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Act Now to Protect Our Oceans and Rivers from Oil Spills

EPA rulemaking a key time for public comment

I am a survivor of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a marine toxicologist, a commercial fisherman, and an author-turned activist. The turning happened 26 years ago today, when I flew over the wreck of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The Sound was my backyard, my fishing grounds, and most importantly, a place I loved. The giant inky stain on the water was … overwhelming. Intimidating. It was vast, and I was only one person. What could I do? As I flew over the ocean of oil, I realized I knew enough to make a difference. But did I care enough? The answer, I knew, would change my life.

Aliceville, AL Train ExplosionPhoto by John WathenAerial view of cleanup after a Genesee & Wyoming train exploded in Aliceville, AL in November 2013, spilling its crude oil contents into wetlands.

That day, my love overcame my fear. I decided I would work upstream of oil spills to help transition our nation off of oil, because as long as we drill, we will spill. These days I find myself in other people’s backyards: in industrialized railroad corridors where dangerous bomb trains carry explosive Bakken shale through neighborhoods and the centers of our cities; in farm and ranch lands rocked by frack quakes and poisoned by fracking activities; along existing or proposed pipeline corridors where corrosive and abrasive tar sands oil has already spilled or most certainly will spill; and along our nation’s coastlines at risk from offshore oil drilling and offshore fracking.

You see, it doesn’t matter what type of oil spills or where – the impacts to people’s health, lives and livelihoods, and communities are the same. People get sick

and, because the health risks from these industrial petrochemical exposures are ignored or downplayed, most people do not receive adequate health care for chemical detox. Many are left with life-long debilitating illnesses. Children are especially vulnerable, very much including those still in their mother’s belly.

A lot of this oil that is sucked from the earth finds its way by tank trucks, rail car, pipeline, and tankers to our seaports. And here’s where you come into this story. About 135 million people – 42 percent of Americans – live in crude oil corridors. That is, within 20 miles of coastal oil refineries, Great Lakes oil depots, …more

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Overpopulation – It’s All about Us

Women’s empowerment key to stemming unsustainable human population growth.

Most conversations about population begin with statistics – demographic data, fertility rates in this or that region, the latest reports on malnutrition, deforestation, biodiversity loss, climate change, and so on. Such data, while useful, fails to generate mass concern about the fundamental issue affecting the future of Earth.

photo of a cavernous shopping mall and crowd therein© Brett Cole“In the developing world, the problem of population is seen less as a matter of human numbers than of Western overconsumption. Yet within the development community, the only solution to the problems of the developing world is to export the same unsustainable economic model fueling the overconsumption of the West.”
—Kavita Ramdas

In reality, every discussion about population involves people, the world that our children and grandchildren will live to see and the health of the planet that supports all life. In my roles as president of Population Media Center and CEO of the Population Institute, I spend most of my time in developing countries, where many of my friends and acquaintances are educated and prospering. But I also know individuals who are homeless, unemployed, or hungry. The vast majority of people in these societies, regardless of their current status, do not enjoy a safety net. They live from day to day in hopes that their economic circumstances will improve. Abstract statistics on poverty are irrelevant to families struggling to secure the food, water, and resources needed to sustain a decent life.

Those who blithely dismiss the challenges posed by population growth like to say that we could physically squeeze 7 billion people into an area the size of Texas. They don’t stop to consider the suffering already caused by overpopulation. The population debate is not about the maximum number of people that could be packed onto the planet. The crucial question is: How many people can Earth sustain, at a reasonable standard of living, while leaving room for the diversity of life to flourish? There is no precise answer to this question, but the facts overwhelmingly support one conclusion: We cannot go on the way we are going. We are already doing severe and irreparable harm to the planet. Something has to give.

If we cannot live sustainably with 7.2 billion people, how are we going to support billions …more

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Obama Administration’s New Rule to Govern Fracking on Federal Lands Draws Swift Criticism

Energy industry files lawsuit, environmentalists say rule falls short of what's needed to protect public health and safety

The Obama administration unveiled its first major federal regulation on fracking today and the backlash from the energy industry and its supporters was swift. Less than an hour of the announcement, two energy groups — the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance — filed a lawsuit challenging the rule, calling it “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns.” Meanwhile, environmental groups say the rule falls short of providing Americans the protection they deserve.

Gas FlarePhoto by Sarah Craig/Faces of Fracking The rule, they point out, applies only to oil and gas drilling on federal lands. Which means, in regions like Pennsylvania, Texas and North Dakota, where fracking is most prevalent, drilling will still be governed by state and local laws.

The new rule — which took the Department of Interior four years to finalize and included numerous stakeholder meetings and more than 1.5 million public comments — will govern drilling operations on federally managed and Native American lands. There are more than 100,000 oil and gas wells on federally managed lands. Of wells currently being drilled, over 90 percent use hydraulic fracturing.

Key components of the new regulation, which is scheduled to take effect in 90 days, include:

* Operators ensure well integrity and maintain strong cement barriers to prevent oil leaks into groundwater supplies;

* Companies disclose the mix of chemicals they are using in the hydraulic fracturing process within 30 days of completing fracturing operations;

* Higher standards for interim storage of recovered waste fluids in order to mitigate risks to air, water, and wildlife;

* Companies to submit more detailed information on the geology, depth, and location of preexisting wells before they begin drilling, so that the Bureau of Land Management can to better evaluate and manage unique site characteristics.

“Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. The new rules provide “a framework of safeguards and disclosure protocols that will allow for the continued responsible development of our federal oil and gas resources,” she said.

While the energy industry and its supporters are calling the regulation an example of federal overreach — Senate Republicans introduced a bill on Thursday to block the regulations from being …more

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Whither the Northwest Forest Plan?

US Forest Service launches process to revise landmark public lands management plan. Greens fear rollbacks.

The US Forest Service insists that nothing has been decided upon. “Absolutely not,” said Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor Rob MacWhorter as the first of three scheduled “listening sessions” on the Forest Service’s process to revise the Northwest Forest Plan got underway in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday evening. But environmental advocates fear otherwise and are expressing concern that changes to the landmark forest management plan will jeopardize conservation goals.

A northern spotted owlPhoto by Ivana DramacBest known for its intent to protect the spotted owl, the Northwest Forest Plan also covers land that provides key habitat for other imperiled, forest-dependent species, including the marbled murrelet and numerous runs of Pacific salmon.

“We’re nervous about the forest plan revision. There’s more to be lost than gained at this point,” said Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator for Oregon Wild. “The plan has been very successful in its biggest task of putting the brakes on the forest cutting binge.”

Some history is needed to explain what Heiken is referring to and why more than 100 people braved rush-hour traffic to attend a meeting in an airport hotel ballroom when they could have been home eating dinner.

The Northwest Forest Plan was adopted in 1994 by the Clinton administration, which negotiated the plan as something of a peace deal between environmentalists and the timber industry. It covers about 24 million acres of public land managed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service in Washington, Oregon and northern California. In the late 1980s, record numbers of board feet were being logged in the Pacific Northwest — more than 10 billion a year — with about half of that coming off public lands in Oregon. A lawsuit brought by environmental groups succeeded in halting much of that logging to protect critical habitat for the old growth-dependent northern spotted owl. The Northwest Forest Plan, brokered to protect this habitat while allowing logging to continue, is actually a “record of decision” that amended existing management plans for 19 national forests and seven Bureau of Land Management districts. It set aside certain forest lands as reserves to protect old growth. It also designated what are called “riparian reserves” — sensitive lands along waterways and wetlands — and allocated about 4 million acres to be managed for “multiple uses,” including …more

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Pesticide Risk from Conventional Produce Varies Dramatically, New Study Shows

Consumer Reports analysis offers a risk guide for 48 fruits and vegetables; recommends organic produce

When it comes to shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, I usually follow a very basic rule of thumb: For leafy greens, berries, and anything that grows in direct contact with the soil — like onions, garlic, potatoes, and carrots — buy organic. For the rest, go with locally grown, even if it might not always be organic. The idea being to minimize exposure to toxic agricultural chemical residues as far as possible (and support the local farming economy). But it seems my method might not be quite as effective as I’d thought.

an array of vegetablesPhoto by Natalie MaynorThe researchers analyzed 12 years of data from United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program and found residues of two or more pesticides in about a third of the samples they tested.

A new study out today shows that the risk from pesticides on conventional produce varies dramatically — from very low to very high — depending on the type of produce and the country where it’s grown. Take green beans. According to the study, one serving of conventional US-grown green beans is 200 times riskier than a similar serving of locally-grown, conventional broccoli. On the other hand, conventionally grown lettuce and onions aren’t so bad after all. At least I had the carrots right!

The study, “Pesticide Use in Produce,” was conducted by Consumer Reports — a organization that works to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change. Researchers at the organization’s Food Safety and Sustainability Center reviewed the risks of pesticide residues for 48 fruits and vegetables from around the globe and have came up with guidelines to help consumers reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals. They also looked at the consequences of pesticide use for the people who produce our food, as well as on wildlife and the environment. (An associated feature report, “Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide: A Shopper’s Guide,” appears in the latest issue of Consumer Reports and at

The researchers analyzed 12 years of data from United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program and found residues of two or more pesticides in about a third of the samples they tested, Dr Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and executive director of the Food Safety and Sustainability Center, told Earth Island Journal.  The analysis is based on the risk to …more

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Is the Taiji Slaughter Wiping Out Japan’s Bottlenose Dolphins?

Prized dolphin catch at the notorious "Cove" declined by 80% this hunting season

Another season of dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, reached its end in February, although some dolphins, notably the pilot whales, will continue to be harpooned offshore through March at least. The gory hunt season, made notoriously famous by the award-winning documentary The Cove, lasts for six months, during which dolphin hunters cruise out of Taiji harbor in boats to herd pods of dolphins into the Cove, where the dolphins are netted off from the ocean and slaughtered in the most inhumane way imaginable.


What should be setting off the loudest alarm bells is the decline in catch of the bottlenose dolphin in Taiji. The bottlenose dolphin is the most prized dolphin sought for captivity in aquariums around the world. (Flipper in the iconic 1960s television show was a bottlenose dolphin, and Florida coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins for years supplied the circus acts in aquariums in the US, until the onset of artificial insemination and breeding of captive bottlenose dolphins.) A bottlenose dolphin killed and butchered for meat will fetch about $500-$600 in Japan markets, whereas a trained, live Taiji bottlenose dolphin can bring in $150,000 or more on the world market for the aquarium trade. Major markets for captives include Japan (with more than 100 dolphin captive facilities, according to our colleagues with the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan), China, Russia, and the Middle East.

Last season (2013-2014), Taiji hunters caught 551 bottlenose dolphins, but this season only 108 were caught, a more than 80 percent decline. Fewer of them were killed this season for meat (28) compared to last season (144 killed).

Only 80 dolphins were kept this season for captivity, mostly 41 bottlenose dolphins and 24 spotted dolphins, with a half-dozen Pacific white-sided and Risso's dolphins each, plus two pilot whales. Here again, it is likely that orders for captive dolphins are lower than last season, when 158 dolphins were captured, condemning them to a life in captivity where their health is threatened and their lives shortened.

Are bottlenose populations being depleted by the Taiji hunts? Possibly.

Bottlenose dolphins are a widespread species around the world, but they don't exist in large dense populations, unlike some other dolphin species. And as the bottlenose species is the prime species used for captivity, the Taiji hunters probably have a major problem if they continue to deplete the local population for …more

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How the Man Swarm Eats the Earth

Overpopulation is killing the wild world

“Except for giant meteorite strikes or other such catastrophes, Earth has never experienced anything like the contemporary human juggernaut. We are in a bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption that could push half of Earth’s species to extinction in this century.”

— E. O. Wilson

It’s painfully straightforward. We have come on like a swarm of locusts, and now at over 7 billion and counting, there are too many of us for Earth to harbor. But it is much worse for the other Earthlings – that is, all other living things we share the Earth with – tamed and untamed. A key insight of Charles Darwin’s is that all lifekinds can track their beginnings back to a shared forebear. Biologists today call this forebear the Last Common Ancestor or LCA. We – plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms – are kin. We all share the name, “Earthling.”

Crowd at Times Square, NYCPhoto by Vivi PortelaJust another day at Times Square, New York City. Unless we can freeze and then make Man’s footprint on Earth smaller, we will have an Earth with fewer and fewer wild things.

For many years it has been the booming and spreading overflow of Man that has been the greatest threat to the life of other Earthlings. By Man I mean our species – Homo sapiens. (I use the word Man as a way to describe our kind that is not gender specific.)

Among we Earthlings are “wild things” – or all forms of untamed living things, from plants to wild animals. Aldo Leopold, a top conservation thinker of the twentieth century, wrote in the beginning of his wonderful book, A Sand County Almanac, “here are those who can live without wild things, and there are those who cannot.” Maybe you are like me; I’m one of those “cannots.” I don’t want to live in a world without wild things.

But unless we can freeze and then make Man’s footprint on Earth smaller, we will have an Earth with fewer and fewer wild things. I hope to show you that more of our kind means fewer wild things, that a stabilized human population means hope for wild things, and that a shrinking human population means a better world for wild things. As well as for men, women and children.

Here are some ideas …more

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