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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Deep vs Shallow Ecology

Some Thought on the Deep Ecology Movement

by Alan Drengson
Arne Naess
In 1973, Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Naess introduced the phrase “deep ecology” to environmental literature. Environmentalism had emerged as a popular grassroots political movement in the 1960s with the publication of Rachel Carson's bookSilent Spring. Those already involved in conservation and preservation efforts were now joined by many others concerned about the detrimental environmental effects of modern industrial technology. The longer-range, older originators of the movement included writers and activists like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Aldo Leopold; more mainstream awareness was closer to the “wise-use” conservation philosophy pioneered by Gifford Pinchot.
In 1972, Naess made a presentation in Bucharest at the Third World Future Research Conference. In his talk, he discussed the longer-range background of the ecology movement and its concern with an ethic respecting nature and the inherent worth of other beings. As a mountaineer who had climbed all over the world, Naess had enjoyed the opportunity to observe political and social activism in diverse cultures. Both historically and in the contemporary movement, Naess saw two different forms of environmentalism, not necessarily incompatible with each other. One he called the “long-range deep ecology movement” and the other, the “shallow ecology movement.” The word “deep” in part referred to the level of questioning of our purposes and values when arguing in environmental conflicts. The “deep” movement involves deep questioning, right down to fundamental root causes. The short-term, shallow approach stops before the ultimate level of fundamental change, often promoting technological fixes (e.g. recycling, increased automotive efficiency, export-driven monocultural organic agriculture) based on the same consumption-oriented values and methods of the industrial economy. The long-range deep approach involves redesigning our whole systems based on values and methods that truly preserve the ecological and cultural diversity of natural systems.
The distinguishing and original characteristics of the deep ecology movement were its recognition of the inherent value of all living beings and the use of this view in shaping environmental policies. Those who work for social changes based on this recognition are motivated by love of nature as well as for humans. They recognize that we cannot go on with industrialism's “business as usual.” Without changes in basic values and practices, we will destroy the diversity and beauty of the world, and its ability to support diverse human cultures.
In 1972, very few people appreciated that Naess was characterizing an existing grassroots movement, rather than simply stating his personal philosophy. In order to establish shared objectives, Naess proposed a set of eight principles to characterize the deep ecology movement as part of the general ecology movement. The platform can be endorsed by people from a diversity of religious and philosophical backgrounds as well as differing political affiliations. “Supporters of the deep ecology movement” (rather than being referred to as “deep ecologists”) are united by a long-range vision of what is necessary to protect the integrity of the Earth's ecological communities and ecocentric values.
Unfortunately, some vociferous environmentalists who claim to support the movement have said and written things that are misanthropic in tone. Supporters of the deep ecology movement are not anti-human, as is sometimes alleged. Naess's platform principle Number 1 begins with recognizing the inherent worth of all beings, including humans. Gandhian nonviolence is a tenet of deep ecology activism in word and deed. Supporters of the deep ecology movement deplore anti-human statements and actions.
Accepting the Deep Ecology Platform principles entails a commitment to respecting the intrinsic values of richness and diversity. This, in turn, leads one to critique industrial culture, whose development models construe the Earth only as raw materials to be used to satisfy consumption and production—to meet not only vital needs but inflated desires whose satisfaction requires more and more consumption. While industrial culture has represented itself as the only acceptable model for development, its monocultures destroy cultural and biological diversity in the name of human convenience and profit.
If we do not accept the industrial development model, what then? Endorsing the Deep Ecology Platform principles leads us to attend to the “ecosophies” of aboriginal and indigenous people so as to learn from them values and practices that can help us to dwell wisely in the many different places in this world. We learn from the wisdom of our places and the many beings who inhabit them. At the same time, the ecocentric values implied by the platform lead us to recognize that all human cultures have a mutual interest in seeing Earth and its diversity continue for its own sake and because most of us love it. We want to flourish and realize ourselves in harmony with other beings and cultures. Is it possible to develop common understandings that enable us to work with civility toward harmony with other creatures and beings? The Deep Ecology Platform principles are a step in this direction. Respect for diversity leads us to recognize the ecological wisdom that grows specific to place and context. Thus, supporters of the deep ecology movement emphasize place-specific, ecological wisdom, and vernacular technology practices. No one philosophy and technology is applicable to the whole planet. As Naess has said many times, the more diversity, the better.
Alan Drengson is an emeritus professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He is the author of The Practice of Technology (1995), and co-editor of The Deep Ecology Movement (1995) and Ecoforestry (1997). He was also the associate editor of a ten-volume collection of Naess’s works, The Selected Works of Arne Naess, published in 2005 by the Foundation for Deep Ecology.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Problem: Extinction of Plant and Animal Species

Problem: Extinction of Plant and Animal Species

Massive extinctions have occurred five times during the earth's history, the last one was the extinction of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. Scientists are calling what is occurring now, the sixth mass extinction. The loss of species is about losing the very web of life on Earth. People trying to save critical habitat have been dismissed or ridiculed as sentimental “tree-huggers” who want to save the “spotted owls,” even if it costs jobs. Most Americans have little idea of the magnitude of the problem.

Although they are uncertain of the numbers, most scientists believe the rate of loss is greater now than at any time in the history of the Earth. Within the next 30 years as many as half of the species on the earth could die in one of the fastest mass extinctions in the planet's 4.5 billion years history. Dr Leakey, author of "The Sixth Extinction," believes that 50% of the earth's species will vanish within 100 years and that such a dramatic and overwhelming mass extinction threatens the entire, complex fabric of life, including Homo sapiens, (the species responsible for the crisis.)

The problem is not just the loss of species. There is also the loss of the genetic diversity within species, as well as the loss of diversity of different types of ecosystems ,which can contribute to or hasten whole species extinction. Preserving the wider gene pool diversity in subdivisions of species, such as subspecies and populations, offers the raw material for the evolution of new species in the future.

"Every day, an estimated 100 plant and animal species are lost to deforestation" . . . "A conservative estimate of the current extinction rate indicates that about 27,000 species a year are being lost."
National Wildlife Federation

Causes of the Extinction of Species

Scientists have identified the key causes of the crisis. In particular, the loss of species is caused by as the growing size of human populations, and the rate at which humans consume resources and cause changing climate.

Global Warming and the Loss of Species At the end of the Permian period, 251 million years ago, g lobal warming caused the worst mass extinction in the history of the planet. That time a six-degree C. increase in the global temperature was enough to kill up to 95 per cent of the species that were alive on Earth. This extinction is called the "Great Dying." Gigantic volcanic eruptions caused this warming by triggering a "runaway greenhouse effect" that nearly put an end to life on Earth. Conditions in what geologists have termed a "post-apocalyptic greenhouse" were so severe that only one large land animal was left alive, and fewer than one in 10 species survived.

Michael Benton, Professor of vertebrate paleontology and Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, in When Life Nearly Died: the Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time .
It took 100 million years for species diversity to return to former levels. In this case, the carbon dioxide buildup which created this greenhouse effect came from massive volcanic eruptions. Today the build up of carbon dioxide is coming from our life style and industrial activity.
An increase of 6°C is the upper end of what the IPCC is forecasting for this century, the range that will occur if we do not make severe changes soon. If 95% of the species on Earth die out—one of them will be Homo sapiens.

Global warming is already affecting species: migration is accelerating, the timing of the seasons is changing, and animals are migrating, hatching eggs, and bearing young on average five days earlier than they did at the start of the 20 th century. In addition, some butterflies have shifted northward in Europe by thirty to sixty miles or more, species’ ranges are shifting toward the poles at some four miles a decade, amphibians were spawning earlier, and plants are flowering earlier. In a major report in Nature, the lead author, Terry Root said: “There is a consistent signal. Animals and plants are being strongly affected by the warming of the globe.” She later said that, “It was really quite a shock, given such a small temperature change. . . If we’re already seeing such dramatic changes among species, it’s really pretty frightening to think what we might see in the next 100 years.”

"For if one link in nature's chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish by piecemeal."
Thomas Jefferson

Habitat Loss as a Cause of the Loss of Species Other than global warming, the greatest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss and fragmentation by deforestation and urbanization.

Urbanization has dramatically increased the rate of habitat loss and change. Sprawling development is consuming land at a rate of five or more times the rate of population growth, destroying wildlife habitat and degrading water quality. Dredging, draining, bulldozing, and paving the land for housing developments, malls, business parks, and new roads, all destroy habitat. For example, in Maryland, 10 years ago every new person added to the state accounted for the loss of 1/3 acre of land; now, every new person causes the loss of 2/3 acre.

Biological resources are degraded and lost through “development” activities like large-scale clearing and burning of forests, over-harvesting of plants and animals, use of pesticides, draining and filling of wetlands, destructive fishing practices, air pollution, and the conversion of wildlands to agricultural and urban uses.

Humans create all of these causes. Humans have altered nearly half of Earth’s land mass over the past 150 years and the amount could rise to 70 percent within 30 years, according to the United Nation. These alterations include farming, logging and urban development.

Deforestation is also one of the leading causes of habitat loss. For centuries, humans have altered landscapes, through deforestation, fire and over-use. Already, around half of the world's original forests have disappeared, and they are still being removed at a rate 10 times higher than any possible level of re-growth. As tropical forests contain at least half the Earth's species, the clearance of some 17 million hectares each year is causing a dramatic loss of biodiversity. Habitat loss is identified as a main threat to 85 per cent of all species described in the IUCN'sRed Lists (those species officially classified as "threatened" and "endangered.” ICUN is the World Conservation Union").

Invasive Alien Species Cause the Loss of Species An "alien" or "exotic" species is one that occurs in an area outside its historically known natural range, as a result of either intentional or accidental dispersal by human activities. For millennia, oceans, mountains, rivers and deserts served as natural barriers to the movement of certain plants and animals, providing the isolation essential for unique species and ecosystems to evolve. In just a few hundred years, however, international trade and the expansion of global travel, accompanied by intentional introductions, have ended millions of years of biological isolation. When alien animal and plant species spread to non-native habitats, they alter habitats, and crowd out native species through predation, competition, disease and hybridisation. Hundreds, possibly thousands of extinctions have been caused by alien invasive species.

Pollution Leads to a Loss of Species Pollution is found everywhere in the world--chemicals have been found in animals even in the Arctic and Antarctic. Chemicals can cause mutations and fertility problems, already seen in the reproductive organs of fish, alligators, and polar bears. The city and industry sewage treatment plants that lack advanced technology, dump nutrients and pathogens in the water. When the treatment plants discharging into Tampa Bay were upgraded, the sea grasses, 85 percent of which had been destroyed, began to grow back, and along with them the fish and other creatures that depend on them.

A recent EPA report noted that nearly 40 percent of the nation's rivers, lakes, and estuaries are too polluted for safe fishing and swimming. Fifty percent of freshwater species populations, from fish and frogs to river dolphins, are declining from pollution by pesticides, fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals. Everything that happens on land affects the waterways; storm water picks up contaminants from roads, vehicles, lawns, and construction sites and then dumps it in the nearest stream.

"In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it is perched." Paul Ehrlich

Bycatch Causes the Loss of Species Bycatch is unwanted species, juveniles, and other marine wildlife, that fishers catch unintentionally. Commercial fishing is grossly wasteful: in the process of harvesting 85 million tons of fish each year, fishers routinely discard at least 20 million tons of “bycatch,” unwanted fish and marine specs that are usually killed.

According to a new study submitted to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), nearly 1,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises drown every day when they become entangled in fishing gear,. Scientists believe that death in fishing gear is the leading threat to the survival of the world’s 80-plus species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Bycatch is also the greatest threat to seabirds and sea turtles.

Illegal Wildlife Trade causes the loss of species Trade in some animal and plant species is high, and is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Live animals are taken for the pet trade, or their parts exported for medicines or food. Thousands of species including African and Asian elephants, Tibetan antelopes, rhinos, birds of paradise, parrots, and orchids are part of the illegal international wildlife trade. This trade is worth billions of dollars annually and has caused massive declines in the numbers of many species of animals and plants.
The scale of over-exploitation for trade is a major threat to the survival of species. In 1973, to try to stop this trade, an international treaty (CITES, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) was created that subjected international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls.

Links to other sites on Biodiversity

ActionBioscience.org  http://www.actionbioscience.org/
Adopt a Watershed  www.adopt-a-watershed.org
Biodiversity Education Network  www.bioednet.org
Biodiversity Partnership of Defenders of Wildlife http://www.biodiversitypartners.com/
Center for Biodiversity and Conservation http://research.amnh.org/biodiversity/
Convention on Biological Diversity http://www.biodiv.org/Conservation International (CI) http://www.conservation.org
Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots 

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
http://www.cites.orgDefenders of Wildlife http://www.defenders.org/.
Endangered Species Coalition http://www.stopextinction.org/
Endangered Species.com. http://www.endangeredspecie.com/
Environmental Defense Fund Preserving Species and Habitat
Evangelical Environmental Network Booklet on Endangered Creatureshttp://www.creationcare.org/resources/endangered_book.php
Fauna & Flora International http://www.fauna-flora.org/
IUCN The World Conservation Union http://www.iucn.org/
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species http://www.iucn.org/redlist/2000/index.html
IUCN - US  www.iucn.org/places/usa/index.html
Mass Extinction Underway http://www.well.com/user/davidu/extinction.html.
Monarch Watch  www.monarchwatch.org  
National Audubon Society  www.audubon.org
National Biological Information Infrastructure http://www.nbii.gov/
National Invasive Species Council http://www.invasivespecies.gov/council/main.shtml
National Wildlife Federation  www.nwf.org
National Wildlife Federation, Backyard Habitat Program  http://www.nwf.org/habitats
Nature Conservancy  www.nature.org
Save Our Environment http://www.saveourenvironment.org/
State biodiversity Clearinghouse of Defenders of Wildlife
The Nature Conservancy http://www.nature.org/
Tree of Life Web Project http://tolweb.org/tree/phylogeny.html
UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre http://www.unep-wcmc.org/
US Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species http://endangered.fws.gov/
Wildlands Project  www.twp.org
World Resources Institute http://biodiv.wri.org/index.cfm
World WildLife Fund (WWF) http://www.worldwildlife.org/

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Next Decade Will Decide What the World Looks Like for Thousands of Decades to Come


It could, if we set our minds to it, be the decade when the planet's use of fossil fuels peaks and then rapidly declines.

Photo Credit: NASA

The next 10 years will be decisive when it comes to the planet's future -- what we do (or don't) will play out over geologic time.
It could, if we set our minds to it, be the decade when the planet's use of fossil fuels peaks and then rapidly declines. We've built a movement that, for the moment, is starting to tie down the fossil fuel industry: from the tarsands of Alberta to the (as yet unbuilt) giant new mines of Australia's Galilee Basin, the big players in coal, gas, and oil are bothered and even bewildered by a new strain of activist. They're losing on the image front: when the Rockefeller family, the Church of England, and Prince Charles have begun divesting their fossil fuel stocks, you know the tide has turned.

And with it comes the sudden chance to replace that fossil fuel, fast and relatively easily. Out of nowhere the price of solar panels has fallen like an anvil from a skyscraper, dropping 75 percent in the last six years. Renewable energy is suddenly as cheap or cheaper than the bad stuff, even before you figure in the insane monetary cost of global warming. So in Bangladesh they're solarizing 60,000 huts a month; the whole country may be panelled by 2020.

That rapid change wouldn't be enough to stop global warming -- we're already seeing drastic changes, as anyone living through California's drought can attest. We'll continue to see record-breaking years (like 2014. And like 2015 so far). We'll have to deal with record flooding. The ocean will grow more acidic. But maybe, if we really ratchet up the transition we'll avoid a challenge of civilization-scale.

Or, of course, we could change slowly, the way the Koch Brothers would like. (And for that matter, most political leaders). We could do nothing out of the ordinary, and wait three or four decades for solar power to replace fossil fuel. It would rattle the fewest cages in the short run.

And in the long run it would, by most of the computer models, condemn us to four or five degrees Celsius of global warming -- enough to take the world utterly out of the rhythms of the Holocene, enough to call into question our ability to grow sufficient food or find sufficient water.

The next decade is decisive because trajectory counts for so much; if we bend it now, we may slide the car to a halt with just the front tires hanging off the cliff. But if we sail on for a few more years, it's pretty clear we're fast and furiously going airborne -- that's what happens when, say, Arctic permafrost starts to melt in earnest, releasing clouds of methane.

So it's not too much to say that the next decade will decide what the world looks like for thousands of decades to come. We all get front row seats -- but we can all be actors too, if only we'll join the growing movement to do something about it.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, the founder of 350.org, an international climate campaign, and the winner of the 2014 Right Livelihood Award.

Friday, October 17, 2014

U.S. Dust Bowl Conditions Not Rivaled in 1,000 Years

U.S. Dust Bowl Conditions Not Rivaled in 1,000 Years

Atmospheric conditions and human actions combined to drive the 1930s megadrought 

Dust Bowl

Heavy black clouds of dust rising over the Texas Panhandle, Texas.
Credit: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons
Farms failed and livestock starved in the central United States during the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s. The event was not just the region’s worst dry spell in modern memory — it was the worst in North America over the past millennium, researchers report in Geophysical Research Letters.

“Not only did 1934 [the first year of the Dust Bowl] stand out in terms of extent and intensity, but it was the worst by a fair margin,” says Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and a co-author of the study. The drought takes its name from a period in April 1934, when winds blew dust from the US Great Plains as far east as North Carolina and as far south as Florida.

Cook and his colleagues used the North American Drought Atlas, a 2,005-year record derived from tree-ring chronologies that reconstructs drought and precipitation patterns. They found that the 1934 drought covered more than 70% of western North America and was 30% more intense than the second most severe drought in the region, which happened in 1580.

The researchers also looked for causes behind the 1934 drought. An earlier study led by Siegfried Schubert of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, had pegged the Dust Bowl’s origins on sea-surface temperatures, which were marginally cooler in the Pacific and warmer in the Atlantic.

But in the latest analysis, Cook and his colleagues say that this event had a minor role in the drought. They pin the blame instead on a change in atmospheric circulation: a high-pressure ridge centred over the west coast of North America during the autumn and winter of 1933–1934 that blocked wet weather from California and the Northwest.

A similar, but more persistent, atmospheric pattern was at work off the California coast this past winter, and moved storms north. Cook and his colleagues found that similar ridges preceded some of the worst west coast dry spells, including the 1976 California drought — a two-year event marked as the most severe in California’s recorded history.

“Whenever you see drought, there is always a ridge. But last year’s ridge was a record,” says Simon Wang, a climate scientist at Utah State University in Logan. “The question is what’s causing it to amplify?” Wang and his colleagues have found that the atmospheric ridge in California last winter can be traced to human-made warming of the western Pacific Ocean.

Previous studies have also identified a human role in the Dust Bowl. Sparse rainfall and poor land-use practices helped to kick up dust and spread it across the Midwest and eastern United States during the historic drought. In an earlier study, Cook and his colleagues found that airborne dust particles amplified the drought by blocking the Sun’s energy, which reduced evaporation, cloud formation and rainfall over the region.

In the latest analysis, Cook and colleagues “make a strong case that the most famous drought in American history was aggravated by human activity, by testing an old idea with climate models and empirical analysis,” says David Stahle, director of the Tree-Ring Laboratory at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on October 16, 2014.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Kink in the Human Brain-- How Are Humans OK with Destroying the Planet?


Pointless consumption is destroying our planet.

Photo Credit: Leo Blanchette / Shutterstock.com
This is a moment at which anyone with the capacity for reflection should stop and wonder what we are doing.

If the news that in the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% its vertebrate wildlife(mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish) fails to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we live, it’s hard to imagine what could. Who believes that a social and economic system which has this effect is a healthy one? Who, contemplating this loss, could call it progress?

In fairness to the modern era, this is an extension of a trend that has lasted some two million years. The loss of much of the African megafauna – sabretooths and false sabretooths, giant hyaenas and amphicyonids (bear dogs), several species of elephant – coincided with the switch towards meat eating by hominims (ancestral humans). It’s hard to see what else could have been responsible for the peculiar pattern of extinction then.

As we spread into other continents, their megafaunas almost immediately collapsed. Perhaps the most reliable way of dating the first arrival of people anywhere is the sudden loss of large animals. The habitats we see as pristine – the Amazon rainforest or coral reefs for example – are in fact almost empty: they have lost most of the great beasts that used to inhabit them, which drove crucial natural processes.

Since then we have worked our way down the foodchain, rubbing out smaller predators, medium-sized herbivores, and now, through both habitat destruction and hunting, wildlife across all classes and positions in the foodweb. There seems to be some kink in the human brain that prevents us from stopping, that drives us to carry on taking and competing and destroying, even when there is no need to do so.

But what we see now is something new: a speed of destruction that exceeds even that of the first settlement of the Americas, 14,000 years ago, when an entire hemisphere’s ecology was transformed through a firestorm of extinction within a few dozen generations, in which the majority of large vertebrate species disappeared.

Many people blame this process on human population growth, and there’s no doubt that it has been a factor. But two other trends have developed even faster and further. The first is the rise in consumption; the second is amplification by technology. Every year, new pesticides, new fishing technologies, new mining methods, new techniques for processing trees are developed. We are waging an increasingly asymmetric war against the living world.

But why are we at war? In the rich nations, which commission much of this destruction through imports, most of our consumption has nothing to do with meeting human needs.

This is what hits me harder than anything: the disproportion between what we lose and what we gain. Economic growth in a country whose primary and secondary needs have already been met means developing ever more useless stuff to meet ever fainter desires.

For example, a vague desire to amuse friends and colleagues (especially through the Secret Santa nonsense) commissions the consumption of thousands of tonnes of metal and plastic, often confected into complex electronic novelties: toys for adults. They might provoke a snigger or two, then they are dumped in a cupboard. After a few weeks, scarcely used, they find their way into landfill.

In a society bombarded by advertising and driven by the growth imperative, pleasure is reduced to hedonism and hedonism is reduced to consumption. We use consumption as a cure for boredom, to fill the void that an affectless, grasping, atomised culture creates, to brighten the grey world we have created.
We care ever less for the possessions we buy, and dispose of them ever more quickly. Yet the extraction of the raw materials required to produce them, the pollution commissioned in their manufacturing, the infrastructure and noise and burning of fuel needed to transport them are trashing a natural world infinitely more fascinating and intricate than the stuff we produce. The loss of wildlife is a loss of wonder and enchantment, of the magic with which the living world infects our lives.

Perhaps it is misleading to suggest that “we” are doing all this. It’s being done not only by us but to us. One of the remarkable characteristics of recent growth in the rich world is how few people benefit. Almost all the gains go to a tiny number of people: one study suggests that the richest 1% in the United States capture 93% of the increase in incomes that growth delivers. Even with growth rates of 2 or 3% or more, working conditions for most people continue to deteriorate, as we find ourselves on short contracts, without full employment rights, without the security or the choice or the pensions our parents enjoyed.
Working hours rise, wages stagnate or fall, tasks become duller, more stressful and harder to fulfill, emails and texts and endless demands clatter inside our heads, shutting down the ability to think, corners are cut, conditions deteriorate, housing becomes almost impossible to afford, there’s ever less money for essential public services. What and whom is this growth for?

It’s for the people who run or own the banks, the hedge funds, the mining companies, the advertising firms, the lobbying companies, the weapons manufacturers, the buy-to-let portfolios, the office blocks, the country estates, the offshore accounts. The rest of us are induced to regard it as necessary and desirable through a system of marketing and framing so intensive and all-pervasive that it amounts to brainwashing.

A system that makes us less happy, less secure, that narrows and impoverishes our lives, is presented as the only possible answer to our problems. There is no alternative – we must keep marching over the cliff. Anyone who challenges it is either ignored or excoriated.

And the beneficiaries? Well they are also the biggest consumers, using their spectacular wealth to exert impacts thousands of times greater than most people achieve. Much of the natural world is destroyed so that the very rich can fit their yachts with mahogany, eat bluefin tuna sushi, scatter ground rhino horn over their food, land their private jets on airfields carved from rare grasslands, burn in one day as much fossil fuel as the average global citizen uses in a year.
Thus the Great Global Polishing proceeds, wearing down the knap of the Earth, rubbing out all that is distinctive and peculiar, in human culture as well as nature, reducing us to replaceable automata within a homogenous global workforce, inexorably transforming the riches of the natural world into a featureless monoculture.

Is this not the point at which we shout stop? At which we use the extraordinary learning and expertise we have developed to change the way we organise ourselves, to contest and reverse the trends that have governed our relationship with the living planet for the past two million years, and that are now destroying its remaining features at astonishing speed? Is this not the point at which we challenge the inevitability of endless growth on a finite planet? If not now, when?
George Monbiot is the author Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. Read more of his writings at Monbiot.com. This article originally appeared in the Guardian.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Solar dimming caused by air pollution increases river-flows


Solar dimming caused by air pollution increases river-flows

10 hours ago
Image: USGS

A study published in Nature Geoscience shows that air pollution has had a significant impact on the amount of water flowing through many rivers in the northern hemisphere.

The paper shows how such pollution, known as aerosols, can have an impact on the natural environment and highlights the importance of considering these factors in assessments of future climate change.

The research resulted from a collaboration between scientists at the Met Office, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, University of Reading, Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in France, and the University of Exeter.

Nicola Gedney, from the Met Office and lead author of the paper, said: "We detect the impact of solar dimming on enhanced river flows over regions in the heavily industrialised northern extra-tropics. We estimate that, in the most polluted central Europe , this effect led to an increase in river flow of up to 25% when the aerosol levels were at their peak, around 1980. With water shortages likely to be one of the biggest impacts of climate change in the future, these findings are important in making projections for the future."

It is already established that increased burning of sulphurous coal up to the late 1970s led to additional aerosols in the atmosphere. These are reflective and therefore reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface, an effect known as 'solar dimming'.

This dimming then started to reverse in Europe and North America with the introduction of clean air legislation and a widespread switch to cleaner fuels.
In the new study, researchers found that solar dimming increased river flows relative to that expected from surface meteorology, as the reduced amount of sunlight affected the rate of evaporation from the Earth's surface. When the dimming began to reverse, reductions in river-flows were observed.

Chris Huntingford, one of the paper co-authors based at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: "This study involved using detection and attribution techniques which were able to show a link between aerosols and changes in river flows.

"These studies normally involve looking at how different factors affect temperature, but here we've been able to attribute this man-made influence to an environmental impact."

The study also tested for the effects of deforestation and carbon dioxide increases on .

"In addition we find a further indication that increases in carbon dioxide may have increased river-flows by reducing water loss from plants", said co-author Peter Cox from the University of Exeter.

Explore further: New scientific review investigates potential influences on recent UK winter floods

More information: Nature Geoscience, dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2263

Journal reference: Nature Geoscience search and more info website

Provided by University of Exeter search and more info website

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Humans have poisoned the planet


Lifting the toxic curse


Humans haven't just poisoned the planet with potentially dangerous chemicals, we've also poisoned ourselves. So why is no one talking about it, asks Julian Cribb.

Image: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock
Something more sinister than climate change stalks the human future – and it is high time we gave it the same attention. Few people have any idea of the universal chemical deluge to which we are now subject, daily, and of the growing peril which we—and all our descendants—face.
Humanity currently produces more than 140,000 different chemicals, around a third of which are known or suspected of causing cancer, mutations and birth defects or are toxic in some way. Global output of industrial chemicals is around 30 million tonnes a year, which the UN Environment Program (UNEP) thinks could triple by the mid-century.
But industrial chemicals are just the tip of the iceberg. Each year humanity also release 130 million tonnes of nitrogen and phosphorus (mainly from food production or poor waste disposal), 400 million tonnes of hazardous wastes, 13 billion tonnes of fossil fuels, 30 billion tonnes of mineral wastes, 35 billion tonnes of carbon, and 75 billion tonnes of topsoil. This is, by far, our biggest impact on the planet and all life on it, including ourselves. Yet most citizens and governments seem unaware of its true scale.
Scientific evidence shows these substances are now moving relentlessly round the Earth in water, air, soil, animals, fish, food, trade, in people and in our very genes. Researchers have found toxic man-made chemicals from the stratosphere to the deep oceans, from the peak of Mt Everest (where fresh snow is too polluted to drink, by Australian standards) to remote Pacific atolls, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Toxic chemicals are now being routinely found by researchers in birds, fish, mammals and other life-forms which have never had contact with humans. They occur throughout our food chains.
Tests reveal that the modern citizen is a walking contaminated site. The US Centers for Disease Control’s regular survey find industrial ‘chemicals of concern’ in the blood of 90-100 per cent of Americans.  The Environmental Working Group, a US NGO, in independent tests reported finding 414 industrial toxins in 186 people ranging in age from newborns to grandparents. 
EWG also found 212 chemicals of concern, including dioxins, flame retardants and known carcinogens in the blood of new-born babies, who were contaminated while still in the womb. Tests from China, America and Europe have revealed pesticides in the breast milk of nursing mothers – and most loving parents now immerse their children in petrochemicals of known and unknown toxicity – toys, clothing, furnishings, bottles, tableware, food, the home itself, the car, scents and cleansers. Australian research has found that even when dead and buried, people re-release some toxins back into groundwater. Groundwater beneath many of the world’s big cities is now so polluted from this and from industrial emissions as to be undrinkable.
Complex mixtures of chemicals now reach us in the air we breathe, the food and drink we consume, and the things we touch every day. We are passing their effects on to our children and grandchildren in our genes, ensuring they lead less healthy lives. This has all happened in just a few decades, and especially in the last 25 years.  No previous generations of humans were so exposed, or so polluted.
UNEP estimates about 5 million people die and 86 million are disabled yearly by chemicals directly, making it one of the world’s leading causes of death – yet this does not include millions more cases where chemicals are implicated in common diseases like cancers, heart disease, obesity, autism, depression and other life-threatening mental disorders. 
These chemicals – intentional and unintentional – interact with the tens of thousands of others in our environment and daily intake to create billions of potentially toxic mixtures. The eminent Harvard medical Professor Philippe Grandjean, in recent article in The Lancet, called on all countries to ‘transform their chemical-risk assessment procedures in order to protect children from everyday toxins that may be causing a global ‘silent epidemic’ of brain development disorders’.
Every year up to 1000 new chemicals are released onto markets worldwide, mostly without proper health, safety or environmental testing. Regulation has so far banned just eighteen out of 143,000 known industrial chemicals in a handful of countries. At such rates of progress it will take us another 50,000 years to assess and ban all the substances that may be harmful, country by country – so national regulation holds few answers. 
Furthermore, the globalised chemical industry is rapidly moving out of the developed world (where it is generally well-regulated and ethical) and into developing countries, mainly in Asia, where it is largely beyond the reach of the law. Its toxic emissions are already returning to citizens well-regulated countries in wind, water, food, wildlife, consumer goods and people – and there is little done to stop this.
Doctors report the emergence of ‘new’ conditions, like ADHD and certain childhood cancers in young children, as well as unexplained increases in once-uncommon  diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, depression, autism and other mental disorders, obesity, diabetes and cancers, whose modern upsurge is now linked in thousands of medical research papers to humanity’s multiple chemical exposure. 
The issue to consider is that most, if not all, of these conditions are preventable. Nobody has to suffer or die from chemical exposure.
The world has been aware of chemical pollution since Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’ haslf a century ago - but has regarded it as local issue, restricted to specific sites, chemicals or end uses.  This is no longer true: chemotoxicity is now universal and represents a challenge at the species level. An Australian-led scientific effort to assess the full extent of our risk is now under way – the Global Contamination Initiative (GCI).
Chemicals and minerals are valuable and extremely useful.  They do great good, save many lives and much money. Nobody is saying they should all be banned. But something must be done about the current uncontrolled, unmonitored, unregulated and unconscionable mass release and planetary saturation.
If governments cannot stem the toxic flood, the task must fall to millions of individual citizens, acting in their own best interests and those of their grandchildren. In a globalised world only we, the people, are powerful enough, as consumers, to send the market signals to industry to cease poisonous emissions – and to reward it for producing clean, safe, healthy products or services. For the first time in human history, the means exist to share a universal understanding of a common threat and what we can each do to mitigate it – through the internet and social media. This will be an expression of people power and global democracy like none before.
Finally, as I argue in the book Poisoned Planet, we need a new human right: a right not to be poisoned. Without such a right, and its universal observance, there will probably never again be another day in our history when we are not.
Editor's Note: Julian Cribb is an Australian science writer and founder of ScienceAlert, with more than 30 awards for journalism. He has written nine books, including Poisoned Planet: How constant exposure to man-made chemicals is putting your life at risk, Allen & Unwin, 2014Buy the Kindle version for international audiences.