Tag Archives: homes

Superdove – Courtney Humphries



How the Pigeon Took Manhattan … And the World

Courtney Humphries

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 13, 2009

Publisher: HarperCollins e-books


Why do we see pigeons as lowly urban pests and how did they become such common city dwellers? Courtney Humphries traces the natural history of the pigeon, recounting how these shy birds that once made their homes on the sparse cliffs of sea coasts came to dominate our urban public spaces. While detailing this evolution, Humphries introduces us to synanthropy: The concept that animals can become dependent on humans without ceasing to be wild; they can adapt to the cityscape as if it were a field or a forest. Superdove simultaneously explores the pigeon's cultural transformation, from its life in the dovecotes of ancient Egypt to its service in the trenches of World War I, to its feats within the pigeon-racing societies of today. While the dove is traditionally recognized as a symbol of peace, the pigeon has long inspired a different sort of fetishistic devotion from breeders, eaters, and artists—and from those who recognized and exploited the pigeon's astounding abilities. Because of their fecundity, pigeons were symbols of fertility associated with Aphrodite, while their keen ability to find their way home made them ideal messengers and even pilots. Their usefulness largely forgotten, today's pigeons have become as ubiquitous and reviled as rats. But Superdove reveals something more surprising: By using pigeons for our own purposes, we humans have changed their evolution. And in doing so, we have helped make pigeons the ideal city dwellers they are today. In the tradition of Rats, the book that made its namesake rodents famous, Superdove is the fascinating story of the pigeon's journey from the wild to the city—the home they'll never leave.

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Superdove – Courtney Humphries

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Despite everything, US emissions dipped in 2019

Just a week into the new year, and the first estimate of how much planet-cooking pollution the United States belched into the atmosphere last year is already in. It’s not the kind of report card you’d be proud to show your parents, but at least it won’t leave you in tears.

Perhaps surprisingly, total emissions fell 2 percent compared with the year before, according to the Rhodium Group, a research firm that frequently crunches climate numbers. The reason for that decline? The US is burning less coal. That’s been driving down emissions from electricity generation. But the way we get around, heat our homes, and manufacture our stuff, hasn’t had much of an effect.

“It’s a good-news bad-news story,” said Trevor Houser, a partner at Rhodium and author of the report. “In the electricity sector we had a banner year — we had the largest decline in coal generation in recorded history. But in the other 75 percent of the economy, emissions remain stubbornly flat.”

Coal has been in a slow-motion death spiral over the past ten years. The country now generates half as much coal-fired electricity as it did in 2009. And that trend continued through last year, as coal generation slid 18 percent.

Clayton Aldern / Grist

Surging natural gas was the biggest reason for coal’s demise. Gas comes with its own problems for the climate– burning it releases carbon, and leaks release methane — but replacing coal with gas led to a decline in globe-warming gases, Houser said. Renewable energy from hydroelectricity, solar power, and wind turbines, increased 6 percent in 2019. So despite President Donald Trump’s vows to resurrect coal, it’s still sliding into history.

The same can’t be said of gas-powered cars and gas-fired furnaces — for the moment, those look locked in.

Clayton Aldern / Grist

Cleaning up the electrical grid is a great first step to cleaning up other sectors. With enough low-carbon electricity, more people could drive electric cars and ride electric trains. Builders could start installing electric heat pumps rather than gas furnaces in houses. “But that’s not going to happen on its own,” Hauser said.

Nudging people toward clean electricity requires policy: Efficiency standards, building codes, incentives, and taxes. Some state and local governments are making these changes, but at the federal level, the Trump administration is doing its best to stop them. As a result, the country’s energy use seems to have its own laws of motion. It takes a lot of work to change direction, but it’s relatively easy to let things keep running as normal. You can see that in coal’s continued slide, as well as in the status quo in emissions from factories, cars, and buildings.

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Despite everything, US emissions dipped in 2019

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Climate change is coming for our toilets. Here’s how we can stop it.

Of all the amazing conveniences Americans are lucky enough to enjoy, the bowl that makes the poop go away is one of the best — on par with the tap that turns the water on and the box that makes the food hot. But I am here to ruin your day and tell you that climate change could compromise the humble toilet. If we don’t act soon, the consequences could be disgusting.

About one in five households in the United States depends on a septic system to eliminate waste (that’s 60 million households, for those of you who don’t like fractions). Septic systems not only dispose of our waste, they also protect public health, preserve precious water resources, and provide long-term peace of mind for city planners and plumbers alike. But that septic-associated security could go down the drain, according to information in a U.N. report on oceans published last week.

While the report is not specifically about your bathroom, per se, it shows how a stealthy threat — sea-level rise — could make it more difficult for people with septic systems to flush their toilets. A brief primer on septic systems, which are common in rural areas: The stuff in your toilet goes into an underground tank, where it breaks down (I’m gagging) and gets drained out into a leach field (gross) that’s at least 20 feet from your house. In order to function properly, those drainage fields have to be relatively dry.

Rising groundwater levels (a problem that accompanies sea-level rise) are soaking the fields, making it more difficult for our waste to break down and get absorbed properly. Rising groundwater also affects the soil’s ability to filter out harmful bacteria, which poses a public safety risk. And to make matters worse, increased rainfall, another climate change-related perk, is exacerbating the issue. It’s a back-up problem that can’t be solved with a plunger, if you catch my drift.

New England, where roughly half of homes rely on septic systems, is especially at risk. So is Florida — home to 12 percent of the nation’s septic systems. Miami-Dade county commissioned a report on vulnerable toilets this year and found 64 percent of tanks could run into problems by 2040. Minnesota, an inland state, has to contend with another climate-related toilet problem: lack of snow. Snow, which keeps things nice and insulated, has been noticeably absent in early winter and spring. Freezing temperatures are still kicking around, though. That means the frost line has taken a dive deep underground and compromised thousands of Minnesotans’ septic systems. See? Septic tanks are getting it from all sides these days.

So is the solution to dig up all the septic tanks, put them on stilts, and clothe them in Canada Goose parkas? Not exactly, says Elena Mihaly, staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. She worked on a 2017 report on climate change’s effect on wastewater treatment systems that laid out some possible solutions to this poopy problem.

One method is to reform the way septic systems are regulated so that new systems are evaluated for their susceptibility to climate change before they’re put in. Researchers are already mapping out areas with infrastructure that’s vulnerable to groundwater level rise in coming years in states like New Hampshire. When it comes to existing septic systems, Mihaly says inspecting them when houses change hands at point of sale is a “way to make sure that we’re checking in on how infrastructure is doing given current risk, and how it’s changed from 30 or 40 years ago.”

And there are other practices that can head off this problem, too. Shallower leach fields, for example, rely on a narrower depth to treat water. Municipalities can install town-wide sewer systems in areas where household septic tanks don’t make sense. Frequent inspections are key, too. “It’s important to get your septic system inspected every three or four years,” Mihaly said. “Not only looking at all the pieces on the outside but at what’s happening with the groundwater that is flowing near it.”

Most importantly, it’s crucial to understand that groundwater doesn’t act in predictable ways, and it can impact more than just septic systems. “It’s not a given that if you have 3 feet of sea-level rise you’ll always have this much groundwater rise inland,” Mihaly said. “It’s really dependent on the underlying geology of that area, so it’s going to be very location-specific.” Roads, drinking water wells, landfills, and other infrastructure are susceptible to rising groundwater, too. “We actually have infrastructure that’s inland that we need to be thinking about as well in terms of reliability and functionality in the face of climate change,” she said.

You hear that, America? Climate change is coming for our conveniences. It’s time to get potty trained.

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Climate change is coming for our toilets. Here’s how we can stop it.

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Indoor Gardening For the Brown Thumb

Do you have a knack for killing your indoor houseplants? While all plants require some TLC, cultivating a green thumb doesn?t need to be hard. If you?ve been known to have a brown thumb, the trick to success is finding some greenery that only requires occasional attention.

Start by choosing a few easy-to-grow varieties and selecting plants that are right for your home. Before you settle on any specific type, pay attention to the natural light from your windows. All plants need some light, but some like it bright, while others do well in lower settings. Be sure to read the plant tags to find one that will do well with the light in your house.

6 easy-to-grow houseplants

Ready to take the plunge into indoor gardening? Start with one or two of these low-attention varieties:


This lush green houseplant is easy to keep vibrant all year. It won?t do well baking in the hot sun all day, but medium-to-bright light is okay. Let it grow long in a hanging basket, or put it in a cute pot and keep it short with an occasional haircut. Don?t worry?trimming won?t hurt it.


Also known as the mother-in-law?s tongue, the tall spikes on this plant are stunning. This variety can live for a long time and does best in low-to-medium light. It doesn?t like extra water, so always let it dry out before watering again, and pour out any excess water in the pot?s saucer.

Aloe vera

Aloe is a sun-loving succulent that does not like water?an especially good starter plant for a brown thumb. To care for it, place it in your brightest window, let the soil dry before watering, and remove any standing water from the pot.


Also known as a Schefflera, this easy-to-grow plant likes medium light. Let it dry out between watering?start by watering it once a week and see how it does.

Asparagus fern

Lacy and trailing, the asparagus fern is perfect for a tall stand or hanging basket. This plant likes humidity, making it a great choice for a kitchen or bathroom. It does well in medium-to-bright light with frequent watering. One thing to note: Although it has soft foliage, there are thorns on the stem.


With long, variegated leaves, this plant will add the perfect green hue to your d?cor. This variety prefers moist soil and low-to-medium light. To keep it from drying out too quickly, don?t place it near a heat vent.

Three steps to indoor gardening success

These three simple steps can help you grow an indoor garden you?ll want to show off:

Put your plant in a bigger pot

When you pick up a small, full plant at the garden center, you?ll find the most success by repotting it as soon as you get home. A small pot can only hold a small amount of nutrients and water. To keep it looking as good as the day you bought it, switch it to a bigger pot, so it has plenty of room to grow. Plus, this gives you a chance to move it from the plastic nursery container to a pot that matches your furnishings.

These steps will help you properly repot your plant:

Choose a pot slightly bigger than the current container. It should have a drain hole and a saucer to catch any extra water that escapes.
Place a rock over each of the pot?s drain holes to keep dirt from clogging them.
Place a small amount of potting soil in the bottom of the pot.
Gently remove your new plant from its old container and place it in the bigger one.
Fill the pot with dirt by lightly spooning it around the plant. Leave about an inch of space at the top, so it doesn?t overflow when you water it.

Feed with love

If you don?t have a natural green thumb, you probably don?t use fertilizer very often. Never fear?you have a few easy options. You can choose to sprinkle time-release fertilizer on top or use fertilizer spikes that are pushed into the soil. Both last for months. Note on your calendar when it will be time to fertilize again.

Remember to water

A once-a-week watering schedule is all you need with these suggested houseplants. A few, like the aloe and the snake plant, can skip a week if the soil still seems moist. The trick to remembering to water is to pick a day and stick to it. A reminder alarm on your phone is a great way to get into a watering routine.

Your plant will tell you if it becomes unhappy. You might see it wilt, turn yellow, or get spots on the leaves. If this happens, go back to the basics. By making sure it has the right amount of light and giving it the proper amounts of water, you?ll soon be able to show off your green thumb with a beautiful indoor garden.

A home and gardening expert,?Lea Schneider?has published?advice?in?publications like?The Washington Post, Woman?s Day, Family Circle, Consumer Reports?ShopSmart, and Better Homes and Gardens.?She?covers home-improvement and gardening tips for?Groupon.?You can find savings on gardening supplies and more?on Groupon?s Home Depot page here.

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Indoor Gardening For the Brown Thumb

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California town declares climate emergency 4 months after state’s deadliest wildfire

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This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Four months after the Camp Fire destroyed the northern California towns of Paradise and Magalia, city council members in the neighboring town of Chico voted this week to declare a climate emergency that threatens their lives and well-being.

Chico’s emergency declaration calls on the city to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030, among other demands that echo those included in the Green New Deal bill state lawmakers introduced in February. The bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the state Assembly’s Committee on Natural Resources.

The Camp Fire didn’t spread to Chico — it stopped just 10 or so miles away — but thousands of Butte County residents relocated there after they lost their homes. And given the devastating fire seasons California has faced in recent years, new and long-term residents alike want local leaders to take a more proactive approach to preparing for climate-related disasters.

Members of Chico 350, the local chapter of the national climate advocacy group 350.org, drafted the declaration proposal last month.

“The residents of Chico are already experiencing great economic loss and social, emotional and physical impact from climate related disasters,” they wrote. “It makes economic sense and good governance policy to be proactive rather than wait for more wildfires, severe storms, heat waves, and floods which threaten public health and safety.”

The Camp Fire started on the morning of November 8, 2018, after a PG&E transmission line failure. Over the course of a week, the fire destroyed 14,000 homes in Butte County and killed 85 people, many of whom were elderly and disabled. Members of the 14,000 households who lost their homes have tried to resettle in Chico, but it hasn’t been easy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided just 220 trailers for victims of the fire — hardly enough for the many families who are now insecurely housed.

“We don’t have enough housing, period, for the people relocated because of the Camp Fire,” City Councilwoman Ann Schwab, who voted in support of the declaration, told HuffPost in February.

Schwab said the town lacks both temporary and permanent housing options for the displaced. “People are sleeping in their cars, in motor homes. They are sharing bedrooms with friends and relatives,” she said.

“It was a bad situation before. Now it’s overwhelming.”

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California town declares climate emergency 4 months after state’s deadliest wildfire

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Coal ash contamination is widespread, new report finds

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Coal ash pollution has repeatedly coated North Carolina’s rivers bottoms with a plethora of toxic chemicals. The culprit from the state’s biggest spill? Duke Energy, a Charlotte-based energy giant.

But the issue of coal ash is not unique to North Carolina — it’s happening everywhere.

A new report, published jointly by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, found that 242 — the vast majority (91 percent) of the coal-fired power plants examined — had elevated levels of toxic heavy metals and other pollutants in nearby groundwater. Over half of those sites were contaminated with cancer-causing arsenic, and 60 percent were polluted with lithium, which has been linked to neurological damage. That’s…not good.

In 2014, North Carolina experienced the third-worst coal ash spill in recorded history, dumping 39,000 tons of waste product along 70 miles (110 kilometers) of the North Carolina-Virginia border. Residue from the spill coated the floor of the Dan River. This contamination poses many health risks to people living nearby, such as cancer and asthma.

The cleanup, which is still ongoing after five years, could cost Duke Energy to the tune of $5 billion, and according to the Associated Press, the company plans to pass the rather expensive bill along to its consumers.

The issue of coal ash in North Carolina flared up again last year when Hurricane Florence caused flooding at coal ash sites alongside Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton Power Station, which carries coal ash components into a cooling lake and then into the nearby Cape Fear River. Cape Fear River is a water source for Wilmington, a city of 60,000 downstream from the coal ash site.

“Our communities are being harmed both by Duke Energy’s coal ash negligence and by repeated flooding from our changing climate,” said Bobby Jones of the Down East Coal Ash Coalition, speaking at a press conference at the First Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh. “Duke’s influence is a moral decay that erodes our democracy.”

Duke may not be the only company to blame (also, they’ve vehemently opposed the report’s findings.) The new report analyzed data from 265 plants–about three-quarters of all coal power plants in the U.S. And the report’s authors say they could be “understating” the extent of contamination since data is available only on coal ash sites actively in use; ponds and landfills that hold coal ash but are not receiving any were not included.

As with many environmental woes, low-income communities and communities of color are the ones likely to suffer the most from this threat as these sites tend to be located near their homes. According to Abel Russ, lead author of the report and an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, as long as EPA Administrator (and former coal lobbyist) Andrew Wheeler is at the helm of the environmental agency, that threat will not waver.

“At a time when the EPA […] is trying to roll back federal regulations on coal ash, these new data provide convincing evidence that we should be moving in the opposite direction,” Russ said in a statement.

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Coal ash contamination is widespread, new report finds

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Trump’s trade war is hitting solar workers hard

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While politicians are debating the merits of a massive job-creating effort known as the Green New Deal, jobs in solar power are getting harder to find.

The solar industry lost 8,000 jobs last year, a drop of 3.2 percent and the second straight year of declines, according to The Solar Foundation’s annual report out Tuesday. That’s a sharp change after six years of growth.

Solar jobs largely come from the manufacturing and construction of new rooftop panels and solar farms, so these employment numbers offer a snapshot of the entire industry. The losses come as experts call for a massive ramp up in solar power as part of a larger effort to displace electricity generated with fossil-fuels.

What’s driving this? The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research firm, lays most of the blame for job losses on President Donald Trump’s tariffs. Trump imposed tariffs against imported solar panels, along with two key materials — steel and aluminum,. Companies, uncertain about exactly how these tariffs will work, have put the brakes on operations. By last June, companies had canceled or delayed the construction of $2.5 billion worth of solar facilities, according to Reuters.

We can also chalk up some of the job losses to more local government quirks.. The two states that saw the biggest job losses were California (9,576), and Massachusetts (1,320), according the report. California companies have less incentive to build more solar farms because the state is ahead of its targets for renewable energy. And there was some policy uncertainty in Massachusetts as the state government crafted new targets for solar power. It issued those targets last September, and afterward saw a rise in applications to build more panels.

The Solar Foundation

The Solar Foundation anticipates a turnaround soon. This year, for instance, solar companies will need to begin construction on projects to take advantage of a tax credit that expires next year.

“Despite two challenging years, the long-term outlook for this industry remains positive as even more Americans turn to low-cost solar energy and storage solutions to power their homes and businesses,” said Andrea Luecke, executive director of the foundation.

It’s important to remember that The Solar Foundation’s not-so sunny report is a single source of data (though the Department of Energy’s official numbers have been roughly in line with this nonprofit’s).

It’s also important to remember that solar is just one sector of a clean energy economy that includes everything from home insulators to train-engine designers. The DOE has not yet released its annual report on employment for 2018, but its report from May of last year showed increases in energy efficiency and wind power jobs dwarfed the contraction in solar jobs.

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Trump’s trade war is hitting solar workers hard

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On-the-ground snapshots from California’s Camp Fire show devastation and bravery

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The Camp Fire has torn a scar across Northern California, doing the majority of its damage within the first six hours after it formed last Thursday. It’s now the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in state history and as of Tuesday night has claimed 48 lives.

The fire was a shock to the people of Paradise, the mid-sized town that it very nearly destroyed entirely. Soon after the fire began, stories from survivors fleeing the flames began to filter out through local and social media.

Journalists on the ground reported sentiments of heartbreak and hope, tales of families torn apart, and the occasionally happy news of pets reunited with their owners. They heard stories of heroism — doctors huddled on the hospital’s helipad, waiting to airlift patients to safety.

Below are some of the striking moments from the early days of the fire:

On Friday morning, images emerged that suggested that much of Paradise had been lost. The fire was so intense and the destruction so complete that the town’s reservoir ran dry after its waters leaked through miles of damaged pipes.

Paradise residents worried about what happened to the local hospital as pictures surfaced of patients waiting on the tarmac to be airlifted out. A TV news crew from nearby Redding captured eerie footage of what was left of Feather River Hospital:

The burnt shells of cars and overwhelming loss of homes was an indication that many of Paradise’s residents likely didn’t survive the blaze. In addition to the nearly 50 deaths caused by the Camp Fire, hundreds are still missing. There was a man who saved himself by jumping into a nearby stream — but couldn’t save his friends. Family members pleaded with loved ones to get out — after a while, those remaining in Paradise didn’t pick up.

But as the weekend progressed, heroic stories of people rescuing neighbors and pets began to mix with the reports of destruction.

Reporters were clearly impacted by covering the devastation. Trained to be dispassionate observers, they embraced survivors and paused for personal reflections. Over and over, they made it clear that this kind of fire isn’t normal. As California’s fire season lengthens and droughts become more frequent and severe with climate change, the chances of megafires, like the Camp Fire, are going up.

As area residents grapple with its loss, it’s unclear what happens next. Donated goods have poured in, and neighbors have sought one another out to share stories and rebuild their community. The hope is that the reports of structures that were miraculously spared and other examples of resilience and kindness will help Paradise heal.

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On-the-ground snapshots from California’s Camp Fire show devastation and bravery

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California Mandates Solar Panels on New Homes


In a groundbreaking decision, the California Energy Commission voted today to require the installation of solar panels on most newly built single-family homes and multifamily buildings of three stories or fewer. The decision, which does not require the approval of the Legislature, will go into effect in 2020.

California Leads the Way

California becomes the first state to mandate solar panels, an approach in keeping with California’s efforts to slash carbon emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The Energy Commission expects the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.4 million metric tons over three years. It is also likely to give a tremendous boost to the solar installation industry. Reflecting on the requirement, Kelly Knutsen of the trade group California Solar and Storage Association said, “This is going to be a significant increase in the solar market in California. We are also sending a national message that … we are a leader in the clean energy economy.”

Increased Costs Offset by Energy Savings

The decision has its detractors among some business associations that have focused on the estimated $9,500 cost per building the requirement will add, in part to cover the Trump administration’s tariff on solar panels. But the California Building Industry Association, which supports the initiative, acknowledged that while the installation costs will be passed on to consumers as part of a home purchase, the cost will be offset by lowered energy costs over the term of a mortgage. They estimate that for every $40 in monthly payments the energy standards increase, consumers will save $80 in energy costs.

Solar panels are popular with California consumers for their effect on energy costs and already found on about 5 percent of homes.

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California Mandates Solar Panels on New Homes

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Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home – Rupert Sheldrake


Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home

Fully Updated and Revised

Rupert Sheldrake

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: September 21, 1999

Publisher: Crown/Archetype

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

With a scientist's mind and an animal lover's compassion, world-renowned biologist Rupert Sheldrake presents a groundbreaking exploration of animal behavior that will profoundly change the way we think about animals–and ourselves. How do cats know when it's time to go to the vet, even before the cat carrier comes out? How do dogs know when their owners are returning home at unexpected times? How can horses find their way back to the stable over completely unfamiliar terrain? After five years of extensive research involving thousands of people who have pets and work with animals, Dr. Sheldrake proves conclusively what many pet owners already know: there is a strong connection between humans and animals that defies present-day scientific understanding. Sheldrake compellingly demonstrates that we and our pets are social animals linked together by invisible bonds connecting animals to each other, to their owners, and to their homes in powerful ways. His provocative ideas about these social, or morphic, fields explain the uncanny behavior often observed in pets and help provide an explanation for amazing animal behavior in the wild, such as migration and homing. Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home not only provides fascinating insight into animal, and human, behavior, but also teaches us to question the boundaries of conventional scientific thought, and shows that the very animals who are closest to us have much to teach us about biology, nature, and consciousness.

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Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home – Rupert Sheldrake

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