A brilliant TED talk from Yann Arthus-Bertrand.
The English version of Home (with sub-titles) is available here.
So often the symbol of new ageism, showing a concern for the welfare of the dolphin might be considered a little corny. On my way to attend the new documentary movie, The Cove, last night, this thought did enter my head, albeit fleetingly. However, irrespective of where you figure on the mysticism spectrum, it is pretty hard not to be moved by this film. Even if you hate dolphins there is something in it for you. There is action and drama as the film crew scale the cliffs of the cove to install their secret cameras in the dead of the night, there is political intrigue as the Japanese government tries to manipulate world opinion through buying votes in the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and there is corporate foul play as mercury-laden dolphin meat is passed off as whale meat in Japanese supermarkets.
My one concern is that Japanese people might be the target of racist comment as a result of the revelations in this movie. Anyone harbouring such thoughts might like to watch Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me on DVD at home after they have watched The Cove, to remind themselves that there is no national monopoly on unethical behaviour.
An interesting post script is that according to recent reports, the dolphin slaughter season did not start on September 1st this year as it is supposed to. There is speculation that this is directly attributable to the bad press this film has brought to the community of Taiji. Other reports are more skeptical, suggesting that is was just a question of ‘bad weather’ holding things up.
Image source: mylifemantra.wordpress.com
Image source: thinkingfinance.net
It occurred to me the other day that despite the huge publicity surrounding the H1N1 virus, there is very little discussion about the cause of the outbreak. One of the few thoughtful pieces I have come across is to be found at the ecomii website.
According to a recent post at the ecomii politics blog by Marie Oser, the blame lies with industrialised animal production. A research and advocacy group in Washington, DC, is cited, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which maintains that the link to animal industries is undeniable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that ‘one-third to one-half of pigs on modern farms have antibody evidence of the H1N1 virus. This is due to the fact that overcrowded pig farms create the perfect reservoir for this virus to replicate, creating new and more deadly strains. Once a pathogen emerges it is then spread by farm workers and the transport of livestock.’ In short, if there were no concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) pig farms, there would be no swine flu epidemic.
Image source: flickr.com/photos/cadams7216
There is an interesting piece in Wired today on Biosphere 2 (B2), the controversial experiment in the 1990s that attempted to recreate biodiversity. It now turns out that it wasn’t such a waste of tax payers’ money after all, because important research is going on that could help us better understand the impact of climate change. The original objective of B2 was real ‘space odyssey’ stuff with eight people being sealed inside between 1991 and 1993. By all accounts, they clashed over the nature and direction of the research, and Time Magazine concluded at the time that the experiment in self-sufficiency was “less like science and more like a $150 million stunt.”
More interesting was a comment on the article from one reader, who wrote:
I knew the original venture was a little pseudo-scientific, but I had no idea religious extremists were involved (… and they may not have, it must be said, as I can find no other reference to this claim).
Source: http://www.youtube.com/user/CBSNewsOnline; 02-02-09
It is 20 years ago today that the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska when en route from Valdez, Alaska to Los Angeles, California. The ship was travelling outside normal shipping lanes at the time in an attempt to avoid ice. Six hours after grounding, it had spilled almost 11 million gallons of crude oil, which would eventually cause ecological devastation to more than 1100 miles of the Alaskan coastline. The Exxon Valdez oil spill remains the largest in US waters to date and — even after two decades — the legacy remains environmentally, economically and socially. As the video clip above records, the time it has taken for ExxonMobil to compensate people for the loss of their livelihoods has been unconscionably long and, to add insult to injury, a US Supreme Court decision in 2008 dramatically decreased the amount to be paid to local people in punitive damages from $2.5 billion to $507.5 million.
When I was a kid growing up in the UK, the humble sparrow was often looked upon as a pest. Since the mid-1980s, however, its numbers have been steadily falling. A report on BBC news today reveals that the sparrow population is estimated to have fallen by 68% in the past three decades.
Image source: daylife.com
A piece in The Guardian today reports on the recent escalation of deforestation in the Amazon. The dramatic increase (up 64% in the last year) suggests that with commodity prices hitting historic highs, the financial gains from illegal logging are proving too lucrative to stay on the right side of the law. These latest statistics have understandably caused some controversy in Brazil but, frankly, this is not a Brazilian issue alone. An area half the size of Wales was cleared in the 12 months to August, which reduces the already damaged ‘lung capacity’ of the earth. Is this issue not sufficiently important to provide international assistance to the Brazilian authorities to prevent illegal logging?
Image source: Economist.com
An article appearing in The Economist last week, Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air (reproduced below), provides a commentary on the largely impotent State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) in China. The Deputy Director, Pan Yue, is one of the most outspoken Chinese bureaucrats you are ever likely to come across, but his dire warnings go unheeded, largely because SEPA does not carry much weight alongside the big Ministries.
Despite its best efforts, SEPA has been unable to secure support from the government to publish a green GDP because it was “not internationally accepted”. Interestingly, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) did publish one figure; namely, that environmental damage in 2004 cost 3.05% of that year’s GDP. Maybe this kind of statistic will resonate more deeply with the Chinese government than the number of deaths each year as a result of pollution. According to Pan Yue, 70% of China’s more than 2 million annual deaths from cancer are pollution-related.
Image source: Reuters
I caught a snippet on BBC World the other day which typifies the incoherent approach of the Chinese to the environment. The public pronouncements from the centre convey the message that the government is cracking down on environmental vandalism. The reality of the situation in the provinces is quite different as the new and increasingly powerful industrial class thumbs its nose at Beijing. Thus, a man like Wu Lihong, can be named among China’s top 10 environmentalists and feted at a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2005 after his work drew attention to the fact chemical factories were pouring effluent into Lake Taihu, and be jailed for 3 years last month for allegedly extorting $7200 from businesses by threatening to report them for environmental crimes.
The reality of the situation is that local businessmen in towns around the lake closed ranks against him. When Wu was arrested in his hometown of Yixing in April, he was preparing to travel to Beijing to appeal to the authorities there. The trial was a farcical affair, where no witnesses were called to testify, and police statements went unchallenged. Wu’s wife also claims that he was tortured during five straight days of interrogation. Needless to say, since his arrest, the pollution at the lake has got worse, the local authorities having to turn off tap water for 2 million local residents because of a blue-green algae created by discharge from the chemical plants.
Image source: www.spiegel.de
My travels in southern China this week did nothing to convince me that the authorities are making any progress in dealing with their environmental problems. The air quality in Guangzhou and Shenzhen was diabolical, and as Jennifer Turner of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars noted recently when she was interviewed by Phillip Adams (listen here), it is not just the Chinese who are affected by this. Mercury is being transported to Korea in dust storms, and it is also believed that 1/5 of the mercury entering rivers in Oregon in the US originates from China.
The challenge is therefore geopolitical but, ultimately, it is economic. One of the great virtues of an authoritarian state is that once it makes up its mind to do something, execution of the plan is straightforward (in contrast to democracies where the gestation period for environmental policy can be painstakingly long). However, despite the ‘environmental authoritarianism’ being exercised (increasingly) by the Chinese central government, it is not being policed by local governments. Thus, coal scrubbers might be installed and waste water treatement plants may be in place, but these facilities are not being turned on because they are deemed ‘too costly’. ‘Cost’, however, does not include the cancers, low IQs and miscarriages being attributed to the high level of pollutants in the air and in China’s waterways, 50% of which are running black (i.e. they are completely dead and cannot be used for anything, even for industrial purposes), and the 700 million people who now lack access to safe water (the people living in the Huai River basin being amongst the worst affected).
While there have been some signs of improvement, environmental policy is not keeping up with the pace of environmental degradation, and unless there is some technology transfer to overcome the economic obstacles to sustainable production, I do not foresee any change in the immediate future. National laws will continue to be flouted at the local level, and firms will continue to destroy the natural environment. It is not a case of trying to stop China, it a question of how China can helped. Weaning this country off its heavy reliance on coal is a start. CO2 emissions are set to surpass those of the US in 2009, and they will get a whole lot worse after that.
Image source: www.spiegel.de