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On second thought, DON’T smile for the camera…

Posted on January 21, 2021

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a Zoom meeting while other people talk. You want a snack. Or to refill your coffee cup. Or to check to see what the kid or the dog is getting into. So mid-meeting, you click off the camera on your laptop, get up and go do it. Are you being distracted? Inattentive? Well, yes. But did you know you were also helping the environment? 

IT’S TRUE! According to a new study, leaving your camera off during video calls can reduce your footprint by 96%. The study, conducted by researchers from Yale, Purdue and MIT, looked into the environmental impact of internet use… a timely topic in our current era of working and socializing from home. The authors point out that although our new at-home, digital lifestyles are benefitting the planet in many ways—like reduced carbon dioxide emissions related to travel—it has dramatically increased our internet use. 

Even pre-pandemic lockdown, the internet’s carbon footprint was steadily increasing, accounting for 3.7% of greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity draw from data centers makes up 1% of global energy demand… more than the national consumption of some countries. Since March, most countries have seen internet demand increase by as much as 20%.

Estimates of the approximate carbon, water, and land footprints associated with each hour of data spent on popular internet apps. Image credit: Purdue University/Kayla Wiles

The study analyzed the land, water and carbon footprints for each gigabyte of data used on a variety of online platforms. It’s no surprise that video-heavy platforms had the highest footprint. The research suggests that if one million virtual meeting attendees turned off their cameras, monthly carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by more than 9,000 tons. Users of streaming services like Netflix can reduce carbon output by up to 86% simply by streaming their favorite movies and shows in standard definition rather than HD.

According to the study’s authors, “Small actions such as turning off video during a virtual meeting, reducing the quality of streaming services, decreasing gaming time, limiting time on social media, deleting emails and unnecessary content on the cloud-based storage services, or unsubscribing from email lists can significantly reduce the environmental footprints of Internet use.”

So the next time you get the overwhelming urge for a sandwich in the middle of a long online meeting? Turn off the camera and go do it!* You’re saving the planet, after all!

*we cannot be held responsible if you are asked a question while you are in the next room playing with your cat.

For Lake Michigan, Less is More (at least right now)!

Posted on January 15, 2021

So, who would like to hear some good news, you know, just for a change of pace? We know we sure would. So we were pretty happy to read that water levels in the Great Lakes are finally starting to recede a bit from the record highs we’ve been seeing recently.

This is really fantastic news for Lake Michigan and Lake Huron in particular, which have been at the highest water state of all the Great Lakes as compared to average this past year (as a reminder, Michigan and Huron are measured as one lake when it comes to water levels, as they are joined at the Straits of Mackinac). The result of those record high waters has been that these two lakes have had the most striking and destructive shoreline erosion last year too, as we here on our little piece of the Michigan coast know all too well.

Just in the past month, Lake Michigan/Huron has dropped a full three inches, and is now six inches lower than it was this time last year. The main reason this is happening is a lack of precipitation this winter. Also helping? The lake hasn’t really been freezing over.  Now, you might think this is because ice cover limits evaporation on the water’s surface. That’s true to an extent, but more important is the amount of ice cover in the previous year. The more the lake freezes, the colder the water will be the following summer, which delays the evaporation season (late fall/early winter) in that year. So that means the lack of ice last winter means more evaporation this year (remember when we talked about how warm the water was this summer?).

According to MLive meteorologist Mark Torregrossa, Michigan/Huron water levels are predicted to drop another inch in the next month, possibly two inches if our dry spell continues. Check out this water level forecast:

If this holds, the most likely water level this summer will be nine inches lower than last summer, which hopefully means less damage to our dwindling shoreline. And we are so here for that!

When the Stars (and planets!) Align

Posted on December 18, 2020

Left image credits: NASA/ Bill Ingalls

Say what you will about 2020, but it has been a pretty decent year for stargazers, featuring a variety of meteor showers, comets and other interesting astronomical events. And to close out the year, there’s one more cool once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon coming our way as two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, will appear very close together in the sky… just a tenth of a degree apart!  The last time such a close conjunction of these planets was observable was in 1226.

The two planets have been moving closer and closer together for weeks now, but they will appear at their closest on December 21. Of course, while they appear to be really close from here on Earth, in space they are actually hundreds of millions of miles apart. The event's proximity to the holidays has earned it the nickname "The Christmas Star" (the fact that it's happening on the Winter Solstice is just a coincidence).

You'll be able to see the conjunction with the naked eye on a clear night, since both planets are typically quite bright. Find an unobstructed view of the lower southwestern sky, and look close to the horizon immediately after sunset. Jupiter (which will look like a bright star and be very visible) and Saturn (slightly fainter, above and to the left of Jupiter) will likely start to really shine around 6:00 or 6:15 p.m. But don't dilly-dally! Both planets will sink behind the horizon shortly thereafter.

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Read more about this conjunction at friend of COL Chuck Bueter's great Nightwise blog!

Give Thanks. Give Back.

Posted on November 25, 2020

December 1st is #GivingTuesday!

On Thanksgiving, we take a day to give thanks for the all the things that truly matter to us. Then the holidays start in earnest, with the ensuing range of shopping-themed days to participate in, if you're so inclined. 

But mixed in with all the opportunities to consume this season offers, there is one day made for giving back: the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday. It's a day of giving to kick off the year-end charitable season. 

This year more than any other, we know we are thankful for is the abundance of natural open spaces we have available here for outdoor recreation. If you feel that way too, please consider making a gift to Chikaming Open Lands on #GivingTuesday. Your support will help ensure the these cherished natural areas remain available for future generations to enjoy just as we do!

It's Turkey Time!

Posted on November 25, 2020

This time of year, many of us are thinking about turkey as we prepare for our Thanksgiving feasts tomorrow. But there is a lot more going on with these big birds than how good they are with your favorite stuffing recipe. So let’s talk turkey! 

Here are some fun facts:

  • Around here, we see wild turkeys all the time. But at one time, the turkey population was almost wiped out. In fact, in the early 1900s, their population numbered a mere 30,000 in the entire U.S. due to overhunting and habitat destruction. Beginning in the 1940s, the remaining birds were relocated into recovering woodland areas in hopes that they would repopulate. Though slow, the process was effective. Their U.S. population is now up to about 6 million.  
  • The dangly, loose skin that hangs from a turkey’s neck is called a wattle, and the one that drapes along its beak is called a snood. These appendages change colors depending on how the bird is feeling (it's a mood snood!). When a male, or tom, is trying to attract a mate, they are bright red. When they are frightened, they take on a bluish tint. If they are ill, they become very pale.
  • We’re not sure where the tradition of having turkey on Thanksgiving originated, but it wasn’t at the original feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe at Plymouth Colony. Letters written by Pilgrims who participated in the feast state that the Wampanoags brought venison, while the pilgrims brought ducks and geese.
  • Only male turkeys gobble. Females make a clicking sound instead.
  • Turkeys have amazing eyesight, which is one of the reasons they are a challenging animal to hunt. Their vision is three times better than 20/20, and their peripheral vision is 270 degrees (ours is 180 degrees, for reference). They can also see in color.
  • They are also really fast! A turkey can run up to 25 mph—as fast as a charging elephant. 

We hope you enjoy your turkeys (or whatever you prepare for your Thanksgiving dinner) tomorrow!