Archive for April, 2014

The Secret World of Cobia

Photo by fishwatch.gov. Some rights reserved.

Photo by fishwatch.gov. Some rights reserved.

We’ve talked a little bit about aquaculture and fish farming before on the GM and how the industry has changed and evolved over time. One of the biggest criticisms against raising fish in captivity is that the fish are not healthy and therefore not as delicious when they hit our dinner tables (other, less selfish concerns with the industry are that it is wasteful, due to the amount of processed food it takes to feed these fish, and that the possibility of fish escaping their pens and contaminating the gene pools of ocean-raised fish). Brian O’Hanlon, through his company Open Blue, aims to change that.

Founded in Panama in 2009, Open Blue is an aquaculture business that does all of its fish-raising in, you guessed it, the open blue waters of the Caribbean. Open Blue has set up giant pods that float in the open water, designed to hold 35,000 fish. Then pens are weighed down and anchored to the sea floor, and monitored by boat with cameras and sensors to detect and discrepancies. On top of all that, divers make daily expeditions down to examine the cages and check the health of the fish.

O’Hanlon and his company set up shop in Panama because the government there was more receptive to his work. In the U.S., the necessary permit would only extend a few years and the operation would no doubt be scrutinized both by environmental groups and local residents. “What we’re trying to do takes a lot of capital and commitment,” says O’Hanlon in a profile by National Geographic.

But there’s more to Open Blue than just there methods – they are also making investments in the fish of the future. It’s an inevitability at this point that our favorite fish to consume (salmon, trout, bass) take a lot of energy (and resources) to produce. As the state of the oceans change and resources grow more scant, we will have to look to more efficient fish to feed our families. That’s where cobia come into the picture. Growing to full size in one third the time it takes salmon and diverse enough to be used in a number of cuisines, cobia seem like a solid bet for the kind of fish that will end up taking the place of our current favorites, and its cobia that Open Blue has chosen to focus on. Their operation is still young and the reality is that cobia still has a ways to go before it topples salmon as the people’s fishy champion, but the math is encouraging. Open Blue ships nearly 250 tons of fish out across the world every month, and last year, their demand outpaced their supply for the first time.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Moffat Collection System Project

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA).

We’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

Starting October 1, 2012, EPA no longer accepts paper copies or CDs of EISs for filing purposes. All submissions on or after October 1, 2012 must be made through e-NEPA. Electronic submission does not change requirements for distribution of EISs for public review and comment. To begin using e-NEPA, you must first register with EPA’s electronic reporting site. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

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EIS No. 20140125, Final EIS, FHWA, CA, California High-Speed Train (HST): Fresno to Bakersfield Section High-Speed Train, Review Period Ends: 05/27/2014, Contact: Stephanie Perez 202–493–0388. Website.

EIS No. 20140126, Final Supplement, USN, 00, Introduction of the P–8A Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft into the U.S. Navy Fleet, Review Period Ends: 05/27/2014, Contact: Cory Zahm 757–322–4347. Website.

EIS No. 20140127, Final EIS, NPS, CA, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Muir Woods National Monument Final General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, Review Period Ends: 05/27/2014, Contact: Tom Gibney 303–969–2479. Website.

EIS No. 20140128, Draft EIS, USFS, CA, Tule River Reservation Protection Project, Comment Period Ends: 06/09/2014, Contact: Richard Stevens 559–539–2607. Website.

EIS No. 20140129, Final EIS, USACE, CO, Moffat Collection System Project, Review Period Ends: 06/09/2014, Contact: Rena Brand 303–979–4120. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20140065, Draft EIS, USFS, OR, Proposed Revised Land Management Plans for the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests, Comment Period Ends: 08/15/2014, Contact: Sabrina Stadler 541–523–1264. Revision to the FR Notice Published 03/14/2014; Extending the Comment Period from 06/16/2014 to 08/15/2014. Website.

Final Boarding Call

via PixaBay

via PixaBay

 

I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it. – Ray Bradbury

Those Cassandras at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are at it again. The United Nations body reviews the latest scientific and economic research on climate change and issues reports on its findings about twice a decade. Back in 2007 it shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for its efforts to promote greater knowledge about man-made climate change. At the time it won the prize the Panel declared, “Unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt”. Its latest report  comes to essentially the same conclusion, but underlined, bolded, written in red, and italicized.

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report provides  what it describes as the most up to date view of the current state of scientific knowledge about climate change. Man made warming of the climate, it says, is unequivocal and the changes are unprecedented over millennia. The atmosphere has warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea levels have risen, the concentrations of greenhouse gases have risen dramatically, with much of the extra carbon absorbed by the oceans leading to dramatically increased acidity. Most aspects of climate change, it warns, will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped, representing a substantial multi-century climate challenge.

The report states that dealing with climate change demands global cooperation, but makes plain that economic competition and cultural resistance have so far undermined effective collective action.

The report recognizes that different actors (countries, interest groups, and industries) will balance the risks and costs of climate change in different ways. It leans heavily in favor of a carbon taxes on the general principle that mitigation policies that raise government revenue generally have lower social costs than approaches which do not.  It also makes a strong case for blanket reductions in carbon energy subsidies and policies that encourage the private sector to play a central role in limiting emissions as it has in creating them. It also details that mitigation, while enormously expensive, pales in comparison with the vast and unpredictable costs failure to act will entail. All in all it concludes that, absent immediate action, failure to act – and act now – will make reigning in potentially catastrophic temperatures an impossibility.

Strip away the report’s diplomatic language and it is, in essence, a claxon. Act now or face potentially disastrous climatic changes within the century. “We cannot afford to lose another decade,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

Last month one of the giants of American journalism passed away. Jonathan Schell was the author of one of the most influential books I have ever read. Published at one of the darkest points of the cold war when the threat of nuclear annihilation seemed omnipresent, The Fate of The Earth described in paradoxically lyrical terms the growing potential and mind-numbing consequences of a full fledged nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. I vividly recall the title of one of the chapters describing the state of the world in the wake of such a catastrophe: A Republic of Insects and Grass.   “Usually, people wait for things to occur before trying to describe them,” Schell wrote in the book’s opening section. “But since we cannot afford under any circumstances to let a holocaust occur, we are forced in this one case to become the historians of the future — to chronicle and commit to memory an event that we have never experienced and must never experience.”

With our invention of weapons of inconceivable fury, humanity entered a stage of development akin to a teenager grappling with the concept of suicide: The atom bomb confronted humanity with the prospect of causing its own extinction. For the first time in our species’ history it was possible for us to willfully bring about our own demise. In that context, Schell’s book electrified the public and gave an enormous boost to the anti-nuclear movement. As a catalyst for shaping mankind’s perception of the peril it faced, Schell’s book is perhaps matched only John Hersey’s reporting  on Hiroshima for the New Yorker in 1946.

As with nuclear weapons, the profound changes we are imposing on the earth confront us with the possibility of collective self-extinction. It also represents a collective failure of imagination. It isn’t just politics and economics which hinder global action. After millennia of being at the mercy of nature’s capriciousness, it is hard to grasp the reality that it is we who now pose our own existential threat. The mind balks at the notion that man, insignificant man, could threaten his own survival by altering the environment to suit his needs and desires.

The IPCC Report is no Fate of the Earth. But it’s a start, and the material it contains supports the argument laid out in a book which may be the environmental movement’s equivalent of Schell’s call to arms. I will report on that book in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, the IPCC says if you want to catch the train to a livable future, it’s time to get on board.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Artificial Photosynthesis

Photo by Popular Science Monthly. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Popular Science Monthly. Some rights reserved.

It took a few episodes to really get me on board, but I think at this point it’s safe to say that I’ve been enjoying Fox’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s PBS science-series Cosmos (airing Sundays and hosted by Sagan-worshipper and all-around-cool-guy Neil DeGrasse Tyson). There’s no way Tyson could ever hope to replicate what Sagan did with the original series, and I think he’s done a good job so far of updating the feel of the show for the current era (cheesy effects and all) and finding new topics to explore. If I was a kid watching it, I think there’s a very good change I’d be having my mind blown every week and learning all sorts of stuff in the process, and that’s ultimately the best thing that can be said about a show like this.

This Sunday’s episode I found particularly enlightening, as it found Tyson piloting his magical future-spaceship into a dewdrop to explore a concept I have never really full grasped: Photosynthesis. Sure, yes: I know that it’s the process through which plants convert sunlight into energy. But watching this segement felt like a sublime return to Freshman year Biology, re-introducing the concept through visual cues and functional metaphors that anyone could understand. I won’t do you, dear reader, the disservice of re-hashing Tyson’s elegant explanation. Instead, I’d like to focus on how he took the concept one step further. As Tyson explains in his intro, if we can learn the “trade secrets” of how chloroplasts manufacture and store energy, we can change the future of energy for our species. To quote Tyson directly:

We understand on a chemical level how photosynthesis works, we can recreate the process in a laboratory. But we’re not as good at it as plants are, and its not surprising considering nature’s been at this for billions of years and we’ve only just started. But if we could figure out the trade secrets of photosynthesis? Every other source of energy we depend on today – coal, oil, natural gas – would become obsolete. Photosynthesis is the ultimate green power. It doesn’t pollute the air,  and is in fact carbon neutral. Artificial photosynthesis, on a big enough scale, could reduce the greenhouse effect that’s  driving climate change in a dangerous direction.

This is a concept I’m entirely unfamiliar with, even as I read week in and week out about alternative energy solutions. Of course, at this point we don’t have the technology or the method with which to implement “artificial photosynthesis” as a viable energy source – but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying. HowStuffWorks has a nice breakdown of the efforts so far to harness this kind of energy, what it would require (beginning with a catalyst, something to interact with the provided sunlight to induce a chemical reaction), and what kind of useful outputs we could expect. Meanwhile, research continues at the California Institute of Technology’s Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis forges ahead, and their website has all sorts of useful and detailed information on what kind of work they’re doing to make Tyson’s dream a reality.

 

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Bailey, Aeneas, Revis and Tunk

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA).

We’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

Starting October 1, 2012, EPA no longer accepts paper copies or CDs of EISs for filing purposes. All submissions on or after October 1, 2012 must be made through e-NEPA. Electronic submission does not change requirements for distribution of EISs for public review and comment. To begin using e-NEPA, you must first register with EPA’s electronic reporting site. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

* * *

EIS No. 20140106, Draft EIS, USFS, WA, Bailey, Aeneas, Revis and Tunk C & H Livestock Grazing Analysis, Comment Period Ends: 05/27/2014, Contact: Phillip Christy 509–486–5137. Website.

EIS No. 20140107, Draft EIS, USACE, KS, Removal and Disposal of Sediment and Restoration of Water Storage at John Redmond Reservoir, Comment Period Ends: 05/27/2014, Contact: David Gade 918–669–7579. Website (currently docs are only available in Project Spotlight on Tulsa District home page).

EIS No. 20140108, Draft EIS, FTA, MN, Bottineau Transitway Corridor Light Rail Project, Comment Period Ends: 05/29/2014, Contact: Maya Sarna 202–366–5811. Website.

EIS No. 20140109, Final EIS (Only Draft EIS currently available online, check back here for updates.), FHWA, WV, Tier 1—US 220, National Highway System (NHS between I–68 and Corridor H (US 220), Review Period Ends: 05/19/2014, Contact: Jason Workman 304–347–5928. Website.

EIS No. 20140110, Draft EIS, USFS, CA, Smith River National Recreation Area Restoration and Motorized Travel Management, Comment Period Ends: 06/10/2014, Contact: Christy Prescott 707–441–3661. Website.

EIS No. 20140111, Draft EIS, BLM, WAPA, 00, Southline Transmission Line Project and Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment, Comment Period Ends: 07/10/2014, Contact: Mark Mackiewicz (BLM) 435–636–3616 and Mark Wieringa (WAPA) 720–962–7448. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration are joint lead agencies for the above project. Website.

EIS No. 20140112, Final EIS, NOAA, HI, Programmatic—Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Actions, Review Period Ends: 05/12/2014, Contact: Amy Sloan 301–427–8401. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20140096, Draft EIS, FHWA, IL, 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project, Comment Period Ends: 05/22/2014, Contact: Catherine A. Batey 217–492–4600. Revision to the FR Notice Published 03/20/2014; Change Comment Period from 05/12/2014 to 05/22/2014. Website.

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