Friday, September 24, 2010

"Philippine coral reefs - in hot water"

The Philippine Star:

Imagine taking a dip in a hot spring for 10 to 30 minutes — what a relaxing thought! But imagine being in a hot spring for several hours, or even days — that certainly would not be good for your health. That is the situation our coral reefs find themselves in. Since last May, the water temperature of the western Philippines (from Luzon to the Visayas, Palawan and Mindanao) has been 2 to 3°C above normal. The abnormally high water temperature is killing plenty of coral.

What is coral bleaching?

At first glance, coral simply looks like either a rock (if it is hard coral which has an outer skeleton made of limestone) or a plant (if it is soft coral which does not produce a limestone skeleton). But actually, coral is a colony of tiny animals called coral polyps. Each coral polyp can roughly be described as having a body (that looks like your wrist and hand pointing up) with tentacles (which look like your fingers) and a mouth (imagine a hole in the center of your palm). Living inside the body tissue of each coral polyp are microscopic plants (called “zooxanthellae”). These tiny algae produce nutrients for the polyp. The coral returns the favor by providing the algae with a place to live. Algae come in a rainbow of colors. It is the algae living inside the coral, which give color to the coral.

When corals are severely stressed, these are forced to release the algae living in their tissues. This is a last ditch effort by the corals to save themselves. Without the algae, corals lose their color and turn white, hence the term “coral bleaching.”

For corals, “bleaching” means not just a change in their color, it also means they are already in a life-or-death situation. (Please note that when coral is newly bleached, it is not yet dead. If the source of stress is removed and if not too much time has passed, it may still be possible for the coral to recover.)

Latest findings

In 1998, a significant bleaching killed over 90 percent of the corals in 19 percent of coral reefs worldwide. For the past few months, scientists from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) and De La Salle University’s Br. Alfred Shields Marine Station have gathered data indicating that a massive bleaching event may be unfolding in our seas. Dr. Perry Aliño of the UP MSI says that up to 75 percent of our corals may be severely affected. This is a worrisome scenario because we have so few healthy reefs left, according to Dr. Al Licuanan of the DLSU. His studies show that if major bleaching events occur every 10 years, then in 50 years, only 11 percent of our corals will remain. If major bleaching was to occur more often (i.e., every five years), only one percent of our corals will remain after 50 years. Recent analyses involving many local scientists show one third of all coral species worldwide now are more likely to go extinct because of climate change and local impacts.

Much to lose

Bleaching has a huge negative impact, not only on coral but also on man. If coral bleaches and is unable to recover, then it dies and becomes covered with long tufts of algae. Residents of the diverse marine community, whose lives revolve around the coral reef, disappear. Small fish which feed either on the coral or on algae disappear, together with the bigger fish which feed on them. Shrimps, crabs, starfish, sea cucumbers, squids, sea snails, etc. have to leave the dead reef. Ultimately, the local community suffers because fish catch is greatly affected, together with income from tourism. According to Mags Quibilan of UP MSI, the bleaching event of 1998 resulted in an income loss of $15 million for the El Nido area in Palawan.

We can help

• Report sightings of bleached coral to the Philippine Coral Bleaching Watch on Facebook.

• To give coral as much chance as possible to recover from the high temperature of the ocean, reduce the other sources of stress for coral, such as:

• Sedimentation – Soil that goes into the ocean as a result of agricultural run-off, coastal development, and mining kills coral.

• Pollution – Corals need clean and clear water.

• Destructive fishing methods – overfishing, blast fishing, cyanide fishing

• Garbage – Please do not throw litter into the sea, no matter how small. You would be surprised how many candy wrappers and sachets of shampoo are found on top of corals. These smother and kill corals.

• Diver damage – To scuba divers: as much as possible, please avoid touching or stepping on corals.

• Support the creation and better management of more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) — Coral bleaching has affected all reef areas, including MPAs, but better recovery has been observed in MPAs compared to unprotected sites.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Deformed Fish on Athabasca River (Canada)

From the

Given the regularity with which fisherman now catch deformed fish, Schindler suggested that a federally funded fish health study on the Athabasca River "should be a much higher priority [for Ottawa] than funding hockey rinks and new fighter jets." Aboriginal communities and leaders downstream of the oil sands have been calling for such studies for nearly a decade.

Of 27 whitefish, burbot and northern pike recently collected by Robert Grandjambe, a resident of Fort Chip, seven had deformities, lesions, curved spines and bulging eyes. No reliable data exists on the actual percentage of deformed fish being caught downstream from the oil sands. But it may range from two to 20 per cent, says Schindler....

Ladouceur, who has been fishing commercially for 53 years on the lake and has lost eight family members to cancer, said, "I never saw deformed fish in my younger days. We've been trying to get some help to figure this out."

"We are human beings. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach treats his dogs better. Sorry to say, but we need help."

Toxic brew identified by scientists

Many industrial sources now pollute the Athabasca River, including pulp mills, agricultural run-off, abandoned uranium mines and municipal waste. But two studies published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) have also shown that industrial air pollution and watershed destruction directly caused by the oil/tar sands has contaminated the river with heavy metals and petroleum compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

However, both Ottawa and the Alberta government, which are dependent on oil sand taxes and royalties, claim that all the pollution in the river is naturally occurring based on proprietary data collected by an industry-funded group.

Yet a 2009 study by David Schindler and Erin Kelly found that oil sands air pollution now blackens the snow with thousands of tonnes of bitumen particulates and PAHS during the winter within a 50 kilometre radius of the industry upgraders, resulting in an annual 5,000 barrel oil spill on the river during spring run-off.

Last month another study by Erin Kelly and David Schindler showed that air pollution and watershed destruction by the oil sands industry directly adds a rich brew of heavy metals including arsenic, thallium and mercury into the Athabasca river and at levels up to 30 times greater than permitted by pollution guidelines. Many heavy metals can increase the toxicity of PAHs.

Furthermore several studies have also found high levels of PAHs in six billion barrels of oil sands mining waste (enough to stretch to the moon and back 12 times) now stored in huge dams covering an area larger than the city of Vancouver...

Fish can absorb PAHS from water and sediment via their gills, skin and stomach. Different PAHs can cause totally different diseases and deformities in different fish species, including cataracts, tumors of the skin and liver, weakened immune systems, deformities, bile duct cancers and heart troubles.

PAHs can persist and behave in unexpected ways. A 2003 high profile study in the journal Science found that weathered oil from 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, including PAHs, continued to poison and affect the lifespan of fish and sea otters at sublethal levels more than a decade later. Long term PAH exposure not only stunted the growth of young pink salmon embryos, for example, but decreased their lifespan by 50 per cent.

"Land of dead fish"

_______________These dead fish were found in a Louisiana bayou that was affected by oil from the BP spill but it is not known what killed them in such numbers.

- FISH carcasses from a massive fish kill in the Bayou Chaland area of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, are shown in this handout photograph taken last Friday and released on Wednesday.

The cause of the deaths has not yet been determined, but the area the carcasses were discovered in was affected by oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Among the dead fish were pogie fish, redfish, shrimp, crabs and freshwater eels.

On Wednesday, BP chief Tony Hayward defended the company's safety procedures as British MPs grilled him over the oil spill.

Mr Hayward said the spill - the worst environmental catastrophe in US history - was 'devastating' to him personally but denied that there had been any cost-cutting at the energy giant in the run-up to the accident....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Melting sea ice forces walruses ashore in Alaska"

AP-Tens of thousands of walruses have come ashore in northwest Alaska because the sea ice they normally rest on has melted.
Federal scientists say this massive move to shore by walruses is unusual in the United States. But it has happened at least twice before, in 2007 and 2009. In those years Arctic sea ice also was at or near record low levels.

The population of walruses stretches "for one mile or more. This is just packed shoulder-to-shoulder," U.S. Geological Survey biologist Anthony Fischbach said in a telephone interview from Alaska. He estimated their number at tens of thousands.

Scientists with two federal agencies are most concerned about the one-ton female walruses stampeding and crushing each other and their smaller calves near Point Lay, Alaska, on the Chukchi Sea. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to change airplane flight patterns to avoid spooking the animals. Officials have also asked locals to be judicious about hunting, said agency spokesman Bruce Woods.

The federal government is in a year-long process to determine if walruses should be put on the endangered species list.

Fischbach said scientists don't know how long the walrus camp-out will last, but there should be enough food for all of them.
During normal summers, the males go off to play in the Bering Sea, while the females raise their young in the Chukchi. The females rest on sea ice and dive from it to the sea floor for clams and worms.

"When they no longer have a place to rest, they need to go some place and it's a long commute," Fischbach said. "This is directly related to the lack of sea ice."....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Women's Suffrage

Suffragists marching down 5th Avenue in 1917_____________

I recently noticed an article in Science magazine that suggested people's feelings about equality were determined in part by how wealth was distributed. So if you were a male who lived in a place where males inherited and kept family wealth you would essentially grow up figuring that was normal. Like Nietzche and his Master/Slave idea - if you were on the master side - you may likely find a way to justify that (as he did) while those on the powerless side would more than likely find fault with the unequal set-up.

I have a set of 1911 Encyclopedia Britannicas (this volume has also been posted online). I was noticing the section on "Women". It discusses the rights and lack there-of of women. In 1910, mothers were responsible for support of any illegitimate children up to the age of 16, while fathers of legitimate children had custody rights unless the father's were guilty of some sort of misconduct. Women were prevented from inheriting real estate if there were any male heirs. Husbands could get divorced if their wives had sex outside of marriage, but women could not if their husbands did, unless the husband was also cruel or deserted them.

Being written in 1910, women's suffrage was a hot topic. A Quaker by the name of Anne Kent of Chelmsford is credited with starting up the "Sheffield Female Political Association" - getting the movement off the ground in England in the 1850s. Soon after, Lydia Ernestine Baker created the "Englishwoman's Journal". There was agitation to change laws relating to married women's property and earnings. Some also fought for the rights of unmarried working women. (In The USA, the first woman's suffrage convention was held in 1848 in Seneca Fall, NY with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha C. Wright and Lucretia Mott (Wright and Mott and many others in the group were "radical Quakers"). Here, again, property rights were part of the issue.)

John Stuart Mill was known for making Women's Suffrage an Election issue in England. He is also known for his book, "The Subjection of Women." He was a proponent of individual rights over state rights, including the rights of people who were then slaves, as well as the rights of women (while others were arguing that women and blacks were inferior). Mills idea of utilitarianism has been called the "greatest-happiness principle" - that people should act so as to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, within reason. Early in his career he was a free-market economist - but refined his ideas and became more socialist in outlook. Mills recognized the problem of the tyranny of the majority.

The Britannica article about women suggested as an example of the argument against women's suffrage A.V. Dicey's 1909 article ""Woman's Suffrage" in Quarterly Review (can be found online). Dicey argued that women getting the vote would be bad for Great Britain. He was afraid women would vote against the interests of the empire. He didn't think women had the education or judgement to vote. He was afraid it would lead to women having equal rights. Dicey was also worried that with women getting the vote, that all men would also get the vote. So instead of the vote being cast by male property owners (app. 7,000,000), it would be open to 20,000,000-24,000,000 people. The power of the then current voters would be drastically diminished.

Dicey also did not recognize that men and women might have different interests or concerns.

Dicey, of course, is a prime example of someone with disproportionate power who wanted to maintain the inequality that favored himself. John Stuart Mill would also have benefitted from inequality, but he is an example of someone who can see what is truly the best course of action to take, as opposed to that which is merely the best for himself and those with his education and status. He was also able to see and understand that there is value in the natural world and that unlimited growth of industry, etc. would result in the destruction of the environment and a reduced quality of life.

There were, of course, various anti-suffrage groups such as the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League which submitted a petition to the English Parliament in 1907 with 87,500 names against women's suffrage, but it was discovered to be fraudulent. The Catholic Encyclopedia c. 1912 recommended that Catholics support the anti-suffrage movement. As the 1911 Britannica states, "Though Christianity and a broadening of men's theories of life tended to raise the moral and social status of women, yet Paul definitely assigns subservience as the proper function of women, and many of the fathers looked upon them mainly as inheriting the temptress function of Eve."

It is no coincidence that Quakers who are non-hierarchical in their religious practices have been more likely to push for social changes addressing equal rights for all, as opposed to people of other denominations that maintain a rigid hierarchy and male dominance. Elizabeth Cady Stanton found organized Christianity to be too sexist and she would not participate. She was more radical than even the "radical Quakers."

The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings. The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear — is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself [...].

- Elizabeth Cady Stanton's final appearance before members of the United States Congress in 1892. She died in 1902.

In England, women over the age of 30 got the vote in 1918; providing they were householders, married to a householder or if they held a university degree. Universal suffrage for all adults over 21 years of age was not achieved until 1928. In the USA, women got the right to vote in 1920. This November's election marks a mere 90 years that women have the right to vote in the US.

Some contemporary women leaders include (from an article in Time): Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia; Johanna Sigurdardottir, Prime Minister of Iceland; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina; Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Sheik Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia; Tarja Halonen, President of Finland; Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago; Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Contaminated Shellfish (As you would expect)

From The Epoch Times:

By any normal examination, nothing seemed off. The oil couldn’t be seen or smelled, but lab tests on the oysters and soil showed the contaminant levels were through the roof.

“We didn’t see anything unusual. That was kind of the disturbing part when we got the results back,” said Lower Mississippi River Keeper Paul Orr, from the Water Keeper Alliance.

Orr went to several sites in the Gulf of Mexico with a team of researchers to take samples of the soil, plants, and sea life. The team has results from two locations and is still waiting on the rest. “When the numbers came back, I was quite surprised they were so high,” Orr said.

What they were looking for were polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—carcinogenic contaminants from the BP oil spill. Since PAHs carry a kind of fingerprint, BP can be traced as the source of some of the contaminated areas.

“We did find it in large quantities in the soil sediment, as well as in vegetation and organisms—oysters and some in the crabs,” said Wilma Subra, a MacArthur Award-winning chemist who conducted the tests.

Subra said that other contaminants were found along with the PAHs, and “we’re not talking parts-per-million or parts-per-billion.” “It was there in substantial concentrations. If you had to test it to determine whether or not that area would be applicable to being harvested, those concentrations were way over the concentration you would ever even consider.”

The team is waiting for results from fish and shrimp samples. Among the team are members of the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery, Water Keeper Alliance, and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

Many of the locations were investigated following tips from local fishermen who said they could see or smell oil in the areas.

Some Mississippi state waters were reopened to commercial fishing last month. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg released a statement on Aug. 2, saying, “We are confident all appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that seafood harvested from the waters being opened today is safe and that Gulf seafood lovers everywhere can be confident eating and enjoying the fish and shrimp that will be coming out of this area.”

Subra said she is concerned that, based on her latest findings, there could still be problems. “They are apparently not testing nearly as many organisms as we would like, and apparently they are not testing in all the areas where we are finding the visual residual oil,” she said.

In some areas, plants were still covered in oil, and a sheen could be seen on the soil. She shared her hope that the findings will lead to further studies into whether the seafood in the Gulf is safe. Other sites have been horrific. Among them was a small island where the ground was littered with dead and dying birds.

Monday, September 06, 2010

"A World in Collapse"

Alex Doherty interviewing Robert Jensen @ the New Left Project

Why do you think it is justified to describe the world as collapsing?

Take a look at any measure of the fundamental health of the planetary ecosystem on which we are dependent: topsoil loss, chemical contamination of soil and water, species extinction and reduction in biodiversity, the state of the world’s oceans, unmanageable toxic waste problems, and climate change. Take a look at the data, and the news is bad on every front. And all of this is in the context of the dramatic decline coming in the highly concentrated energy available from oil and natural gas, and the increased climate disruption that will come if we keep burning the still-abundant coal reserves. There are no replacement fuels on the horizon that will allow a smooth transition. These ecological realities will play out in a world structured by a system of nation-states rooted in the grotesque inequality resulting from imperialism and capitalism, all of which is eroding what is left of our collective humanity. “Collapsing” seems like a reasonable description of the world.

That doesn’t mean there’s a cataclysmic end point coming soon, but this is an apocalyptic moment. The word “apocalypse” does not mean “end.” It comes from a Greek word that means “uncovering” or “lifting the veil.” This is an apocalyptic moment because we need to lift the veil and have the courage to look at the world honestly.

Why do you think many leftists shy away from such language when discussing the environment?

I think not only leftists, but people in general, avoid these realities because reality is so grim. It seems overwhelming to most people, for good reason. So, rather than confront it, people find modes of evasion. One is to deny there’s a reason to worry, which is common throughout the culture. The most common evasive strategy I hear from people on the left is “technological fundamentalism”—the idea that because we want high-energy/high-tech solutions that will allow us to live in the style to which so many of us have become accustomed, those solutions will be found. That kind of magical thinking is appealing but unrealistic, for two reasons. First, while the human discoveries of the past few centuries are impressive, they have not been on the scale required to correct the course we’re on; we’ve created problems that have grown beyond our capacity to understand and manage. Second, those discoveries were subsidized by fossil-fuel energy that won’t be around much longer, which dramatically limits what we will be able to accomplish through energy-intensive advanced technology. As many people have pointed out, technology is not energy; you don’t replace energy with technology. Technology can make some processes more energy-efficient, but it can’t create energy out of thin air.

I’ve had many left colleagues tell me that they agree with some or all of my analysis, but that “people aren’t ready to hear that yet.” I translate that to mean, “I’m not ready to hear that yet.” I think a lot of leftists displace their own fear of confronting these difficult realities onto “the masses,” when in fact they can’t face it.

The other factor is that truly crazy end-times talk, which comes primarily from reactionary religious sources, leads many people to reflexively dismiss any talk of collapse. So, it’s important to be clear: I’m not predicting the end of world on a specific date. I’m not predicting anything. I’m simply describing what some of us believe to be the most likely trajectory of the high-energy/high-tech society in which we live. And I’m suggesting that we keep this trajectory in mind as we pursue left/feminist critiques of hierarchy and domination, in the hope that more egalitarian and humane models for human organization can help us deal with collapse.

How realistic are proposals for alternative economic systems such as green bio-regionalism or participatory economics in the context of climate catastrophe?

First, I think every political project—whether it is focused on labour organizing, resistance to white supremacy, women’s rights, anti-war activity—has to include an ecological component. That doesn’t mean everyone has to shift focus, but I think there is no meaningful politics that doesn’t recognize the fragility of our situation and the likelihood that the most vulnerable people (both in the United States and around the world) are going to bear the brunt of the ecological decline. A responsible left/feminist politics should connect the dots whenever and wherever possible. Here’s one obvious example: U.S. imperial wars, born of a patriarchal system, are waged to support corporate interests in the most crucial energy-producing regions of the world, which are predominantly non-white. Resistance to those wars requires a critique of male dominance, white supremacy, capitalism, and the affluent First-World lifestyles that numb people to the reality that they are morally implicated in these wars. Those wars are dramatically escalating the intensity and potential destructiveness of the coming collapse. Concern for justice and ecological sustainability demands an anti-war and anti-empire politics. There is no way to focus on one aspect of an injustice without understanding these intersections.

Second, more than ever, “let a hundred flowers blossom.” When we know so little about what’s coming, it’s best if people pursue a variety of strategies that they feel drawn to. In Austin, I’m working primarily with one group that advocates for immigrant workers (Workers Defense Project) and another that helps people start worker-owned cooperative businesses (Third Coast Workers for Cooperation). Neither group is focused specifically on the ecological crises, but there’s incredible energy and ideas in these groups, and they create spaces for advancing a coordinated critique of capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, all with an understanding of the ecological stakes. Maybe it’s natural for people to want to believe that they have hit on the solution to a problem, but I believe that the problems are complex beyond our understanding, and it’s not only unlikely that there’s a single solution but there may be no solutions at all—if by “solution” we mean a way to continue human existence on the planet at its current level. We need experiments on every front that help us imagine new ways of being...