We should honor the 1976 public interest agreement and affirm “America’s greatest idea”
Last November, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made an historic decision for America’s national parks and wilderness legacy by honoring a decades-old agreement the government made to the people of the United States regarding Point Reyes National Seashore. Salazar decided to let the lease of a commercial oyster company operating within a congressionally designated wilderness area expire on its own terms, ushering in the protection of our first marine wilderness on the West Coast.
Photo by Marsha Kirschbaum
Salazar’s decision symbolized government at its best: acting in the interest of all Americans and ensuring that public trust resources such as national parks and wilderness are protected for future generations. Some Members of Congress who have a long history of working on public lands issues stated: “We applaud the decision to follow the clear intent of Congress, as well as an agreement signed almost four decades ago to establish the nation's first marine wilderness on the west coast at Point Reyes National Seashore. This decision will protect the ecological heart of the National Seashore.” In short: a deal is a deal.
But the owners of Drakes Bay Oyster Company believe they are entitled to continue operating on publicly owned land and in publicly owned waters that were long-planned to be protected from commercial uses. After Salazar issued his decision the company immediately filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department.
On May 14 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments as the company seeks to continue its commercial operations far beyond its lease expiration in this sensitive marine environment. In February, the federal District Court ruled that the company did not deserve an injunction as it pursues its lawsuit. The judge found that the Court did not have jurisdiction and, even if it did, the company’s lawsuit lacked merit and failed to demonstrate that it is in the public interest. The judge also found that an injunction is not equitable for the American public, who own the land and waters where the company operates and who were long promised its protection and enjoyment free of motorized and commercial uses.
Tourists largely unaware that industrial pollution from rivers upstream is making them sick
Over the past few decades, Sayulita, a small fishing village along Mexico’s 200-mile Riviera Nayarit coastline, has grown into a boutique eco-tourism and retiree destination. It’s known among surfers for its consistent river mouth surf break. The town has a water treatment plant built in 2009, it recycles its rubbish, and many restaurants use only ‘organic’ locally grown food. A common conversation in many cafes around its pretty stone plaza is how to improve the town’s sustainability. This would be an almost idyllic community but for the fact that its small river is heavily polluted.
Photos by Justine Kelly
Unaware of the extent of pollution flowing in the river, foreign tourists and expat surfers wonder about the constant flu and respiratory trouble they suffer from after swallowing the water in Sayulita and other Nayarit beaches.
“We only surf when the water is moving [out] and taking the waste from the river out to sea,” says Mitch Carr, an Australian surfer and long term Sayulita resident. He has a respiratory complaint and lethargy for a few months, but believes he had just some bad luck with a “one-off bit of e-coli” infection and that his immune system is low. He continues surfing daily.
But local Mexicans are aware that the respiratory, bronchial, and stomach problems that people suffer from after swimming and surfing here may be caused by industrial waste that pollutes the once-great El Rio Grande de Santiago or Santiago River — the source of their river and all of the rivers that flow down to the tourism zones of Jalisco and Riviera Nayarit.
They also know that beaches of Riviera Nayarit often host high levels of Enterococcus, a strain of e-coli bacteria that causes various respiratory and stomach infections and is resistant to antibiotics. Enterococcus is often generated as waste in the production of antibiotics. It can also come from agricultural waste. SEMARNAT, Mexico’s environmental agency, rates 100 enterococcus per 1000 ml (1 quart) of water as acceptable. The number deemed safe by the US Environmental Agency is 35 per 1000 ml.
In March 2013, when SEMARNAT deemed all beaches along the Pacific coast as safe, but the beach waters at San Francisco …more
Legislation is “constitutionally suspect,” says Gov Bill Haslam
Great Monday morning news! Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has just vetoed his state’s “ag-gag” bill that would have criminalized undercover investigations at horse stables and factory farm facilities.
Photo by Tom Hart
In his statement describing his reasons for vetoing the bill, Haslam said: “First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so…. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.”
The governor’s veto comes after widespread opposition to the anti-whistleblower legislation that would require that anyone recording abuse in livestock operations turn the evidence over to law enforcement within 24 hours or face criminal charges.
Animal welfare activists say the deadline is far too short to allow for actual documentation of the extent to which animal abuse can be a pervasive practice at large livestock and cattle facilities. Also, it would immediately expose the undercover investigator, which, they say, is exactly what the meat industry wants.
Thousands of Tennesseans, animal welfare groups, and free speech advocates had protested the bill that had squeezed through both houses of legislature in April. More than 300 Tennessee clergy also spoke out against the bill, as did several state celebrities, including Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013.
In addition to Tennessee, such bills were introduced this year in 10 other states — Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wyoming. So far none of the bills have been successful. (In Indiana, the state assembly adjourned for the year this morning without passing its ag-gag bill.)
As I’ve been reporting since last year, (see here, here and here), these bills are part of Big Ag’s efforts to block undercover investigations of industrial-scale livestock operations which have repeatedly exposed unsanitary conditions and inhumane treatment of animals. Such investigations have led to the closure of farming facilities and even criminal convictions.
In Tennessee, for instance, a 2011 Humane Society …more
The only way forward is back: to retrace our steps and seek to return atmospheric concentrations to around 350ppm
The data go back 800,000 years: that's the age of the oldest fossil air bubbles extracted from Dome C, an ice-bound summit in the high Antarctic. And throughout that time there has been nothing like this. At no point in the preindustrial record have concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air risen above 300 parts per million (ppm). 400ppm is a figure that belongs to a different era.
Photo courtesy NASA
The difference between 399ppm and 400ppm is small, in terms of its impacts on the world's living systems. But this is a moment of symbolic significance, a station on the Via Dolorosa of environmental destruction. It is symbolic of our failure to put the long-term prospects of the natural world and the people it supports above immediate self-interest.
The only way forward now is back: to retrace our steps and seek to return atmospheric concentrations to around 350ppm, as the 350.org campaign demands. That requires, above all, that we leave the majority of the fossil fuels which have already been identified in the ground. There is not a government or an energy company which has yet agreed to do so.
Recently, Shell announced that it will go ahead with its plans to drill deeper than any offshore oil operation has gone before: almost 3km below the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, Oxford University opened a new laboratory in its department of earth sciences. The lab is funded by Shell. Oxford says that the partnership "is designed to support more effective development of natural resources to meet fast-growing global demand for energy." Which translates as finding and extracting even more fossil fuel.
The European Emissions Trading Scheme, which was supposed to have capped our consumption, is now, for practical purposes, dead. International climate talks have stalled; governments such as ours now seem quietly to be unpicking their domestic commitments. Practical measures to prevent the growth of global emissions are, by comparison to the scale of the challenge, almost nonexistent.
The problem is simply stated: the power of the fossil fuel companies is too great. Among those who seek and obtain high office are people characterized by a complete …more
A British couple is running the length of South America for its wilderness and wildlife
On the opening day of London’s 2012 Summer Olympics, Brits David and Katharine Lowrie, both in their 30s, kicked off their own race in Patagonia. The challenge? To run the length of South America unsupported, some 5000 miles south to north, in a year. That is the equivalent of running over 200 marathons in 12 months. No one has ever traversed the continent like this. But the Lowries’ main goal was to raise funds and environmental awareness for South America’s wilds – rain forests, high plains, and jungles that they would pass through en route. They began in a Tierra Del Fuego snow storm, survived anti-British resentment as Argentina celebrated the Falkland War’s 50th anniversary, and have worn out eight pairs of shoes plus two self-made support carts that they take turns hauling while on the run. I caught up with the trail-tested couple in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia for an extensive interview about their 5000 Mile Project.
Patrick Holian: According to my calculations, you appear to be at the halfway point of your 5,000-mile journey, correct?
Katharine:Well, it looks now like the run will be 6,500 miles. It was so difficult to judge the distance before we started. We’ve had to take detours due to bad weather. Some roads did not exist. So it’s going to take a bit longer.
David: But by every measure we are passed the halfway point. We are running more miles than we planned every day now. We have to keep the pressure up or this will last forever. It hurts like hell, but it’s going to be possible to get to the end, we hope.
It must be brutal. You are averaging 20 miles per running day. A marathon is 26 miles. How do you do that?
Katharine: Yeah, when we stop running at day’s end, we are just shattered. We have to set up camp. Cooking takes about an hour and we always do our data, our records for the wildlife that we’ve seen during the day. That takes about three quarters of an hour. By the end of it, we’re just nuked!
David: I get motivated by numbers. If we haven’t made a degree of latitude within 5 days, I’m upset. If we did it in four, I’m happy. You have to look at things like that because the …more
BLM cites budget, staff constraints, anti-fracking activists say lawsuits forced agency decision
Advantage, anti-fracking activists. The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced that it is postponing all oil and gas lease sales in California for the rest of the federal year.
This means the bureau’s plan to auction drilling leases for another 1,300 acres of public lands in Fresno and Kern counties later this month is now on hold at least until October. Same with another planned auction of 2,000 acres in Colusa County.
Photo by Ryan Stavely
The move comes less than a month after a federal judge ruled that BLM had violated the law by leasing 2,500 acres of public land in Monterey County without evaluating the environmental risks of fracking. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit by Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) that claimed that BLM had not adequately reviewed the impact of fracking on local air quality, water supplies, and wildlife.
The ruling will likely have implications for a more recent lease sale of another 18,000 acres of prime public lands in central California last December, in areas that house established vineyards and several endangered species. Sierra Club and CBD have filed a lawsuit against this sale too.
Now our friends at BLM are citing budgetary restrictions and low staffing as the reason behind the move. But it seems pretty clear that their decision was, at least in part, prompted by the ruckus being raised by environmental groups and California lawmakers against opening up the Golden State for further drilling.
“BLM is an agency that doesn’t like to admit when it’s wrong. The sequester is just an excuse for them to do what they had to do,” says Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Because of the lawsuit they just lost, they know that they can’t legally hold additional lease sales in California without a full environmental review” He said that was why the agency was putting the process on hold here while still carrying out leasing auctions in other parts of the country despite …more
If We Could Fix Climate Change With a Flick of a Switch, Will It be More Palatable to Conservatives?
Geoengineering might get more conservatives to believe in global warming – and I’m not sure that’s a good thing
As the consequences of climate change become increasingly obvious (you know, floods, fires, and droughts), it’s becoming more and more difficult for conservatives to dismiss global warming out-of-hand. Yes, the folks at The Heartland Institute are still plugging along (thanks for sending me your recent book, fellows). But – outside the shrinking band of dead-enders – self-described conservatives are beginning to acknowledge that man-made climate change is real and will require action. A recent Gallup poll found that more than half of Republicans now acknowledge the existence of global warming, up from 39 percent in 2011.
Having long denied the problem exists and squandered precious time to mitigate it, some conservatives now say it’s too late to do anything about climate change. This is what a former Obama White House official has called “the sophisticated objection” to taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Or as Stephen Colbert explained the situation earlier this year in his signature style: “It’s high time we stop denying the problem and resign ourselves to each day getting worse.”
In short, decades of delay and geopolitical gridlock have become an excuse for inaction and fatalism.
That’s bad enough. It’s sort of like letting part of your house catch fire and then saying there’s no reason to call 911 because, hey, the neighbors aren’t calling the fire department, either. Might as well let ‘er burn.
But I have another worry. I’m concerned that, with global atmospheric CO2 concentrations having topped 400 ppm (the highest in at least 800,000 years), conservatives will begin to say we have no choice but to embrace atmospheric geoengineering: technologies that will manipulate the entire planet by either blocking some sunlight from hitting Earth and/or finding ways to modify plants or the oceans to suck up vast amounts of carbon dioxide.