The Era Of Jellyfish Ascendancy  

Posted by Big Gav

Back to the regular news flow tonight - I'll complete my mega-post tomorrow.

The Guardian has an article on the most polluted city on earth (courtesy of the enemy of all life on earth - coal).

In the most polluted city on earth, the smog is so thick that it seems to consume its source. Iron foundries, smelting plants and cement factories loom out of the haze then disappear once more as you drive along Linfen's roads. The outlines of smoke stacks blur in the filthy mist. No sooner are the plumes of carbon and sulphur belched out than the chimneys are swallowed up again.

"We only see the sun for a few days each year," said Zhou Huocun, a doctor in the outlying village of Liucunzhen. "The colour of our village is black. It is so dirty that nobody airs their quilts outside any more so we are getting more parasites. I have seen a steady increase in respiratory diseases as the air quality gets worse and worse."

Outside Dr Zhou's hospital, shoes leave marks in the black dust. But it is a different type of carbon footprint that is drawing international attention to this part of the world.

Linfen is the frontline of the battle against global warming. For the past five years, the city of 3.5 million people has been the most polluted place on the planet, bottom of the World Bank's air quality rankings, and a symbol of the worst side-effects of China's breakneck economic growth.

Enveloped by a spectral haze, the city lies at the heart of a 12-mile industrial belt, fed by the 50m tonnes of coal mined each year in the nearby hills of Shanxi province. The New York-based Blacksmith Institute puts it alongside Chernobyl on a list of the planet's 10 most contaminated places.

What Linfen symbolises is the cost of development in China and the other most populous country: India. Both economies are growing explosively, leading to a rapid expansion of their middle classes. This in turn has seen a growing appetite for power - one sated by the building of dirty, inefficient coal-fired plants that are slowly cooking the world's atmosphere.

Jamias at Open The Future has a post on the ethics of geoengineering. The idea of a geoengineering arms race should be familiar to students of the "weather wars" school of conspiracy theories (usually focussing on HAARP and the like, though I do remember fondly the tale of the Iowa TV weatherman who blamed the Yakuza for GOM hurricanes).
Today's Christian Science Monitor has a thoughtful article on the morality of geoengineering as an option for confronting climate disaster. It's a decent overview of the current thinking on the subject, although it doesn't mention a couple of topics I think are worth calling out, namely, the use of bioengineering as a way of boosting carbon uptake in the ecosystem, especially with regards to methane, and Richard Branson's Climate Challenge, which is the first blatant geoengineering competition. I also get a couple of quotes in the piece.

(I spoke with the article author, Moises Velasquez-Manoff, for over an hour; the two quotes he used represent a very small part of the conversation. I think I come across as a bit more of an advocate of geoengineering in the article than I really am, but by and large I think I'm represented reasonably well.)

The most interesting comment comes at the end, from Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University:
"You could imagine some kind of arms race of geoengineering, where one country is trying to cool the planet and another is trying to warm the planet."

That possibility is another reason why the development of geoengineering technologies is essentially inevitable. No nation that sees itself as a great power is going to be willing to risk having its climate and environment completely in the hands of another nation. Research into methodologies for geoengineering will happen simply out of self-preservation -- after all, nobody wants to fall victim to a "terraforming gap."

It's hardly a good reason to pursue geoengineering, but it's a powerful one, and further underscores the absolute need for people who see responsibility and precaution as paramount to be part of the conversation.

Scifi.com has an interview with Kim Stanley Robinson on his new global warming book "Sixty Days And Counting".
Q: James Gunn's motto is "Let's save the world through science fiction." Is that part of what you're trying to do with this trilogy?

Robinson: Sure. I'm very happy to keep trying to write utopian science fiction, and I would agree with Gunn's implication that all science fiction has a good effect, as I said above; it reminds people there will be a human future, and that it could be good or bad, and that we now have a hand in propelling it one way or another. We have a very brief moment of generational power, in struggle with the dead hand of the past, etc., and then it gets passed on to the generations to come, and they make their effort. In that effort, lots of stories about how things could be are a help to the imagination, and help people to decide what's important to work on here and now. The stories function as warning or as blueprint or exhortation, or even just as a reminder that things will keep changing and be different, which is always a good lesson to remember in any part of life. Scary but interesting.


Q: Your Mars books were about terraforming Mars; the Science in the Capital series is to some degree are about terraforming Earth (to repair the effects of global warming). What are our chances of doing either before it's too late?

Robinson: We are the major force changing the surface and atmosphere of Earth now (we're faster than the natural processes changing it, I mean), so terraforming is indeed physically possible, but we're not used to thinking of ourselves in that role. It would require a changed paradigm, which admitted that we have become some kind of conscious "global biosphere maintenance stewards," and that environmental thinking now ought to include an openness to at least the concept of doing things deliberately to reduce our impacts. We have to reconceptualize wilderness as being a kind of ethical position as well as a piece of land, meaning active and conscious stewardship on our part. This is a kind of interaction with the Earth that has been going on semi-consciously since the beginning of humankind, but now it's become obvious, and it is a frightening thing to contemplate, because it's a stupendously complex system and we don't know enough to do what we now need to. And the unintended further consequences of anything we might try are hard to predict.

Even so, we may eventually agree through the U.N. or something else to try some things, if we get desperate enough. The crux may come if the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet begins to detach in a big way. About a quarter of the world's population lives very near the coastline, and the disruptions there could be so severe that we would contemplate mitigating actions.

Beyond that, I think it's best not to put the problem as a question concerning whether we are "too late" or not, because either answer leads to a kind of non-active response: i.e., if it's not too late, I don't have to change, and if it is too late, then there's no point in changing, so either way—party on! Also, in some sense, encompassing all life on Earth, it will never be "too late," in that even if we trigger a mass extinction event, the surviving life would quickly fill the empty niches and evolve onward. You can't kill life on Earth, short of toasting it in an expanding sun or whatnot. But you can kill a lot of species, and wreck a lot of biomes, and you can probably wreck human civilization for a time, which would kill a lot of people. So I think it's better to think of it in terms of "do we save more or do we save less," of the other species in particular.

Q: You've been to Antarctica before. Could the effects of global warming be seen even then? And what was it like to visit there?

Robinson: Very hard to see the effects of global warming when in Antarctica. It's still very cold down there. It's something specialists see, or deduce, or at least it was back then.

I did, however, see the Adelie penguin colony at Shackleton's hut on Ross Island, and I've heard that since I was there that entire colony (5,000 birds) has died out or moved, because an iceberg, a really big tabular berg, grounded offshore from them and cut off their access to the sea. Also, when in the Dry Valleys I saw the oddity of a deglaciated area where it seemed there ought to be glaciers, and I saw the physical evidence in the rock of previous eras when the region had been underwater; these were sandstone bands, pointed out to me by geologists; I wouldn't have seen them at all on my own, and their interpretation is contested anyway.

In general, visiting there was a tremendous experience, one of the greatest times of my life. For one thing, I had no schedule; every few days something new would come along and I would follow it, without a plan, and how often does that happen in our lives? And the landscapes, the air. It was great in so many different ways that when I got back it was almost like a huge surrealistic dream that I could not fit into the rest of my life. So I've made efforts in the decade since then to keep the experience real in my life, by spending more time than before outdoors, and by studying the many issues that the trip brought up for me. You can see some of that in my novel Antarctica, and my story collection The Martians was strongly influenced by my trip to the ice; also, this Science in the Capital series is a kind of back-home sequel to Antarctica. That means that five out of my six books since I went there have been strongly influenced by the trip. I've never thought of it that way before. I owe a lot to the U.S. National Science Foundation for sending me down there. And it's been fun making NSF the institutional hero of Science in the Capital.


Q: Which of the global-warming fixes in the book could be accomplished right now?

Robinson: We could do almost everything I described in this series, although some of the actions are perhaps politically impossible (right now), rather than physically impossible. If we made the social decision to do it, we could certainly build clean-energy generation, and a clean transport system. We could decarbonize our technology a great deal. These are very big investments, but it's a very big economy, and retooling our basic technology is something we've done many times before. It's a business opportunity in some ways.

The biological mitigation schemes discussed in my novel, and unleashed in one case, are definitely not at all ready for deployment, and maybe never will be, for reasons I think my book makes clear.

The main thing we could do now is vastly increase our construction of clean-energy generation.

Q: And why aren't we doing any of that?

Robinson: We live by the rules of capitalism, and right now it isn't the most profitable investment. And the big governments of the world are for the most part run for the sake of those making the profits. It'll be a kind of test to see just how democratic we are, if we ever understand the conflict to be between capitalism and the health of the biosphere (meaning all of us); if that's the choice and we choose capitalism, did we ever really choose? And if we did, how smart are we? Maybe this is a test of our collective intelligence and sanity as well. So I see a time of real conflict coming, not that this is hard to see, as we are in it already, a war of paradigms, fighting for the will of the culture, the rules we live by, the laws we enact. Every economy, capitalism included, is a system of laws, and we change the laws quite often, so it could be the laws will change very substantially, over time, although now we're under pressure to do it fast. I hope we can.

Q: Is the answer to create a climate-change task force, as the government does in the book? If so, do you think one is likely to come about anytime soon?

Robinson: Yes, I can see all kinds of signs of these kinds of programs starting up. Europe has been way ahead on this issue, and in a different way so has Japan, and their efforts will provide information for the later efforts in the rest of the world. Here in the U.S. there has been a lot of talk since the recent election, and action may follow. China and India may have to join the effort since their environments are being horribly damaged, poisoned in ways they can't sustain. So it may become a global effort, which is good because it needs to be global to work. Because of that fact, the political obstructionism from the Bush administration has been one of the worst of their many stupidities and crimes. ...

Alex Steffen has a number of interesting snippets in an ensemble post called "Political Design, Climate Inequity, Urban Eco-Sustainable Networks and the Japanese Homeless: Some Recent Web Finds.
Title: Is Design Political?

What it is: An outstanding essay by Jennie Winhall exploring the political decisions that lurk, often unnoticed, behind all design choices, and the ways in which more conscious design decisions can better reflect the values we want to see in the world.

Why it matters: Because design is powerful and predictive. When exploitation or waste or authoritarianism are woven into products and systems at the design stage it is very difficult to undue them through better use; conversely, things and systems can be designed so that those using them have an easier time living democratically, fairly and sustainably. The failure to apprehend this basic reality is a root cause of much suffering in the world. On the other hand, some of the most exciting worldchanging projects incorporate a new understanding of design to help make possible new ways of life.

Quote: "Design is a very powerful tool. It elevates the likelihood of certain kinds of choices and shapes certain kinds of behaviours. Most designers balk at the idea that design is a form of social engineering, but Hilary Cottam, director of RED at the UK Design Council, maintains that 'if you don't look at what any design is governing, then you are being governed by it.' She continues: 'The question for us is how do we find out what the effects of design are and make sure we're using those for social justice.' ... So yes, design is political. It's about values, power and preferences, about ideologies and consequences. And the good news is that there's a growing breed of designers who are political with a small p. They're not campaigning, but problem solving; they're not 'master-designers,' but democratic in approach. They're using their skills as designers to illustrate, create and demonstrate opportunities for social change. But the reason for their emergence is that the politics of design itself has changed."


Title: Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as World Warms

What it is: A sharp, well-reported story by Andy Revkin describing the emerging "climate divide" -- the large and growing gap between the ability of rich nations and poor to anticipate the effects of climate change and begin to make themselves more climate resilient.

Why it matters: The inequitable impacts of climate change are both undermining many efforts to address large problems (like global poverty and biodiversity loss) and becoming a major factor in international politics. Solving those problems and creating international agreements on other major issues will depend on understanding this issue and its implications.

Quote: "Two-thirds of the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that can persist in the air for centuries, has come in nearly equal proportions from the United States and Western European countries. Those and other wealthy nations are investing in windmill-powered plants that turn seawater to drinking water, in flood barriers and floatable homes, and in grains and soybeans genetically altered to flourish even in a drought.

"In contrast, Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies, according to new scientific assessments. As the oceans swell with water from melting ice sheets, it is the crowded river deltas in southern Asia and Egypt, along with small island nations, that are most at risk."

...

Title: Urban Eco-Sustainable Networks

What it is: A wonderful interview with Michael Singer, an artist/planner who has done amazing work taking unloved pieces of urban infrastructure and making them into green and vibrant spaces and systems.

Why it matters: Because reimagining infrastructure is vital to building sustainable cities (a theme we've explored frequently here on Worldchanging).

Quote: "The question was, How does architecture become the apparatus for natural systems? Within the atria, plantings eliminate the need for air-conditioning in that climate, which is similar to Washington, D.C. All the offices open onto gardens in one way or another with fresh air. The parking areas are bioswales with permeable paving allowing cleansing. There’s no need to mow the grass here, unless you need the mowed area for a play area. The idea was to plant the natural environment. It’s beautiful, the butterflies and birds come here. The outside systems of water-cleansing, storm water and gray water, is brought to this created wetland and pond, and then brought back into the building. It’s treated in the atria, which are very thickly growing for air-cleansing. It’s the lungs and the kidney of the building. And then the water is finally digested and cleansed through this feature in a second atrium; it drips down, you hear the sound, and the cistern collects it and sends it back to irrigate all of it and to reuse it."

...

Title: Think small for water management, say scientists

What it is: A new study finding that broad adoption of already existing water-saving agricultural devices and practices -- things like rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and green water management -- poor rural farmers could greatly increase their ability to grow food without increasing their water impacts.

Why it matters: Because food, water and the fate of small-time rural farmers are all big problems.

Quote: "Since smallholder farmers make up the majority of the world's rural poor, initiatives should focus on small-scale, individually managed water technologies — such as small pumps, water storage tanks and low-cost drip irrigation — especially in the semi-arid and arid tropics. These are affordable even for the poorest members of the community and can be implemented almost immediately, without the long delays of large projects."

Bruce Sterling points to a Guardian review of "WorldChanging: The Book".
Almost every page offers some new and seductive nugget of geeky jargon. "Vampire power" is the energy drained by electronic devices left on standby rather than switched off; apparently, this costs most of us about a fifth of our household electricity bills. If you're wearing a "Hug Shirt" impregnated with electronic sensors, you can get a virtual squeeze from a buddy anywhere in the world, sent via their mobile phone. "Mycoremediation" is the use of mushrooms to purify polluted land. Oyster mushrooms not only flourish on an oil spill, but actually clean it up too.

All this information is sandwiched between thick slices of polemic. The wide-eyed gusto does sometimes get a bit irritating: "Changing the world is a team sport, and there's a spot on that team for every person on the planet." But if that type of thing sends an uncomfortable shiver through your jaded old bones, Steffen has a message specifically for you: "Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in western popular culture, but in reality, our cynicism advances the desires of the powerful: cynicism is obedience."

((("Cynicism is obedience." If that's the only nugget of geeky jargon that seduces you today, well, take it to heart.)))

The SMH has a report that the Federal government is accepting that geothermal power could provide 10% of our energy needs - while still repeating the falacy that wind and solar couldn't provide the bulk of the rest.
THE Federal Government believes that geothermal energy could meet up to 10 per cent of Australia's electricity consumption by 2050. And, unlike other alternative energy sources like solar and wind power, geothermal sources offer the potential to meet base load power (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) requirements.

Reflecting that long-term potential, Canberra last week hosted the inaugural meeting of the Geothermal Industry Roundtable. The Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Ian Macfarlane, and th eMinister for the Environment and Water Resources, Malcolm Turnbull, hosted the meeting at Parliament House. In his welcome, Mr Macfarlane said the Government would work with industry to prepare a Geothermal Industry Development Framework that would act as a guide to the long-term development of the emerging energy sector, dominated by potential hot-rock developments.

The Age has a more realistic report noting that renewables could provide 50% of our power requirements.
HALF of Australia's electricity could be supplied through renewable energy by 2040, according to a report that also recommends limiting Australia's immigration in order to deal with our greenhouse gas emissions. The report, to be released today by Mark Diesendorf, director of the sustainability centre at the University of New South Wales, states that a combination of renewable energy sources could power all of Australia's grid electricity in about 40 years without having to resort to brown coal or nuclear power.

Dr Diesendorf hoped the report, The Base Load Fallacy, would "blow open the myth that renewables were unable to provide Australia's base load electricity needs", saying a mixture of bio-energy, solar thermal, geothermal and wind power could provide the answer. "Some opponents of renewable energy are claiming that renewable energy cannot provide base load electricity but it is a myth put out there by the coal and nuclear industries," he said. "After 2050 there could be a situation where the vast majority if not all of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources. Maybe 20 per cent from wind, maybe 20 per cent from bio-energy, maybe 30 or 40 per cent from solar thermal electricity and solar photovoltaic as well as some from geothermal."

The Age also notes that carbon taxes are better than calamities.
"Australia is in a very unusual position: we have a small population but we have been blessed by providence with large reserves of fossil fuel. We should play to our natural advantages and I am simply not going to agree to prescriptions that are going to damage the future of the Australian economy and I am not going to agree to prescriptions that are going to cost the jobs of Australian coalminers."

John Howard, March 29.

AND why not? Why are miners' jobs more precious than jobs in textiles, the vehicle industry or in manufacturing generally? The answer has something to do with the need to "wedge" the Rudd Opposition before the election. It has nothing to do with the future of the economy.

Howard's reference for his Government's alarmist forecast of up to a 10 per cent cut in gross domestic product growth as the consequence of a carbon tax sufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent is a now-discredited report, prematurely published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics last July without reference to CSIRO, its partner in developing the model.

Howard has not bothered to draw attention to the sensible conclusions of this model (The Heat is On — The Future of Energy in Australia, published December 2006). The main conclusion of the joint modelling exercise is diametrically different from the conclusions in the July report. The December version says there will be little difference in the growth of the economy between now and 2050 irrespective of whether policy is based on "business as usual" or on scenarios involving a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions and taxes of $100 to $160 a tonne of carbon dioxide emitted.

So why not stick to the "business as usual" scenario? The model is an economic model — it doesn't attempt to account for the consequences for the economy of climate change. The report by Sir Nicholas Stern (The Economics of Climate Change), which follows the conservative predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the economic cost of doing nothing is likely to be equal to the two world wars and the Depression.

And one more from the SMH, with Andrew Revkin noting that the poor will be left in the lurch by global warming.
THE world's richest countries, which have contributed by far the most to the atmospheric changes linked to global warming, are spending billions of dollars to limit their own risks from its worst consequences, such as drought and rising seas. But despite long-standing treaty commitments to help poor countries deal with warming, these industrial powers are spending just tens of millions of dollars to limit climate and coastal hazards in the world's most vulnerable regions - most of them overwhelmingly poor.

On Friday, a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that has been assessing global warming since 1990, will underline this growing divide, say scientists involved in writing the report. Wealthy nations far from the equator will not only experience fewer effects, but will withstand them better, they say. Climate change will inflict steadily rising costs that could become astronomical if greenhouse gas emissions rise unabated and countries delay preparations for the likely impacts, the report will say.

Two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions come in nearly equal proportions from the US and Western European countries. These and other wealthy nations are investing in windmill-powered desalination plants, in flood barriers and floatable homes, and in grains and soybeans genetically altered to flourish even in a drought. By contrast, Africa accounts for less than 3 per cent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies, according to the latest scientific assessments. As the oceans swell with water from melting ice sheets, it is the crowded deltas in southern Asia and Egypt, along with small island states, that are most at risk.

"Like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic," said Henry Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution. "A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheaper decks were lost. We'll see the same phenomenon with global warming." Although rich countries are hardly immune from drought and flooding, their wealth will largely insulate them from harm, at least for the next generation or two, many experts say. Cities in Australia, Texas and California, for example, are already building or planning desalination plants.

"The inequity of this whole situation is really enormous if you look at who's responsible and who's suffering as a result," said Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN climate panel.

Renewable Energy Access has an article by Craig Morris on the effectiveness of different policies for encouraging renewable energy sources.
Last month, Former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore called for an "electranet" that would allow homeowners to "put up photovoltaic generators and small wind [turbines]... without any artificial caps." Unfortunately, he did not explain that Europe already practices the system he proposes, which has made countries like Denmark, Spain and Germany leaders in wind power. In fact, it has made cloudy Germany the world's solar leader, too, and its biomass sector is also booming. The U.S. could learn a lot from Europe, if we would only look.

What country installed the most wind-power generating capacity last year? The United States of America. And where was the world's first emissions-trading exchange opened? In Chicago in 2003.

Granted, these milestones in wind power only roughly matched the German average over the past seven years. And the Chicago Climate Exchange is still voluntary. Today, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme has a volume 200 times greater. But a group of states in New England are talking with California about making emissions trading mandatory, which would soon force the Federal Government to act, too.

In addition, some 20 U.S. states are promoting the use of renewable energy sources. And below the state level, there are places as small Sebastopol, California (population: 8,000), where local authorities are promoting renewable energy -- in this case, the installation of one megawatt of solar electric panels on city buildings.

The U.S. is also a world leader in a less known aspect of energy supply: demand management, which Gore is now calling his "electranet." Historically, electricity supply has been tailored to demand, so the capacity of power plants had to exceed the expected peak demand. But blackouts in California in 2000 exposed the limits of this approach, and so did the major blackout of August 2003 in the northeast. Since then, utilities have been trying to curb demand in order to accommodate for supply bottlenecks.

For example, the city of Austin, Texas, waives the monthly connection fee for households willing to allow its municipal utility to cut off their air-conditioners for a few minutes during peak demand. Consumers thus save a few bucks, the utility does not have to build another power plant, and power outages are avoided.

In the long run, demand-management technologies will facilitate the integration of intermittent renewables in the power grid. The wind does not blow all day, nor does the sun shine all the time. We will have to start tailoring power consumption to this fluctuating supply. Thanks to initiatives at state and municipal levels, the U.S. will be a leader in this field.

Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has been propagating such innovative thinking for over two decades. He favors "least-cost planning" (LCP). Is it cheaper to build a new power plant, or to provide consumers with the equipment (such as compact fluorescent light bulbs) needed to "shave peaks" in power demand? While many multinational companies from Dupont to IKEA have long been using LCP to save money, it took the recent blackouts to really get the ball rolling at the level of utilities. ...

I've mentioned Janine Benyus' book "Biomimicry" a few times lately - TreeHugger points to a video of her speaking at TED.
TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is hosting a video of Janine M. Benyus, author of Biomimicry. We recommend that you check it out.



Grist has an interview with author David James Duncan that includes a mini-review of Paul Hawken's new book "Blessed Unrest".
Q: How do you spend your free time if you have any? Read any good books lately?

A: I walk on and in rivers maybe 150 times a year, sometimes fly fishing, mostly just walking and looking. I play music more days than not -- piano, tin whistle, and dulcimer. I love to write letters -- not emails, but real ink-and-paper letters -- swapping yarns and insights with a wide array of souls. Letters, for me, are akin to but way better than church. I could, in a week, put together a 500-page book of gorgeous letters I've received that might start a paper-letter-writing renaissance. But I'm having too much fun reading and writing them to stop and make the book. After I'm dead, maybe.

Good books I've read lately? William Kittredge's The Willow Field. Jane Hirshfield's After. Camille Helminski's The Book of Nature. Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest. Paul's book is about the largest social movement in human history, which is rising up right now, in opposition to the powers of the WTO, the neocons, the World Bank, and the "free-market fundamentalists." The resistance has taken the form of hundreds of thousands of NGOs dedicated to conservation, human rights, indigenous rights, life, and health before profit. Many books describe the world in ways that break our hearts. Paul's book invokes a heartbreak from which light is pouring. He's a great storyteller, poetic or hard-minded as the case requires. The book moves from a litany of "free market" abuses and WTO crimes against the earth and humanity to the countless life-saving actions of literally millions of altruists now enveloping the earth and uniting in response. It gave me chills. Read it and rejoice.

George Monbiot has an article out on the slaughter of the oceanic megafauna and their slow replacement with jellyfish. Sounds like a metaphor for our political systems.
If these animals lived on land there would be a global outcry. But the great beasts roaming the savannahs of the open seas summon no such support. Big sharks, giant tuna, marlin and swordfish should have the conservation status of the giant panda or the snow leopard. Yet still we believe it is acceptable for fishmongers to sell them and celebrity chefs to teach us how to cook them.

A study in this week’s edition of Science reveals the disastrous collapse of the ocean’s megafauna. The great sharks are now wobbling on the edge of extinction. Since 1972 the number of blacktip sharks has fallen by 93%, tiger sharks by 97% and bull sharks, dusky sharks and smooth hammerheads by 99%. Just about every population of major predators is now in freefall. Another paper, published in Nature four years ago, shows that over 90% of large predatory fishes throughout the global oceans have gone.

You respond with horror when you hear of Chinese feasts of bear paws and tiger meat. But these are no different, as far as conservation is concerned, from eating shark’s fin soup or swordfish or steaks from rare species of tuna. One practice is considered barbaric in Europe and North America. The other is promoted in restaurant reviews and recipes in the colour supplements of respectable newspapers.

In terms of its impact on both ecology and animal welfare, shark fishing could be the planet’s most brutal industry. While some sharks are taken whole, around 70 million are caught every year for their fins. In many cases the fins are cut off and the shark is dumped, alive, back into the sea. It can take several weeks to die. The longlines and gillnets used to catch them snare whales, dolphins, turtles and albatrosses. The new paper shows that shark catching also causes a cascade of disasters through the foodchain. Since the large sharks were removed from coastal waters in the western Atlantic, the rays they preyed on have multiplied tenfold and have wiped out all the main commercial species of shellfish ...

If we don’t act, we know what will happen. Another paper published in Science suggests that on current trends we’ll see the global collapse of all the species currently caught by commercial fishermen by 2048. Yet, if we catch the ecosystems in time – with temporary fishing bans and the creation of large marine reserves – they can recover with remarkable speed. I hope British ministers, now drafting a new marine bill, have read this study.

But beyond a certain point the collapse is likely to be permanent. Off the coast of Namibia, where the fishery has crashed as a result of over-harvesting, we have a glimpse of the future. A paper in Current Biology reports that the ecosystem is approaching a “trophic dead-end”. As the fish have been mopped up they have been replaced by jellyfish, which now outweigh them by three to one. The jellyfish eat the eggs and larvae of the fish, so the switch is probably irreversible. We have entered, the paper tells us, the “era of jellyfish ascendancy”.

It’s a good symbol. The jellyfish represents the collapse of the ecosystem and the spinelessness of the people charged with protecting it.

Cryptogon has a pointer to a new article on bee colony collapse disorder - plenty more links in the comments too.
Via: Jacksonville Daily News:

Louie Foy has been charming Mother Nature’s pollinators for more than 40 years. Foy, who keeps bees at his home in Verona, makes honey from his tiny pets and knows everything about them — when they breed, what makes them angry, when they die. But for the past three weeks, Foy has been stumped. He can’t figure out what drove some 30 of his colonies away. “They just disappeared,” Foy said. “I have a few dead ones left but very few. Most of them, there’s just nothing there, and I have no idea why.”

Researchers throughout the country are scrambling to find out too. They wonder why colonies like Foy’s are vanishing without a trace or warning. Coined “colony collapse disorder,” or CCD, scholars have several theories but no conclusions.


Area beekeepers learned about it in January at the American Beekeepers meeting in Austin, Texas. Concerns were raised by Maryann Frazier, an apiculture extension associate at Penn State University. “During the last three months of 2006, we began to receive reports from commercial beekeepers of an alarming number of honey bee colonies dying in the eastern United States,” Frazier said at the meeting. “Since the beginning of the year, beekeepers from all over the country have been reporting unprecedented losses.”

Although Onslow County has no large commercial beekeepers, some mid-level breeders are feeling the pinch. “This is a relatively new thing; there’s a lot about it we don’t know,” said Jeff Morton, horticulture specialist for Onslow County Cooperative Extension.

Top apiarists, or bee specialists, explained common symptoms and theories surrounding the ailment during the January meeting. Experts believe the disorder affects the bees’ immune system, causing them to flee and die off. One way scholars are hunting for a cure is through bee and hive autopsies. Attention has also been drawn to nearby colonies that remain but inexplicably become weakened.

And to close, here's a tale from the occupation.
NEAR TIKRIT, Iraq - In one of the oddest raids of the war in Iraq, a convoy of U.S. Humvees rolled to a stop outside a small printing plant here one afternoon late last month. Twenty U.S. soldiers in dark goggles moved through the two-story building with assault rifles, forcing the plant's workers against an outside wall for questioning, then conducting a room-by-room search.

Because an office door was locked, the soldiers radioed Army Capt. Dan Cederman, who was leading the raid, to ask whether they should knock it down. "I told them that would kind of defeat the purpose," Capt. Cederman recalls. "We'd have just had to come back out the next day to fix it."

The strike, after all, wasn't meant to find insurgents or weapons. Its real purpose was to covertly measure the progress of U.S.-financed renovations to the company's offices.

The U.S. is spending tens of millions of dollars to reopen state-run factories that have been shut down since the 2003 invasion and to create new businesses. Military civil-affairs teams throughout the country are helping the Iraqi companies draft business plans and modernize their equipment. And many businesses are back in operation, providing much-needed jobs and boosting the fragile Iraqi economy. Officials hope they will also keep otherwise idle men from joining the insurgency.

But given the hostility toward the U.S., officials aren't advertising their role. "The only way things will work is if the U.S. contribution is totally invisible," says Maj. Christina Nagy, a civil-affairs officer from the 82nd Airborne Division. "I have people with higher ranks than me always wanting to have a ribbon cutting. I just listen and think, 'Sure, if you want the companies to get immediately shot or blown up."'

The raids are the brainchild of Capt. Cederman, an 82nd Airborne reservist from upstate New York who studied robotic engineering in college and works in Target Corp.'s logistics department when he isn't deployed overseas. This is his second tour in Iraq, and many of the contractors he worked with during his first tour in 2003 have since been killed by insurgents, he says.

The idea for the raids sprang from another contorted economic revival scheme launched when Capt. Cederman and Maj. Nagy arrived here last year and found themselves charged with reopening a vocational school damaged by an errant U.S. bomb amid the 2003 invasion.

The Iraqi side of the project was led by a mechanical engineer named Dr. Noori, a stocky fellow with buzz-cut hair who had taught at the school in the years before the war and is running it now. Dr. Noori, who brings his teenage son to meetings on the massive American military base here, asked that his full name not be used for safety reasons. The U.S. allocated nearly $1 million to renovate the school and buy new furniture and machines. But the military balked at providing funds for salaries and other operating expenses.

Last summer, Dr. Noori approached the Americans with a creative alternative. He was planning to offer courses in fashion design and tailoring and asked the Americans to help him establish a small textile factory where students from the vocational school could help design and manufacture items for sale. A portion of the profit from the clothes would then be used to offset the costs of running the school, he said.

The Americans liked the idea and agreed to give Dr. Noori more than $300,000 to renovate an abandoned building and purchase new equipment and supplies, the U.S. officers say. With the work well under way last fall, Dr. Noori asked Capt. Cederman to see the renovations for himself, both men say. But the Iraqi stressed the importance of keeping the U.S. role secret. "Can you come in without anyone seeing you come in?" Dr. Noori remembers asking.

That didn't seem possible. Another option: Hide in plain sight. "I thought, 'Why don't we just raid the place?"' Capt. Cederman recalls.

...

The ruse worked so well that Capt. Cederman decided to carry out a similar raid last month at the printing plant here that had been fixed up with U.S. funds. The Iraqi assistant director of the plant requested the strike, telling the Americans it would help persuade the insurgents to leave him and his workers alone, Capt. Cederman says. The company prints recruiting posters for the Iraqi military and police, as well as an independent daily newspaper.

U.S. forces had spent several days preparing for the raid, studying satellite photographs of the factory grounds and floor plans of the interior of the building. The strike began shortly after 1 p.m. on Feb. 22. The security guard recognized Capt. Cederman's Humvees as the vehicles drove into the compound, and came over to greet the troops. The soldiers responded by ordering him to put his hands in the air and then lie flat on the ground, participants in the raid say.

"He kept saying, 'Welcome, welcome,"' Master Sgt. John Craig recalls. "I was like, 'Get the f- down on the floor.' It had to look real."

...

In recent days, meanwhile, U.S. forces staged a raid to solve a nettlesome - and potentially life-threatening - problem in the nearby city of Bayji.

An Iraqi who worked as a translator for U.S. forces there was getting death threats from insurgents and asked the U.S. for help. The Americans responded by raiding his house, publicly arresting him, and holding him in jail for two days.

"A lot of people there now think he's a bad guy," Capt. Cederman says. "It bought him a lot of street cred."

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