I'm not a doomsday environmentalist, or I wasn't. You might not exactly know it from my Kos posts thus far, but for basically a decade, I dismissed "the sky is falling" environmentalism. That's getting harder all the time.
One thing I do as a job is to write a news update for a small environmental nonprofit. I flip through eco-news headlines, compile them, add our spin, and send it off. The tone of this nonprofit is "the future is now," not "the end is nigh!!"
So I don't go looking for these things. But you want to know what this week's news roundup is?? Here it is...
Failure to Act in Next Five To Seven Years Leads to Irreversible Downward Spiral for Ocean Health
(John Heilprin, Associated Press, 2/3/2006)
[more ocean doom on flip...]
Two major ocean commissions -- a Presidential panel and the Pew Oceans Commission -- completed major reports in 2004 and 2003 respectively, identifying key actions that could protect or restore ocean ecosystems.
From the Oregon Register-Guard:
The reports agreed that America's territorial waters are in serious trouble and have been devastated by decades of overfishing, pollution, human encroachment, environmental mismanagement and haphazard regulation. While most of the damage is not yet irreparable, the panels made clear that prompt and extensive policy changes were necessary to avert catastrophe.
Last week, they issued a press release declaring that the government has failed in this attempt. Thus far, the efforts earn the administration a D+.
James Watkins, a retired Navy admiral, former energy secretary, and chair of the presidential panel, said:
"We're hopeful that 2006 is going to be a banner year for ocean policy reform," Watkins said Thursday. "The crisis now is to prevent an irreversible situation five to seven years from now, that will grow exponentially if we don't get on these things."
I could not believe I was writing a headline like "irreversible downward spiral" paraphrasing a retired Navy admiral appointed, I'm assuming, by Bush.
Asian Dolphins Near Extinction
Ten of only 80-100 Irrawaddy dolphins were found dead in the last months. Environmental pollution and fishing nets were blamed for their deaths. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
Populations of Maine Salmon Decline to 80 Individuals
(Beth Daley, The Boston Globe, 2/1/06)
Despite $20 million in funding, salmon populations in eight Maine rivers have dropped by half in the last decade, "and scientists are fearful that they are witnessing an extinction unfold."
Scientists are racing to figure out how they might still save the salmon before the fish, and continued public support for the government program, disappear.
"These rivers are in trauma mode, the IV is in," said Joseph Zydlewski, research scientist with the Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit for the U.S. Geological Survey.
Like the history of our entire country, this is an example of squandered natural riches:
Maine's rivers once teemed with the leaping silvery sport fish that became so popular one was ceremoniously delivered to the U.S. president each year. But water pollution and acid rain, dams, overfishing, habitat loss, and a host of maddening unknowns are believed to have slashed their numbers over the last century.
All Atlantic salmon in Maine are doing poorly, but scientists are particularly worried about the population in the eight rivers because their gene pool is believed to be the least diluted and their survival offers the best chance to restore Maine's historic wild salmon runs, with fish leaping upstream to return to their ancestral spawning grounds."
Northeastern Fishing Industry Hard Hit By Declining Fish Populations
(Jay Lindsay, Associated Press, 2/1/06)
"Alarming declines" in flounder and cod populations are forcing regulators to tighten restrictions on fishing. In 2004, fishers absorbed cuts of nearly one-third, and cuts now being debated range from 8-40 percent.
Gloucester fisherman Vito Giacalone said he expects the new cuts to be at least as damaging as the 2004 restrictions, called Amendment 13. Fishermen said at the time that the amendment was "a death sentence" for the industry.
This puts fishers in an economic bind. Many feel they have to take desparate measures to stay in business, but this stymies the intent of the regulations.
Chris Zeman of the environmental group Oceana said limiting fishing days is ineffective because fishermen just figure out ways to work more efficiently.
So, despite cutting fishing down by a third, fish populations continue to plummet.
Last year's stock assessment indicated the cod population had fallen by 20 percent between 2001 and 2004. It also indicated the yellowtail flounder population had been overestimated by 77 percent -- renewing persistent criticism by fishermen that the science is flawed. Regulators say the science has passed rigorous scrutiny.
So, it's not just that salmon are going extinct, but the fishing industry is suffering, and next will be those who eat fish...
Final Global Warming Deadline: 2025
(Jeremy Lovell, Reuters, 1/31/2006)
Check out the lede to this story in Reuters:
The world must halt greenhouse gas emissions and reverse them within two decades or watch the planet spiraling towards destruction, scientists said on Monday.
(This is what I'm talking about. I set out looking for "news" and end up with a doomsday diatribe.)
Carbon dioxide emissions must peak no later than 2025, and then come down by 2.6 percent annually, to avoid spiraling ecological and human catastrophe.
"Climate change is worse than was previously thought and we need to act now," Henry Derwent, special climate change adviser to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said at the launch of a book of scientific papers on the global climate crisis.
Researcher Rachel Warren from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who contributed to the book "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change", said carbon dioxide emissions had to peak no later than 2025, and painted a picture of rapidly approaching catastrophe.
Global average temperatures were already 0.6 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and a rise of just 0.4C more would see coral reefs wiped out, flooding in the Himalayas and millions more people facing hunger, she said.
A rise of 3 degrees C -- just half of what scientists have warned is possible this century -- would see 400 million people going hungry, entire species being wiped out and killer diseases such as dengue fever reaching pandemic proportions.
"To prevent all of this needs global emissions to peak in 2025 and then come down by 2.6 percent a year," Warren said.
"But even then we would probably face a rise of 2 degrees because of the delay built into the climate system. So we have to start to plan to adapt," she added.
So, let's review. 2 degrees is probably inevitable. So, this is almost certain to happen: "coral reefs wiped out, flooding in the Himalayas and millions more people facing hunger."
And we are already two-thirds of the way to "400 million people going hungry, entire species being wiped out and killer diseases such as dengue fever reaching pandemic proportions."
With ecosystems already in such a weak state, I am concerned they won't be able to adapt to changes.
Debate on Climate Change Shifts to Tipping Points and Irreparable Harm
(Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, 1/31)
Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend.
This "tipping point" scenario has begun to consume many prominent researchers in the United States and abroad...
There are three of these tipping point scenarios:
There are three specific events that these scientists describe as especially worrisome and potentially imminent, although the time frames are a matter of dispute: widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and, within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.
This article provides some rough thresholds for the tipping points:
- 1 degree Celsius (1.8 F) "extensive coral bleaching, destroying critical fish nurseries in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia."
- 2.8 degrees Celsius (5 F) could cause disintegration of major ice sheets and a sea level rise of 20 feet, and "imply changes that constitute practically a different planet."
- No threshold of warming is given for the collapse of the thermohaline circulation belt, but they do give it a 50 percent chance of happening (over the next 200 years).
The debate has been intensifying because Earth is warming much faster than some researchers had predicted. James E. Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, last week confirmed that 2005 was the warmest year on record, surpassing 1998. Earth's average temperature has risen nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, he noted, and another increase of about 4 degrees over the next century would "imply changes that constitute practically a different planet."
"It's not something you can adapt to," Hansen said in an interview. "We can't let it go on another 10 years like this. We've got to do something."
You know how scientists usually say things like "the data may indicate" and "evidence suggests that this could possibly..."?
What frightens me most is that you can almost hear the Doc Brown-like mania in recent public statements by scientists. Like Peter B. deMenocal, an associate professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University:
"It's not this abstract notion that happens over millions of years," deMenocal said. "The magnitude of what we're talking about greatly, greatly exceeds anything we've withstood in human history."
If you follow environmental news, you know how incomplete this news summary is. This is not a comprehensive "environmental news you can use." These stories were pulled together on a Sunday afternoon for a Monday deadline. These stories were all released in the last two weeks. We are looking at a big picture through a tiny keyhole. Even then, it's obvious the situation is pretty critical. Serious scholars of different, interconnected, very big systems are saying they are reaching the point of crisis.