Environment

Earth, The Wakened Giant

Rachel-Carson Today is the 107th birthday of Rachel Carson. Carson was the American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring was largely responsible for starting the global environmental movement. By observing the damage to humans and nature caused by factories and industrial agriculture, Carson presented nature as highly vulnerable to destruction by the power of synthetic chemicals. 

The idea that the earth is fragile,  easily disrupted and unable to repair itself led to an environmental movement focused on repairing a damaged planet.

This idea has had various metaphorical expressions, including “Mother Earth” as a nurturing, feminine and easily damaged entity. The notion of living harmoniously with nature took hold, inspired by images of pre-industrial peoples living close to the natural world.

Underlying these conceptions is a view that, while humans can cause a great deal of damage, nature is passive and always our victim. That vision has changed dramatically thanks to the science of climate change. Today we see that the planet has been disturbed from its resting state, jolted out of the providential era of climatic stability characteristic of the last 10,000 years, and is now on a new and largely uncontrollable path that is creating conditions dangerous for human life.

Clive Hamilton has written a piece for The Conversation entitled, Forget “saving the Earth”- it’s an angry beast we’ve awoken, that analyses this new perspective.

a growing chorus of senior scientists refer to the Earth with metaphors such as “the wakened giant” and “the ornery beast”, a planet that is “fighting back” and seeking “revenge”, and a new era of “angry summers” and “death spirals”.

Whether you consider yourself to be an environmentalist or not, the warnings from Earth system science have far-reaching implications for us all.

According to Hamilton, Earth System Science is responsible for this more holistic view.

The rise of Earth system science – which has brought together many different fields of science so that we can better understand how the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and other systems work together – has changed the way we see the world.

Now, the Earth is understood as a dynamic system with strong feedback effects, which can suddenly shift it to a new state when critical points are crossed.

So profound has been the influence of humans that scientists have proposed that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, defined by the fact that the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system”.

As Earth scientist James Syvitski writes:

At some point, we graduated from adapting to our environment to making it adapt to us … But now we regularly decelerate and accelerate natural processes, focus energy in extraordinary ways and alter, destroy or create ecosystems.

That means we must no longer see the Earth as the submissive repository for supplying our resources or taking our wastes, nor as the docile victim of our rapacity or carelessness.

This newer understanding of the Earth has been vividly expressed by palaeoclimatologist Wally Broecker:

The palaeoclimate record shouts out to us that, far from being self-stabilizing, the Earth’s climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts even to small nudges.

When the Earth is understood this way, the task of environmentalism can no longer be to “save” or preserve the planet, for the planet we wanted to save has already become something else. Our task now is to do what we can to pacify, or at least not aggravate further, something vastly more powerful than we are.

If we have wakened the slumbering beast by poking and prodding it, the prudent course is firstly to stop. But we cannot put it back to sleep.

There is no return to the peaceful conditions of the Holocene, at least not for thousands of years; but to provoke it further, as we still are, is foolishness on an epic scale.

So, the metaphor of “Mother Earth” is being replaced by something akin to William Butler Yeats‘ rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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Car that runs on water

For years there have been scams claiming that you can buy a device that allows your car to run on water. Now it appears that the Japanese company Genepax has invented the real deal.

Watch the video and ask yourself:

1) when and where will one be available?

2) why is it that the Japanese are always one step ahead of American corporations?

3) why isn’t the main stream American media all over this story??

And, finally, why is John McCain always, always so far behind the curve?

Vanishing Honeybees and Mobile Phones

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This spring has seen a number of articles describing the mysterious disapperance of honey bees throughout the world. See, for example, here and here, here and here. All these articles describe how critical honeybees are to agricultural production (something that those of us who live in rural areas know well). No one, however, seems to know what might be causing the mysterious “colony collapse disorder.” According to the New York Times,

Now, in a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, bees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their colonies. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

Theories about the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder abound with viruses, mites, a fungus, pesticides, suburban sprawl and global warming being the most likely culprits. Unfortunately, there is no evidence connecting any of these to the phenomenon.

This makes an article that appeared in the British paper, The Independent, today intriguing.

It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world’s harvests fail. They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops.

Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well. The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives.

As Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause.Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: “I am convinced the possibility is real.”

I read this article with a feeling of dread. Because if, in fact, Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by mobile phone radiation then honeybees are doomed. If the cause were a virus, fungus or even a pesticide, we would take action. But there is no way we will give up our mobile phones. Just as we will never be able to “prove” dams are driving the salmon to extinction, the mobile phone-honey bee connection will never be strong enough to bring about political action.

Dirk Kempthorne Regrets

Kempthorne

The New York Times has an editorial wondering if former Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorn regrets joining the beseiged Bush Administration as Secretary of the Interior now that the department has become the lastest Agency to come under the oversight of the Democratic Congress.

Dirk Kempthorne must have wondered last week why he ever accepted President Bush’s offer to become secretary of the interior. Seven former directors of the National Park Service lambasted a proposal that would allow more than 700 snowmobiles a day in Yellowstone National Park. A former senior auditor provided further evidence that the Minerals Management Service, another part of Mr. Kempthorne’s empire, had for years failed to collect royalties from big oil companies. And Democrats in the House jumped all over one of his assistant secretaries in the wake of a report that the department was secretly rewriting important regulations governing the Endangered Species Act with an eye to weakening it.

All these matters deserve scrutiny by the Democrats. But the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, leaked to an environmental group, deserve special attention. One reason is that this administration has long wanted to narrow the scope of the act, which for years has been a target of property-rights groups, timber interests and developers, mostly in the West. Another is that this is a dangerous moment in any administration, when incumbents running out of time try to achieve administratively what they have failed to win legislatively. A bill containing some of these same changes failed in Congress last year.

In addition, while some of the changes seem harmless, and others might well simplify an admittedly cumbersome law, several of them go to the very heart of the law – weakening federal oversight, undercutting the authority of agency scientists, making it more difficult to remove obstacles like dams and roads that threaten a species’ recovery and restricting the department’s ability to classify a species as threatened or endangered.

As Representative Tom Udall of New Mexico observed, it’s perfectly permissible for an executive agency to “tinker around on small things.” But only Congress should be in the business of making fundamental changes to a law that Congress itself designed. If anybody should know this, it is Mr. Kempthorne. During his one term in the Senate, during the 1990s, he and the interior secretary at that time, Bruce Babbitt, worked together to improve the Endangered Species Act. The effort eventually foundered, but the approach was right.

A Convenient Lie

al goreAl Gore’s movie on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, opens nation wide this weekend. Locally, you can see it at The Flicks in Boise. The response from the right-wing media, the White House, and congressional Republicans is to wage their usual misinformation campaign. Bush leads the way by continuing to maintain that there is no scientific consensus as to whether global warming is manmade or naturally caused.

QUESTION: I know you’ve said you are not planning to see Al Gore’s new movie, but do you agree with the premise that global warming is a real and significant threat to the planet?

BUSH: I think it’s – I have said consistently that global warming something is a serious problem. There is a debate over whether it’s manmade or naturally caused. We ought to get beyond that debate and start implementing the technologies necessary to enable us to achieve a couple of big objectives. One, be good stewards of the environment, and two become less dependent on foreign sources of oil for economic reasons and for national security reasons.

Bush repeats this convenient lie even though the recent report from the National Academy of Sciences states,

“Surface temperature reconstructions for periods prior to the industrial era are only one of multiple lines of evidence supporting the conclusion that climatic warming is occurring in response to human activity…”

It is informative to see how these misinformation campaigns are waged. In this case, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) prints an article by global warming sceptic Richard Lindzen claiming that there is no consensus on global warming within the scientific community. Lindzen specifically attacks the Associated Press for an article claiming that the nation’s top climate scientists praised Gore’s movie for its accuracy. Lindzen’s claim rests on the following:

More recently, a study in the journal Science by the social scientist Nancy [sic – Naomi] Oreskes claimed that a search of the ISI Web of Knowledge Database for the years 1993 to 2003 under the key words “global climate change” produced 928 articles, all of whose abstracts supported what she referred to as the consensus view. A British social scientist, Benny Peiser, checked her procedure and found that only 913 of the 928 articles had abstracts at all, and that only 13 of the remaining 913 explicitly endorsed the so-called consensus view. Several actually opposed it.

What Lindzen doesn’t tell his readers is that Peiser’s critique of Oreskes’ study is completely flawed and filled with errors as Peiser, himself, admits. The errors in Peiser’s work are described in amazing detail here and here.

The lie takes on official sanction when the Republicans on the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works issue a press release (using taxpayer dollars to do so) titled “AP incorrectly claims scientists praise Gore’s movie. The press release repeats the lie of a lack of consensus over global warming and cites the Lindzen article as evidence.

Think Progress does a good job of pointing out the web of lies as they spread, but it is likely that most Americans will remain confused about the issue. That alone is reason enough to recommend Gore’s movie to everyone you see.

Blogging for a Cleaner Environment

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While we are waiting for Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, to open at The Flicks in Boise on June 30th, there is a clever way to help the environment from the comfort of our own blogs. DeepMarket.com, a stock-market analysis site, will offset one ton of carbon emissions for every blog that links to it. DeepMarket is doing a promotion through Carbonfund.org. When you go to DeepMarket, click through to Carbonfund. At their site, you can purchase offsets that translate to a carbon-neutral lifestyle. It’s pretty cool. There is more information about this at Treehugger.com.

Field and Stream Takes on The Bush Administration

I doubt if many would call Field and Stream a leftist magazine. Here in Idaho it is required reading for the average guy. Every doctor’s office and barber’s shop has a stack for browsing while you wait. So, it was quite surprising to read the following articles:
For Sale: Your Hunting Heritage

The Bush administration wants to hold a fire sale on our public lands. Will your grandchildren have places left to hunt? A report by Field & Stream conservation columnist Bob Marshall: Even for an administration that takes perverse pride in sneering at the term “conservation,” this latest news is a shocker: President Bush’s 2007 budget includes an order to the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to sell off as much as 800,000 acres of national lands to generate money for public schools. The proposal directs the agencies to raise nearly $1 billion for the federal treasury by selling more than 300,000 acres of national forest and up to 500,000 acres of BLM lands, mostly in western states. The sale was ordered to help fund a federal program that since 1908 has sent revenues from timber sales to rural counties to support, among other things, school programs. But as timber sales have steadily fallen over recent decades, the funding has dried up – so the administration wants to sell pieces of public recreation land to make up the difference.

Special Report: You Call This a Wetland?

The Bush Administration announced last week that the nation is no longer losing wetlands–as long as you consider golf course water hazards to be wetlands.Really.Thursday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton called a press conference to claim our long nightmare of wetlands loss had finally come to an end due to unprecedented gains since 1997 However, she then admitted much of that gain has been in artificially created ponds, such as golf course water hazards and farm impoundments.The sporting community–from Ducks Unlimited to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership–reacted quickly, and not favorably. Researchers long ago established that natural wetlands such as marshes, swamps and prairie potholes are far more productive than even the best-designed artificial wetlands. And sharp-edged water bodies like water hazards, farm ponds, and even reservoirs offer very little for wildlife. Putting man-made ponds in the same class as natural wetlands is like ranking pen-raised quail with wild coveys.The boldness of Norton’s claim was particularly galling given the Bush Administration’s record on wetlands. President Bush, like other presidents before him, promised a policy of “no net loss” of wetlands, but his administration has consistently supported rollbacks of the Clean Water Act to satisfy industry and development.In fact, at the same press conference, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported a continued loss of 523,500 acres of natural wetlands during the same time period. So how could the nation have come out ahead if it lost more than half a million acres? Norton didn’t try to hide the truth: The 715,300-acre “gain” was mainly artificial ponds.

These two article pull no punches in their criticism of the Bush Administration. If they mirror the attitudes of most outdoor enthusiasts (and if the reader’s comments included with the on-line versions are characteristic, they do), the Republican party is in the process of losing a group critical to their base in western states.

Here is a sample of some of those comments. To read the articles and all the comments go here and here.

This is simply more proof to conservationists and sportsmen that this administration does not have our interests at heart. I’m tired of being lied to so blatantly. It’s time for a change now before there is no place left to fish, to hunt, to camp, or to simply enjoy the natural world.

Why should the current administration care about national wilderness reserves, they own there own reserves for hunting, much like the King of England once did.Somehow we have a choice between having guns with no game [R] or game with no guns [D].I say we let the sportsman hunt on the greens, I am sure that would clear things up quickly.

Thanks F&S for running this article. It is ridiculous that this Administration is trying once again to undermine our public lands sporting heritage. It just goes to show out of touch these policy makers are with the average hunter and angler in this country. The future of hunting as we know it is dependant on keeping public lands in public hands!It would be difficult to improve upon the comments already made, all of which I completely agree with. I deeply regret voting for this sorry administration. They are not Republican Conservatives, but have turned out to be radical zealots, who have not hesitated to lie to us about nearly everything. I guess I mainly voted for them due to their alleged support of the 2nd amendment. I could not have imagined that they would have turned out to be simply point men for corporate interests. I would characterize myself as a fanatic hunter and fisherman AND a environmentalist. Both our interest groups should join forces against this disgraceful administration. I am 72 years old and have never seen anything like it!