Wildlife Migrate North in Pacific

Kevin Schafer Photograph

See this article from TerraDaily Express about the California Sea Lions migrating up the coast to colder waters in Oregon.

As a teenager I remember the population of sea lions on the wharf in San Francisco, that blanketed every flat surface. They provided a lot of entertainment for us visitors.

This article describes a whole population migration to caves off the coast of Oregon where colder waters support the food sources seals typically consume. Other migrations include shorebirds.

The article suggests that the El Nino in the Pacific waters, which was very strong this year (bringing unusually warm waters) may be the reason for this dramatic migration. Climate change, causing the warming of oceans, is most likely a boosting factor to the El Nino effects across the Pacific and the planet.

Florida Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coastline both benefit from the El Nino with wind shear patterns that kept hurricane activity to an all time low for the past season.  Weather experts predict a stronger hurricane system next summer and fall but I wonder if ocean warming might institute a permanent El Nino effect???

The current winter season in the Midwest and Northeast also seems to be dramatic differences in our normal seasonal patterns. Again, we have to observe over time to know whether warming of oceans and melting of ice caps are responsible for these dramatic changes or these are the occasional flukes that happen from time to time with complex reasons we only decipher later (sun  or celestial events.)

As NASA reports on climate change patterns, scientists are convinced that the planet surface is warming even with patterns of cooling and heating which they say are part of the longer term warming.

In Gujrat, India agronomists report mangoes ripening well before the normal seasonal pattern. These dramatic shifts in both plant and animal populations are heralds of large scale changes now affecting human life as well.

What is most dramatic to me is the near lack of news about climate change on our national media networks. Do we have our noses to the ground on health insurance when the greatest threat to our health is happening right in front of our faces?

Brilliant Solutions to Implacable Problems

Frances Moore Lappe’s new book, Liberation Ecology, identifies six dis-empowering ideas and re-frames them with insightful solutions. This book was recently published in a limited first edition with an invitation from the author to write her back with comments, edits, and additional ideas.

1.  To save the planet, our economies have to stop growing.

2.  We’ve hit the limits of a finite Earth.

3. We must overcome selfish human nature to save the planet.

4. To make progress, we have to override people’s innate resistance to the rules.

5.  People are now so far removed from the natural world that they will never feel the connection to nature necesarry for an environmental turn-around.

6.  Given the magnitude and scope of today’s problems, there’s no time for democracy.

Go to the website to read more and to take a short survey of your perceptions before reading the book and how Lappe addresses each of these ideas that are holding us back from a world in sync with nature and on a road to sustainability.

Species on the run from warming temps

A Reuters article today describes reports on rapid changes in habitats due to warming temps. The article discusses the pressure on species, from plants to insects to animals, that will require migration north to cooler temperatures and whether many species will not be able to make the curve and eventually become extinct.

At issue is an important fact to remember: current rates of extinction far exceed the normal extinction rates of past millions of years. The  spike in extinction has occurred in the industrialization period of human history.

Anther key issue is to remember that each species is part of a community of species that are linked. Loss of one affects many others.

Reflecting on Copenhagen Accord

From TerraDaily Express this Associated Press article reviews attitudes about the Copenhagen Climate accords  that will be known for its historic failure to limit green house gas emissions. 350.org, the organization galvanized by Bill McKibbens, posted this sober message on its front page: “We do not have the fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement that millions around the world hoped the world leaders gathered in Copenhagen would deliver. They are not done yet, and neither are we.”

Please read Archbishop of Canterbury’s address in my previous post for a deeper reflection and way for personal action. Dr. Williams may be more lucid than any world leader about a way forward in uncertain times.

“Act for the sake of love” – Archbishop of Canterbury

From the
“Act for the sake of love”: Archbishop of Canterbury preaches in Copenhagen Cathedral

   Sunday 13 December 2009
“We cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow humans unless we also work at keeping the earth as a place that is a
secure home for all people” said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, today at an international ecumenical service in Copenhagen Cathedral, at a midpoint during the critical UN Climate Change talks.
Dr Williams was invited to preach by the Danish Council of Churches. The service was attended by the Queen of Denmark, by ambassadors and by members of international delegations attending the Copenhagen climate change negotiations, as well as religious leaders.
In his sermon the Archbishop contrasted fear, which can paralyse, with love, which is the liberating and decisive force
for change: “In this season of Advent … We reaffirm our conviction and commitment in the name of love; and we say
‘don’t be afraid’ to all who stand uncertainly on the edge of decision. Don’t be afraid; act for the sake of love.”
“The deepest religious basis for our commitment to the environment in which God has placed us is this recognition
that we are called to be, and are enabled to be, the place where God’s love for the world comes through. We have to
flesh out in our lives that fundamental biblical conviction that when God looks on the world he finds it good. We have to
show in our lives some echo of the delight God finds in creation”.
“And as we should have learned by now, the truth is that we cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow-humans
unless we also work at keeping the earth as a place that is a secure home for all people and for future generations.”
Full text:
‘Perfect love casts out fear’. It’s a well-known biblical text; in its original setting, it’s about how we learn to have the proper kind of confidence in the love and forgiveness of God. This kind of confidence, St John says, comes from understanding that we are – miraculously – able to stand in the same place as God himself. ‘In this world we are as he is’. Our own confidence, our fearlessness, is built on seeing love at work through us – not our personal warm feelings or positive emotions or even kind actions, but the love that really sets people free and brings something new into the world: God’s love, dealing with the deepest tangles and knots of our situation, the love that was the essence of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.
And the deepest religious basis for our commitment to the environment in which God has placed us is this recognition
that we are called to be, and are enabled to be, the place where God’s love for the world comes through. We have to
flesh out in our lives that fundamental biblical conviction that when God looks on the world he finds it good. We have to
show in our lives some echo of the delight God finds in creation, recalling the astonishing image in the Book of
Proverbs of God’s eternal wisdom playing and rejoicing in the whole span of the universe.
Love casts out fear. If we begin from the belief that God wants us to rejoice and delight in the created world, our basic
attitude to the environment will not be anxiety or the desperate search for ways of controlling it; it will be the
excited and hopeful search for understanding it and honouring its goodness and its complex, interdependent beauty. If there is any ‘fear’ around here, it should be fear of spoiling the heritage given us, of forgetting the overwhelming scale and depth of the gift and of our responsibility and care for it, fear of forgetting that we are called to show consistent and
sacrificial love for the created world as we must show towards our fellow-human beings. And, as we should have learned by now, the truth is that we cannot show the right kind of love for our fellow-humans unless we also work at keeping the earth as a place that is a secure home for all people and for future generations.
But there is another kind of fear we have to think about, a fear that should prompt us to get in touch again with the love
that made us and sustains us. At the present moment, we are faced with the consequences of generations of failure to
love the earth as we should; and we are also faced with the choices that might make those consequences less destructive
than they would otherwise be. Each of us as an individual, each international business concern, each national
government – all of us have choices. We are not doomed to carry on in a downward spiral of the greedy, addictive,
loveless behaviour that has helped to bring us to this point. Yet it seems that fear still rules our hearts and imaginations. We have not yet been able to embrace the cost of the decisions we know we must make. We are afraid because we don’t know how we can survive without the comforts of our existing lifestyle. We are afraid that new policies will be unpopular with a national electorate. We are afraid that younger and more vigorous economies will take advantage of us – or we are afraid that older, historically dominant economies will use the excuse of ecological responsibility to deny us our right to proper and just development. There is, in a word, no shortage of excellent excuses for turning away from decisions that will mean real change. But at least let’s be honest about where they come from: it is fear – not necessarily irrational fear, not even necessarily purely selfish fear, but fear all the same. And so long as that
dominates our calculations, we are stepping back from love – love for the creation itself, which we must look at as God
looks at it, love for one another and for the generations still unborn, who need us to do whatever we can to guarantee a
stable, productive and balanced world to live in – not a world of utterly chaotic and disruptive change, of devastation and desertification, of biological impoverishment and degradation. Love casts out fear. The truth is that what is most likely to get us to take the right decisions for our global future is love. The temptation is to underline fear so as to persuade one another of the urgency of the situation: things are so bad, so threatening, that we have to do something. And indeed there are moments when we might think, rather bitterly, that the human race is still not frightened enough by the prospect of what it has stored up for itself. But this is to drive out one sickness by another. That kind of fear can simply paralyse us, as we all know; it can make us feel that the problem is too great and we may as well pull up the bedclothes and wait for disaster. What’s more, it can tempt us into just blaming one another or waiting for someone else to make the first move because we don’t trust them. We need more than that for lifegiving change to happen.
And that is what we are here to say today. We meet as people of faith in the context of this critical moment in human
history; and so we are not here just to plead or harangue, let alone to encourage panic and terror. We are here to say two simple things to ourselves, our neighbours and our governments.
First: don’t be afraid; but ask how the policies you follow and the lifestyle that you take for granted look in the light of the command to love the world you inhabit. Ask what would be a healthy and sustainable relationship with this world, a
relationship that would in some way manifest both joy in and respect for the earth. Start with the positive question – how do we show that we love God’s creation?
Second: don’t separate this from the question of how we learn to trust one another within a world of limited resources. In such a world there can be no trust without justice, without the assurance of knowing that my neighbour is there for me when I face insecurity or risk. How shall we build international institutions that make sure the resources get where they are needed – that, for example, ‘green taxes’ will deliver more security for the disadvantaged, that transitions in economic patterns will not weigh most heavily on those least equipped to cope?
Love casts out fear; and the promise that makes sense of all this is the promise we heard in the reading from St Paul’s
letter to the Romans: if we allow God to teach us trust and if we learn to live in trust and confidence, the whole created
order feels the effects. The ‘slavery’ imposed on the created order by human sinfulness and selfishness gives way to
liberation; human freedom and the fulfilment of the destiny of the world around are manifested together, and the result is glory.
In this season of Advent, we renew our confident hope that such a future is possible. We give thanks for the Christmas
gift of Jesus Christ that has broken through our selfishness and begun the work of our liberation. We reaffirm our
conviction and commitment in the name of love; and we say ‘don’t be afraid’ to all who stand uncertainly on the edge of
decision. Don’t be afraid; act for the sake of love.

COP 15 Plays Out a Sad Reality

Today I personally am not proud to be an American citizen. If you have not been following the Climate Summit negotiations in Copenhagen you will be surprised to know that at this moment countries around the world do not hold our country in high esteem and indeed it looks like we will be known for what we are: the biggest polluters on the planet and unwilling to change our lifestyles even when developing countries, who have added little to the global emissions build up, are beginning to suffer the effects of climate warming.

350.0rg sent a message last night that our current agreements will result in over 3.9 C degrees of warming by 2100. The goal was to keep parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide emissions to 350 ppm or below. The current commitments will be 770 ppm.  Obama will arrive in Copenhagen today but the expectation is that he’ll continue to offer only a 4% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. This is not much of a commitment in terms of what the rest of the world is willing to do. Mud on our faces…but worse, all our children and grandchildren will inherit a world where living may be a nightmare. I personally thought we would do better than this. But why? Special interests have always ruled American politics. Obama, like all others before him, has caved to these interests, and in trying to be reelected,  he has assured he will become a one term President. I am very disappointed in his leadership.

We can say without exaggerating that Americans shopped while Rome burned. Shame on us!

Copenhagen Tremors Draw George Soros Idea

Rumblings from developing countries over rumors of a separate agreement between the U.S., Denmark, and Britain that would allow developed countries to pollute more relative to developing countries, is causing tremors in the Cop 15 Climate Summit spirit of cooperation.

Many of the expected climate change impacts such as rising sea level will disproportionately impact poorer countries with less economic resources than rich countries.  Did we really think we could discuss, argue, and come to agreement on a world-community plan to mitigate environmental and economic impacts without addressing the age-old problem of have’s versus have not’s?

Philanthropist, George Soros, addressed this gap and called for the IMF to fund climate change adaptations in developing countries by investing $100B  in developing countries for green energy projects and adaptations necessary to adapt to climate impacts in those countries. Money will come from the funds set aside for financial recovery in world-wide economies. Soros addressed the 192-country summit.

Soros is responding to the possibility that the talks will break down due to The Group of 77 (bloc of developing countries) which contends that developed nations like the U.S., who have contributed the lion’s share of CO2 emissions over the last 150 years of industrialization, should make substantive commitments for reduced emissions and assistance to developing countries. Soros called upon the political will of the people to assure Congress will not delay to support his plan and significant commitments from the U.S. to the rest of the world community to reduce emissions.

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Lions, Tigers, and Bears – Oh, My!


When Dorothy set off to find the Wizard of Oz, she and her companions encountered a lion in the dark wood – just as they had feared. But, the cowardly beast only drew their distain, for what good is a spineless lion?

Therein lies the dichotomy between our visceral fear of large carnivores and our psychological need for lions, tigers and bears to be wild, fierce and free – a ‘varmit’ or an icon. One gets them killed, the other immortalized. And, neither will help them survive.

Neither perception tells us why lions, tigers and bears are important. Remove the carnivore and prey populations multiply exponentially. Grazers mow down vegetation, producing more young, and increasing in number until food sources are used up. Disease and starvation then finish them off.

A wolf pack takes out the weakest of the herd, controlling not only numbers but removing the least adaptive genes from the population’s gene pool. A dynamic balance results between wolves, deer, and vegetation, and myriad lives dependent on them benefit, too.

That we do not understand the importance of this relationship was memorably recorded by Aldo Leopold. He wrote about an experience shooting wolves one afternoon – a common practice among Forest Service rangers then – wolves were vermin that needed eradicating. Leopold had watched the “fierce, green fire” in the wolf eyes fade in her death.

Dawning on his consciousness was the realization of a bigger death, a death of wild things and something greater still: the very foundation of a healthy ecosystem. The wild, beautiful landscapes that inspired Leopold, that support man’s livelihood, were created over centuries among myriad species until the climatic stage in a community was reached and wherein dynamic balance of populations is achieved by an elaborate set of checks and balances.

The wolf he had just killed was one of the key checks and balances where it lived.

Until that moment Leopold lacked the understanding that he later reflected only a mountain could possess. Mountains have the long view, he wrote, whereas humans are newcomers. A mountain has no fear of wolves … only deer – because the deer will mow down its trees and the rains will wash away its topsoil and cause all kinds of havoc on the mountain.

Thinking like a mountain requires that we look down the long road behind us and way ahead to understand the present truth.

The cattleman that compares the life of a wolf against the current market price of his cow misses the much greater value of leaving the wolf wild and free. That “home on the range” where his cattle roam depends on a well functioning natural community to maintain it.

Leopold was writing about this phenomenon in 1949. One would hope that nearly six decades later, we would be a wiser country, wiser for the scientific data that proved the wisdom Leopold intuited through observation alone.

We know, for example, that the return of large carnivores to their native habitat can lead to an increase in plant and animal diversity and ecosystem complexity:

“Their removal can unleash a cascade of effects and changes throughout all ecosystem trophic [feeding] levels reducing biological diversity, simplifying ecosystem structure and function, and interfering with ecological processes.  Their return to impoverished ecosystems can reverse the cascade and restore diversity and complexity to ecosystems.

We are witnessing such ecological rebirth in Yellowstone National Park following the return of the wolf to that ecosystem.  Riparian willows and cottonwoods are returning because elk spend more time moving and hiding to avoid becoming wolf scat.  With their table reset, beavers are returning to the streams.

These ‘ecological engineers’ provide homes for myriad critters from aquatic insects to fish to songbirds.  The extent of changes is certainly far more complex than we can observe or document.”   [Dave Parsons, Conservation Biologist, The Rewilding Institute’s Carnivore Program[1]]

Yet even with our increased knowledge wolves are still exterminated as happened recently in Alaska. The governor of the state supported an illegal aerial hunt on 14 denning adult wolves followed by the point blank murder of fourteen pups. The justification given was to boost caribou populations in Southwest Alaska. Short term solutions will eventually deliver the opposite result if conservation biology is correct.

Ironically, Alaskan wildlife agency personnel were the arbiters of the killings. Over the sixty years since Aldo Leopold’s epiphany, a lot of good science has been conducted, laws put in place as safeguards of keystone species—a species that influences the ecological composition, structure, or functioning of its community far more than its abundance would suggest[2] In other words, lions, tigers, and bears…

In 1996 I attended a public meeting in Springerville, Arizona convened over the “elk problem.” Present were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Commission, White Mountain Apache biologists and tribal officials, ranchers, tourist industry reps, a hunter’s association, residents and students. It became apparent right from the start that a classic show down between conflicting interests was about to happen, and a full airing of our dichotomous American character.

The problem appeared to stem from an exponential increase in elk populations. A ranch owner testified how elk herds of 600 to 1,000 head could be found in her valleys and meadows on just about any given day, leaving in their path a swath of denuded range. She demanded that Game and Fish raise the limits for hunters to help bring the population under control. As she made her plea she turned to the Apache contingent. For they did not kill elk unless they needed meat and entertained the elk herds’ presence within the boundaries of their reservations at night when the animals sought refuse there. The vast reservation stretches as far south as Phoenix encompassing 1.67 million acres. The rancher wanted the Apache Nation to help kill elk and bring the herds under control. They would not, they said, based on ethical principles and the belief that restoring the natural systems would be the only true answer to controlling the population. (I think I caught a twinkle in one tribal elder’s eye as this statement was made.)

Tourist agencies pleaded that the presence of elk, seen from the freeways and in the camp or motel areas, drew thousands of families who enjoy seeing wildlife. Tourism brings millions of dollars in revenue to the community they reminded the assembly.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deferred to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. But first they made a statement about the traditional range of the Mexican gray wolf, a natural keystone species of the disrupted ecosystem. Reintroduction of the gray wolf in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest and southern Arizona’s Gila River communities was just getting underway.

Mention of the wolf acted like a match on tinder. The auditorium erupted in arguments from the ranchers and tourism folks alike who didn’t welcome wolves in the woods.

Then, a rancher rose to speak. He had the look of one who spends his days in the sun.

“We are victims of our own schemes – me included. First we saw the wolf as our enemy and we systematically exterminated it. We saw it killing too many elk, too many cattle. We feared for our own lives. Once it was gone we began to notice how the elk and deer populations grew each year. Now we watch as they eat the meadows down, even strip the bark. Well, maybe its time we examined our own nature to see how we can control that!”

Back at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy got her wish to go home, the tin man a heart, and the lion, courage. Maybe the wolf, the lion, the tiger, the bear, the shark, the grizzly will be restored, too, at some time when our own wizardry returns us to the natural order of things.

[1] http://www.rewilding.org/carnivoreconservation.html


[2] http://glossary.eea.europa.eu/EEAGlossary/K/keystone_species

A refreshing voice for education’s true purpose

Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs and the people they inspired have a lot of important things to say about our educational system. Here on a site for a new school developing with the same principles in mind, is an excerpt from the Bogg’s work on the true purpose of  education. Of particular significance now, a time of when our notions of who we are as Americans is being challenged by the collapsing economic system that gave our society its purpose for two centuries, is the context of the Boggs work. Detroit – a city at the epicenter of a crumbling set of values that dehumanized rather than built community. The most basic ideas about who we are and what the American Dream is creating is discussed with a rare clarity that makes so much sense to me today. Take a couple of minutes to read their clear thoughts on the purpose of education.

This reminds me, too, of another essential book on education by David Orr: Education with Earth in Mind.