Colorado Fires Mean Changes for the Southwest

forest-fire-colorado-climate-change2012 is one of the worst years on record for forest fires in Colorado. While these widespread and disastrous events are the result of weather, it signals a new trend that will affect the entire Southwest of the United States. Because of climate change the weather is changing and becoming more severe. Climate change will not ensure that weather will remain dry and hot in regions that rely on the occasional big winter snow and occasional summer rain, but it will surely make it more likely that weather like that of the summer of 2012 will happen much more frequently in the future.

In Colorado the multitude of fires that span across the entire Front Range and have devastated acres of forest thus far, have also caused thirty two thousand people to be evacuated from their homes. So far, many homes have been destroyed. The fires have not been successfully controlled even with the use of plentiful resources. The record setting temperatures and lack of moisture in the winter and in the present are accounting for most of the difficulty. Pine beetle kill is another reason the forest is burning so easily, because dead and dried out trees are ripe for the burning. Harsh weather conditions like this is unusual for this early point in the summer for the region as a whole.

For the next several decades China, the United States, and all other industrial countries are likely to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the tons, which results in warmer and drier conditions on account of global warming. Therefore it is likely that the forest fires in Colorado are just the beginning.

At the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California at Berkeley Professor Max. A Moritz and his colleagues have tracked the long-term probability of the increase in forest fires in the American southwest and the results are very high. Moritz’s results show that Texas and Arizona are the states most at risk for future catastrophic forest fires. Colorado experiences its worst fire season in history and a 1 degree Celsius change in the global average temperature could greatly skew the current percentage of wildfires to much worse than ever expected. Even given these conditions, many still deny climate change, including many people associated with ExxonMobil.  Others at Exxon accept the existence of global warming, but belittle its effects. CEO of Exxon Rex Tillerson said that climate change is not only “manageable” but also engineering possibilities make the changes entirely adaptable. Tillerson may have a optimistic viewpoint on climate change and its effects, but many in Colorado are no longer so helpful, especially with their homes burned to cinders.

Obviously there are many consequences to such devastation and it will take a long time to re-grow forests and rebuild lost homes. There are many ways to help in the present. One such way is to support the initiative of providing firefighters who help control wildfires with government provided healthcare. Because they are considered temporary workers they do not receive full benefits. To support firefighters who risk their live and help prevent the loss of the environment and the homes in it, please sign this Change.org petition.

The American Red Cross is also making huge efforts to help displaced persons and support the health of firefighters. They are helping treat people who are affected by the smoke and they are providing shelter to those who have lost their homes. Shelter is even more essential in times of extreme heat.  To donate to the Red Cross, check out the local Colorado chapter at this link.

Photo credit: erh.noaa.gov/okx/pics/firewx1.jpg

Arctic In Danger

arctic-conservation-oil-gas-threatenedThe recent television program Frozen Planet demonstrates just how special and important the area known as the Arctic is by displaying its wildlife, plant life, and environment. The show also depicts how the area is threatened by climate change and human interference. Frozen Planet has helped contribute to breaking down many misconceptions about the Arctic, including the idea that it is a barren wasteland ready to exploit for oil drilling or that it is a distant, remote area that has no affect on the rest of the world and vice versa.

Unbeknownst to most, the Arctic truly is a place with abundant and diverse life forms that play an integral role in the ecological health of the entire world. There are wetlands, lakes, oceans, whales, polar bears, caribou, walruses, waterfowl, seals and a plethora of other unique life forms. Unfortunately, some do not see it this way, but as a vast, cold wasteland that contains secrets multitudes of oil. Such a viewpoint lends to exploitation.

Shell Oil has already begun sending ships towards the distant Arctic waters in order to exploit Alaska’s oil rich northern coast. Unfortunately, those waters are incredibly fragile and are home to dozens of species, including many threatened ones such as polar bears and endangered ones like the bowhead whale, walrus, seals, and birds. April 20th of this year marked the two-year anniversary of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is disturbing that the president is already considering drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Obviously, such a detrimental and dangerous process is not worth the gigantic risk. Not only would millions of wildlife be affected for the worse, but native communities that depend on the Arctic’s various ecosystems would also be devastated. More so, if an oil spill were to occur in the Arctic, cleanup would be nearly impossible given the conditions inherent to the Arctic, such as: twenty foot swells, persistent frozen sea conditions, hurricane force winds, and darkness for months out of the year. The region is also remote and inaccessible.

The Bureau of Land Management is usually the last defense against the exploitation of animals and nature. Yet, for the first time ever the Bureau of Land Management is considering making the land a reserve, not for animals, as you would expect, but for oil. The plan is to create a 23.5 million acre reserve called the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. Instead of creating a safe harbor for this threatened ecosystem the BLM plans to facilitate the exploitation by allowing for oil and gas development.

The reserve is currently the largest continuous swatch of public land in the Unites States. The ecosystems and climates contained in the reserve are various and include coastal lagoons as well as rugged mountains. All the rich diversity of the public land would be threatened by oil and gas development. Some of the largest populations of grizzly and polar bears, muskoxen, caribou, the arctic fox, wolves, seals and bowhead whales reside in this area. Without essential lagoons, plains, tundra, wetlands, and lakes there would be no place for birds to nest, stage, feed, and molt. There are millions of waterfowl, sea, and shorebirds that depend on such areas.

The reserve should remain protected for future generations of wildlife and people alike. The environmental nonprofit group Earthjustice is compiling thousands of public comments to submit to the Bureau of Land Management on behalf of preserving the arctic. They also are working to save salmon, protect the Arctic Ocean from drilling, and protect the arctic from fracking.  To preserve these important natural wonders please check out their petitions to President Obama, the Bureau of Land Management and the Senate here: Earthjustice Advocacy.

Photo credit: arctic.fws.gov/images/arctic.gif

A Partial Victory for the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil

rainforest-destruction-Brazil-AmazonIn April, the Brazilian Congress passed a dangerous forestry bill that would give loggers and farmers the right to unconditionally demolish large areas of the rainforest. The future prosperity and existence of the rainforest lay in the hands of President Dilma Rousseff, who could veto the bill. Thankfully on May 25th, 2012 the president vetoed the bill and rightfully so, because 79 percent of Brazilians did not support the bill.  It was a wise move to ax the bill and not the rainforest, not only because of the obvious environmental implications, but politically. President Dilma and Brazil will host the world’s biggest environmental summit and if she were to open to summit as the president who allowed for the destruction of the remaining rainforest, resentment for her administration would erupt not only in Brazil, but on a global scale.  

The Amazonian rainforest is key to life on earth. People get 20 percent of our oxygen from the rainforest and the rainforest is essential to lessening the effects of global climate change. Over the last few decades the rainforest has been significantly reduced, because of farming, development, and industry. Although in the last ten years the rate of deforestation has declined significantly.  The rainforest experienced a 78 percent decline of deforestation between 2004 and 2011. The global community, including Brazil, has worked on forestry law and enforcement and satellite monitoring to ensure the continued recuperation and sustainability of the rainforest and its many inhabitants.

If the president passed the bill it would allow for massive clear-cutting and amnesty for loggers for all past deforestation crimes. The Amazon rainforest would be entirely destroyed in Brazil, which would in turn set a precedent for other countries to allow for rainforest destruction. Thanks to the rejection of bills like this, the rainforest can continue to exist and flourish.

While the vetoing of this bill is a victory for the rainforest, the challenges the Amazonian rainforest will face in the coming years are far from over. Even with support of Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, President Rousseff allowed for some parts of the bill to pass. Because Brazil is a rapidly developing country, President Rousseff faces continual pressure to exploit resources in order to lift millions out of devastating poverty. Yet, there is no proof that economic growth requires deforestation. If anything, the destruction of the rainforest will cause more problems for not only Brazilians, but also the world community as a whole.

Not only that, the agricultural lobby is very powerful, as it is in most countries. Dilma, like many world leaders, was elected with help and support from the agricultural industry. Today, they put ever-increasing pressure on her to cut down the rainforest for their profit.  In Brazil the battle has gotten so intense and ugly that activists have been murdered, intimidated, and silenced.

The need for public pressure is still crucial to the continued survival and health of the rainforest. The battle is far from won and requires continuous support and efforts to protect and preserve the environment. Avaaz is hosting a petition that not only helped prompt President Dilma’s veto, but will continue to gather support in order to promote support for the issues as hand, namely protecting the rainforest in Brazil. The exact details of President Dilma’s revised bill has not yet been made public, but Environmental Minister says that the government wanted to avoid diminishing protected areas and other ecosystems. Loopholes could still make it into the final bill, allowing for the reduction of mandatory reforestation and other devastating implications. The new proposals still affords less protection than the currently existing regulations, so action is essential in protecting the environment and preventing more deforestation and the murder and intimidation of environmental activists. To ensure the interests of the rainforest are still protected please sign the Avaaz Petition.

Photo credit: newscenter.lbl.gov/wp-content/uploads/dsc02007.jpg


Bison Returned to their Ancestral Plains

bison-great-plains-ancestorsOne of the greatest losses in the ecological history of the North American plains is that of the American buffalo. During the ten-year span between 1873-1883 there were over a thousand commercial hunting outfits that hunted bison. They were killing anywhere from 2,000 to 100,000 bison per day. By 1884 American bison were nearly extinct. The iconic animal is not only in the states of the Great Plains, but also in North America as a whole.

Thankfully, a man named James “Scotty” Phillip of South Dakota prevented the utter decimation of bison. Phillip was one of the first to reintroduce bison to North America. In 1899 Phillip was the owner of a small herd, totaling a number of five bison, including one female. When Phillip died in 1911 at the age of 53 he was credited with producing an estimated 1,000 plus heads of bison. At the same time, two Montana ranchers also cared enough about the survival of the species to privately breed bison. For twenty years Michel Pablo and Charles Allard maintained the largest collection of purebred bison. Allard died in 1896 and in 1907 the United States declined his offer to purchase the herd. Instead, the herd was shipped to the Elk Island National Park in Canada, who brokered a deal with Pablo. Other herds have also been produced and maintained from the help of zoos. Unfortunately, to this day bison struggle with disease and gene problems from not having enough genetic diversity in their species as a consequence of nearly going extinct.

Recently there has been very exciting news for the bison repopulation effort. For years, many have dreamed of getting bison back out on the prairie where they belong. Earthjustice is making an effort to do just that: bring buffalo home. The program marks the first time in over 100 years that purebred baby bison are being born where their ancestors once roamed at populations reaching into the millions. The purebred baby buffs spring from bison that hid out in the high country during the 19th century slaughter. The high country they are linked to is currently Yellowstone National Park, the United States’ first national park. These offspring are among the last genetically pure bison, as most buffalo that exist today carry cow genes.

Native tribes in Montana who have tried to reestablish the herds from the Yellowstone stock have headed the effort. Unfortunately, cattle interests have blocked their efforts. But the state of Montana agreed to move 60 buffalo to the Fort Peck Indian reservation in northeastern Montana. The Fort Belknap reservation in central Montana has also requested to join the effort. The cattle industry has been fighting the issue based on the fact that bison carry a disease that can affect cattle brought in from Europe. The disease has been controlled and effectively diminished in the 20th century. Elk also carry the disease, but for some reason the Montana Farm Bureau Federation does not concern themselves with elk, and Earthjustice speculates that perhaps that is because they have a high value to hunters.

The bison that will live on the American Prairie Reserve in Montana will be freed into a 6,100-fenced hectare enclosure, where they can roam the plains freely as they once did. Unfortunately, at Yellowstone Park bison are forced into the park by strict enforcement by rangers and if they refuse to return they are killed out of fear of spreading disease to cattle. Bison are still recovering as a species from nearly going extinct over a hundred years ago. To fight Yellowstone National Park’s efforts to contain buffalo rather than preserve an important and constantly recovering species, please sign this petition at Change.org.

Photo credit: gallery.usgs.gov/images/03_02_2010/yEug8KJ876_03_02_2010/large/bison_cow_and_calf_FWS_image.jpg

Greenpeace Releases New Photos from BP Oil Spill

bp-oil-spill-sea-turtles-greenpeaceAfter two years, new pictures and information from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are finally coming to light. Thanks to the efforts made by environmental advocate Greenpeace, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released 300 photos taken in 2010 between April 20th and July 30th. Greenpeace filed a request in August of 2010 in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. Greenpeace asked that any information related to endangered and threatened Gulf species be released. Finally after years of waiting, Greenpeace received the first batch of files in the form of these shocking pictures.

The pictures depict oil-drenched turtles, boxes and trash bags full of dead turtles, unhealthy turtles with cysts, dead turtles found on the beach, as well as sperm whales swimming through oil slicks. The photos reveal the other side of the optimistic view portrayed by federal officials and BP spokespeople at the time of the spill. For instance, photos were released of turtles from the gulf being saved and reintroduced to the wild.

By the time the spill was contained, NOAA said it recovered 613 dead sea turtles from the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Of those they relocated 274 turtle nests to Florida regions. There are five turtle species in the Gulf of Mexico; four of which are endangered and the fifth species are listed as threatened. Besides the obvious damage to the Gulf’s wildlife and the ecological health of the Gulf, 11 workers died.

On Friday May 4th, 2012 BP won a huge delay for a civil trial that will assign damages from the disaster. The new trial date is set for 2013. Given that this is the worst marine spill in United States history, BP is getting off easy by offering settlements for private parties outside of court. Unfortunately, the private settlements affect only private parties and have no effect on the interests of the federal government of Gulf Coast states. The United States government and the state of Alabama have asked that the trial not be postponed beyond the coming summer. If BP is granted further delays they may never have to answer to or be liable for the damages caused. For instance, Mother Jones published reports of eyeless shrimp, toxic beaches, dead dolphins, and Gulf oysters full of heavy metals.

In March 2012, BP agreed to pay an estimated $7.8 billion dollars in damages to private plaintiffs, whose claims ranged from clean-up related injuries, economic loss, and property damage. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that criminal charges might still be filed for the Macondo blowout, which caused the most damage. Already BP Plc engineer Kurt Mix has been arrested as of April 24th, 2012. He was charged with intentionally destroying evidence about the size of the spill.

While hundreds of lawsuits have been filed, including hundreds against BP, the Swiss based operator of the rig, Transocean, and Halliburton, which provided the cementing services.  The potential trial will cover federal and state government pollution claims. But more needs to be done.

Investigations have shown that there were lax regulations of the rig and BP was more concerned with cost cutting rather than worker safety and environmental protection. The government is complicit in such violations unless regulations are enforced to enhance blowout preventers and upgraded safety devices. To encourage Congress and President Obama to pass legislation holding the oil industry accountable and reforming regulatory processes, check out this petition from Public Citizen. It will protect workers and the environment from extraordinary disasters like the one in the Gulf. It will prevent its effects, which we are still learning of everyday.

Photo credit: nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/images/oilspill/kempsridleyturtle_brianstacy_noaa_gadnr.jpg

Climate Change Deniers Compare Belief in Global Warming to Mass Murder

climate-change-unabomber-heartland-instituteThe Heartland Institute is the central, most powerful voice behind climate change denial. The Heartland Institute receives tens of millions of dollars in funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers to question the science behind climate change and global warming. Their latest effort to deny common sense scientific results was their most shocking and provocative attempt yet.

On May 5th, 2012, a giant effort was being made around the world by the Connect the Dots movement. Connect the Dots was a worldwide day of awareness scheduled for May 5th. Its intent was to create awareness about climate change through volunteerism, education, and protesting.

Just as Asia was experiencing the first hours of Connect the Dots day, the Heartland Institute decided to put up billboards around Chicago to promote their next large meeting. The billboards depicted Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and Charles Manson, infamous cult leader, next to the quotation: “I Still Believe in Global Warming, Do You?” Kaczynski and Manson are both controversial figures and convicted mass murders.

The Heartland Institute’s message is intentional: people concerned with climate change are nut jobs and on the fringes of society.  The Heartland Institute conflated people who believe in global warming with serial killers, who are (or at least should not be) associated with society as a whole. By attempting to twist the climate change movement into something sick and twisted, this move by the Heartland Institute suggests they don’t have any real evidence to deny climate change. By comparing a belief in global warming to mass murders, the Heartland Institute merely signals they have to use desperate measures and blatantly provocative associations. The Heartland Institute could have chosen other figures that believe in climate change, like the pope or the Dalai Lama, but instead choose to align the climate change movement with notorious serial killers.

Rather than serial killers it is scientists and citizens who are concerned with climate change. Such scientists and citizens pressured the Heartland Institute so much, that within twenty-four hours the billboards were taken down. It is no surprise the Heartland Institute has gone to such measures, after all they are a libertarian think tank espousing free market environmentalism. In short, they support the efforts of corporations policing themselves and ensuing in mass environmental degradation in the name of profit and the free market. For instance, in the 1990s the group worked with tobacco company Philip Morris to question the science linking second hand smoking to health risks. The Heartland Institute opposes public health reforms that could negatively affect profits for corporations.

The Heartland Institute claims that the point of the billboards was to show that “believing in global warming is not ‘mainstream,’ smart, or sophisticated. In fact it is just the opposite of those things.” After they took their billboards down they responded to the scandal with more instigating words: “the leaders of the global warming movement are willing to break the law and the rules of ethics to shut down scientific debate and implement their left-wing agendas.” Their statement about the scandal also dictates that “The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society” and they claim that is why the most “prominent” global warming advocates are serial killers like Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson, and dictators like Fidel Castro, another figure portrayed on the billboards.

People who are actually prominent members of the climate change movement shared their opposition to the Heartland Institute’s attack. Michael Mann is the climate scientist of Pennsylvania State University who originally published the graph depicting the rise in average global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. He is a long time opponent of the Heartland Institute and called the stunt just one more of their “heinous actions” in a long history of despicability. Many mocked the serious accusations of the Heartland Institute, including Kevin Borgia, the director of the Illinois Wind Energy Coalition. He mocked their logic by tweeting: “#Heartland Institute believes in gravity. SO DID HITLER.”

But there is serious support behind the Heartland Institute, including companies like Microsoft. To sign a petition opposing the Heartland Institute’s continuous campaign of climate change denial click here.

Photo credit: nih.gov/catalyst/back/95.07/gifs/unabomb.gif

Bayer is Making Bees Go Extinct

bee-colony-collapse-disorder-bayerOn April 27, 2012 stockholders at the multinational corporation Bayer will hold the fate of bees in their hands.  And it is not the first time. Pesticides produced by Bayer have been killing bees for several years now. The Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers has addressed the issue of bee killing for the past few years by directly offering countermotions at the annual stockholders meeting. Even beyond those efforts, Bayer itself has been aware of the dangers of its bee-killing culprit, an insecticide called neonicotinoids, for several years. Yet they have done nothing about it.  

Neonicotinoids were initially developed because they showed reduced toxic effects in mammals. Yet if their continued use wipes out bees, it will be humans that ironically meet a similar end. Bees are one of the world’s most important pollinators and without them the world’s food supply would cease to be. Bees pollinate 90 percent of plants and crops around the world, so without them humans would die either of starvation without crops or of oxygen deprivation without plants producing oxygen.

Neonicotinoids are chemically related to nicotine, and just like tobacco-use in humans, after many years of unregulated usage neonicotinoids also were revealed to have detrimental causal connections to severe health problems. In this case, instead of lung cancer in humans, neonicotinoids cause colony collapse disorder. The causal link is so strong that it has provoked the banning and limiting of neonicotinoids in several countries including France, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia.

Colony collapse disorder causes worker bees to neglect providing foods for eggs and larvae in part because of the breakdown of their navigational abilities. Colony collapse disorder causes massive bee die-offs, because of its proven effects on their immune system (see the 2010 study by Dutch toxicologist Henk Tennekes, the 2012 P. Whitehorn study, and most recently the 2012 Purdue University 2-year long peer-reviewed study). The most detrimental factor of neonicotinoid poisoning is that the levels of poison are so high and concentrated that a foraging bee in a field that encounters the chemical will contaminate the whole hive upon its return. Contamination occurs at such a high rate because neonicotinoids are so affecting to bees and the measurement of even mild exposure rates was calculated at 70,000 times of what would be considered lethal to a bee.

In the last ten to twenty years bee populations have been in decline worldwide, especially in countries with high consumption rates of neonicotinoid based pesticides.  Some species of bees have gone entirely extinct in recent years and the populations of bees in the United States are at 4 percent of their prior numbers.

Bayer has continuously disregarded such findings and continues to market products containing neonicotinoids around the world. While pressure has increased on Bayer to halt production of such chemicals for the sake of bees and humans, Bayer has neglected to do so in preference of making profits. If Bayer were to stop producing neonicotinoids it would prevent billions of bees from dying, but because Bayer is the largest producer of neonicotinoids they want to resist loosing their market advantage and profit margins.

More so, Bayer has influence over scientists and lawmakers because it produces its own studies denying the independent research that demonstrates the dangers of its pesticides.  In 2010 a document from the Environmental Protection Agency was leaked to reveal that the EPA had actually rejected the findings of a Bayer study that was used to justify the registration of a neonicotinoid, clothianidin. The EPA document also expressed concerns about the health of honeybees. In the United States clothianidin is used mostly on corn. In 2009 alone Bayer made $262 million in sales of clothianidin.

To call on Bayer shareholders to change their ways and save bees, sign the Avaaz petition. By signing you will be attempting to make the world a safer place for bees and therefore for humans. To really make a difference, boycott Bayer products (See the full list here)!

Photo credit: legis.wisconsin.gov/lrb/symbols/images/bee_tif.jpg

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s Odious Association with the Biotech Industry

tom-vilsack-secretary-USDAOrganic products already face many challenges. To name a few, organic products have to compete with the generally less expensive pricing of non-organic products (albeit they have extremely expensive external costs!) and there is the fact organic products must maintain profitability in an economic culture that values convenience over long-term effects and consumption over sustainability. Not only that, but the biotech industry is thriving and has a lot of money, and therefore political clout.

An example of the struggles the organic movement faces came to light recently in the case of genetically modified alfalfa. The approval of the unregulated cultivation of genetically modified alfalfa by the USDA occured in January of 2012. The effects of this approval will be detrimental to the health of the environment, the health of cattle, and the health of humans The approval of GM alfalfa has the potential to end the organic dairy movement, because cows consuming GM alfalfa will produce products that will no longer be considered organic. That means no more organic milk, yogurt, cheese, and butter will be produced in the United States. Alfalfa is the first perennial crop to be genetically modified and because it is a perennial it has a far greater chance of cross-pollinating with non-GM alfalfa. Perennials are incredibly prolific and restrictions would be required to maintain the genetic dignity of surrounding alfalfa strains and crops. Cross-pollination with genetically engineered alfalfa would mean that all strands of alfalfa that presently exist would be contaminated.

Prior to the January decision that approved the unregulated use of GM alfalfa, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack seemed to be leaning towards a sharp reversal of prior government GMO regulations. Vilsack was considering putting geographic restrictions on GM alfalfa in order to protect organic alfalfa growers, but given his history, seemed doomed to cave in to the pressures of the biotech industry, specifically Monsanto, which stands to make lucrative profits from the approval. As usual, GMOs get unrestricted approval from the United States government, while sectors of the organic industry are being threatened with annihilation.

The situation is not helped by the fact that Vilsack is very much in favor of the biotech industry. Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, has a record of supporting corn and soy based biofuels. While these are alternatives to petroleum, unfortunately they are not more sustainable. The production of biofuels uses as much, if not more, fossil fuel energy than they generate. This statistical problem of biofuels consuming more energy than they create actually would drive up the price of food around the world and end up potentially increasing world hunger and starvation.

Prior to being appointed by President Obama, in 2001 Vilsack was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Association. He received the award based on the fact that he showed a commitment to biotechnology and had a vision of Iowa as a central part of biotech’s future in the United States. As governor of Iowa Vilsack created the Grow Iowa Values Fund, which was half billion-dollar appropriation that was used to boost Iowa’s economy through corporate grants. A significant amount of these grants were allotted to the biotech industry.

Vilsack also created the seed pre-emption bill of 2005, which took away Iowa’s local governments’ ability to regulate seeds. The effects of this bill meant that genetically engineered products could be grown anywhere because there would be no local government regulation and it took away the ability of local governments to regulate GE-free buffers.

While Vilsack claims that the regulation of genetically engineered agricultural products must be based on science, his record shows that he has no qualms about supporting the biotechnology industry. It is incredibly problematic and challenging to the biotech industry to have a patron of biotechnology as the Secretary of Agriculture. Although President Obama already appointed Vilsack to chief of the USDA in December of 2008, the Organic Consumers Association worked rigorously to fight Vilsack’s nomination. They continue to fight relentlessly for the rights of the organic industry and are working on many relevant campaigns, which you can check out and get involved in by clicking on the following link: Organic Consumers Association. To sign a petition directly aiming to end genetically engineering in industrial agriculture check out this petition addressed to Secretary Vilsack located on ForceChange.com.

Photo credit: usda.gov/img/content/09di1006-06final8x10.jpg

The History of Earth Day

earth-dayThe recent Earth Day celebration (Sunday April 22, 2012) begs the question: how did Earth Day come about? Earth Day emerged out of no one person or idea, but out of the ethos of the budding environmental movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Now, Earth Day is an annual observance honoring the earth and the natural environment. Some complain that Earth Day should be everyday, and that the awareness and appreciation the event promotes should be lifelong and constant. While this is true, it does not hurt to commemorate the goodness done and the progress made in the name of preservation, conservation, and ecological understanding. While the modern environmental movement faces many a challenge, it is still important to salute those who have made positive, sustainable environmental impacts since that initial Earth Day that took place in 1970. A few different founders lay claim to the initial creation of Earth Day and while it is unclear who exactly established the holiday, all are equally interesting.

Similar to the environmental movement itself, Earth Day was created out of disgust for industrial polluters and environmental degradation. Peace activist John McConnell is credited with the naming and founding of Earth Day. He first became transfixed by environmental causes in 1939, notably before such trends became common. His interest in the environment was spurred by his employment in a plastic factory, at which time he realized how degrading plastic production is to the environment. During the 1960’s McConnell’s environmental convictions only grew, and so did his religious ones. As a deeply devout Christian he believed he had an obligation to be a steward of the earth. When McConnell saw the highly influential and iconic image of the Earth as viewed from space on the cover of Life magazine he was so moved that he decided to make that image the symbol of the Earth Day flag. The “Whole Earth Catalogue” was first to feature the flag that he designed.

The story begins at the 1969 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) National Conference, which took place in San Francisco. McConnell proposed that a holiday be founded to celebrate the Earth and he proposed the date of March 21, because that is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. He intended Earth Day to promote awareness about Earth’s threatened ecological balances and how life as we know it depends on that balance. The City of San Francisco then issued an Earth Day Proclamation after his proposal won strong support. The Proclamation soon went global and was signed by the UN Secretary General at the time, U Thant.

Separate from John McConnell’s creation of Earth Day is the founding of Earth Day by Senator Gaylord Nelson.  The Wisconsin Senator was prompted to plan an environmental teach-in after witnessing the massively disastrous effects of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA. The teach-in was scheduled for April 22, 1970 and Senator Nelson intended to harness the enthusiasm behind the anti-war movement in order to inspire similar passion for environmental causes like air and water pollution. More so, Senator Nelson hoped the foundation of Earth Day would move environmental protection onto the national agenda. On April 22, 1970 twenty-two million Americans across the nation demonstrated in the streets in support of a healthy, sustainable environment. The central aims of the nationwide protests focused on concerns such as oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife. The creation of Earth Day is thought to have led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passing of the Clean Air and Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Denis Hayes was recruited as the co-chair and national coordinator of the Earth Day foundation committee.

In 1990 Denis Hayes organized another large campaign; he made Earth Day a global celebration. Hayes founded the Earth Day Network, expanding Earth Day to over 180 countries. The Earth Day Network obviously credits Senator Nelson with founding the movement, but Earth Day is beyond any individual. Earth Day represents the entire environmental movement.

There is yet another person to have claimed to have founded Earth Day. Bizarrely, that person is Ira Einhorn, the “Unicorn Killer.” His claims have been proven fraudulent and because of his notoriety are not only dismissed, but considered to taint the reputation of the movement.

John McDonnell currently lives in Denver, CO and at the age of 97 he still believes in protecting the environment. To watch a recent interview with him check out this link from Denver’s local news station, 9 News.

The Earth Day Network does more than just facilitating annual Earth Day events all over the world. During the rest of the year they work on many environmental projects including educational campaigns, service projects, community outreach, and so on. To learn more about Earth Day Network’s work in your community or to donate to the cause check out their website.

Photo credit: nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/image/planetary/earth/apollo17_earth.jpg

 

Shark Extinction: When Predator Becomes Prey

sharks-extinctionPeople fear sharks, but it should be the other way around: sharks are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Since the 1970s the shark population is estimated to have declined by 99 percent. All life forms play a crucial, essential role in their environment, which is why extinction is such a pressing issue. Without sharks some species will overpopulate causing further damage to the environment. Many species of Rays and Skates will become overabundant without sharks and therefore the fish they prey on (shellfish in this case) will also become extinct, causing a chain reaction of extinction. If shark extinction happens the ocean will fundamentally change. Therefore, so will human industries that rely on the ocean.

Shark extinction pose a threat to the fragile balance of the ocean climate, but it also indicates human agency has intruded onto ocean life to a dangerous extent. Surfmeisters reports that the demand for shark products must be reduced or eliminated and the practice of hunting sharks for their fins needs to end. Besides those contributing factors, the only other way to maintain the current population is to reduce the number of sharks caught in commercial fisheries.

To add to the devastation, sharks cannot repopulate at a rate that will sustain their current population, let alone recover the numbers of their former abundance. Sharks reach sexual maturity at a slow rate which ranges from anywhere between 7 and 25 years. Once they can reproduce they can usually only have 1 to 2 shark pups a year.

As of 2008 the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) listed 50 shark species that are at a high risk of going extinct, meaning they are labeled as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable. Beyond that another 63 sharks are approaching threatened status, meaning they are labeled either Conservation Dependent or Near Threatened. Shark Savers reports that many more species of sharks may be endangered, but not enough data collection exists to truly know the extent of or rate of extinction. The ten most endangered sharks are the Pondicherry Shark, the Dumb Gulper Shark, the Ganges Shark, the Bizant River Shark, the New Guinea River Shark, the Daggernose Shark, the Striped Dogfish, the Sawback Angelfish, the Smoothback Angel Shark, and the Angel Shark. The shark species that are labeled as “Very High Risk of Extinction” are the Borneo Shark, the Speartooth Shark, the Whitefin Topeshark, the Narrownose Smoothhound, the Great Hammerhead, the Argentine Angel Shark, the Hidden Angelshark, the Smoothback Angelshark, and the Angular Angelshark.

Shark Savers reports that “the most important step in stopping the international trade of endangered species is to agree on which species are endangered.” Fortunately, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is associated with the IUCN, has formed a union of 172 countries that try to work together to ensure that trade is not further threatening the endangered species. Unfortunately, CITES only has a few sharks on their list, but in 2002 began working for better recognition of shark endangerment.

But because CITES, like many other international organizations, is merely an agreement and has no enforcement mechanisms it is important to support groups working to save sharks. 

Stop Shark Finning offers a list of petitions to various countries and communities that propose the banning of removing shark fins. Please check out the website and sign all the petitions it lists in order to save sharks and therefore all the ocean life that depends on sharks!

Photo credit: swfsc.noaa.gov/uploadedImages/Divisions/FRD/Large_Pelagics/Sharks/Mako%20in%20water.png