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Latest articles from the Conservation Biology Institute staff.



Last Build Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700

 



A Conservationist's Journey

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700

How does one measure success in a career?  As a conservation biologist, I commonly think in terms of number of acres, number of endangered species, biodiversity, watershed integrity, population size, value as a wildlife corridor, dollars raised and invested, etc.  Each year, I look back on the victories and defeats, the geographies and the politics, the threats and the commitments.  Sometimes, decades go by before another conservation target that I invested time in years ago is acquired.  The acres add up too slowly for my impatient soul.  I have experienced so many iconic and irreplaceable landscapes in California and Baja California, one of the most renowned hotspots of biodiversity on the planet.  The stark natural beauty of this world overwhelms me; it transcends time.  It has been such an incredible journey—on foot, by truck, by boat, by helicopter—in urban refuges, working landscapes, unending processions of rocky mountains and serene valleys, patchworks of verdant grasslands and arid shrublands, cactus and ferns, golden eagles and horned lizards—and in hundreds of meeting rooms across the states.  But each gain, and each loss, is accompanied by a story.  And within each story lives the memory of a place and time and a community of talented and dedicated people from all walks of life, focused on a common goal. ·       An 85-year old rancher who has sold off pieces of his ranch over the years, until the last 1,000 acres remain.  His children are not interested in ranching, they have left home to work in the cities, but he wants the land to stay always as it is now, and so he sells the development rights before he dies. ·       The Mexican fishermen who live by a pristine bay of hemispheric importance to fisheries, waterfowl, and migratory birds.  Their livelihoods were threatened by a huge tourist marina with hotels lining the peninsula that, because of the efforts of a coalition of Mexican and American scientists, never came to be.  The dramatic landscape of clouds, waves, dunes, and dark volcanic cones will remain as it has been for thousands of years. ·       A renowned 90-year old archaeologist who pointed out ancient fish traps formed by the Cahuilla Indians in the Colorado Desert.  The rock enclosures blend into the landscape along the topographic contour that once was the ancient shoreline of the Salton Sea, now protected forever. ·       Researchers studying the paths of Peninsular bighorn sheep and mountain lions along the Peninsular Ranges, threading their ways across and under interstate highways and an international border lined with militia men protecting their land ownership rights.  Now wind turbines compete for space along this same corridor. ·       The Los Angeles medical doctor who quit his practice to join environmental groups in opposing a housing development and golf course that would destroy a 9,000-acre plateau of Engelmann oak woodlands, riparian wetlands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, bunchgrass prairie, and some of the largest remaining vernal pools in Southern California.  He went on to establish one of the most powerful environmental organizations in the state that has protected hundreds of thousands of acres of native habitat. ·       All the dedicated land managers that passionately steward and protect their preserves, even watering new seedlings by hand.  They welcome the songs of neotropical migrants each spring and monitor populations of plant and animal species that occur nowhere else on Earth.  They give of their lives to educate the public about the importance of ecological processes that sustain the resources that we as a society depend on, such as clean air and clean water. ·       The environmental groups and biologists [...]



Authentic Learning Through Projects

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700

This is the third year CBI has had the privilege of working with teachers and students at Redwood Middle School (Napa, CA) to support project-based learning.  Organizations such as NapaLearns and New Tech Network have blazed the trail for helping students learn through contextual and authentic experiences.  Students work together on meaningful projects that require creativity and communication and require them to demonstrate problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills. As a community representative of the Napa County Watershed Information and Conservation Council, I am collaborating with Katherine Van Treese and her sixth grade students on a project focused on the condition, value, and issues surrounding the use of water for people and the environment.  This year, I kicked off the project by writing the students an introductory letter and visiting the classroom to answer their questions about the project, water-related issues, and to share my experiences as a Napa Valley native working as a Conservation Scientist.   To find more information about project based learning and explore projects and photos from previous years see my previous blog posts:     2016:   The Sprinkler System Is On!:  Project-based Learning at Napa’s Redwood Middle School     2015:  Tis the season to learn about water:  Student projects lead the way In this years' project, students worked together in small groups to create infographics that visually communicate their project findings.  You can explore those below (scroll through with side arrows, mid-way down each infographic).   ENJOY! [...]



As Long as There is Science, There is Hope

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0700

In 1978, while doing my master's in northern France, I was offered the job of "manning" the first electron microscope at the University in Lille. It was fascinating to see those giant machines and the amazing photos produced. I was intrigued by immunology but more interested in using computers to run models than in being a technician. Three years later, I walked to the computer center at Colorado State University, with my deck of computer cards, hoping I had not mistyped a number and hoping the "green machine" (CSU) would spit out my batch job before midnight so I could start analyzing my results and tune my model. I remember the elation of sitting in front of the first screen/keyboard contraption, that looked like a glorified oscilloscope, and editing my first "on-line" program while watching my data graphed with lines made of letters. There are also less fun memories of being a woman scientist in a world of men who assumed every woman was either a stay-at-home wife or a secretary. Times have changed, and I have had the privilege of crossing paths with women who became world renowned scientists and heads of US government agencies; women who fought hard to be recognized first as scientists and who had to if not totally break the glass ceiling at least give it a good crack. It has not been easy. And those battles still need to be fought for the next generations to be able to realize their dreams. That is why I marched in Washington DC last January: for women scientists of yesterday and for women scientists of tomorrow. This week, I will march for Science. I am not sure what I will find along the March for Science route on Saturday nor what will happen to my friends in DC, but I anticipate there will be protests against the marchers. In the last decades, intellectuals have been vilified, and it is partly our fault for staying in ivory towers. A couple of weeks ago, the House Science Committee held a three-hour hearing on the merits of climate change science exploring the amazing-to-me question of whether entire fields of research such as climate science could become corrupted, thus necessitating congressional attention. When the Pew Center surveyed the US population, only a small fraction could name a living scientist and only 11% followed climate change news closely. The gap between scientists or science-driven people and the rest of the population is large and we, old scientists, can take part of the blame for doing a poor job at sharing our results and our enthusiasm for the scientific process. In my life, science has been the main driver. I have always been curious, and science has given me a chance to ask questions, to project the future, to witness and document change. As a scientist, the incessant emission of greenhouse gases that are transforming our atmosphere while our own population explosion mimics that of a viral outbreak is a fascinating experience to study. I used to make fun of my advisor for reading Science magazine at home and am now riveted to the weekly articles of adaptations by plants and animals to new conditions while dire forecasts saw them disappear yesterday; of natural events lashing out at our hastily built infrastructure and creating havoc in our societies; of the ridiculous behavior of certain heads of states ignoring the power of nature; of the resilience of the planet; of the limited period of existence of each species (including ours) on the geological scale. Scientific curiosity and discovery is what keeps me hopeful.  It is what keeps scientists like me eager to see more and search for a better understanding of what drives our universe. And as the slogan says so well: the good thing about science is that it is true whether or not you believe in it. **On Saturday, April 22, Earth Day Network and March for Science are co-organizing events across the globe. Please find ways to participate and engage.** **During Dr. Bachelet's free time, she bikes and kayaks, hikes, skis and paints watercolors. Her personal collection of watercolors[...]



Citizen Science, Place, & Conservation: Published Paper & Opportunity

Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0700

  People matter. Place matters. The people of a place matter. That was one of the big messages of the inspirational plenary presentation by Chris Filardi at the inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association. It moved me to stand up and ask him and the room about this intersection between place and citizen science, and to organize an impromptu lunch meeting on the topic a few days later.  After pulling many tables together for that meeting, an enthusiastic group of folks left with a commitment to explore this intersection of citizen science and place. Figure 1:  Chris Filardi presenting at the Citizen Science Association, 2015.  Photo:  John Gallo. What does it mean to leverage the power of place? Many people develop a deep attachment to the place they live.  This "love" can come from the emotional, cultural, and/or material connections people develop with their home places.  This attachment and bond can lead to deeper ecological understandings, and it can also lead to increased motivation for pursuing conservation-minded decisions. Yes, this can happen of course, but should it be considered? Can citizen science projects appeal to this power of place, and thereby strengthen the connection between citizen science and conservation decision-making? Figure 2:  A tweet about the plenary by Chris Filardi.  Image:  John Gallo A subset of our ad hoc group at the Citizen Science Association were interested in writing a paper, wondering if leveraging the power of place in citizen science can improve conservation decision-making. But we needed somebody to commit to being the lead author. Fortunately for us all, Greg Newman, the president of the Citizen Science Association and the Director of citsci.org stepped up to lead, and we were off! Fast forward to today, and I am extremely excited and proud to report that our paper has been accepted and is now in press! Here is the skinny: "Many citizen science projects are place-based - built on in-person participation and motivated by local conservation. When done thoughtfully, this approach to citizen science can transform humans and their environment. Despite such possibilities, many projects struggle to meet decision-maker needs, generate useful data to inform decisions, and improve social-ecological resilience."  But we posit that leveraging the power of place improves conservation decision making, increases participation, and improves community resilience. Fortunately, in addition to having some good transdisciplinary action on our team between ecology and geography, we were also fortunate to have Bridie McGreavy on the team, with her background in sustainability science. She guided us in developing the five dimensions of place (detailed in paper), and we devised a way that these could be used as an indicator measure for leveraging the power of place: the more of these dimensions that citizen science projects emphasized in their written materials, the more they were probably leveraging the power of place.  This surrogate was then cross referenced with if the project was actually used in decision-making to see if there was a strong correlation. With this, and a rich subsection of projects from citsci.org, Earthwatch, and The Stewardship Network: New England, the coding team was rolling! (N=134)   The results are that yes indeed, leveraging the power of place does increase the use of citizen science in conservation decision making (p value <0.001). Further, of the five place dimensions, it is the social-ecological, narrative and name-based, and knowledge-based that are driving the results and probably can be focused on in the future. In our paper, we have a robust discussion of recommendations such as the development of place-based networks, as well as making sure that the data collected are open, documented, geospatially referenced, and viewable by the people of the place in many ways, including a map-based interface on the web[...]



The Sprinkler System Is On!

Fri, 22 Apr 2016 00:00:00 -0700

Last week, I re-entered (see related blog) another dimension - sixth grade! I spent my morning with Katherine Van Treese’s Social Studies classes at Redwood Middle School.  Each student presented a component of their group’s water-focused infographic project (created with Piktochart)  and conducted an interactive audience engagement exercise (using Kahoot).  Each student described a component of the team’s project - the topics include issues such as water pollution, erosion, sedimentation, desalination, floods, drought, and other water issues. With support from the organization NapaLearns, using a model of project-Based Learning, I helped kick off this project six weeks ago.  As a board member of the Napa County Watershed Information and Conservation Council, my hope was to facilitate a real world learning component and a point of contact for students interested in getting involved in environmental science and technology.   One of the main principles of project-based learning (PBL) is that when community members collaborate with teachers and students in project work, that collaboration ignites authentic learning. There are a growing evidence (review paper) and examples of how PBL improves academic achievement and skill development related to professional practice.  It can also foster student motivation and self-discipline.  Kudos to programs like Point Blue’s Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW) and Napa County Resource Conservation District LandSmart for Kids that use PBL techniques in outdoor education.   Before the students started their presentations, Katherine instructed them to make eye contact (think overhead sprinkler system going across the room!), speak loudly and clearly, know your information (don’t read your card), and in all caps “BE CONFIDENT!!!” It was amazing and ever-inspiring to see them all demonstrate the bravery it takes get up in front of everyone, present findings, and address questions.  Overall, the students were highly engaged in the project, excited about using devices and new tools for added classroom interactivity, and ever important - teachers and students created a supportive learning environment.  A good source for more information about implementing project-based learning is the New Tech Network.  The New Tech PBL model and methods (e.g., collaborate, innovate, and communicate ideas to solve complex problems) is shared by over 175 partner school in 29 states and Australia.   Browse these fantastic infographics, designed and developed by Redwood Middle School Sixth Graders!!   [...]



"Management" is the new "Conservation"

Tue, 22 Mar 2016 00:00:00 -0700

Most significant conservation has happened slowly, imperceptibly, like water running down a hill….joining with other droplets until it forms a stream….and then a raging river.  Individual champions have fallen in love with pieces of vegetation rooted in soil and rock, and have stood beside them,  shepherding them toward conservation.  The land set aside from development, the only land that will be left for my children to stand on and hear silence and birds, has been set aside with hard work and passion.  Nothing has come easily.  Conservation Biology Institute (CBI) has played a lead role in the conservation story in San Diego County.  Since the beginning of the paradigm shift from facility-based planning to resource-based planning that began in Southern California in the early 1990s with the Multiple Species Conservation Plan (MSCP), Jerre Ann Stallcup has been immersed in the headwaters of this landuse story as it has grown over time.  (See her previous blog that tells this story, “The Roar of the Gnatcatcher”).  Now, though, a corner is being turned.  Much of the land that could be conserved in San Diego County has been protected.  Lines have been drawn.  That which has not been conserved has been developed, or will be soon.  The major battles and stories of conservation were played out in the 1990s and early 2000s.  So now what?  What is the story now? The story is about adaptive management; stewardship of land and water.  What happens now with this land?  If this is all that is left….how do we properly take care of it?  How do we measure if the management actions we take are having the intended outcome?….whether or not the species and habitats that were protected by conserving that land are going to persist? This bend in the river, flowing beyond a story of land acquisition toward a story of management, is not unique to San Diego County.  At CBI, we are hearing this from federal agencies to local governments to non-profits.  There are some battles yet to be won in conservation, to be sure.  But a rising narrative across the landscape now seems to be:  Now that we have this land, how do we best care for it?  And how do we know we are being successful?  And how can we most effectively communicate that to other people?  How do we engage stakeholders?  How do we empower land managers?  How do we inform the public who will benefit from this conservation and management? CBI is making strides to support this space.  In recent years, our software engineering team has taken real  steps in helping land managers better visualize large and/or complex datasets.  Examples include the Watershed Climate Data Explorer, The South Atlantic Conservation Blueprint 2.0, and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) Site Survey Analyst.  In February of 2016, CBI sent two software developers, one conservation scientist, and me to visit the experimental field sites of our team in San Diego County.   We went to get a real world understanding of the management and monitoring challenges they face, and to collaboratively generate solutions to advance management and monitoring in general. The plants we saw were not charismatic megaflora.  Some were tiny, and others easily overlooked. But our field scientists so reverently held the space around them with their stories of these plants being chosen, researched and managed that the air itself felt sacred  at the sites.  We learned of invasive grasses smothering these important native species, of successful treatments that restored thousands of rare plants to places where they were thought lost, of research objectives thwarted from gaps in funding, as well as the difficulty of getting everyone to share their data.  They shared the chall[...]



The Good News Effect, Part 2

Fri, 15 Jan 2016 00:00:00 -0800

This is the second post of a new series within the CBI Blog that highlights positive events around the world and discusses their significance in relation to global sustainability. In each of these posts I hope to offer insights into the potential we each have to make the world a better place, and to draw attention to the ways that people around the world already have. In my first post, I discussed the impact Good News can have on us as individuals and on our societies; we explored the difference between change and our reaction to it, and how we can act more effectively when we recognize the influence events have on us and those we interact with. This time I’d like to talk about our viewpoints: how we form them, how they can move us either forward or backward, and how we can choose between them. Then I’ll follow up with some recent innovations in Sustainable Technology that may well completely change our impact on the planet. Stopping and Seeing Everything we do starts from where we stand. We see the world from right here, and how we see it becomes the basis for not only our actions but for all we perceive as possible. When you combine the “where-we-stand” with the “how-we-see-it”, you get what I’ll refer to as a viewpoint: a personal perspective coming out of one’s situation. Our viewpoints change because our situations are always changing, and though we don’t always have control over our situations, we can choose our take on them. This is important because our futures flow out of the present, so how we occupy the here-and-now and what we decide in this most opportune of moments can be of great consequence. Admittedly it’s easy to say all that, but what about actually doing something about it? Well, let’s start by taking a close look at where our viewpoints come from, and from there determine some practical steps we can take to leverage the opportunity at hand. Seeing or Telling Everyone has their own viewpoint: it’s the way we frame (or picture) the world around us. But though we call them “views”, they are more like stories in that they must be told if they are to be understood, and often require a “had-to-be-there” kind of context. But our viewpoints are more than a collection of facts or personal opinions derived from our experience. They are an integration of it all. They are how we interpret our experiences, and are thus also intrinsic to how we interrelate.  Stories work well for us because they come naturally to us: they have been with us since time immemorial, and in their telling we are able to both form new perspectives and reflect our understanding of the world. They can be as artful and elaborate as an epic poem, as powerful as a digitally enhanced full feature film, as subtle as a cultural narrative, or as simple as the similes and metaphors we use to decorate our daily speech. They are part of us, deeply engrained in us, and we are always under their influence.  But where do our stories come from, and how have they become so integral to our lives?  Telling through Seeing I think stories work for us in a way that is analogous to how our brains do. Our brains have adapted to absorb and synthesize the tremendous amount of data our senses receive, so that we can navigate the sea of energy and particles that makes up our physical reality. Take, for example, sight: when we see something, what we actually perceive is a representation of our environment based on the apparent size, distance, angle, shade, etc. of the objects in our surroundings based on reflected light. Our brains take all this in and, processing whatever can be estimated on the fly, they help us interact and survive. We are hard-wired this way, but because there is estimation involved we can be tricked, for example, by optical illusions. Stories work similarly: they help us ma[...]



An Endangered Wildflower and Local Food Production – Is There a Link?

Mon, 14 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0800

CBI biologist Jessie Vinje and partners just completed a 3-year experimental study on the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve (RJER) in San Diego County, CA. The study assessed various nonnative grass and forb control techniques, including prescribed fire, to restore a historically occupied Otay tarplant population and associated native grasslands and forblands (wildflower fields) that were once more common in San Diego County. Vinje recently presented her findings at the 2015 24th Annual Cal-IPC Symposium and also led a field trip with her partners to RJER to explain the various restoration techniques and to showcase the success of the project. I’ve often heard and read about the importance of saving endangered animal and plant species. Considering my line of work, it’s obvious to me why all species on this planet are important and worth saving; however, I also know that it’s been far easier for conservationists to explain the importance of saving endangered animals like the giant panda, mountain gorilla, and black rhino over endangered plants. Those endangered mammals are charismatic, symbolic and for the most part, much easier for people to relate to than endangered plants.  The Conservation Biology Institute (CBI), The Nature Conservancy, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other partners recently completed a project to enhance degraded wildflower and native grassland habitat on the Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve located in San Diego County, California. The overall project goal was to restore an Otay tarplant population that had not been seen for approximately ten years on Rancho Jamul.  Otay tarplant is an endangered, annual wildflower that grows only in southern California and northern Baja California, Mexico. It is a declining species in San Diego County but was presumably much more abundant several hundred years ago prior to the arrival of the Spanish and American settlers. Currently there are only 36 Otay tarplant occurrences known to occur in the United States. Otay tarplant grows in clay soils along with many native wildflowers and although there is some debate about this, at least one source claims that prior to Spanish arrival, large portions of southern coastal and inland California were covered with vast native wildflower fields in the springtime. Developments and habitats invaded by nonnative grasses and forbs have replaced many of these vast wildflower fields and because of habitat loss and degradation, many wildflower fields and plant species known to inhabit the wildflower fields, such as Otay tarplant, are now uncommon in San Diego County. Based on previous photographs and correspondence, the area supporting the Otay tarplant population on Rancho Jamul was also previously covered with native wildflowers. According to at least one historical source, wildflower-covered hillsides used to occur on Rancho Jamul and were rented for beehives during the late-1800’s. CBI and partners restored the Otay tarplant population to thousands of individuals after three years. Not only was this species restored, but many other native wildflowers were restored too and over the past three years, the area has been awash in springtime wildflower color. But why does this matter? Why are expanses of wildflowers important to humans? And why are endangered wildflowers, like Otay tarplant important? The literature linking the benefits of healthy ecosystems and habitats, such as native wildflower fields, to humans are plentiful, but I’ve only chosen one of these benefits – food production  – to highlight because it may be arguably the single most important reason to protect natural habitats and ecosystems and the plant and animal species, that call these habitats home.  An accompanying research project on Rancho Jamul will likely show that insect diversity is h[...]



A Conversation with Tim Sheehan

Sun, 15 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0800

In the fifth in a series of conversations between staff at the Conservation Biology Institute, Tim Sheehan, Ecological Modeler at CBI, shares with Ann Van Zee, Communications Specialist, about changing careers more than anyone he knows, a vision of a different kind of retirement, and the power of the everyday hero. Describe your job in 5 words. Computer modeling of ecological impacts. That could mean a lot of things. There are two main avenues of what I do. They both involve a lot of computer programming, a lot of work on the computer and quite a bit of data analysis. The first is modeling vegetation under different climate change scenarios and across different regions. Most of the work I’ve done is on the conterminous United States- the lower 48. I’ve concentrated on the Northwest with some of my data analyses. The work has included modifying the code- adding some things, taking some out, fixing some bugs- getting historical and projected climate data, making sure that data aren’t corrupted and that they are in the right format. When the data are run, I look at what comes out the other end to understand the implications. Of course I make it  sound like  I do this all on my own, but I am part of a team that works together very closely on all aspects of the vegetation modeling. The other main avenue I pursue is something called decision support modeling. That is taking inputs of many different types- for instance you might look at the number of roads through an area and the number of oil wells and mines in an area, the soils data from the area to determine how sensitive the area might be to change as well as projected climate change over the area- and running them through a system that does something called fuzzy logic modelling. Usually the results guide decisions about what areas are most intact or pristine and most at risk. That information can help land managers like people from the BLM, the Forest Service or the National Park Service make decisions about what areas need greater protection, what areas might be suitable for restoration, and what areas may be better suited for siting things like renewable energy- wind and solar plants. What are 5 words that best describe you? Creative, curious, impatient, driven, and educated. I tend to be a creative problem solver and I can usually, given a goal and a certain set of tools- be that in the physical world or the software world- solve a problem. Sometimes I use baling wire and duct tape and other times I find something a little more elegant. What led you to where you are in your career? Did you always want to be an ecological modeler? I have changed careers more times than anyone I know. I delayed college for a year or so out of high school and I worked in a Kmart first in home improvement then in shoes. Then I went to school. I was a geologist for a while, then an independent computer consultant. I went back to school to get a degree in computer science. I was a scientific computer programmer for a while. Life shifted and I ended up working for financial institutions or trading institutions, including NASDAQ, for about 5 years. After that, a very short and unsuccessful career as a potter. I went back to school again and got a master’s degree in biology so I could work as an ecological modeler for an organization such as CBI. Did I always want to be an ecological modeler? No. Have I wanted to be an ecological modeler for quite a while? Yes. Do you enjoy being so specialized after quite a few years of trying different things? The cool thing about ecological modeling is that it is a specialty but it is also broad. You could do it and do very little computer programming work. You could do it and do only computer programming work. Or you could do it and have a foot in all kinds of different areas. I think that’s where I f[...]



The Good News Effect

Wed, 14 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0700

This is the start of a new series within the CBI Blog that highlights positive events around the world and discusses their significance in relation to global sustainability. In this series I hope to write pleasant and informative posts that are designed to offer perspective, refresh awareness, and leave you in a more positive place. Today I want to discuss the real impact Good News can have on our lives, and then follow up with some recent developments in Renewable Energy that illustrate the measurable progress we’ve made and continue to make toward a better world. As End or Means, or Both People often think of Good News as a rare extravagance, or even worse, they consider it less relevant to us than the problems of the day, a kind of nice-to-have. I’d like to suggest that it’s more than that: Good News isn’t just something to make us feel better, but a means to shaping our future. That admittedly is a lofty claim, but it has a logical basis. In the next couple of sections I’ll explain why I think so, and then on to the Good News. From Humanity to the Individual These days there are big changes happening in our world: globalization, cultural and social issues, new technologies, and all the resulting environmental impacts. People struggle with change, especially when they have a stake in it, and yet it’s exactly when we have a stake in it that our response matters most. If you think about it, humanity’s solutions all arise from our responses to the issues. Our best responses have sometimes come from a new idea or the actions of courageous individuals; and these in turn have led to brand new technologies, grass-roots movements, changes in corporate or government policy, or an overall change in the perspective of a nation. It is because our reactions and interactions are so integral to our societal behavior that they have such power to move us either forward or backward. But world-changing ideas and great courage have historically appeared when opportunity has called for them. Can we really just decide to have more breakthroughs without the impetus of impending crisis? There had better be a way or we’re in for an even more dramatic future. A Taoist saying advises, “Do the great while it is still small”; after all, it’s not efficient to respond only after an emergency has set in – that makes for heroes, but also for a great deal of loss. Still, what is meant by “the great” if not the issues of the day, and how can anyone say they are “still small”? In order to get to the root of a situation we must first understand what builds up to it. First of all, there is a difference between dealing with problematic change, and struggling with our response to it. For example, it’s not the glaring headline, but our negative reaction to it that wears us out. And taking it a step further, even the glaring headline is a not-so-great reaction to the actual issue it describes. So we need to recognize and understand the issues of the day, but we must also learn how not to impede, but rather to encourage in ourselves, that which moves us to address them effectively. So how can humanity respond effectively to global issues? Or more to the point, how can one’s own decisions reach that scale? I like an old Chinese saying that goes: “If you want to change the world, first change your nation. If you want to change your nation, first change your hometown. If you want to change your hometown, first change your family. If you want to change your family, first change yourself… and if you want to change yourself, first straighten your mind.” The Impact of Changing One’s Outlook It is important to recognize that there is also a lot of good going on in the world: we’ve made a l[...]