Wednesday, December 4, 2013
I sit on the thin edge of the Gulf of Mexico. I squint and hold up a hand for shade. Some of the whitest sand I have ever seen amplifies the bright sun.
The sand is a fine powder made up of corals and shells tumbled over each other and pummeled by water for thousands of years. It feels smooth and cool on my feet.
Barely ankle high waves in the gem-green water lick the shore. I’ll get into that lovely water in a little bit. I am lucky, I thought, to be here.
The houses of civilization are easily a quarter mile away behind me. This is the new beach. I’d be sitting under four feet of water if I were sitting in the same place only two years ago. Tides change. Sand swirls and drops.
To get to the water now, you must walk through small hummocks of green dune grass, little yellow flowers, and vine tendrils stretching out like long spider legs. I am happy to do so.
Near my chair, flocks of skimmers, plovers, least terns, and other birds crowd the beach facing into the wind, like fighter jets on standby. The big brown bombers, pelicans, fly in formation up the coast inches from the water’s surface, rarely moving their wings.
A lone great blue heron with its spear-like beak and spring-action neck prowls the shallow water for little fish. Occasionally a small tern swoops up and then drops straight into the water as if crazy. I squint to try to see if it has caught anything, looking for that telltale glint of white fish belly in the sun.
A boat comes into view. It looks as if it’s going to drive right onto the beach. It’s a shallow water skimmer with a flat bow and a big black outboard on the back. Two men in full waders and green baseball caps stand on the bow and focus on the water in front of them.
Draped on their arms are small white nets like they’re holding someone’s shawl at coat check. The boat gets in even closer, probably knee deep.
The men toss the white cast nets into the water. The nets are specifically designed to catch small fish. They call them bait fish, and marine biologists call them forage fish, or one of the most important parts of the food chain.
Two days ago, I read that Florida marine birds are finding fewer forage fish. Two reputable organizations studied it, and came to the conclusion: forage fish are depleting too rapidly to keep up.
The men toss their nets once more. The weights on the edges of the nets splash into the water.
The men pull up the nets quickly and one of them lowers his head as if in disappointment. I am glad for their empty nets but feel a little guilty – I have no idea their intent. Maybe what they’re doing is sustainable.
Then again, if their nets are empty, where are the fish?
I don’t know much, but I do know the birds will not win the long term competition with people for forage fish. We’re too good at hunting and taking everything we want from nature.
Another least tern makes a headfirst -- almost desperate -- dive into the shallows not too far from the boat.
Are the birds getting enough food to have the energy to make more birds? Are they getting enough food to have the energy to evade predators or fly out over the water to hunt? Are they getting enough food to have the energy to migrate when their eternal clock says it’s time? I do not know.
Maybe they are. Maybe they’re not. Optimism is as fleeting as a gulf ripple.
Maybe the men on the boat are actually scientists counting the small forage fish. Trying to find answers. Maybe people are beginning to understand and care that the health of the planet depends on the health of the ocean.
I resolve to believe that, and stop giving the men on the boat the evil eye, stop daydreaming about wading out and asking them what the hell they’re doing, stop imagining grabbing their nets out of the water and running away down the beach like a madman.
The horizon stretches away, flat and epic. It asks the questions with a little more edge: what is the future and is it going to be a good thing?
Thursday, November 21, 2013
It shouldn't be so hard to save the world. That's what I thought leaving an event about communicating climate change recently. I saw what I've seen for a long while -- good, earnest people racking their brains and bodies trying to get people to care.
Talking about what to say, how to say it. Should we be combative? Should we tie extreme weather to climate change? Should we even use the term 'climate change'?
All the time we're talking, the world continues to burn.
People talked about successes, because you have to try to stay positive, but it was all about more "regular" people -- still not a huge amount -- finally agreeing with the peer-reviewed results of 99% of climatologists.
How do we go from that to people actually doing things right now?
The urgency is not getting through to the public. To see clean energy as the answer.
Frankly, I don't like the odds of salvaging anything from this nosedive.
Maybe Duncan Meisel of 350.org summed it up best. He said it's simple: there are bad people who are making a huge profit by destroying the planet. They are the enemy. They must be targeted and stopped. Now.
Are those fossil fuel companies really going to leave the reserves in the ground that scientists and economists say has to happen to avoid the point of no return? Not on their life. That would require steadfast adoption of clean energy, which they are sworn against. They will protect their profits because profits are king.
Pretty soon it won't be a fight anymore. There will be that guy who thinks he won standing there smiling waiting for the cheers. There will be no cheers. We all lose in this game.
I don't want to believe that's our future. This planet is too incredibly beautiful.
Divest. Organize. Vote. Speak out. Get arrested. Don't give up. Don't ever give up.
Posted by Mike Misner at 5:39 PM
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Monday, November 4, 2013
Is it just me or are the powers that be coming down especially hard on activists? Two cases make me wonder. One Russian and one American.
I'm not surprised about the Russians, and I'm an idiot for being surprised about the Americans.
We know the Russians are hardcore and not in a good way. They still hold a young female rock band behind bars for criticizing the government. A few days ago, the Russians crushed a multi-nation proposal to set aside part of Antarctica, including the fantastically wild Ross Sea, from inevitable exploitation.
Meanwhile, 30 Greenpeace activists, known as the Arctic 30, are locked up in a Russian prison in the grey coastal city of Murmansk. They say it's cold in their cells and are let outside only one hour a day.
They could spend 7 years in a Russian jail. That's 7 years for...trying to climb an oil platform and unfurl one of their trademark banners. For trying to protect the Arctic, one of the last relatively untouched commons, from even more human destruction.
Is it just me or is the Russian government's reaction wild overkill?
Back in the land of the free and home of the brave, Tim DeChristopher was released from a federal prison last April. He's making the rounds across the US. The anti-fracksters and climate change activists treat him like a rock star. As well they should.
He's the one who was locked up for two years -- two years in jail -- for making fake bids at a land auction in Utah. He accepted bids for 22 parcels with no intention to pay them. He was protesting the sale of the public land to fossil fuel companies.
I think the message here in the land of the free and home of the brave is: you're not as free as you think and don't be brave about anything that might expose the dirty money exchanging hands between the US government and Big Oil.
People who care about a livable planet are locked up for seemingly small infractions. For speaking their mind. For acts of civil disobedience of the sort the United States was founded on.
But I'm optimistic for two reasons about both the Russian and U.S. cases. The overreaction from these powerful governments is really an expression of insecurity -- that people are starting to see through their scams and are sick of eating the costs of pollution. These are acts of desperation on the federal level; they know they are losing the all important battle of hearts and minds and this problem is not going away.
It's a classic reaction from those in power and frantic to stay so: Come down extra hard and set an example. Which brings me to reason for optimism number two. That never works for long. They have only emboldened people. People's fears and suspicions about the powers that be, especially in the U.S., appear dead on and they look at it and say: we have to fight for the future.
As Tim put it at his trial, "the power of the Justice Department is based on its ability to take things away from people. The more that people feel that they have nothing to lose, the more that power begins to shrivel. The people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today."
Footnote: Sea Shepherd's founder is currently defending himself against civil lawsuits from Japanese whalers. He is being called a terrorist and a pirate by the whalers and at least one U.S. circuit court agrees.
Posted by Mike Misner at 7:37 PM
Friday, October 25, 2013
How great would it be for oysters to make a comeback in New York and New Jersey's waters?
This is where they were once so abundant that ships could not navigate up the Hudson River during low tide because oyster reefs rose out of the water like massive boulders.
Where oysters the size of dinner plates were so sweet they were fit only for Europe's princes -- hence the name: Princes Bay, Staten Island.
The symbolism alone would be a wonderful thing not to mention that oysters clean the water as they filter it and their reefs provide natural resilience to storm surges.
Sign this petition to encourage Governor Christie to life the ban on oyster projects in New Jersey's northern waters.
How great would it be for oysters to make a comeback in New York and New Jersey's waters?
Posted by Mike Misner at 2:44 PM
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Good things come in small packages. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. What's the running joke? It's not the size of the boat, it's the...
And the black-faced pug, Frank, chides in Men in Black: "When will you humans learn? Just because something is important doesn't mean that it's not very small."
Darn pug was all too right. Phytoplankton, which illuminate like beautiful, tiny jewels under a microscope, are the foundation of the ocean's food web. They're incredibly important.
Their energy kick starts and travels all the way up the food web. Slightly larger animals like krill, copepods, and immature versions of clams and fish, known as zooplankton, eat the exquisite gems. Bigger creatures like herring and anchovy eat the zooplankton.
Along comes tuna and cod to eat the herring and anchovy. Next come the top predators like sharks that eat the tuna and cod. If any of these links break, especially the first one, most marine life would not survive.
Which is lousy because scientists recently reported a dramatic and consistent decline in phytoplankton.
Why is this happening? All fingers point to the ill effects of burning fossil fuels to run our vehicles and power our lives.
What can we do about it? Support clean energy and marine protected areas, and evoke Frank the pug when someone tries to deny the unprecedented impact humans are having on our big blue marble spinning through space.
Posted by Mike Misner at 9:46 AM