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The Search for BP's Oil
Naomi Klein, The Nation
... For the scientists aboard the WeatherBird II, the recasting of the Deepwater Horizon spill as a good-news story about a disaster averted has not been easy to watch. Over the past seven months, they, along with a small group of similarly focused oceanographers from other universities, have logged dozens of weeks at sea in cramped research vessels, carefully measuring and monitoring the spill's impact on the delicate and little-understood ecology of the deep ocean. And these veteran scientists have seen things that they describe as unprecedented. Among their most striking findings are graveyards of recently deceased coral, oiled crab larvae, evidence of bizarre sickness in the phytoplankton and bacterial communities, and a mysterious brown liquid coating large swaths of the ocean floor, snuffing out life underneath. All are worrying signs that the toxins that invaded these waters are not finished wreaking havoc and could, in the months and years to come, lead to consequences as severe as commercial fishery collapses and even species extinction.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the most outspoken scientists doing this research come from Florida and Georgia, coastal states that have so far managed to avoid offshore drilling. Their universities are far less beholden to Big Oil than, say, Louisiana State University, which has received tens of millions from the oil giants. Again and again these scientists have used their independence to correct the official record about how much oil is actually out there, and what it is doing under the waves.
(14 January 2011)
'Aflockalypse': Here's Why We Should Really Be Concerned About the Huge Bird and Fish Die-off
Tara Lohan, AlterNet
The massive death toll of dead birds and sea life should draw attention to the countless other species on the brink of extinction.
By now, we've all seen the news reports of the "Aflockalypse." The New Year came in with a bang in Beebe, Arkansas when thousands of blackbirds fell from the sky. As news reports of the eerie incident spread, similar stories began surfacing all over the world: Massive fish kills by the thousands in Brazil, New Zealand, the Arkansas River and the Chesapeake; more bird deaths in Louisiana, Kentucky and Sweden; and tens of thousands of dead crabs (aptly named dead devil crabs) washing ashore in the U.K.
2011 seems to have gotten off to an ominous start, but so far no one credible has come up with a theory to link all these occurrences together.
... And these 10 are only the tip of the iceberg. A recent infographic on Mother Nature Network reveals that in the last 500 years, 900 species of plants and animals have gone extinct and 10,000 more are close to making that list. We've done the most damage, however, in the last 100 years. Biologically rich Ecuador has the most to lose, with 2,211 endangered species, but the U.S. is a close second (1,203 endangered species).
Honeybees aren't officially designated as endangered, but the population of these essential pollinators is falling thanks to "colony collapse disorder." A recent leaked EPA memo implicates the pesticide clothianidin as a contributor to honeybee die-offs, although sadly the EPA has yet to curb the chemical's use in the U.S.
(7 January 2011)
The History and Frightening Future of Forests
Tom Jacobs, Miller-McCune
... It seems that for every paper that warns forests are at risk from climate change, another suggests that, if well-managed, they could help mitigate its impact.
Playing the role of victim and savior simultaneously is a lot to ask, but then forests have always played a dual role in the lives of man.
... when it comes to saving forests, local residents are the problem. Or are they the solution? That’s the conclusion of a 2009 study by University of Illinois geographer Ashwini Chhatre. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he suggested that when the U.N. starts handing out checks, it should bypass national capitals and proceed straight to the residents living in or near the forests in question.
Chhatre and the University of Michigan’s Arun Agrawal focused on forest commons — community-owned and managed forests. Their analysis of 80 commons on three continents found they stored, on average, higher levels of carbon than government-owned and managed forests. “Local communities restrict their consumption of forest products when they own forest commons, thereby increasing carbon storage,” they wrote.
The researchers found local autonomy is associated with “low livelihood benefits but high carbon storage, as communities defer use” of their local forests. The opposite was true of forest land owned by national governments, which are generally predisposed to exploit resources.
(4 January 2011)
Goose Strike! Humans and the Sky
Glenn Hurowitz, The Atlantic
... I worry that we may not have learned our lesson -- and that even the goose and other winged creatures that have been at the center of heretofore successful conservation efforts for more than a century may find themselves in jeopardy.
This January represents the two year anniversary of the emergence of a deeper existential threat to geese and many other far less numerous birds -- one that represents a new and deeply troubling force in man's relationship to the creatures of the sky.
It was two years ago today that US Airways Flight 1549, famously piloted by Captain Chelsey Sullenberger, hit a flock of migrating Canada geese and was forced to make its dramatic water landing on the Hudson River before an audience of thousands watching from Manhattan's skyscrapers.
Soon, New York and then the country, divided itself into pro and anti-geese camps. Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced a death-to-geese policy for any bird unfortunate to find itself within five miles of one of New York's airports. Wildlife agents waited until goose breeding season when the animals don't take flight in order to protect their young and used kayaks to herd them ashore into pens, whence they were driven off to a goose gas chamber and buried. The Obama administration, eager not to be outflanked on goose killing, unleashed the Agriculture Department's brutal "Wildlife Services" division on the geese and is planning to destroy more than 150,000 New York State geese out of a total population of a quarter million -- and then move onto other states.
There's something new and deeply awful about this campaign that distinguishes it from previous wildlife extermination efforts. The geese are being targeted not for their meat or their feathers or some tangible utilitarian use. Rather, they are being killed merely because they inhabit the sky -- into which our species has relatively recently decided to start flinging, on 90 second intervals, 700 thousand pound metal tubes with multiple jet engines attached to their wings through the air at average speeds of five hundred miles per hour.
... Perhaps it goes without saying that the Canada Goose slaughter policy, even on its own terms, is unnecessary. Bird-aviation experts such as the Bird Strike Committee (composed of representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the USDA, the military, airports, and airlines) list as one of their top ten myths the idea that "If birds are a problem at an airport, killing them all would eliminate the problem." They note that such slaughter is not only illegal, but that one bird species can quickly be replaced by another -- and that there are far more effective, humane, and ecological options for reducing dangerous interactions.
Some of these solutions are so simple, they require merely an absence of effort. Probably the single most effective way of avoiding bird-plane collisions is keeping grass next to runways high so that birds can't see potential predators and stay away. The Air Force, for instance, mandates that grass near its runways be maintained between 7-14 inches for this very reason. But commercial airports around the country continue to clip their grass short, partly for perceived aesthetic values and partly because they mistakenly believe that short grass has to be cut less (the opposite is true). To the extent that bird strikes are a danger, bad turf management at airports and surrounding areas is usually the culprit.
(15 January 2011)