Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Musings: Goin' Down

It rained in the night, long and hard, a welcome blessing for today’s summer solstice, which I greeted in my usual way: in reverence to the world and the fat white moon that this morning shone down upon it. The pavement, still wet, crisscrossed by snails and their tracks, littered with toad carcasses and, oddly, a dried and flattened manini, shone pink as the sun touched the clouds. It’s the longest day of the year, though imperceptibly so from yesterday, and from here on the dawn will arrive later.

As the dogs and I headed out for our walk, I noticed the kabocha pumpkin seeds, planted at the full moon, had sprouted. It’s so satisfying to see new life emerge from the soil.

But even as people embrace life by having kids and starting gardens, we’re killing the oceans at an alarmingly fast rate, according to a summary of a new report stemming from a study sponsored by the International Program on the State of the Ocean. The study was unique, because it looked at the whole bleak picture. Here’s what researchers determined:

This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts and that the degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted.

Indeed, many of the changes — and they’re caused by human activities — “are already matching those predicted under the ‘worst case scenarios.’” As a result, this is compounding other problems, including changes in the distribution and abundance of marine species, changes in the distribution of harmful algal blooms, increases in health hazards in the ocean and the loss of both large, long-lived and small fish species. This, in turn, destabilizes food webs and makes marine ecosystems less resilient to the effects of climate change.

You know, ye olde domino effect.

The scientists also determined:

The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood; timelines for action are shrinking; resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stessors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution and habitat destruction; ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors; and the extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing.

In short: “we now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation.” Indeed, we’re seeing the same “multiple high intensity stressors [that have] been a pre-requisite for all the five global extinction events of the past 600 million years.”

While it’s looking pretty grim, all is not lost. They make a number of recommendations, including dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions, strictly regulating fisheries, stopping or strictly regulating extraction of oil and minerals, and controlling sewage and ag waste runoff.

But most dramatic of all is their recommendation to follow the precautionary principle “by reversing the burden of proof so activities proceed only if they are shown not to harm the ocean singly or in combination with other activities.” That alone would be such a dramatic paradigm shift for the industrial world.

It’s not the sort of thing that anyone wants to hear, least of all our government, which has reneged on a promise to reinstall solar panels on the roof of the White House and is busy launching a graphic new ad campaign aimed at scaring people so much they stop smoking. Because, ya know, we wouldn't want anyone to get cancer.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports, government regulators and industry have been weakening the standards for the commercial nuclear power generators so the aging plants can keep “operating within the rules.” In the process:

Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation.

Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard—sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.

Any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how slight, boosts cancer risk, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

The tritium leaks also have spurred doubts among independent engineers about the reliability of emergency safety systems at the 104 nuclear reactors situated on the 65 sites.

That's partly because some of the leaky underground pipes carry water meant to cool a reactor in an emergency shutdown and to prevent a meltdown.

But hey, it’s summer time, and the living is easy, so I don’t want to leave you in a state of total despair. At times like this, I like to remember a saying attributed to “Native American wisdom:”

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.


Anonymous said...

happy summer to you !

Anonymous said...

Fear not though, the Hawaii DLNR is continuing to aggressively protect these marine fisheries:
By waiting for lone shoreline fishermen carrying a bag of fish that they walk over a couple miles of rocks to get.

The Hawaii DLNR even carries guns in case those radical fishermen think they can put more than their fair share of fish on the table; imagine some of them catch so much fish they have some for the freezer for another day and some for friends...thatʻs excessive depletion and got to be reported.

And talk about admin follow-up, the Hawaii DLNR has some guys that sit in an office and call the fishermen every day if their catch reports are late; oh, the fishermen whine that they didnʻt catch for 2 or more months or try to explain they donʻt know how much they caught because it didnʻt go on a scale but they get fined. Usually $30-75 per month if they did not file or if they filed late.

There are fishers out in boats that leave nets thousands of feet long in the water for days and they arenʻt bothered because so much fish ends up dead on shore itʻs hard to tell exactly how much they caught; besides, some of those boats are part ownership of DLNR anyway, so theyʻre excused.

The net guys are easier. Hah, they were so busy fishing they neva knew there was one administrative rule meeting to make fines. Besides most of them donʻt use computer so it was a slam dunk.

So as far as the world knows the Hawaii DLNR is on the ball and doing their job to protect marine fisheries. The pollution run-off from over development doesnʻt count because the developments are already there. Live with it.

Itʻs those pesky net throwers that are depleting the stocks.

Hoped you liked my little story. It is true by the way. And if any opihi in the guys bag sonʻt want to jump out and be measured, well the Hawaii DLNR stands there with his gun at his side and thereʻs no more argument.