Hot images just in from cool new blog: naturesdaydream
When the photographer Alex Hofford first contacted EcoHustler and asked if we would write about shark finning drawing on the images and video from his Man and Shark project we had no idea where it would all lead. I certainly didn’t think we would end up organizing an event in China Town on Chinese New Year! I am not sure how it happened but after a great day raising awareness about sharks I am very glad Alex got in touch and that we all decided to go a step further and take action! Massive thanks to everyone who came down and joined the Shark Side and big props to Global Ocean who are collecting signatures for their important petition.
Initially the idea of making a stand in China Town went down like a proposal for a pay toilet in a diarrhoea ward. Several UK shark organizations we contacted actually told us not to do it. Apparently we were being politically incorrect and culturally insensitive. The trouble is, eating shark fin is a cultural phenomenon so you have two choices: be politically correct and look the other way or strap a pair on and have a conversation with the people who like to eat it. 90% of all the sharks that were in the oceans have been removed… so we decided it was a conversation worth having.
We advertised the direct action publicly on this site. After the Mark Kennedy scandal I joked with friends that the first few emails I received from people wanting to join in would be policemen. It wasn’t a massive surprise therefore when I got to the allocated meeting place to be immediately jumped upon by two undercover police officers. Initially they were confrontational and almost threatening. Pretty soon they seemed to realize that we didn’t want to cause trouble and they became polite and asked us to move up the road which we did. Unfortunately it wasn’t until a bit later that I realized the police offers were skillfully keeping us away from the Chinese Ambassador and all the press. When we walked back up to the throng I was grabbed and actually read my rights. I am fairly sure that I wasn’t breaking any laws but apparently you need a permit to speak your mind in public… or something.
Once the ambassador had gone we fanned out and handed out hundreds of flyers. These are available for download here: 110201_GO_Leaflet_A5_02. We also have hard copies available. If you would like to use some drop us an email and we can post you a good stash.
Although we missed the photographers we did interviews with LBC radio and BBC London. We had a great reception in China Town. People were not offended or angry that we were there, they seemed genuinely concerned about the plight of sharks and keen to find out more. Generally, most people have no idea how endangered sharks are and how serious this is for marine ecology. We had an interesting conversation with a restauranteur who was clearly concerned about the bad PR his place might get still serving sharks fin.
In the pub afterwards we were all very happy to have made the effort and to have taken a stand for sharks. The main thing we learnt is how easy it was for a relatively small number of us to have a big impact. We will certainly be taking further action possibly against specific restaurants. For example, the Royal China chain probably sells the most endangered shark parts in London and their restaurants are not in China Town. (On their website they say they don’t sell shark fin but I have checked in the restaurants and they definitely still do).
Although it is important to rally around iconic species that are in danger such as sharks, rhinos, tigers, whales etc it is clearly also very important to respond to the socio-economic forces driving their demise. Most large, marine animals killed by humans will be caught by large-scale, corporate fishing operations which are currently totally unsustainable. We have to keep the pressure on governments to regulate this industry effectively to allow marine ecosystems to recover. This is especially important now with the up and coming review of the Common Fisheries Policy. Our work is just beginning!
The Shark Side on other sites:
Hi Shark Lovers,
Many people have been in touch saying that they would love to join us on the 3rd but can’t and want to know if there is anything else they can do. Well there is!
Costa Rica is a major centres for the shark finning trade and a major tourist destination. Copy and send the text below to their Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mrs Pilar Saborio at email@example.com
This approach may work for other shark finning nations. In order, the top 10 Shark fining nations are: Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, United States, Japan, and Malaysia.
Dear Pilar Saborio,
I am writing to express my concern at the practice of shark-finning in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has an enviable record of conservation, and has a deserved reputation for leadership shown in areas such as action on climate change and the protection of biodiversity. It is therefore a huge surprise that your nation allows itself to be a world centre of an industry which is decimating shark populations worldwide; causing intolerable cruelty to one of the planet’s most ancient and beautiful species and threatening the ecosystems of the oceans on which so many people depend
Every year, over 70 million of sharks are killed for their fins, often thrown back into the sea alive, yet bleeding to death. This unsustainable assault on our oceans and must be stopped. I am aware that Costa Rica has taken legal steps to try and tackle this problem, but there is evidence that laws are not being enforced and that the industry continues unabated.
I therefore ask you and your Government to take urgent and meaningful action to put an end to shark-finning, including the proper enforcement of your laws and the prosecution of those that flaunt them. Until such action is taken, I will not consider travelling to Costa Rica as a tourist, and will do all I can to encourage others to do the same.
ATTENTION JEDIS! Ancient and awesome creatures from planet Earth need your help. If you live in a big city the chances are that near you people are profiteering through the brutal killing and trade of endangered species which is tipping marine ecosystems out of balance. Up-market Chinese restaurants around the world make big bucks selling endangered shark fins. This cruel and unnecessary trade is about to reach its annual peak this Chinese New Year (February 3rd 2011). It is time for us to take action.
Beginner: draw up a list of up-market Chinese restaurants near you (use google). Ring them and ask if they serve shark fin soup. If they say yes ask to speak to the manager. Let her know that you and your friends are deeply disturbed by the damage caused by this trade and that you will never visit the restaurant until shark fin is removed from the menu.
Intermediate: same as above but visit the restaurant in person, ask to see the manager and explain the case (see below). Consider handing out some flyers to customers explaining the harm caused by global shark finning (flyers to follow: watch this space).
Hustler: ring the target restaurant. Ask if they serve shark fin, if yes, book a table for 12. Don’t turn up. Ring the following day and explain to the manager that you and your friends will keep booking tables (on random nights) and not show up until shark fin is removed from the menu. Repeat.
Join us on Chinese New Year in central London for a protest. As well as enthusiastic, marine loving participants we need photographers, film-makers, media managers, artists, street performers, flyer designers and translators. Oh, and anyone got a shark suit? Get in touch here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign up: public plea to ban shark-finning in the EU: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/a-public-plea-to-ban-shark-finning-in-the-eu/
Pass it on.
Our seas were once bountiful with thriving populations of sharks. Today we have a different story. Worldwide fish stocks of all descriptions are dwindling (check out ‘The End of the Line’ documentary. Overfishing is rife and amongst the species most in peril are sharks. Sharks are not commonly eaten for their meat, and some of responsibility for their dwindling populations results from by-catch. However, a massive cause of the problem is the burgeoning market for shark fins.
The numbers are staggering. Each year it is estimated that over 70 million sharks are caught around the world for their fins. The market for this harvest is worth over 1 billion dollars annually.
The results are catastrophic. Sharks are ‘apex predators‘. This means they sit at the top of long food chains, where they have a crucial role in maintaining the health of their ecosystems. Removing sharks has a devastating effect on marine ecosystems around the world. Predator removal causes a potentially irreversible cascade of complex knock-on effects that destabilises food-webs and the marine environment as a whole.
“More than 90% of all top marine predators have disappeared from the oceans”.—Myers et al. 2007; MacKenzie et al. 2009
“It appears that ecosystems such as Caribbean coral reefs need sharks to ensure the stability of the entire system.”–Enric Sala, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
It is not only the numbers alone that we should be crying out to stop. The industry itself is barbaric. It is common practice for sharks, once caught, to be finned and thrown back into the sea alive.
So for the health of our oceans (and therefore the whole planet) as well as for the prevention of extreme and extensive cruelty to animals we need to stop this industry in its tracks. Whilst it may be important to preserve cultural diversity and maintain the world’s many and varied traditions it is more important to conserve biodiversity and the stability of the global ecosystems that we all depend on. There has to be a line drawn somewhere, and this barbaric practice totally crosses it. So this new year, get involved and join our protest.
Man and Shark the film: http://www.manandshark.com/
Man and Shark the book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shark-Paul-Hilton-Alex-Hofford/dp/9881721512/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1287158388&sr=8-3
Bite Back: http://www.bite-back.com/
Shark Trust: http://www.sharktrust.org/
Global Ocean: http://www.globalocean.eu/
Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF): http://saveourseas.com/
Pangeaseed are the only shark protection NGO in Japan and they organized a protest in the Chinatown district of Yokohama: http://www.pangeaseed.com/pangea/English/Entries/2010/7/19_PangeaSeed_Shark_March.html
Nations of the world are coming together at COP 10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to face up to the fact that our efforts to rein in the current mass extinction crisis have failed. In an attempt to put the issue on the political map, biodiversity is being allocated a monetary value much as the Stern Report’s did with climate change. However, this approach fails to acknowledge a bigger truth. Reducing the diversity of life on earth effectively puts evolution in rewind taking us back to an ecological period when humans didn’t exist. This unraveling of life’s rich tapestry destroys real value that took millions of years to create and shifts ecosystems away from those human’s are adapted to.
Human’s who continue to generate ‘wealth’ by consuming nature are perverted and sinful. This may not be the conventional attitude today but it will be the attitude of our wiser descendants if they survive the coming austerity of a decimated planet. They will look back at our time as an idyllic Eden, so rich in life it was home to panda’s, cheetahs, blue whales and other extraordinary creatures. They will consider the leaders and powerful elite who presided over this ecocide as criminals. To prevent the worst from happening this must become the attitude of us all now. We must wake up to the true value of nature.
Everyone has been talking about climate change and for nefarious reasons the media insists on including climate scepticism in the debate as if it were a sane position. But leaving all that noise to one side, it is still hard to discern how fragile life on earth is and therefore how precarious a situation human civilization is in. On one extreme we have scientists and environmentalists telling us that the human eco-footprint is unsustainable and that many critical ecosystems we depend on are nearing collapse and on the other we have pioneers and prospectors who, appealing to our rugged, masculine urges, tell us that nature is strong and we should concern ourselves with the folks back home not something ‘out there’ called ‘nature’.
How can we examine the world around us to objectively determine where on this scale we actually are and therefore what our course of action should be? Measuring carbon in the atmosphere or the abundance of natural resources is reasonable, but both are debatable and therefore political. For example, the warming effect of CO2 can in theory be reversed by geo-engineering or perhaps captured by a new technology and turned into a fuel. Declining resources can, in theory, be restocked and a complete knowledge of, say, a cod stock, can be disputed.
Human’s turn ‘natural capital’ (forests, fisheries and mountains) into ‘human capital’ (cloths, cars and iphones) and in doing so are pruning the tree of life. The current loss of species is so extreme it is being called the 6th mass extinction event. The last one is the most famous because it caused the extinction of the dinosaurs but several others were far more severe. For example the Permian extinction event led to a 90% die off. It takes at least 10 million years for diversity to begin to recover from such an event.
Mass extinctions are thought to result when a long-term stress is compounded by a short term shock. Remarkably humans appear to be doing both simultaneously with cataclysmic results: “The speed at which species are being lost is much faster than any we’ve seen in the past — including those [extinctions] related to meteor collisions,” said Daniel Simberloff, a University of Tennessee ecologist and prominent expert in biological diversity. If present trends continue one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years, as a result of habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.
Humans are killing the world that we evolved from. This is far worse than biting the hand that feeds us; it is kicking the vagina that delivered us. This petulant destruction will cost us money; it will limit new opportunities in medicine and cuisine and travel and adventure; but it will also shift the planet’s ecology away from one that can sustain us massively increasing the risk of our extinction. Surely this is the main reality to engage with?
Today, whilst human minds fixate on the financial ‘crisis’ and channel unprecedented resources into keeping pathological markets afloat, the real crisis goes unchecked. It is nature that really needs the bailout.
65 million years ago it wasn’t the impact of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs. It was the ecological changes that occurred as a result of the long, nuclear winter that followed. Massive plant eating dinosaurs starved after plants withered and soon so too did their predators. The tiny shrew-like early mammals we are descended from probably survived the long darkness by gnawing on the fetid flesh of the multifarious dead behemoths.
If humans do not wake up out of this mass, suicidal hallucination and start apportioning a proportional value to their life support system it may be the cockroaches who survive the dark of our nuclear winter by gnawing on the dead bodies of people laid strewn through the wreckage of civilization. Maybe the roach descendents will learn from our ruins and exist for long enough to seize life’s opportunities and increase exploration of (both internal and external) space?
Although the trends today are apocalyptic, the solutions to the biodiversity crisis are well understood. The way to stop species going extinct is to preserve their habitats. The only effective way of preserving habitats is by creating large nature reserves that are off-limits to human exploitation. We could imagine a future sustainable world in which human cities, towns and farms are nestled within an international network of mega-wildlife corridors which are large enough to allow for terrestrial species migrations. Huge human-free marine zones are also required.
To secure these vital eco-systems the human economy must acknowledge and respect limits to its prospecting of nature’s bounty. Limiting human expansion isn’t even on the table as an option as government’s fall over each other to try and endlessly stimulate new economic growth. When will they see that as Edward Abbey says: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” And that growth that destroys life is actually death.
We must put part of nature beyond the reach of markets. This is entirely logical because, as our cosmic mother, home, nourishment and inspiration nature is, of course, literally priceless. Whilst this may be anathema to free-market apostles who understand their universe only through attaching dollar signs to everything, human species-control is the only practical way to maintain the ecological integrity of the biosphere; which is the way for us to survive.
To make limiting further growth of the human economy politically viable we need people’s values, attitudes and behaviours to change. First up, understanding that it is not just that losing species depletes our planet and undoes value that has taken millions of years to accumulate, value well beyond the puny, vulgar dollars and pounds that rule this brief epoch. It is that we are undoing the ecology that we evolved into. We cannot be certain that whatever follows may not be so hospitable. Whether pioneers, prospectors, religious fundamentalists and other anthropocentrists can stomach it or not, our destiny is utterly and completely bound to the destiny of all the other species of life on earth.
We also need to share widely the understanding that improving the human condition is no longer dependent on extracting more from nature. Collectively, we have all we need. All future progress must be dematerialized; from government policy to business development through to what we do on the weekend, enough with stuff.
We are the smartest species that ever existed but somehow we are not collectively using our brains. We are blessed with a planet brimming with, literally, the most extraordinary richness in the known universe. This phenomenal, unique, living layer which pulses and shimmers against the dead blackness of infinity and drawing on the energy of the nearest star steadily increases in mass and diversity is not just our home. It is our destiny. So it is time to show compassion to the millions of other species who share our world. Let’s follow the golden rule and do unto them as we would have done unto us. Let’s love our fellow creatures as we love ourselves because ultimately any sense of separation is an illusion.
Will we stop mass extinction?
I’ve just signed an urgent global petition supporting a new treaty to prevent mass extinction. The petition will be delivered Friday at UN talks in Japan — check out the email below and sign on here:
More than anything else, the future of civilization depends on the way the two most powerful forces of history, science and religion, settle into relationship with each other.
Alfred North Whitehead
Technology is presented as the solution to environmental problems but wasn’t it technology that got us into this mess in the first place? This won’t sit well with the people trying to sell us green gadgets but we may have to change more than just our light bulbs. The environmental crisis we face is more than just a technological challenge. It is also a moral challenge. Whether it is fashionable or not to bring it up most people on earth still belong to the world’s great religions. Could these huge collections of people hold the key to the widespread behaviour change needed to save civilization?
Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.
The success of science is the foundation of the modern age. Science has enabled us to build new technologies, live longer and accrue unprecedented material wealth. However, the ongoing expansion of human capital is marred by the looming spectre of environmental collapse. Humans are expanding into, and at the expense of, the natural world upon which we depend. Humans also have a track record of using smart technology in stupid ways. Exploding thermonuclear devices above cities, engineering viruses and building gas chambers all demonstrate the immense harm we can do ourselves with technology. Holding up science and technology as the solution to environmental problems passes the buck away from the simple truth that it is what we do with technology that is the problem. To paraphrase Ghandi we need to be the change that we want to see in the world; our behaviours and cultural norms must change in line with our changing ecological context.
A scientific interpretation of religion sees it as a complex adaptive system of beliefs that persists because it instils an advantage on practitioners. For example, the reverence of the holy cow in India effectively prevents the slaughter of cattle. Anthropologist Marvin Harris has shown that cows play a critical role in the Indian economy and the greater good is served by not slaughtering them. The dung is fuel, their traction pulls ploughs and they provide an ongoing supply of milk for children. Thus religion can act as a means of optimizing behaviour.
Religion is culturally ubiquitous and acts as social glue. It provides the common values necessary to make individuals want to do what they must do if social order is to be achieved especially in times of hardship or scarcity. Examples can be found from every religion of peoples’ faith providing a narrative allowing them to make sense of their universe and optimize behaviour in the face of overwhelming unknowns and challenges.
Clearly, religion has its dark side. History is made up of bloody competition between warring tribes. Often it is religious belief that gives a human superorganism its sense of superiority and it readiness to fight and destroy other groups. However, just as modern nations are increasingly multicultural; could not religions coexist with a shared sense of duty towards the planet? An expansion of the religious approach from being tribal or ethnic to planetary could transform modern religions into powerful forces for nature conservation. Just to take Catholicism as an example, if the Pope invested a fraction the energy he spends on sexual morality encouraging sustainable resource use the gains for everyone would be huge.
Voluntary (material) simplicity, revering creation and showing love to fellow humans will be pivotal ethics in the campaign to reduce the total human ecological footprint and are core teachings of many religious leaders including Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Ghandi. Yet to date there seems to be little coming together of environmental and religious worldviews. Are religious people so focused on the afterlife they aren’t concerned with progress down here on the earthly plane? Perhaps new and more relevant interpretations of what the religious founders were saying are called for?
The root etymological meaning of religion, the Latin religio, translates as ‘to connect’. A modern interpretation of our religions could connect all humankind to itself and to this planet. By combining with religions a more sophisticated understanding of our mutual interdependencies and the physical limits of our planet a common cause between religions can be identified and a common route into future existence mapped out.
This is in actual fact the completion of a circle. The first religions were invariably based on nature worship. For our ancestors the environment was more immediate and vital. Food, predators and the seasons determined life and death from one day to the next. So it is fitting that as our environmental conditions again become a matter of survival the focus of our religions should pan back and once again incorporate all of the natural world not just human affairs.
It is hard to hear the first voices of dissent opposing never ending economic growth in the face of the deafening roar of development. Indeed environmentalists have been branded radicals and terrorists for opposing the apostles of the free market. Greens with a spiritual dimension to their campaign are derided most: ‘New Agers’. However the ‘idealism’ behind moving to an ecological age is in fact the only rational future for humanity. Prophets or shamans may see outside the consensual reality tunnel and report back and precipitate change.
Alastair McIntosh was one such man. He stood firm in the face of development and preserved his home island. The Isle of Harris was chosen by Redland Aggregates as the prime location for a new massive quarry to supply aggregates for new motorway construction. At 10 million tonnes output per annum, the proposed quarry at Lingerabay would have been 50 times larger than a conventional large British quarry. The area is a designated National Scenic Area. Alastair a Quaker joined forces with Donald Macleod the Calvinist and Chief Stone Eagle Herney a Mi’Kmaq Warrior from Nova Scotia to lead an irresistible campaign preventing construction. They all testified at the public enquiry not by engaging in a scientific debate but by drawing on a sense of profound connection to the land, reverence for God and entering into a “dynamic of service to the natural world”. Their testimonies supported by the pluralistic, democratic campaign proved an unstoppable force.
For these people religious thought is clearly more than just an adaptive behavioural trait. It is an expression of the spirituality available to all people. Life has evolved into ever more complicated forms on this planet for 3.6 billion years. This increasing complexity suggests a direction and purpose. Opposed to the onward march towards entropy of the rest of the universe life is becoming ever more complex and organized. Humans sit atop this apex of development and our conscious minds, composed of atoms created in suns, is the awakening universe knowing itself.
God sleeps in the rock
Dreams in the plant,
Stirs in the animal,
And awakens in man.
The development of human consciousness and the science and religious thought associated with it allowed humans to expand out of our ecological niche and spread over the world. An expansion of this consciousness further will allow us to shift from competition driven on by our so called ‘selfish genes’ to cooperation. Once society becomes sustainable the world is literally our oyster. Technology can be called upon to once again enhance the human condition. We can explore our planet; celebrate and study other life forms; realize the full creative potential of our imaginations and ultimately head for the stars.
The environmental crisis is an outward manifestation of the collective psychological crisis of humans struggling within the existential void of existence that comes from the false belief that we (our egos) are independent entities separate from the rest of the universe. This crisis represents an opportunity. In choosing to move into a sustainable, ecological age we must necessarily open our hearts to our fellow humans and deepen our connection to nature. The ultimate spiritual revelation, as reported back by the great sages independently in disparate religious traditions is called the Perennial Philosophy. It is the “the confidence that we have devolved from a single Source and the process of spiritual development is completed and perfected in our return to that One” It has been stated thus:
“Be still and know that I am God!” Psalm 46:10
“If thou knowest thine own self, thou knowest God.” Ibn-Al-Arabi
This has been re-encapsulated in our time by the environmentalist David Suzuki who said:
“We are the environment.”
Of course this is a scientific truth too. Humans are dissipative structures. Our organizational structure is maintained through the consumption of our environments. We eat other living organisms and the atoms of their bodies become the atoms of ours. There is a flow of energy and matter from the universe around us into the temporary structures that make up our bodies. So ultimately scientific and religious thought converge. The take home lesson is that you should love your environment, your planet and indeed your cosmos as if it was yourself… because it is.
Understanding this not only leads to the conclusion that what we do the environment we do to ourselves and that a species going extinct is like the death of a part of our soul but that everything around us, including ourselves is, for lack of a better word, God. This expansion of consciousness is our next evolutionary step. We have reached what Buckminster Fuller called our “final evolutionary exam”. Choosing existence and starting the shift to an ecological age is an opportunity to reinterpret our existence. At best sustainability will be a triumph of our better nature and shared adventure into spirit. At worst, we will survive.
The process behind altering the earth’s atmosphere and therefore its climate is now well understood. Humans mine from the earth and from the bottom of the oceans the compressed fossils of organisms that lived on the planet eons ago. These beings were sustained by the energy captured from ancient sunlight beamed through space in an epoch before the first mammals had even evolved.
Photosynthetic organisms use the energy of sunlight to turn CO2 from a gas in the atmosphere into the living matter of all the creatures on earth. When these plants, algae and plankton are eaten the matter is passed up the food chain. When living organisms die if they are not consumed by another they may be transformed to soil, sedimentary rock or the infamous, so-called fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). Thus the total mass of organic matter has been increasing on earth continuously since the dawn of life.
The industrial revolution and subsequent, derived technological expansion reverses this process. Power stations, the boiler in your cupboard and the engine in your car take the fossilized remains of ancient animals and burn them. This combustion releases the energy that was captured back in the day and returns the complex organic carbon matter back to molecular form (CO2 and water). Because we live in a ‘fossil fuel economy’ almost everything we do has a carbon footprint. However, because this is a new science and only recently taught in schools many people struggle to understand what a carbon footprint actually is. A carbon footprint is the carbon released into the atmosphere from whatever you do… but how can we conceptualize this?
People discussing climate change often use the unit of a tonne of co2. We know that on average in the UK we release 11 a year, about 1 a month. In the US it is about double this. Specific activities can be given a carbon footprint. For example, flying to New York releases about 3 tonnes of co2 and flying to Australia about 10.
What is this tonne? Where is this tonne? What is it doing? Even within the low carbon world this practical information is not well understood. Presumably this is because we are discussing an invisible gas. This may get to the heart of the climate challenge. No one can see it happening. The ‘greatest threat humanity has ever faced’ is invisible and gradual (until it goes non-linear that is; if feedback loops amplify change so that it ‘runs away’ change will be fast and irreversible).
Last year I worked with a crack squad of artists, architects, event producers and the world’s leading projection company to construct a sculpture the size of 1 tonne of co2 at COP 15 and project upon it a range of climate themed audio visuals.
Standing in front of the work of art elicited a range of psychological, emotional and physical responses. This mega monolith manifested in downtown Copenhagen was so big (8m x 8m x 8m) it was shocking; but it was the accompanying data that really knocked the wind out of you. In total humans release 80 million of these suckers every day (2006 data). Stacked on top of each other these would go to the moon and back 1.5 times (every day). In a year the figure is 28,431,741,000 tonnes. In other words we have got cubes coming out of the ying yang!
The exhibit culminated with a Kenji Williams performing Bella Gaia in front of the cube with exclusive NASA footage projected in the background.
This staggering scale is even more sobering when it is made relative to the total volume of the atmosphere. From the scale of us humans busy with our daily endeavours on the planet’s surface the atmosphere seems enormous. It dwarfs us. However, at the scale of the planet the atmosphere is almost unnoticeable. The atmosphere and oceans are so small in comparison to the overall earth it is comparable to a film of water on a billiard ball. Even all the mighty oceans only make up 1/4000 of the earth’s total mass. The scale height of the atmosphere is about 8.5 km. Whereas the radius of the earth is 6,371.0km in other words the earth is more than 1000 times bigger than the atmosphere.
The third rock from the sun contains around it a thin layer of water, gases and vapour at a temperature of between −89 °C to 57.7 °C (mean = 14 °C). Within this exists all of the known life in the universe and all that most of us holds dear. For astronauts in space seeing this can be an epiphany. Here are some reactions to seeing our home from space:
Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty – but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.
– Loren Acton, USA
For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light – our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance. – Ulf Merbold, Federal Republic of Germany
A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her. – Taylor Wang, China/USA
The total annual emissions of greenhouse gasses from human activity are a not insignificant percentage of the total atmospheric mass. If our atmosphere was the size of an apple, every year we are sticking a pea size amount of poisonous gas into it. We have been doing this since 1750. It is not unbelievable that doing this would create a change to our atmosphere and to our climate. It is unbelievable that we have been doing this for 250 years and we are still around to talk about it. Why aren’t we already extinct!? The resilience of the earth’s atmosphere is largely down to the dynamic nature of the ecological systems that make up the biosphere. At this point it may be worth pointing out that at the same time as pumping vast amounts of gas into the biosphere we are also removing the great forests of the world which draw co2 out of the atmosphere.
Personally I sincerely wish it was true that a group of scientists had invented climate change as an elaborate plot to usher in a world government who will curtail the rights of US gun toters, ban Christianity and create a homosexual communist utopia. The inconvenient truth that just will not go away is that thousands of different scientists in different parts of the world, using different techniques and speaking different languages are measuring and monitoring the same phenomena. We are changing our atmosphere and our climate.
Whatever your ideological stand point you need a healthy atmosphere to breathe. The people who are slowing down and hampering global efforts to preserve our atmosphere fit into 3 different categories. They are either not educated to the level to enable them to understand the science; they are stupid or they work for the fossil fuel industry. If you can’t understand the science for whatever reason, we politely ask you: please step aside; your ignorance is deadly. Those who can understand the science are aware of an enormous imminent threat and are working hard to find solutions. For the other category you are worse than irresponsible. You are traitors to your species, your planet and this grand evolutionary adventure. Your greed is endangering all of the life on this planet. The best thing we could do with you would be to stick you on a planet that doesn’t have an atmosphere and see how you like it when your eyes pop out of your skull rapidly followed by your evil little reptilian brain.
What we buy and what we give has far more of an effect then we might think. Whilst all products have an ecological footprint impacting some part of the planet; some have dire, specific consequences for both ecological systems and people. Beef from the Amazon, palm oil products from South East Asia and farmed tropical prawns are well known examples. Less well known is that a massive surge in sales of cheap roses imported from Lake Naivasha in Kenya is ‘bleeding that country dry’ and drawing hundreds of thousands of people to the dusty edge of a rapidly retreating, once beautiful lake of regional ecological significance.
85% of all roses sold in the UK come from Kenya. Lake Naivasha’s cut flower industry amounts to nearly 75% of the countries horticultural exports. In 2008, 93,000 tonnes of flowers were exported. About 97% of exports are to the EU. The following year President Mwai Kibaki’s government warned that nearly 10 million people – more than a quarter of the population – were at risk from food shortages.
The rapid growth of this industry in a unique and biodiverse ecosystem has had disastrous consequences. The lake’s water level has dropped by three metres from its maximum and its surface area has shrunk to half its size. Precious wetlands have been degraded and wildlife no longer comes to drink at the crowded and polluted shores.
The cost for the people is terrible too. The international companies that extract the water (and money) and grow the roses have been repeatedly slammed for failing to protect workers. Hundreds at a time are sacked for trying to protect their rights. Workers are exposed to extremely harsh conditions but so many job seekers come in from the surrounding parched landscape that workers who complain are simply sacked and replaced. Finally the evil was exposed for what it was with the murder of a celebrated (68 year old, female) environmentalist, Joan Root, who tried to make a stand.
In the mean time, the international companies operating there extract ever more water, diverting it from agricultural production and its ecological purpose of sustaining the land. University of Leicester biologist and Earthwatch scientist Dr David Harper who has conducted research for over 25 years at Lake Naivasha: “Roses that come cheap are grown by companies that have no concern for the environment, who cut corners and avoid legislation, who sell their flowers into the auction in Amsterdam so that all the buyer knows is the flowers ‘come from Holland’. In reality, they have come from Kenya where the industry is – literally – draining that country dry.”
Food & Water Watch, in their report, Lake Naivasha: Withering under the Assault of International Flower Vendors, write: “I witnessed chemical spraying while people working nearby wore no protective gear…The pesticides applied on the farms and in the greenhouses eventually end up in Lake Naivasha and in the groundwater, threatening people and wildlife.”
This is scorched earth capitalism of the worst kind. These flower companies are making vast amounts of money, the majority of which will not return to Kenya, whist degrading the land. Once the lake is gone they will simply move to similar ecosystems in Ethiopia or elsewhere. They will leave a parched dust bowel reminiscent of the Aral Sea catastrophe, surrounded by dead animals and starving people staggering over the dying land.
The people who defend the import of roses from Kenya do so because they say it provides money and jobs to the local people. Floriculture is estimated to employ over 50,000 directly. However, the benefits are transient and superficial. The flower industry lobbyists are using a timescale so short as to be historically insignificant. At current rates of extraction the lake will be gone in 10 years. What will happen then to the 300,000 people who have been drawn to the shores? When the natural systems that support us goes, everything goes; including the economy. People will die. The economy that should be built around Lake Naivasha is a sustainable local one. By focusing on growing indigenous crops which require low levels of water people can be fed for generations and the lake can remain intact.
The evolution of capitalism has transformed us from beings to consumers. Working for money, and then spending it, is now central to our lives. Our transformation from life form to hungry ghost, mechanized consumers is writ large in the modern manifestation of our festivals. Pre- Christian Christmas celebrated nature by bringing a tree into the home. Then it was a celebration of the birth of Christ. Now it is the biggest consumer event of the year.
Many corporations now depend on the spending patterns of these festivals to exist. As such, much effort is exerted to compel consumers to conform to the requisite behaviours and spending patterns. This Valentine’s Day, as last, millions of brainwashed, randy young (mostly) men will obediently trot to their local supermarket and hand over hard earned cash to get the requisite 12 cheap, imported roses to prove their love to their target mate. Harmless fun you might think. Unfortunately not, as with all mindless consumption there is a cost born by the biosphere and externalized to another part of the world.
“This Valentine’s Day, it’s important that we finally stop these international operations from depleting the lake’s waters, poisoning the surrounding environment with pesticides, and exploiting workers. Unless we end this, these industrial floriculture factories will continue sowing the seeds of poverty, water deprivation, and environmental carnage.”
Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians
Inhabiting our vast megacities nature is far removed. Yet its resources are needed to supply our voracious, over-stimulated appetites. Our excessive consumption requires that in distant parts of the world forests are felled, lakes are drained and mountaintops removed. We can stroll in comfort on mahogany decking while the mighty forests of the world burn. As mass consumption becomes the norm around the world companies reach further and dig deeper to transform nature into products. The result is that natural systems everywhere are collapsing. Our eyes are blind to the fact that it is our pounds spent, our vote from the wallet that is destroying the natural world.
Ten thousand tons of roses bought in Britain for Valentine’s Day are imported from Lake Naivasha in Kenya. If your lover gives you roses you have to wonder whether the gift comes bundled with the blood of Africans and the death of an ecosystem.
It is no longer possible for educated people to claim ignorance; despite the media’s vested interest in helping to maintain the normal man and woman as obedient consumers. Stories constantly come through to us of extinctions, habitat loss and a dying biosphere. The penny must drop. The lines must connect. The neurones must grow between the synapses. It is us. We are doing this. We are harming the biosphere every time we buy something that is forced from nature. There is only one solution and that is to stop buying unessential consumer products. First stop; do not buy cheap imported roses on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day does not have to be a consumerist nightmare with grave ecological and humanitarian consequences. Here are some sustainable gift alternatives for your lover:
Remember, we grow magnificent roses in this country. You just have to wait for the right season. So give your lover some other gift now and this summer you can stick a bunch of roses in her face, fill the bath with petals and generally live the rose scented dream. Just not in February and not with roses flown in from Kenya.
Yeah… we love animals! We love animals so much we chop them up on an industrial scale stick them in tins full of gravy and then feed them to other animals we call ‘pets’. In 2007 sales of food for cats and dogs alone amounted to US$ 45.12 billion . Ironically this is almost the exact cost as an estimate for conserving total global biodiversity, $42 billion (UNEP 1992). The hot spot approach could make total biodiversity conservation even cheaper.
Conserving biodiversity is as urgent and important as stopping climate change; we are living through the 6th great planetary extinction event. This means that species are being lost at at least 100 times the natural rate. An estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species face extinction. The last such loss of species was 65 million years ago and saw the departure of the dinosaurs. Recently, the Yangtze River Dolphin was announced as gone forever. Losing such characterful species is tragic but more significantly ecologists have compared the loss of species to rivets falling off an aeroplane. Losing 1 or 2 rivets isn’t a problem but lose too many… and you’re up shit creak without a paddle… and there are no friendly dolphins to save you either.
The climate impact of pets is enormous. An article in New Scientist reports that A typical medium sized dog has an ecological footprint more than twice that of a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser. There are many other dark ironies about our peculiar love for certain species. We really love cats, 7.7 million felines live in the UK even though they decimate the local populations of small mammals; things we don’t like e.g. the endangered field mouse, voles and shrews. Scientists estimate that each year in the US domestic cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, and more than a billion small mammals, such as rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks .
We also love birds. The RSPB has over 1 million members (including 150,000 youth members), making it the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe. Bird lovers like to feed birds in their garden. Done responsibly this can boost biodiversity. Unfortunately, at the commercial scale this is likely to be boosting UK biodiversity whilst depleting it elsewhere. Most bird seeds sold in shops will contain imported nuts. We may not know exactly where or how these nuts were grown but most likely it was in countries with weaker agricultural and environmental legislation then the EU. The mass production and consumption of these products may decimate biodiversity in the producer countries.
Peanuts are found in most bird seed mixes. Brazil is 1 of the 5 major producers/exporter countries (United States, Argentina, Sudan, Senegal) accounting for 71% of total world exports. It is well reported that agricultural growth in Brazil is largely responsible for the loss of the Amazon Rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. This means that sweet old animal loving Mrs Blogs is effectively trading the Amazon for a few blue tits pecking outside her window sill…. Bad trade!
All animals are part of the global eco-system that we conflate to call ‘nature’. If we love animals the most important thing to do is to ensure our behaviour and choices support, conserve and protect nature as a whole (aka Gaia). In general, supporting nature means consuming less. This is especially true of imported products which may have a huge environmental impact and meat which requires much land to produce. If some of the energy resources and love currently channelled by UK citizens into the pet industry were diverted into nature conservation we could save a large number of species from going extinct.
The love that we feel for a pet can be an egocentric love. We may desire the companionship, adoration, and unquestioning love that the pet-human relationship establishes. This love is focused down onto an individual creature onto which we project many of our emotional needs. This love for an individual animal can be broadened and expanded to incorporate all of the life on the planet. We gain many well being benefits from expanding our pet-love relationship to a wider love and respect for all nature . The forests, birds in the sky, fish in the sea and all wild creatures can be our friends too.
Indigenous tribes attribute personalities to wild creatures which are pivotal parts of their world view. We can too. Clearly global ecosystems benefit when we can attribute a personality to the whole biosphere. Gaia, The Great Mother / Great Mystery is dying while we sit divorced from nature in our heated cubeoids stroking our well fed pets. Let’s open our eyes and see the whole world is full of ‘pets’ and we don’t need to own them to love them.