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SeaWorld Drops Lawsuit Against CA Coastal Commission Over Breeding Ban

Move spells an end to captive orca breeding in California

Last week SeaWorld dropped a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission that challenged the agency’s right to impose a ban on breeding killer whales in exchange for approving the expansion of SeaWorld San Diego’s orca tank.

photo of SeaWorldphoto by Tammy LoSeaWorld has dropped a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission challenging the agency's right to impose a ban on breeding orcas.

SeaWorld has since dropped the expansion plan, and in March it had announced that it would no longer breed its captive orcas in any of its three parks in the US. But for some reason it had persisted with the lawsuit, until July 27, when it asked the court to dismiss the case at the last minute before the court could approve Earth Island’s International Marine Mammal Project’s (IMMP) motion to intervene in the case.

SeaWorld’s CEO Joel Manby stated that the move by the Coastal Commission to ban breeding captive orcas was the point at which he made the decision to end breeding voluntarily in all SeaWorld parks. SeaWorld owns 24 orcas — the largest number of orcas held captive by any outfit in the world. Given that the marine mammal theme park has already agreed to end using dolphins and orcas captured in the wild, this announcement means that once the captive orcas at SeaWorld are no longer around — probably over the next 30 years or so — it will no longer have any captive orcas.

“This finally closes the chapter on captive orca breeding in California,” Coastal Commission Vice Chair Dayna Bochco told The Los Angeles Times. (Bocho was the one who had proposed the breeding ban precondition.)

SeaWorld has faced mounting public pressure in recent years, especially since the 2013 release of Blackfish, a popular documentary criticizing SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas. The film sparked public outrage, led to a precipitous drop in attendance, and affected company profits.

SeaWorld has also faced several lawsuits, including one developed by IMMP, arguing that it has misled the public about the health and wellbeing of captive orcas. 

While the company’s withdrawal of the lawsuit against the Coastal Commission is welcome news, it should be made clear that SeaWorld’s announcement of an end to breeding orcas does not go far enough. 

There are two major weaknesses in SeaWorld’s actions: One is that SeaWorld will continue to hold its 24 captive orcas, including young ones, in small concrete tanks for the rest of their lives. 

IMMP, marine mammal …more

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A Park That Makes Room for Wildlife, Farms, and Cities

Canada’s Rouge National Urban Park embraces a diversity of landscapes

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valley

A valley with 10,000 years of human history is evolving into Canada’s first national urban park, with urban being the operative word. Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP), which was established in 2015 and spans 79 square kilometers — 22 times the size of New York’s Central Park — is spreading its roots in Canada’s largest and most culturally diverse metropolitan area, the Greater Toronto Area, making it one of the largest urban parks in the world. 

The park includes a wide diversity of landscapes, including land in Toronto, Markham, and Pickering, and some 75 working farms. Twenty percent of Canadians live within an hour’s drive from the park.

Environmentalists had been pushing for the establishment of the park for decades in order to protect the Rouge River Valley ecosystem, which lies within Canada’s endangered Carolinian Life Zone and is home to fragile forest and wetland areas, and more than 1,700 species of plants and animals. The river and valley ecosystem, which is encircled by more than 100 square kilometers of publicly owned Greenbelt lands, lies right next to one of Canada's most-urbanized areas.

photo of Rouge parkphoto by Michael SwanRNUP is Canada's first urban national park.

Human presence in this ecosystem dates back tens of thousands of years, beginning with aboriginal hunters and farmers, explorers, traders, surveyors, and finally European settlers. More than 1,360 archaeological and heritage sites located within the watershed as well as historical accounts reveal the watershed area is rich in heritage value.

The rich environmental and cultural significance of Rouge Valley made it a prime candidate for protection. But due to its unique make-up, the process of establishing the park has been tricky and has, in some instances, pit environmentalists against farmers.

To accommodate a variety of land uses, Parks Canada, the country’s national parks agency, has recognized three distinct areas within the park – park areas, agricultural areas, and infrastructure and built assets – and uses a different management approach for each.

Many in the environmental community have raised concerns about the level of ecological protections in the Rouge, pointing out that environmental protections in the urban park are weaker than in other Canadian national parks, and that as a result, RNUP fails to meet the international definition of a protected area.

In June this year, however, the Canadian government proposed amendments to the …more

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Environmental Records Shattered as Climate Change ‘Plays Out Before Us’

Temperatures, sea levels, and carbon dioxide all hit milestones in 2015, major international ‘state of the climate’ report finds

The world is careening towards an environment never experienced before by humans, with the temperature of the air and oceans breaking records, sea levels reaching historic highs and carbon dioxide surpassing a key milestone, a major international report has found.

photo of Greenlandphoto by NASA HQ Photo, on FlickrTemperatures in the Arctic were 8 degrees Celsius above average in August 2015.

The “state of the climate” report, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with input from hundreds of scientists from 62 countries, confirmed there was a “toppling of several symbolic mileposts” in heat, sea level rise and extreme weather in 2015.

“The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” Michael Mann, a leading climatologist at Penn State, told The Guardian. “They are playing out before us, in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home.”

Image of global hot spotsNOAAThere were very few cool spots in 2015.

Last year was the warmest on record, with the annual surface temperature beating the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.1 degree Celsius. This means that the world is now 1 degree Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times, largely due to a huge escalation in the production of greenhouse gases. The UN has already said that 2016 is highly likely to break the annual record again, after 14 straight months of extreme heat aided by a hefty El Niño climatic event, a weather event that typically raises temperatures around the world.

The oceans, which absorb more than 90 percent of the extra CO2 pumped into the atmosphere, also reached a new record temperature, with sharp spikes in the El Niño-dominated eastern Pacific, which was 2 degrees Celsius warmer than the long-term average, and the Arctic, where the temperature in August hit a dizzying 8 degrees Celsius above average.

The thermal expansion of the oceans, compounded by melting glaciers, resulted in the highest global sea level on record in 2015. The oceans are around 70mm higher than the 1993 average, which is when comprehensive satellite measurements of sea levels began. The seas are rising at an average rate of 3.3mm a year, with the western Pacific and Indian Oceans experiencing the fastest increases.

These changes are being driven by a CO2 concentration that surpassed the symbolic 400 parts per million mark at the Mauna Loa research station in Hawaii last year. The NOAA …more

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“If Animals Matter Morally, Then We Cannot Treat Them As Commodities”

A conversation with animal rights advocate Gary Francione

Gary L. Francione is a controversial figure in the modern animal rights movement, known for his “abolitionist approach” towards animal rights. A professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers University, Francione believes that we cannot morally justify using animals as mere resources and that we should abolish all animal use. He argues that any being that feels pain has a right to not be used as property and that veganism should be the moral underpinning of the animal rights movement. As he puts it, “To not be a vegan is to participate directly in animal exploitation.”

photo of Gary Francione Photo by Vegano Siempre

Francione was the first person to teach animal rights in an American law school when he began teaching a course on animal rights and law at Rutgers in 1989. He has focused nearly four decades of academic scholarship in forwarding a theory of animal rights that posits that sentience alone (and not just cognitive intelligence as defined by humans) qualifies a being for the fundamental right of not being considered the property of another. He links the struggle for animal rights with other social movements and argues that the animal rights movement is the logical progression of the peace movement.

Francione has written multiple books and countless articles on animal ethics and animal law, and is particularly well known for his critical view of the animal welfare movement, which he says serves primarily to make people feel better about animal exploitation. His latest book, Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals (2013), co-authored with his partner and fellow Rutgers professor Anna Charlton, answers all the "but" questions that any non-vegan could possibly ask about transitioning to a vegan lifestyle.

I recently spoke with Francione via Skype and email about his latest book, his philosophy on animal rights, and his thoughts on both the animal welfare and animal personhood movements.

What event in your life caused you to become an animal rights activist?

In the late 1970s, I visited a slaughterhouse. It changed my life overnight. It became clear to me that our use of nonhumans as human resources presented a most serious moral question that was, for the most part, being ignored.   

What is your philosophy concerning animal rights?  

My position is that if animals matter morally at all — and I believe that most people believe that they do matter morally — then they must have …more

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American Farmers Are Struggling to Feed the Country’s Appetite for Organic Food

Consumer appetite for organic food reached $13.4 bn in the US last year, but only 1 percent of cropland is dedicated to organic farming

Marc Garibaldi, a farmer in California’s Central Valley, no longer uses conventional pesticides and fertilizers because he doesn’t want to work with toxic chemicals at his 40-acre cherry orchard. His farm was officially certified as organic a few weeks ago, but the path to securing that designation was long and costly: He spent three years working to demonstrate the use of eco-friendly pest and soil management practices and paid between 10 percent-20 percent in higher labor cost.

photo of vegetablesphoto by nosha, on FLickrThe time and expenses required to get organic certification present major roadblocks for increasing the amount of organic farmland in America.

Yet he was unable to convince processors that pack and ship his harvest to pay more for his fruit – which he was already cultivating by using the organic standards set by the federal government – during that period.

“Your farm is your financial life, and when you decide you’re going to change the way you’re doing your business, you’re kind of putting it at risk,” Garibaldi said of the challenge of making the transition to organic. “The grocery stores don’t give a crap whether you’re in the transition to being organic. All they care about is are you certified or not.”

The time and expenses required to get organic certification present major roadblocks for increasing the amount of organic farmland in America. It’s a problem not just for farmers but for food companies that are trying to meet an increasing consumer demand for organic products. The concern for a shortage of organic produce and ingredients is so acute that several corporate businesses and nonprofits launched new efforts recently to give growers better incentives to go organic.

“When you look at the percentage of the marketplace, what consumers are buying versus what farmers are producing, farmers aren’t producing as much organic as consumers are consuming,” said Alexis-Badden Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association, an organics advocacy group.

The US Department of Agriculture estimated that only roughly 1 percent of the cropland nationwide met that designation. Yet consumer appetite for organic cereal, yogurt and other packaged organic products has grown, reaching an estimated $13.4 billion in the US last year from $12.8bn in 2014, according to research group Euromonitor.

Carrots, lettuce, and apples make up the top categories of organically grown produce, according to Catherine Greene, an agricultural economist with the USDA’s economic research service. Dairy comes in second, with organic corn and soybeans …more

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Oil Spills in the Sky

Looking back at a 1997 Earth Island Journal report on pollution from the airline industry

On July 25, CBS News joined the rest of the mainstream media to acknowledge mounting concerns over atmospheric pollution from jet aircraft. "The government has found that jet engine exhaust is adding to climate change and endangering human health, and needs to be regulated," CBS reported. At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to employ the Clean Air Act to reduce the impacts of jet-pollution.

American Airlines B777, N730ANphoto by Aero Pixels, on FlickrEarth Island Journal’s Summer 1997 issue drew attention to the airline industry’s impact on Earth’s atmosphere.

The EPA’s action came in the wake of a mid-April US District Court lawsuit filed by the nonprofits Friends of the Earth and The Center for Biological Diversity alleging that the EPA had failed "to enforce limits on heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft."

Meanwhile, a United Nations panel has suggested cutting airliner fuel consumption by an average of 4 percent — beginning in 2028. Unfortunately, the UN recommendation ignored the fact that aircraft fuel consumption (and, hence, pollution) is at its worst during takeoffs and landings — not while cruising at high altitudes.

These recent headlines brought to mind an Earth Island Journal cover story from the summer of 1997. Just as the Journal was the first magazine to feature a cover story on climate change ("The Climes They Are A-Changing," Summer 1988) it was also the first magazine to feature a cover story about the airline industry’s impact on Earth’s atmosphere ("Oil Spills in the Sky," Summer 1997).

Nearly 20 years have passed since the Journal first exposed these dangers. It is both gratifying and frustrating to see that action is finally being focused on addressing this serious environmental threat. In light of these recent developments here is a look back at our Summer 1997 report on aircraft pollution.

Oil Spills in the Sky

How Jet Aircraft Are Polluting the Skies and Changing the Weather

Viewed from space, there are four unmistakable signs that Earth is inhabited by humans: sprawling cities, forest fires, disappearing lakes, and aircraft contrails.

With 10,000 large commercial aircraft flying today and the number expected to double by the year 2020, contrails (short for "condensation trails") pose a growing environmental threat. Commercial jets have been crossing the skies since the 1950s, but scientists only recently have begun to notice evidence of climate change occurring beneath …more

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Could London Become the World’s First National Park City?

Popularity of the idea reflects growing understanding that built environments are a part of the natural world too

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valley

The emerging explorer and guerrilla photographer for National Geographic, Daniel Raven-Ellison, wants to make London a National Park City. He came up with the idea after visiting the United Kingdom’s 15 national parks in 2013. During the tour he realized a very important habitat was missing from this list of parks: Urban areas. That’s what led him to start the campaign “Let’s make London a National Park City.”

More than 80 percent of the United Kingdom’s population live in towns and cities nowadays. Contrary to what it might seem, Raven-Ellison and his team believe these urban areas — which comprise a rich tapestry of gardens, rivers, parks, woodland, nature reserves, canals, meadows, streams, and lakes — have a deep connection with nature.

London is already one of the greenest cities in the world for its size. About 47 percent of the city is green. It is home to the world's largest urban forest. Its 8.6 million inhabitants share the city with 8.3 million trees, 13,000 different species of wildlife, 3,000 parks, and 1,400 sites of importance for nature conservation.

photo of St. James Park in LondonPhoto by Neil HowardSt. James Park in London, which is one of the greenest cities in the world for its size.

But the general definition of national park is not something that can be applied to a major city such as London. Nor is Raven-Ellison seeking the kind of regulatory powers for the city that traditional national parks have. “We’re looking to come up with a new definition for national park city, which will be a new kind of national park,” he explains, describing this as a semi-protected area, or a patchwork of formally and informally protected areas.

Growing populations create pressures on natural ecosystems that sometimes cannot be managed in protected areas and national parks. The real purpose behind making London a national park city, he says, is to connect people to nature. “One in seven children in London hasn’t been in a national park at all during the last year. This is a great opportunity to connect children to nature in the city,” Raven-Ellison says.

This involvement, he believes, could be crucial to saving ecosystems not just in the UK, but also across the world.

There are 7.3 billion people in the world. The United Nations expects this …more

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