This is ‘From Truth to Justice’ Week. From the March for Science on Earth Day to the People’s Climate March this Saturday.
‘The Science March Was About Respecting Science, the People’s Climate March Is About Acting on It’
The president of the USA – who would be a joke if he weren’t so capriciously dangerous – may not care about what climate change is doing to the planet, but we do.
It is hard to avoid hyperbole when you talk about global warming. It is, after all, the biggest thing humans have ever done, and by a very large margin. In the past year, we’ve decimated the Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest living structure on Earth. In the drought-stricken territories around the Sahara, we’ve helped kick off what The New York Times called “one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II.” We’ve melted ice at the poles at a record pace, because our emissions trap extra heat from the sun that’s equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima-size explosions a day.
As for wildlife, look no further than the tragedy of starving polar bears. Which is why, just maybe, you should come to Washington, DC, on April 29 for a series of big climate protests that will mark the 100th day of Trumptime. Maybe the biggest thing ever is worth a day. Bill McKibben for The Nation
For some of us Washington DC is too hard to reach, but not to worry, we can still hit the streets and make our voices heard for the planet at any one of hundreds of the Peoples Climate Movement ‘sister marches’ all over the USA, and indeed, all over the world. Click here to find one near you.
If you really can’t make any of the marches, join the Virtual Wildlife Climate March here
Watch writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben, and his guests talk about climate change and climate action in this short video.
Week of Action From Truth to Justice: – Earth Day to May Day 2017
One amongst an exciting calendar of events in the Week of Action really caught my eye: an invitation to stand with the 21 youth plaintiffs suing the federal government for ‘perpetrating climate chaos’, in the case Juliana vs U.S. It is predicted to be ‘the trial of the century’.
The youth plaintiffs will speak out from the steps of the United States Supreme Court – where their case may eventually be heard. Joined by their lawyers, supporting U.S. Senators and others, these youth will share the latest updates on their case, as well as song, fiery speeches and invitations to show your support.
Find out everything you need to know about the Peoples Climate March here
Since farming livestock is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gases globally, you could do much worse than join the Plant-Powered Planet Protectors at the March. Says it all, in four words, doesn’t it – whoever dreamed up that group name deserves a medal! If you are serious about your interest in wildlife and in doing your bit to mitigate the grim effects of climate change – think polar bear – take the Center for Biological Diversity’s pledge to Take Extinction off Your Plate and #EatForThePlanet
Find out which species of wildlife are affected by climate change: USA here, UK here
And when all the fun and flag-waving is over for the day, sign up for the free Food Revolution Summit, a week of illuminating talks from, amongst others, eminent doctors such as Michael Greger and Kim Williams. John Robbins kicks the whole thing off with “Lift-Off: Taking Action to Heal Yourself & the World”
Other experts, include Nathan Runkle who while still a boy of 15, founded Mercy for Animals. Nathan is an internationally renowned leader in the field of animal advocacy. He is talking on “How Mercy for Animals Can Transform Your Life” Check out all 24 visionary speakers’ profiles and their topics here.
For yourself, for the animals and for the planet
Happy smiles in the rain – people and posters from the March for Science here
Further reading post March for Science & Earth Day:
Julian L Wong advocate of ‘A Whole Person Economy’ tells us that science alone will not solve Earth’s problems for us. We need a much more radical solution – overturning ‘a political and economic system based on the indefinite and continuous extraction, exploitation, and wealth-hoarding of resources by the powerful few on a planet of finite natural resources. Addressing this root cause requires much more than advances in science and technology, but also requires significant advances in our understanding of how to shift patterns of human behavior on a systems and planetary scale (essentially, world cultures) so that, for instance, we collectively stop measuring success and progress through erroneous notions of “economic growth.”’
Two news items clicked together in the brain one week last year: one on the surface at least quite frivolous, and the other of such profound significance it has the potential to throw a bomb into life-as-we-know-it and blast us into utterly uncharted terrain.
Let’s start with the harebrained one. Do you remember when designer dogs first became the must-have accessory? Or maybe they always were. But a few years ago, someone came up with the bright idea of taking established breeds and cross-breeding them with each other in the search for the cutest combo-pup. Nowadays, puggles, goldendoodles, labskys and cockerpoos are everywhere. There was, and still is, good money to be made and breeders are cashing in.
Of course, this is nothing new. Humans have been interfering with natural selection for centuries, cross-breeding both animals and plants in the worlds of farming and horticulture, in search of desired ‘improvements’: more productive milk cows; heavier meatier livestock; disease-resistant crops; or just prettier flowers.
But cross-breeding as a way of getting what you want, is so yesterday. Make way for CRISPR.
CRISPR is not a typo, as one might be excused for thinking, describing how omnivores like their breakfast bacon. It is, apparently, the acronym for
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats
Gene-editing to you and me. In the simplest of terms that I can understand, it means cutting out a section of the DNA double helix (see below) with something called Cas9 – biological scissors, in effect – and replacing the removed section with a new piece of DNA- which can be just about anything the scientists want it to be.
What has made this biotechnology possible are the huge strides in genome mapping over the last couple of decades. Because of course, you don’t want to just cut out any old piece of DNA. Now, because each bit of the double helix can be identified, you can target the exact piece you want to remove, and replace it with the piece of your choice.
So your new designer dog can now be gene-edited any way you want. No more need for crossbreeding, lots more scope for innovation, and better control over results. Genetic-engineer James West has spotted the money-making potential. His Nashville-based firm AgGenetics engineered Angus cattle to have white coats instead of black or brown, to make them more heat-tolerant, thus doubling beef production. (And milk cows are already being gene-edited to be born without horns, so they no longer have to be burned off.)
Inevitably, it didn’t take Mr West long to realise that the change-the-coat-colour technique could be applied to other animals too. He tested his idea on mice, and produced poor little newborns sporting their little fur coats patterned with squares, stripes and spots.
Maybe soon he will be taking orders for the customer’s choice of novelty designer dog picked from an online catalogue. There are so far four colourways: red, brown, yellow and black. And would you prefer squares or stripes, Sir/Madam?
Ludicrous as it sounds, gene-editing for striped dogs provokes serious questions. Who knows where it could lead, and what the implications could be – and not just for dogs?
And the designer stripey dog is one thing, but how about wiping out an entire species at will?
We ran across this even more worrying application for CRISPR earlier this year, in Should We Wipe Mosquitoes off the Face of the Earth? With CRISPR it’s possible, for instance, to delete the mosquito DNA involved in reproduction and replace that section of the sequence with DNA that makes the insect sterile. This ‘permanent solution’ for mosquitoes is being researched for obvious reasons – these insects carry malaria, zika and dengue fever, and by transmitting malaria in particular, have probably killed more than half the humans that have ever lived.
This seems to be the default human mindset: how can we use this new technology for the benefit of our own species before and above all others?
With CRISPR, humanity now holds in its hands the power of god, the powertogene-edit Nature. I’ll say it again,
Man now has the power to gene-edit life itself
And that is a terrifying prospect for us all.
In 2011 a group of geologists called for the recognition of a new era in the history of the Earth – the Anthropocene, to acknowledge the impact of humans on the planet. How much more apt now than it was just five short years ago.
So when we ask that question, how can these new technologies be used to further our own interests, there are other, and even more important questions that need to be addressed:Should we be doing this? What are the ethics controlling our ever-increasing powers? And who gets to decide?
This is what natural scientist and poet Melanie Challenger has to say about the new power we have, to deliberately wipe out a target species if we so choose (as opposed to accidentally wiping out random species which tragically, we’re proving spectacularly successful at)
” If we start getting cavalier about the existence of a living being, if we start to think it’s OK to eradicate something because it’s a threat to us, we put other ideas about the sanctity of life in question”
Striped dogs, a world without mosquitoes, can it get any more bizarre and perturbing? Well yes it can – the Chimaera (chimera in the USA), already here. In Greek myth the Chimaera was a monstrous fire-breeding hybrid, a goat-headed lion with a serpent-head tail. These days, we’re more familiar with the electro-petroleum kind of hybrid on four wheels. But the very latest kind of Chimaera hybrid has more in common with the one of Greek myth – it’s a nightmarish combination of human and pig.
So what would you say to Organ Farms?
A while ago I read Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel ‘Never Let Me Go’. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t yet read it) As you turn the pages you start to realise the horrible truth, that the young people we are getting to know as they grow up, are in fact clones. Then an even more disturbing truth is revealed – the characters have been created solely for their organs and will undergo a cycle of ‘donations’ until their bodies and their lives are consumed.
Well, reality is catching up with fiction once again. Only, as is always the case in the real world, it’s the infinitely useful nonhuman animal that humans deploy for the task. The unfortunate ‘donors’ will not be human but porcine. Pigs have drawn the short straw because their organs are about the size and weight of human organs. Not that they will be using the animals’ own organs though, because pig organs would be rejected by the human body. So what’s needed for the sick people on the long waiting list for transplants are proper healthy human organs.
No cloning here though – just CRISPR and the new Chimaera. This is what you do. You get a brand new pig embryo in your lab. You delete the genes responsible for the formation of, say, the pancreas. You introduce the appropriate human genes. You implant the genetically-engineered embryo into a female pig on your Organ Farm, and hey presto, there will be a lovely human pancreas ready to transplant into a human recipient in need. Farms of pigs incubating clean healthy human organs, and on demand.
Well, it’s not quite as simple as that, but that is where the research is heading. And it will happen. As the title of last night’s Panorama proclaimed, “Medicine’s Big Breakthrough”. The scientists are excited by CRISPR’s potential. So are the medical professionals. And who can blame those once considered incurably ill for holding on to such promise of a complete cure.
But what about the animals? And what about the planet? The waves in the wake of this technology could sink us before climate change gets a chance to.Just a final note to send you to bed with nightmares: there’s a guy in San Francisco selling Do-It-Yourself CRISPR kits online out of his garage, so everyone can do their own gene-editing at home. He calls it the democratisation of science. Sweet dreams.
Time now for an update
Above piece posted June 7th 2016, but there have been developments.
Gene-edited organs are on their way. Just last week (on the 26th January 2017) scientists in California were excited to announce a world first – Chimaera lives. They have indeed succeeded in making embryos containing both pig and human cells.
These so-called human-pig chimeras (which contained only a small number of human cells) were allowed to develop for several weeks in female pigs before the pregnancies were terminated, according to a new study.
“The ultimate goal is to grow functional and transplantable tissue or organs, but we are far away from that,” study researcher Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies’ Gene Expression Laboratory in La Jolla, California, said in a statement. “This is an important first step.” LiveScience
I don’t know about you but I find this deeply disturbing, and their triumphant announcement poses more ethical questions for me than it answers:
How exactly were the pregnancies terminated?
Did the sows give their consent? Silly question
What happened to the sows post-abortion?
Do we know the physical and emotional effect on the sows?
Scientists would dismiss such questions as irrelevant but that is exactly where the problem lies. Not only do they feel entirely justified in their research, but any thought that something could be horribly wrong here would never even come near to entering their heads.
How did the Nazis square their conscience over the barbaric experimentation they conducted on gypsies, Poles, Russian POWs, Jews, and even Germans if they were unlucky enough to be disabled? They were brainwashed by propaganda that created in their minds a ‘them and us’. Their victims were ‘other’, of a different and lesser order. They de-personalised them, designated them vermin. And of course, as we all know, nonhumans only exist for human use, human benefit, and ‘vermin’ are at the very bottom of the heap. For ‘vermin’, anything goes.
Last week the BBC news highlighted the terrible shortage of donor organs in the UK. Patients in need of transplants are going to Pakistan where they can buy an organ from the poorest, people in dire need of the money. And even worse, criminals are cashing in, lining their pockets trafficking people to harvest their organs by force.
The scientists at La Jolla are looking to forcibly harvest organs from the pigs. True, they’re not exploiting living beings for illegal personal gain like the traffickers. They would say they are doing it for science, for medicine, and indeed out of humanity. It is sanctioned by society. But only because society has also been indoctrinated into arbitrarily dividing animals into ‘them and us’, making the nonhuman animals other and lesser than the human animal, declaring, “We are not animals.” But we are. Bestowing on ourselves like gods the power over life and death. Holding the fate of those ‘others’ in the palm of our hands.
But cruelty, coercion and exploitation are always cruelty, coercion and exploitation. The end does not justify the means.
You might say to me, what if it was your son’s, your daughter’s life in the balance waiting for a transplant? A hard question to answer. But two things I can say:
There should be far better ways to increase the supply of donor organs. For instance, Wales now has an ‘opt-out’ system. If you don’t register as not wanting to donate your organs, you will automatically be considered as having no objection. Isn’t that preferable to harvesting organs for humans by violating pigs?
And secondly, are the sow’s powerful maternal feelings worth less consideration than ours? And isn’t hijacking her reproductive cycle in this way, as with dairy cows, as with laying hens, both sexist and speciesist?
Are we to accept any horror perpetrated on nonhuman animals if it is in human’s interests? Surely it is more than time to acknowledge that
“We are one species among many who share a common ancestry with all other species in the animal kingdom. The false dichotomy between us and them pits humans against the rest of the animal kingdom and reinforces the myth that humans are so superior from the other animals that it’s practically blasphemous to even suggest that other animals possess lives that matter to them in the way our human lives matter to us.” Robert Grillo
Postscript This is a huge topic with more ramifications than it is possible to imagine. I don’t pretend to any expertise and my descriptions of the science are just my way of getting my head around it a little bit. This is just skimming the surface of a technology of infinite significance that is surely ushering in the next Age of Life on Earth.
APOLOGIES – WORDPRESS HAS DONE SOMETHING WEIRD TO THE LAYOUT & I CAN’T SEEM TO CORRECT IT.
23rd February 2017 – CRISPR promises a better way to stop mosquitoes spreading malaria, and without the need to render the insect extinct. Tony James from the University of California is “using the CRISPR-Cas9 technology to create a ‘gene drive’ system that spreads an anti-malaria gene inside the mosquito population. The gene basically destroys malaria, and then spreads on to the next generations.”
It sounds like a very promising approach, but it’s early days and the strategy would not be without its problems. Find out more from ZME Science.
Two gruesome parasites, an extinct lizard, some blotchy lichen, a mean-looking fish – as well as two quite pretty ones. And a particularly hairy scary spider known to ambush unsuspecting snakes passing by its hidden trapdoors. (A political metaphor? We can but hope!)
What’s not for the President to love?
Seriously though, the discoverers of these new-to-science species have found some pretty cool reasons for honoring Mr Obama in this way. I’ve highlighted them because they are good.
From the extinct Obamadon to the barackobamai spider, the outgoing U.S. president is a taxonomic inspiration.
Though U.S. President Barack Obama is leaving office soon, he will be forever immortalized in taxonomy thanks to scientists who have named species after him. Nine different species from extinct lizards to trapdoor spiders got their names from the 44th U.S. president, which is more than any of his predecessors. (Theodore Roosevelt comes in as a close second with seven.)
Here are the creatures that are saying “Thanks, Obama,” for their presidential names.
Aptostichus barackobamai (trapdoor spider)
In 2012, biologist Jason Bond of Auburn University in Alabama declared the existence of 33 new trapdoor spider species in the journal ZooKeys. He named many of them after celebrities like Stephen Colbert (Aptostichus stephencolberti) and even one after the aggressive desert-burrowing menace from Star Wars called the sarlacc (A. sarlacc). But Bond named one spider A. barackobamai in appreciation for Obama.
“I feel like his presidency is noteworthy,” Bond told Wired. “He’s been a true statesman in the face of ridiculous opposition.”
You can find A. barackobamai among the redwoods in north-central California, ambushing countless dim-witted insects, frogs, and even snakes that venture past its hidden trapdoors.
Etheostoma Obama (spangled darter)
The longest river in Tennessee is home to the darter, a tiny fish named for its tendency to zip around cold, clear waters. When examining color variation in the common speckled darter, biologists Steve Layman from Geosyntec Consultants, an environmental consulting and engineering firm based in Atlanta, and Richard Mayden at Saint Louis University in Missouri realized they weren’t looking at just one species, but five. As they describe in their November 2012 paper in the Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, the duo named one Etheostoma obama, or the spangled darter. Only about 45 millimeters long, the fish is wonderfully colored with iridescent blue and orange spots and stripes.
The biologists say they decided to name the darter after Obama because of his focus on clean energy and environmental protection.
Obamadon gracillis (extinct insectivorous lizard)
Five million years ago, a fearsome lizard roamed the land … well, fearsome to insects, anyway. The now extinct Obamadon gracilis, or just Obamadon, was only a third of a meter long and devoured insects using a set of impressively tall and straight teeth. Paleontologists discovered an Obamadon fossil in Hell Creek Formation in Montana and published their finding in the December 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They were fascinated by the lizard’s impeccable choppers, which they say reminded them of President Obama’s smile.
Paragordius obamai (hairworm)
Hairworms are gruesome parasites that grow up to 30 centimeters long inside the bodies of their hosts. Lucky for you, they only infect crickets. One particular hairworm species, the African hairworm, was discovered in Kenya in 2012. Biologist Ben Hanelt of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque was splitting open some crickets to check out their parasites, but was baffled when an entire population turned out to be female. Turns out he found the first species of parthenogenic hairworms—meaning the female parasites can reproduce without any male assistance, as noted in his PLOS ONE study published in April 2012.
Hanelt named the parasite Paragordius obamai in honor of Obama, as the president’s father and stepgrandmother are from a Kenyan town just 19 kilometers away from where he found the parasites.
Baracktrema obamai (turtle blood fluke)
Earlier this year, Obama had the honor of being named after a second parasite, this time one that lives in the blood of Malaysian freshwater turtles. As described in the August issue of the Journal of Parasitology, Baracktrema obamai are as thin as human hair and reside in the turtles’ lungs, where they lay their eggs. Thomas Platt, a biologist who retired from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, this year, assures the public this is meant as a compliment to Obama, not an insult.
In 2008, biologist Bret Whitney at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge was doing field work in the Amazon when he heard a bird sing a song he’d never heard before. After analyzing its DNA, Whitney realized he’d found a new species of puffbird: stout, fluffy birds with exceptionally large heads that live mostly solitary lives in the Amazonian treetops.
Whitney named it Nystalus obamai in a June 2013 Handbook of the Birds of the World paper in honor of Obama’s impact on the development of green technology—particularly solar energy—that could help preserve ecosystems like N. obamai’s.
Teleogramma obamaorum (African cichlid species)
Along just 40 kilometers in a stream in the African Congo swims another Obama-monikered fish: Teleogramma obamaorum. The cichlid was discovered in 2011 when a drought caused water levels to dip down low, exposing the populations to researchers who were sampling the area. As noted in her April 2015 study in American Museum Novitates,
One species of orange-red lichen grows only on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of California: firedot lichen. Discovered during an ecological survey in 2007, Caloplaca obamae was the first organism to be named after the 44th president.
They reported their discovery in the March 2009 issue of the journal Opuscula Philolichenum.
Tosanoides obama(coral reef basslet)
The newest organism to bear Obama’s name is a pink, blue, and yellow coral reef fish. Tosanoides obama was discovered in June of this year, and given its name in the journal ZooKeys.
Obama is the only fish to live exclusively in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a protected reserve that President Obama expanded to 1,508,870 square kilometers this year in August. That decree made it the largest ecologically protected place on the planet, and it prohibits any commercial extraction like fishing or deep-sea mining within the monument.
Richard Pyle, a marine biologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, discovered and named the fish, and insists, like other biologists before him, that it’s meant as a compliment to honor POTUS’s respect and protection of the natural world.
Cover pic – Golden Toad Incilius Perigrenes Extinct Last seen 1989
All over the world on November 30th 2016, people will be gathering in small groups for rituals of grief to mourn species lost to extinction, and to reinvigorate their love for the natural world.
The age we are living in now is labelled by scientists the 6th Mass Extinction, or the Anthropocene. Anthropocene, because we humans are the ones responsible for wiping out animals, plants, their habitats, whole ecosystems, trashing the beautiful planet we share with them. Who knows how many species have been lost before they’ve even been discovered.
So how does it make us feel when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature publishes the latest additions to the Red List of species at threat of extinction?
Are those animals and plants meaningless names and numbers, easily swept to the furthest darkest recesses of the mind, and left there to gather dust? Are we living in denial?
“So much of the information we receive about extinctions and biodiversity decline today comes from science, not from personal experience in the wild. And while science is necessary, it is often represented in press releases that are bloodless, cold, even inhuman – a recitation of facts rather than a proper elegy for the lost.” Megan Hollingsworth
Or maybe the news does strike home and we feel helpless and hopeless, filled with sorrow, pain and frustration. Do we find ourselves suppressing our grief for fear it may overwhelm us?
Either way we are affected, the Remembrance Day for Lost Species on the 30th offers healing for ourselves, and a way to honour those earth-dwellers forever lost to the planet.
We are going to have to work harder than ever for wildlife and wild places. And for farmed animals. The day after the presidential election my Inbox was bombarded with emails from animal and conservation charities throwing up their hands in horror at the result. Understandably. This authoritative post says it all – Animalista Untamed
Get ready for more drilling, mining, and logging on public lands and an agenda that values preserving wildlife—for hunters.
For people who worry about the nation’s (and the world’s) rapidly dwindling wildlife, the only vaguely good news about Donald Trump’s election might just be that he doesn’t care. This is a guy whose ideas about nature stop at “water hazard” and “sand trap.” Look up his public statements about animals and wildlife on votesmart.com, and the answer that bounces back is “no matching public statements found.” It’s not one of those things he has promised to ban, deport, dismantle, or just plain “schlong.”
More good news (and you may sense that I am stretching here): Trump is not likely to appoint a renegade rancher and grazing-fee deadbeat Cliven Bundy to head the Bureau of Land Management. When Field and Stream magazine asked Trump early this year if he endorsed the Western movement to transfer federal lands to state control (a plank in the Republican platform) he replied: “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.”
This was no doubt the real estate developer in him talking, but his gut instinct against letting go of land will surely outweigh the party platform. “We have to be great stewards of this land,” Trump added. “This is magnificent land.” Asked if he would continue the long downward trend in budgets for managing public lands, Trump said he’d heard from friends and family that public lands “are not maintained the way they were by any stretch of the imagination. And we’re going to get that changed; we’re going to reverse that.”
This was apparently enough, in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s upset election, for Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, to suggest that “we share common interests in the protection of America’s wildlife and our great systems of public lands, which provide endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, wildlife observation, and other pursuits that all Americans value.”
Meanwhile, pretty much all others active on wildlife issues were looking as if the floor had just dropped out from under them, plunging them into a pool of frenzied, ravenous Republicans. At the website for the Humane Society, where a pre-election posting warned that a Trump presidency would pose “an immense and critical threat to animals,” an apologetic notice said, “The action alert you are attempting to access is no longer active.”
They have reason to be nervous. Trump has surrounded hinself with political professionals who do not think sweet thoughts about wildlife. Newt Gingrich, for instance, loves animals-but mainly in zoos rather than in inconvenient places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Reince Priebus, a likely choice for Chief of Staff, was part of a Tea Party revolution in Wisconsin that put Gov. Scott Walker in power. Just to give you a sense of what that could mean for a Trump administration, Scott handed over control of state parks and other lands to the hook-and-bullet set while shutting out biologists and conservationists. Chris Christie? Rudi Giuliani? Let’s just not talk about them.
Trump’s main advisers on wildlife appear to be his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and they seem to care only about hunting and fishing. Donald Jr. has publicly expressed a wish to run the Department of the Interior, though his only known qualification for the job is his family name. More likely, as he told Outdoor Life during the campaign, he will help vet the nominees for Interior, “and I will be there to make sure the people who run the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and so on know how much sportsmen do for wildlife and conservation and that, for the sake of us all, they value the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.”
Like his father, Donald Jr. has opposed selling public lands, mostly because it “may cost sportsmen and women access to the lands.” But he believes states should help govern federal lands, calling shared governance “especially critical when we pursue our idea of energy independence in America. As has been proven in several of our Western States, energy exploration can be done without adverse affects [sic] on wildlife, fisheries or grazing.” (America has come tantalizingly close to energy independence under President Obama—without moving new drilling rigs onto public lands—and there is no evidence for the broad-brush notion that energy exploration is harmless to wildlife.)
Two other major considerations to keep in mind: If Trump goes ahead with his favorite plan to build a wall on the Mexican border, it would cut off vital migratory routes and habitat for jaguars, ocelots, desert bighorn sheep, black bears, and many other species. (It might also impede the flow of fed-up Mexicans heading south.)
The bottom line is that a Trump administration is likely to be good for mining, drilling, logging, and the hook-and-bullet set. But for wildlife and for Americans at large? We are facing four dangerous years of self-serving gut instinct and reckless indifference to science, with the damage to be measured, as climate activist Bill McKibben put it the other day, “in geologic time.”
If you are feeling as if a Trump victory is the end of the world as we know it, you may just be right.
Nov 11, 2016
Richard Conniff is the author of House of Lost Worlds: Dinosaurs, Dynasties, and the Story of Life on Earth and other books.
In the week WWF’s Living Planet Report disclosed the terrifying rate we’re losing life on Earth – animal and plant – we really could use some hope.
Well, hope might just be at hand in the form of ‘Natural Capital’, ‘Ecosystem Services’, the ‘Economic Capital of Nature’. But what does the jargon mean? And how can it help us save the planet?
What it means is bringing two enemies to the negotiating table. Two enemies who’ve been engaged in outright battle for decades: The Economy and Ecology.
One one side the ruthless aggressor, in the form of mega corporations like Dow, Monsanto, Walmart, Unilever, Nestle, Bayer, Exxon Mobil, for whom Nature exists only as the supplier of resources, “or worse still an economically costly distraction that gets in the way of economic growth”. They despoil the Earth in the pursuit of profit. I imagine them in black and red, the colours of blood and death.
In the defending army, naturally in green, the eco-warriors, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, The Wildlife Alliance, The World Conservation Trust, The Rainforest Alliance, WWF, and so on. Not forgetting the foot soldiers, we who care.
The Greens fight valiantly, but limited resources mean limited success. The Black and Reds wield the immense power afforded them by almost unlimited cash – and the shameful abetment of national governments they seem able to mould to their will. So they continue to gain ground, leaving a wasteland in their wake.
Up against such odds, it’s time for the army in green to change tack. They must move the conflict off the battlefield and into peace talks. The problem is how to talk when the two sides just don’t speak the same language. In the words of environmentalist George Monbiot, the Greens talk ‘values’, and the Black and Reds, only ‘value’. There is only one language the latter understand, and it looks like this $$$$$$$$$$$.
“One source of hope comes from the growing realisation that nature is essential for economic development. That could soon lead to a new era of policy-making. One in which ecology and economics go hand in hand, but only if we have the tools to build bridges between these worlds that are so alien to each other. And that is where the economic valuation of nature can come in.” Tony Jupiter in The Guardian
It may go totally against the grain for the Greens to see “a tropical forest as a collection of ecosystems services for humans to use, rather than to see it as a priceless heritage.” But the truth is Capitalism understands nothing else. Jupiter again, “Making the moral case in the face of such [capitalist] beliefs won’t work. If, on the other hand, such scepticism can be met with economically compelling logic, then we might get a bit further.”
Natural Capital is that ‘economically compelling logic’. It means putting a price on Nature. So yes, it is the ‘commodification’ of Nature. But the potential prize is so great – saving the planet and its treasure trove of life no less – doesn’t the end justify the means? Shouldn’t we grab at this way forward with both hands?
The Green camp is split. Some like George Monbiot see it as the ultimate sell-out: “Rarely will the money to be made by protecting nature match the money to be made by destroying it. Nature offers low rates of return by comparison to other investments. If we allow the discussion to shift from values to value – from love to greed – we cede the natural world to the forces wrecking it.”
He has a point. It’s a sad world where a price tag has to be put on animals, people even, and Nature itself. But how else to appeal to Earth’s exploiters than by showing them what’s in Natural Capital for them?
Anyway, regarding Nature’s economic value Monbiot may be unduly pessimistic. Massimiliano Morelli in Voices for Biodiversity writes:
“One way to estimate the value of a tropical forest is to calculate the cost to replace what ecosystems do if humans had to perform the services. When ecosystem services are estimated in this manner, such services provide approximately twice the world gross national product. If we lose these natural ecosystem services, we are losing that much of the global economy.
Each time we harm ecosystems, we also harm our global economies. In addition, there are non-use values for nature and biodiversity. Mental health is maintained by a close relationship to nature. The cost to society of nature deficit disorder in children is now very high.
Natural landscapes, national parks, zoological and botanical gardens, and recreational activities (e.g. bird watching, diving, eco-tourism, hiking, fishing, photography, etc), keep people not only mentally healthy, but also physically fit, and represent a significant and growing income for businesses and governments.”
So in truth we need the warring parties to see the light. Urgently. Stop fighting. Work together. Because like it or not the causes you fight for – Ecology and Economy – are inextricably entwined.
Now enter one of the ‘special envoys’ for those peace talks, The Natural Capital Project. The NCP is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, WWF, and the universities of Stanford and Minnesota, founded specifically for the complex task of quantifying nature’s benefits before we lose them all.
And good things are happening! These are a few of the Natural Capital Project’s success stories to date:
A five-year collaboration with Dow to help identify the true value of fresh water, clean air and other “green infrastructure” to the corporate bottom line – a perfect example of the two ‘armies’ laying down arms and working together for the benefit of all
Restoring oyster reefs, one of most endangered habitats on Earth, which protect coasts from storms, filter pollutants and create habitat for marine life
The NCP is not the only collaborative project implementing the idea of Natural Capital. Take Part cites the Elwha River Project in the USA, a joint venture between the National Park Service and the Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe to quantify the economic capital value of restoring the river by removing two hydroelectric dams.
Environmental economics expert John Loomis calculated taking out the dams would generate $3.5 billion in non-economic benefits.“Once we incorporate those, we see that doing agriculture the cheapest way possible, or producing goods in the most profitable way, doesn’t incorporate these environmental costs. We need to shift our production and consumption to account for these costs [and] not squander that natural capital by treating it as having zero value.”
But what about here in the UK? Well, you may not have heard about it, but we have the SEA and the NEA. The first is the EU’s Strategic Environmental Assessment. The second our own National Ecosystem Assessment 2011, the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s natural environment and resources ever undertaken. Its key finding was “that the benefits we derive from the natural world and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to human well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in economic analysis and decision-making.”
But where does this leave us as individuals who want to do our bit for the planet?
My first post on the Living Planet Report shows how each of us has the power to help the planet simply by cutting down on, or cutting out altogether, the meat and dairy on our plates. Or better still, cutting out animal products in every area of our lives. It’s not hard.
The Nature Capital approach to saving our Earth operates at corporate or even governmental level. So is there any way we can get behind this as individuals to make a difference? Well yes, there is. Here in the UK, we can support the Wildlife Trusts. You can be sure they will do all in their power to keep our government in line with the NEA. You can also join the Ecosystems Knowledge Network. They greatly value individuals’ input.
All of us also have votes. Natural Capital – a positive way to reverse the decline of life on precious Planet Earth. What do our electoral candidates have to say about that? It’s just about the most important question they need to answer. Shall we ask them?
It’s that time again. Wood smoke in the air, windfall apples lying in the grass, turning leaves, fine crisp mornings. Who doesn’t love Autumn?
Well, maybe not arachnophobes. It’s that time when sizable eight-leggers zoom across the living room carpet, drawing a nervous eye away from the TV. It turns out these beasties aren’t actually Autumn invaders. They’ve been living in the house with us all along. But Autumn is mating time for the house spider, and the hunt for that one lady spider who will make his life complete brings the “sex-crazed” creature out of hiding.
Food not love
Hedgehogs are on a mission too, but their quest is less romantic. It’s not love, but food they are searching for. They need to get as much flesh as possible on those little hedgehog bones before it’s time to hibernate in November.
Help them out by not being an over-tidy gardener. Piles of leaves, twigs and logs provide not just a cosy nest for hogs, but also first class accommodation for slugs, bugs and beetles, making them veritable hedgehog larders.
Now is also a good time to give hedgies a helping hand with some nightly snacks. The little creature has one enormous appetite, so some crushed or chopped unsalted peanuts, and sunflower hearts will go down a treat. And don’t forget a shallow dish of clean water. Absolutely NO milk though. It upsets their tums and gives them diarrhoea.
Juvenile hedgehogs that may be from a second brood of the year cannot survive the winter if they weigh less than 650g. If you spot a small hedgehog, DON’T follow the normal rule for wildlife which is leave well alone. Pick the little beastie up and weigh him/her. If your hoglet comes in at under 650g, phone your local hedgehog rescue. The little guy will need expert care over the winter.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and shouldn’t be seen in the day. If one does appear while it’s light, she may well be suffering from hypothermia. Place her on a warm (not hot) towel-wrapped hot water bottle in a box, in a quiet dark place, and cover the box with another towel or blanket.
Make your garden hedgehog-safe
If you’re strimming or mowing check corners and under hedges first, to avoid harming resting hogs. Remove any kind of netting – hedgehogs can suffer serious injury from getting entangled in strings, elastic, rubber bands, plastic and nets. Cover swimming pools, drains and holes. And if you have a pond, make sure there are stones or bricks a hedgehog can use to climb out if he falls in.
As the nights draw in, an Autumn bonfire is a thing of wonder. And Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes Night are just around the corner. If you’re collecting wood for your bonfire, don’t build the fire until you’re ready to light it. Or if it’s already stacked in a heap, take it apart again to make sure no little creature, unaware of the danger, has made it home.
And please NEVER use slug pellets in the garden. Not only do they kill hedgehogs’ major source of food, but are also poisonous to the little mammals.
A winter home
If you can devote a small corner to a winter home for your garden visitor, it will be sure to be appreciated. Purpose-built hedgehog homes are on sale at garden centres, or you can make your own. Even a slate or a board propped against a wall and lined with leaves is a help.
With such simple things we can make a difference for an iconic little animal we are in danger of losing altogether.
Hedgehogs are a listed endangered species. Their numbers have suffered a catastrophic decline, from 30 million in the 1950s to 1.5 million now. A loss equivalent to that of tigers.
Urge the government to take action and help save the hedgehog from extinction here
For everything you ever wanted to know about hedgehogs visit Hedgehog Street
And don’t forget to enjoy this beautiful season of the year!