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Archive for March, 2008

Pine beetle infestation impacting salmon runs

Wednesday, 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.


Plastic, and Albatrosses around our necks

Wednesday, 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.

Roundup, and the convenience factor

Friday, 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.

Mercury Threatens Next Generation Of Loons

Saturday, 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.


Waking from Hibernation: or, Bats ‘R’ Us

Friday, 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.

Climate Change Hitting the Sea’s Little Guys Too

Saturday, 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.