Thursday, January 26, 2006

REVENGE OF GAIA

Those Lazy Hazy Days of Winter...

Ya gotta love the solid state double speak that passes for environmental reporting in China. Ya gotta. Otherwise they'll shut you down and re-educate your sorry [beep]

While Beijing citizens are gasping for breath behind their surgical masks, this is how the government tells it, through their wholly-owned news service called Xinhua.

The headline: Hazy days impede Beijing's blue sky goal. Yep, in China, even the sky is expected to meet government targets. But don't call it SMOG. That sooty guck is just "mid-air suspending haze."

Beijing city government set a goal for 238 blue sky days this year, but the last nine days in January were health chokers instead. Not that we can believe any of these statistics, but Xinhua claims the capital had 64.1 percent blue sky days in 2005, meaning Beijing had, quote, "over fulfilled its objective of having 230 blue sky days set at the beginning of 2005."

Well, comrade, even by these glowing fulfillment of objectives, that means 4 days out of ten delivered a killing smog, I mean, "mid-air suspending haze."

You can find the rosy interpretation of disastrous air quality at news.xinhuanet.com/english. Xinhua is spelled Xinhua.
-----

We get a more scientific explanation from livescience.com for January 20th - quote:

"Smog is blocking sunlight in China and making much of the country significantly darker than it was half a century ago.

Using nearly 500 instruments spread throughout the country that record the amount of sunlight reaching the ground, researchers found that solar radiation has decreased by about 2 percent per decade since 1954.

The country is roughly 10 percent darker on average than it was 50 years ago."

Imagine. Humans have actually made the sky go dark!

And it isn't more clouds. In fact, researcher Yun Qian from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory(PNNL) in Washington reports cloud cover has DECREASED in China. So the change comes from fossil fuel emissions which increased nine-fold in the last century. That smoggy coal haze is absorbing and deflecting sunlight.

You can find this study online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
---------

The Beijing government is trying to clear the air, especially if they want people to breath during the 2010 Olympics. Beijing formed a new "energy police" in January, to track down unnecessary lighting and wasted heat in shopping malls and office buildings. For the first time, there will be an enforcement team to back up the national slogans to reduce energy imports and pollution.

They have a long way to go. According to the Asian Development Bank, Chinese industry uses four times more power to create a unit of Gross Domestic Product, compared to the top industrialized countries.

---------------

The Independent newspaper in Britain, at www.independent.co.uk has become a leader in breaking environmental stories. On January 19th, their science editor Steve Connor reported something that should send chills up the spines of all creatures who have spines.

As you may know, the whole chain of life depends upon microscopic plants in the ocean called plankton. Now, scientists have found that global warming can starve plankton in the sea. Connor says this could have "catastrophic implications for the entire marine habitat."

The new study comes from a team led by Jef Huisman at the University of Amsterdam. They find that global warming is heating the ocean surface waters, and interfering with the exchange of nutrients from the deep sea. Without that nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron, the plankton weaken and die.

It gets worse. We depend upon the massive banks of plankton to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sink it into the sea. If we lose plankton, there could be a positive feed-back mechanism resulting in ever more carbon dioxide in the Earth's air supply.
----

It's a good time to hear from one of the early politicians brave enough to write about global warming. Former Vice-President Al Gore is about to publish his newest book in April. The publisher is the long-time organic house, Rodale Books. The title: "An Inconvenient Truth." Yes indeed.

The book is a companion to a documentary about Gore's climate campaigning recently shown at the Sundance Film Festival. That's also called "An Inconvenient Truth." In both book and film, Gore argues there is indisputable proof that the climate is shifting, and humans are causing it.
----------

According to the famous scientist James Lovelock, it's all too late anyway. In his February release called "Gaia's Revenge." the aging Lovelock fears that humans have failed to react to their greatest crisis since their time began.

Who is he? In the 1970's, Doctor James Lovelock proposed the Gaia theory - that the Earth and it's life form a complete system. Living things have modified the earth, and its atmosphere, to further the goals of living things.

Lovelock was no environmentalist. At the time he was working for Shell Oil. He's been a huge fan of nuclear power, and continues to advocate more reactors for everyone. In science, Lovelock's Gaia theory led to an important reconception of the operation of living systems. Many scientists have adopted it.

The Greens and the public went further, to imagine the Earth as a single living entity, perhaps a power worthy of a religion. That was beyond Lovelock's scientific intent.

Now, at age 86, Lovelock surveys the tsunami of scientific evidence for human-induce climate change, and concludes that the carbon balance of the atmosphere has already been irrevocably changed. We can only hope to mitigate the damage, but not stop, huge, almost unimaginable, changes for life on Earth.

Without a complete U-turn of the carbon economy, Lovelock predicts that by 2100, the only place fit for human life will be the Arctic.

He writes, quote,

"It was ill luck that we started polluting at a time when the sun was too hot for comfort. We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years."

"Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert; before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs that survive will be in the Arctic, where the climate remains tolerable."

Strangely, Lovelock says that pollution itself has helped deflect some of the sun's heat, in a phenomenon called global dimming. But, quote,

"this 'global dimming' is transient and could disappear in a few days like the smoke that it is, leaving us fully exposed to the heat of the global greenhouse". "We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke."

"We will do our best to survive, but, sadly, I can't see the US or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time and they are the main source of emissions. The worst will happen and survivors will have to adapt to a hell of a climate."

Get the full article in the Scotsman for January 17th, at thescotsman.com.

A host of scientists and public bureaucrats, including the UK environment Minister, privately agree with Lovelock's despair about human failure to adapt to the carbon crisis.

The Independent newspaper asked the well-known scientific author Mark Lynas to write a response. Lynas says, quote,

He's right, in my opinion, that this is the most likely scenario. But that doesn't mean we should give up the daily slog of trying to prove otherwise. Lovelock's grim warning shouldn't be a recipe for fatalism. True, carbon is now accumulating in the atmosphere at a record rate(2.2ppm last year), but no-one should be misled into thinking that as things stand, it's already too late. If all emissions stopped tomorrow, we'd almost certainly stabilize at less than two degrees, saving billions of lives and countless species from extinction. It's the fact that emissions aren't going to stop that is the problem - and it's here that we need to make sure that fatalism doesn't kick in."

end quote.

That's been the general reaction in various Net forums, like metafilter.com. One wag said he was canceling his order for a Toyota Prius hybrid, since it was too late anyway. Survivalists are wondering if their food in the bunker will be of any use. We already know there will be millions, perhaps billions, of climate refugees.

The immanent climate catastrophe breeds its own mental and cultural problems. How can we face it? Shall we give up, or maybe, we should start standing out in the streets, with our hot red scarves or hats, in our millions, until the traffic stops, until the leaders are compelled to lead.

Do you care if the Earth goes to Hell? Will you drive that gas guzzler to edge of the cliff, to watch it?

This has been news from Radio Ecoshock, a full-time voice for the Planet, at www.ecoshock.org.

Listen to what's happening to your Planet.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

End Coal Now (or Earth burns)

You've heard the news. 30% of arctic ice gone. Floods, storms, fires. We're pushing the earth over a very big climate cliff. The time for talk is over. We need to act now.

Human-made carbon is pouring into the earth's atmosphere. According to the Independent, global warming will speed up, due to a sharp rise in greenhouse gases. During the last 50 years, carbon increased by an average 1.3 parts per million every year. In 2002 and 3, it was 2 parts per million more per year. Unpublished reports for 2005 make it 2.2 parts per million. It's climbing rapidly, and piling up each and every year we burn fossil fuels.

Coal is one of the biggest single sources of carbon dioxide. It's the dirtiest fossil fuel we burn. There are plenty of cleaner alternatives. It's an emergency. We need to stop coal mining and coal burning now, today.

This isn't just an environmentalist demand. A wide range of governments, scientific institutions, and planners have recognized that coal has to go. One of the leading examples for a rapid phase out of coal is Ontario, the most industrialized province of Canada.

The Ontario government has promised a complete phase out of coal power by 2007. But Ontario's unreliable nuclear power plants, rapidly reaching their age limits, led past governments to increase coal by 120% between 1995 and 2003.

Yet with limitations on coal use, the province has not experienced brownouts or blackouts, and continues to grow economically. There has been a positive response to government initiatives to produce more alternative energy. Although most power generation stations are government owned, now Ontario has opened bidding to private companies, to supply cleaner energy. Some industrial companies have added co-generation facilities as well. A report on the phase out in Ontario is available from www.toronto.ca and from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. They demand that the capital city, Toronto, phase out purchases of electricity generated from coal, in order to fight off the growing problem of smog alerts.

On June 16th, 2005, the government of Ontario announced a delay in its deadline to shut down all its coal fired plants. The largest power station will remain in service until 2009. And Ontario will try to refurbish two of its broken nuclear reactors. The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters applauded the extension of coal use, warning of blackouts, and billions of dollars in damage to the economy, if coal power plants were closed down.

During the last two years, the Toronto area had a record number of days where residents were advised to stay indoors. Hospitals and clinics are seeing increased breathing problems due to air pollution, and coal burning plants top the list of suspects, both in Canada and in the United States to the south.

This is critical. So far, the most earnest attempts to phase out coal, whether in Canada or China, arise not out of fear of a damaged climate, but from popular pressure for clean air to breath. Smoggy air is an equal opportunity killer. We all breathe.

Even if coal pollution appears to blow away, it inexorably adds to the growing carbon content of Earth's atmosphere. Whatever we may say, or promise for 2012, or 2050, the climate and it's delicate balances of living systems, are being damaged. If we knew for certain that burning coal, today, will tip ocean currents, drive millions into refugee camps due to drought, and flood millions more, wouldn't we stop? We do know for certain. The facts are in. Will we act to survive?

Studies by the World Watch Institute estimate the coal particulates and sulfur dioxide leads directly to a half million premature deaths every year. Millions of new respiratory illnesses are created by coal burning. Cities like Beijing and Delhi are close to the smog levels found in London in 1952, where 4,000 people died. Almost 2 million people a year die just from coal smoke from cooking. Asian air pollution now reaches the US West coast, and coats the upper atmosphere.

Governments fund these deaths, and the coming climate chaos. At least $63 billion dollars of public money goes into subsidizing the coal industry - and that doesn't really count the railways, ports, roads, and other public infrastructure built and used for the coal trade. Counting these indirect subsidies, in 1999 Germany paid out a whopping $21 billion to the coal industry - that's more than $70,000 dollars for each miner!

Coal is a dominant player all over the world. Coal owners have had direct access to political leaders to decades, and fund countless candidates.

ENN, the Environmental News Network, reports that the United States and Denmark still depend on coal for 53 and 74 percent of electricity. South Africa and China are the most coal-reliant developing countries, with 78 and 73 percent shares of coal in overall energy use.

For a coal phase out to succeed, the World Watch Institute recommends a fair transition for affected workers. Coal miners number 10 million worldwide - less than one-third of one percent of the global workforce.

To minimize the dislocation of workers, the institute recommends following the lead of governments in China and the United Kingdom who have located solar cell manufacturing sites near abandoned coal mines.

In November 2003, an independent review, commissioned by the World Bank, recommended the Bank stop financing coal projects "immediately" - and end investments in oil production by 2008. But a series of 19 major banks, including Citibank and Barclays, want the World Bank to keep financing new coal projects, to keep on paying to wreck the climate. The World Bank caved in. Money is more important.

There are environmentalists who capitulate to the need for coal power. David Hawkins, the director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council says our political systems cannot give up coal. It's relatively cheap, and abundant. So Hawkins is supporting the proposed would-be demonstration plant for zero emission coal burning, called FutureGen.

In the FutureGen model - nothing has been built, or even announced - the coal would be gasified first, carbon dioxide and other pollutants would be filtered out, and the cleaner gas burned to make power. The smokestack emissions would also be captured, and driven down into a repository below the earth, perhaps in an old mine, or oil field. That is the hope to limit climate change. Of course, it's already much to late for distant plans. Climate change is upon us, and accumulating strength in the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, humans cut the tops off mountains, strip away the layers of living things, to make their black gouges in the earth, to power our gaudy display of lights and all the toys that Carbon Santa brings.

There are other moves away from coal. Lester Brown tell us:
[quote]
"The United Kingdom, which used coal to launch the Industrial Revolution more than two centuries ago, cut coal use by 40 percent between 1990 and 2001 mainly by substituting natural gas."

Britain's coal miners have declined from more than a million workers, in their glory days, to less than 10,000 today. Britain's largest coal pit, the Selby operation in Yorkshire, was allowed to close in 2002.

Lester Brown also says:

"Germany, Europe's largest industrial economy, cut coal use by a comparable 41 percent from 1990 to 2001. Reduced subsidies, gains in energy productivity, and the massive harnessing of wind energy, means the use of coal may be on its way out in Germany as well."
Read Lester Brown's press briefing on December 3, 2003 at earth-policy.org.

But Germany continues to subsidize coal mines, and just completed Europe's largest coal plant installation. Despite legendary Greens, the country remains a carbon spout into the upper atmosphere.

Even the business publication The Economist, ran a cover story in July 2002 with the title: "Coal: Environmental Enemy Number 1". The magazine called for a punitive carbon tax to discourage coal burning.

But the United States and Japan have increased coal use. Likely China and India are also pumping up the coal, despite diplomatic announcements. The exploding economies of South East Asia are getting their carbon drugs from that paragon of public virtue: Australia.

China claims it shut down thousands of small coal operations, due to safety concerns. Up to 5,000 Chinese coal miners die every year in widespread accidents. But China is also under pressure from city dwellers, including in the capital Beijing, due to horrible air quality. Many people moving outdoors wear breathing masks all the time. Children and old people are dying prematurely, by the tens of thousands, due to polluted air. Coal burning is one of the largest sources of localized air pollution. The government banned the use of low quality, high sulfur coal in the capital region.

The Chinese have an example of a widespread ban on environmentally damaging mining. In mid-October China banned all gold mining in Tibet, as a major source of pollution to that fragile environment.

This year, the Chinese government ordered almost 2,000 unregistered coal operations closed, and another 9,000 illegal coal pits shut down. At the end of August, 2005, the central government ordered officials at all levels to pull out of any coal mining investments. But the country still gets most of its power and heat from coal, operated huge coal operations, and imports still more, from countries like Australia and Canada.

The largest single coal polluting country, the United States, has barely whispered the idea of changing energy sources. There are movements to ban mountaintop removal mining, which chops out mountains and fills valleys with slag. Those impacted locally by coal smog have battled particular power stations. But there is no highly visible movement to save the climate by stopping coal use. The sleepers dig out dirty coal carbon, while complaining about the strange weather.

In Australia, the world's largest coal exporter - read climate profiteer - the Green party promised to ban coal powered electricity if elected.

There have been a string of protests against coal use by Greenpeace. For example, on November 11th, 2000, in the Netherlands at Rotterdam, Greenpeace activists boarded the bulk carrier La Paloma, with its cargo of Australian coal. Campaigner Paul Horsman called for a phase out of not just coal, but of fossil fuels altogether, to protect the climate.

Three years ago, on June 9th 2003, Greenpeace took the opportunity of a major coal conference in Bali, Indonesia, to call for a complete global phase out of coal. Red Constantino, Climate and Energy Campaigner said bluntly:

""The coal industry needs to clean up its act. Because of climate change, the only way it can do this is to phase itself out starting today not tomorrow."

The oil company BP changed its name from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum - as a new vision for a company engaged in an unsustainable business. Likewise, the coal giants need to publish their plans to wind down their industry, to preserve Earth's climate and it's citizens.

According to Greenpeace, coal produces over 40 percent of the world's annual carbon emissions. It's hardly a sundown industry. Between 1973 and 1993, global coal use rose by 36%. Coal burning exploded in Asia during those two decades, expanding 162%. Analysts predict Asia's coal appetite, mainly fed by Australia, will grow by 14 percent a year, even while violent storms increase. All this explains why atmospheric carbon is skyrocketing.

So far, the idea of ending coal use on planet Earth is outlandish, perhaps impossible, for most people to imagine. A Technorati search, of millions of blogs, finds not one ready to end the carbon tragedy. As children of the industrial revolution, we are blinded by the drug that made it possible - even though we have clean renewable technologies to replace it.

Humans will spend trillions on the Iraq war, and zillions on arms. They will send polluting vehicles into distant space. But they cannot see past the black haze that brought them out of the fields into the factories. The sooty remains of a former carbon age, many millions of years ago, reproduces itself, through half evolved animals.

While there is an international plan to help newly industrializing countries switch away from CFCs, to save the ozone layer - there is no international agreement to install clean alternative energy instead of deadly coal. Climate agreements require a whole new plan to replace coal entirely, across the world, as a top priority of all governments and corporations.

Recent studies in Germany found that planting more trees cannot reduce greenhouse gases, cannot stop climate change. The only solution is to drastically reduce our carbon output. We are now in crisis mode. We need to end coal mining, and coal burning, around the world.

Try to imagine it. Talk about it. Act where you are.

This report comes from Radio Ecoshock, the Net's only all environment radio station. Tune in free at www.ecoshock.org.

Friday, January 13, 2006

CANADA'S TAR BABY

As a self-styled progressive country, Canada just hosted the Kyoto and Climate Convention meetings in Montreal last December. Various government ministers, including Prime Minister Martin, made speeches and twisted arms for international action on climate change.

But under the hood, Canada remains the SUV gas guzzler.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada promised to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to six percent below 1990 levels, by the year 2012. Instead, Canada has constantly added more and more greenhouse gases. In 2005, it was a whopping 24 percent ABOVE 1990 levels.

Canadians drive incredible distances in gas hungry vehicles, waste tons of carbon through leaky inefficient homes and commercial buildings, and always leave the lights on everywhere. When it comes to belching greenhouse gases, Canadian are just Americans with a glossy green self image.

Here is the worst part. Who is the number one carbon drug pusher to the United States?
[contestant voice] Saudi Arabia? [buzzer], [contestant voice] Venezuela? [buzzer]
[contestant voice] Alex, Is it Canada? [bell, applause]

While spouting rhetoric about clean energy and global action, Canada is the NUMBER ONE CARBON DRUG PUSHER to the United States. From Newfoundland offshore oil platforms in the Atlantic, from new fields in the Western provinces, through new billion dollar pipelines running like black rivers to American refineries, Canada feeds the needs of the world's largest carbon polluter. If Americans are addicts, Canada is certainly the drug pusher.

Now Canada has found a seemingly inexhaustible source of oil, billions of barrels, enough to send the Earth's climate into a blazing Hell full of storms, or perhaps to tip the planet into a new Ice Age. While Canadians cheer, and US Republicans cozy up to a war-free carbon fix, the entire biosphere is threatened by the Canadian tar sands.

What are the tar sands? Can they really power the world for centuries? Is it worth scraping away vast areas? If you like living in a world suitable for animals, you need to know about the Canadian tar baby.

Let's go straight to oil industry sources. There is a fine 3 part series on Alberta's Tar Sands in Greenwire, starting August 18th, 2005. You can find Greenwire at www.eenews.net/Greenwire.php. The series was republished in another good insider source called RigZone at www.rigzone.com.

The facts:

Alberta is a gigantic province on the Western edge of the Canadian prairies. It is so rich in regular oil and gas fields that Albertans receive a check from their government. The Province has no debt whatsoever, and boasts a multi-billion dollar rainy day fund.

Alberta produces 70 percent of Canada's oil, 80 percent of its natural gas, and receives three quarters of the billions of tax dollars given away to the multinational oil companies, to encourage them to mine more carbon.

In the North, a frontier town called Fort MacMurray is the center of one of the most staggering engineering and mining exploits ever seen on planet Earth. Foreign-owned companies, mostly America, are engaged in strip mining and drilling 54,000 square miles - ripping away the surface of the earth in an area the size of Florida, just to keep those Hummers going for the commute.

One hundred and twenty million years ago, the detritus of plant life, from another carbon rich age, became worked into sand, to form a sticky, black goo, 50 to 100 feet below the current landscape of boreal forest, swamps, and lakes. These are the tar sands, also known as the oil sands.

According to the Alberta government, there are 1.6 TRILLION, that's trillion, barrels of oil locked up in this substance called bitumen. There are 175 billion barrels of proven reserves ready to today's technology to grab, making the Alberta tar sands second only to Saudi Arabia.

At present, 29 companies are pulling out a million barrels a day, almost all of it going to the United States. Corporations say that production will tripple by 2015, making the Alberta tar sands the fifth largest oil producer in the world.

As oil prices rise, the tar sands become more and more attractive. A whole string of US Congressmen and officials have already visited the Alberta operations. Even Dick Cheney was slate to tour the black bonanza. Major corporations, like Shell, have already pumped billions and billions of dollars into development of the tar sands.

But getting the oil out of the sticky sand isn't cheap, or good for the environment. The oil is locked in, requiring a complex system to "crack" it away. That process needs whole rivers of water, and entire natural gas fields, just to get the oil ready for refineries.

Experts expect that by 2010, just four years away, oil sands production alone will take up 12 percent of the total energy allowed under the Kytoto Protocol for Canadian use. That is, the tar sands operations themselves produce massive amounts of carbon waste, before a single gallon reaches consumers.

The black gold rush has pummeled local aboriginal tribes, and opened a flood of crummy fast food chains and strip malls to serve the oil workers. Houses in Fort MacMurray, previously worth $60,000, now cost up to half a million dollars. Thousands of workers are sharing accomodations, bunked up, while working insane hours for a strip mining operation that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And all this is a model for the US politicians and oil lobbyists, like Senator Orin Hatch, that want similar production from the oil bearing shales in the American Rocky mountains. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was loaded with corporate goodies for anyone wanting to rip the shale out of mountains and melt if down for the oil.

Back in the badlands, the world's largest 400 ton trucks, more than two stories high, haul away the black goo from equally gigantic shovel machines. Sometimes they mine it, but most of the time they strip away up to 100 feet of the land, which they haul away into gigantic slag heaps.

The tar sands have to be crushed, and then turned into a mobile slurry with amazing amounts of water. The slurry is passed through furnaces almost as hot as the sun, and pressed with hydrogen, which unites with the carbon to form a hydrocarbon.

But what is the source of all this hydrogen? It comes from natural gas from Canada's North. So this cleaner burning fuel is wasted to create the dirtier oil. Canadian's have heard about the proposed giant MacKenzie Valley pipeline, to bring natural gas south from the arctic. But gas hungry Canadian and Americans will never see it for their heating. The entire production of the new pipeline would be sucked up by the Alberta tar sands companies.

Incidentally, due to the Tar Sands, Canadian technicians are learning more about handling hydrogen. For one thing, there are hydrogen storage facilities close enough to homes and energy operations to create the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb if accidentally or purposefully touched off. Another big risk.

Almost every multinational oil company is involved. One of the big producers, Syncrude, is owned by a consortium tha tinclude Imperial Oil, Petro Canada, ConocoPhillips, and Murphy Oil. Shell is also a major player, operating its own massive tar sands facilities.

Where the land cannot be easily stripped away, due to overlying rock, the companies drill down, and inject gigajoules of heat, again from natural gas burners, to melt the tar below, enough to pump it up.

The corporations spend a few million expaining how green they are, while hauling away billions of dollars of profits and product. Stephen Hazell of the Sierra Club of Canada told Greenwire:

"When they talk about how well they're doing, its in the context of the filthiest industry one can imagine. I can't think of another industry that causes so much damage."

The big machinery strips away entire forests and landscapes, leaving barren holes as lifeless as the moon. Then they truck some of the slag back in, try and smooth it over, and replant something. Nothing natural is left. Even the recovery efforts use up massive amounts of energy, as diesel equipment moves mountains of materials. Syncrude says it "reclaims" about 740 acres a year. They have thousands of acres to go, as they operate the largest crude oil production in Canada, amounting to 13 percent of all the energy used by Canadians - except the oil doesn't go to Canadians, but to their wealthier cousins to the South.

Sulphur pours out of the processing plants, creating more acid rain. Just one company, Syncrude, pumps out 245 metric tons of sulfur dioxide every day. The Shell tar sands project adds millions of tons of sulfur dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Syncrude produced over 700 tonnes of sulfuric acid as well, the second largest source in Canada.

The tailing ponds, really tailing lakes, are left while the most noxious chemicals settle to the bottom. Toxic lakes, loaded with chemicals like toluene and Trimethyl benzene. Syncrude released 408 tonnes of toluene into the environment in one year, the largest source of this deadly chemical in Canada. Just dumped into the environment, free.

The whole underground water system has been wiped out. Much of the Athabasca River is being rerouted to oil plants, because it takes at least two barrels of water to produce a single barrel of oil. The Pembina Institute estimates the tar sands are currently using enough water to service the needs of a city of 2 million people. And it all comes out the other side dirty, and polluted with persistent chemicals. You can get a full report on the Oil Sand Fever from pembina.org. [link: http://www.pembina.org/pdf/publications/OilSands72.pdf]

The ground level insects, plants, and fungi destroyed. The plan is to replace it all with artificial rolling hills with grassland, some day.

Meanwhile, the former residents are unsettled. The caribou, moose, and deer flee the constant noise, and confusion of pipelines, pads, and pumps criss-crossing their former habitat. The wolves follow the pipeline cuts, to find easy access to their prey. And maga-flocks of migratory birds land in the toxic lakes.

Like George Bush in America, Alberta's government has steadfastly opposed the Kyoto Protocol. They just want more and more oil production, and more provincial revenues, no matter what happens to the Earth delicate climate. Damn the hurricanes, the Arctic, and the species. Haul away the land and the species - we need more oil! [chant more oil, more oil]
[music clip, all about the oil]


For all environment radio, free, tune in to Radio Ecoshock at www.ecoshock.org

Friday, January 06, 2006

Murder in the Deep

In one of the greatest environmental movies ever made, the desperate hordes of humans eat green factory-made squares called "Soylent Green." These food cakes were supposedly made out of rich plankton protein from the seas, but then a researcher finds a report that ocean life has long since expired.

Can't happen here? Listen to this report from Deutche Welle radio:

[clip]

"Deep sea fish species in the Northern Atlantic are on the brink of extinction.

Canadian scientists studied five species, including hake and eel, and they say that some populations have plummeted by 98 percent in a generation, meeting the definition of critically endangered.

Scientists and conservation bodies are now pressing for a global moratorium on deep sea fishing, which they regard as particularly destructive. Some fleets have switched to deep sea fisheries following the collapse of the more commonly caught species such as cod.

Known as bottom trawling, these ships often use heavy trawls which are dragged across the ocean floor, destroying coral and other ecosystems."

That was Jonathan Gifford, from Deutche Welle radio's flagship environment program, "Living Planet." He's referring to news reports, like the Independent for January 5th, 2006, that the "Trend for deep-sea trawling puts rare fish species on the ocean's critical list."

Three researchers from Memorial University in St John's Newfoundland analyzed the falling catch during the last 17 years in the North West Atlantic. Those living on or near the bottom of the sea have declined between 87 and 98 percent over the last two decades. Using scientific analysis, this catch data reflects a real decline of an astounding 99 percent, in a single human generation. We haven't seen anything like it since the mass murder of the do-do bird and the buffalo.

Following their report in the journal "Nature," Dr. Dixon told Steve Connor of the Independent: "the impact of modern fishing methods on these deep-sea species is disastrous, as they can be wiped out of entire areas within a single season. There is a real danger that slow-growing, deepwater species will take centuries to recover from current fishing, if they can at all. In European waters, we should close deep-sea fisheries as a matter of urgency."

The Independent gives the example of the orange roughy, a food fish discovered by French trawlers off the west coast of Scotland in 1989. In 1991 the catch peaked at 3,600 tons. By 1994, they got only 180 tons. Now its fished out. Will that stock take centuries to recover, if at all?

While the carbon-soaked atmosphere reaches the boiling point, human imagination fails to reach the murky truth about disappearing ocean life.

Here is Anya Coopers, from Deutche Welle Radio, interviewing James Leap, the new Director General of the World Wildlife Fund, better known as WWF. She asks: beyond climate change, what are the big threats to the environment which are less reported and less known. Director Leap, a 16 year veteran in the organization, replies ocean life is being demolished by climate change, over fishing, pollution, and especially deep sea trawling.

[clip]

James Leap: You're right to start out with global warming as the benchmark. It certainly stands out as the transcendent threat to nature around the world, and frankly, to human welfare around the world. I think of similar magnitude is the startling decline in the health of the oceans. We have only in recent years begun to become aware of how much damage we have done to ocean ecosystems, and how dependent we are on the health of those systems.

And so, it was, for example, just a couple of years ago that scientists discovered through new research that we have wiped out 90 percent of the big fish in the oceans - the tunas, the sharks, the billfish, and so forth. We had no idea how much devastation we had already caused. When you realize that more than a billion people around the world depend on protein, you realize that the health of the oceans is important, or should be important, to all of us. I think that's a coming issue.

[end of clip]

There is even evidence that the larger species, from whales to salmon, are starving for lack of lower forms of marine food in the oceans. For more on this, check out www.fisherycrisis.com. Research shows that in some parts of the sea, plankton has been damaged by holes in the protective ozone layer.

Back in 1951, before the invention of massive trawlers with satellite fish spotters and very deep gear, humans gather about 20 million tons of fish in a year. By 2001, we took 92 million tons - 4 times more - even as ocean life was stressed by rampant pollution, from land and air, plus unstable temperatures, storms, and shifting currents due to climate change.

More than 20 percent of all coral reefs have been damaged beyond recovery. 67 percent are severely damaged. These are the nurseries for the seas riches. 35 million acres of coral have been destroyed in just the last 30 years.

While we sleep comfortably in our beds, 90 percent of the North Sea floor is scraped bare at least once a year. Some is clear-cut by dragging weights and nets several times a year. Most of the catch is thrown back dead. Not much is left. There is no TV footage, just wrecked ocean bottoms. Fish can't scream, don't protest, don't buy anything. They just disappear, unless humans can wake up, and speak for them.

Stop destructive deep-sea trawling. Contact Greenpeace, Oceana, or WWF, to find out what you can do.

To find out what fish is safe to eat, and which are unsustainable or endangered - look at the Seafood Watch guide provided by the Monteray Bay Aquarium. Go to mbayaq.org or just Google "Seafood Watch" and the Aquarium Guide tops the list. Check out the safe seafood menu, or look up your favorite dish. Avoid those "red light" species that are disappearing from Earth's roster of life.

We close out with a clip from the song Te Vakka, Our Ocean, written for Greenpeace New Zealand.