Monday Reads: What are we doing to our fragile ecosystems?Posted: March 31, 2014 Filed under: Climate Change, Environment, Environmental Protection, Environmentalists, morning reads 45 Comments
Is it too late to notice that our consumerist society is a lot like a swarm of parasitic insects clinging to the belly of a rapidly dying host? What are we to do when so many wealthy individuals prey on the superstitions and ignorance and greed of our fellow citizens to ensure their wealth grows while our planet dies? They convince us we need more than we do, underpay us, entice us with loans and plastic, then ship themselves off to pristine virgin island bank havens while we are surrounded by the chemicals, the death, and disasters that hyper-consumerism has wrought.
How can you possibly deny what we are doing to our home? Here are the top five items from a ‘terrifying” report presented over the weekend..
The impacts of climate change are likely to be “severe, pervasive, and irreversible,” the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said Sunday night in Yokohama, Japan, as the world’s leading climate experts released a new survey of how our planet is likely to change in the near future, and what we can do about it.
Here’s what you need to know:
We’re already feeling the impacts of climate change. Glaciers are already shrinking, changing the courses of rivers and altering water supplies downstream. Species from grizzly bears to flowers have shifted their ranges and behavior. Wheat and maize yields may have dropped. But as climate impacts become more common and tangible, they’re being matched by an increasing global effort to learn how to live with them: The number of scientific studies on climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation more than doubled between 2005, before the previous IPCC report, and 2010. Scientists and policymakers are “learning through doing, and evaluating what you’ve done,” said report contributor Kirstin Dow, a climate policy researcher at the University of South Carolina. “That’s one of the most important lessons to come out of here.”
Heat waves and wildfires are major threats in North America. Europe faces freshwater shortages, and Asia can expect more severe flooding from extreme storms. In North America, major threats include heat waves and wildfires, which can cause death and damage to ecosystems and property. The report names athletes and outdoor workers as particularly at risk from heat-related illnesses. As the graphic below shows, coastal flooding is also a key concern.
Globally, food sources will become unpredictable, even as population booms.Especially in poor countries, diminished crop production will likely lead to increased malnutrition, which already affects nearly 900 million people worldwide. Some of the world’s most important staples—maize, wheat, and rice—are at risk. The ocean will also be a less reliable source of food, with important fish resources in the tropics either moving north or going extinct, while ocean acidification eats away at shelled critters (like oysters) and coral. Shrinking supplies and rising prices will cause food insecurity, which canexacerbate preexisting social tensions and lead to conflict.
Coastal communities will increasingly get hammered by flooding and erosion. Tides are already rising in the US and around the world. As polar ice continues to melt and warm water expands, sea level rise will expose major metropolitan areas, military installations, farming regions, small island nations, and other ocean-side places to increased damage from hurricanes and other extreme storms. Sea level rise brings with it risks of “death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods,” the report says.
We’ll see an increase in climate refugees and, possibly, climate-related violence.The report warns that both extreme weather events and longer-term changes in climate can lead to the displacement of vulnerable populations, especially in developing parts of the world. Climate change might also “indirectly increase” the risks of civil wars and international conflicts by exacerbating poverty and competition for resources.
There have been so many disasters just recently that it’s hard to keep track. You can see our handprints on many of them. Has the policy of clear cutting timber created situations like the Washington State mudslide? Many scientists and environmentalists say yes.
As rescue workers, specially trained dogs, and heavy equipment move carefully through the area, longstanding questions are being raised about logging there and how it might have contributed to the slide.
The hillside in and around the slide area, which slopes steeply down toward the river, has seen much clear-cut logging over the years. Much of the forest there is second- and third-growth timber, replanted or regenerating naturally after earlier cuts.
Concern over logging’s impact has involved environmentalists and native American tribes. Large, old-growth trees take up more water than younger stands, which can take decades to mature and may be cut down before they reach full maturity. The demand for lumber, plywood, paper, and other wood products is part of an industry that once dominated Washington State and Oregon.
The Tulalip Tribes were so concerned with landslides hitting the Stillaguamish River and its prime salmon habitat that they blocked a proposed timber sale above an earlier slide in 1988.
“There were some very large clear-cuts planned for that area, which made us very concerned,” Kurt Nelson, a hydrologist with the tribes, told KUOW, the NPR affiliate at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“That reach of the North Fork has multiple, ancient, deep-seated landslides,” Mr. Nelson said. “There’s a lot of unstable terrain in that area.”
Landslides have followed logging in that area at least four times, KUOW reported.
“There was cutting in the 1940s; it failed in the ’50s. There was cutting in 1960, then it failed in the mid-’60s. There was cutting in ’88; it failed in ’91. There was cutting in 2005, and it failed in 2006 and in 2014,” said geomorphologist Paul Kennard, who worked for the Tulalip Tribes in the 1980s and now works for the National Park Service at Mt. Rainier.
“This had been known at least since the ’50s as one of the more problematic areas on the Stillaguamish for perennial landsliding,” Mr. Kennard said.
Although state logging regulations have been tightened in recent years, The Seattle Times reports that a clear-cut nine years ago “appears to have strayed into a restricted area that could feed groundwater into the landslide zone that collapsed Saturday.”
An analysis of government geographical data and maps suggests that a logging company “cut as much as 350 feet past a state boundary that was created because of landslide risks,” the newspaper reported.
This is an area above the most recent slide. Scientists and officials are investigating whether that clear-cut could have contributed to the current disaster.
Scientists tell us that mudslides are inevitable when you treat these mountains as we do and we fail to recognize that some places just aren’t meant for human habitation. However, tell that to the developers.
Almost 25 years ago, I went into one of the headwater streams of the Stillaguamish with Pat Stevenson, a biologist with the American Indian tribe that bears the same name as the river and claims an ancient link to that land. The rain was Noah-level that day — just as it’s been for most of this March.
We drove upriver, winding along the drainage of Deer Creek, one of the main tributaries of the Stillaguamish. We couldn’t see Whitehorse Mountain, the dreamy peak that towers over the valley, that day. We could barely see beyond our windshield wipers. At last, we arrived at an open wound near road’s end. I’d never witnessed anything like it: an active slide, sloughing mud and clay down into the formerly pristine creek. We watched huge sections of land peel and puddle — an ugly and terrifying new landscape under creation before our eyes.
Stevenson pointed uphill, to bare, saturated earth that was melting, like candle wax, into the main mudslide. Not long ago, this had been a thick forest of old growth timber. But after it was excessively logged, every standing tree removed, there was nothing to hold the land in place during heavy rains. A federal survey determined that nearly 50 percent of the entire basin above Deer Creek had been logged over a 30-year period. It didn’t take a degree in forestry to see how one event led to the other.
The Stilly, as locals call the river, is well known to those who chase fish with a fly rod, and to native people who have been living off its bounty for centuries. Zane Grey, the Western novelist, called it the finest fishing river in the world for steelhead, the big seagoing trout that can grow to 40 pounds. What Stevenson showed me that day in a November storm was how one human activity, logging, was destroying the source of joy and sustenance for others. When the crack and groan of an entire hillside in collapse happened a week ago Saturday, I thought instantly of Stevenson and that gloomy day at Deer Creek.
And, sure enough, logging above the area of the current landslide appears to have gone beyond the legal limits, into the area that slid, according to a report in The Seattle Times.
Meanwhile, the latest oil spill disasters take their toll in both the North and South of this Country. There are still long lasting effects in Alaska and in the Gulf of those giant oil spoils. But, even Galveston Bay shows sign of permanent damage from its latest brush with deadly oil that’s no where near the size of those other two. It’s getting to be that no one’s back yard is safe.
Authorities in charge of the cleanup from last week’s Houston Ship Channel oil spill say they’re responding to reports of oil near North Padre Island and Mustang Island, some 200 miles southwest of the original accident.
The command center for the cleanup reports Sunday that oil sightings were made earlier in the day by crews aboard flights being conducted by the Texas General Land Office and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Some tar balls — from dime-size to about 6 inches — have been spotted in seaweed patches along Mustang Island’s J.P. Luby Beach but it’s not certain if they are related to the spill a week ago between Galveston and Texas City.
The spill endangers wildlife nearby. There is a bird refuge that is in a particularly precarious location. That was also the clean side of the Gulf where you could still trust the fish and the seafood.
The spill, which dumped what one Texas official referred to as “sticky, gooey, thick, tarry” oil that doesn’t evaporate quickly into Galveston Bay, occurred about eight miles from the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, which attracts 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds each year. March is right around spring migration for many species of birds, and other birds are still wintering at Bolivar Flats, so tens of thousands of birds are living at the sanctuary, which is designated a Globally Significant Important Bird Area. Cleanup crews are using cannon booms to try to deter birds away from oiled beaches, and so far, oil hasn’t washed up on Bolivar Flats, but birds that have come in contact with oil in the water or on other beaches have been landing there.
Houston Audubon Society volunteers have been tracking the oiled birds they see at Bolivar, and Jessica Jubin, development director at the Houston Audubon Society, told ThinkProgress that the group was “definitely seeing more” oiled birds now than when they first started the day after the spill. She said on Monday, volunteers cataloged 40 to 50 oiled birds at one spot at Bolivar Flats, and on Tuesday, they counted about 100 at the same site. On Wednesday, she said, the number increased to about 140, with most birds ranging from just a few spots of oil on them to half covered in oil.
It’s the shorebirds and seabirds that are most at risk of becoming oiled from the spill, Jubin said.
“Like pelicans, for example — I don’t know if you’ve ever watched them fish, but they will soar in the sky and then spot something down below and then dart right into the water, and that’s how they get so much oil on them,” she said. “They can’t distinguish whether or not the oil is there, and they don’t know how to react to it.”
Mike Cox, spokesperson at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told ThinkProgress the agency has so far collected 45 oiled birds in the Galveston area, with 19 birds in rehabilitation and 26 that were found dead. Jubin said Audubon was reporting birds they saw to Texas Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but she worries about the movement of the oil. If it drifts too far south or west, it could end up in important habitat for endangered whooping cranes. Already, the oil has reached the ecologically-sensitive Matagorda Island, soiling at least 12 miles of the barrier island’s pristine beaches. So far, however, the Parks and Wildlife Department hasn’t received reports of oiled wildlife from Matagorda Island, Cox said, and crews were working to put up booms to keep the oil from getting into Matagorda Bay.
But birds aren’t the only wildlife at risk from the oil spill. As the Texas Tribune reports, marine scientists are worried that the spill could result in long-term health effects on Texas marine life. The thick fuel oil that spilled Saturday is persistent, so marine species could be even more at risk from oil-related defects like irregular heart rhythm and cardiac arrest than they were from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Shrimp are a major part of the Galveston Bay fishing industry, and they’re also among the species most vulnerable to the oil spill — if their marshy homes are polluted with oil, they may not survive.
That, of course, doesn’t include the danger to the people and the clean up workers.
Mossville, Louisiana is poised to be the next town wiped off the map down here by greed and environmental racism.
In 1790, a freed slave named Jim Moss found a place to settle down on a bend in the Houston River in the bayous of southwest Louisiana. Although never formally incorporated, the village of Mossville became one of the first settlements of free blacks in the South, predating the formal establishment of Calcasieu Parish by 50 years. But over the last half century, Mossville was surrounded. More than a dozen industrial plants now encircle the community of 500 residents, making it quite possibly the most polluted corner of the most polluted region in one of the most polluted states in the country. Now, a proposal to build the largest chemical plant of its kind in the Western Hemisphere would all but wipe Mossville off the map.
The project, spearheaded by the South African chemical giant SASOL, will cost as much as $21 billion, but stands to benefit from more than $2 billion in incentives (including $115 million in direct funding) from the cash-strapped state budget. It has the backing of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, considered a likely 2016 presidential candidate, who traveled to the outskirts of Lake Charles for the official announcement of the plan in 2012. The state thinks it’s an economic slam dunk. One study from Louisiana State University projected that it would have a total economic impact of $46.2 billion. It is the largest industrial project in the history of Louisiana. And after a community meeting on Tuesday, it’s one step closer to realization.
But that massive plant will come with a steep environmental price. It will produce more greenhouse gases than any other facility in the state. And the project will almost certainly spell the end for the 224-year-old settlement of Mossville, a poor enclave that has been forced to play host to industrial facilities no one else wanted in their backyard.
An analysis conducted by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in February determined that the new project “will result in significant net emissions increases” of greenhouse gases, promethium, sulfur oxide, nitric oxide, and carbon monoxide. By its calculations, the plant will spew out more than 10 million cubic tons of greenhouse gases per year. (By contrast, the Exxon-Mobil refinery outside Baton Rouge, a sprawling complex that’s250 times the size of the New Orleans Superdome, emits 6.6 million tons.)
It’s beginning to feel a lot like we’re trapped between a future envisioned in the “Blade Runner” and that envisioned in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Either way, the outcome will be sponsored by the likes of the Koch brothers and we will soon discover the fresh hells they’ve created for us. The dominionists and the capitalists join together to force their earth and its people into submission.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Wonderful post, Kat – thanks for writing it. I hope it gets the attention it deserves.
Thanks! It seems like it has been one assault on nature after another recently.
Why Christians — America’s most populous religious group — feel so victimized
I really like this article and will look at reading the book by Ms. Moss. Thanks for the link! I especially liked this:
Yes. I thought her book sounded really interesting and that’s a great quote!
That does help explain a lot of the constant whining victimization heard from the right wing.
I had heard of that book awhile back and almost ordered it. Glad to be reminded. Great article.
Speaking of assault and religions – I can’t help but gag while reading this case. It so reminds me of the Vatican covering up and protecting the priest of all the abuse. We now have judges who are doing the same, protecting the rich who have safety nets from old money, and trust funds, and investments. They won’t give the poor working person a chance, but hey when it comes to the Duponts……give them a break, even if they rape their daughters and sons.\, they go scott free with finds and monthly visit with the probation officer. Bullshitt, and more bullshit.
Ooops . I am so upset
That judge should be removed.
I’m really starting to believe that immunization of judges and prosecutors should be completely removed so, when they do something so utterly wrong, they can not just be removed but punished. If it’s good enough for the rest of us, it should be good enough for them.
Whistleblower suit claims DuPont’s Burnside plant conceals carcinogenic sulfur trioxide (SO3) leak more than two years
more corporate terrorism
Great post! I’d like to recommend ‘The Sixth Extinction’ by Elizabeth Kolbert to those who haven’t read it. It’s a well written book about the past extinctions and what is happening now in the Sixth and why.
This link was in my mail this morning, much of it taken from The Sixth Extinction, which I have not read – I’m going to read the article after my walk with Kylie and when having my tea.
The author is a really good story teller with a great subject. One thing we can say about our current period is we are in a geologically instantaneous catastrophe which is happening too slowly for us inhabitants to really notice.
This is quite believable. It’s the traditional Republican failure of empathy, in that nothing is a problem until it hits you personally.
Yeah, it’s always their fault for being poor, getting cancer, etc. — until it happens to you.
BTW daughter’s hospital was the trauma center that got all the slide victims. She was on call and I guess one pregnant patient came in.
Dak, how were they getting them to the hospital, by air or ambulance? I can’t imagine being trapped in mud, and no way out.
Another news source to avoid. These people are infiltrating everything.
You can say that again, and I mean infiltrating everything, everywhere. Jang is spreading like wildfire.
Nice piece of writing!
Thank you!!! And welcome to our Blog!!! We will check you out!!!
Just bookmarked your blog and saw some of your pictures (and recipes!) – love the one with your hand and the polar bear print.
Ditto here. Your recipes look marvelous!
Twisted cinnamon bread … that looks good for my next leisurely baking day!
There’s the money quote right there. Wonderful post, dak.
I watched the movie, the Wolf of Wall Street, and can’t help but think of the incredible amount greed from all the gas and oil companies. Everyday, another explosion, another spill, or someone grabbing land to drill baby drill.
Well, this should be ugly and interesting to watch.. JJ … you got a front seat to the fight!!
Guardian: Dmitry Medvedev visits Crimea as Russia’s army begins border withdrawal
I blame Obama.
Why don’t blind people sky dive? It scares the shit out of the dog.
State used outdated data to allow logging on slope
State regulators have been using outdated boundaries to restrict logging above the Snohomish County [Washington] slope that collapsed March 22, failing to incorporate newer research that would have protected a swath of land that wound up being clear-cut, according to a Seattle Times analysis of documents and geographical data.
Because trees intercept and absorb water, removing them can contribute to the risk or size of a landslide by increasing the soil’s saturation, according to geological reports. The impact can linger for years. ….
Paul Kennard, a geologist who was working with the Tulalip Tribes during the 1997 watershed analysis, said he remembers a Grandy Lake representative arguing “very eloquently and hard” to protect the company’s timber interests.
“Everything had to be argued to the nth degree if it involved leaving a stick of timber,” Kennard said.
He could not recall what role, if any, Miller’s report played in the discussions and whether there was serious consideration to redrawing the boundaries. He said there was a feeling that the gains made in 1988 were groundbreaking, and the tribes worried that the timber industry might spend a lot of money fighting to reclaim land if officials had decided to revisit the groundwater boundaries. The tribes saw the system as tilted heavily in favor of timber companies.
“It’s David and Goliath, but you don’t have the slingshot,” Kennard said.
dak, outstanding post! So much trashing of the ecosystem goes on as standard policy. Then when the obvious consequences happen, there are fine speeches and ostensible sympathy for those who get caught in the consequences (who are rarely the ones who get rich from logging or oil). But it seems so hard to get change.
Our state’s Democratic governor waffled at the mere idea of looking into unsafe logging, and retreated into talk about non-controllable factors (rain, geology) instead:
Some good news:
Over in Pa. they are forcing people to accept drilling, using an old 1961 law, to do so.
Dkos: A Freelancer in Texas Applies for Health Insurance by Jen Sorensen
Some good cartoons and a good story.
I know it is very unbuddhist of me, but he is on my list of old white men that I wish I could dance on their graves as soon as possible … the koch brothers, rupert Murdoch, etc. Makes me wish there were marvel heroes that would take care of them and save the world.