Tag Archives: environment

How a Global Treaty on Plastics Can Work

U.S.-based researchers reported in Feb, 2015, that more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans from land each year.

U.S.-based researchers reported in Feb, 2015, that more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans from land each year.

By Nils Simon 
July 13, 2016

Plastic pollution is more than an ocean problem, and it’s time we treat it as such.

Plastics have boosted our economy because they are versatile, cheap and durable. Yet, thanks to these same traits, in the course of establishing a US$750 billion global industry, we have also created a massive problem. Rivers are filled with plastic garbage. Plastic bottles soil beaches. Masses of plastic are floating in the ocean. Birds become entangled in plastic pieces, and whales’ stomachs fill with plastic debris. Plastics can harm humans, too, by releasing toxic additives.

And the problem is getting worse: The production of plastics reached 311 million metric tons (343 million tons) in 2014 and is continuing to increase worldwide. Scientists estimate that in 2010 alone between 5 and 13 million metric tons (6 and 14 million tons) of plastics streamed into the sea. Many hopes have been put on biodegradable plastics, but those still don’t break down easily enough.

A number of initiatives have recognized the need to address plastic pollution more decisively, including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In the Leaders’ Declaration from its 2015 summit, the G7 committed to “combat marine litter.” The U.N. Environment Programme has published several reports on the environmental impact of plastics, launched a number of initiatives against marine litter, and passed a resolution on microplastics and marine litter at its latest U.N. Environment Assembly in May 2016. Although the resolution recognizes plastic pollution as “a rapidly increasing serious issue of global concern that needs an urgent global response,” thus far these initiatives have done little to solve the problem.

Back to the Land

Plastic ends up in the oceans, but it doesn’t start there. Why has plastics pollution been so intransigent from a global governance perspective? One reason is the inevitable difficulty that comes with complex policy problems, where many actors have a stake in the game and no clear-cut remedy exists. Still, I believe that a more hands-on approach can at least pave the way toward more durable solutions. However, for it to do so we must rethink current efforts to shape multilateral actions, which have mostly taken place with a focus on oceans. After all, plastic ends up in the oceans, but it doesn’t start there. Oceans-based agreements just don’t have what it takes to tackle the main sources of plastic pollution. It is time to step up the game by negotiating a global treaty aimed at reducing plastic pollution that goes beyond marine pollution and tackles the roots of the problem.

Two options seem most viable for crafting a binding international agreement to deal with plastics. First, a stand-alone treaty could be negotiated, a multilateral environmental agreement dealing specifically with the production, use and disposal of plastics. It would not have to be built entirely from scratch because the U.N. already has a cluster of treaties dealing with a range of chemicals (which plastics are) and waste (which most plastics become). This chemicals and waste cluster is built by the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, which deal with the shipment and treatment of hazardous waste, international trade of toxic chemicals, and persistent organic pollutants, respectively. This cluster will soon be joined by the Minamata Convention, restricting the use and trade of mercury and dealing with its disposal. Any of these conventions could be a model for a plastics treaty that would be far more appropriate than a marine agreement because they contain provisions on how to deal with harmful substances from a life-cycle perspective, ban the most hazardous ones, and offer a framework through which countries in need can receive assistance.

Second, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal could be amended to specifically address plastic throughout its life cycle. Back in 2002, the Basel Convention’s member states passed technical guidelines on how to deal with plastic waste. These guidelines could serve as the basis for negotiating an amendment that, once ratified, would make sustainable management of plastics mandatory to its members.

First and foremost, a common vision and clear goals are crucial.There are also quirkier alternatives, building on a mix of legally binding and voluntary measures. For example, so-called emerging policy issues like nanoparticles or lead in paint are tackled under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. SAICM is a voluntary multi-stakeholder policy framework for managing chemicals sustainably. It could be used to launch a plastics-based program, to raise awareness among governmental and non-governmental actors alike, and to prepare negotiations on a treaty. In addition, land- and oceans-based approaches could be combined to build on their respective strengths. The former could be covered in a stand-alone treaty or a treaty amendment as described above, whereas the latter could be tackled under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, MARPOL or the various regional seas agreements to focus on waste dumping at sea or lost fishing gear.

Critical Elements

Whatever form the new agreement will take, the specific content will be key to its success in reducing plastic pollution. Five critical elements should be included (for a related take, see this proposal for a Global Action Agenda).

 First and foremost, a common vision and clear goals are crucial. The vision should call for the sustainable management of all plastics throughout their life cycle. A number of concrete goals could specify steps to achieve this, and a review system for measuring how well all nations implement them would make progress transparent.

Second, a plastics treaty should demand (and support) building effective national collection and recycling systems, because they are the most effective means of preventing plastic littering. Extended producer responsibility schemes and multi-stakeholder partnerships could be fostered to further extend collection where governments lack capacities. When this doesn’t suffice, plastic manufacturers could be charged to provide revenues for establishing recycling systems.

Third, the treaty should create conditions for a more circular plastic economy. Chemical and other companies must be pushed toward innovation for more sustainable products, including plastics that more easily degrade in the environment. This is a huge innovation challenge for the industry, yet it can elicit a race to the top just as provisions to safeguard the ozone layer through the Montreal Protocol did 30 years ago. The companies moving first will have the biggest advantages in the years to come.

Fourth, no matter how good collection programs are and how safe innovative plastics will become, some of it will still end up in the environment (joining the millions of tons already there). A plastics treaty should thus provide for mechanisms to deal with any plastic waste that remains.

There is a strong economic argument for taking on the plastics challenge: Not only are environmental and health damages of untreated plastic pollution extremely costly, there is also huge savings potential.Fifth, to get all this to work, a plastics treaty must provide funds for implementation. These days, raising money for multilateral agreements is a really tough job. But there is a strong economic argument for taking on the plastics challenge: Not only are environmental and health damages of untreated plastic pollution extremely costly, there is also huge savings potential (for example, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that 95 percent of the value of plastic packaging — some US$80 billion to US$120 billion — is lost each year when the material is discarded).

The problem of plastic pollution will not be resolved by simply negotiating a new international treaty. However, such a treaty could be the cornerstone for a more comprehensive approach linking public and private actors, binding regulation and market-based schemes, land-based and ocean-centered activities.

We have seen a lot of partnership-based, ocean-focused and mostly voluntary action in the past. It is time to bring international law into this picture and craft a treaty that can spearhead a real and enduring solution. View Ensia homepage

This story from Ensia was republished under a Creative Commons licence

Related on F&O:

The search for sustainable plastics. By Phil McKenna

3314227532_e338e91363_oThe fate of the world’s oceans may rest inside a stainless steel tank not quite the size of a small beer keg. Inside, genetically modified bacteria turn corn syrup into a churning mass of polymers that can be used to produce a wide variety of common plastics.

Nils Simon is a Berlin-based political scientist specializing in international environmental and sustainability governance. He wrote his Ph.D. on global chemicals governance and has worked extensively on the United Nations, multi-stakeholder partnerships and the phenomenon of institutional complexity. contributor_nils_simonNils Simon is a Berlin-based political scientist specializing in international environmental and sustainability governance. He wrote his Ph.D. on global chemicals governance and has worked extensively on the United Nations, multi-stakeholder partnerships and the phenomenon of institutional complexity.

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

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Illegal Gold Mining in the Amazon

An area the size of Switzerland belongs to the Yamomani people. But in their lust for gold illegal miners — who in the 1980s used guns and disease to kill 20 per cent of the population — continue felling trees and poisoning rivers with mercury. Authorities stage raids and destroy the miner’s equipment. But who are the illicit business interests behind the miners?

Uraricoera River is seen during Brazil’s environmental agency operation against illegal gold mining on indigenous land, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in Roraima state, Brazil April 15, 2016. At over 9.5 million hectares, the Yanomami territory is twice the size of Switzerland and home to around 27,000 indians. The land has legally belonged to the Yanomami since 1992, but illegal miners continue to plague the area, sawing down trees and poisoning rivers with mercury in their lust for gold. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly SEARCH "AMAZON GOLD" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES

Uraricoera River is seen during Brazil’s environmental agency operation against illegal gold mining on indigenous land, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in Roraima state, Brazil April 15, 2016. At over 9.5 million hectares, the Yanomami territory is twice the size of Switzerland and home to around 27,000 indians. The land has legally belonged to the Yanomami since 1992, but illegal miners continue to plague the area, sawing down trees and poisoning rivers with mercury in their lust for gold. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

By Bruno Kelly
April, 2016

After trekking nearly two hours through dense jungle, Brazilian government environmental special forces burst into a clearing where the trees had been sawn and a muddy crater dug: an illegal gold mine on indigenous land in the heart of the Amazon.

An illegal gold mine burns during Brazil’s environmental agency operation against illegal gold mining on indigenous land, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in Roraima state, Brazil April 17, 2016. At over 9.5 million hectares, the Yanomami territory is twice the size of Switzerland and home to around 27,000 indians. The land has legally belonged to the Yanomami since 1992, but illegal miners continue to plague the area, sawing down trees and poisoning rivers with mercury in their lust for gold. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly SEARCH "AMAZON GOLD" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES

An illegal gold mine burns during Brazil’s environmental agency operation against illegal gold mining on indigenous land, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in Roraima state, Brazil April 17, 2016. At over 9.5 million hectares, the Yanomami territory is twice the size of Switzerland and home to around 27,000 indians. The land has legally belonged to the Yanomami since 1992, but illegal miners continue to plague the area, sawing down trees and poisoning rivers with mercury in their lust for gold. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly 

The miners and gold were already gone, scattered by the whir of helicopter blades, but armed troopers in camouflage burned tents and generators. When there was nothing left, they moved on to the next.

The five-day operation last week, coordinated by Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama and Indian foundation Funai, located 15 air strips and destroyed 20 barges used to transport equipment and supplies by the estimated 5,000 illegal miners in the vast remote region.

At more than 23.5 million acres (9.5 million hectares), the Yanomami people’s territory is twice the size of Switzerland and home to around 27,000 indigenous people.

The land has legally belonged to the Yanomami since 1992, but miners continue to exploit the area, sawing down trees and poisoning rivers with mercury in their lust for gold.

The mercury has become a growing cause for concern. While miners once killed the Yanomami with guns or disease – nearly 20 percent of the population was wiped out in the 1980s – today the threat is the toxic liquid metal used to separate gold from grit.

A study published last month by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a public biomedical research group, found that in some Yanomami villages, 92 percent of residents suffered from mercury poisoning. The results shocked experts, who believe mercury is entering the food chain through fish in polluted rivers.

High mercury exposure harms the nervous, digestive and immune systems, can lead to impaired vision and hearing, and can be fatal.

Last week’s raid was considered a success but Ibama’s operation leader Roberto Cabral said the miners will probably be back.

“The aim is to destroy their equipment. We’re not able to arrest them, there’s no space in the helicopter,” he said, sweat pouring down his face in the middle of the steamy jungle.

When miners were caught, they were grilled for information and released. Beyond the equipment, authorities have been hunting for clues on the illicit business interests behind the miners.

The region’s remoteness is a constant challenge.

From a base in the Tepequém mountains on the frontier with Venezuela, three helicopters flew the 35-person team for an hour and a half to the banks of the majestic Uraricoera river.

From there it was another hour or two on foot, cutting aside branches and wading through waist-high mud, to reach the mines. It is expensive and rare for the arm of the law to reach this far.

It might become rarer still. With Brazil suffering through its worst recession in a century, Funai’s budget for 2016 was cut by 24 percent, while Ibama had its spending reduced by 30 percent.

For Fiona Watson, who works for the activist group Survival International and has campaigned for the Yanomami since 1990, any long-term solution must be based on having more people on the ground, graver punishments and a focus on those hiring the miners and supplying equipment.

“These miners are like ants,” Watson said. “They just keep coming back.”

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Copyright Reuters 2016

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Sustainability needs academics, outside Ivory Towers

Avoiding societal collapse means building bridges between science and the rest of the world.

Paris smog, from Montmartre

“It is imperative that we quickly solve six intertwined problems: population growth and overconsumption, climate change, pollution, ecosystem destruction, disease spillovers and extinction.” Above, winter smog over Paris, seen from Montmartre © Deborah Jones 2015

by Anthony D. Barnosky, Elizabeth A. Hadly, and Paul R. Ehrlich
March 18, 2016

Until recently, Earth was so big compared with humanity’s impacts that its resources seemed limitless. But that is no longer the case. Thanks to rapid growth in both human population and per capita consumption, we are now on the edge of irrevocable damage to our planetary life support systems. If we want to avoid locking in long-lasting impacts, it is imperative that we quickly solve six intertwined problems: population growth and overconsumption, climate change, pollution, ecosystem destruction, disease spillovers and extinction.

The Challenges

Most pressing among these today is climate change. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have produced most of the energy we need by burning fossil fuels. This has added carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere at a pace 200 times faster than what was normal for Earth’s pre-industrial carbon cycle. As a result, we are now changing climate faster than people have ever experienced since our ancestors became Homo sapiens. Already the changing climate is manifesting as more frequent floods, wildfires and heat waves that kill thousands of people annually; rising sea levels that displace communities and cost hundreds of billions of dollars for coastal infrastructure building and repair; and increasingly acid oceans, which in some places are becoming so acidic that oyster and scallop fisheries are beginning to collapse.

Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and trash have contaminated even the most remote environments of the world.

With no change in course, present emissions trajectories will likely, by mid-century, heat the planet to a level that humans and most other contemporary vertebrate species have never experienced, inhibiting food production and greatly multiplying other climate-change problems, including exacerbating global conflict and national security concerns. Indeed, if the present climate-change trajectory continues to 2100, Earth will be hotter than it has been in at least 14 million years, and large regions will be too hot to support human life outdoors.

Meanwhile, human consumption of natural resources is creating a plethora of other types of pollution as well. More than 6 million people die each year from the health effects of air pollution from burning fossil fuels. Our solid waste — increasingly plastic and electronic — has created burgeoning landfills and massive trash gyres in the middle of the oceans. Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and trash have contaminated even the most remote environments of the world. Whales and polar bears harbor toxins in their tissues; Arctic lakes far from any human settlements exhibit elevated nitrogen levels.

The harm we’re doing to nature is coming back to haunt us in the form of infectious disease risk as well. Increasing encroachment of humans into previously little-touched ecosystems is leading to more frequent and severe “spillovers” of disease from nonhuman to human communities. Climate change is further increasing the odds that novel diseases will crop up in humans and the plants and animals on which we depend: Many of the world’s diseases are tropical in origin, and as we build roads and destroy habitats in the tropics, we increase the probability of exposure. Reverse spillover from humans to animals is an issue as well — an increasing number of animals are afflicted with antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria.

Finally, meeting human demand for food, housing, water and other goods and services has transformed more than half of the planet into farms, cities, roads and dams. This ecosystem transformation, along with poaching, overfishing and generally exploiting nature for short-term profit, has accelerated the extinction rate of wild animals and plants to levels not seen since the dinosaurs died out. The result has been tremendous loss of ecosystem services such as water filtration, pollination of crops, control of pests and emotional fulfillment. Should present rates of extinction continue, in as little as three human lifetimes Earth would lose three out of every four familiar species (for example, vertebrates) forever.

Meeting human demand for food, housing, water and other goods and services has transformed more than half of the planet into farms, cities, roads and dams. Above, powerlines in Western Canada © Gavin Kennedy 2015

Meeting human demand for food, housing, water and other goods and services has transformed more than half of the planet into farms, cities, roads and dams. Above, powerlines in Western Canada © Gavin Kennedy 2015

Overarching Challenges

Contributing to all of these are two overarching challenges: the number of people in the world and our ecological footprints — especially the excessively large per capita ecological footprints in high-income countries.

To feed that many more people under business-as-usual food production, distribution and wastage would require converting even more of Earth’s lands to agriculture and overfishing more of the sea.

Human population has nearly tripled in just one lifetime, and almost a quarter of a million more people are being added every day. Best-case scenarios indicate that by 2050 the planet will have to support at least 2 billion to 3 billion people more than it does today.

Fishers leave Steveston, B.C. © Deborah Jones 2013

Fishing harbour at Steveston, B.C., Canada  © Deborah Jones 2013

To feed that many more people under business-as-usual food production, distribution and wastage would require converting even more of Earth’s lands to agriculture and overfishing more of the sea. There simply isn’t enough productive land left to accomplish that, or enough of the species we like to eat left in the ocean, especially in the face of climate stresses that agriculture and aquaculture have not yet witnessed.

Maintaining present rates of consumption — let alone raising standards of living for billions of poor people today — is similarly problematic. Continuing currently accepted norms of manufacturing goods and services into the future would dramatically increase what already are dangerous levels of environmental contamination worldwide and deplete water and other critical natural resources we depend upon today.

Beyond Breakthroughs 

How can science and society solve these intertwined problems and avoid environmental tipping points that would make human life infinitely more difficult?

Solutions will require scientific and technological breakthroughs — but breakthroughs will not be enough. On a global scale, obstacles include political, economic and social factors, including inequalities in economic opportunities and land tenure rights, or poor distributional infrastructure — problems science alone can’t solve. In addition to science, solutions will require effective collaboration of environmental and physical scientists with social scientists and those in the humanities.

In other words, we must recognize the interrelated facets of seemingly distinct issues. We must actively exchange information among practitioners in academics, politics, religion and business and other stakeholders to connect different pieces of the solutions puzzle that are emerging from different specialties.

In addition, people outside the scientific community must recognize and accept that the problems are serious and that solutions are at hand.

That means we within academia must link our work with stakeholders in ways that elicit significant action. This is especially important, since guiding the planet for the future will likely require some fundamental changes — not just in human economic and governance systems, but also in societal values. Engagement with religious leaders, local communities and businesses, subnational groups, and the military and security sectors of society is critically important to further these necessary conversations and impel action.

It is no longer enough to simply do the science and publish an academic paper. That is a necessary first step, but it moves only halfway toward the goal of guiding the planet toward a future that is sustainable.

The good news is we are already making progress in both areas. Scientists and others are coming together to propose and pursue solutions. And three initiatives have been constructed specifically to bridge the science-society divide. The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere was founded specifically to connect scientists, humanists, activists and civil society in order to foster positive global change. The Consensus for Action provides a venue for policy-makers to quickly digest why it is essential to immediately address the issues described here; for scientists to communicate to policy-makers throughout the world the importance of dealing with these key environmental issues; and for members of the public to voice their support to policy-makers for taking action. And Mapping the Impacts of Global Change: Stories of Our Changing Environment as Told By U.S. Citizens provides rapid and locally relevant information to everyone, from the general public to political leaders, about how these threats to humanity’s life support systems play out.

In summary, it is no longer enough to simply do the science and publish an academic paper. That is a necessary first step, but it moves only halfway toward the goal of guiding the planet toward a future that is sustainable for both human civilization and the biosphere. To implement knowledge that arises from basic research, we must establish dialogues and collaborations that transcend narrow academic specialties and bridge between academia, industry, the policy community and society in general.

Now is the time to rise to these scientific and communication challenges. The trajectories of population overgrowth, climate change, ecosystem loss, extinctions, disease and environmental contamination have been rapidly accelerating over the past half-century. If not arrested within the next decade, their momentum may prevent us from stopping them short of disaster.View Ensia homepage

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Anthony D. Barnosky is a Professor of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley.
@tonybarnosky  Elizabeth A. Hadly  is a Stanford professor and global change scientist.
@LizHadly  Paul R. Ehrlich is President, Center for Conservation Biology and Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University. This story was first published by Ensia in collaboration   with the academic journal Elementa. It is based on “Avoiding collapse: Grand challenges for science and society to solve by 2050,” a peer-reviewed article published March 15 as part of Elementa’s Avoiding Collapse special feature. Read the original piece here.

You might also wish to read:

Academics can change the world – if they engage with it. By Savo Heleta, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Research and creative thinking can change the world. This means that academics have enormous power. But, as academics Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr have warned, the overwhelming majority are not shaping today’s public debates. Instead, their work is largely sitting in academic journals that are read almost exclusively by their peers.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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‘Smeary’ Lake Erie — progress, and setbacks

The Great Lakes are no longer a dumping ground for industrial pollution. But farm run-off, aquatic invaders and climate change are once again putting fish and clean water in jeopardy

 

The Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes o New York state from the International Space Station, June 14, 2012, by the Expedition 31 crew. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=78617

The Great Lakes contain some 84% of North America’s surface fresh water, and about 21% of the world’s supply of surface fresh water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Above, the Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes in New York state seen from the International Space Station, June 14, 2012, by the Expedition 31 crew. Photo: NASA, Public Domain

By Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News
March, 2016

EAST LANSING, Michigan—When Dr. Suess wrote his iconic children’s book “The Lorax” in 1971, he took a swipe at the Great Lakes.

“They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary, in search of some water that isn’t so smeary. I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.”

If the line doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry: It was removed after Ohio Sea Grant employees wrote the author to fill him in on the major strides in improving the lake’s health.

Lake Erie and its four great cousins have benefited mightily from cleanup and research in the 45 years since Dr. Suess penned what became his personal favorite. However, from plummeting prey fish populations to poopy Michigan rivers, grave threats to the region’s ecosystems remain, scientists and officials said at the annual Michigan Water Heritage conference held at Michigan State University this month.

Jon Allan, director of the Office of the Great Lakes, made note of the progress since the 1970s. For years we had “our backs to water, communities backed up to waterfront, we dumped our garbage there. How many of you remember those days?” he asked.

In the audience most of the roughly 150 water quality researchers, fisheries biologists, agency scientists, nonprofit employees and others raised a hand.

“Those days were not pleasant.”

Quagga mussels in fish trawl. Lake Michigan, August 2006. Photo NOAA

Quagga mussels, seen here in a 2006 fish trawl, are disrupting food chains in Lake Michigan. Photo NOAA, Public Domain

It’s true industrial waste largely stopped flowing into waters, but other problems percolated: invasive species, farm runoff, sewage overflows and failing septic systems. Quagga mussels are screwing up food chains in Lake Michigan, rivers are bearing the brunt of unregulated farm waste, and Lake Erie, once declared dead in the late 1960s, is once again suffering from large nutrient-driven dead zones.

Craig Stow, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, has spent more than two decades studying the Great Lakes. We’ve “slipped back” a bit recently, he said, saying that Lake Erie algae blooms have been on the rise in recent years. Last summer the largest bloom on record, about 300 square miles, tainted western Lake Erie.

Phosphorous runoff, mostly from farming, especially in Ohio’s Maumee River valley, feeds such blooms in the warm and shallow waters of the western part of the lake. Such blooms can produce harmful toxins and hurt humans and ecosystems. Stopping them will only become more difficult as the climate changes: long-term precipitation trends show bigger, fiercer downpours since the late 1990s; in conjunction, Maumee River discharge has increased. “We’re seeing some really important change in dynamics driving algal blooms in Lake Erie,” Stow said.

Officials are starting to pay attention. Just last month the U.S. and Canada adopted new targets to reduce phosphorous entering Lake Erie by 40 percent. Ohio governor and presidential hopeful John Kasich, beleaguered Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne spearheaded the effort.

Stow said such efforts are crucial to prevent taking giant steps backward.

“We’re going to be managing phosphorous for a long, long time,” Stow said. “If we don’t develop good adaptive management plans, we’re going to be back in the same position we were in 1980s.”

There is some good news. Western Lake Erie is the only section in all five Great Lakes where prey fish populations—the ones feeding popular predator fish such as salmon and trout feed—haven’t trended downward since 1980, said David Bunnell, a fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

That can’t be said for Lake Michigan. Last year Bunnell and colleagues reported the lowest catch rate ever for all fish groups—commercially harvested fish, sport harvested fish and prey fish—in Lake Michigan. Salmon populations, too, were down 75 percent from their 2012 peak.

This is worrisome for anyone who remembers the salmon crash in Lake Huron about a decade ago due to vanishing alewife, a staple of the predator’s diet. Salmon still haven’t recovered there.

Nascent research suggests a bottom-up problem in the lakes, Bunnell said: Declining nutrients, due largely to invasive, filter-feeding quagga mussels, break the food chain for creatures like zooplankton, which sustain alewife and other prey fish.

“Salmon need to eat more alewife to get the same amount of calories.”-David Bunnell, USGSA study last year found about 80 percent of larval alewife in Lake Michigan had empty stomachs. And their energy density—how much of a caloric punch they pack—has declined about 33 percent over the past decade.

A crash in salmon stocks could have a considerable impact on the shore and throughout the region: Salmon are a hugely popular sport fish and bring a lot of dollars to the state.

Then there’s the poop problem.

“I’m glad my talk was after lunch,” quipped Molly Rippke, an aquatic biologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Much of Tuesday’s session focused on the Great Lakes. Rippke reminded attendees “all rivers lead to the beach.” And many of those rivers bring poop with them.

Rippke estimated that 50 percent of Michigan rivers exceed acceptable levels of E. coli, a harmful bacteria indicating contamination from feces: Failing septic systems, farm runoff, congregating wildlife and combined sewer overflows.

Rippke and colleagues are trying to tease out causes to better stop the contamination. One thing was clear in their study of rivers: as agriculture increases, E. coli tends to increase, she said. They also found that the more forested land in a watershed, the lower the harmful bacteria levels.

But there is a glaring need for more science—they only sampled 11 percent of rivers in Michigan, a state with 120 major rivers covering 36,350 square miles.

While the conference focused on watersheds, with the city of Flint just an hour away, the issue of safe drinking water loomed large.

About 70 percent of people in Michigan are on a public water supply, Allan said.

“How many of you think that infrastructure is as good as it can be?” he asked the crowd made of mostly of water quality researchers and professionals.

Not a hand went up in the packed auditorium.

Creative Commons

This story was first published by Environmental Health News; view the original story. For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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China’s soil as poisonous as its air and water

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 19, 2015

"Factory in China at Yangtze River" by High Contrast - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 de via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Factory_in_China_at_Yangtze_River.JPG#/media/File:Factory_in_China_at_Yangtze_River.JPG

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists. Click here for details. Factory in China at Yangtze River. High Contrast/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

I was wrong when I said in last week’s column there is little reliable information available about the extent of soil pollution in China.

Well, half wrong.

In my hunt for facts I foolishly neglected to turn to the work of Professor Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and among the leading western academics gathering and analysing information on environmental degradation in China.

As Prof. Economy says in one of her latest essays: “Soil contamination has long been the poor stepchild of China’s environmental movement, lagging well behind air and water pollution in terms of government, and even non-government, attention and resources.”

From what is known, it will come as no surprise that the extent of soil pollution in China is as extensive and as deadly as the degradation of the country’s air and water. China is cursed from the beginning because only just over 11 per cent of its land is suitable for agriculture. The material gathered by Prof. Economy indicates that approaching 20 per cent of this scarce resource is now so contaminated by heavy metals from industrial pollution that food produced on it is toxic to one degree or another.

Thirty years of chaotic, corrupt and unregulated industrialization has so polluted China that it is killing hundreds of thousands of its people – by some estimates, millions – every year.

Last week’s column was sparked by the coincidence of Beijing having to shut down most municipal services because of deadly air pollution. The “smog” came, embarrassingly, in the middle of the United Nations conference on climate change being held in Paris. Smog is common in Beijing and in all China’s industrial cities, with the particulate level frequently reaching 80 times the level the World Health Organization considers safe.

I wrote last week that this deadly pollution at home has become the main reason wealthy Chinese give for wanting to emigrate, or at least acquire a safe haven abroad. They look for safe environments in places like Vancouver, Toronto, and other well-regulated countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and countries of the European Union.

Nearly as important for the pollution refugees is the safety of food, and that, as we will see in a moment, is where soil pollution plays a major role.

The irony, of course, is that the people who can afford to flee China are often those who have become rich through the free-for-all industrialization that has destroyed the country’s environment.

As always, the poor are stuck with the mess. I pointed out in last week’s column that pollution and destruction of the environment has become the spark for the majority of the nearly 500 riots and outbreaks of social unrest that occur in China every day. Until recently, it was corruption by Communist Party officials and their relatives and friends in business and industry that drove Chinese on to the streets every day in their thousands.

This seething daily discontent alarms the Communist Party rulers, who with a struggling economy now have little legitimacy in power. The response of the regime under President and party boss Xi Jingping is to tighten authoritarian control of the population and to mount nationalist propaganda campaigns, such as threatening Japan and the imperial expansion to take control of the South China Sea.

Xi’s reconstruction of an intolerant police state is having success. It is unlikely that in the foreseeable future the Chinese Communist Party will become the first regime in modern times to be deposed because it poisoned its people.

Yet it is evident everywhere that the Communists know they are skating on thin ice. As well as air and water pollution, the contamination of soil is not only a massive health hazard, it is undermining China’s efforts to maintain food self-sufficiency. China’s drive to lease or buy vast tracts of agricultural land in Africa, Central Asia and Russia are to meet the pressing need to be able to provide uncontaminated food for people at home.

Not surprisingly, China’s Ministry of Environment Protection (MEP) has rejected requests to make public its data on soil pollution. But Prof. Economy found that officials in the highly industrialized southern province of Guangdong bordering Hong Kong to be more open.

Material published in May 2013 showed excessive levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium in more than 150 batches of rice imported from other provinces. At the same time, Guangdong officials published the result of studies of soil contamination in their own province. They found that 28 per cent of soil in the Pearl River Delta was contaminated. That percentage rose to 50 per cent in the agricultural plots in the industrial cities of Guangzhou and Foshan.

Later in 2013, in an unusual outburst of frankness, the vice-minister of lands and resources, Wang Shiyuan, said that 3.3 million hectares (eight million acres) of agricultural land is so polluted that planting crops “should not be allowed.” That’s just under three per cent of China’s total arable land, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Last year the state-controlled Xinhua news agency reported that 40 per cent of China’s farm land is “suffering from degradation.” This description includes the results of over cropping, lack of fertilizers, and erosion as well as poisoning by acidification and contamination by industrial effluents.

Finally, says Prof. Economy, China’s MEP did release some statistics last year on soil pollution. Based on studies conducted between 2005 and 2013, the department found that more than 16 per cent of total land and 19.4 per cent of arable land was contaminated.

The MEP gave little detail about where, to what degree and what types of pollutants were revealed by the study. Roughly in line with the findings of the MEP was a 2014 examination by the National Environmental Monitoring Centre, which found that about 25 per cent of nearly 5,000 vegetable plots tested throughout the country were polluted.

The major industrial pollutants are cadmium, lead and mercury, but Prof. Economy said China also has a problem with antibiotics leeching into the soil. China consumes more than half the global total of antibiotics, and she quotes a study for the Chinese Academy of Sciences as saying more than a third of these pharmaceuticals end up in the country’s waterways and soil. The long-term environmental impact of antibiotics pollution is still a matter of scientific study, but it is established that it leads to the development of resistant strains of diseases.

China’s rulers are undoubtedly worried about the long term impact of soil pollution on the country, its people and the survival of their regime. But they do not seem to have either the will or the capacity to do much about it. Prof. Economy reports that the Beijing government has pledged $US450 million over the next three years to help 30 Chinese cities tackle heavy metal pollution.

However, China doesn’t appear to have the skilled officials necessary to do an effective soil clean-up. The Ministry of Land and Resources says that people skilled in land de-contamination account for only one per cent of all workers in the environmental protection sector. In most countries about 30 per cent of environmental reclamation workers specialise in soil de-contamination. China has only 20 companies experienced in soil remediation and less than 10 are really competent.

It may well be that the popular clamour for action from the government and level of unrest on the streets become so intense that the Beijing regime is forced to take serious steps against soil pollution.

But until that time, my advice is to follow the example of my Chinese-Canadian friends. Examine food labels closely, and if there is any indication the product comes form China, leave it on the shelves.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Facts and Opinions relies on the honour system: enjoy one story at no charge. If you value our independent, no-spam, no-ads journalism collaboration, please support us. We suggest a minimum of .27 per story, or $20 per year. Click here for details.

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Related Jonathan Manthorpe columns:

Beijing in smog on Nov. 29. Photo by LWYang/Flickr/Creative Commons

Vancouver’s housing bubble inflated by China’s air pollution

Vancouver’s grossly inflated housing market, the United Nations’ climate conference in Paris and China’s catastrophic environmental degradation are all linked in a circle of cause and effect.

China faces crippling water shortages and pollution

China’s drive for wealth and power is stumbling and could collapse over the country’s lack of water and its gross mismanagement of the resources it does have.

Beijing collides with China’s new community of human rights lawyers

The recent assault by President Xi Jinping on China’s community of human rights lawyers may be too late to insulate the Communist Party against a coming storm. There is a tacit acknowledgement by the party that China’s swelling community of about 300 human rights lawyers, their associates and like-minded advocacy groups have become a serious challenge to the one-party state.

Money flight impoverishes the poorest countries

It’s not just China’s “Red Nobility” and Russian oligarchs who are robbing their countries by illicitly exporting their wealth to compliant and complicit countries like Canada. There is an epidemic of money flight from developing countries, according to a new report from the Washington-based anti-money laundering organization Global Financial Integrity.

Vancouver: not mind-numbingly boring, but vacuously vain (public access)

The flood of vast wealth from China into Canada has not only contorted and distorted the Vancouver housing market beyond redemption, it has changed the sort of community the western Canadian metropolis is going to be for generations to come. In a bizarre piece of absence of mind and lack of attention, it has also hitched the future of Vancouver to the fate of the Chinese Communist Party. Vancouver’s low self-confidence and its destructive vanity have both played a part in these failures.

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CHRIS WOOD: NATURAL SECURITY, column

chris1No matter our country, class or inclinations, we’re all equally dependent on Earth’s life support systems. These are everywhere being damaged and run down. Wood explores how the latest science news challenges conventional thinking about human security and our economy, and the opportunities for informed individuals and communities to respond.

State capitalism is back. By  Daniel De Bonis, report

State capitalism, which was considered only a few decades ago a relic of the mid-20th century, is back – with a vengeance. China has already surpassed the US as the world’s largest economy, after purchasing-power parity adjustments. And together, the economies of the so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – should be twice as big as the American economy by 2018, according to the IMF. Each of these countries in its own way share an important trait: an interventionist state, whose tentacles spread across economic sectors, exercising direct or indirect control over a good number of enterprises.

Nothing is rotten in Denmark, but China lives in a corrupt time: report. By Deborah Jones, Report

China, Turkey and Angola became increasingly corrupt, more quickly, than most other countries in the world in the past year despite strong economic growth, Transparency International reported. “Bribes and backroom deals don’t just steal resources from the most vulnerable – they undermine justice and economic development, and destroy public trust in government and leaders.”  The biggest falls were in Turkey (-5), Angola, China, Malawi and Rwanda (all -4). The biggest improvers were Côte d´Ivoire, Egypt, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (+5), Afghanistan, Jordan, Mali and Swaziland (+4).

Explainer: tumult in China’s casino stock market, by Michele Geraci

When I teach stock market investment to my Chinese students, I always remind them that the Shanghai stock exchange should be thought of more as a casino, rather than as a proper stock market. In normal stock markets, share prices are – or, at least, should be – linked to the economic performance of the underlying companies. Not so in China, where the popularity of the stock market directly correlated with the fall in casino popularity.

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Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Click here for details.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Big World, Small Planet: excerpt

Landmannalaugar with glacier Vatnajökull in background. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

Landmannalaugar with glacier Vatnajökull in background. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

Big World, Small Planet is a book both alarming and hopeful, a work of science and art that arrives as world leaders prepare — at last? — to address climate change at the summit in Paris. “We need a new way of thinking about our relationship with nature, and how reconnecting with the planet can open up new avenues to world prosperity,” state authors Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum.

The world needs a new narrative—a positive story about new opportunities for humanity to thrive on our beautiful planet by using ingenuity, core values, and humanism to become wise stewards of nature and the entire planet. The dominant narrative until now has been about infinite material growth on a finite planet, assuming that Earth and nature have an endless capacity to take abuse without punching back. That narrative held up as long as we inhabited a relatively small world on a relatively big planet—one in which Earth kept forgiving all the insults we threw at her. But that is no longer the case. We left that era 25 years ago. Today we inhabit a big world on a small planet—one so saturated with environmental pressures that it has started to submit its first invoices to the world economy: the rising costs of extreme weather events and the volatility of world food and resource costs.

Their partnership started with the 2009 failure of the Copenhagen summit, when Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, and Klum, a photographer and filmmaker,  stood talking, stunned, in the vacated convention centre. Separately, their urgent messages had failed to reach world leaders. This work came of their realization:

The best case for a new relationship with nature would be one that bridged the gap between science and the arts, the rational and the emotional, in the service of change. The knowledge and technology existed, we both believed, to solve the world’s many problems, and the future was full of opportunity as well as of danger.

F&O republishes, with their permission, the photographs and points in their Ten Key Messages from Big World, Small Planet, published by Yale University Press.

 

OUR TEN KEY MESSAGES

By Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum
October, 2015

1.

OPEN YOUR EYES

The numbers are overwhelming. The planet’s under unprecedented pressure. Too many forests cut down. Too many fish pulled from the sea. Too many species gone extinct. Earth’s being battered by humanity—and it’s coming from every direction. Greenhouse gases. Ocean acidification. Chemical pol- lution. It has all reached a point where our future is at risk. For the first time in human history, we may have pushed the planet too far.

Tebaran Agut, a hunter in Borneo, fears a difficult future for indigenous people as logging operations destroy the rainforest. Deforestation also impacts biodiversity and global climate. Photo copyright xxx 2015

Tebaran Agut, a hunter in Borneo, fears a difficult future for indigenous people as logging operations destroy the rainforest. Deforestation also impacts biodiversity and global climate. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

2.

THE CRISIS IS GLOBAL AND URGENT

It’s happened so fast. In just two generations, humanity has overwhelmed Earth’s capacity to continue supporting our world in a stable way. We’ve gone from being a small world on a big planet to a big world on a small planet. Now Earth is responding with environmental shocks to the global economy. This is a great turning point. Our home is changing, and our future depends on what we do next.

 

Construction projects like this one in Hong Kong are part of a boom in economic growth and population. Two thirds of the cities needed by 2030 have not yet been built.

Construction projects like this one in Hong Kong are part of a boom in economic growth and population. Two thirds of the cities needed by 2030 have not yet been built. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

3.

EVERYTHING IS HYPER-CONNECTED

In a shrinking world, seemingly unrelated events can be links in the same chain of cause and effect. Nature, politics, and the economy are now interconnected. How a worker commutes in Stockholm affects the farmer in Ecuador. The web of life is fully connected, encompassing all of the planet’s ecosystems, and every link of the chain matters.

 

The aurora borealis plays across the sky over Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago. By reflecting sunlight back into space, the white surface of Arctic ice helps to cool the planet.

The aurora borealis plays across the sky over Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago. By reflecting sunlight back into space, the white surface of Arctic ice helps to cool the planet. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

4.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

As Earth changes, we can expect surprises. The forces driving planetary change are complex and likely to create sudden, unexpected problems. In the past, we could assume that the big systems we relied on—from political to ecological— were stable and predictable. Increasingly today, and most certainly in the future, the only constant will be change. Surprise is the new normal.

 

Robert, a boy from Nyungwe, Rwanda, will grow up at a time when protection of ecosystems and human progress will prove equally important. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

Robert, a boy from Nyungwe, Rwanda, will grow up at a time when protection of ecosystems and human progress will prove equally important. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

5.

RESPECTING PLANETARY BOUNDARIES

As many scientists have warned, nothing is more important than to avoid triggering disastrous tipping points in Earth’s fundamental processes. Fortu- nately, we now have enough knowledge and data to define planetary boundaries which, if transgressed, could lead to catastrophic problems. If we respect those boundaries, we can follow a safe path to unlimited opportunities into the future.

 

The rich biodiversity of the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania is critical for landscape resilience, which contributes to the stability of the Earth system.

The rich biodiversity of the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania is critical for landscape resilience, which contributes to the stability of the Earth system. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

6.

THE GLOBAL MIND-SHIFT

Ever since the industrial revolution, we’ve had this crazy idea that our actions are without consequences. That we can take nature or leave it. But as any farmer can tell you, that isn’t the case. It’s not a question of choosing jobs or the envi- ronment, because they depend on each other. That’s why we say we need a mind-shift to reconnect people with nature, societies with the biosphere, the human world with Earth.

Venom from snakes such as this Jameson’s mamba from Cameroon is helping researchers develop new drugs to treat heart disease in humans. Dr. Zoltan Takacs examines the Jameson's mamba (Dendroaspis jamesoni) and shows it's fangs. The snake lives in trees. It is a front-fanged elapidae snake. The Jamesons Mamba, and other mambas, are a big hit for biomedicine; they produce one of the most used tools to understand how the human nervous system works and their toxin is a template for a heart failure medicine in clinical trials. Most snake venoms kills by either of two mechanism, respiratory failure and loss of blood pressure. Mambas are unique, they employ the both strategies at the same time. Mambas have highly toxic venom which consists mostly of neurotoxins. The bite can be fatal to humans without access to proper first aid and subsequent antivenom treatment, as it shuts down the lungs and heart. Toxins work like key finding a lock. Once a toxin (key) finds its targets (lock) then it specifically fits there and prevents the lock from open / closure. So it cannot work anymore. The key disables the lock.

Venom from snakes such as this Jameson’s mamba from Cameroon is helping researchers develop new drugs to treat heart disease in humans. Dr. Zoltan Takacs examines the Jameson’s mamba (Dendroaspis jamesoni) and shows it’s fangs. The snake lives in trees. It is a front-fanged elapidae snake. The Jamesons Mamba, and other mambas, are a big hit for biomedicine; they produce one of the most used tools to understand how the human nervous system works and their toxin is a template for a heart failure medicine in clinical trials. Most snake venoms kills by either of two mechanism, respiratory failure and loss of blood pressure. Mambas are unique, they employ the both strategies at the same time. Mambas have highly toxic venom which consists mostly of neurotoxins. The bite can be fatal to humans without access to proper first aid and subsequent antivenom treatment, as it shuts down the lungs and heart. Toxins work like key finding a lock. Once a toxin (key) finds its targets (lock) then it specifically fits there and prevents the lock from open / closure so it cannot work anymore. The key disables the lock. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

7.

PRESERVING THE REMAINING BEAUTY ON EARTH

We take it for granted, the world that we love—and we’re destroying it so quickly. The light of dawn on the prairie. The silvery flash of fish in a stream. The cry of a hawk over a forest. Everybody has their own idea of the beautiful, and we’ll surely miss it when it’s gone. It’s time to fight for the remaining natural systems that support the beauty on Earth—not just for their sake but primarily to safe- guard our prosperity.

Lianas twine around dipterocarp trees in Malaysia’s Danum Valley Conservation Area. Rainforests provide a vast number of ecosystem services for humanity. Native lowland forests still flourish in Malaysia's Danum Valley Conservation Area, where skyward-snaking lianas twine around dipterocarp trees that stand more than 200 feet tall. An astounding example of the critical necessity to preserve biodiversity can be demonstrated by the discovery of Calophyllum lanigerum inside a small tree in Sarawak, Borneo. This substance was found to successfully slow down the AIDS virus by stopping the disease in its tracks. When biologists returned to Borneo to collect more samples, the tree was gone. It took several days of searching before they found another tree of the same species. It is a rare tree now bordering on extinction.

Lianas twine around dipterocarp trees in Malaysia’s Danum Valley Conservation Area. Rainforests provide a vast number of ecosystem services for humanity. Native lowland forests still flourish in Malaysia’s Danum Valley Conservation Area, where skyward-snaking lianas twine around dipterocarp trees that stand more than 200 feet tall. An astounding example of the critical necessity to preserve biodiversity can be demonstrated by the discovery of Calophyllum lanigerum inside a small tree in Sarawak, Borneo. This substance was found to successfully slow down the AIDS virus by stopping the disease in its tracks. When biologists returned to Borneo to collect more samples, the tree was gone. It took several days of searching before they found another tree of the same species. It is a rare tree now bordering on extinction. Photo by Mattias Klum, copyright 2015

8.

WE CAN TURN THINGS AROUND

We have the tools to do what’s required—the intelligence, creativity, and technological know-how. We can reverse the negative trends. We can feed nine billion people without destroying our forests. We can deliver power to our econ- omies without burning fossil fuels. But the only way to achieve prosperity is through green growth. This is not a burden or sacrifice. It is an investment in future world prosperity. Business-as-usual is no longer an option.

 

Reconnecting societies with the biosphere is key to soaring opportunities for the future. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

Reconnecting societies with the biosphere is key to soaring opportunities for the future. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

9.

UNLEASHING INNOVATION

Humanity has an incredible ability to overcome even the most daunting of challenges. Once people understand the risks of continuing along the current path, they’ll search for creative—and profitable—alternatives. That’s how inno- vation works. The planetary boundaries will help. By defining thresholds and a maximum allowable use of resources, ecosystems, and the climate, we can trig- ger a new wave of sustainable technological inventions thanks to an abundance of ideas and solutions for human prosperity and planetary stability.

 

This ingenious storm-surge barrier was built to protect Rotterdam Harbor from flooding. By unleashing innovation within planetary boundaries, humanity can make abundant progress. Holland. Expedition Linné.

This ingenious storm-surge barrier was built to protect Rotterdam Harbor in the Netherlands from flooding. By unleashing innovation within planetary boundaries, humanity can make abundant progress. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

10.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Let’s be realistic. Inspiring a mind-shift to sustainability could take a genera- tion, and we should have started long ago. If we wait 30 more years, it will be too late. So we advocate a two-track approach: 1) tackle the most urgent problems right now, such as climate change, nitrogen and phosphorus overload, and loss of biodiversity, but also 2) do everything we can to reconnect with nature over the long term. Earth deserves nothing less. Our world depends on nothing less.

 

Construction projects like this one in Hong Kong are part of a boom in economic growth and population. Two thirds of the cities needed by 2030 have not yet been built. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

A field of rye evokes the ideal of abundant food for all. To achieve that with a booming global population will require a new revolution in agriculture. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015

Links:

Big World, Small Planet, published by Yale University Press: http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300218367

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders.  Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Welcome! Try one story at no charge. If you value our work, please chip in at least .27 per story or $1 for a day site pass, using the “donate” button below. Click here for details.  Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and find us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Facts, and Opinions, this week

In the first of two Frontlines posts this weekend, F&O offers our weekly lineup of eclectic reads and stunning images for your weekend pleasure. Watch for our Focus on Canadian politics, prior to the federal election Monday Oct. 19.

© Michael AW, courtesy of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum, London.

A whale of a mouthful, by Michael Aw, Australia: a Bryde’s whale rips through a swirling ball of sardines, gulping a huge mouthful in a single pass. As it expels hundreds of litres of seawater from its mouth, the fish are retained by plates of baleen hanging down from its palate; they are then pushed into its stomach to be digested alive. © Click here for more information and our full Photo-essay of winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum, London.

© Don Gutoski

© Don Gutoski 2015

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015, Natural History Museum, London

Canadian photographer Don Gutoski won Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 in the annual competition by London’s Natural History Museum.  His image, Tale of two foxes in subarctic Cape Churchill, Canada, portrays a red fox devouring a white Arctic fox, which it has just killed.

China faces crippling water shortages and pollution, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

China’s drive for wealth and power is stumbling and could collapse over the country’s lack of water and its gross mismanagement of the resources it does have.

"Factory in China at Yangtze River" by High Contrast - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 de via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Factory_in_China_at_Yangtze_River.JPG#/media/File:Factory_in_China_at_Yangtze_River.JPG

Your Smart Home Knows a Lot About You. By Lauren Kirchner, Reports

As the trend toward networked “smart homes” and “connected cars” continues, security precautions are more important than ever. But customers may not always be aware of just how much information their devices are collecting about them in the first place.

 

Sister Rachel Denton views the sunset from a vantage point near St Cuthbert's Hermitage in Lincolnshire, north east Britain September 25, 2015. Denton, a Catholic hermit, rises early to tend to her vegetable garden, feed her cats and pray. But the former Carmelite nun, who in 2006 pledged to live the rest of her life in solitude, has another chore - to update her Twitter account and check Facebook. "The myth you often face as a hermit is that you should have a beard and live in a cave. None of which is me," says the ex-teacher. For the modern-day hermit, she says social media is vital: "tweets are rare, but precious," she writes on her Twitter profile. The internet also allows Denton to shop online and communicate with friends. "I am a hermit but I am also human." A diagnosis of cancer earlier this year reaffirmed Denton's wish to carry on a life of solitude, prayer and contemplation. REUTERS/Neil Hall

REUTERS/Neil Hall

SISTER RACHEL DENTON: Out of the Cave and Onto Facebook. By Neil Hall and Angus Berwick

MARKET RASEN, England — Like any good hermit Rachel Denton rises early in the morning to tend to her vegetable garden, feed her chickens, and pray. But the former British nun, who has pledged to live the rest of her life in solitude, has another routine that sets her apart from her society-shunning brethren – she has to update her Twitter account and check Facebook.

Adios, Buena Vista Social Club. By Rod Mickleburgh, Arts

It was a magical night, mixed with a heavy dose of poignancy, as the vaunted Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club made its final appearance win Vancouver, Canada. There will be no more tours. Many of the aging Cuban music stars we got to know and love from Ry Cooder’s venture to Havana in the 1990’s are no longer with us.

Getting Back to his Country Roots: Kenny Rogers, a Brief Encounter column by Brian Brennan (*subscription required)

Kenny Rogers was having a musical-identity crisis at age 39 when I spoke with him in 1977 before a club gig in Calgary. At that point his beard was already turning salt-and-pepper and the wrinkles were starting to show around his eyes. He was still wearing the Beatles suit of his rock years, not the cowboy clothes that later defined his look as a country-pop superstar.

Last but not least, F&O is pleased to announce that author Brian Brennan, one of our regular contributors to Arts, has published his 11th book. An introduction:

Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West, documents the life stories of 32 larger-than-life Westerners – some infamous, some obscure – who threw away the rulebook, thumbed their noses at convention and let their detractors howl. They include such political leaders as Ralph Klein and Tommy Douglas, the suffragette Nellie McClung, who fought successfully to have women recognized as “persons” for the purpose of Canadian Senate appointments, and the mysterious cult leader Brother XII, who convinced thousands of wealthy Britons and Americans to follow him to a small island off the West Coast of Canada to await the coming Age of Aquarius.
For more details, visit Brennan’s website at www.brianbrennan.ca

Published by University of Regina Press, Rogues and Rebels is now available in bookstores throughout Canada and the United States, and  online from international retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations.  Please visit our Subscribe page to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Love Canal: Utopia to Dystopia

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
October, 2015

US Environmental Protection Agency, public domain, via Wikimedia

US Environmental Protection Agency, public domain, via Wikimedia

In the late 1880s, a mysterious stranger, said to have come from the West, appeared in Niagara Falls and began to scout the opportunities there. He was taken with the power potential and with the possibilities for land speculation. His name was William T. Love.

In 1893, Love proposed to build a new ‘model city’ that would rise to the east and north of Niagara Falls. The city would eventually have 700 thousand inhabitants along a seven-mile navigable ship canal (not a tunnel) passing by a downstream generating station that would produce clean power for both factories and households. It would be a planned community, possibly resembling that built in the 1880s by George Pullman, the sleeping-car magnate, for his employees in the south of Chicago. It would boast worker-owned cooperative industries and a university. He claimed to have a $25 million fund established to finance the venture. He was a skillful promoter, one of his gimmicks being the rewriting of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’:

“Everybody’s come to town,
Those left we all do pity,
For we’ll have a jolly time
At Love’s new Model City.”
They’re building now a great big ditch
Through dirt and rock so gritty
They say ‘twill make all very rich
Who live in Model City.

Love got a charter of incorporation for his ‘Modeltown Corporation’ from the State of New York in 1893 that allowed it to construct and operate just about anything it wanted, including permission from the State to access water from the Niagara River.  He began to travel to raise capital for the project, as well as acquiring options on as much as 30,000 acres of farmland east of Niagara Falls.

There were regular announcements of companies moving to Model City to take advantage of the cheap power to soon be available. The company began laying out streets and roads for Model City, with all the appropriate publicity, and also began to cut the canal from the river toward the escarpment. Though only a few houses were built, Love, a teetotaler, refused all requests to permit the establishment of a saloon inside the city limits.

Unfortunately, the Panic of 1893 hit at this time and over the next three years Love’s credit sources dried up, along with his dreams, though he continued to publish a newsletter about the project until 1895. His canal lay unfinished, at least 3225 feet long from the river and as much as 30 feet deep. Love denied that the credit squeeze affected his plans, but by late 1895, New York City investors had taken over the project and its lands and things ground to a halt. When international protocols were signed in 1906 regulating how much water both sides could extract from the River, the project truly died, as the existing power company was already using most of the American share.

The only things left of his development today are the name of Model City Road, running to the east of Niagara Falls, passing a few commercial establishments that use its name and elsewhere, miles to the south, the site of the unfinished canal that, ironically, now bears the name of its utopian promoter.

The companies attracted to the Niagara area by cheap power created a legacy that was more pernicious. First to come in 1892 was an aluminum smelter, requiring considerable cheap power. Next came chemical industries, developed out of discoveries in German and American labs, which provided products that were based on the transformation of petroleum, wood and minerals through electric power. Niagara Falls, by 1914, had 11,000 jobs based on electricity and, by 1940, had become the world’s largest producer of electrochemicals.

In time, a considerable portion of the land Love had optioned was taken by the military in World War II for a giant munitions plant and for a dump site for chemicals, radioactive materials and discarded ammunition and shells. Electric power could provide the high temperatures needed for them and for aluminum smelting and eventually uranium products to feed the atomic bomb-making efforts during and after World War II. A Niagara Falls site became a major part of the mammoth Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb. The site of a large munitions factory built during World War II has been turned into the only hazardous waste dump in the northeast, Chemical Waste Management’s ‘Model City Facility’.

Like Rockefeller’s refineries did in Cleveland with gasoline before the auto age, these Niagara Falls industries, coming 50-75 years after him, just dumped their wastes into the river, burned or buried them. The uncompleted canal, started by Henry Love in the 1890s and then abandoned, was one handy place for solid wastes, some radioactive materials and some liquid industrial waste. The site was condemned at auction in 1920 and first used for a municipal garbage and industrial waste dump. Serious use of it was made during and after World War II, as an estimated 200 kinds of chemical waste, including 12 carcinogens, were dumped there, including 200 tons of a chemical containing dioxin as a contaminant. A large landfill dump was created at the junction of the canal and the river and a master’s thesis produced in 1953 noted that such waste dumping along the upper River helped to build up the shore for potential real estate use.

Postwar developers of an expanding Niagara Falls region, including the city, never knew or never cared what went into the old canal site. Once urban development reached the area, in 1953, the then owners, Hooker Chemical, covered the site with the same kind of clay liner that was similar to that used by Love 60 years earlier on its sides and bottom. The company then donated it to the City for $1, being given absolution for any responsibility for personal injury on the site.

The whole area of the canal and the thousands of acres to the north of it in ‘Model City’ became in a sense a mockery of planner Frederick Olmstead’s vision of Niagara Falls as a natural preserve and Love’s dream of a utopian city for people to enjoy happy, healthy lives. A disaster was waiting to happen.

Everything came together at the site of Love’s unfinished canal. When title to the canal was transferred to the city in 1953, Hooker had warned city officials against subdividing the adjoining land for housing, but the city approved adjoining development and in 1955 even built a school along the eastern edge of the canal. Not surprisingly, it contained no basement as the contractors had uncovered some of the chemical wastes there. As well, a drainage system was constructed around the building that carried off rainwater and chemical leachates into the city storm drain system and on into the river. Yet, inexplicably, the school playground was laid out right on top of the canal, behind the school.

The area gradually filled with small houses popular with younger families. Gradually, over the next two decades, the chemicals began to leach into the surrounding land and to migrate along underground watercourses. People, especially children began to suffer, but complaints about children’s diseases were seen as individual occurrences and simply treated as best possible.

By 1976, after some years of heavy precipitation, the problems in the area began to intensify as barrels began to rise out of the cap placed over the canal 20 years earlier and noxious substances began to appear through the basement walls and backing into the drains of local residences.  A 1976 consultant’s report to the State Health Department stating that the canal was leaking was ignored, as were local health concerns. In August, 1977, a reporter for the Niagara Falls Gazette. Michael Brown, began a series of articles noting that something was wrong in the Love Canal area and that public health was at risk. Through the next months, the paper stepped up its reporting on the Love Canal area.

As the State government began to respond to the articles and subsequent publicity, they began an investigation. They discovered high incidences of miscarriages, still-borns and birth defects in the area. The State government found itself on the horns of a dilemma. Residents (how many?) would have to leave the area, but who would pay for their relocation? The health of the residents then got tangled up in intergovernmental fights over who would pay the costs.

As the controversy dragged on, the residents of the area began to organize themselves for action, heightening the profile of the problem. The mayor then criticized the activists for hurting tourism in the area with their negative publicity.

The State Health Department held a public meeting in June, 1978, to see if there was really a problem and, in August, inexplicably convened another ‘public’ meeting in Albany, at the other end of the State. Afterwards, while not claiming the area was safe or unsafe, it ordered that residents not eat anything from their gardens and that pregnant mothers and children under 2 years old be ‘temporarily relocated’, a half-measure that only made the uncertainty worse, since there was no offer to offset the cost of this move. The resultant embarrassing uproar coming just before the 1978 elections led President Carter to declare a state of emergency at Love Canal and led the Governor, only a week after the temporary relocation order had been issued, to announce a permanent relocation of those in the most affected area.

As a result of continuing pressure by the residents, others were moved in early 1979 and in May 1980, President Carter declared another ‘health emergency’ in the Love Canal area and provided funds to ‘temporarily’ relocate 810 families, if they wished to move. In October, noting the ‘mental anguish’ of the residences, he ordered that all the families who wished, would be permanently relocated. Part of the mental anguish came from the residents’ association discovering that elaborate plans had been made for the safety of crews who were contracted to clean up the canal site, while residents were simply expected to stay inside their homes while the dangerous work was being done near them. By 1988, after the area had been cleaned up, some of the less-affected houses were deemed ‘habitable’ and put on the market once more.

The controversy over Love Canal forced a recognition among Americans that they and especially their children were at risk from environmental problems of which they were barely aware. In 1980, the Environmental Protection Agency noted the existence of 30,000 such industrial dump sites across the country. Of 336 US facilities where former and existing employees were to be given compensation for exposure to nuclear and radioactive material, 13 were in the Niagara area, more than in all of New Mexico, the site of Los Alamos and the first nuclear bomb test. The New York Department of Environmental Protection listed 649 sites of concern in Erie and Niagara Counties alone.

In the end, Niagara still shimmers between visions of heaven and of hell.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

This column was adapted from Jim McNiven’s book The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americawww.theyankeeroad.com

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. If you appreciate our work, help us continue with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story — or purchase a site pass for at least $1 per day or $20 per year. 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Life goes on in rural Newfoundland

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Bringing the sheep back from the summer community pastures on the island at Tors Cove on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore. A practice that has been going on for more than 200 years. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

 

GREG LOCKE
September, 2015

Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland– Travelling around Newfoundland this summer I began seeing signs of life, culture and a society I thought were lost forever.

The cod moratorium was thought to be the death of rural Newfoundland. The outports are estimated to have been emptied of more than 50,000 people. Boats, houses, property …entire villages, abandoned. Newfoundland and Labrador’s historic cod fisheries attracted local and international fishing fleets for almost five centuries before the Canadian government shut the industry down indefinitely in July, 1992. By then, once-plentiful fish stocks had dwindled to near extinction, and officials feared they would disappear entirely if the fishery remained open. The moratorium put about 30,000 people in the province out of work, and ended a way of life that had endured for generations in many outport communities.

Except … it didn’t.

On the wharfs and in the twine lofts people are living their lives and following the old ways. In Tors Cove, just a 30 minute drive south of the capital, St. John’s,  Howard Morry was bringing his sheep back from the islands where they spent the summer grazing safe from dogs and coyotes. …the way it’s been done for generations.

FAO-WWF_GSL-9742

Community party in a fisherman’s twine loft Bay de Verde, Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

In Bay de Verde, fish were caught and parties and feasts went late into the evening. Just like the days in 1990 and 1991 when I spent all my spare time travelling the island documenting a fast disappearing culture. The sun sinks into the ocean, the moon lights the cove and the winding pathways through the village as people gather around the music and laughter from the sheds where coolers full of beer rattle with ice and deep fryers and barbecues sizzle with lobsters, crab and cod fish.

Before you continue: please know that reader-supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We are on an honour system and survive only because readers like you pay at least 27 cents per story.  Contribute below, or find details here. Thanks for your interest and support.

Old historic houses, shops and fishing buildings are being restored in once booming places like Bonavista, Fogo Island and Elliston. Towns like Eastport and Glovertown are awash in new construction and service industries.

Newfoundland has been discovered by well-heeled and adventure tourists. They paddle in expensive kayaks alongside local fishermen in the new trendy hot spots.

Sure there is gentrification in the remote bays and coves, but the old ways remain. The new comers learn how to survive from the old timers and the few young Newfoundland people who were not meant to live in the cities of western Canada.

What happens when a government abandons its people? Do they disappear? What happens when the contract, trusts and social bonds between politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and the community its suppose to serve is broken?

In the years leading up to the destruction of the cod stocks, fishermen were warning the politicians and scientists that the fish stocks were disappearing, catches abnormal and erratic. These were not the fishermen with large offshore trawlers — the high-tech fishing factories — but small-boat fishermen living in the villages who fished close to shore, immersed in fish habitat and habits.

Officialdom turned a deaf ear. The message was that stupid uneducated fishermen don’t know anything. They lack biology degrees. They are ignorant of the machinery of politics.

FAO-WWF-Canada_BaydeVerde-NL_GREGLOCKE-1647

Fishermen from Bay de Verde, Newfoundland catching their small allocation of cod fish in Conception bay. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

More than 25 years later, Newfoundland rural culture survives in small, wise, pockets. They have learned a lot about the politics of Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. More than they would care to, probably. The small-boat fishermen were proved right about the cod stocks.

In recent years those few still fishing are telling the politicians and scientists that cod catches are up, that the fish are the largest seen in more than 30 years.

They want to a return of a small, specialized, sustainable cod fishery for inshore fishermen and fishing communities. They are backed with science and expertise in sustainable fishing from groups as diverse as the fishermen’s union, World Wildlife Fund and independent biology and social scientists. All are working together on plans for that commercially viable, sustainable, community based fishery which the government doesn’t want to hear about it because its model is a fishing industry for a small number of large multinational food companies.

And DFO scientists, bureaucrats and politicians are still not listening.

It’s no surprise that all trust and respect has broken down between Newfoundland’s people, and the government, and scientists. And as the government, politicians and industrial fishing companies continue to abandon rural Newfoundland, it’s nice to see that the old ways are still remembered.

Life will carry on, regardless of the destruction wrought by the interlopers.

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 Copyright Greg Locke 2015

 

Photographer and journalist Greg LockeGreg Locke is a founder and the managing partner, visual, of Facts and Opinions. He built the Facts and Opinions website, produces F&O’s photo essays, reports for Dispatches, writes and photographs Think magazine pieces, and contributes to the blogs.

Greg Locke has been a professional photographer, media producer and journalist for more than twenty-five years. Locke has covered politics, economics, energy issues, international development and civil conflicts in more than 30 countries including the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1980′s, civil wars in the Balkans and the conflicts of central and east Africa in the 1990′s. He has published three books and has been a regular contributor to Canadian Business, Canadian Geographic, Time, Businessweek, Macleans and Forbes magazines.

For more about Locke’s work you can visit his website at www.greglocke.com

Related:

Two decades of disaster: Newfoundland’s fishery, by Greg Locke

It’s a cold foggy day in the fishing village of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. Just 20 kilometers south from downtown St. John’s, it feels much further. There is not much activity or many people out and around the few remaining wharfs and twine lofts that once were buzzing hives of fishing activity ringing the harbour. Today, there are just a few frozen tourists looking to make photos of a Newfoundland that doesn’t exist anymore.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story, or a site pass for $1 per day or $20 per year — and by spreading the word.

 

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Hurricane Katrina 10 years on

A child walks on a street in the Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood, an area damaged by Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States August 18, 2015. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina triggered floods that inundated New Orleans and killed more than 1,500 people as storm waters overwhelmed levees and broke through floodwalls. Congress authorized spending more than $14 billion to beef up the city's flood protection after Katrina and built a series of new barriers that include manmade islands and new wetlands. Reuters photographer Carlos Barria returned to New Orleans after documenting events in 2005 and found a city much rebuilt and renovated, although abandoned homes show Katrina’s lingering impact. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A child walks on a street in the Lower Ninth Ward neighbourhood, an area damaged by Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States August 18, 2015. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina triggered floods that inundated New Orleans and killed more than 1,500 people as storm waters overwhelmed levees and broke through floodwalls. Congress authorized spending more than $14 billion to beef up the city’s flood protection after Katrina and built a series of new barriers that include manmade islands and new wetlands. Reuters photographer Carlos Barria returned to New Orleans after documenting events in 2005 and found a city much rebuilt and renovated, although abandoned homes show Katrina’s lingering impact. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

 

By Carlos Barria, Reuters
August, 2015

When I arrived in New Orleans after the 2005 hurricane, which caused flooding in 80 percent of the city and killed 1,572 people, the scene was quietly apocalyptic. There was dark water all around, empty highways, bodies wrapped in plastic.

The calm before the storm, the saying goes. But for many survivors of Katrina, it’s the calm after the storm that truly haunts.

As the dark clouds from a big storm gathered in the sky, local resident Errol Morning remembered that he was not too drunk that day, he only had a few drinks of whisky in the morning. I managed to find Morning, whose photo I took after the hurricane, again this year.

But his buzz gave way to a sense of dread as water began seeping into his trailer home in a suburban area of New Orleans, slowly rose up the walls, then kept rising, all the way to the roof. He climbed on top of his home.

When I saw Morning back in 2005, a local resident aged 60 at the time, he was paddling in an aluminium boat along a flooded street, using a plank for an ore. Ten years later I went to the same corner in a run-down neighbourhood. Abandoned houses are now part of the landscape.

For Jane Garrison, an animal-protection volunteer at the time, her strongest impression of the city after the storm was the silence, broken by only two things: helicopters flying overhead and the occasional bark of a dog.

Some of the animals were also on roofs, alone, waiting for owners who would never come home in some cases. Garrison, who now lives in Palm Springs, California, travelled to New Orleans to assist after the hurricane struck.

After some preliminary research, I drove for hours looking for the same people that I documented 10 years ago. Most of them I never found: one had died, others had moved on with little trace.

In a way, it wasn’t surprising. Almost the entire city was evacuated after the storm. For weeks, residents were not allowed to return to their homes as authorities tried to pump the water out and re-establish basic services.

Many people never moved back. They crossed state lines instead to start a new life. For those who returned home, the reality was hard – an entire city on its knees waiting to be rebuilt.

Some areas like the Lower Ninth Ward have seen many changes. The nearby levee broke, unleashing a wall of water that almost completely destroyed all the houses. The area is now rebuilt with homes on stilts.

Today, the mostly African-American neighbourhood has some new residents too: whites and Latinos. When I stopped by, there was a taco truck on the corner.

Some things haven’t changed. One morning, I found myself on Bourbon Street as the sun was rising and the thermometer climbed to 90 degrees. The smells of a long night of alcohol and partying rose from the street that’s long famous for attracting revellers from near and far.

Copyright Reuters 2015

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Please support us, with a subscription (click here for our subscribe page) or a donation, and/or by spreading the word.

 

 

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