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Fierce love: Julia Butterfly Hill

Posted by Jim on July 19th, 2008

“I was born dead,” remarks Julia Butterfly Hill, almost in passing.

“Literally?” I ask.

Yes — she in fact needed to be resuscitated upon birth. Perhaps that’s one key to understanding how she, at age 23, was able to find the clarity and courage to occupy a California Redwood named Luna for over two years.

It was that experience that raised her consciousness regarding her consumption habits. After all, as she says, the people bringing her supplies risked arrest and potential harm; she had to be mindful of every detail.

Now, Julia is a free ranging activist, tackling social justice and environmental issues, and traveling the world giving workshops and holding conversations.

I’m sitting with Julia in Indianapolis at a small gathering of environmental activists. The people around this table struggle daily with the conundrum of fighting for the environment in a world where it seems too few people care. And even if enough people did care and big change happened fast, isn’t it too late anyway?

Julia doesn’t obsess over these sorts of questions and so she’s a drink of cool clear water to an apocalyptic zealot like me.

“Doesn’t it just drive you crazy how people behave?” someone asks.

Julia laughs. It’s one of the first things you notice about this 34-year-old woman. Her laugh.

She responds that she doesn’t worry so much about the “unconscious people, it’s the supposedly conscious people who are full of contradictions” — like environmentalist gatherings that don’t have recyclables.

But don’t get started on the subject of recycling.

Recycling, she says, is just a way to “make us feel better” about consuming in the first place.

“We’re addicted to comfort,” she says. Few are willing to challenge their personal status quo – whether it’s to put themselves in danger of arrest or harm, or to cut back on their lifestyle, or to skip taking a vacation this year.

She doesn’t admonish the comfort-addicted among us, though. Instead, she laughs again, her brown hair falling into her eyes. My eyes move to her t-shirt, with words Mother Earth.

Not everybody “can be on the front lines,” she says. Not everyone can put their bodies on the line.

The key to activism?

Loving action = fierce love.

Julia doesn’t operate out of anger or fear, but out of love. She says she began her sit in Luna out of “grief for what was happening to the Redwoods.” But that grief morphed into love. Love for the earth. Love for humanity.

That love for humanity makes her a shifting target for both those in opposition to her as well as environmental groups who wish she was as angry as they.

She’s able to parry that opposition by transcending traditional dichotomies.

“But how do we get people to care about our issues?” someone asks.

Julia ponders a moment, then answers: “By finding out what they care about.”

The “good stories” are out there, she maintains. Stories where people get together and make their neighborhood a better place — for example, the City Repair Project that started in Portland, Oregon, and has spread across the country.

Late in the gathering she wonders aloud if the carbon imprint of flying to Indianapolis and driving to this event was worth it. “I might have done more good by staying away,” she says.

We don’t agree, of course, having drunk the cool clear water of Julia’s clarity. And heard her laugh, over and over.

But I get the point. The more conscious you are about your consumption habits, the more you start to question every single decision.

“I’m in service not because the world’s in peril,” she says in closing. “I’m in service because it’s what I want to do.” — Jim

Julia’s blog can be found at:

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On becoming an apocalyptic zealot.

Posted by Michael on June 5th, 2008

I’m no fun at parties anymore.

I’m like that guy whose only conversational gambit is to talk about the Spassky-Fisher match of 1973. Or the geek who has discovered SecondLife or WorldOfWarcraft. Or the airhead, who only wants to talk about celebrities, and other virtual worlds.

Or more to the point, that guy who has recently converted, and sees everything through the lens of the revealed.

In my case, that lens is cascading, endless bad news about species collapse, environmental collapse, peak oil and gas and phosphorus, toxic breaches and endocrine disruptions, and climate warming leading to ocean acidification. It’s the human-made horrors of the last century.

Because of what Jim and I are doing here, we are required, by our self-stated commitment, to be The ApocoDocs. We have to filter the news about the five apocalyptic scenarios, as well as finding stories of Recovery.

Sure, we make fun of all the news items, and make silly quizzes — that’s the gimmick, to get readers to pay attention by being entertained — and it’s kind of a hoot to be snarky about stuff that scares the shit out of me.

To construct that “fun,” Jim and I spend an aggregate hour or so each day, selecting the news stories we want to showcase — because there’s far more out there than we could include. And to be true ApocoDocs, we also have to know the background, understand the context, and be able to make informed predictions and judgments.

Today I read, for “fun,” a few chapters from the gorgeous, astonishing publication called Sustaining Life, from Oxford Univ. Press, which includes gems like:

The herbacide atrazine, widely used in the United States (~75 million pounds are applied each year) but banned in seven European Union countries, has been shown to change the sex of Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens) and to slow their gonadal development at levels of only 0.1 parts per billion, a concentration that is found in rainwater essentially everywhere in the United States.

This fragile, collapsing, feedback-looping, it’s-so-much-worse-than-we-thought world is the world as it is. I am looking at the world through the lens of the revealed.

I saw the Obama/Clinton rivalry only through this lens: who might have a chance in hell of enlisting the world in the struggle to save itself?

I see the “threat of terrorism” through this lens as a paltry, puny, gnat of a problem, in comparison with overfishing, ocean acidification, and environmental toxification.

I see the recession we’re in as only another goddamn barrier to recovery, since there’s less money to spend on what matters: halting the spread of mercury and other heavy metals far and wide, through coal mining and burning.

I see the continuing rise of gas prices only through this lens (even as it bites me in the wallet), because the only way we will reduce our CO2 emissions is if it’s too costly not to — and if economic depression means we get energy efficient, then it’s a step in the right direction.

I see every plastic bag, every disposable lighter, every discarded bit of diaphonous wrap through this lens: in the carcasses of albatross chicks, having had it disgorged into their gullets by their parents as “food.”

I see every container ship through this lens: the ballast water they bring and dump inevitably contains alien species, some of which become invasive, and kill off the native species — an endless, continuous stream of ecosystem damage from place to place.

I like to think that this newfound zealotry helps me understand the perspective of other zealots: Islamic fundamentalists, anti-abortion militants, rooters for Armageddon, neoconservatives, fascists, Earth Liberation Frontists, Ayn Randians, Scientologists, and all the other glazed-eyed true believers. When it all makes sense through the new lens, we then frame the rest of the world through those glasses.

And like any zealot, I’m of course convinced that my zealotry is more right than anyone else’s, because I have the facts of science on my side. I can say “my fifty years of rational, empirical, evidence-based thinking has led me to conclude….”

I can say “take a look at this, and this, and this, and this…”

But it doesn’t make me any more fun at parties.

O wretched lens, through which I must now see.

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The true challenges for the next president

Posted by Michael on May 30th, 2008

Whether the next president is Obama or (cringe) McCain, quite apart from rebuilding the charred ethical wasteland of the Administrative branch of government, coping with the ruins of the housing market and its effects on the economy, and dealing with the aortic congestion caused by ever-increasing energy prices, he will be facing complex, system-wide, slow-motion apocalypses that will span his presidency.

Among them, collapsing ecosystems:

  • So what’s Plan Bee?
    [London Guardian, Sun, May 25, 2008]

  • Over 50 percent of oceanic shark species threatened with extinction
    [Aquatic Conservation, via EurekAlert, Fri, May 23, 2008]

  • Biodiversity Loss Puts People At Risk: World Wildlife Fund
    [World Wildlife Fund via ScienceDaily, Wed, May 21, 2008]

  • Climate ‘accelerating bird loss’
    [BBC, Tue, May 20, 2008]

  • UN Experts To Say 2010 Biodiversity Target Elusive
    [Planet Ark via Reuters, Mon, May 19, 2008]

  • ‘Frightening’ future must be avoided to retain the integrity of planet we share
    [The Scotsman, Sat, May 17, 2008]

  • Window Of Opportunity For Restoring Oaks Small, New Study Finds
    [USDA Forest Survey, via ScienceDaily, Fri, May 16, 2008] More information is available on the Species Collapse scenario
  • And, declining resources worldwide:

  • Get used to high food costs, water shortages
    [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Wed, May 28, 2008]

  • Oil crisis triggers fevered scramble for the world’s seabed
    [London Daily Telegraph, Tue, May 27, 2008]

  • Midwest’s message: Hands off our lakes
    [Chicago Tribune, Tue, May 27, 2008]

  • Poor soil lowers world’s production of food
    [Ventura County Star, Sun, May 25, 2008]

  • Drought turning futures to dust
    [Houston Chronicle, Sun, May 25, 2008]

  • Shell ’selling suicide’ by preferring tar sands to wind
    [Guardian (UK), Thu, May 22, 2008]

  • Famine Looms as Wars Rend Horn of Africa
    [New York Times, Sat, May 17, 2008]
  • More information is available on the Resource Depletion scenario

    And, Climate Chaos:

  • Large Methane Release Could Cause Abrupt Climate Change As Happened 635 Million Years Ago
    [University of California - Riverside via ScienceDaily, Fri, May 30, 2008]

  • White House issues climate report 4 years late
    [Associated Press, Thu, May 29, 2008]

  • Scientists warn of rising Pacific Coast acidity
    [The New York Times via Associated Press, Wed, May 28, 2008]

  • G8 meet sidesteps midterm gas cuts
    [The Japan Times, Mon, May 26, 2008]

  • Billions wasted on UN climate programme
    [London Guardian, Mon, May 26, 2008]

  • Tufts global warming study eyes cost of doing nothing
    [Houston Chronicle, Sun, May 25, 2008] More information is available on the Climate Chaos scenario
  • AND he will be dealing with the tremendous economic upheaval of these and other apocalyptic (yet realistic) scenarios of grinding, slow-motion, systemic collapses over the next decade.

    These realities need to be addressed by the candidates in the coming months — because these are the issues that will make a real difference to our children and grandchildren.

    There are also signs of hope, here and there:

  • Green Firms Rewarded By Financial Markets
    [Strategic Management Journal, Thu, May 29, 2008]
  • New study finds most North Pacific humpback whale populations rebounding [NOAA, via EurekAlert, Fri, May 23, 2008]

  • Oregano oil works as well as synthetic insecticides to tackle common beetle pest
    [Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Fri, May 23, 2008]

  • Simple, Low-cost Carbon Filter Removes 90 Percent Of Carbon Dioxide From Smokestack Gases
    [American Chemical Society via ScienceDaily, Wed, May 21, 2008]

  • US Changes Course, Bans Drilling In Arctic Wetland
    [Planet Ark via Reuters, Mon, May 19, 2008]

  • Recovery plan kills species’ foe, thins fire-prone forests
    [Redding News, Sat, May 17, 2008]

  • Prince Charles urges forest logging halt
    [The Post (Pakistan), Fri, May 16, 2008]More information is available on this Recovery scenario
  • We need to see thoughtful, reasoned, rational acknowledgement of the sacrifices required by these last few party generations, if we are to have any hope of ending the next decade with a world remotely recognizable as related to how we live today.

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    When GMO ≠ GMO

    Posted by Michael on May 11th, 2008

    Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can raise my hackles. But only sometimes. Other times, I’m delighted by the creativity, ingenuity, and smarts of the technology and its scientists.

    What scares me most, I’ve discovered while working on a related project, is idle blurring of the various issues involved with “Genetic Modification.” When we speak as if it’s all the same, and worse, when our leaders polarize the issue, then society is the worse for it. We need to acknowledge that it’s not necessarily the process, but rather the implementation that is at issue.

    On the one hand, you can have stupid GMO, as we have seen with Monsanto’s proprietary “roundup ready” crop seeds — corn, soybeans, and a few other crops they’ve developed, which can withstand Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup™.

    They raise my hackles because they’re stupidly produced, stupidly implemented, and with a business model that is stupid for the planet, if clever for Monsanto.

    a) Monsanto requires, and vigorously enforces, the provision that farmers sign away their right to replant seed grown on their own farms. Instead, they’re required to buy new seed from Monsanto, every season.

    b) The early GMO seed — the Monsanto stuff in particular — was produced in a frighteningly primitive way: essentially blasting desired DNA (and a whole lot of other DNA) into another set of DNA, and seeing what happened. If the resulting plant showed promise, and didn’t fail to thrive (that is, no mutation was causing obvious troubles), then it would be propogated.

    That is, they were aiming at a target — getting RoundUpReady™ seed — and then using a shotgun to fire at the target. And by golly, one of the pellets hit a bulls-eye!

    But we haven’t done thorough studies of where the other pellets went — and what damage they might have done outside the target. Instead, Monsanto is making astounding profits testing the system “in the field.” Which leads me to:

    c) Humankind is allowing Monsanto (and other GM crop producers) to use the world as a petrie dish. This is fundamentally stupid: few if any human-health, genetic-drift, ecosystem-health, or other tests have been done on these crops, yet we’re planting millions of acres of Monsanto seed, resulting in plenty of spillover (GM canola has been found growing as a weed in Japan, which nationally prohibits GMO importation).

    It may be mere coincidence that bee colonies are suffering colony collapse disorder, but we don’t know — because the pollen of RoundUpReady soybeans was never tested on pollen-collectors. We haven’t tested to see what degree of digestive problems might be the result of an allergy to, say, GM corn-produced corn syrup. We haven’t tested whether the worms in the soil get have their reproductive systems screwed up because they end up eating the Roundup-killed weeds in those cornfields, or the decaying roots of the previous year’s corn.

    a) is insulting, b) is primitive, and c) is idiotic. That’s three strikes.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m fully anti-GMO. There are some amazing projects out there, which are smart, and are also controlled. That is, they are systems that use genetically modified bacteria to turn cellulose — the chaff, the corn husks, the sawdust — into ethanol, thereby taking straw and turning it into gold.

    Elsewhere scientists are modifying bacteria to fix nitrogen while producing sugars to make burnable gas, grown in transparent vats, using sunlight to grow.

    What’s different is that these are a closed systems. These smart GMO projects and others are being tested, and refined, within a laboratory. They’re tested, they’re checked, they’re limited even if scaled up.

    Among the many reasons these distinctions matters is that knee-jerk anti-GMO reactions are as easy to dismiss as knee-jerk creationist reactions: who but a zealot would refuse to acknowledge that bacterial infections have evolved to defeat a sequence of antibiotics? The scientists working in the exciting GM field can easily dismiss societal concerns — justifiable concerns — by painting them with the brush of zealotry.

    We, and our political and scientific leaders, need to take a multivalent view of GMOs — it’s not binary, not just “bad” or “good.” It’s not the “genetically modifed” part that is so wrong (and many a biologist will tell you “we’ve been doing genetic modification via hybrids for thousands of years”) — it’s the stupid implementation of promoting uncontrolled organisms that might have profound effects on our food, our health, and our biome.

    We should ensure that all GM work is done smartly, not stupidly. And we need to be sure that profit is not used as an excuse for irresponsibility.

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    Canadian schools sent brochures from climate change skeptics

    Posted by Jim on May 6th, 2008

    From National Post via CanWest News:
    “An American think tank [the Chicago-based Heartland Institute] has sent out more than 11,000 brochures and DVDs to Canadian schools urging them to teach their students that scientists are exaggerating how human activity is the driving force behind global warming.”

    Want to find out more about Heartland Institute? Here’s where I went:

    This is SourceWatch, “a free encyclopedia of people, issues, and groups shaping the public agenda that is being written collaboratively on this web site. It catalogues descriptions and details of PR firms, activist groups and government agencies as well as the criticisms that are made of these groups from different perspectives.”

    Call it the Wikipedia of the Wicked.

    It will tell you the who, what, why and where behind the scenes at major companies across the land.

    SourceWatch is part of Center for Media and Democracy

    This is a Madison, Wisconsin-based public interest organization whose programs include: PR Watch, a quarterly investigative journal; six books by CMD staff; Spin of the Day; the Weekly Spin listserv; and Congresspedia.

    I’ve been a huge fan of this organization for years as they are fighting the good fight with information. Check out their books along with their internet resources: “Toxic Sludge is Good For You” and “Banana Republicans” — a couple of titles give you the flavor of what they’re up to.


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    Paul Stamets to the rescue

    Posted by Jim on April 27th, 2008

    So what did the residents of Fort Bragg do — to help figure out a new way to clean up their dioxin problem? They invited Paul Stamets to speak.

    I first encountered Stamets at the 2006 Bioneers gathering in Marin County. This annual event gathers all sorts of amazing scientists, social justice activists, and forward-thinking folks. Through plenary speeches and workshops and panels and dance parties, people share their ideas and success stories about healing the planet.

    Stamets may not be the most dynamic speaker ever, but in his plenary speech, he presented a host of ways that mycoremediation can help heal the planet. Mycoremediation — a new word to me at the time — is remediation through the use of mushrooms.

    Some of it is so fanciful you think you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole with Dorothy, to mix a cultural metaphor. In fact, he delivered his speech sporting a cool looking hat made entirely from mushrooms.

    Check all the great ideas and books that Stamets offers at

    And check out

    This year’s Bioneers conference is Oct. 17-19. Maybe see you there.


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    Green books for Earth Day week, 2008

    Posted by Jim on April 23rd, 2008

    I’ve fallen in love with the story of Easter Island. You know, the story of this remote piece of land in the Pacific Ocean whose inhabitants willfully deforested their entire island. From a peak population of 7000, the population had deteriorated by the late 1800s — to the point where the island was taken over by Chile and turned into a giant sheep ranch.

    What were they using their trees for? Turns out, the timber was the only means of transporting the massive stone platforms, along with the statues of male heads and torsos, across the island to their sacred sites. Different clans on the island were competing for the biggest, most elaborate statues, and you can bet these works of stone, once sculpted, required ever more timber to roll to their destination.

    I love this story because this society destroyed itself trying to out-icon each other. They cut down all their trees for cultural frivolities. Sure, it felt important to them, but imagine the “d’oh!” coming from the dude who cut down the last tree. Especially as these stone heads didn’t provide any real – flesh and bone – sustenance.

    A fitting metaphor, especially here in the land of the Couch Potatoes.

    Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” was my first encounter with the Easter Island story (okay there was maybe something in high school, but I had forgotten)… A perfect companion for “Collapse” is Clive Ponting’s “A New Green History of the World” (Penguin; 2007). First published in 1991, Ponting has painstakingly gone over everything – only the Easter Island chapter is pretty much the same.

    This book is an ApocoDoc’s dream come true as it looks at the civilizations who have allowed themselves to be destroyed by their senseless environmental practices. Just the chapter entitled “The Rape of the World” is enough to make one weep.

    From extinction to invasive species to deforestation to desertification to overpopulation to pollution to pandemic disease, Ponting’s book is a chilling accounting of what horror humans can wreak.

    C.S. Goldsmith’s “Uninhabitable” (Goldstar Publications; 2007) doesn’t sugarcoat the problem, either, though there is friction between his Apocalyptic-looking book cover image – a red, dying sun hovering above a blighted cityscape – juxtaposed with his subtitle “A case for caution.” To me, one look at the cover, and I say the hell with caution, let’s party while we still have a few months left.

    The rest of the book is much the same: Chilling, terrifying facts are followed by a sentence such as “We simply don’t have a lot more time to waste.”

    Goldsmith’s big point here is the vast deposits of methane that will likely be unleashed by global warming, and these deposits are tantamount to every fart ever farted by every animal that ever existed multiplied by 1000 times. That’s my equation by the way, and I don’t claim it’s by any means scientific.

    Punctuation problems and snarled syntax mars this read, but you gotta love Goldsmith’s mettle. Here’s a guy who graduated from Harvard with a business degree, was a CEO for 32 years and then decided he had to do SOMETHING about this planet’s peril. So he wrote a book.

    I, along with Michael, created this web site. This is, I suppose the Age of DIY.

    Speaking of, one of the leaders of the DIY movement, Ed Begley, Jr., has a new book, “Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life” (Potter; $18; . You can distract yourself from the doom/gloom and certain destruction of Ponting’s and Goldsmith’s books by DOING something, whether it’s changing a light bulb or buying an electric car.

    That’s right. Ed makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something good, which of course you are, when you decide to take your own canvas bags to the store (from $5) to installing your own solar panels (from $30,000). That’s right, Ed’s got all this money-coded, so you can figure out what you can afford vs. what you might be able to try later when you’ve saved a bunch of money being green in simpler ways.

    It’s got the feel of a book created by a man who’s been trying out the green life for 30 years. There are lots of homey looking photos of Ed doing this and that green thing in his house – and far too photos of his wife Rachel Carson-Begley who adds her own tips throughout the book.

    “Living Like Ed,” unlike the other two books mentioned here, is published on recycled paper, so that’s another plus in its column. At this point, Ed only takes on the projects he likes. Somebody out there want to pitch him a TLC or HGTV cable show, “This Green House”? Somebody’s gonna make a lot of green off that idea.

    Either that, or he can make “Easter Island,” the movie, complete with an all-star cast. Unless Mel Gibson would rather make it. Apocalypto-a-go-go.

    Happy Earth Day Week,


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    Responses to the site? Feedback?

    Posted by Michael on April 23rd, 2008

    We’d love to hear what you have to say.

    And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly PANIQuiz!

    Michael and Jim

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    Bat die-off now found in CT

    Posted by Michael on April 4th, 2008

    I’ve been following the bat die-off in the Northeast US this winter — first in New York state, then in MA, then in VT, and now in CT. The scientists studying the 80-90% fatality rate in affected “hiberniums” (read: caves and abandoned mines) are desperately searching for understanding of what has been coined “White Nose Syndrome (WNS),” after a symptom of these starving, dehydrated, dying bats flying out into the winter daylight, certain to die.

    And now, it’s showing up in Connecticut.

    From the Litchfield County Times:

    The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) first announced the presence in Connecticut of bats affected with WNS last Friday and the second location was discovered Tuesday….

    “The presence of WNS could have a major impact on biodiversity in Connecticut, and we are taking this discovery very seriously,” she continued. “Bats are our single largest predator of night flying insects and provide an important form of natural insect control. Any significant depletion in their numbers will also result in a significant effect in other parts of our ecosystem.

    Dr. R. Laurence Davis, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of New Haven, explained further. “Bats will eat 4,000 to 7,000 mosquitoes each night, per bat. Those mosquitoes won’t be eaten if the bats die. Mosquitoes have a major impact on the environment, carrying diseases such as West Nile Fever. Bats also eat moths — you could say that’s just a few more moths around the light at night, but adult moths make baby moths and those are caterpillars that defoliate things. We have the potential for — I am trying not to use the word ‘disaster’….’

    “Typically, they have only one pup a year,” the professor said, “It’s not like it’s a population of mice that crashed, where they have three and four litters a year — you would have mice again in a hurry — but bats are going to take a long time to come back. Normally, you would expect bats from other colonies to come in and scarf up the bugs — no food source goes wasted — but with 80 to 90 percent of the New York bats dying off, you are beginning to test the limits of bat migration.”

    The reason for the die-off — which may be wiping out the majority of bats in these states — is still unknown. They’ve found no specific virus, bacteria, or other pathogen to explain it — and the “white nose” fungus seems a symptom, not a cause.

    Dr. Davis said that there is little data available on bats, which is making it difficult for scientists to determine cause and effect. “They don’t normally do bat surveys every year in every cave,” he said, “mainly because when you go in, you wake them up and they burn up fat with nothing to eat. This syndrome could have started earlier than two years ago — we just don’t know. The real problem is there are no in-depth studies of bat biology. There are several labs working as hard as they can and they find parasites, they find bacteria on the fur or skin — but no one knows if this is normal because there is no data on a healthy population. We haven’t found any toxins; we haven’t found any smoking gun. Everything is so inter-connected. There are so many different elements that could be attributed to something else. No one knows for sure.”

    My own armchair theorizing leads me to conclude that it has more to do with pesticide-resistent (but still sick) insects being eaten by the “prime predator” of the air. These resistent bugs have been sprayed with pesticides in apple orchards, croplands, and elsewhere. The bats then are poisoned, sickened, and their hibernation disturbed by these now-flushed toxins.

    But then, I’m just watching from the sidelines, worried. I’m not an expert in this field.

    The Lakota tribe has a saying that’s part of sweatlodge rituals: “O mitak uyasin,” which translates loosely to “all are my relatives.” It’s used to remind that someone else’s troubles are also mine; that we are all connected, inextricably, and are all — humans, animals, plants, soil — related.

    In the bat die-off we see another example of what we’re doing to the natural world, to our relatives. Scoffers might say “there’s no proof that we are the cause of this problem” — just like they say there’s no “proof” that climate chaos is a humanly-generated problem. It seems better than likely, if not obvious.

    We are all related. Our world is in trouble. We are doing damage of unspeakable magnitude in ways both hidden and evident. We are thoughtlessly presuming that if we can do it, it’s ok to do, regardless of the impacts on other living creatures.

    The bats are an example of what I’m seeing as a frightening trend (viz. the bee colony collapse, the bird collapses, the amphibian collapse) — generalized species collapse, leading to newly chaotic, unbalanced ecosystems. It will likely be very depressing, on many levels — financial, psychological, systemic.

    O mitak uyasin. All beings are my relatives. When my relatives are sick, so am I.

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    Pine beetle infestation impacting salmon runs

    Posted by Jim on March 26th, 2008

    From The Vancouver Sun:
    “VANCOUVER - If the heat of climate change weren’t enough of a danger to Pacific salmon, scientists are cataloging how the effects of the global-warming-aided mountain pine beetle infestation are adding to salmon’s woes. The grain-of-rice-sized beetles have chewed through interior pine forests covering an area four-times the size of Vancouver Island, a report released Tuesday by the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council notes. Some 60 per cent of the Fraser River watershed is affected, with loss of forest cover over salmon streams that has led to numerous impacts that “significantly alter the watershed’s ecology, threatening already stressed salmon runs.”

    So who are the real heroes here?

    Am I supposed to consider these beetles the antagonists in this scenario? Okay, so they’ve eaten a few trees — I scanned the article but I REALLY READ THE HEADLINE a couple of times — but if their activities are hurting salmon, why aren’t we cheering for them? Salmon are clearly responsible for the creation of salmonella bacteria, so I say go for it, pine beetle. Do your dirty work!

    Oh. Wait. I just thought of something. The headlines says “Pine beetle infestation impacting salmon runs.” Maybe that means these nasty pine beetles are giving the salmon diarrhea and it’s their, ahem, “runs” that produce salmonella. So the pine beetles should be stopped! So the salmon can defecate normally and not have the runs and maybe there will be less salmonella.

    I wish headlines were just a little clearer, even if they have to be a little longer.


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    Plastic, and Albatrosses around our necks

    Posted by Michael on March 26th, 2008

    Today, a BBC story called “New ‘Battle of Midway’ on plastic,” made it clear how seriously our never-to-biodegrade plastics are damaging our ecosystems:

    The Midway Islands are home to some of the world’s most valuable and endangered species and they all are at risk from choking, starving or drowning in the plastic drifting in the ocean.

    Nearly two million Laysan albatrosses live here and researchers have come to the staggering conclusion that every single one contains some quantity of plastic.

    About one-third of all albatross chicks die on Midway, many as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents.

    Every single albatross contains “some quantity of plastic”! This isn’t just another canary in the coal mine — this is humankind thoughtlessly poisoning our own wells with our own crap.

    In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” because he killed a lucky bird, the Mariner was required to hang the rotting corpse around his neck, as punishment:

    God save thee, ancient Mariner
    From the fiends, that plague thee thus
    Why look’st thou so ? - “With my cross-bow
    I shot the ALBATROSS.”

    Ah. well a-day. what evil looks
    Had I from old and young
    Instead of the cross, the Albatross
    About my neck was hung.

    Ah, well a-day indeed.

    The stinking, rotting corpses of the albatrosses — the ones dying on Midway, as well as the fish, birds, whales, seals and turtles dying from ingesting our plastic — will be around our necks for a long, long time.

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    Roundup, and the convenience factor

    Posted by Michael on March 21st, 2008

    I just watched an ad promoting the RoundUp Pump — or something like that — a device that you pump up, and then simply pull the trigger and stream out “kill.”

    The competition in the ad is between a hand-sprayer, and the Pump. “5 minutes of continuous spray” they say. They show the weeds growing between concrete. The hand-sprayer loses, with a cramp. The Pump wins, killing off driveway weeds.

    And I think of that chemical, draining off the driveway, going into the waterway. And think about what that chemical — designed to kill plants — might do when it drains away. It’s designed to kill. Or, diluted, weaken.

    Yeah, dilution. Yeah, it’s only one driveway.

    But it’s also “yeah, I’m going to spray this bit of continuing death onto the world, so I don’t have to lean over.”

    Weeds? It’s only nature trying to re-integrate with us. Surely we can lean over, and pull up the weed, instead of spraying continuing death. Heck, plant it back where you don’t mind it being — it’ll feel better. But jeez, as part of recovery, we have to start changing the idea that we can just pound on weeds — of any kind — with chemicals, without damaging everything else too.

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    Mercury Threatens Next Generation Of Loons

    Posted by Jim on March 8th, 2008

    From Wildlife Conservation Society:
    “A long-term study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the BioDiversity Research Institute, and other organizations has found and confirmed that environmental mercury–much of which comes from human-generated emissions–is impacting both the health and reproductive success of common loons in the Northeast.”

    Pretty much…everything I posted today could have been under the heading of “Species Collapse,” but then you might have come upon our homepage and thought there was a bug (or endangered bug) in the system because of the repetition of the species collapse symbol.

    So I mixed it up, because I’ve learned over the months of doing this site that if I don’t, I’ll get overwhelmed.

    Let’s take today’s findings one story at a time.

    1) Polar bears’ status as threatened is being delayed by the Interior.

    2) Eels are declining

    3) Next, I found this loon story and decided I had to search for good news just to keep my spirits up. So I found the good news that a giant wind farm is being constructed in Southern California.

    Of course, I forgot for that moment that the one real problem with wind energy is that birds are kind of brainless and fly into them and sliced and diced or simply bludgeoned to death.

    4) so then I found the giant oyster story– a natural for our Biome Breach scenario — and sure enough it was a classic tale of a human intervention creating an invasive species situation.

    5) having interpolated a couple of non-species collapse stories, I returned to my loon story.

    Late in that story, I find this quote: “This study demonstrates how top predators such as common loons can be used as the proverbial ‘canaries-in-the-coalmine’ for pollutants that concern humans as well,” said David C. Evers of the BioDiversity Research Institute and lead author of the study. “Our findings can be used to facilitate national and global decisions for regulating mercury emissions from coal-burning plants and other sources.”

    There’s that metaphor again: canary in the coalmine, one we’ve been using for bats in the northeast and pteropods in the Atlantic and…

    It seems chillingly true that the planet is being divided into the haves and the have nots. On one end, the endangered species: the polar bears, the eels, the loons, the bats, the pteropods, the eastern hemlock, the honey bees and … on the other end, the oysters and rats and jellyfish and cane toads and even the Asian harlequin ladybird….

    Biomes are breached, species collapse, climate is changed, metaphors proliferate like … well, like oysters and rats and rabbits and cane toads.

    Let’s just declare the human species as threatened or endangered. That may be the wake up call we need.


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    Waking from Hibernation: or, Bats ‘R’ Us

    Posted by Michael on March 7th, 2008

    I have been obsessing about the bat problem — the un-hibernating bats in New York and Vermont, flying out of the caves to a wintry landscape because they’re starving to death, littering the snow around their hiberniums.

    And I think I realized today the reason for the obsession:

    Bats ‘R’ us.

    We’ve been sleepwalking through the last fifty years — mentally hibernating while the evidence piles up around us of what we’re doing to our world — and we’re just now waking up. We’re opening our eyes, and realizing that something’s wrong. We’re sick, we’re poisoned, we’re hungry, and the fat stores are about used up.

    Normally, we’d just go out and get some more land, conquer another civilization, pump another aquafir, find some more solutions — it’s worked every other time for humankind, right?

    We had a great autumn, eating twice our body weight of the world. We flew around with abandon, delighted in the evening sky.

    But now, we’re realizing that a lot of what we ate was toxic. That our resistances are down, and all isn’t quite how it should be. And we’re waking up from our hibernation, realizing that we may have screwed it all up over the last fifty years.

    And there’s not much but snow, out there.

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    Climate Change Hitting the Sea’s Little Guys Too

    Posted by Jim on March 1st, 2008

    From National Geographic News:
    “When it comes to climate change, polar bears and sharks may grab the bulk of the headlines—but it’s the threat to the sea’s tiniest creatures that has some marine scientists most concerned. Malformed seashells show that climate change is affecting even the most basic rungs of the marine food chain—a hint of looming disaster for all ocean creatures—experts say. Climate change could drastically reduce sea urchin populations in particular, according to Gretchen Hofmann, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.”

    What a strange lede for a story. No dis intended for the writer — it ain’t easy finding the right entry point into a story — but isn’t this hierarchical thinking that continues to contribute to this mess? I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of ‘duh’ and I figure you are too.

    Everything is equally important.

    Maybe that’s an over-simplification, but I’ll restate it for emphasis: Everything is equally important.

    We just found a story a week or so ago about the so-called “potato chip of the oceans” — the pteropod (endangered snail) whose loss would be devastating up the foodchain ladder.

    Maybe that’s the problem, we have two metaphors working against each other. The foodchain, which implies everything is connected in a horizontal manner, and the ladder, which implies a movement toward higher and higher (and thus more important) forms.

    This is just one more indication that humility is going to be essential to reshaping our relationship to the earth. The polar bear is not more important than the urchin. People are not more important than the polar bear.

    That gets us off on the right foot/paw/wing/tube feet/protoplasm.


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