On April 7th I attended the Talk on Florida Wetlands by Dr. Christopher F. Meindl of University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. Now, if you “Google” that name you will find that he is a very prominent writer and contributing author on a lot of issues on Florida Everglades. He is very interested in anthropogenic impacts on the Wetlands and the system ability to recover. I thought that his interpretation of the people and the Everglades story was like relating events as it was from a battlefield (as we know the conquering of the wetlands has been quite turbulent for both sides) with presently 26ooo miles of dikes and levees and 8 million people using the resources, the current state of this natural reserve is “an intense competition between farmers, urbanites and the ecosystem” (Dr. Meindl, in his own words). I was impressed with his adoration for the natural beauty of the Wetlands, he was very thorough in explaining the vegetation , including the mangrove trees and climate of the area tying to his own observations while going fishing or doing research. He also expressed his appreciation for many people trying to instill awareness for the natural importance of the Everglades, mentioning Mrs. Marjorie Stones, an author of “Sea of Grass” describing “plight of the everglades’.
In the light of our studies, specifically tying the population increase and its impacts on the resources and the environment, one can wonder how can people avoid developing more land for agriculture and housing, but one must also ask if the development is based on need or on profit? I think that in the case of the Everglades, the driving force behind the development was the latter one and later – further “invasion” on the wetlands system was motivated by the protection of that investment against the flood and the storms. Again, the consequences of not understanding how the natural forces work in the the environment causes the imbalance and then more damage to both sides- humans trying to protect the initial mistakes and the environment further impacted by those “efforts”. Our guest speaker was clearly on the wetlands side even when he spoke of the so called “restoration” as in the case of removing some of the canals and returning the rivers their initial flow – my understanding was that at this point ANY human activity in the Wetlands will be another invasive disruption in the system and any positive results will take years to really count.
Dr. Meindl has also shared this picture of the python eating the deer (below). The python is a foreign species in the Wetlands just like a human, it devours the native animals, just like the human “devours ” the Everglades’ native resources, and here in this picture – the python has won. Well, consequently, the human has recently declared an “Open Season” to hunt pythons in the Florida Everglades, hm…. it really is a battlefield… Check this article: Python season opens on state lands; all you need is a license and $26 permit
python eats a deer in the Everglades
I would like to end my brief blogging adventure in this class with something positive – the Earth Day being celebrated around the world, including my home town, Gdynia (Poland). I looked up some information on the Earth Day history while checking on some international efforts of the different ways countries are celebrating.
So, I didn’t know that the idea of Earth Day was born in the US (of course!) in the midst of the social revolution (the hippie days) of 1970′s. Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of the Earth Day Network after witnessing a massive oil spill off the coast off Santa Barbara, California had an idea to recruit the students protesting other issues (like Vietnam war) to stage protests across the country against the air and water pollution. He persuaded media to attend the events ( see this old NBC news video, below ! ) and some other politicians to join him in creating the Earth Day Network that would oversee annually similar awareness events in the future. Well, they did achieved their goal, on April 22, 20 million Americans joined in the country wide protests (some wearing gas masks) in massive rallies against pollution. The first Earth Day rally is credited with beginning of EPA, passage of Clean Air and Water Acts and Endangered Species Acts! (source: www.earthday.org)
This video is really awesome, I found one part particularly interesting when they talking about the toll of the pollution for the future generations- meaning us !
First Earth Day in the US
I also want to mention that my hometown, Gdynia has been actively preparing for Earth Day; the city is planning to plant 1000 oak trees tomorrow with the help of volunteers and schools. and anybody who helps gets a tree!
I really enjoyed this class, although I share some feelings of doom that seem to be unavoidable when we discuss current state of the ecosystems that men are overusing and loosing…. BUT the awareness of climate change and the need for the resource conservation is being raised through the events like the Earth Day or along side the conversation of high gas prices and organic food… I believe that people eventually will have to adapt to a better sustainable lifestyle and it is up to us to spread the message.
When I see those ads of “JET-SKI WITH DOLPHINS ” tours I wonder “WHY” ?? Why somebody would pay money to disturb those magnificent animals, cause them pain with those disgusting loud engines and maybe even harm them? But, I guess some people really like this activity, especially in Virginia Beach, where you can experience this “tour”. And then last week while I was researching a topic for my oceanography paper I saw this video and I knew why I really hated “jet-ski with dolphins” tours . They can kill. Like the one in Australia that “hammered” a two-month old dolphin calf by a group of teenagers “having fun”. In the context of our studies of disappearing fisheries, dolphin by-catch and global biodiversity getting smaller every day, this following story is truly worth watching and giving a thought before you head to the beach this summer.
Tests on this dolphin showed she had fatal injuries consistent with a boat or jet-ski strike. Watch more:
This accident happened few months ago in Australia. The witnesses describe teenagers “trying to get it”. I feel that its not only another form of animal cruelty but another “command and control ” attitude of ignorant humans towards the environment they live in.
One of the possible solutions to the overfishing and unsustainable fish raising might be aquaponics. I was inspired by the idea of raising fish in the tank and then using the waste to grow some veggies as shown in the video we watched in last class. However, I wasn’t to impressed with a visual side of the project, and yes, I realize it is not a good argument to dismiss the otherwise great attempt to reduce cost and pollution of the aquaculture. I was curious about other designs or ideas that utilize the system of fish farming and using its waste to grow food/plants and there is – its called an aquaponics ( and looks great too -esthetically that is! ). Here is the design:
here are some examples of different designs of aquaponics and their use:
Aquaponics farm at University of Hawaii, Second Life campus
French Designer Mathieu Lehanneur
After watching “Food, inc.” I was horrified on so many different levels… From feeling physically sick during scenes of the mistreatment of the people and the animals to feeling disgusted and disbelief while listening to the stories of greed and self interest of the big food corporations.
Since this documentary has been around for a while, it occurred to me that those big corporations like Monsanto and Smithfield had to hear about this expose and I was curious their reaction. The movie touched the nerve in many people and many of them had emailed Monsanto with questions about their policies regarding GM corn seed and demanded answers about the case of Moe Parr, the seed cleaner accused of illegal cleaning of their patented corn seed. Monsanto established a website in response to “Food, Inc” allegations of unfair treatment of the farmers and policing strategies they employ to protect their monopoly on the seed. http://www.monsanto.com/food-inc/Pages/default.aspx)
In a nutshell, they claim its all big misunderstanding and they are only protecting their product and their research. The website is designed to provide everybody with the “additional information not provided by the film”. The “information” however sounds more like a legally crafted response to the issues presented in the movie, with many additional “facts” like they donate the money from winning the court cases against them to ” youth leadership and scholarship programs”… and in the case of Mr. Parr , the seed cleaner, Monsanto “in a gesture of good faith, has agreed to fore go the financial judgment against Mr. Parr as long as he honors the terms of the court order”.
Monsanto also has launched their own media campaign against allegations made by “Food, Inc” with the help of the articles published in Forbes and The American Farm Bureau
that offer negative reviews of the movie and further support of the big corporations. However, the so called ‘gag order” against the movie has not been pursued by the Monsanto yet, which leads me to speculate that this giant is afraid of potential wider publicity for “Food, Inc.” and more questions for Monsanto that would not go away any time soon.
I would like to tell you about two seemingly unrelated issues- rising gas prices and a recently banned in China satirical cartoon criticizing China’s social injustice.
When gas prices spike up as they did in the recent weeks here, in the United States, people are beginning to worry. The higher gas prices will drive costs of virtually every service provided and product sold. But there might be an upside to this undesirable state of things . We will drive less, stretch the gallons of fuel looking for alternative ways to get things done and we might fly less, reducing our carbon footprint. Yes, we could see the slow down in construction, logging and automotive business in the traditional unsustainable “business as usual” sense which will anger some people, but that reaction might finally mobilize everybody to take steps to take renewable energy sources more seriously. If things still badly progress in the petroleum empires, sometime in the future, we will have to invent new ways to grow food using the new, non-petroleum based fertilizers,we will be forced to buy electric cars and seriously do something about better ways to store the solar power so we can actually use it at night. As a result of being forced to face the rising gas prices, we might unintentionally help the environment. This scenario is obviously very simplified and by no means I am happy that I have to pay more for gas but I believe that prolonged grievance due to the high gas prices might be the unintended catalyst for many people to change their thinking.
Meanwhile in China, the cost of progress (including the rising fuel prices) is being offset by unjust treatment of the Chinese citizens through literally “squeezing” them out of their space, land and wages. China practices “Command and Control” approach in their industrial race to the top, no costs spared. The people’s houses and fields are destroyed if in the way of the new project, any sign of complaint is squashed and disregarded. I was prompt to write about this situation because of the cartoon that was banned from the Chinese internet; it tells a story of rabbits that are being bullied by tigers, finally the rabbits have enough and rebel against the tigers, gruesomely eating them. The scenes of the tainted milk distributed by the government- owned factory and of the man setting himself on fire because of the eviction notice are based on the real events that happened in China recently. This cartoon was banned because it hit the nerve in many Chinese people who feel “the squeeze” and certainly do not enjoy the benefits of their economy growth. I invite you to watch China Censors Satirical Cartoon
Though it will take a bigger reason than the rising gas prices to slow down China’s obsession to become a superpower, it is somewhat hopeful to know there is a whole bunch of Chinese out there who are resentful of how their country’s people and resources being managed.
This week we talked about the effects of climate change on the sea level rise and specifically we mentioned the island of Tuvalu. This island represents many of other places that have already experienced the effects of rising sea levels such as losing the overall surface area, home sites, destruction of the infrastructure, salt intrusion into the crop fields and loss of drinking water.
The “Island-Nations’ are already formally recognized by the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) as separate environmental entities at-risk for climate change issues. From Micronesia to the Caribbean, millions of people are facing the many issues coming with the intruding sea water and of course the ultimate consequence: risk of drowning from wave surges. This ever-looming scenario should force the affected islands’ governments to prepare response plans. And some indeed do, islands with booming tourism like the Maldives, are considering purchasing another, uninhabited islands with higher elevations, some nations like Tuvalu negotiate with their continental neighbor, Australia, to be granted a separate territory but the poorest island countries like Haiti don’t even began to worry about the sea level rise. The lack of contingency plans doesn’t stop at the disadvantaged islands. The connection between poverty and lack of action against the sea level rise becomes evident in many of the poor and developing countries, like Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Egypt, India and Sudan. Many of their coastal areas has been already affected by the rising water. While already struggling with overpopulation issues, food shortage and environmental degradation those countries face serious possibilities of magnifying their problems when more people will be forced into already crowded cities upland. And eventually those cities wont be able to sustain the influx from the displaced masses, they will spill over to neighboring countries, impacting further their economies and environment.
It has been estimated that by the end of 2010, there will be 50 millions of displaced refugees worldwide ( according to the UN experts ) due to the climate change. The global rising temperatures are likely to cause along with higher sea level, prominent food shortages caused by excessive rainfall and drought. The millions of those refugees are expected to end up in the US and Europe. That is why we should worry about the sea level rise, sooner or later we all are going to be affected, one way or the other.
I would like to end this blog on the trailer of the movie by Michael Nash “Climate Refugees”, it was shown at Sundance Film Festival last month, and now is available on DVD from: http://www.videoproject.com.
CLIMATE REFUGEES MOVIE TRAILER HERE
My hometown on the Baltic coast - Gdynia, Poland
As I was reading about the collapsing fisheries ( in Brown’s Plan B) I was uncomfortably surprised to find out that the Baltic Sea was one of the dying ecosystems. I was even more surprised to find out that in fact, the Baltic is a home to one of the world’s largest dead zones. I was surprised because I wasn’t expecting such brutal analysis. I am very familiar with the Baltic Sea and I hold quite a different picture when I think about it. The Baltic coast was my childhood home. I grew up in the port-city of Gdynia, Poland, one of the 9 countries that surrounds this sea. My dad worked in the shipyard and for years , on Fridays he would bring fresh fish for dinner, because the fish market was on his way home. We used to go to the beach every day in the summer, swim or take a ferry to other seaside towns. I used to love going to the harbor with old-fashioned yachts and outdoor cafes for a view of the white, sandy beaches and blue sea ( which is still my favorite thing to do when I go back to visit).
To be honest, I do recall that for few years some of the beaches were closed due to pollution. Back then I never really wondered why and when many vacation spots were re-open in the last 10 years, I assumed things were getting better.
Unfortunately, Lester Brown is correct about the true state of my sea, though there have been efforts made to control the spread of the dead zones, the Baltic is still facing numerous environmental challenges.
There are 9 countries draining their rivers (laden with sediment and pollution) to the Baltic with population of over 90 million. The most pronounced damage comes from excessive fertilizer and organic waste run offs (causing the algal bloom and after its decomposition; total loss of the oxygen, leading to the dead zone) that till recently has not been regulated. Other problems include overfishing, introduced invasive species of jellyfish (somehow this one thrives !) that eat the native fish, heavy metals from industrial waste, numerous shipwrecks that release various substances , chemical weapons dumped from WWII time and air pollution. To make matters worse, Baltic is pretty much land-locked body of mixed fresh and salty water, with one strait connecting its waters to the North Sea and the Atlantic, which means that water exchange takes a very long time to cycle through. Finally, a planned construction of a new gas pipe- line that would run across the bottom of the Baltic between Russia and Germany might cause new disturbances and magnify the old ones.
However, there is also a good news. In 1992 (coincidentally right after the fall of the Soviet Union) , for the first time all of the 9 countries, including: Finland, Russia, Poland, Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, Denmark and Latvia have agreed to sign “Helsinki Convention”. The international committee will govern “joint and /or individual measures ” towards the restoration of the healthy ecosystem of the Baltic Sea. The measures include identifying “hot spots” of the agricultural run off and designating “catchment areas” in order to control the input. The countries also agreed to share technology in better waste treatment, education and training for the farmers, they also agreed to penalize the polluters such as ships illegally dumping their wastes into the sea. Finally, the restoration efforts would be a subject to the financial backing of the European Union. The Helsinki Convention pledges reaching its goals by 2021. Some scientists predict that it might be too late for the Baltic to achieve the total restoration, but there have been significant improvements made in improving overall quality of the sea water, more beaches were re-open and since 1990, about 50 hot-spots (point-source pollution) were deleted from original 132 object list, yielding about 25% of overall reduction of the nutrient- rich runoff.
Helsinki Convention Countries
- Algal Bloom in the Baltic Sea in July 2005
I honestly didn’t know much about Haiti before the last year’s earthquake’ media coverage other than it was an unstable country, poor , ridden with AIDS, featured for a second in one of the latest James Bond movies I remember how after the earthquake we were struck by the images of massive distraction of Port Au Prince , most populous city, leveled to the ground with the death toll over 200,000 people. The international response was almost immediate, we were daily informed of who, what and how much was contributing to the recovery, and at the end of the few weeks of media coverage we saw the ocean of tents housing the survivors. Since then, there were few reports on continuing problems striking the survivors, including deadly outbreak of cholera and widespread dissatisfaction of the Haitian government. Today, almost one year after the earthquake, life in Haiti isn’t much better than it was in that first few days after the disaster. Sadly, it seems that Haiti ‘s turbulent history continues along the same path as it was told by Diamond in “Collapse”. Three weeks ago, The Washington Post reported that the massive aid of $ 3.5 billion given to Haiti from the international community has produced no visible progress. There are no jobs created by the Haitian government, no housing built, no roads repaired, electricity is on and off. The few short-term jobs are provided by foreign contractors like the U.S. Agency for International Development who pays cash for cleaning the rubble off the streets, that pays less than $5 a day. In addition to the rebuilding stand-still and continued unemployment, the Haitian government is in a “political paralysis” ( according to the Washington Post) which means that after recent , corrupted presidential election (that has to be repeated and oversaw by the international moderators); there is temporarily nobody in charge to pass laws that will speed up recovery in the country. One of those laws, especially needed now would be issuing new building codes in order to start building new structures that are earthquake-proof . The geologists who studied last year’s earthquake believe that there may have been a new fault formed under the city and it has been active, ever since producing more aftershocks. The scientists fear that the new fault will eventually cause another powerful quake that will test the soon-to -be – built buildings.
(Full article available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/10/AR2011011006654_pf.html)
Now, knowing the rest of the story about Haiti, it is difficult to watch today’s events unfold before us. If the collapse of the nation is the end result of 5 factors (environmental damage, hostile neighbors, lack of trade partners ( chosen isolation), climate change and nation’s response to the crisis) and Haiti has been dealing with 4 out 5 of them (minus the climate change), the question remains how long they can survive going like this ? And what is going to happen to Haiti if there is a significant climate change in the form of raising sea levels or extremely violent hurricane? How long other countries will be willing to help if there is visible corruption and instability carrying on?
PS. I am trying to be positive… but $ 3.5 billion in aid and nothing ?!!!!
The title of this entry is based on a quote from Clive Ponting’s book, from the chapter on Easter Island. He draws a conclusion that today’s civilization is in a similar position like the Easter Islanders right before their demise. We are at the peak of our cultural and technological growth, our population is dangerously expanding while our resources are disappearing and when we eventually reach our planet’s capacity to sustain us there will be nowhere to go ( at least for the majority of us). On the similar note, the stories in “Collapse” by Diamond draw even broader parallels between current humans “in charge” and past great civilizations; in addition to depleting natural resources and overpopulation, the consequences of the climate changes and environmental disasters can put already weaken countries on the fast track to collapse .
Suddenly it becomes scary to watch the news about unrest in Haiti, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, the misery across the countries due to hunger and poverty. The collapse in making ?.. I hope not.