Erik Ness

Erik Ness writes about science and the environment from Madison, Wis. Among the publications he's written for are Discover, Preservation, Backpacker, Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, MAMM, Wisconsin Trails, Milwaukee Magazine, and The Progressive.

Dirty Minds

Erik Ness reviews Silent Scourge: Children, Pollution, and Why Scientists Disagree by Colleen Moore

Attention, parents: Now that you've seen your kids' first report cards of the year, it's time for a little homework of your own. No doubt you're doing the best you can to ensure your little ones' eventual membership in Mensa -- promoting stimulating dinner conversation, reading a chapter together each night, maybe even playing Mozart during bath time. But wait -- there's more. You'll find your next assignment in the pages of Colleen Moore's Silent Scourge: Children, Pollution, and Why Scientists Disagree.

Wisconsin anglers band together to protect an elusive fish

Every winter, on the outskirts of Appleton, Wis., the world’s strangest subdivision suddenly appears. Thousands of shacks, each about the size of a two-hole outhouse, proliferate on the frozen expanse of Lake Winnebago. Dick Koerner in his shack on Lake Winnebago. Photo: Erik Ness. Early in the morning on Feb. 8, Dick Koerner jockeyed his pickup along the frozen track to his weather-beaten shelter. He unloaded his truck and unlocked the shack. The windowless, flat-black interior accentuated the glorious green light flowing from a rectangular hole cut in the ice. Koerner closed the door, completing the immersion in that transfixing …

The Netherlands tackles nitrogen pollution with a game

Confess: You’ve played more than one hand of solitaire on company time. Tetris anyone? Maybe you’ve even been a MYSTic or a QUAKEr. If you happen to work for the Dutch Ministry of the Environment, playing computer games is now part of your job description. Or at least playing a computer game — the world’s only computer game designed to solve the problem of nitrogen pollution. The Netherlands is home to intense agriculture and industry, and is, not coincidentally, one of the world’s hot spots for nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen is a confusing bad guy because it’s everywhere — and often …

Perrier didn't reckon on an angry citizenry when it looked to expand into the Midwest

Escape to Wisconsin. Play in our lakes, fish our rivers, and cavort in the famously kitschy water parks of Wisconsin Dells. Just don’t try to take a drop of it home with you. Ninety-nine bottles of water on the wall. This, at least, is the stern message being sent by thousands of Wisconsin citizens to Perrier, the world’s largest bottler of designer water. For the last few years Perrier has been a-dowsin’, seeking a Midwestern source for its Ice Mountain label, currently bottled in far-flung Allentown, Penn. You might think spring water would be the ideal cash crop for rural …

What's wrong with those pretty holiday bulbs? Plenty

Pssst … want to know why the climate conference sputtered at The Hague? Published reports cited disagreements about trees. Well, the trees in question might well have been of the Christmas variety — because, of course, the U.S. delegation needed to return home in time to string up the traditional holiday lights. You heard it here first. Lite brite, in Seattle. Photo: Nathan James. Among the surfeit of unpleasant consumer forces unleashed by The Holidays — from motorized Caddyshack gophers to commercials with more intelligence than the toys they flak, from virgin egg-beater-nog to post-Thanksgiving parking-lot scrums — the ubiquitous …

Forget Ralph, George, and Al -- Vote for Skink

Has Carl Hiaasen created the new Hayduke?

Lost in the spinning swells of debate coverage was the news that, while in Florida preparing for the second debate, Vice President Al Gore purchased a copy of Sick Puppy, the most recent offering from the best-selling author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen.

Or: how I learned to start vermicomposting and love the worm

The problem with winter is that nothing rots. Yummy! — compost in action. Photo: Texas A&M Dept. of Horticultural Sciences and Aggie Horticulture. This won’t bother you if you don’t have a compost pile, but if you do, you are frozen on the horns of a messy dilemma. The wondrous microbial engine of your compost pile is no match for the big chill of winter. The tiny ecosystem that magically changed coffee grounds and sandwich crusts into prize-winning geraniums is chased underground until spring. If you still insist upon leaving your warm kitchen during the winter months for gelid treks …

Development runs wild in the upper Midwest

In an arm-wrestling contest, you’d probably pick Paul Bunyan over John Lawlis. Bunyan, after all, wielded his mighty ax with mythic strength and endurance, leveling the great forests of the upper Midwest. John Lawlis merely works the phones, selling vacation lots in what’s left of these woods. “I think Paul would definitely win,” laughs Lawlis. Sign of the times? Photo: Robert Korth, UWEX. But it is Lawlis and his fellow realtors who may ultimately prove the death knell to the Great North Woods. “Business is fantastic,” he confided to me. Maybe too good? “We’re having a lot harder time finding …

Polluting Wisconsin paper companies choose an odd mascot

No doubt you’re annoyed by the calendar-quality images of nature being used to pedal everything from SUVs to shampoo to batteries. Now a coalition of paper companies in the Fox River Valley, near Green Bay, Wis., has taken this advertising tactic to a new low, bringing a little dark comedy to a community engaged in a decades-long dispute over cleaning up the heavily polluted waters of the Lower Fox River. Under the banner of the Fox River Group, seven paper companies likely to be held liable for the river pollution have been running television ads that feature a mallard duck. On a …

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