Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Asian Carp is coming!

That’s the big environmental story around the Great Lakes region this week. Even the local press has caught the news appeal of a bizarre foreign species that might radically change the Great Lakes’ ecology. Because of its size and reproductive capacity, it may scarf up all those little plants and animals that live at the bottom of the five Great Lakes, which, the present ecology depends on. More intriguing to the media are those riveting photos of speeding boaters smacking into these large creatures, which freak every time they hear motorboat noise and leap into the air.

I say ‘might’ because no one can prove that if the Asian Carp makes it way up the Mississippi and into the Great Lakes, they will proliferate and eat everything in site. Though, given their past rap sheet, it’s a good bet they will.

This invasive species is in the news because in their attempt to solve this looming crisis the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to please all who have solutions to this problem—and in their travails pleasing no one. Stopping the carps’ attempt to enter the Great Lakes via electric fences and closing off all water conduits will be very disruptive to boaters and the shipping industry. Not stopping them might wreak havoc on a scale unimaginable to everything we hold dear about the Great Lakes.

Years ago, the Zebra Mussel problem caught the media’s attention and there was a half-hearted effort to stop what is now our reality—a very annoying invasive and pervasive species that has changed our region’s water ecology and clogged our water intakes. I say, ‘half-hearted’ only in that regulation and enforcement was minimal. However, it may have only slowed the invasion down anyway.

Usually, these wars with foreign species that make it to our continent occur so slowly (over decades) that even if we do notice them, and try all sorts of things to stop them, we soon become bored or run out of money. It seems hopeless. The public accepts the inevitable and we deal with it—with fond memories of what our cottages on the lakes used to be like without these pests that cut up our feet and ruin all the fishing.

When you think about it, the whole issue of invasive species presents so many issues that it can make your head swim. How can we possibly halt the creep of foreign biological invaders here unless we stop all shipping, boating, air travel, hiking, and the sale of exotic pets? Indeed, how could the biology on this continent half a millennium ago have stopped us from coming over from Europe? It boggles the mind.

But, here’s an interesting thought about how we might think about that notorious fish as it steadily inches towards our lakes. Would the Asian Carp threat be so threatening if the Great Lakes ecology was healthy? If the entire ecological structure of the Great Lakes that existed before mankind began overfishing large predatory fish were in place, would the Asian Carp be little more than a side dish? Maybe, if we took better care of our environment it could handle these upstarts.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Environmental Baseline:

Instead of trying to come up with might seem a reasonable assumption about how many animals or plant species there should be in any given area based on modern data or what seems a comfortable number to us, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to find out what the historic populations used to be—before massive human intervention? 

In other words how do we decide today how many deer, wolves, salmon, or birds there should be in our environment before we either take them off or put them on an endangered species list?  How many animals or plants and it what proportions make up an healthy environment? We’re just guessing unless we really go out an examine all the data we can to find out what the baseline used to be for particular species in particular places.

One such project is going just that in our oceans:   History of Marine Animal Populations "Is a global research initiative. We study the past ocean life and human interaction with the sea. About 100 researchers have joined forces to develop an interdisciplinary research program using historical and environmental archives. We analyze marine population data before and after human impacts on the ocean became significant. Our goal is to enhance knowledge and understanding of how the diversity, distribution and abundance of marine life in the worlds oceans changes over the long term. "

Friday, February 26, 2010

Garbage dumps:

For far too long we’ve held this fantasy that when we through garbage away it somehow disappears. It doesn’t really. It’s just that Earth is a really big place, but eventually that stuff we throw away accumulates somewhere:In our land and air and in this case our oceans: BBC News - Plastic rubbish blights Atlantic Ocean Scientists have discovered an area of the North Atlantic Ocean where plastic debris accumulates. The region is said to compare with the well-documented "great Pacific garbage patch". (February 24, 2010) BBC NEWS | News Front Page

Thursday, February 25, 2010

We're passing on this request from Monroe County Parks

"Pick Up the Parks A new initiative from the Monroe County Department of Parks April 10th, 2010 10AM - 2:00PM  

Join us and several local recreation and environmental groups in kicking off this new local stewardship event. In this first year, we will be targeting 4 parks: Ellison, Genesee Valley, Greece Canal, and Ontario Beach Parks for clean up and other park improvements. Why just four? As you know there are 21 parks within the Monroe County Parks system.

As it’s a first year event, we wanted to identify popular parks that could also accommodate our widespread community. We welcome your ideas for future projects and will certainly add more parks to the event as community support grows.   Email or call today to register your family, group of friends, club, organization, scout troop, or class! Contact Ryan Loysen at rloysen@monroecounty.gov or 585-753-7281.  

Be sure to tell us your group size, preferred park, e-mail address, and phone number, or just come on out to one of the project sites on April 10th and register on-site. Orientation begins at 10 a.m. at each project site with refreshments and additional information. Group projects and field work will begin at 10:30 a.m.  

The Monroe County Parks belong to all of us, so let’s join together to keep them clean and green. Check back for additional event details, meet-up locations and park information at www.monroecounty.gov/parks

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why the public is not 'getting it' on Climate change:

I suspect as the planet warms up there is going to be endless speculation as to why, despite all evidence, the public does not believe in Climate Change.  It seems NPR would like to believe it’s because people’s world view is the answer Belief In Climate Change Hinges On Worldview : NPR, meaning "People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their world view," Braman says.” 

Perhaps, but I think there’s more going on and certainly the media itself plays a role in why we as a species cannot adequately address a looming environmental problem.  Others too are beginning to think the role of the media plays a critical part of the missing components in the world-wide acknowledgement of Climate Change.   

Check out: Signals and noise. Mass-media coverage of climate change in the USA and the UK "Various studies have shown that the public gathers much of its knowledge about science from the mass media (Wilson, 1995), with television and daily newspapers being the primary sources of information (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2006; NSF, 2004). "

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Climate skepticism seems to be the rage nowadays.

Yes, there have been gaffs and missteps in scientific reporting and the Copenhagen Climate Talks didn’t do so well, but does that really mean that the accumulated evidence from decades of research on Climate Change are wrong? 

Is science now like politics where cyber-bullying (ABC The Drum Unleashed - Bullying, lies and the rise of right-wing climate denial) is a more convincing way of addressing a possible planetary climate change issue that could affect all our lives, and our children’s lives? 

Instead of cherry-picking the news to deny even a potential threat of warming, wouldn’t a keen attention to science and evidence be the way an intelligent species addresses such an issue?  Maybe if the editors in our media could properly address the issue of climate change, in light of the fact that humans have affected the environment hugely in the last century, we wouldn’t have to combat this rage against science. We are becoming a dysfunctional species and very inept stewards of our planet.

Role of mass media in climate change skepticism "ScienceDaily (Feb. 23, 2010) — Mass media have been a key vehicle by which climate change contrarianism has traveled, according to Maxwell Boykoff, a University of Colorado at Boulder professor and fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES. " (February 23, 2010) Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Green Paradox


Being able to see the correct model of reality is often the key to finding the solution to a complex problem. Take Zeno’s paradox of infinite regression: “Suppose Homer wants to catch a stationary bus. Before he can get there, he must get halfway there. Before he can get halfway there, he must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a fourth, he must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on.” Zeno's paradoxes - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If you remain fixed on solving this paradox mathematically or logically, you’re probably going to be frustrated. Makes sense in a way, but it cannot be! Obviously, Homer will make it to his destination without getting lost in an infinite regression of half-distances. But, focused merely on the internal logic of the question can make this paradox unsolvable. The answer (provided by Aristotle) is that distances can be halved in your mind, but in the real world it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve been noodling over this old philosophy puzzle because I see a connection between Zeno’s paradox and the flurry of articles on wind farms and wind turbine placement in our region lately. This present controversy, whether our region should support or avoid wind turbines, is spreading like wildfire. Lots of folks are getting mad as hell. (Check out these local newslinks on the matter: http://www.rochesterenvironment.com/Issues/Wind_Power_NewsLinks.html)

Here’s the connection to Zeno’s paradox: No doubt most people in our region have an opinion about whether we should allow wind turbines in our area. Some may agree that wind farms or just wind turbines are OK, depending on where you place them. But mostly, opinions run strongly in favor of them or against. Groups have formed to accentuate the positive arguments and other groups quite the reverse. You can find the list of groups against wind power in our area and all those for this renewable energy source at: http://www.rochesterenvironment.com/wind_power.htm

I myself almost got caught by the Green Paradox in an online discussion (friendly argument) with a physicist who asked me just how many wind turbines did I think it would take to replace one coal-fired plant? He was fixated on forcing me to admit that it would take a lot of wind turbines, in terms of megawatts—which, of course, it would. However, agreeing with the physicist would be like falling into the problem of the paradox:

The question “How many turbines does it take to replace a coal-fired plant” derives from a wrong model of reality. The physicist’s assumption was that maintaining our present and future base load energy needs will not be supported by wind turbine technology. Likewise, most of the discussions by individuals, groups, town boards, politicians, and business, for and against wind turbine placement have good logical arguments—if you accept their premises. Premises, like aesthetics, property rights, energy base loads, costs, lawsuits, bird kills, noise factors, land value, are all good arguments, except they are all trumped by reality, Climate Change.

Any other line of reasoning that doesn’t assume the need for renewable energy sources allows us the illusion that we have choices other than a healthy environment. If you are against renewable energy sources like contributing wind power from our area and don’t consider the repercussions of Climate Change in your decision, then you are going to get lost in an infinite regression of good arguments that fail to see reality. When you fill your atmosphere with greenhouse gases, weather gets screwy and warms up. QED. Here’s a more appropriate paradox for our times: How has such a supposedly intelligent creature as Homo Sapiens put environmental health on the backburner and placed all other considerations before it?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Methane Bomb:

As our list of concerns about the consequences of Climate Change grows (and we become more dysfunctional about addressing this issue) here’s more evidence of what the melting of our tundra might bring: the massive release of methane gas to our atmosphere. 

Some have said that for Climate Change, carbon dioxide is the fuse, methane is the bomb.

Canada's permafrost retreats amid warming trend | Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The permanently frozen ground known as permafrost is retreating northward in the area around Canada's James Bay, a sign of a decades-long regional warming trend, a climate scientist said on Wednesday. When permafrost melts, it can liberate the powerful greenhouse gas methane that is locked in the frozen soil. The amount of methane contained in permafrost around James Bay is slight compared to the vast stores of the chemical found in ancient, deep permafrost in the Yukon, Alaska and Siberia. (February 17, 2010) Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ocean Acidification:

One of the grave consequences of Climate Change that gets too little attention from both the media and the Climate Change Deniers is Ocean Acidification.  Maybe the climate change deniers cannot come up with a good talking point about the increased acidity of our oceans, which isn’t so easily manipulated and open to confusion as a heavy snowfall in Washington, DC in the midst of Global Warming.  Nevertheless, a rise in the acidity of our oceans is measureable, it’s happening, and it should be factored in as what will happen if we don’t solve Climate Change:

Global Scientists Draw Attention To Threat Of Ocean Acidification More than 150 leading marine scientists from 26 countries are calling for immediate action by policy-makers to sharply reduce CO2 emissions so as to avoid widespread and severe damage to marine ecosystems from ocean acidification. (February 5, 2010) Science Daily: News & Articles in Science, Health, Environment & Technology

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Climate/Weather Rage:

Along with the wild weather changes that are coming with Climate Change (which is why many wanted Global Warming changed to ‘Climate Change’) will be the raging in the press heralding the climate change deniers claim that because of the snow in Washington, the nasty climate scientist emails, and the Himalaya glacier timetable all mean that Climate Change is a great big hoax.

There are only discrepancies in the Climate Change prediction that our climate is warming up if you interpret these latest media denier stories as evidence that the rise in global warming gases in our atmosphere are not warming up the planet. This is all tragic because the overwhelming evidence is that our atmosphere is warming up and we are increasingly (note the collapse of the Copenhagen talks) incapable of addressing an issue that needs a sea change in our attitude towards our planet’s environment.

Trouble is that our dysfunction taking actions is that Climate Change seriously butts up against ideological and economic forces that fear what will happen to them if we take responsibility for our planet. Much would be improved if editors in the media were able to look at the climate change issue in terms of a people whose planet is warming up.

Presently, most media editors seem to be pandering to political, religious, economic, and the sales of their media, instead of presenting to the world a slow moving disaster that we need to address.

There needs to be a new model of journalistic objectivity that is able to take in the preponderance of evidence that Climate Change is happening—and it is far more compelling than parading every deniers claim as if they hold equal weight in every Climate Change story.

Get This: Warming Planet Can Mean More Snow : NPR With snow blanketing much of the country, the topic of global warming has become the butt of jokes. Climate skeptics built an igloo in Washington, D.C., during the recent storm and dedicated it to former Vice President Al Gore, who's become the public face of climate change. There was also a YouTube video called "12 inches of global warming" that showed snow plows driving through a blizzard. (February 15, 2010) NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR

Monday, February 15, 2010

Clean Transportation:

You’ve decided to go for that new Hybrid vehicle but you don’t know how they work, what the choices are, or how to compare one hybrid from another.  This site might help you out:

Hybrid Center Scorecard The UCS Hybrid Scorecard is the first comprehensive listing of hybrid vehicles available on the US market. Vehicles are scored on both environmental performance and value, easing the burden on the planet and your pocketbook. --from Union of Concerned Scientiests

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nature’s Kidneys




Though we tend not to consider our wetlands until they get in the way of a development project, they play a unique ecological role. They are like our kidneys, a filtration organ cleansing our environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), using more rigorous language, defines wetlands as "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas." Wetlands | US EPA

Given such a critical role, you’d think we’d be more careful with our wetlands. Au contraire: “In the 1600s, over 220 million acres of wetlands are thought to have existed in the lower 48 states. Since then, extensive losses have occurred, and over half our original wetlands have been drained and converted to other uses. Between the 1950s and 1970s an estimated 58,500 acres of wetlands were lost” (EPA 1995).

Nowadays, perhaps feeling a little guilty (or simply better at tweaking our laws), wetland mitigation or offsets help us get around the legality of destroying those inconvenient soggy lands by allowing us to build another wetland someplace else. That kind of structural relocating makes sense if you’re renovating an old house and want the bathroom on the third floor instead of the first. Trouble is recreating a wetland that took thousands of years to weave itself into the infinite biological matrix called Nature cannot be so easily replicated by a backhoe and a garden hose. Many experts think that constructed wetlands don’t really capture at all the breathtaking complexity that is a wetland.

When I think that we have destroyed over 50% of our wetlands here in America during the last five-hundred years, I’m reminded of the total decimation of the Easter Island forests that Jared Diamond describes in “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail.” Generations of Easter Islanders used the once plentiful trees to roll great stone icons across the island. They didn’t ‘see’ that they were destroying their environment because it happened so slowly. A single generation of islanders would think the relative loss of trees sustainable—if they thought about such things at all. But you have to wonder: Halfway through this forest destruction (for Easter Island civilization collapsed when the trees were gone), was there a moment when someone foresaw the calamity to come?

Just in the same way, we have destroyed much of what was biologically in place when we had a healthy environment. Now, it’s questionable. We are often such hasty folks that we simply marvel at our particular longevity (some of us make it to one hundred) and forget our life spans are but fleeting moments to Nature. .

February second was World Wetlands Day. “It marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.” It went by unnoticed in our local media. But Nature, because it is simply a mindless biological algorithm, never forgets.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The future of investigating reporting on our environment:

We came across this story about how in the present media crisis the prospect for investigative reporting might shake out: 'Newsonomics' Predicts The Future Of The Media : NPR “The Internet has finally surpassed newspapers as readers' number one choice for news, yet most papers are still struggling to make money online. Former newspaperman Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape The News You Get, and media entrepreneur David Cohn weigh in on the future of the news industry.”

One of the emerging ideas is Spot.us (Spot.Us is a nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change and funded by various groups like the Knight Foundation.) One of the ideas for increasing investigative reporting is to “Essentially, we have independent journalists or freelancers who create pitches. One, for example, on our site right now is looking into the UC regents. And we distribute the cost of hiring that reporter across a lot of different people. So, you know, 50 or 100 people giving $10 or $20 each is enough to do that investigation.” ('Newsonomics' Predicts The Future Of The Media : NPR)

The problem with this model of course is that many types of reporting don’t work well for this kind of long-and-involved procedure before a reporter goes out and investigates. However, environmental reporting does fit this model well. For example, if individuals in a community believed that a particular disease or syndrome was do to an environmental factor, but got no answers from the local media or government, then a media a Spot.us  would work fine. And, it might make up for a reluctant media to find out what is actually going on in our environment.

Energy Conservation Locally:

Looks like Net Metering is coming to town: Just what is Net Metering and how can you conserve energy: Net metering - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia "Net metering is an electricity policy for consumers who own (generally small) renewable energy facilities, such as wind, solar power or home fuel cells. "Net", in this context, is used in the sense of meaning "what remains after deductions" — in this case, the deduction of any energy outflows from metered energy inflows. Under net metering, a system owner receives retail credit for at least a portion of the electricity they generate. Most electricity meters accurately record in both directions, allowing a no-cost method of effectively banking excess electricity production for future credit. "

Also Check out: Cutting-edge clean power technologies now eligible for net metering ALBANY – The State Public Service Commission Thursday approved tariff filings of the six investor-owned utilities in New York to encourage the installation of residential micro-combined heat and power (micro-CHP) and fuel cell electric generating systems that will enable homeowners to sell excess power to the utility. The utilities participating in this net metering initiative include Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., National Grid, New York State Electric & Gas Corporation, Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc., and Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation. (February 12, 2010) New York State News on the Net! [more on Energy in our area]

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Reverting to a State of Green

During these Extraordinary Times, where climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and our oceans are making human sustainability questionable, we must ask, how do we determine what constitutes Sustainability? But first, what is Sustainability and why is it so important? “For humans it is the potential for long-term maintenance of wellbeing, which in turn depends on the wellbeing of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources…” (Wikipedia). In other words, we have to get Sustainability right, or the system that keeps us alive breaks down. You have to be alive to have‘wellbeing.’

We tend to assume that all those actively involved in monitoring our environment—official entities whose purpose is to monitor and maintain our environment, scientists, environmentalists, and the media—have at the very least a good idea of what a healthy environment looks like. Yet, I’m not so convinced that they do.

Just for argument’s sake, let’s highlight the recent (1/20/2010) rivers delisting of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

Three Hudson Valley Waterbodies Set to Be Removed from Impaired List
Three North Country Waterbodies Set to Be Removed from Impaired List
Three Broome County Waterbodies Set to Be Removed from Impaired List

Here’s the NYS DEC’s reasoning for delisting these bodies of water: “"New York is making great progress in improving water quality throughout the state through initiatives that target untreated sewage effluent discharges, stormwater and agricultural runoff, industrial pollution, and other sources of contamination," Commissioner Grannis said. "While there is much more work to be done, we recognize the efforts of communities that have helped clean up our waters."

I’m not faulting the DEC’s reasoning, nor am I an expert on delisting anything—animals from the Endangered Species Act or rivers from the impaired list. But I wonder what model of a healthy environment is being used? Is the correct model one where rivers are free of what we consider dangerous chemicals? Or, is the correct model a river, say, with enough fish to make fishermen happy and boaters whose hulls aren’t being corroded by bad water? Or, a river free of nutrient overloads that create weed overloads, or invasive species gobbling up fish and plants we like? Or, it is a healthy river one where children can swim and play with safety and developers are anxious to develop condos on the shores?

Probably, you would say, all of the above. However, five hundred years ago our rivers were vastly different rivers altogether. They were filled with astounding numbers of otters, beavers, sturgeon, oysters, bass, offering up food for bears, cougars, and moose. They were lined with huge trees (white pines); there were no made-made chemicals, no endocrine disruptors, no phosphorus overloads, no pharmaceuticals, no bridges above leaching petroleum, or pesticides from roadside spraying. In short, even after our area’s rivers are delisted from the impaired list, they will be far less than what they were.

My point: I don’t expect that we can return our rivers to what they were—or even ascertain what a river so undisturbed by man looked like. But, given how little we actually know about the vast complexities and interactions of life on this planet, shouldn’t a more realistic model of how we judge a healthy environment include at least an estimate of what an undisturbed state of nature for our region was—however difficult that research might be? Regardless of our wonderful ability to measure stuff and decide what appeals to our sense of aesthetics, how much do we actually know how Nature works? Besides the loss of plants and animals and wetlands and large (really large) trees, is there a chance that we have lost some critical knowledge of what constitutes a healthy New York environment because we have lost the sense how life worked here only 500 hundred years ago?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Energy Citizens from Every Rooftop:

If this bill has even a remote possibility of passing, I am for it. Except for the mega-greenhouse gas fuel corporations, I cannot understand why anyone would be against this renewable, clean, power source that we all could become a part of. Another benefit, besides green jobs, energy independence, and reducing greenhouse gases, would be reducing the albedo effect of all our black rooftops absorbing more heat, especially in our urban area.

If all our rooftops were a lighter color they would reflect instead of absorbing solar energy and adding to our climate change issue. Check out the actual bill, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

A BILL To increase the quantity of solar photovoltaic electricity by providing rebates for the purchase and installation of an additional 10,000,000 solar roofs and additional solar water heating systems with a cumulative capacity of 10,000,000 gallons by 2019.