Sunday, August 31, 2008

Book Review: Bringing Nature Home

For some reason, I wrote this review in May, and thought that I'd posted it. The book Bringing Nature Home is the most influential book I've read this year, and I am very disappointed that I have not shared my views with all of you sooner.

Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy is several books in one. It's a manifesto, a guidebook, and a catalog of native species to use for landscaping and gardening. Tallamy begins by explaining why native plants support a greater amount of life than non-native ones. Non-native plants have different chemical compositions than native ones that are even closely related to them. This is a big issue for insects. Studies that he and others have done show that the numbers and types of insect feeding off of non-native plants are always significantly less than natives. These insects are the basis of converting much of the energy of the sun's rays into something that can be digested by larger animals. The replacement of or native forests and grasslands with manicured lawns and imported plants has our continent on the brink of catastrophe. The loss of habitat and food means that eventually many species will go extinct, and if a large insect extinction happens, it will be followed by a die-off of songbirds and small mammals, which will be followed by starvation and disease of larger animals, you can then imagine all the forest creatures that survive coming into the suburbs and cities and getting hit by cars in their search for food. One can only hope that would be the worst of it, but it might not.

This problem becomes nearly intractable when you realize how well non-natives can do when they are taken out of their natural environment. Plants that are outside of their home environment lose some of the pests they had before, sometimes they also bring along ones that they are already accustomed to, but their relatives are not. This makes them able to put more energy into growing and reproducing. Sometimes they have adaptations that make them invasive, such as a huge number of seeds, or fast thick growth that crowds out other plants.

Tallamy's solution is grassroots and simple: plant native, plant more in volume and kind. He makes the reader's job easier by creating lists region by region of native plants that can be used instead of their non-native counterparts. If one person changes their planting and landscaping habits, then a little bit of not-necessarilly natural, but livable environment comes back. If their neighbors do it, the increased size of the habitat can support species in that area. If we all do it across the continent, we can reverse the threat that all of our landscaping and highways and buildings pose on the environment and eventually on us.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Road Home

Source: Creative Commons image on Flickr by Professor Bop

I've moved out of Brooklyn, to the beautiful rolling hills of Southern Vermont. Hikes up green mountains, riverside bike trips, and strolls downtown are all available to me. Walkscore gives my apartment a 92 out of 100. But the coop which is two blocks away isn't listed, and a restaurant in nearby Wilmington is supposedly just a couple of blocks away, I submitted changes for both of those items in Google Maps for good measure. Katie and I are both happy with the new lifestyle.

Next week I will start a certificate program in Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency at Greenfield Community College. The program should give me a hand in transitioning my career to one of green renovation and rehabilitation. A lot of people seem to be coming around because of high fuel prices, but some people are thinking deeper about it. Earlier this week Katie and I went to see Tom Silva and Kevin O'Connor from This Old House at the ReStore in Springfield. The house that they were finishing up was actually a new house, but the owners had Tom and the crew of the ReStore dismantle the previous house after they could not find anyone to give the house away to. The remains were given to Habitat for Humanity and the ReStore and 90% of the teardown was diverted from a landfill.

Construction is a much bigger consumer of energy than normal home heating, but the costs are hidden in the prices of goods. So even though the house that they built on This Old House, wasn't technically old, the building philosophy is similar to renovating an old house.