Archive for pollution
Sustainable Earth: Oceans
Scientists ask Rio+20 leaders to protect the bounty of the Seven Seas for future generations.
From National Geographic News
More than half the people on Earth live within 120 miles (193 kilometers) of the ocean, but even those who live nowhere near the sea are dependent on the massive saltwater ecosystem that covers nearly three-fourths of our planet.
The ocean helps create and regulate weather around the globe and produces many of life’s essentials, including water, food, and even the oxygen we breathe every day. But scientists warn that the sea is changing rapidly and that our many uses of its bounty must be managed far more sustainably.
“If I were speaking to all the leaders at Rio+20 I’d say this is not [a choice between] the ocean or ourselves,” said marine ecologist Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. “A healthy ocean means healthier humans, more food on our tables, more jobs, and a healthier economy.”
The sea’s biodiversity is astounding. Scientists have identified some 200,000 marine species but suspect that millions more actually call the oceans home. Some seafloor ecosystems are so remote and inaccessible that we know less about them than we do the surface of Mars.
Yet the ocean is very familiar to more than three billion people whose livelihoods depend directly on coastal and marine ecosystems—about 8 percent of the world’s people are fishermen. And three billion people count on marine species as their primary sources of protein.
Until recent decades, most people considered the oceans to be an inexhaustible resource so vast and so plentiful that it was beyond humanity’s ability to deplete it of fish or seriously pollute its waters. Today we know that is far from the truth.
A Raft of Challenges
Since the mid-20th century, advances in technology have given rise to massive industrial fishing operations that can rapidly empty waters of species like bluefin tuna or Atlantic cod while satisfying an ever-increasing demand for seafood. UN-tracked fisheries have shown steady declines in catches since 1988—even as more fishers take to the water with ever more efficient gear. Some studies estimate that populations of large ocean fish are only 10 percent as big as their preindustrial levels.
Today’s ocean managers are challenged to cooperate internationally and use scientific knowledge of fish stocks to replace loosely regulated fisheries with well-managed, sustainable resources. This can be accomplished by implementing tools such as marine reserves, protected areas, and strict catch limits.
Aquaculture can also play a major part—in fact, farmed fish already constitute half of the world’s supply—but it must be done more sustainably. Aquaculture must consume fewer marine resources, like the ground-up seafood used to make fish feed, and it needs to be managed to reduce genetic dilution of wild stocks, destruction of mangroves, and other impacts on sensitive coastal areas.
Other ocean impacts have inland sources. “Most people don’t know that every eight months the drops of oil that leak from U.S. cars and other machines and run downstream into the ocean equal the amount of oil [11 million gallons] that was spilled by the Exxon Valdez,” Sala said.
Other runoff pollution, like nitrogen-rich fertilizers, has created oxygen-poor, algae-choked “dead zones,” including the New Jersey-size swath found each summer in the Mississippi River Delta. Carelessly discarded trash has formed a massive “garbage patch” the size of Texas swirling in the northern Pacific. Pesticides washed into ocean waters may be consumed by small organisms and retained by larger predators, with unknown consequences to species up and down the food chain.
“We know how to fix these problems,” Sala said. “Fishing in most cases just requires national action to restore populations to sustainable levels. We need to implement science-based quotas and reduce fishing capacity—there are just too many fishing boats in the world right now—so we can reach a point where we have a globally sustainable catch. Right now we’re above that for too many species.”
Other problems present bigger challenges and will require even greater concerted action around the world.
The Climate Connection
Ocean water and air share an enormous interface, stretching around the globe, and the two constantly interact. The sea absorbs some 30 percent of all the world’s CO2 emissions, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change caused by greenhouse gases. But the absorption of all that CO2 is changing water chemistry, creating acidic seawater and altering marine ecosystems at their core through base-of-the-food-chain animals such as plankton and corals. These shifts are happening so quickly that some species may not have time to adapt.
Scientists say that oceans are sensitive to even small changes in temperature—and Earth’s temperature continues to trend upward. Sea temperatures over the past century have risen only about 0.18ºF (0.1ºC), and most of that occurred between the sunny surface and depths of about 2,300 feet (700 meters).
But some impacts may be evident. Too-warm waters can push coral reefs, also stressed by acidic water and pollution, toward die-off, and threaten the many species that dwell in these “rainforests of the sea.” One in five coral reefs is already damaged beyond repair. And krill, the foundation of the Antarctic ecosystem, can’t reproduce as efficiently in warming water.
The most visibly obvious result of warming water is already under way—rising sea levels that swamp coastline habitats and human dwellings alike. Due to expanding water volume and melting ice, the global mean sea level has risen an average of 0.13 inches (34.2 millimeters) annually during the past two decades, about twice the rise rate during the previous 80 years.
Though beset with challenges, the sea is resilient and has shown the ability to regenerate resources—if human beings give it a chance. The Rio+20 conference will seek to establish guidelines for sustainable management of the oceans and conservation of their priceless resources through a “blue economy” plan for the future.
Sala said progress has been stalled by what he calls an “artificial dichotomy” between economic development and environmental conservation. That view must be dispelled, he said. “In the long term there is no prosperity without sustainable use of natural resources,” Sala said. “A blue economy is a smarter economy than the current one of overexploiting one resource and then simply going on to the next.”
Article recommended by 1,000,000 Strong Against Offshore Drilling
Naomi Klein on ideological impediments to addressing climate change and how to move forward
From Common Dreams staff
In an interview with Solutions, author and activist Naomi Klein discusses how market-based solutions are not going to meet the needs required to address climate change and how ideologies have hampered both the left and right in climate action. She also states that the Occupy movement has been “a game-changer.” There is a way forward, Klein says, and it involves “changing the mix in a mixed economy.”
Throwing Out the Free Market Playbook:
An Interview with Naomi Klein
Perhaps one of the most well-known voices for the Left, Canadian Naomi Klein is an activist and author of several nonfiction works critical of consumerism and corporate activity, including the best sellers No Logo (2000) and Shock Doctrine (2007).
In your cover story for the Nation last year, you say that modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the political Left, including redistribution of wealth, higher and more progressive taxes, and greater government intervention and regulation. Please explain.
The piece came out of my interest and my shock at the fact that belief in climate change in the United States has plummeted. If you really drill into the polling data, what you see is that the drop in belief in climate change is really concentrated on the right of the political spectrum. It’s been an extraordinary and unusual shift in belief in a short time. In 2007, 71 percent of Americans believed in climate change and in 2009 only 51 percent believed—and now we’re at 41 percent. So I started researching the denial movement and going to conferences and reading the books, and what’s clear is that, on the right, climate change is seen as a threat to the Right’s worldview, and to the neoliberal economic worldview. It’s seen as a Marxist plot. They accuse climate scientists of being watermelons—green on the outside and red on the inside.
It seems exaggerated, but your piece was about how the Right is in fact correct.
I don’t think climate change necessitates a social revolution. This idea is coming from the right-wing think tanks and not scientific organizations. They’re ideological organizations. Their core reason for being is to defend what they call free-market ideology. They feel that any government intervention leads us to serfdom and brings about a socialist world, so that’s what they have to fight off: a socialist world. Increase the power of the private sector and decrease the public sphere is their ideology.
You can set up carbon markets, consumer markets, and just pretend, but if you want to get serious about climate change, really serious, in line with the science, and you want to meet targets like 80 percent emissions cuts by midcentury in the developed world, then you need to be intervening strongly in the economy, and you can’t do it all with carbon markets and offsetting. You have to really seriously regulate corporations and invest in the public sector. And we need to build public transport systems and light rail and affordable housing along transit lines to lower emissions. The market is not going to step up to this challenge. We must do more: rebuild levees and bridges and the public sphere, because we saw in Katrina what happens when weak infrastructure clashes with heavy weather—it’s catastrophe. These climate deniers aren’t crazy—their worldview is under threat. If you take climate change seriously, you do have to throw out the free-market playbook.
What is the political philosophy that underscores those who accept climate change versus those who deny it?
The Yale cultural cognition project has looked at cultural worldview and climate change, and what’s clear is that ideology is the main factor in whether we believe in climate change. If you have an egalitarian and communitarian worldview, and you tend toward a belief system of pooling resources and helping the less advantaged, then you believe in climate change. And the stronger your belief system tends toward a hierarchical or individual worldview, the greater the chances are that you deny climate change and the stronger your denial will be. The reason is clear: it’s because people protect their worldviews. We all do this. We develop intellectual antibodies. Climate change confirms what people on the left already believe. But the Left must take this confirmation responsibly. It means that if you are on the left of the spectrum, you need to guard against exaggeration and your own tendency to unquestioningly accept the data because it confirms your worldview.
Members of the Left have been resistant to acknowledging that this worldview is behind their support of climate action, while the Right confronts it head on. Why this hesitancy among liberals?
There are a few factors at work. Climate change is not a big issue for the Left. The big left issues in the United States are inequality, the banks, corporate malfeasance, unemployment, foreclosures. I don’t think climate change has ever been a broad-based issue for the Left. Part of this is the legacy of siloing off issues, which is part of the NGO era of activism. Climate change has been claimed by the big green groups and they’re to the left. But they’re also foundation funded. A lot of them have gone down the road of partnerships with corporations, which has made them less critical. The discourse around climate change has also become extremely technical and specialized. A lot of people don’t feel qualified and feel like they don’t have to talk about it. They’re so locked into a logic of market-based solutions—that the big green groups got behind cap and trade, carbon markets, and consumer responses instead of structural ones—so they’re not going to talk about how free trade has sent emissions soaring or about crumbling public infrastructure or the ideology that would rationalize major new investments in infrastructure. Others can fight those battles, they say. During good economic times, that may have seemed viable; but as soon as you have an economic crisis, the environment gets thrown under the bus, and there is a failure to make the connection between the economy and the climate crisis—both have roots in putting profits before people.
You write in your article, “After years of recycling, carbon offsetting, and light-bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis.” How do we get the collective action necessary? Is the Occupy movement a step in the right direction?
The Occupy movement has been a game changer, and it has opened up space for us to put more radical solutions on the table. I think the political discourse in the United States is centered around what we tell ourselves the American public can handle. The experience of seeing these groups of young people put radical ideas on the table, and seeing the country get excited by it, has been a wake up call for a lot of people who feel they support those solutions—and for those who have said, “That’s all we can do.” It has challenged the sense of what is possible. I know a lot of environmentalists have been really excited by that. I’m on the board of 350.org, and they’ll be doing more and more work on the structural barriers to climate action. The issue is why? Why do we keep losing? Who is in our way? We’re talking about challenging corporate personhood and financing of elections—and this is huge for environmental groups to be moving out of their boxes. I think all of the green organizations who take corporate money are terrified about this. For them, Occupy Wall Street has been a game changer.
What comes after communism and capitalism? What’s your vision of the way forward?
It’s largely about changing the mix in a mixed economy. Maybe one day we’ll have a perfect “ism” that’s post-communism and -capitalism. But if we look at the countries that have done the most to seriously meet the climate challenge, they’re social democracies like Scandinavia and the Netherlands. They’re countries with a strong social sphere. They’re mixed economies. Markets are a big part, but not the only part, of their economies. Can we meet our climate targets in a system that requires exponential growth to continue? Furthermore, where is the imperative of growth coming from? What part of our economy is demanding growth year after year?
If you’re a locally based business, you don’t need continual growth year after year. What requires that growth is the particular brand of corporate capitalism—shareholders who aren’t involved in the business itself. That part of our economy has to shrink, and that’s terrifying people who are deeply invested in it. We have a mixed economy, but it’s one in which large corporations are controlled by outside investors, and we won’t change that mix until that influence is reduced.
Is that possible?
It is if we look at certain choke points like corporate personhood and financing, and it makes sense for us to zero in on aspects of our system that give corporations massive influence. Another is media concentration. If you had publicly financed elections, you’d have to require public networks to give airtime to candidates. So the fact that networks charge so much is why presidential elections cost more than a billion dollars, which means you have to go to the 1 percent to finance the elections. These issues are all linked with the idea that corporations have the same free-speech rights as people, so there would also be more restrictions on corporate speech.
Entrepreneur and writer Peter Barnes has argued that what’s missing is adequate incorporation of the “commons sector” in the economy—public goods like natural and social capital. “Capitalism 3.0” he calls it, which we’d achieve not by privatizing these goods but by creating new institutions such as public-asset trusts. What’s your opinion of this approach?
I definitely think it’s clear that the road we’ve been on—turning to the private sector to run our essential services—has proven disastrous. In many cases, the reason why it was so easy to make arguments in favor of privatization was because public institutions were so cut off and unresponsive and the public didn’t feel a sense of ownership. The idea that a private corporation has valued you as a customer was a persuasive argument. Now it turns out both models have failed. So this idea that there is a third way—neither private nor state-run public—is out there.
Published on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 by Common Dreams
Show solidarity with asbestos victims in the Third World and support the campaign to demand the Canadian government ban asbestos mining and exports. Asbestos kills over 100,000 people every year, and Canada is a major player in the death-dealing industry.
In a change of tactics, we’re not targeting all Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) – but just one. A number of other like-minded organizations are also ‘adopting’ a MP and focusing their efforts on convincing him/her what their party is doing is wrong, unethical and immoral.
In our case – we have chosen to focus our efforts on the Federal Environment Minister, the Hon. Peter Kent, MP for Thornhill, Ontario.
Peter is an intelligent guy and knows what his government is doing is wrong. We need to encourage him to support an end to Canada’s mining and export of asbestos. Peter and his government can prevent thousands of cases of cancer if they only do what’s right.
Here is what we’re asking you to do:
Send a letter to Peter Kent (firstname.lastname@example.org). See “Key Messages” below.
Mail a copy of your letter to his office: House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6 (no postage is required).
Twitter him also (@mppeterkent). His Twitter stream is here.
Post your thoughts on his Facebook Wall
Call his Ottawa office (613-992-0253) and ask to speak with him. Keep calling until he, or a representative from his office, returns your call.
If you live in the Toronto area, call and ask to schedule a meeting with him (905-886-9911). Don’t take no for an answer! You can also visit his constituency office: 7600 Yonge St., Thornhill, Ontario, L4J 1V9
Please keep us informed of your efforts – we’d really appreciate it!
According to the World Health Organization, more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos is the “perfect carcinogen” as it acts as both a promoter and initiator of cancer.
Exposure to asbestos has been linked to several diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
At the recent conference of the UN Rotterdam Convention in Geneva, the Harper government single-handedly prevented asbestos from being put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances.
Newly released documents show that back in 2006 the Canadian government rejected advice from Health Canada that asbestos be added to the UN list of hazardous substances.
Billions of dollars will be spent over the next 20 years to remove asbestos from our Parliament Buildings because it’s a cancer-causing substance.
Canada mines and ships the majority of its asbestos to the Third World, particularly Asia. The world’s leading experts predict that the sharp increase in asbestos use in Asia will see a surge of mortality and morbidity in the decades ahead.
John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
We know that tar sands oil is the dirtiest fuel in the world, and that tar sands projects create toxic lakes filled with cancer causing heavy metals and neurotoxins.1 We also know that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would cross pristine land in six states and put almost 30 percent of our country’s agricultural water at risk of contamination.2
But a new report reaffirms that the corrosive nature of tar sands oil will increase risk of spills to a degree not seen in conventional oil pipelines.
The Sierra Club, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, and Pipeline Safety Trust, is releasing a report this week that shows transporting tar sands oil is much more dangerous than transporting traditional oil.3
Why? Because tar sands oil is more corrosive than traditional crude oil, and its thicker nature means increased heat and pressure are needed to force it through a pipe, making ruptures and spills more likely.
We cannot allow regulators to treat tar sands oil the same as regular crude oil — write a letter to the editor today.
Despite the new risks posed by tar sands crude, American regulators have not created specific safeguards to protect communities along pipeline routes from spills and contamination.
Before we agree to transport tar sands oil across the Midwest, we need to make sure it’s not going to destroy our water and farmland.
The American people deserve a voice before new tar sands pipelines are approved — write a letter and make your voice heard.
From Sarah Hodgdon
Sierra Club Conservation Director
 Benjamin J. Wakefield. The Environmental Integrity Project. “Feeding U.S. Refinery Expansions with Dirty Fuel.” June 2008. Web. 8 July 2010.
 Dennehy, K.F. “High Plains regional ground-water study: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS-091-00.” USGS. 2000 Web. 26 Oct. 2010 .
 Anthony Swift, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Elizabeth Shope, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Pipeline Safety Trust, and Sierra Club. “Tar Sands Pipelines Safety Risks.” Feb. 2011.