IBI Watch 3/31/13

31 03 2013

Our Techno-Fetish //

The excitement is spreading. Scientists are moving closer to an achievement once only dreamt of in science fiction. In not too many years, these experts may revive long-extinct species. The main target for now – the wooly mammoth. You can read about it in the current National Geographic cover story. All hail, this amazing technical wizardry! And no kidding – this really would be one astonishing success.

For me, this is the height of irony. While various experts and scientific institutions are pursuing this Frankenstein quest, what is happening to the mammoth’s modern cousins?  The stories are almost too sad to tell. Check this latest elephant massacre in Chad. And this is no isolated incident. Say – do you think lust for ivory might in any way fuel the misguided enthusiasm for restoring mammoths?  Just look at the tusks on those artist representations. Nor is slaughter and mistreatment of these magnificent social beasts strictly an African phenomenon. This opinion piece from naturalist and author Andre Vitchek illustrates elephants’ fate in Indonesia.

To be fair, the accounts of the would-be species revivers, including the NG piece, do explore the complexities and even the foolishness of this business. In addition to the wanton, greed-driven, extinction-threatening elephant campaign of the ivory smugglers, humanity’s relentless destruction of wildlife habitat is generally the main cause of species decline. So the simple question is – if we were to revive and restore mammoths and other species, where in the hell would they live? By the time these restored relics walk, the human population would be what, nine, ten billion?  But the interest in stories like this, to my mind, points up a very serious flaw in human nature, and it has many parallels.

You can also sense growing enthusiasm for climate geo-engineering. These are efforts to counter the effects that our greenhouse gas emissions are having on the atmosphere. The most popular are various schemes to block out some of the sun’s energy – including pumping sulfur particles into the upper atmosphere, deploying mirrors in space, seeding the oceans with iron, and other wild ideas.

And then there is the deepening crisis for the plant kingdom’s essential pollinators. Recent stories on the sudden and steep decline in monarch butterflies suggest that extinction for those beautiful orange harbingers of summer could be just over the horizon. And new research points ever more strongly to our techno-agriculture model – in this case nicotinoid herbicides (see Monsanto) as the chief culprit in the shocking decline in honeybees. Without those tireless free servants to our agriculture, a whole array of crops is in serious jeopardy. (See this Scientific American article on at least one effort to fight techno-ag on behalf of the bees.)

What inextricably links these three stories is this. First, we are able to generate all sorts of energy around what I call technological whiz-bang. If we can conceive it, synthesize it, build it, we can find investors who see great profit potential. We worship those who produce man-made tech breakthroughs. But just try to generate similar enthusiasm around conserving the natural world. It is a constant, uphill struggle. Just this week, Monsanto for one is finding more support in our federal government. And on the energy/environment front, just check all these common-sense votes that that show the degree to which a healthy environment hangs in the balance right now. Just the same, we can find progress from time to time. The new clean fuel regulations are an example. And though Big Oil predictably wails, these have the support of the auto industry. Who could have predicted that?!

For a concerned citizen, impact on these issues varies. When it comes to protecting and saving pollinators, there are some hands-on remedies. As for elephants and other targeted wildlife, it probably comes down to supporting organizations doing good conservation work – such as World Wildlife Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and the Wildlife Conservation Society. On climate change, several organizations merit support, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, 350.org and the Climate Reality Project.

But the sad truth is – progress is often hamstrung by our gerrymandered system, which puts overwhelming power in the hands of this proud prince of pignorance, and a whole crowd of corporatist obstructionists (catalogued in the same piece). To make real progress, we need to end corporate personhood and the purchasing of politics once and for all.


Must be Global Cooling – Right?

Our ex-President W once famously told us that he didn’t do nuance, see? But maybe the Decider was onto something, especially when it comes to human-caused climate change. It has been downright cold and nasty these past few weeks in various parts of the northern hemisphere. Here are a few examples from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ukraine, and the American midsection.

Hey wait just a minute! I thought the planet was warming . . . These widespread outbreaks of unseasonable winter cold in early spring provided fuel for the fires of pignorant (pretend-ignorant) denialists, and confuse many who do not dig deeply into this crucial issue. But here is the need for nuance. These very outbreaks are just further evidence of uncontrolled, chaotic changes our greenhouse gases are wreaking on the global climate system.  First, it is no secret that Greenland has been melting. Here is an update on that, featuring glaciologist Jason Box. And the Arctic sea ice is on death watch.

So what gives with all this Arctic warmth, and brutal cold and snow far to the south? Increasingly, scientists are discovering that – to no real surprise – the two phenomena are connected. This short audio (15 minutes) from Minnesota Public Radio’s ClimateCast explains the connection very well. I highly recommend this clip. Of course, the explanation will be cold comfort to baseball fans at Target Field on Monday when our Minnesota Twins open the season in 35-degree conditions.

And yet – the melting of the Arctic and the bizarre warping of Northern Hemisphere weather patterns raise two important questions. First – it’s one thing to get weird weather in late winter and early spring; what happens if dramatic, melt-related cooling happens during the height of the growing season? Second – if all this warping of the jet stream, and chaotic change in weather patterns result from the seasonal melting of the Arctic, how dramatic will the changes be when the Arctic is completely free of ice in summer, and freezes ever later in the fall?


Finding Environmental Progress

We need some good news. First – an idea that needs exploration and further development – environmentally friendly indoor farming. Second, people seem to be driving less. Third – something I have noticed is that young people in particular seem less interested in driving for the fun of it.


On Bicycling and Opening Minds

As a cyclist and progressive, I really liked this article by Andreas Aarsvold. This young fellow speaks some universal truths.


“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’”  ~Robin Williams


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN



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