible to disease. Mild weather also raises metabolism, which can result in butterflies running out of energy before they complete development.” This is why since 1990 in the United States the butterfly population has declined by a billion lives. About one-third of the food we eat depends on butterflies for pollination. Ensuring butterfly survival is crucial for human survival.
I support and invest in Green Century’s investments as a way of “widening our compassion” for the forest living-worlds and the species and peoples at home there. Leslie Samuelrich, President of Green Century Capital Management, writes: “We at Green Century° have been working to end tropical deforestation for nearly a decade now. We do this by pressing the companies in which we invest to stop purchasing commodities produced on deforested land. We’ve made great progress over the years in preventing the burning of tropical rainforests to create palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the vast majority of palm oil is produced. Protecting these rainforests sequesters carbon, preserves biodiversity, and improves air quality for millions of people.
Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) is one of 11 school districts to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its efforts in reducing their environmental impact and practicing sustainability. In 2021, the district realized its goal cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent, nine years earlier than expected. Of the district’s 29 school buildings, 25 use geothermal systems, and the district completed energy efficiency upgrades by installing new roofing and LED lighting. Environmental education at ICCSD begins in kindergarten when students plant trees and learn how to nurture their growth. In partnership with the University of Iowa, is fifth or sixth grade students spend a full week in outdoors learning about the environment.
When little Hugo Deans from Pennsylvania found some red-colored seeds on the ground by an ant’s nest, he had discovered a co-dependent relationship between oaks, ants, and wasps. Cynipid wasps induce oak trees to create “galls” or small protective bubbles of leaf matter, around the wasp eggs which they lay on the leaves—a clever trick that saves the wasp the hassle of nest-guarding. The oaks add edible material to these seeds that attracts ants, who carry the seeds from the trees into their nests underground, where they can germinate in safety. The wasps obtained the help of both the oaks and the ants to protect their eggs until they hatched.