“Everywhere we look at present we see something new trying to be born. A pregnant, swollen world is writhing in labor, and everywhere untrained quacks are officiating as obstetricians. These quacks say that the only way the new can be born is by a Caesarean operation. They lust to rip the belly of the world open” – from Reflections on the Human Condition by Eric Hoffer
At year’s end, it’s normal to assess where we are and how we as a species are in relationship to our environment. As usual it’s a mixed bag. First and foremost, we’re breeding ourselves into extinction at a pace that cannot be sustained. Equally as usual, we rationalize our reproductive rate as a species mostly by ignoring it or by displacing it. “If everyone would go vegan—our population would be so much more sustainable” is the cry. Ignoring the fact that even if the entire world was vegan, we would continue to breed until even the cultivation of the gentle wheat and sensitive spinach would outstrip our gaping, hungry mouth’s demands.
Since our destruction is inevitable, one could say that there aren’t any bright spots in the environment. But that’s not quite so. Given the fact that we as a species are probably doomed, our actions can still preserve some fellow travelers on this planet until we’re gone and they can continue on their evolutionary paths.
The pressure on Japanese whaling continues. Demand for Japanese whale meat in Japan is on decline and everyone is optimistic the day will come when the Japanese will give up on Antarctic whaling. Whether this will translate into stopping whaling in the Sea of Japan—who knows? The killing of dolphins in Tajii and the slaughter of pilot whales in the Faeroes (the grindadráp) continues unabated despite continuing protests.
Likewise, the war against shark finning is making progress. Several of the states of the U.S. have banned shark fin soup and protests are now even occurring in China—the largest consumer of shark fin soup. The European Union is moving to ban various loop holes in shark finning harvest bans. Concrete results in actually reducing the killing remain unknown but at least awareness has been heightened and some effective laws have been passed.
In general, I have to be pessimistic. The worldwide economic recession has put environmental issues largely on the back burner in national agendas. There are bright spots—Germany and other middle European countries are massively expanding solar power. Carbon dioxide emissions are down in Germany and the United States—in the latter mostly through the use of natural gas produced by environmentally safe hydraulic fracturing technologies. Sadly, too many non-critical thinkers in the environmental movement believe the lies that “fracking” is polluting the environment while ignoring the very real pollution from coal use that is being displaced by cleaner natural gas. People have to learn how to make hard choices if we’re going to clean up and save our environment. I’m not optimistic that they will.
This gallery contains 6 photos.
Incredibly fun event had by all Bwana Doc Paella Team Members!
America has been portrayed as the bad boy in carbon dioxide emissions contributing to global warming. However, the International Energy Agency has shown a drop of over 450,000,000 metric tons in carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. in the last 5 years—more than any other country. What is behind this dramatic change? U.S. emissions are falling due to the discovery of vast reserves of natural gas. This has lead to a dramatic drop in natural gas prices and power plants have scrambled to switch from high emission coal to cheap, lower emission natural gas just to save money. The results have been dramatic. While the U.S. is still slightly ahead of the European Union in overall emissions, the share of electricity produced by both renewables and natural gas continue to increase as shown in the figure below.
Image taken from “The Economist”
Europe on the other hand has actually increased the amount of energy they generate from coal.
This boom in natural gas has been made possible by an old oil field technology called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. In use since 1947, this technology involves using large quantities of sand or similar material, water, and gelling agents to break open the gas bearing rock formation and release more hydrocarbon. Some environmentalists have taken a knee jerk reaction that because it is used by the oil industry it must be bad. These individuals have claimed that it pollutes groundwater and even causes earthquakes. Independent substantiation of this is limited and only found in areas where fracturing was allowed within groundwater aquifers—a process now forbidden in most gas producing areas. Indeed, a good percentage of the underground of Texas has been hydraulically fractured with no evidence of groundwater pollution. While you have to wonder if the coal industry isn’t behind this anti-fracturing movement, there is no doubt that it is a successful technology that is reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. There is some hope in the gloomy picture of global warming—paradoxically from the oil industry itself! To learn more about hydraulic fracturing…or natural gas benefits…
While many politicians continue to deny that the climate is becoming increasingly warm, there is mounting evidence that not only is it becoming warmer, but that the warming is now in a positive feedback loop—it is perpetuating itself. As we know, anthropogenic (man-made) carbon dioxide is implicated in causing the increase in global temperatures we are seeing. Twenty years after it was recognized as an issue and despite the Kyoto Treaty (designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions) as well as actions by individual countries, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is continuing to increase (chart courtesy of U.S. EPA).
Global effects are seen at many levels—increased polar ice cap melting, links to possible droughts, and localized high temperature events. A more disturbing effect now suggests that the trend is irreversible.
Thawing of the permafrost in Siberia and Canada is releasing vast amount of methane—a gas 10 to 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Furthermore, the possibility exists that submarine deposits of methane may be released by the melting of the Arctic icecaps as the overburden of liquid water increases and bottom waters and sediments containing methane are turned over as a result. These events, coupled by the inability of governments to come up with any meaningful and effective policies to control carbon dioxide emissions (even Europe—arguably a leader in control has seen a 2% increase).
The consequences are profound and powerful policy changes are necessary. Our attention must now include not just attempting to control carbon dioxide emissions, but planning for the rise in sea levels and other consequences of increased sea levels. The theater of political action must no longer be an argument about whether it is happening. We must begin planning for the change that is coming.
In coming blogs, we’ll be looking at current science on these issues and the consequences of global warming and what we can do about them.
Friday, August 9, 2012 D.R. Schneider, PhD.
A percentage of Bwana Doc Adventure book sales are donated to environmental organizations that D.R. Schneider supports such as National Audubon , Save the Whales! and REEF. D.R. will consider lectures, readings and book signings for certain environmental & conservation groups. Support Great Causes… Bwana Doc Merchandise…
Many baleen whales, notably the blue, fin, minke and humpback whales “sing”. These songs are complex and change from year to year. They evolve over a season and they change and are never repeated. They may represent a form of communication, they may be a means of locating one another; as it is male whales that sing, singing may be involved in mating in some way. But despite decades of study we still don’t know why whales sing.
But one whale sings alone. Most whales sing in the frequency range of 15-25 Hertz (far below what is audible to the human ear–what you hear in whale song has been speeded up to make it audible). This low frequency travels very far underwater (hundreds if not thousands of miles). But one whale, known as “52 Hertz” sings at this frequency—far higher than any other whale. For at least 20 years, he’s been singing in the northern Pacific.
No one sings back.
He’s never been seen. Is he the last of a previously unknown species of whale? A Hybrid? No one knows.
He was last recorded off the Aleutian Islands—the closest he has come to land in the years he has been recorded. You can see the track of his journeys here.
But he continues to sing. All alone in the dark of the ocean. Apparently healthy, but alone.
Listen to him here.