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Former Orca Trainer John Hargrove on the SeaWorld ‘Facade’

Blackfish star slams the marine entertainment giant for ‘disgusting’ treatment of whales

During his 12 years as an orca trainer at SeaWorld, John Hargrove became increasingly concerned about the impacts of captivity on the whales he cared for. After leaving his job at SeaWorld, Hargrove became a powerful force in the campaign against whale captivity with his appearing in the documentary Blackfish and the recent release of his book Beneath the Surface, which chronicles the dangers of captivity to orcas and trainers alike. Hargrove recently sat down with Mark Palmer, David Phillips, and Mary Jo Rice at Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project for an interview. Here is the transcript, which originally appeared on the Dolphin Project website.

SeaWorldPhoto by John ‘K’, on Flickr Orcas perform at the San Diego SeaWorld park.

Mark Palmer: We’re here with John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer of orcas — he spent 12 years there and with various orcas from around the world. He’s also the author of the new book Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish. So welcome, John. You worked with SeaWorld for twelve years, plus an additional two years in France, training orcas. You became a senior trainer — tops for SeaWorld and one of the top people in the organization — so I would like to ask: What do you think of SeaWorld today?

John Hargrove: Well, I have a radically different opinion of SeaWorld today than I did in the beginning, which was when I started in ’93 at the age of 20. I guess the best way to phrase it is that at the end of the day, SeaWorld really is a facade.  What you believed it would be as a child, and even at the beginning of your career; it’s not about that. It’s not about what’s in the best interest of the animals, it’s what’s in the best interest of the company and making profit. And once you come to that full realization, combined with seeing the damaging effects of killer whales in captivity — something in you changes.

Mark: Why do you think captivity is wrong for orcas?

John Hargrove: I don’t like the idea, really, of captivity for any animals, especially for entertainment purposes, but especially when you’re dealing with an animal like an orca. Their intelligence, their social skills, their family units, and their size — I mean, there are so many factors involved that just make these horrifically sterile, small …more

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Obama Pushes Climate Action on Earth Day Visit to the Everglades

'Folks don't have time' to wait in south Florida, where sea level rise threatens wildlife and local drinking water

By Tom McCarthy

President Barack Obama used an unusually picturesque appearance at Everglades National Park on Wednesday to draw attention to an ugly problem that he said was threatening the well-being of people in south Florida and around the world: climate change.

President Obama EvergladesOfficial White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama and US Park Service rangers view a small alligator during a tour at Everglades National Park, Florida, on Earth Day 2015.

The president appeared in rolled-up shirt sleeves at a lectern above an obscenely green sawgrass marsh to send a message that “climate change can no longer be denied” and “action can no longer be delayed.”

“In places like this, folks don’t have time, we don’t have time, you don’t have time to deny the effects of climate change,” Obama said. “Folks are already busy dealing with it.”

The White House arranged the event to mark Earth Day, the annual celebration of the planet begun in 1970. The Everglades is a 1.5 milion-acre estuary in southern Florida that boasts hundreds of unique species and serves as an essential buffer and filter between inland freshwater stores and the salt waters of the Gulf Stream and ocean beyond.

The sea level is estimated to have risen a foot in south-east Florida since 1870, and is projected to come up another 9 inches to 2 feet in the next 45 years, according to the Washington-based World Resources Institute. The drinking water of up to one-third of Floridians is threatened by encroaching seawater in the Everglades, according to White House figures.

“If we take action now, we can do something about it,” Obama said. “This is not some impossible problem that we cannot solve. We can solve it.”

In making its environmental pitch in Florida, the White House failed to find a local partner in Governor Rick Scott, a climate change skeptic. Scott was invited to meet Obama on the tarmac as the president arrived, but he declined, deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said.

Obama took a dig at Republicans in Congress who refuse to acknowledge climate change, including Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who earlier this year brought a snowball to the Senate floor to illustrate how cold it was outside. “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record,” Obama said. “Fourteen of the 15 hottest …more

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In Conversation with Antonia Juhasz

Five years later, the Gulf of Mexico is struggling to recover from the BP disaster, and the oil companies appear to have learned very little, author says.

Antonia Juhasz was already on the oil beat well before the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout. Her 2006 book, The Bu$h Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time, shined a spotlight on corporate globalization, with a particular focus on the oil industry. In 2009, she wrote The Tyranny of Oil: the World’s Most Powerful Industry – And What We Must Do to Stop It. So when BP’s Macondo well blew out in April 2010, Juhasz was uniquely situated to cover, and stick with the story. In 2011, she published Black Tide: the Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill. Last year, she was the only journalist to accompany researchers in a submarine to check on the deep-sea site of the spill. I spoke with Juhasz for the radio program Making Contact on May 31 – three weeks before the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Andrew Stelzer: So, we're speaking just about five years after the Gulf Coast BP spill. Paint a picture for us. How’s it look down there environmentally, and also in terms of the human and economic impact? Has the area recovered?

Antonia Juhasz: The area certainly hasn't recovered. It’s hard to paint one picture, though, of the Gulf of Mexico. I think most people don't appreciate how big of an area we're talking about: five states, the ninth largest body of water on the planet, an enormous economically diverse and rich area, a hugely populated area of people and wildlife. And so there’s sort of every impact that you can imagine.

Gulf Oil Spillphoto by David Rencher, on FlickrFlyover of the Deepwater Horizon site with the US Coast Guard on May 19 2010

There are areas of extreme economic devastation, extreme environmental devastation, places where the amount of oysters that come in from the dock is 75 percent less than it was before the oil spill; communities of fisher-folk that haven't recovered at all or are just gone from the Gulf of Mexico; people in areas with extreme human health consequences. And then there are areas that are recovering, that are economically recovered, and people whose health has recovered.

You can go and see beautiful beaches. You can also go and see beaches with oil tarballs. Basically, you've got …more

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The Technofix Is In

An Ecomodernist Manifesto fails to acknowledge the political forces at work in the battle over climate change, and so fails to chart a way forward

The world’s best scientists are warning that the world is warming inexorably, the oceans are becoming acidic and have turned into a “plastic soup,” and we are in the middle of the kind of mass extinction event not seen on the planet in millions of years. But don’t worry — a new breed of environmentalists has just released a manifesto declaring that, with a little faith in technology, humanity can move into a “great” new century of prosperity and universal human dignity on a thriving planet. How can this be?

NuclearPhoto by Mike, on Flickr The manifesto’s faith in technological breakthroughs means it substitutes a kind of Californian positivity for the hard reality of climate politics.

For some years the California-based Breakthrough Institute has been vigorously promoting what it claims to be a new “post-environmentalism,” one highly critical of the mainstream environment movement and no longer wedded to the verities of the past.

In a much-discussed 2004 article, “The Death of Environmentalism,” the Institute’s founders, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, argued that mainstream greens had become too professionalised and insular. Caught up in Beltway politics, Big Green failed to recognize that the American political landscape had shifted well to the right. Their messages no longer cut through, and environmentalism needed a bold new vision to inspire citizens.

So far so good. But the bold new vision turned out not to be one calling for a far-reaching shake-up, but the opposite — collaborating with the same conservatives that Shellenberger and Nordhaus said had been winning the battle.

The institute maintains a determinedly optimistic view of the world, although the bright facade frequently veils a rancor directed against other environmentalists. This rancor perhaps explains some of its baffling policy stances.

The institute frequently attacks renewable energy and energy efficiency, at times with a highly tendentious use of data. For an organization concerned about spiraling greenhouse gas emissions, it’s hard to work out why the group is so dismissive, except as a way of differentiating itself from mainstream environmentalism. Conversely, it vigorously promotes nuclear power, also deploying data and arguments in a misleading way.

Nuclear power has become an obsession for the institute, a kind of signifier by which players in the environmental debate are allocated to the “good guys” box or the “bad guys” …more

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George Will Misses the Mark on Divestment

Campus sustainability movements are no more fundamentalist than Will’s unbridled faith in the free market

Last week, Washington Post columnist George Will took a swing at the campus divestment movement that is spreading across the country, arguing that sustainability has “gone mad” on college campuses. 

Divest from Fossil FuelPhoto by Light Brigading, on Flickr The environmental movement doesn’t fit into the stale boomer-era narrative of left versus right.

Will started out predictably at first, claiming that divestment from fossil fuels is ineffective. It soon became obvious, however, that the divestment movement may indeed pose a serious threat to Will’s worldview. His rhetorical license crescendoed as he compared those committed to sustainability and divestment to religious fundamentalists. But thinly veiled name-calling is the surest sign of a weak argument.

More important than what Will wrote in his column is what he left out. Although Will criticized sundry other divestment movements inspired by “involvement with Israel, firearms, tobacco, red meat, irrigation-dependent agriculture, etc.,” he conveniently omitted apartheid from that litany. Why omit the largest example of a successful divestment movement? This isn’t the first time Will has been on the wrong side of history: Decades ago he criticized the “moral Hula Hoop” of sanctions against the apartheid regime, an amazing campaign that proved to be much more than a passing “fad.” Maybe his recent criticism of the “flamboyant futility” of the fossil fuel divestment movement stems from the fact that the strategy can serve as an effective catalyst. 

Will also summarily dismissed the fossil fuel divestment movement as an indulgence in “progressive gestures” and incorrectly characterized the environmental movement as a left-wing revival. Nothing could be further from the truth. The environmental movement doesn’t fit into the stale boomer-era narrative of left versus right. Many environmental thinkers question the assumptions of the philosophers of plenty — whether Karl Marx or Adam Smith. 

Indeed, most greens are critical of the environmental degradation hidden behind the banner of progress in both capitalist and planned economies of the past. Today, what difference does it make if carbon emissions are coming from a tailpipe in a capitalist country or a smokestack in a socialist one? Will is wrong to assume that environmentalists are motivated out of loyalty to leftist ideology and that the movement is a “green tree with red roots,” as he has written in the past. Perhaps it is not green but gray …more

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Fighting for Our Oceans

From Haiti to Scotland, Goldman Environmental Prize winners tackle marine management challenges

In an era of seemingly unlimited threats to the environment, ocean health is one of the most urgent and severe challenges facing activists today. The oceans are under fire from almost uncountable ills, including rampant overfishing, ocean acidification, plastics pollution, oil spills, and ocean dumping, to name a few. But although the challenges are humbling, there are some activists who have faced them head-on, and with astounding success.

Goldman PrizePhoto courtesy of Goldman AwardsJean Wiener has worked for more than two decades to protect Haiti’s coastal environment and empower local communities.

Jean Wiener and Howard Wood may live 4,000 miles apart, but their lives have taken many similar turns. Both grew up surrounded by water, and have a deep love of the ocean, expressed through years of snorkeling in Haiti’s tropical waters in Wiener’s case, and through chilly dives off the Scottish coast in Wood’s. Over time, both witnessed dire changes in their local coastal zones, and both responded by working tirelessly for marine protection. Through decades of persistence, both men built community support for improved marine management and helped shape stronger national ocean policies. And on Monday, both were among this year’s recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

Growing up in Haiti, Wiener’s family spent every weekend at the beach, and he remembers being drawn to the water from the time he could walk. After attending college in the United States — where he fittingly chose to major in marine biology — Wiener returned to a changed Haiti, finding that the Caribbean waters had deteriorated while he was gone. In particular, mangrove forests were being decimated for use as fuel and coastal zones were being severely overfished.

Eighty percent of the population in Haiti lives in poverty. Local communities that use – and often deplete – natural resources are merely trying to get by. Recognizing this crucial link, and realizing that there were no other organizations addressing natural resource protection issues in Haiti, in 1992 Wiener established the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FoProBiM), which combines coastal protection campaigns with economic empowerment.

Through FoProBiM, Wiener has worked with local communities to develop educational programs as well as conservation projects that provide a source of income for local residents. As Wiener put it, if you ask people to stop fishing or to stop …more

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You Shall Not Pass

Goldman Environmental Prize winners lay their bodies on the line to halt destructive practices

When Marilyn Baptiste, chief of the Xeni Gwet’in community of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation in British Columbia, was told by two members of her tribe that a long line of trucks and heavy equipment was headed into the nation’s territory, she knew she would have to act quickly to stop them. It was November 2011, and three years earlier a Canadian mining corporation, Taseko Mines Limited, had announced its plans to dig a massive, open-pit copper and gold mine on the tribe’s territory in an area called Fish Lake. The company had failed to receive all of the necessary permits from the Canadian federal government to construct the mine, but it was determined to begin some exploratory excavation anyway. By sheer luck, a couple of Tsilhqot’in members were out moose hunting when they spotted the convoy of industrial equipment entering tribal lands, and they rushed to tell Baptiste about it.  

Goldman Environmental PrizePhoto courtesy of Goldman AwardsGoldman Environmental Prize winner Marilyn Baptiste takes a drink out of Chilko Lake, the Tsihqot’in’s main watershed Nemiah Valley, British Columbia, Canada.

“Well, they call it a ‘moral blockade’ — it was myself and my hubby and my late niece,” Baptiste, 44, told me in a recent interview. “And basically the intent was to stop them and to ask them to exit our territory. And that’s what they did.”

The Taseko Mines exploratory convoy included 12 vehicles, including four semi flatbeds with bulldozers and drilling rigs. The way Baptiste tells the story, she and her husband parked their truck diagonally across the road to stop the convoy. The two parties “yakked back and forth … and basically the supervisor said they had a permit and they were going into the area to do exploration.” But the Tsilhqot’in live in what they call “unceded territory” — meaning that they never signed a treaty with white Canadian settlers relinquishing their lands. As mining company security personnel began videotaping the confrontation, Baptiste “advised them they didn’t have jurisdiction.” She told them, “They had not consulted with us. And to please leave our territory.”

Eventually officers with the Royal Canadian Mountain Police showed up. After a three-hour standoff that, as Baptiste says, “felt like it was forever,” the miners said they would turn the convey around and leave Tsilhqot’in land. “By the time they were all …more

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