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Why Do Marine Animals Eat So Much Plastic?

November 10, 2016

It doesn’t just look like food. It smells like it too. Via NatGeo:

Algae are consumed by krill, a small crustacean that is the primary food source for many sea birds. As algae breaks down naturally in the ocean, they emit a stinky sulfur odor known as dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Sea birds in the hunt for krill have learned that the sulfur odor will lead them to their feeding grounds.

It turns out that floating plastic debris provides the perfect platform on which algae thrives. As the algae breaks down, emitting the DMS odor, sea birds, following their noses in search of krill, are led into an “olfactory trap,” according to a new study published November 9 in Science Advances. Instead of feeding on krill, they feed on plastic.

So humanity’s plastic debris is the perfect poison once it is in the ocean. Recycle, recycle, recycle. or don’t buy it in the first place (the ideal solution but I have tried avoiding plastic and it is NOT easy).

This is from Chris Jordan’s powerful campaign (which also produced the picture above) to help protect albatrosses from plastic debris:

The Limits On Trump’s Ability To Trash The Environment

November 9, 2016

“Ahh, now that Trump and Ebell are in charge we can finally breathe a little.”

Andrew Revkin notes hopefully that there are (some) limits on how much damage President Trump can do to the planet:

The bad news about climate change is, in a way, the good news:

The main forces determining emission levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be just as much out of President Trump’s hands as they were out of President Obama’s. The decline in the United States has mainly been due to market forces shifting electricity generation from coal to abundant and cheaper natural gas, along with environmental regulations built around the traditional basket of pollutants that even conservatives agreed were worth restricting. (Efficiency and gas-mileage standards and other factors help, too, of course.)

At the same time, the unrelenting rise in greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries is propelled by an unbending reality identified way back in 2005 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when he said, “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.”

At the same time, as well, other fundamental forces will continue to drive polluted China and smog-choked India to move away from unfettered coal combustion as a path to progress. An expanding middle class is already demanding cleaner air and sustainable transportation choices — just as similar forces enabled pollution cleanups in the United States in the last century.

But Revkin’s analysis is relative to a baseline that is already taking us toward disaster. Under President Trump we will just get there a little faster instead of a lot faster.

He goes on to discuss the environmental movement and whether it should go all out with demonstrations and civil disobedience to keep oil in the ground and prevent pipelines from being built. I am entirely sympathetic with the emotions behind mass action, but I think President Trump and the Republican Congress will enjoy throwing lots of greens into jail. Instead, I wish the environmental movement would adapt a strategy of humble and sincere personal responsibility and action. That is something others can get behind, regardless of their political leanings.

Finally, Revkin notes that the Supreme Court has ruled that carbon emissions are classified as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which mandates that a Trump government limit them (or be subject to lawsuits). That is somewhat soothing, but very much underestimates what a Trump Supreme Court will do with environmental law and corporate regulations, especially if Trump gets another appointment–for Breyer or Ginsburg, say–beyond filling the seat Obama should have been allowed to fill.

Also, it is said Trump is leaning toward this guy for administrator of the EPA. That tells you all you need to know about how hard he will work to evade all the limits Revkin finds hopeful.

So don’t get distracted by all the back and forth about how terrible (or not) President Trump will be. It doesn’t really matter. Instead, I take hope from continuing to try to live in a way that values and conserves the natural world and all the nonhuman species out there who are struggling with our presence. In my fantasy world enough people do that to form a new political movement that can flourish amid the rubble of the failing two-party circus. No one in government, not even Myron Ebell or President Trump, can prevent that.

Trump Vs The Planet

November 9, 2016

“Alright, let’s fire these babies up!”

Brad Plumer of Vox lays out the implications of a Trump Presidency (and Republican control of Congress) for the environment:

And there’s no way around it: What he’s planning to do looks like an absolute disaster for the planet (and the people on it). Specifically, all the fragile but important progress the world has made on global warming over the past eight years is now in danger of being blown to hell.

Trump has been crystal clear about his environmental plans. Much of the media never wanted to bring it up, never wanted to ask about it in debates, never wanted to turn their addled attention away from Hillary Clinton’s email servers to discuss what a Trump presidency might mean for climate change. But all the indications were there:

  • Trump called global warming a Chinese hoax. He couldn’t have been blunter about this.

  • Trump has said, straight up, he wants to scrap all the major regulations that President Obama painstakingly put in place to reduce US carbon dioxide emissions, including the Clean Power Plan. With Republicans now controlling Congress, he can easily do this. Pass a bill preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating CO2. Done.

  • Trump has also hinted he wants to get rid of the EPA entirely. “What they do is a disgrace,” he has said. If Congress agrees, he could readily scrap other regulations on mercury pollution, on smog, on coal ash, and more.

  • Trump has said he wants to repeal all federal spending on clean energy, including R&D for wind, solar, nuclear power, and electric vehicles. Again, with Congress at his side, this is totally doable.

  • Trump has said he wants to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal. There’s nothing stopping him. (Technically, the US can’t officially withdraw for four years, but for all practical purposes, the Trump administration could ignore it.)

All true. And some experts calculate that the impact on climate of Trump will be an additional 3.4 billion tons of carbon emitted.

But it should also be noted that the trajectory of the blue dotted line representing carbon emissions under a President Clinton also leads to climate disaster. Incremental progress will be reversed by Trump. But as I noted earlier incremental progress is not enough.

Key point: nothing that President Trump does or says will compel you or me to emit more carbon. Keep working to change how you think and live. Keep working to change how the people around you think and live. Live the argument. Win the argument. And then win an election that brings about real and meaningful change.

Trumplandia

November 9, 2016
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So, we now, to the shock of many, we live in President Trump’s world. The environment will suffer. Animals will suffer. Kindness and empathy will suffer. But the trajectory of our culture on these issues under President Trump, in my view, won’t be an order of magnitude different than what they would have been under President Clinton. And orders of magnitude is what is needed.

I have long thought the status quo was unsustainable and unacceptable. On that I agree with many Trump voters. But I certainly didn’t think Trump was the answer. Quite the opposite. Still, I also didn’t think Hillary Clinton, while she would point in a better direction, would even have the ambition to deliver the scale of change I think we really need, much less the ability. Yes, she believes climate change is real and would have kept pushing us toward incremental progress on environmental and other issues I care about. So in that sense President Trump will be a painful setback, because he will push in the opposite direction and we don’t have time to be pushing the wrong way.

But deep down I never felt either Trump or Clinton was the answer I have been looking for. They both live too much within the existing status quo. Their thinking and policy frame is too much within the status quo. Deep down I have long felt that the only real answer is a growing grassroots revolution in how we live, how we value other species, and how we value the planet. That’s the work I want to do, and it’s work any of us can pursue because no matter who is president we can make our own choices about how we live and what we choose to value. And we can try to lead by example, and make our case person by person. That’s the solution I seek. And nothing in last night’s election changes that.

Yvon Chouinard–Outdoor Evangelist

November 8, 2016
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He doesn’t think politics and politicians are capable of dealing with real environmental issues. But he made sure his company–Patagonia–lived up to his ideals. This long profile of Yvon Chouinard is inspiring and thought-provoking. But also depressing because voices like his are never let into the mainstream:

The Chouinards undertook an environmental audit of their products and operations. For a few years, they’d been tithing ten per cent of their profit to grassroots environmental organizations. Now they enshrined a self-imposed “earth tax” of one per cent of their sales: a bigger number. “The capitalist ideal is you grow a company and focus on making it as profitable as possible. Then, when you cash out, you become a philanthropist,” Chouinard said. “We believe a company has a responsibility to do that all along—for the sake of the employees, for the sake of the planet.”

Eventually, they went so far as to openly discourage their customers from buying their products, as in the notorious 2011 advertising campaign that read “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” It went on, “The environmental cost of everything we make is astonishing.” Manufacturing and shipping just one of the jackets in question required a hundred and thirty-five litres of water and generated nearly twenty pounds of carbon dioxide. “Don’t buy what you don’t need.” (Some people at Patagonia had been considering declaring Black Friday a “no-buy day,” to make their point about consumption.)

Considering the upstream costs of EVERYTHING you buy or do is at the core of any approach to living that prioritizes nurturing and conserving the Earth, and trying to find balance between humanity and nature. It’s one of the reasons I went vegan, and why I almost never buy anything unless I have an absolute need (drives my wife crazy). But there is so much more I can do (I’m working on it!), and it is nice to read about an icon who promotes these ideals.

In Defense Of Zoos?

November 8, 2016

Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director Ron Kagan talks about the history, morality and future of zoos. He probably makes the best case possible–the sanctuary model is the least objectionable–but I am not quite convinced.

I am all for educating the public about animals, conservation, climate change and the anthropocene. I just don’t think you need to confine animals and subject them to the stress of gawking crowds to do it, which also affirms and perpetuates the notion of human dominance and dominion.

If zoos had the guts to tell their visitors straight up that they are the greatest threat to animals on the planet, and that each and every visitor needs to make dramatic lifestyle changes if humanity is to stop destroying habitat and dooming thousands of species, I might be more convinced. But they don’t do that, do they? Because they think no one would show up to hear that hard truth.

Anyhow, lots of interesting ideas in this talk, many of which do not require the actual use of live animals.

Planet Earth 2 Is Better Than Game Of Thrones

November 8, 2016
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“Damn, how many snakes live on this island? And why do I have to live here too!?”

BBC’s Planet Earth 2 is a brilliant portrayal of the mysteries, dramas, beauty and wonder of our natural world (and hopefully young people will watch!).

If you want to see it at its most intense, just check out this incredible sequence in which a young iguana races to escape more snakes than you can believe.

Here is the trailer for the full series, which will start airing in the United States on January 28.

 

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