Archive for the ‘Marine Life’ Category

The World Meteorological Organization Would Like Just a Moment of Your Time

Stormy SkyYou don’t have to read the whole report which isn’t long, but is full of “facts” and “numbers” and “science” and things of that sort. Just look over the WMO’s press release about its latest greenhouse gas bulletin – the chill you feel may compensate for the heat we’re generating. The report has thorny sentences like this: “This conclusion is consistent with GAW measurements of the spatial distribution of CO2 at the Earth’s surface and its rate of increase, a decrease in the abundance of atmospheric oxygen (O2), and a decrease in carbon isotope ratio, 13C/12C, in atmospheric CO2.”

The Organization’s press release is blunter and more to the point: “The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, propelled by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide.” While the WMO has traditionally focused on atmospheric concentrations of CO2, this year’s report states that the current rate of ocean acidification appears unprecedented at least over the last 300 million years. We don’t live in the oceans so we tend to take them for granted but, as the press release points out, the oceans are the primary driver of the planet’s climate and attenuator of climate change. As Wendy Watson-Wright, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO says in the release, “If global warming is not a strong enough reason to cut CO2 emissions, ocean acidification should be, since its effects are already being felt and will increase for many decades to come – we ARE running out of time.”

While you contemplate the WMO report, consider as well that warming oceans are beginning to belch unprecedented amounts of methane, a global warming gas even more potent than CO2.


Fukushima Washes Ashore

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

This month the Government Accountability Office released a report on measures taken by countries around the world in response to the Fukushima disaster. Fukushima has been a slow-motion calamity. Public awareness of its continuing effects ebbs and flows like the water that courses intermittently through damaged reactor vessels.

Governments around the world are not oblivious to the implications of the Japanese experience for their own nuclear programs. The GAO examined what steps sixteen countries have taken in response to Fukushima. The GAO notes that Germany, for instance, accelerated the shutdown of its nuclear power reactors, and Jordan reassessed plans to establish a civilian nuclear power program. A number of countries are addressing their failure to plan for more than a single incident, and are now planning for more imaginative accident scenarios, such as those that could involve multiple reactors at a single power plant. A half a dozen countries are instituting automated systems for monitoring and transmitting critical data to regulators and technicians responding to potential accidents. The report details how international nuclear organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Association of Nuclear Operators, and the European Union are trying to coordinate efforts to strengthen nuclear regulatory bodies to help them identify key elements of the Fukushima incident, and promote nuclear safety worldwide. Unfortunately, the report also concludes that, so far at least, no international organization is able really track the impact and effectiveness of the renewed safety and regulatory efforts.

The report’s release coincided with the arrival of the first radioactive water from Fukushima on North American shores. In late February, researches announced that radioactive cesium isotopes from the crippled power plant had reached the waters off the Canadian coast near Vancouver, British Columbia. The plume of radioactive water is expected to reach the U.S. coast later this year. Before you decide to move from Seattle to Missoula, bear in mind that the trace amounts of radiation in the water are not expected to reach levels unsafe for human consumption. According to a report in The New Republic, scientists predict the West Coast will see its cesium levels rise by between one and 30 becquerels per cubic meter. To put that number in perspective, the Environmental Protection Agency caps the quantity of cesium-137 in safe drinking water at 7,400 becquerels per cubic meter. In fact, the radiation recently measured in a single tuna—a fish that travels near Fukushima on its migratory route—is equivalent to the natural radiation in nine bananas. Whatever the dangers posed by the minute quantities of radiation which are drifting here might be, the fact that it is arriving at all is causing all sorts of people to make political hay. As The New Republic details, the boogeyman of radiation is uniting both the left and right wings of American politics to practically glow in the dark with suspicion and alarm. Perhaps they can buy up all the copies of the new GAO report. And use them to sop up the cesium.

Give Blackfish an Oscar Nomination

Photo by YIM Hafiz. Some rights reserved.

Photo by YIM Hafiz. Some rights reserved.

Tomorrow morning, the Internet will be abuzz with speculations over the Oscar nominations, as they will have been just-released. Today though, it’s still (sort of) anybody’s guess. Many have weighed in already that 2013 was one of the best years for movies in recent memory, so the competition seems a little fiercer with so many great movies competing.

But what does this have to do with the environment? Well, nothing yet, but allow me to begin again. This year on Christmas, I went with my family to see the new Martin Scorsese movie, the Wolf of Wall Street. Well, we went to the theater anyways, but the movie was already sold out. So we went home and queued up the documentary Blackfish, and we sat slackjawed in front of the TV for the next hour and a half.

Disclaimer: Blackfish is a terrible Christmas movie. In a year where the best picture frontrunner is a brutally beautiful exploration of slavery in America (12 Years a Slave, go see that too!), Blackfish was still perhaps the saddest film I saw in 2013. The documentary, helmed by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, takes an uncompromising look at whales in captivity at theme parks like Sea World, and the toll that that captivity has taken on the whales themselves. The film posits it’s thesis quite clearly, through interviews with former whale trainers as well as investigations into administrative records and security videos from the parks – these whales engage in violent, depressive behavior as a direct result of their captivity.

I don’t want to go too in depth because the film will make its points much better than I will, but in broad strokes, the documentary takes a close look at one whale in particular – Tilikum, a massive 12,000 bull orca currently living at SeaWorld. We follow Tilikum from his capture in the waters of the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s through his time at SeaWorld, where he has become the main male whale used for breeding and has given birth to 21 calves, successfully and unsuccessfully, many through artificial insemination. Tilikum also has a violent streak, and has been involved with the deaths of three humans during his time in captivity, including Dawn Brancheau, his trainer at SeaWorld.

The film examines these deaths with the gravity they deserve, but it also does not in any way blame the whale. We are instead given a glimpse into the insanely mundane and restrictive life these whales live, and the physical and mental toll that such a limited life can take on these incredibly intelligent animals. There have been many great and moving films in the documentary genre this year (I would also highly recommend The Act of Killing and Stories We Tell), but only one has begun to cause major changes in the real world – and so I say, with whatever limited authority I have as a movie lover and a whale lover, give Blackfish the Oscar for Best Documentary this year.

For more info on the film itself, this editorial at CNN by the director is worth reading. Then watch the film on Netflix Instant, and then check out the back and forth between SeaWorld and the filmmakers over the film’s charges against the park here.

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