Archive for the ‘Extinctions’ Category

Bush Aims to Relax Endangered Species Rules

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Just months before U.S. President George Bush leaves office, his administration is proposing changes that would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether subdivisions, dams, highways, and other projects have the potential to harm endangered animals and plants.

The proposal would cut out the advice of government scientists who have been weighing in on such decisions for 35 years.

Agencies also could not consider a project’s contribution to global warming in their analysis.

Democrats and environmental groups reacted swiftly to the news.

Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California and head of the Senate’s environment committee, said Bush’s plan is illegal.

Environmentalists complained the proposals would gut protections for endangered animals and plants.

Chairman of the House committee that oversees the Interior Department, Representative Nick Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia, said he was “deeply troubled.”

“This proposed rule … gives federal agencies an unacceptable degree of discretion to decide whether or not to comply with the Endangered Species Act,” Rahall said.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne defended the revisions, saying they are needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act is not used as a “back door” to regulate the gases blamed for global warming.


– If Bush doesn’t end up with the worst legacy of any U.S. president, I will be completely surprised.

One-fifth of EU timber imports are illegal

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Almost one-fifth of wood imported into the European Union in 2006 came from illegal sources, with the UK being the second largest importer, a new investigation has found.

The UK imported 3.5 million cubic metres of illegal wood, which included importing the biggest quantities of furniture, finished wood products, sawnwood and plywood of all EU states. says a report from WWF. Only Finland brought in more illegal timber.

In 2006, the EU imported between 26.5 and 31 million cubic metres of illegal wood and related products, equal to the total amount of wood
harvested in Poland in the same year. Most of Europe’s illegal timber comes from Russia, Indonesia and China.

WWF presents these findings as further evidence of the need for a strong European law to prevent illegal wood entering EU markets.



Globalization Is Destroying the World’s Oceans

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

The oceans are a primary source of food for mankind, and fishing provides 200 million people with income, as meager as it may be. But growing demand and the industrial-scale exploitation of the seas are destroying global fish populations. The European Union’s quota system is partly to blame.

Dawn creeps across the horizon as the Pinkis brothers’ cutter returns to the harbor at Kühlungsborn. The Baltic is still calm, but wind from the northeast has already picked up sharply, a sign of the storms in the evening forecast. The Pinkis brothers and their crew have been out since 2 a.m., 10 nautical miles off the coast of northeast Germany’s Mecklenburg region, in a spot where they had staked hundreds of nets into the sea floor the previous afternoon, hoping the fish would come.

The brothers’ cutter is small, less than 10 meters (33 feet) long, with a tiny bridge on top and a large fish tank in the hold below. Two stake-net fishermen stand on the deck, wearing bright orange oilcloth clothing. The boat has hardly docked at the wharf before they begin shoveling the catch from the hold, mostly flounder and codfish, even a lone turbot. The catch amounts to 200 kilograms (440 lbs), the fruits of a day’s labor — a day that can sometimes last 20 hours. Six days a week.


How the world’s oceans are running out of fish

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Ninety years of overfishing has brought us to the brink of ecological catastrophe and deprived millions of their livelihoods. Scientific guidelines are ignored and catches grow ever larger. Alex Renton explains why the international community has failed to act.

It is early morning in Barcelona’s La Boqueria market and the fish stallholders are setting out their wares. Mounds of pink and grey glisten down the dim alleys, as shoppers and tourists peer at the fins and tentacles. It is not like any fish shop in Britain. Some stalls sell five different species of squid and cuttlefish, half a dozen types of shrimp and prawn, 10 different cuts of salt cod. It is a fish eater’s haven in the heart of a city that eats and sells more fish than anywhere else in Europe.

Anyone who cares about where their fish come from — and this should mean anyone who wants to go on eating them — should take two tools when they visit the fishmonger. One is the handy guidance provided by Britain’s Marine Conservation Society (MCS), “Fish to Avoid” and “Fish to Eat” (the latter is still the longer); the other is a ruler. My ruler is the type handed out to commercial fishermen by the international advisory body Incofish, and has pictures of key species with marks indicating when they can be considered mature (and, thus, OK to catch).

So I set about lining up my ruler against the La Boqueria fish, starting with the mackerel (should be 34 centimetres), the plaice (39 centimetres) and the redfish (45 centimetres). All turn out to be mere babies. The mackerel is half the designated length. A glance around the stalls shows 10 or more species on the MCS’s “Avoid” list, including hake, swordfish, monkfish, bluefin tuna and, of course, cod.

I don’t spend much time doing this because the Catalan fishmongers don’t like my ruler — or me. They don’t want to talk about why they are selling tiny hake (one of Europe’s most endangered species) and why not a single fish in the market has any “sustainable” labelling.


Ivory poaching at critical levels: Elephants on path to extinction by 2020?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory at a pace unseen since an international ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989. But the public outcry that resulted in that ban is absent today, and a University of Washington conservation biologist contends it is because the public seems to be unaware of the giant mammals’ plight.The elephant death rate from poaching throughout Africa is about 8 percent a year based on recent studies, which is actually higher than the 7.4 percent annual death rate that led to the international ivory trade ban nearly 20 years ago, said Samuel Wasser, a UW biology professor.

But the poaching death rate in the late 1980s was based on a population that numbered more than 1 million. Today the total African elephant population is less than 470,000.

“If the trend continues, there won’t be any elephants except in fenced areas with a lot of enforcement to protect them,” said Wasser.

He is lead author of a paper in the August issue of Conservation Biology that contends elephants are on a course that could mean most remaining large groups will be extinct by 2020 unless renewed public pressure brings about heightened enforcement.


China loses track of 121 tons of ivory

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

– And we wonder why species are going extinct? Humans are surely a scourge on the Earth in so far as the other species who live here are concerned.

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UNITED NATIONS – China’s government lost track of 121 tons of elephant ivory over a dozen years that probably were sold on illegal markets, according to a previously undisclosed Chinese report to UN regulatory officials.

The “shortfall” in ivory described in the document between 1991 and 2002 – equal to the tusks from about 11,000 dead elephants – could provide fodder for representatives of a UN accord to reject China’s attempt next week to gain permission to import more ivory.

“We have not been able to account for the shortfall through the sale of legal ivory by the selected selling sites in the country,” Chinese officials reported in 2003 to the Swiss-based UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. “This suggests a large amount of illegal sale of the ivory stockpile has taken place.”

AP obtained the Chinese report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, a watchdog group based in Washington and London. EIA also has compiled a briefing for nations that signed on to CITES to try to prevent China from gaining permission to trade ivory at a CITES meeting in Geneva, Switzerland next week.


Fall in tiny animals a ‘disaster’

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Experts on invertebrates have expressed “profound shock” over a government report showing a decline in zooplankton of more than 70% since the 1960s.

The tiny animals are an important food for fish, mammals and crustaceans.

Figures contained in the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) document, Marine Programme Plan, suggested a fall in abundance.

Charity Buglife said it could be a “biodiversity disaster of enormous proportions”.

They said it could have implications for creatures all the way up the food chain, from sand eels to the seabirds, such as puffin, which feed on the fish.


Letter to a young idealist

Sunday, July 20th, 2008


A few more thoughts along the same lines I talked about previously.

All of humanity’s history has been a series of incremental advances along multiple paths; business, social organization, military, agriculture, technological, etc. In all of this, the thought has primarily been to advance, empower and grow.

Now, for the first time in humanity’s history, we have filled the planet and have begun to hit various unyielding limits; water, food, oil, pollution, as well as limits having to do with how much impact we can have on the biosphere without causing huge shifts in the demographics of various species and even causing their extinctions.

It is clear, if humanity wants to continue to live indefinitely on this planet, that we are going to have to shift from a growth and advance strategy in all we do to one predicated on establishing a steady-state and sustainable balance with the biosphere around us.

We cannot use renewable resources faster than they can regenerate. We cannot occupy more of the planet’s surface than is consistent with allowing the rest of the planet’s biology to exist and flourish. These both imply that our population has to come down to some sustainable number and be held there. We have to come up with ways to govern ourselves that are consistent with establishing and maintaining these essential balances. Nation against nation, system against system is not compatible with long term survival. The ultimate goal and purpose of government in an enlightened world should be to secure all of our futures (we and all the rest of the planet’s biology) and maintain the balance.

We could, if we cut our population to sustainable levels and learned to live within a sustainable footprint on this planet, exist here for tens of thousands of years and maintain a decent quality of life for all those who are alive at any specific point in time. We do not have to give up comfort or technology – we just have to dial our impact on the planet back to sustainable levels and stay with in those levels.

Anything that the Gates Foundation or any other forward looking organization works on that does not include long term goals like these is likely in the big picture to just be a shuffling of our problems from one place to the other rather than a real indefinite-term planet-wide solution to how our species is going to solve the problem of learning to live here without fouling our nest for ourselves and all the other species that depend on this planet’s biosphere.

Upsetting the oil drum

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

The big push from the hard right is that the solution to our gasoline problem is unlimited drilling in the United States. This is roughly like saying the solution to losing your 100,000 dollar a year job is to fish harder for coins under your couch.

The global consumption of oil is roughly 86.8 million barrels per day. The meme the right is pushing, as always, is ANWR and unrestricted coastal drilling. The best estimates of unrestricted drilling in the US put about 25 billion barrels of oil, which sounds like a great deal, until you realize that this is less than a year of global oil demand. The reality is that the United States is the most drilled in area of the world, having had the petroleum economy more, longer, and harder, than any other place in the world. If there were easy oil to be had, we would have it.

The cost of that effort is not making things that we can sell for oil that is much easier to get at. The cry of ANWR for ever is the Republican Party telling everyone that they have no faith in the American worker, the American entrepreneur, or the free market system. It is them telling everyone that Americans cannot make things the rest of the world wants to buy. Import substitution does not in general work, because it is almost always more expensive than trading, and focusing on what can be done better inside the national unit, rather than trying to do less worse at what it does worst.

Let me repeat that. ANWR forever is a giant middle finger at everyone who works in America at any job that exports.


The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

This worrisome research article has appeared in a peer reviewed journal. It’s not telling us anything that we didn’t already know, but it does catalogue the situation and help us steer clear of the hyperbole.

Environmental scepticism denies the seriousness of environmental problems, and self-professed ’sceptics’ claim to be unbiased analysts combating ‘junk science’. This study quantitatively analyses 141 English-language environmentally sceptical books published between 1972 and 2005. We find that over 92 per cent of these books, most published in the US since 1992, are linked to conservative think tanks (CTTs). Further, we analyse CTTs involved with environmental issues and find that 90 per cent of them espouse environmental scepticism. We conclude that scepticism is a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism, and that the successful use of this tactic has contributed to the weakening of US commitment to environmental protection.