Archive for February, 2010

From sea to blighted sea: a cautionary tale for Georgian Bay’s fishery

“There is no nonsense so arrant that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action.”- Bertrand Russell

“…sea lice from open net-cage salmon farms are pushing wild salmon toward extinction.” Alexandra Morton, biologist

Canadians watched as our Atlantic cod disappeared through the 1970’s. The ecological disaster intensifying in the Arctic as a result of pollutants and habitat destruction from the Tar Sands’ impact on the Athabasca River and the boreal forest is well documented.  Canadians are now faced with the obliteration of our coastal and riparian Pacific ecosystems with a catastrophic collapse of salmon. Individuals such as biologist, Alexandria Morton and non-government organizations www.livingoceans.org,   www.callingfromthecoast.com,   www.raincoastresearch.org have succeeded in court by making a reluctant federal government take over the regulation of open net-cage fish farms, and a long over-due federal inquiry will determine the viability of these farms. The B.C. Supreme Court has now halted the expansion of these farms till next December.

Sea Lice Effects on Wild Pink Juvenile Salmon - Photo: Alexandra Morton

Sea Lice Effects on Wild Pink Juvenile Salmon - Photo: Alexandra Morton

Since the late 1980’s salmon farms have been allowed to proliferate along the B.C’s coast, and most importantly on the very migration routes where wild salmon must swim to go up rivers such as the Fraser and spawn. Disease epidemics, escape of non-native Atlantic salmon, drowning of marine mammals in farm nets, parasites such as the infestation of sea lice on baby salmon, pharmaceutical and other chemical pollutants, as well as the sheer biomass and the excrement of salmon create all the conditions for a crash of not just salmon but for the marine species including sea lions, whales and bears that feed on wild salmon as well as shell fish beneath these farms. Add to this the impact on First Nations’ way of life when only one-tenth of expected wild sockeye salmon return to the rivers to spawn.
Salmon farms in Norway and in Ireland have already devastated local fisheries, so why would Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, go last summer to Norway to showcase B.C.’s aquaculture industry? Plutocracy is alive and well in Canada!

One clue that sheds light on why our nation would allow the wild salmon population to collapse can be found in a famous essay by Garrett Hardin called “The Tragedy of the Commons”. Think of the ‘commons’ as those areas of our planet that are owned communally such as our seas, atmosphere and even our national and provincial parks. Hardin says, “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” Would this explain why international conventions on climate, biodiversity and even the Convention on the Law of the Sea have had little impact in stopping ecological disasters from happening? Does humanity have such a contemptuous disregard for ‘free-to-take’ Nature that, if given the chance, would pull out the underpinning structures that account for our ability to survive? Does this give us an insight into why Canada and other governments are so eager to exploit an ice-free ‘communal’ Arctic Ocean that will make trillions of dollars for oil, gas and mining corporations, but will subject its indigenous peoples and native species to the same ecological tragedies found in the south?

Our next article will look more closely at what is happening in our Bay, but suffice it to say for now that in 2005 The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Gord Miller, spoke out against aquaculture farming for similar concerns that now plague the Pacific coast’s wild salmon population.

What you can do right now is to refuse to buy farm-raised salmon. For those who have pets, buy food that does not have salmon (or tuna) in the ingredients. Meanwhile, Target Corp’s 1,744 U.S. stores will ban farmed salmon. Ask your local store to do the same. Going to the Olympics? King Harald of Norway is being presented a letter protesting the fact that 92 percent of B.C.’s fish farms are owned by Norwegian companies, and with good reason, salmon farms are banned in many Norwegian fjords. Be a signatory.

Alternative ‘green’ fuels create more ethical questions

“Corn causes more soil erosion than any other crop grown in the United States…Producing ethanol or biodiesel from plant biomass is going down the wrong road because you use more energy to produce these fuels than you get out from the combustion of these products.” David Pimentel, agricultural scientist at Cornell University

“Political leaders stress the importance of technological innovation as a primary means of eventually reducing carbon emissions. This is wishful thinking on an extraordinary scale.” Chris Goodall, “How to lead a low-carbon life”

Rudolf Diesel’s engine ran off peanut oil at the Paris World Fair in 1900. Fuels derived from plants, their seeds and even from algae have caught the imagination of researchers for over 100 years.  Sometimes, fuel made from corn, sugar cane or soy is called agrofuels. These fuels have been the forage for intense debates between industry hopefuls who obtain their money from oil companies such as BP, venture capitalists as well as governments who are, in many instances, pitted against conservationists. In 2010 the controversy over ‘renewable’ type fuels is more complicated than ever. It’s not just the low energy return on the energy invested in producing the fuels that have created the conflagration. The controversy has spread to the acknowledgement of biodiversity loss where these plants are grown, to even the car and marine industries who say that a higher blend (going from 10 to 15 per cent) of ethanol will ruin engines.
Now a whole array of African, Chinese, Indonesian and Indian groups oppose increasing the acreage of these crops. In Africa non-government organizations and scientists are warning that mono-crops such as palm oil and what was once called the ‘wonder weed’ because it can grow on marginal lands, jatropha, will have disastrous consequences if corporations gain control of farm land. Food security, displaced farmers, deforestation, and conservation lands are all threatened in the wake of the agro fuel ‘miracle’. In places such as Ethiopia’s Babile Elephant Sanctuary where 300 elephants and 1,000 black manned lions live and are revered by people, a German biodiesel company has leveled huge tracts of conservation land. In fact, the European Union is being pressured to lower its biofuel targets as a result of similar tragic examples including Uganda’s Mabira Forest that is a water catchment area for the Nile and Lake Victoria. In Indonesia the destruction of the orangutans’ last remaining habitat and the gargantuan levels of greenhouse gas emissions coming with forest destruction and burning, has brought huge criticism for the profligate misuse of lands to grow these fuels. Ecological services are not respected by some corporations because many times they are ‘given’ out for free and are then over-exploited.  To the contrary, it is estimated that in India up to 57 percent of the ‘wealth’ of the poor can be attributed to these same ‘free’ open access services and are often cared for.
As more questions come up regarding the viability of biofuels including cellulosic ethanol (fuel produced from grasses, agricultural residue and municipal waste), many companies are investing in algae as the perceived panacea to wean us away from fossil fuels. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Bill Gates’ Cascade investments and Dow Chemical are investing more than a billion dollars in taking algae from the laboratory and into the field. Algae’s photosynthetic cells produce oils and ethanol and can be far more efficient than corn on a per hectare basis.  There is even what is called “green gasoline” made from the woody remains of plants that is similar to fossil fuels in their composition.
It is no secret that these biofuels will never be able to replace the vast volume of fossil fuels if we have more consumption and a larger population.  Furthermore, all the alternative fuel hype has not translated into ethical ways to lower our carbon footprints. The technological silver bullet for our troubles hasn’t materialized. It’s time that we rethink what each of us can do to move past the consumption bottleneck that has created the demand for more fossil fuels to begin with.

International Year for Biodiversity is 2010

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise.” The Earth Charter

446px-Charles_Darwin_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron_3Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday celebrations are coming to an end after an amazing year of scholarship and activities that have given us a better understanding of the man and his legacy. His many books have inspired many of us to want to protect biodiversity. (Biodiversity is often described as the diversity of life on Earth.)  “On the Origin of Species” is inherently much more than the theory of evolution; it is a celebration of the interdependency of all life.  Darwin’s 1831-36 voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle took him around the world. His “Voyage of the Beagle” jubilantly speaks of an Earth brimming with more life than our planet has ever known. By all scientific accounts we are losing that natural wealth created over millions of years at a faster rate than ever before.

The World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report 2006, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s ‘Red List’ of threatened species or the United Nations’ Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s ‘Ecosystems and Human Well-Being Biodiversity Synthesis’ will enable you to understand the depth of the biodiversity crisis. As well, the Convention on Biodiversity that was signed by Canada says,” The global biodiversity target will not be reached by 2010” in time for International Year of Biodiversity. In fact, continuing habitat loss, climate change, invasive alien species, pollution, human overpopulation, and over exploitation makes any target implausible if business-as-unusual prevails. Instead of now suggesting that a 2020 or a 2050 target be considered, many scientists want the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 be the inspiration for a concerted effort to bring down the rate of biological loss. New research entitled “The velocity of climate change” published in the science journal, Nature, describes the plight of species in keeping up with moving climates. The researchers estimated that, of the protected areas such as national parks that provide habitat for species, only 8 % would have a similar climate as they have now beyond the next 100 years.  Therefore, unless we drastically lower greenhouse emissions and substantially enlarge protected areas, species will have nowhere to go when they are forced to migrate to a more hospitable climate. Humans must be included in the climate migration patterns.

No one knows how many species live on our planet. What are we prepared to do if the Earth is to continue to be home to five to thirty million species? The Earth Charter, developed as a result of the 1992 Earth Summit, is a way forward. Over the last several years, many communities have embraced the Earth Charter’s path on overcoming our greatest problems through “Respect and care for the community of life, Ecological Integrity, Social and economic justice, and Democracy, nonviolence and peace”.

Throughout the world new initiatives are taking hold to ‘take back’ the Earth. The Transition Initiative movement is based on moving from oil dependency/climate change to local resilience. It is making great headway in creating a new ethos away from planetary crisis to sustainability. www.transitiontowns.org and www.transitionculture.org

On January 16, it was encouraging to see so many young people attend the University of Guelph’s 16th Environmental Sciences Symposium. The Symposium made it clear that individuals and small groups of dedicated people do make a difference.  We can all make International Year for Biodiversity a turning point for our planet through education and behavioural change that leads us towards a new era of respect for the Earth.

On January 25 at 1PM in Thornbury I will be giving a presentation on climate change and biodiversity at the Beaver Valley Community Centre as part of the Town of Blue Mountains’ lecture series. Please join us.