Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When Conservation Means Consumption

So ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) failed again. The organization was unable to do the right thing. Last week, Eco Ocean asked ICCAT ahead of their recent meeting in Paris to sufficiently protect bluefin tuna. Instead, they capitulated to what...I don't know, the Japanese, greed, hubris, all of the above and more?

Hard to know because the ICCAT vote was extremely hush hush and happened completely behind closed doors. Even journalists and members of NGOs who were granted permission to view most of the sessions were kicked out when it came to the tuna vote. That's some fishy business (sorry couldn't resist the pun). But seriously, aren't these all our resources?

ICCAT has the power to make Atlantic bluefin fishing sustainable now and into the future yet they seem unable to get it done. They ought to take the word "conservation" out of their name. "Consumption" or "depletion" sound more appropriate.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Good Witch

Good news from a government official. According to the Associated Press, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed Tuesday to spur offshore wind projects in the Atlantic Ocean by expediting permits and identifying promising areas for wind power. This will tie in nicely with the underwater transmitting project.

Witchy quote from the head of Oceana:

"Ocean wind power is the good witch to the bad witch of ocean oil drilling," said Andrew Sharpless, CEO of Oceana. "People need jobs and energy. Ocean wind power, unlike ocean oil drilling, is a great way to do both."

Let's get off that petroleum economy.

Read whole story here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Renewable Energy is a Business Not a Cause

Tom Rooney, a business leader in the solar industry, calls it like it is. He is already well onto the renewable energy economy and in a recent editorial, he had some insightful and clear-headed words for the laggards and the denouncers. This is exactly what more people need to hear.

 Here are the highlights:

Renewable energy does not cost more than "regular" energy.

Fossil fuels get 12 times more subsidies than renewables.

Good quote: Today, around the world, more than a million people work in the wind and solar business. Many more receive their power from solar. Solar is not a cause, it is a business with real benefits for its customers.

More and more big companies are going with renewables.

The issue isn't even carbon. It's cost and energy independence and sustainability.

Anyone who talks up fossil fuels is living in the past or is in the money.

Tom's editorial from Renewable Energy World is pasted here in full, good read:

Title: Why Conservatives are Bad on Energy

Conservatives, let's talk about energy. And why so many conservatives are so wrong -- so liberal, even -- on wind and solar energy.

Let's start with a recent editorial from the home of "free markets and free people," the Wall Street Journal. Photovoltaic solar energy, quoth the mavens, is a "speculative and immature technology that costs far more than ordinary power."

So few words, so many misconceptions. It pains me to say that because, like many business leaders, I grew up on the Wall Street Journal and still depend on it.

But I cannot figure out why people who call themselves "conservatives" would say solar or wind power is "speculative." Conservatives know that word is usually reserved to criticize free-market activity that is not approved by well, you know who.

Today, around the world, more than a million people work in the wind and solar business. Many more receive their power from solar. Solar is not a cause, it is a business with real benefits for its customers.

Just ask anyone who installed their solar systems five years ago. Today, many of their systems are paid off and they are getting free energy. Better still, ask the owners of one of the oldest and most respected companies in America who recently announced plans to build one of the largest solar facilities in the country. That would be Dow Jones, owners of the Wall Street Journal.

Now we come to "immature." Again, the meaning is fuzzy. But in Germany, a country 1/3 our size in area and population, they have more solar than the United States. This year, Germans will build enough solar to equal the output of three nuclear power plants. What they call immaturity our clients call profit-making leadership.

But let's get to the real boogie man: The one that "costs far more than ordinary power."

I've been working in energy infrastructure for 25 years and I have no idea what the WSJ means by the words "ordinary power." But, after spending some time with Milton Friedman whom I met on many occasions while studying for an MBA at the University of Chicago, I did learn about costs.

And here is what every freshman at the University of Chicago knows: There is a difference between cost and price.

Solar relies on price supports from the government. Fair enough -- though its price is falling even faster than fossil fuels are rising.

But if Friedman were going to compare the costs of competing forms of energy, he also would have wanted to know the cost of "ordinary energy." Figured on the same basis. This is something the self-proclaimed conservative opponents of solar refuse to do.

But huge companies including Wall Mart, IBM, Target and Los Gatos Tomatoes figured it out. And last year so did the National Academy of Sciences. It produced a report on the Hidden Costs of Energy that documented how coal was making people sick to the tune of $63 billion a year.

And that oil and natural gas had so many tax breaks and subsidies that were so interwoven for so long, it was hard to say exactly how many tens of billions these energy producers received courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer.

Just a few weeks ago, the International Energy Agency said worldwide, fossil fuels receive $550 billion in subsidies a year -- 12 times what alternatives such as wind and solar get.

Neither report factored in Global Warming or the cost of sending our best and bravest into harm's way to protect our energy supply lines.

Whatever that costs, you know it starts with a T. All this without hockey stick graphs, purloined emails or junk science.

When you compare the real costs of solar with the fully loaded real costs of coal and oil and natural gas and nuclear power, apples to apples, solar is cheaper.

That's not conservative. Or liberal. That comes from an ideology older and more reliable than both of those put together: Arithmetic.

photo credit: ecopreneurist.com

Monday, November 22, 2010

Do the Right Thing ICCAT

This week the powers that be will discuss the future of Atlantic tuna and other marine species.

Let's hope they do the right thing. For starters: Listen to the conservation organizations. Make tuna fishing sustainable. Protect sharks and other top predators. Don't capitulate to the Japanese or others and bargain off our resources. CITIES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) couldn't do it. Can ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas)? You even have the word conservation in your name.

According to USA Today, there had been hope that tuna and shark conservation would be dealt with in March, when the Parties (i.e. countries that had signed on) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species met to discuss conservation proposals. But after a lot of backroom dealing, much led by Japan, the group rejected proposals to protect Atlantic bluefin and several species of sharks coming from various conservation and science groups. Instead, they deferred to ICCAT.

Read the full story here.

Read about sustainable tuna, and why the Japanese must be in greedy denial from past Eco Ocean posts.

photo credit: the age.com

Friday, November 19, 2010

Miles of Connections

It's fun to take direct action for nature. Granted there are more than a few people who would hesitate to deem a marathon fun. I recently ran the New York City marathon to raise money for nature. In the race, you get a runner’s eye view of the cultural and ethnic diversity of the city -- a kind of urban biodiversity.

The very energy that makes New York glow so brightly from the inside propels you down the streets and up the avenues in all five boroughs over the 26.2 mile course. All of it.

The third generation Irish kids in Bay Ridge holding their little hands out for high fives, the noisy garage rock band set in a gas station entrance in Park Slope, the older African American women bellowing support in Clinton Hill, the Orthodox Jews blocks away silently staring, the scruffy hipsters and artists in Williamsburg getting into it, the thumping house music under a grey overpass in Long Island City, the shrill, bopping blond headed party girls crushing out of bars on the Upper East Side, the rich salsa tunes wafting through the air in East Harlem, the tough nuts hoarsely cheering in the Bronx, the uplifting brass band in Harlem, and the full menagerie of people in green and welcoming central park. It’s a blast of life.

You begin to realize it’s about celebrating the human spirit. And as we humans have our deepest roots in nature, running the race to raise money for nature is about celebrating personal connections to our planet.

We all have them. It could be anything – being happily tossed around in a roiling surf, watching pale green shoots come up in the garden, seeing an eagle soar, listening to a crowd of people go silent just as the sun dips below the horizon for another day. Everyone enjoys the gift of nature in their own way. I was happy to run a race to raise money for an organization, the Nature Conservancy, that makes sure we can continue to enjoy nature now and long into the future.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sharks and Friends Get Some Good News

Jolly Good
Sharks and other marine creatures are getting a large respite from human activities in one part of Indonesia. So it's not all doom and gloom out there.

According to Mongabay.com, a shark sanctuary has been declared around the Raja Ampat islands in Indonesia. Larger than Denmark, the new sanctuary covers 17,760 square miles (46,000 square kilometers) of one of the world's richest marine biodiverse region, the Coral Triangle. Protections not only cover sharks, but dugongs, marine turtles, mobulas, and manta rays as well. In addition, reef bombing and fishing for the aquarium trade are banned.

Nice work Indonesia.

Read the whole story here.

Photo credit: animalport.com

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

We Can Do Better

Just this week, Eco Ocean wrote about the destructive mindset of all those people, many of them in Japan, who eat bluefin tuna. Their denial is sad and their behavior is criminal. Let's say you have ever remotely enjoyed the awe and wonder of nature. Top predators like bluefin tuna, powerful and regal, are part of that beauty. But we're pushing them to the brink.We can do better than extincting a species for money.

But don't take my word for it. Major conservation organizations such as Oceana, World Wildlife Fund, and Pew Oceans have called for complete closure of the bluefin tuna fishery, according to Fishupdate.com. 

Read the whole story here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Old Man Walking Cephalopod

Seems like the Indian Ocean is getting more attention these days. Now its more than pirates, as another ocean expedition has discovered new species around the seamounts of the Southern Indian Ocean.

According to Pravda.ru, the scientists discovered a new species of large squid almost three feet long, among several new fish and crustaceans, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which led the expedition. That includes this weird, rickety-looking fellow here. Sounds like a successful adventure but they definitely need some better images.

The old man walking cephalopod
See the whole story here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Give me a Break Bluefin's Not Scarce

Supply and demand's impact on prices is a pretty basic concept. Why can't many people, especially many Japanese people, get it?

Prices go up when supply goes down. Bluefin tuna is wildly expensive because they have been fished to near extinction. Japanese consume 80% of the Atlantic bluefin. A bite sized piece can go for $30 or more. Yet, people still contend that the fish stocks of bluefin are fine and nothing needs to be done to protect them.

Please pass the soy for my delicacy, I'm so hip, I'm so trendy, I'm so exotic and extravagant, I'm so dominant, screw the oceans. Please don't talk about respecting the sea or cultural identities. Hard to believe the people eating the tuna now care about cultural identity or traditions. They apparently have no interest in passing it on to future generations, which is one defining feature of culture last I checked.

Read about bluefin's high price here. The header is: Tuna: If it's affordable, it's not bluefin

There are other tuna that is sustainable. See previous Eco Ocean post.

Photo credit: Sustainability Ninja

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why Cut Down the Rockefeller Christmas Tree?

This year's Christmas Tree for Rockefeller Center in New York City, a seventy four foot blue spruce, was cut down from a 9/11 first responders yard in Mahopac, N.Y. It's a good story and the family that donated it deserves praise. Soon crowds will jam midtown for the festive lighting of the tree and the unofficial kick-off of the holiday season. That's all good but how about this: Why cut down the tree? Why not dig up that root ball and keep the tree alive?

It might cost a little more to do but it would send a great message of sustainability for Rockefeller Center, NBC, and even the city. Plus, after the holidays, it could be replanted, maybe in a special grove in the New York Botanical Gardens or Central Park or somewhere. People could visit Christmas Tree Grove and continue to enjoy trees from years past, especially during this time of year. This same idea could be applied to the National Christmas Tree in Washington, DC., and other trees. It would not change the traditions or the festivities, just supply a few more warm fuzzies knowing the tree is alive.

In case you would like a tie-in to Eco Ocean: Trees absorb greenhouse gases so keeping them alive helps fight climate change. Climate Change threatens the oceans on many levels including making the oceans more acidic, raising sea level, and melting polar ice.

Alive is Better

Photo credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tired of the Gyres

According to Care2, a group of like-minded people and organizations have issued four challenges to reduce disposable plastic. The ambition and optimism behind the challenges are admirable, and will at least keep the plastics conversation going. Challenge Number One alone has a pleasing loudness to it: Refuse disposable plastic.

Plastic is everywhere including, unfortunately, the oceans. Specifically, billions of tons are spinning around in areas deemed gyres. Eco Ocean's gone off on this in the past:

From August 2010 Eco Ocean, 315 Billion and Counting:

If anyone ever needed a good ocean-related reason to reduce the amount of waste they produce on terra firma, here's one. Scientists from 5 Gyre, an ocean conservation group, have calculated a rough estimate of how much plastic is swirling around in the world's oceans. 315 billion pounds and counting.

According to the article on Discovery News by Michael Reilly: We've all heard about the Texas-sized "garbage patch" swirling in the North Pacific, and recently we've been warned that the Atlantic's got a plastic problem, too. Rather than distinct patches, the planet's interconnected watery parts are effectively a thin soup of plastic refuse, with perhaps larger concentrations of rubbish in five large rotating gyres of water like the Pacific's.

I was going to list a bunch of reasons why this is a bad thing but stopped myself. It's just plain wrong! Disgusting, depressing, shameful, etc. Anyone who needs a list of reasons why we should do what we can to reduce the waste we produce and keep our oceans clean, just doesn't get it.

Read the entire article here and check out the video clip: http://news.discovery.com/earth/how-much-plastic-is-in-the-ocean.html

Check out the 5 Gyres web site too.

Read more about the plastic challenges here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Suds for the Sea

Drink beer and save the whales? Sure. Not like we needed a cause to drink beer, but it turns out that can be done, too.  A beer brewed with Antarctic ice called Nail Ale recently sold for $800 at a Sea Shepard fundraiser.

Sea Shepard's tactics may not agree with everyone -- they star in Whale Wars on Animal Planet where they harass and toss stink bombs on Japanese whaling "research" ships. But they must be doing something right to get 800 bucks for a beer. In the end, if more of those leviathans get fair protection, the next round's on me.


Image courtesy of Nail Ale brewery

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

They've Seen the Troubled Seas

Don't take our word for it. These two went on a great adventure (yes, I'm envious) but with a great purpose. To raise awareness and to bear witness to the troubled seas. According to Linda Schonknecht and Mike Markovina in the Daily Dispatch, the oceans are in trouble, and not just the fish but many aspects. They were there. They saw it.

“The world’s oceans are in deep trouble,” Schonknecht said. “From the northernmost reaches of the Arctic Circle to the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, the seas are being stripped at an unprecedented rate,” according to the Dispatch.

“Every aspect of the ocean is being mined for its resources – kelp forests, sandy shores, estuaries and the deep ocean are all relentlessly exploited by a range of fishing strategies and advanced technologies with subsequent devastating effects.”

Sobering as it is, the more people who raise awareness the better.  Go Linda & Mark.

Read more here.
What do you see?

Image courtesy of infosurhoy.com

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sea Turtle Thwarts Industry

Chalk this up as a small victory in the ongoing defense of the oceans. According to the Economic Times of India, the endangered olive ridley sea turtle could challenge South Korean steel maker Posco’s plans to construct a captive port at Jatadhar in Orissa near the Bay of Bengal in India. Who knew?

But what makes it harder to trust industry:

They (biologists and environmentalists) have drawn attention to the fact that the environment impact assessment report for the port project prepared by M N Dastur and Company made no mention of the impact the port would have on the marine environment of the area, according to the story. 

One other note, the use of the word "sabotage" in the headline "Olive Ridley Sabotages Posco Port Plan" makes it sound like the nefarious sea turtle hatched some sinister plan to prevent the innocent steel company from opening a lovely little port. Oh please. Then again, it could just be a nuance of semantics between British English and American English.

Read the full story here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Climate Change Threatens Marine Conservation

Countless great stories of marine conservation may be made irrelevant by climate change.

In the clear shallow water off the Florida keys, a nursery of staghorn and other corals is thriving piece by meticulous piece. With wet suits and oxygen tanks as their daily uniform, intrepid scientists are literally gluing coral's version of a seedling to the underwater substrate and brushing off algae when necessary while watching the coral clippings grow. Lead by Ken Nedimyer, a marine biologist from the Mote Marine laboratory, the project has had great success and delivers hope that the endangered coral can return.

Unfortunately, climate change may wash away all his great efforts.

Climate change is the big picture issue that looms ominously overhead. As Matt Jenkins noted in his Coral Nursery story in the Autumn 2010 Nature Conservancy magazine, climate change is THE issue that everyone even remotely interested in marine conservation should be fired up about.

"Unless people around the world finally get serious about tackling climate change, efforts to restore coral will be hopeless in the end. 'You can propagate and restore as much as you want,'says Diego Liman, (a scientist on the coral re-planting project) 'but if you don't take care of the reasons these corals have been declining for the past 30 years, you're propagating things and then putting them in place where they're going to die anyway.'"

Climate change causes ocean temperatures to rise, increases ocean acidification, and raises sea level to name a few major problems that threaten the health of the oceans, including the health of the oceans' fisheries that provide food and livelihood for the world.

Sell it as energy independence or creating jobs -- all true -- but getting the US off the petroleum economy and onto the renewable and clean energy economy is bigger than big. It's huge. It's vital. It's Job One.

image courtesy of travelpod.com

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Election Probably Not Good for the Oceans

So I wrote a friend about the results of the midterm elections. I was far from cautiously optimistic, expecting more gridlock, more name calling, more wealthy ego and power mongers telling the American people what the American people want. He replied something about revolution.

All kidding -- sort of -- aside, it looks glum for marine conservation. But don't take my word for it. David Helvarg, awesome ocean advocate and writer, sums it up succinctly in the piece below from Grist. He not only lays it out plain and simple but also notes specific legislation.  The title is "Was this election good for the fish?" In case you were wondering, it was not, probably, but the read is worth it. 

The column by Helvarg is pasted here in full: 

Tuesday's election gave control of the House of Representatives to the Republican Party and expanded its base in the Senate. And it will likely expand the partisan rancor of an increasingly dysfunctional political system mocked by a quarter-million folks at Comedy Central's Rally to Restore Sanity last weekend.

But there's not much humor to be found when you look at the likely effect of the election on the oceans. While ocean and coastal conservation has historically been a bipartisan issue, many moderate Republican House and Senate members who were once key advocates for marine protection -- such as Rep. Jim Saxon of New Jersey, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, and Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island -- are no longer there. In their place are anti-government zealots who distrust any regulation by land or by sea.

On the other side of the aisle, some normally progressive Democrats like Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) have strongly opposed plans to stop overfishing. He follows the lead of commercial fishers in his Massachusetts district who don't use the same science-based approach to their work as fishers in Alaska and elsewhere.

Oddly, there still may be some modicum of hope among even the most conservative of Republicans. Remember George W. Bush's blue asterisks? While arguably the worst environmental president in history, he also gave us the nation's first true ocean wilderness parks, starting with northwest Hawaii's huge Papahanaumokuakea Marine Monument back in 2006. In January 2009, during his final days in office, he added the Line Islands, Rose Atoll, and Mariana Trench in the Pacific. He did this at the urging of his wife Laura and against the wishes of his vice president Dick Cheney.

In the 112th Congress, expect to see President Obama's newly established Ocean Council come under attack as another wasteful government bureaucracy. In fact, it's a (sadly unfunded) attempt to coordinate more than two dozen federal departments and agencies to reduce conflict and redundancy at the national level while sustainably managing the uses of our publicly owned seas through regional initiatives.

The attempt to incorporate an ocean conservation trust fund into a Senate oil-spill response bill -- if not passed during the 111th Congress' lame-duck session this winter -- will likely die at the hands of those who want to slash government spending even as private-sector spending has stalled out across the nation.

The new Senate may become even more obdurate when it comes to getting a confirmation vote for the Law of the Sea treaty that has been languishing (at this point more like festering) in that august body for years. While almost all ocean stakeholders from the Pentagon to the shipping industry to Greenpeace think the U.S. needs to be an active player in this U.N. convention that determines global actions on ocean issues, a handful of right-wing senators including James Inhofe (R-Okla.), David Vitter (R-La.), and the Tea Party's Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) claim it's an attempt to undermine U.S. sovereignty.

Another problem may be how we as a nation address fossil-fuel-fired climate impacts on our public seas -- such as acidification, loss of Arctic sea ice, and sea-level rise -- when climate-change denial has become an ideological rather than science-based issue for many Republican office holders. More than half of Tea Party supporters believe global warming poses no problem, while 85 percent of the general public thinks it does, according to a recent New York Times/CBS poll. Not coincidentally, many of the key groups backing Tea Party candidates, such as Americans for Prosperity, are also funded by the oil industry.

Expect Capitol Hill debates over ocean policies and politics to get even more heated in the next few years, not unlike the ocean itself.


photo courtesy of garbage duck blog

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Doctor is In

David Guggenheim is another ocean hero doing more than his part to protect the oceans. He is a marine biologist known as the Ocean Doctor.

He gives speeches and says simple yet inspirational things like this in reference to the ocean: "Mother Nature sure knows how to build a temple," he said. "It makes you feel small; it's very humbling," according to the Newark Advocate.

He's head of a marine conservation non-profit, 1planet1ocean.

It's people who are going to ensure a sustainable future for the oceans, so let's celebrate those leading the way. Go David.

Read more here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Front Lines Hero Mike Lever

Mike Lever is on the front lines in the Pacific Ocean near Mexico's Guadalupe Island. Go Mike.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Mike not only courageously started a shark viewing business despite angry threats from the competition but also he battles for marine conservation including speaking up for great whites and hounding illegal fishermen.

Mike chased a poacher vessel for four hours into the open ocean before convincing its captain to return to the Boiler with the vessel, which was loaded with tons of sharks and seven manta rays, all dead. according to the story.

"That was really distressing. They are gentle giants. It was like pulling over a truck in Africa and finding seven elephants," said Mike.

If that's not enough, Mike's route to divemaster and his own thriving business in Mexico is inspiring.

Read more here:

Respect and Protect

Monday, November 1, 2010

Power and Protect

Rhode Island's coastal management group approved unprecedented mapping of the ocean floor in state waters with a nod toward wind turbine placement but the Conservation Law Foundation says let's not be too hasty.

This speaks to the beginning of conflicts between green goals. The tricky balance between the ongoing challenge to protect the oceans from habitat loss and other possible issues, and the challenge to protect the oceans from climate change.

In one way, they're both right. It's complicated. It's important. It's important to get it right. No doubt we need to get off the petroleum economy and onto the renewable energy economy as soon as we can.

We'll likely see more of this because the oceans are a great place to harness wind -- sailors used it to explore the world back in the day now engineers can use it to save the world -- and holds much untapped power in tides and currents.

Read the whole story here.