The Green Blog

Can a sad polar bear make you turn off your lights?

Wildlife officials are trying to stem the spread of white nose syndrome, which is killing large numbers of bats. Wildlife officials are trying to stem the spread of white nose syndrome, which is killing large numbers of bats. (US Fish And Wildlife Service)
By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / May 18, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

Excerpts from the Globe's environmental blog.

Maybe a cute polar bear can do what all the good green intentions in the world can't: Get people to consistently conserve energy.

That's what Brooks School, a North Andover boarding school for grades 9-12, is counting on. Instead of using graphs to show students how much energy they collectively use in each of the school's 10 dorms, a "bear-o-meter" displays the information on a public screen - with the bear's wellbeing tied to how well students are conserving.

For example, in the morning, when energy use is low, the bear is asleep and happy. But as students turn on computers, televisions, and music devices, the ice can begin melting under the bear's paws. If energy use really peaks, the poor bear falls in the open water, and flails.

Developed by a Dartmouth College professor and former students, TellEmotion is designed to tug at the heartstrings to motivate energy-conserving behavior - everything from shorter showers to turning off lights to letting Mother Nature dry your laundry. Or maybe even leaving the car behind.

Brooks is the first high school in the country to use the product in its entirety. It's also being used in some Dartmouth dorms.

Are people helping to spread bat disease?
As white nose syndrome, the devastating illness that is killing hundreds of thousands of bats, marches across the country, officials are trying to ensure humans aren't inadvertently spreading it.

The US Forest Service recently closed caves and mines in the Eastern region for a year and will probably close them in the Southern region soon. Meanwhile, the US Fish and Wildlife Service in April asked the public to observe a voluntary caving ban in 17 states. The International Congress of Speleology canceled trips in those states.

While researchers know bats are spreading the disease, which leaves animals with a white fuzzy fungus on their faces, there is some belief humans may have a role, too. That's because the fungus persists in caves and mines year-round, and its spores may attach to skin, clothing, and equipment.