Sonic Cannons and Ocean Life

sonic cannonsThe Obama administration announced yesterday that it is reopening the entire Eastern outer continental shelf – from Florida to Delaware – to offshore oil and gas exploration.

Such exploration will use sonic cannons to locate fossil fuel deposits deep beneath the ocean floor.

According to an article in The Guardian, The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management openly acknowledged that whales, dolphins, and thousands of other sea creatures will be harmed by such prospecting. Dolphins and whales depend on much less powerful forms of echolocation to feed and to communicate across hundreds of miles of open ocean.

The area to be mapped is outside the jurisdiction of individual states, in federal waters. President Obama is consequently solely responsible for the decision to permit harmful exploration.

Communities up and down the Atlantic seaboard have begun to pass resolutions opposing seismic testing and offshore drilling. It’s time to mobilize the anti-fracking lobby in NY to oppose this new threat to life from the oil industry.

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The Flood Next Time

Tacloban_Typhoon_Haiyan_2013-11-14A new report from the World Meteorological Organization itemizes the destruction currently being caused by climate change.

At the top of the destruction caused in recent decades is flooding.

As this chart below shows, the destructiveness caused by floods (indicated in blue) is increasing. Indeed, floods constitute 89% of reported disasters. And this is not just economic damage. Storms are responsible for 1.45 million of the 1.94m global disaster deaths.

An excellent article in the Guardian summarizes many of the key findings in the WMO report.

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An entire island nation is preparing to evacuate to Fiji before they sink into the Pacific

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The Liquidation of Cetacea

cetaceaWhales, it turns out, play a key role in mitigating climate change.

A recent article by Philip Hoare discusses the key role played by whale faeces in supporting rich communities of phytoplankton throughout the world’s oceans. These phytoplankton in turn absorb huge quantities of carbon dioxide.

Hoare’s article challenges the longstanding perception among humans that whales are their enemies – takers of their catch, scourges of the deep, embodiments of the devil. Instead, Hoare alludes to a recent study that shows that cetaceans immensely enrich the oceans on many levels, including by fertilizing them with their faeces.

Hoare challenges humanity’s hubris in scathing terms:

Such propositions speak to our own species’ arrogance. As demonstrated in the fantastical geoengineering projects dreamed up to address climate change, the human race’s belief that the world revolves around it knows no bounds. What if whales were nature’s ultimate geoengineers? The new report only underlines what has been suspected for some time: that cetaceans, both living and dead, are ecosystems in their own right. But it also raises a hitherto unexplored prospect, that climate change may have been accelerated by the terrible whale culls of the 20th century, which removed hundreds of thousands of these ultimate facilitators of CO2 absorption. As Greg Gatenby, the acclaimed Canadian writer on whales told me in response to the Vermont report, “about 300,000 blue whales were taken in the 20th century. If you average each whale at 100 tons, that makes for the removal from the ocean of approximately 30m tons of biomass. And that’s just for one species”.

These statistics concerning humanity’s genocidal war against order cetacea are chilling. whale huntThe best accounts I’ve found of the war on whales are in John Richards’ recently published The World Hunt and Callum Roberts’ Unnatural History of the Sea.

Pressure from environmental campaigners led to the suspension (with the exception of a few nations) of whale slaughter in the 1980s. Indeed, Hoare notes with satisfaction that cetaceans are on the rebound around the world. This increase, he suggests, might allow whales to once again play a significant role in mitigating climate change.

This optimistic prognosis unfortunately ignores the acidification of the oceans, one of the corollary effects of anthropogenic carbon emissions. As a result of the industrialized nations’ carbon emissions, the oceans are 30% more acidic than they were in 1800. If we continue with business-as-usual emissions, the oceans will be 150% more acidic by 2100 than they were at the start of the industrial revolution.

Ocean acidification impacts organisms that rely on calcium shells most dramatically. These include the krill and other microorganisms that whales feed on. As the oceans acidify, their numbers are likely to plummet, as Elizabeth Kolbert details in the “Sea Around Us” chapter of The Sixth Extinction.

Ocean acidification might be thought of as a form of violence that is both slow and microscopic, unfolding not simply across centuries but also on a scale so small that most humans are completely oblivious. Yet this microscopic violence is capable of devastating the lives of the largest and most majestic animals ever to have lived on Earth: the whales.

The planet’s cetaceans are on the rebound today. But in order for this new lease on life to be sustainable, the industrialized nations need to end their feckless policies of burning fossil fuels more or less immediately.

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The Extermination of Charismatic Megafauna

rhinoThe world’s last charismatic megafauna are being exterminated.

This slaughter is taking place with particular gory ferocity in Sub-Saharan Africa, for reasons linked to the continent’s enduring poverty and vulnerability to global regimes of resource exploitation.

An article in The Guardian describes the record-breaking tally of rhino deaths in South Africa. So far this year, 558 rhinos have been killed. The slaughter is on track to exceed last year’s horrendous tally of 1,004.

Articles such as the above one often mention that animals such as the rhino are killed for Asian markets, where the horns are (falsely) believed to augment male sexual potency. elephantUnfortunately, these articles seldom mention the decades of structural adjustment programs – administered by Western-dominated institutions such as the World Bank – that have made sub-Saharan nations and peoples vulnerable to the globe-girdling trade in illicit megafauna flesh.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s article in The New Yorker offers a similarly decontextualized analysis of the contemporary slaughter of elephants such as Satao (pictured above). Her article puts these tragic deaths in the context of the worldwide extinction of megafauna since the Neolithic revolution. What she does not mention, however, is the culture of European colonial big-game hunting that was responsible for the vast majority of such extinctions around the globe. Nor does she talk about how Western policies of  “development” are linked to enclosures of land and resources around the world, encouraging strapped locals to plunder the remaining resources for global markets.

A lot of work remains to be done to place this slaughter in adequate political-economic context. Tragically, animals like the elephant and the rhino may well be effectively extinct before the policies that are promoting their slaughter are reversed.

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Reflections on Professor Elizabeth DeLoughrey’s visit to York

Great account of talk by Elizabeth DeLoughrey on the topic of rising seas.

Resources of Resistance: Production, Consumption, Transformation

We were delighted to welcome Professor Elizabeth DeLoughrey (UCLA) to York earlier this week for what was a hugely enjoyable day of productive conversations on maritime and oceanic themes.

Professor DeLoughrey led a workshop based on a selection of readings, before giving a talk, entitled ‘The Sea is Rising: Visualizing Climate Change in the Pacific’, for which you can read an abstract here. What follows is an attempt to draw together some common themes from the day, which we hope to build on during the conference later in the month.

With the help of Professor DeLoughrey, we chose readings for the workshop which we thought reflected some of the most interesting scholarship taking place on the sea today. You can read the selections here.

The sea provides an underpinning element for many, if not most, of the resources we will be discussing at Resources of Resistance, given its fundamental role in systems of world…

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Rising Seas

LOK133SE0043-204x136Doing research for my current book project, I came across an amazing series by the photographer Kadir Van Lohuizen on Sea Level Rise.

At the right is one of his images, this one taken in Bangladesh, where the subsiding delta is combining with typhoons and rising sea levels to imperil millions of farmers and other poor people.

Screen-Shot-2014-06-23-at-4.37.49-PM-888x589Van Lohuizen’s project focuses on the impact of sea level rise in a number of countries around the world, from threatened island nations like Kiribati to abandoned corners of wealthy nations like East Yorkshire in Great Britain.

Kadir Van Lohuizen’s Rising Sea Level project can be viewed online.

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