Might as well mark Earth Day, that once meaningful day that now gives corporations an opportunity to pretend they care about the planet. Let’s note it a different way. American Scientist put together a useful timeline of the history of DDT and Rachel Carson, particularly how both have been discussed in the media. Quite worthy of a bit of your time.
The cost of trout fishing upon our river ecosystems is high. That’s because we’ve industrialized the trout, like we’ve industrialized so many animals.
Twenty-eight million Americans will buy freshwater fishing licenses this year. Eight million of them will be trout and salmon anglers. Native wild trout have mostly disappeared in the face of this immense fishing pressure. They have been replaced by nonnative hatchery fish and their river-born “wild” trout offspring. Nationwide, state and federal fisheries agencies dump some 130 million trout in lakes, rivers and streams each year. Although this stocking lures people outside, the hatcheries that produce these trout create environmental problems.
Trout aquaculture is heavily reliant on pellet feed. The federal and state hatchery production of some 28 million pounds of trout per year requires roughly 34 million pounds of feed. These pellets are derived from herring, menhaden and anchovies harvested from oceans in quantities that the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say are unsustainable. We are devastating populations of marine species simply to support a freshwater hobby.
If that’s not bad enough, hatcheries are major polluters. Each year, much of the roughly six million pounds of fish excrement, uneaten food and dead and decaying fish that I estimate are produced by these hatcheries leach nutrients into wastewater that is often then dumped untreated into the closest stream or river. This wastewater can also contain medicines and antibiotics used to limit diseases in crowded pens, and disinfectants that sterilize holding tanks. Ultimately, these hatcheries may be contributing to the proliferation of “dead zones” — biological wastelands created by excess nutrients — that are choking estuaries and coastal ecosystems downstream.
Although stocking trout is harmful, eating them is far better than eating native wild trout. When these native fish die, their genetic uniqueness dies, too. (Brook and lake trout are the only trout native to the entire Northeast, for instance; nonnatives like brown, rainbow and golden trout are also released into Northeast streams.) Unfortunately, many states set uniformly high catch limits that draw no distinction between native versus nonnative trout. Therefore, anglers need to hold themselves to a higher standard than the rules that govern their actions.
It’s tough. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about it too much. After all, fishing is a major recreational activity for millions of Americans and just because it has screwed wild fish stocks, does that mean it should end? Should we just accept that we have industrialized this activity and go for it? Do wild fish stocks matter? I’d argue yes for the last question and say that managing this resource also means ensuring as much of a healthy ecological system as possible.
It’s worth remembering that central to the Republican agenda is selling off every acre of public land possible (which is everything outside of national parks, national monuments, national preserves, and wilderness areas*) to the highest bidder, which are almost inevitably timber and mining companies, and sometimes grazing interests or perhaps the 1% who want to create baronial estates. A budgetary amendment to move this idea forward, although it really doesn’t have meaningful legal standing, just passed the Senate by a 51-49 vote. A massive firesale of public lands is entirely possible the next time Republicans control the presidency and both houses on Congress. But you know, vote 3rd party in 2016 because drones.
*The linked article says wilderness areas can be sold, but I am pretty sure this is not true given that federally designated wilderness areas have more restrictions on usage than national parks.
The White House blog has been shamelessly claiming how progressive and good for the American people the Trans-Pacific Partnership is. The other day, it sent out a message about how the TPP was good for environmental issues and included quotes from environmentalists who supported it. What? The World Wildlife Fund and Nature Conservancy are supporting the TPP? Here’s Carter Roberts, CEO of the WWF:
A major trade agreement among these countries that includes strong environmental obligations could provide critical new protections for some of our planet’s important natural resources. More specifically, it could disrupt some of the most notorious trading routes that are driving the current global wildlife poaching epidemic.
As nearly four years of negotiations come to a close, TPP countries face a choice. Do they keep their promise to create an ambitious 21st century trade deal with a fully enforceable environment chapter or do they abandon real environmental protections for weak, voluntary promises?
The U.S. has pressed hard throughout the process, and in response to the recent leak of the environment chapter, US Trade Representative Ambassador Mike Froman wrote that our government “will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement.”
It’s great to see the U.S. continue to publicly show its support for the environment. US leadership is paramount to delivering a final TPP with strong conservation protections, but it’s critical that other TPP nations make similar public commitments. As major producers and traders of wildlife, fish and timber, all negotiating nations have a responsibility to ensure that resources are well managed and that illegal trade and subsidies do not contribute to the depletion of fish stocks or increase illegal logging and wildlife trafficking.
As a result, any trade agreement with these countries must address the key environmental and conservation challenges facing us in the 21st century, such as destruction of our oceans, wildlife, forests, public health, and climate. The U.S. has pushed for a minimum set of conservation protections in the TPP Environment Chapter – just one of 29 TPP chapters. But the devil is in the details and there are a number of aspects that the U.S. has resisted including in the agreement and provisions that could undermine key environmental safeguards. Unfortunately due to arcane rules pushed by the U.S., we have no idea what is in this agreement and won’t know until the final deal is reached as the documents are kept secret. But we do have some insights into a couple of aspects, including the Environment Chapter, thanks to leaks of earlier versions of the negotiating documents. And the signs from those leaks were troubling enough that NRDC, Sierra Club, and WWF raised serious concerns back in January about the reported language in the Environment Chapter.
So as negotiators make a final push to wrap up agreements this year, thirteen leading environmental and conservation groups – including NRDC, Sierra Club, WWF, League of Conservation Voters, and Oceana – sent a letter to the U.S. government articulating basic minimum conservation protections that need to be included in the final TPP environment chapter. On top of that a number of groups, including NRDC, have raised concerns about other TPP provisions including the inclusion of secret courts that would give new rights to corporations to challenge environmental and other public interest policies in un-transparent trade tribunals and the exclusion of key environmental agreements that address climate change or mercury pollution. At the same time, these trade agreements don’t establish minimum environmental safeguards that each participating country must meet, such as protecting their citizens from dangerous pollution. Here is a basic summary of my organization’s minimum requirements for the TPP. Unfortunately the leaked documents fall well short of these principles.
Interestingly, both sides of this within environmentalism are using the issue of enforceability as the key to their point. A few of the more conservative and less far-reaching groups are pointing specifically to wildlife trafficking protections as the reason to support it while those with a broader agenda see another version of NAFTA, lacking real, meaningful, and enforceable regulations on transnational environmental issues.
It’s worth noting here that some environmental groups decided to support NAFTA in 1993 because they wanted to continue to be part of the conversation and be in a favorable position with the Clinton administration. That strategy worked very poorly for the environment itself given the huge negative impacts on the Mexican environment from American corporations outsourcing production. It’s possible that is what some of the pro-TPP groups are thinking here again. It’s a short-sighted strategy.
You can read the Wikileaks account of the draft environmental passages of the TPP from 2014 here. It does not look promising.
I think the Endangered Species Act is really quite underrated in the history of transformative American legislation. Everyone knows about it on a basic level, but it’s role in saving entire ecosystems from industrial production is really quite remarkable. Take the marbled murrelet. People know about the northern spotted owl and the role it played in shutting down old growth timber production in the Pacific Northwest. But the murrelet is just as important and in the long run maybe more as the barred owl is eliminating spotted owls on its own. The marbled murrelet only nests on think high branches in old growth forests. Get rid of the old growth and the murrelet goes extinct. The environmental historian Char Miller:
These economic benefits ran right into an interrelated set of ecological deficits for which Furnish and his peers along the northern Pacific coast had to account: steep declines in spotted-owl and salmon populations, as well as troubling data about timber harvesting’s impact on the marbled murrelet. By the late 1990s, federal and state scientists assessing murrelet behavior ranging from the Santa Cruz Mountains north into Oregon had concluded that breeding murrelets exhibit site fidelity, that is, they return year after year to the same nesting area. As such, if a nesting stand is logged off, these particular birds may not breed again.
On the Siuslaw, for example, the data revealed that “nine out of ten mature timber stands had nesting owls and murrelets — which meant no more timber harvest.” What Furnish and his leadership team concluded was that “this incredibly productive landscape could not simultaneously maximize timber products and wildlife.” Because these redwood, spruce, and fir forests were “the womb that sustained this natural abundance,” and because by law this abundance itself must be sustained, “the remaining mature forest in the Coastal Range would stay standing.”
In an effort to undo this principled reasoning, the timber industry has been trying to delist the marbled murrelet as a threatened species, stripping it of its protections and opening the way for a return of clearcutting. As Furnish wrote me in an email: “The timber industry continues to take the narrow, regressive view that the Endangered Species Act simply doesn’t matter.”
But the timber industry consistently fails to win these battles because the ESA language is strong. Theoretically, the next time Republicans control all branches of government, the law could repealed. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. But as of right now, it has saved not only a bird like the marbled murrelet, but the entire ecosystem it relies upon.
The reality is that most of the natural world deals better with the landmines and toxicity of militarized landscapes or the nuclear pollution of Chernobyl than the basic activities of human beings.
Yet expressions of optimism have been popping up in various green quarters. In June Al Gore published an article in Rolling Stone titled “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate,” hailing “surprising—even shocking—good news” about a shift toward a solar-powered future. “[I]t is now clear that we will ultimately prevail,” he declared. September’s climate march in New York exceeded expectations, attracting some 400,000 people and spurring pronouncements that a mass movement had finally arrived. Longtime New York Times environmental reporter (now blogger) Andy Revkin has also attracted attention for his relatively upbeat outlook. “We are going to do OK,” he told an audience of environmental science researchers last summer.
Of course, different optimisms have different sources and different implications. Gore’s is relatively narrow: it’s based on diffusion of a particular technology, and the triumph he predicts (while somewhat ambiguous) is presumably that human civilization will survive. A more expansive vision, coming from the left wing of the climate movement, is found in Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything. Her professed optimism derives, in a sense, from horror at the status quo, which she feels is becoming so intolerable for so many that we might actually do something about it. Klein proposes that the devastation of climate change can serve as a catalyst for a broader social justice movement that will deliver us to a world better than the one we now inhabit—less exploitative of the vulnerable of all species, human and otherwise.
But perhaps most provocative are the worldviews that ground their optimism in a reconsideration of our relationship to the natural world. A couple of emerging sub-movements share certain familiar green principles but challenge others. They highlight the value and the pitfalls of optimism for social movements generally, but also the unique challenges for environmentalism. And they raise questions about what it means to be an environmentalist when the environment is rapidly changing.
I have trouble buying into this. I do support redefining environmentalism into the world around us and not just the wilderness way out there. That’s an important transition in environmentalism that needs to take place. For as much as I respect Bill McKibben, I don’t accept his definition of the environment as “its separation from human society” since a) our own permeable bodies are all too interactive with the environment and thus get sick and die from our actions and b) we live in a materialistic society that brings processed, or second, nature into our homes through what we buy. However, a new environmentalism centering these issues is also different from simply redefining human behavior and impact on the environment to create a narrative that we are acting OK and we can go on more or less business as usual.
Of course, people always say that apocalyptic narratives of environmentalism don’t lead to people changing their behavior. Perhaps true. But pollyanna narratives of environmentalism also don’t lead to people changing their behavior. Reality is that nothing is going to change human behavior and we are going to go right to sending half the world’s species into extinction.
We are also now trying to date the anthropocene. Is the date when we start seeing meaningful human-caused and permanent environmental change 1610? 1775? 1945? 1964? None of these dates make sense to me. A far more meaningful date is 1492, for the European exploitation of the Americas will launch modern capitalism and the global free-for-all that defines modern society.
….Couple of points from comments.
1. There is a seeming misunderstanding of the pessimism of environmentalism. That pessimism, including on climate change, is not “there’s nothing that can be done.” It’s “we can do something, but it will have to be radical and right now we are doing nothing and there’s no reason to think that will change.” Those are very different things. There are tons of possible solutions. They may include the end of auto and plane travel. Even with the most classic case of environmental pessimism, that of Paul Ehrlich and The Population Bomb, the argument was not that we were necessarily destined to outgrow the planet’s carrying capacity but that we likely would since we wouldn’t make the necessary changes.
2. The whole idea of “environmental pessimism causes people to not do anything” is such conventional wisdom, yet I haven’t seen a single bit of scholarly or even really anecdotal evidence that it is true. I’d like to be enlightened if such evidence exists.
Fifty years after Selma, it’s worth remembering that the continued exploitation of poor blacks by whites also includes their environmental exploitation, as (largely) white-owned companies use their neighborhoods for toxic dumping grounds and to site the most hazardous and polluting factories.
The South has long been a region where fossil fuel industries have pretty much had their way with mostly poor, black, brown, and Native American communities, mainly due to lax regulations and poor environmental and civil rights law enforcement. Just this week in Alabama, the environmental group Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP) filed a civil rights complaint against the Jefferson County Department of Health for allowing Walter Coke, Inc. to continue emitting air pollutants over predominantly black communities (Grist wrote about this last April). A University of Alabama at Birmingham study found a correlation between low birth weight and household proximity to coke plants in Birmingham. It’s the second civil rights complaint GASP has filed on this matter in as many months.
“North Birmingham has historically served as a dumping ground for polluting facilities,” said long-time environmental justice scholar and activist Robert Bullard, who’s helping lead environmental justice activities in Selma. “The neighborhood was an environmental ‘sacrifice zone’ when I did my student teaching at a high school in the area way back in 1968.”
The latest concern, and one of the largest, for environmental justice activists in the South is a gigantic “clean coal” facility under construction in Kemper County, Miss. As Grist writer Sara Bernard recently reported, the operation is already taking an economic toll on the surrounding communities and provides no guarantees that it won’t add to pollution already saturating the state’s land, air, and water.
That plant is owned and operated by Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, which owns numerous dirty coal plants around the South, and has funded the work of recently discredited climate denier Wei-Hock Soon. Just so happens that Southern Co. is also a sponsor of the Selma 50th anniversary event this weekend. (Mississippi Power is not a sponsor, but two of Southern’s other subsidiaries, Georgia Power and Alabama Power, are sponsors.)
One would hope that sponsoring civil rights commemorations wouldn’t get these companies off the hook for hurting black people in the present. Of course, the executives of these companies almost certainly also support politicians who want to roll back black voting rights.
Sea levels across the Northeast coast of the United States rose nearly 3.9 inches between 2009 and 2010, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Arizona and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The waters near Portland, Maine, saw an even greater rise — 5 inches — over the two-year period.
While scientists have been observing higher sea levels across the globe in recent decades, the study found a much more extreme rise than previous averages. Such an event is “unprecedented” in the history of the tide gauge record, according to the researchers, and represents a 1-in-850 year event.
“Unlike storm surge, this event caused persistent and widespread coastal flooding even without apparent weather processes,” the study’s authors wrote. “In terms of beach erosion, the impact of the 2009-2010 [sea level rise] event is almost as significant as some hurricane events.”
At least we are taking climate change seriously and are ready to do what it takes to save our coastlines…
Trish Kahle has an interesting piece at Jacobin on the potential for alliance between striking United Steelworkers’ refinery workers and environmentalists over safety conditions at the plants. Certainly environmentalists like Bill McKibben are saying all the right things here–greens have indeed learned lessons from the spotted owl debacle of the 1980s and 1990s. What does such alliances lead to? I don’t know. Kahle points out the history of these short-term alliances in the past, using the commonly cited example of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers (OCAW) under the leadership of Tony Mazzocchi in the 1970s as well as the rank and file of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in the same era, fighting against their own union leadership and the companies for a healthier and more ecologically just workplace. My own book Empire of Timber details how these alliances played out in the timber industry.
Unfortunately, these alliances are very hard to sustain. First, they are almost always top-down, leadership-driven actions. That can work, but the rank and file of *both* movements have to get involved and there’s often been resistance there, often for cultural reasons. I think this is somewhat less of a problem with greens these days because in my experience, young people are often significantly more interested in green issues with an environmental justice angle than pure wilderness and wildlife issues of the past. But as the signs festooning West Virginia and western Pennsylvania lambasting Obama’s “War on Coal” suggest, there can often still be severe cultural suspicion from workers toward environmentalists.
As Kahle points out, the shift in the UMWA away from an ecological agenda had much to do with industry slashing jobs, which is another huge reason for the difficulty of making these alliances last. The corporate-state assault on unions, especially in the private sector, means that workers are extremely nervous about supporting anything that might endanger their jobs and in that fear are easily manipulated by the lies of their employers about environmental protection or even workplace safety. It is when workers have some sort of employment and economic stability that they have been most open to green programs. And that’s very hard in the 21st century American economy with the global race to the bottom and aggressive anti-union tactics undermining good jobs.
As for an ecosocialist agenda, well, I obviously support that, even if it remains fairly undefined. But given that Kahle is writing about refinery workers who labor in an industry contributing to climate change, I guess I need more detail on what role refinery workers can play if the goal is to switch to a green economy without fossil fuels. Obviously supporting solar and wind energy jobs as union jobs can be a piece of that but if the ideal is closing the refineries, I’m not sure that’s going to be a great way to keep an alliance with refinery workers going.
Still, you have to try. What else is there? Any alliance between labor and greens over workplace safety is really positive and I hope this leads to more conversations and more common ground between the two movements. If there’s a picket line around you, go to it. If there’s a speaker around these issues, go hear the person.
It startled her. She jumped, let out a yelp, and took off down a hall. Wilde wasn’t running for her life; she was amazed by a discovery. She had uncovered a bacteria, one with a powerful toxin that attacked waterfowl, hiding on the underside of an aquatic leaf that grows nearly everywhere in the United States, including the Chesapeake Bay.
After 20 years of testing determined that the bacteria had never before been recorded, and the brain lesions it cause had never before been found before that night in 1994, Wilde recently gave her discovery a name: Aetokthonos hydrillicola. The Greek word means “eagle killer” for its ability to quickly kill the birds of prey. It’s the latest threat to a raptor that is starting to flourish after being removed from the endangered species list.
Across the South, near reservoirs full of invasive plants from Asia called hydrilla, eagles have been stricken by this bacteria, which goes straight to their brains. Eagles prey on American coots, which dine almost exclusively on hydrilla.
Before now, reservoirs that serve up a buffet of this plant were considered beneficial because they helped fuel the annual migration of coots from Canada to Florida and beyond, while also feeding eagles. But now the reservoirs are “death traps,” said Wilde, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia whose study of the topic was recently published in the journal Phytotaxa. In Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, coots, shorebirds, ducks and eagles are dying by the dozens from the incurable lesions.
“We’re attracting them to places where they’re going to die, and that’s not a good thing,” Wilde said.
I’m sure Republicans will be quite favorably to relisting the bald eagle under the Endangered Species Act so I feel great that this will turn out well.
I received a request for a list of environmental policy/history books. I make no claims to being an authoritative source here and others will have different books, but here are 10 books on the history of environmental policy I find useful. I am thinking of these terms broadly as well. In no order:
1. Samuel Hays, A History of Environmental Politics since 1945.
Pretty self-explanatory, good overview of the issue from the dean of environmental policy history.
2. James Morton Turner, The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics since 1964
An excellent recent overview of wilderness politics after the Wilderness Act.
3. Christopher Wells, Car Country: An Environmental History
How did we become a car-centric society and what are its environmental implications?
4. Andrew Hurley, Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana, 1945-80.
Who has access to clean nature and who does not? Guess what–it’s about race.
5. Karl Jacoby, Crimes against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation
What were the politics and actions behind the creation of hunting law and national parks?
6. Nancy Langston, Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES
A key book about the science and policy behind synthetic chemicals and women’s bodies
7. Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West
Water policy, which we must understand to talk about the West.
8. Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River
How policymakers and industry completely reshaped a river and its ecosystem.
9. Joseph Taylor, Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis
Fisheries policy and its many mistakes is hugely important for environmental policy
10. Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On: People, Politics, and the AIDS Epidemic.
A great piece of journalism rather than a history but it holds up as an indictment of the abject failure of the Reagan Administration during the greatest public health crisis of the second half of the 20th century.
I find this list slightly dated, which surprises me since I keep up on the historiography pretty well. It’s also I should note quite different than what I think the best books of environmental history are, although these are all good. Strictly thinking about policy.
I have no doubt there will be many great recommendations in comments as well, including books I probably just forgot.