Niagara River Greenway may be the key to our resilient future.
By Jay Burney
The Niagara River Greenway from Lake Ontario to Buffalo’s Outer Harbor is a brilliant designation that can continue to be a very important part of the future of our international region. Today the Greenway has significant protections and designations including the Niagara River Globally Significant Important Bird Area (http://www.friendsoftimesbeachnp.org/niagara-river-corridor-globally-significant-important-bird-area.html) and the Ramsar Wetland of International Importance designation (https://www.law.buffalo.edu/beyond/clinics/environmental-law/niagara-river-corridor.html). Did I mention that we have a whole lot of clean, fresh water which is on the fast track to becoming the most valuable asset on Earth.
Climate change brings with it both unstable and somewhat unpredictable weather patterns and consequences. Natural areas – areas that promote biodiversity, clean water and clean air – are critical resources when it comes to helping to stabilize the atmosphere, and help this beautiful planet to sustain life, including our own.
We have to have a plan, and not just a small plan. Our region has become great because we dare to dream big. What is our plan?
The Greenway is a substantial natural and cultural place. Waters of the Great Lakes (20% of Earth’s fresh surface water) pass through here. This increasingly rare asset supports plant and animal biodiversity that is fundamental to the way our region affects and contributes to hemispheric and global health.
There is talk these days of establishing colonies in space so that the future of the human race is secured. Although there is no doubt that our species benefits greatly from the science that comes from exploration, let’s not forget that we can, and perhaps we must, apply that technology and data, and all the money that is being talked about, on creating protected Earth sites such as the Niagara River Corridor.
There is still plenty of time to save our Earth. A few years back, E.O. Wilson, the famed Harvard scientist wrote a book called “Half-Earth” in which he postulated that it would take a concentrated effort to protect fully one-half of the earth’s natural resources, including habitats such as forests, lakes, grasslands and shorelines by putting them off limits to anarchistic human development.
This is the plan we should be investing in. This can help to ensure that future generations have a quality of life that will support them. How we design plans to protect this will make all of the difference to the next generations.
I propose that we create a declaration that the Niagara River Greenway and its associated watersheds become the first North American Resiliency Zone. Protecting ecology and people is a peaceful, just and verdant goal that we can attain.
Earth is a rare paradise. We can create a place here that is responsible, resilient and regenerative. We can plan for a brilliant future. The good news is that we have already started.
≈ Comments Off on Biodiversity and Climate Change- A Biocentric Point of View
Western New York Environmental Alliance, Habitat and Natural Resources Group
Special White Paper Report- Biodiversity and Climate Change-A Biocentric View
The Western New York Environmental Alliance, a Great Lakes based environmental organization, has teamed up with GreenWatch to produce this very important White Paper The WNYEA’s Habiitat and Natural Resources Working Group of to publish the Working Group’s White Paper.
Editor Jay Burney
Table of Contents
I. Introduction and Overview
II. The Role of Biodiversity
III. Human Dominion Over Nature-Holocene Extinction
IV. It’s the Economy, Stupid
-Externalities v. Value
-Why the Energy Equation is Not Enough
-The Kaya Identity
V. WNY Primacy
-Preserve, Protect, and Defend, -biodiversity
-The Sweetwater Seas
-Buffalo Sewer Authority and CSO’s
-Methane and C02 Issues
-Habitat Destruction Through Infrastructure Development
VI. Conclusion-A Biocentric Viewpoint is Needed Now
Note: It is the intention of the WNYEA Habitat and Natural Resources Group to use this white paper as an evolving document. We hope to use the issues and scenarios discussed in this document as an outline for a long term work plan focusing on issues, solutions, partnerships, and strategies to address fundamental climate change issues.
I. Introduction and Overview
Last May, David Suzuki the eminent Canadian scientist, environmentalist, climate change activist, filmmaker and writer, quit his own organization’s board so that he could more freely speak out on issues that his organizations funders found too controversial or objectionable. His very first piece of writing after his resignation was called: “A Biocentric Viewpoint is Needed Now”
In it he wrote, “Environmentalism has failed. Over the past 50 years, environmentalists have succeeded in raising awareness, changing logging practices, stopping mega-dams and offshore drilling, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But we were so focused on battling opponents and seeking public support that we failed to realize these battles reflect fundamentally different ways of seeing our place in the world. And it is our deep underlying worldview that determines the way we treat our surroundings. We have not, as a species, come to grips with the explosive events that have changed our relationship with the planet. For most of human existence, we lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers whose impact on nature could be absorbed by the resilience of the biosphere. Even after the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago, farming continued to dominate our lives. We cared for nature. People who live close to the land understand that seasons, climate, weather, pollinating insects and plants are critical to our well-being.”
-To read the entire piece: http://ecowatch.org/2012/the-fundamental-failure-of-environmentalism/
When David Suzuki came to Buffalo in 2001 as a speaker at the Learning Sustainability Conference this was also his underlying message. “Humans have to think of themselves as a part of the earth and not just a consumer of the earth.” We are the earth, we are interconnected and interdependent and if we do not realize this and act accordingly we will destroy our opportunities to survive as a species,” he said in an interview at that time.
It is time for us now to take up this challenge in Western New York. It is time for us to take a “biocentric point of view”. This is essentially what this “white paper” is about. Climate change is rampaging our planet, our region, and our communities like an unstoppable freight train that has gone off the tracks. We are no longer looking at a “predicted” future of possible highly variable extreme weather conditions and catastrophic events. That future is here now.
Climate instability has impacts that do and will continue to effect each one of us. Our pocketbooks, food supply, environment and ecology, human health and our social structures will bear the increasingly undisguised and festering scars of this careening train.
Climate change is challenging our very ability to survive as a species.
-Co2 in the atmosphere continues to increase dramatically on a global scale.
The changes in atmospheric gasses which now include nearly 400 ppm of CO2 is increasing about 2ppm per year. These increasing emissions are due to human activity. This activity is causing a rapid escalation of atmospheric instability. Climate scientists estimate that a healthy and stable atmosphere needs to be reduced to 275 ppm. Currently we are not even slowing down global emissions although according to a new report issued by the US Energy Information Administration, in 2011 due to factors such as a poor economy and a glut of cheap natural gas US energy related carbon emissions declined by 2.4%. This report may not give a full picture, but it does suggest that effective alternative strategies can have an impact on at least US emissions. This may be inconsequential on a global scale
In early August, NASA released a study co authored by Jim Hansen, the Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Instead of modeling, which had been done in previous NASA studies, this study used statistical analysis of recent heat and drought events and extreme weather patterns. It concludes unequivocally that climate change has arrived, is here on a disastrous global scale, and is much worse that we thought.
Climate change science has been clear for over a decade. What is changing is that now we have statistical evidence of things such as climate instability and extreme weather events, which have lead to draughts, ecological devastation, heat waves, and a rise in ocean levels.
-In 1994 Peter Sousounis of the University of Michigan came to Buffalo to release a report of which he was lead researcher and author. The report was the first White House sponsored draft of the first US Climate Change Research Programs National Assessment Regional Report. The draft was titled:
“Preparing for a Changing Climate-The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, Great Lakes Overview.”
Dr. Sousounis and his team were in Buffalo after his hosts, WNYEA members, climate change activists, and WNYEA Habitat and Natural Resource Working Group members Jay Burney and Joseph Schmidbauer had urged the White House to release the report in this critical Great Lakes city. The White House agreed and both local and national activists and press gathered at the then Statler Towers Georgian Room to hear the presentation. Scenarios characterized in that report introduced language referring to “increasingly extreme weather events”, “significant and increasing threats to biological diversity”, “threats to water quality and availability”, “agricultural security”, “human health consequences”, and “national security”. Since that time dramatic radical ecological shifts have been analyzed reported and studied.
-At a recent presentation at West Valley New York, the U.S. Dept of Energy released “Climate Change Handbook”
Among other things this presentation focused on the likelihood of extreme weather episodes and their impacts on habitat and biodiversity. For example, the 2009 rainfall that flooded Cattaraugus Creek and Gowanda was referred to several times in the West Valley Conference.
The conference also is predicted that we are going to have an accelerated infestation of invasive and non-native species as a result of global warming but the impact of such infestations and their spread will be much quicker. The spread of Dutch Elm disease was glacial compared to the Pine Bark Beetle and Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) and global warming may accelerate this.
The debate about what causes climate change is over. Nature is certainly about change and transition, but the impacts of human activity on climate are no longer a theory. It is the central theme to our out of control future.
Can we make a difference still? It is difficult to say but if we understand what we do as humans to contribute to climate change, we may have a fighting chance. Future generations will have a quality of life that relies entirely on decisions we have made over the past century and the decisions we make in the next years.
The endless and obfuscating natural v. human’s activity debate must be put behind us. If you do not understand that your head is buried somewhere other than deep in the sand.
We must solve the most serious issue that has faced our species. To do that we need to intelligently characterize and continue to identify how human activity has caused climate disaster. Most importantly we must find ways to change our ways.
II. The Role of Biodiversity
Loss of biodiversity is both the cause of atmospheric instability and is caused by the rapidly expanding extremes represented by climate instability. This double edged sword is an almost unstoppable natural force that may have already gone beyond any kind of tipping point that humans can deal with.
The evolution of life on earth coincides with the evolution of the atmosphere. Over the millennia, nature, biodiversity, and earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere have undergone ongoing substantial adjustments. At every level vital exchanges between energy and life effect the atmosphere including how gasses are stored and released.
Biodiversity is fundamental to the way our atmosphere has evolved, -and to its stability. Life, collected in the oceans, forests, savannahs, wetlands and literally all of the bioregions of the planet interconnect, interact, and interdepend upon each other. E.O Wilson, the famed Harvard biologist says that “nature achieves sustainability through complexity”. A stable atmosphere champions life, including the relatively recent rise of the human species. Biodiversity makes us unique in the universe.
The downside is that has humans have risen to the top of the food chain, we have come to dominate and transform ecosystems at every level. One of the primary consequences is vanishing biodiversity. EO Wilson says, “each millimeter, each acre, each square mile of natures ecosystem that is destroyed is a nail the atmospheric coffin”.
Some of the ways in which biodiversity effects climate change have been described in a recent study authored by William Anderegg of Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford, and by Jeffry Kane and Leander Anderegg of Northern Arizona and published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The authors reviewed dozens of scientific papers dealing with the ecological relationships with climate change. They found that forests alone store as much as 45 percent of the carbon found in terrestrial ecosystems and sequester as much as 25 percent of annual carbon emissions from human activities, which help mitigate a key driver of climate change. They also found that clear-cutting of forests in the topics account for 8-15 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
The study also reports that climate changes effects on biodiversity are devastating.
“Already facing an onslaught of threats from logging and conversion for agriculture, forests worldwide are increasingly impacted by the effects of climate change, putting the ecological services they afford in jeopardy.”
The report identifies widespread cases of forest die-off from drought and elevated temperatures that can increase the incidence of fire and pest infestations like pine beetles. These effects have the potential to trigger transitions to other ecosystems, including scrubland and savanna. But the impacts vary from forest to forest and the authors say more research is needed to fully understand the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems.
Other reports are just as dramatic. Citizen Scientists working with Harvard scientists in Northampton Massachusetts have recently reported on a 19 year study by the Massachusetts Butterfly Club that demonstrates that butterflies commonly only found in Florida and Texas are shifting to the Northeast while formerly common northern butterflies, adapted for colder climates are declining.
The report, “Climate Driven Community Changes in New England Butterflies” is coauthored by Harvard Forest Professor Greg Breed, and Massachusetts Butterfly Club collaborators Elizabeth Crone and Sharon Stichter.
Jay Burney, who has been working on butterfly dynamics in WNY for over 30 years has also noted recent WNY influxes of some of these species including the Giant Swallowtail and the Baltimore Checkerspot which according to Breed, has broadened its host plant opportunities (previously only White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) to an invasive which is becoming more common – English Plantain (Plantgo lancelota).
III. Human Dominion Over Nature – The Holocene Extinction
Human fecundity, and our alleged ability to reason, have been the foundations of our belief in human primacy on the planet. That may be a temporary adjustment. Many scientists are now recognizing that we are experiencing an extinction event on this planet, The Holocene Extinction that rivals any previous extinction episode.
Conservative estimates by many scientists now believe that we are losing species at a rate 100 times what would be considered sustainable. This is defined as the comparative rate at which new species emerge as old species disappear.
Edward O. Wilson, the highly respected Harvard biologist, estimates that the extinction rate is currently between 1,000 and 10,000 times the sustainable rate.
According to the Word Conservation Union’s Red List- a data base measuring the global status of Earth’s 1.5 million scientifically named species, one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians, one in three conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of imminent extinction. At a minimum 40% of all species on earth are in jeopardy including 51 percent of reptiles, 52 percent of insects, and 73 percent of flowering plants.
Estimates are that between 27 and 270 species are erased from existence every day, including today.
Wilson predicts that by 2100 half of all species on earth will have vanished forever.
Generally accepted practices of human culture tend to view the earth from an essentially anthropocentric point of view. This centers on the belief that the earth is here to serve humans rather than humans are actually a part of a complex interdependent ecosystem. This intellectual achievement by humanity centers on a fundamentally political failure that pits things like mainstream monotheistic religious beliefs and economic hegemony, -and against science. The resulting conflicts have been consequential. It is a mismatch. Science wins. Humans and their paradoxical and often corrupting political philosophies are on the way out.
We cannot afford to think of the environment as something to be conquered but rather we must understand that our lives depend on our own healthy relationships with ecosystems. That means fundamentally, we must defend biodiversity.
Until now the discussions and arguments have been filled with political obtusities. Science almost always takes a back seat to economic growth.
We have been through decades of failed global summits and conventions including Kyoto, Rio, Johannesburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen and many others with the focus ostensibly on sustainable development and climate change. One of the problems is that the term sustainable development is clearly an oxymoron. Another problem is that the primary concern of virtually every world leader that has attended any of these events is not the environment, but instead the concern is economic growth and the GDP. According to our global leadership, sustainability is about the economy and not about the relationships between environment, society, and the economy, with the environment being the real bottom line. This is where the train has gone off the tracks.
Externalities v. Value
Our generally accepted economic system declares natural resources to be commodities. The costs and values of the ecological services that these systems provide such as atmospheric balancing and clean water are externalities. In other words a forest is measured by its value in board feet and its ecological services values are marginalized. The real costs and consequences of harvesting our ecosystems are “external” and are not the responsibility of the political entities that are profiting from exploitation. Instead the costs of water treatment facilities and health care associated with environmental degradation are passed on to the public while the measured consumer economy grows without the bother of accounting for environmental loss.
The political economic systems that we have intentionally deployed are directly responsible for eviscerating earth’s ecosystems.
Why the Energy Equation is Not Enough
In a specific sense the earth’s biosystems have evolved to sequester carbon thus creating a balanced atmosphere. Human use and burning of fossil fuels combined with the elimination of biodiversity ranging from ocean and lake organisms to forests and other natural carbon banks has exacerbated the problems of the life support system. Habitat loss and energy use via consumerism go hand in hand and you cannot begin to solve climate change problems by only addressing renewable energy strategies.
How we obtain and use our energy is very important. The focus on renewable energy strategies is consequential, but identifying energy sources without taking into consideration consumerism, growth, and the externalities of the value of biodiversity and costs of habitat loss, and the social consequences of all of the above flies in the face of sustainable problem solving.
The Kaya Identity
Decades ago, Japanese energy economist Yoichi Kaya explained that human caused CO2 emissions are explained by four factors: population, economic activity, how we obtain our energy, and how we use that energy. His resulting “Kaya Identity” (Emissions=GDP x Technology) is a formula that has been a way to both recognize and predict carbon emissions, and to find ways to reduce these emissions. Economic activity, translated in the formula as GDP, externalizes by tradition, fundamental environmental values. This egregious miscalculation has lead to a false hope that we can still work within the economic systems that have championed consumption and destruction of habitat.
This path has lead to climate disaster by forcing us to decide that we can only address the almost singular issue of “how we obtain our energy” while ignoring the results of expanding GDP on biodiversity and habitat loss. This strategy is not working.
The Kaya Identity Redux
Emissions=GDP x Biodiversity x Technology
Certainly a focus on “greener” energy and a “green economy” has its merits, but can anything that promotes consumer growth that ignores the basic reality of the value of biodiversity succeed? Can we stop this careening train?
V. WNY Primacy
Preserve, Protect, and Defend, -biodiversity
In part 1, we explored that the fundamental cause of human created climate change is the eradication of biodiversity. Eradication is enriched by the economic exploitation and the characterization of these resources as commodities. The harvesting of forests and the use of our waterways as waste repositories have dealt fundamental blows to our planets ability to support life. The ecological services provided by ecosystems are marginalized as economic “externalities”. Ecological and social contexts have to be woven in to the sustainability equation with the real bottom line being biodiversity. A purely economic definition of “sustainable development” remains an oxymoron. We have to change this.
The potential negative impact on our region’s biodiversity by climate change is substantial. The positive contribution to atmospheric stability by biodiversity is fundamental science. We must recognize the overwhelming significance of habitat destruction and the exploitation of natural resources. This is a very addressable strategy.
-Rethink, redefine, and react to fundamental causes of climate change. This will characterize the
value of our current generations.
-Identify, catalog and reverse the unprecedented human evisceration of biodiversity.
WNY is located in one of the most historically biodiverse regions on the planet. Our Great Lakes, rivers, creeks, streams, wetlands, forests, uplands, and meadows are vital components of a rapidly vanishing bioregion of global significance.
Although most of our natural assets have been urbanized or seriously altered by human activity there remain significant areas that are ecologically productive. Most areas can return to ecological productivity with planning and investment.
-The Sweetwater Seas
The Great Lakes contain nearly 1/5th of the world’s fresh surface water.
The Great Lakes Basin is a bioregion that supports nearly 10% of the US population and 25% of the population of Canada. Urbanization, industry and agriculture have diminished our ecologically productive capacity.
Our waters are a valuable asset. They face growing threats championed by economic activities with a laser focus on growth and development. We can enhance our planets capacity to support life and atmospheric stability if we continue to provide opportunities for biodiversity. But only if we engage conservation as a primary first line of defense.
Buffalo Sewer Authority and CSO’s One of the most significant threats to our waters involves waste treatment and disposal. For example, just seven sewer authorities throughout the Great Lakes including the Buffalo Sewer Authority (BSA) discharge almost 20 billion gallons of untreated sewerage and storm water through Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). The BSA is responsible for releasing almost 2 billion gallons per year of our untreated material into the Niagara River, Buffalo River, Black Rock Canal, Scajaquada Creek and 52 other permitted outfalls.
The good news is that currently the BSA has a 19 year plan developed in conjunction with RiverKeeper to address CSOs. The BSA is one of the only sewer authorities in the Great Lakes with a “Green Infrastructure Plan”. It comes with a $500 million plus price tag.
The bad news is that the BSA plan is not enough and there is no guarantee that the money can be raised. Our culture is in a current suicidal cycle of downplaying infrastructure investments of this kind. Maybe we will build a new football stadium instead.
The bad news goes deeper with the BSA. It is a “self-permitting” Public Authority. The BSA alone determines and monitors what it processes through its system. This is not a unique situation. The political and economic underpinnings of a Public Authority give the BSA extraordinary legal powers and can keep public scrutiny at arms length. Contentious issues involving permitting disclosures result.
-The BSA is the sole authority for Buffalo Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permits (BPDES), issues permits for “Trucked in Waste” and permits for “Temporary Discharges”.
While the BSA is on record as saying that it is doing nothing illegal, permit applicants “self-identify” the materials that they are seeking to discharge into the lake.
This means that the potential for deliberate or unintentional misidentification of materials permitted for release by private entities is there. Public scrutiny of these permits does not include public review of permit applications prior to permitting.
We would be shocked, just shocked if illegal activity takes place, but the potential is there.
A recent example of the kinds of problems that exist under this current system include an investigation of fracking wastewater permits undertaken by ArtVoice in the late winter of 2011-12.
Despite all the industry hype about the environmental benefits of a transitional natural gas economy, one of the least reported aspects of hydrofracking is that the activity releases huge amounts of methane which is a major component of shale gas and which is a less reported but highly significant greenhouse gas. Coupled with the documented consequences of using billions of gallons of water, concocting and injecting proprietary chemical soups that are highly toxic that appear in groundwater, aquifers, and other drinking water sources, hydrofracking damages ecosystems, threatens biodiversity, and is simply not a supportable strategy regarding climate change. Even on a purely economic basis hydrofracking does not live up to industry hype. Mix in the development of hundreds of millions of acres of landscapes eaten by roads, well heads, lagoons, and other infrastructure demands, it becomes more clear that this energy strategy does not support biodiversity and is instead another nail in the coffin of atmospheric stability.
-Methane and CO2 Issues with Fracking. According to an analysis published by Cornell in November of 2010 Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations by Robert W. Howarth · Renee Santoro · Anthony Ingraffea
“The National Research Council (2009) noted emissions from shale-gas extraction may be greater than from conventional gas. The Council of Scientific Society Presidents (2010) wrote to President Obama, warning that some potential energy bridges such as shale gas have received insufficient analysis- sis and may aggravate rather than mitigate global warming. And in late 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report concluding that fugitive emissions of methane from unconventional gas may be far greater than for conventional gas (EPA 2010).”
“Fugitive emissions of methane are of particular concern. Methane is the major component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas. As such, small leakages are important. Recent modeling indicates methane has an even greater global warming potential than previously believed, when the indirect effects of methane on atmospheric aerosols are considered (Shindell et al. 2009). The global methane budget is poorly constrained, with multiple sources and sinks all having large uncertainties. The radiocarbon content of atmospheric methane suggests fossil fuels may be a far larger source of atmospheric methane than generally thought (Lassey et al. 2007).”
“When shale gas extracted by high-volume hydraulic fracturing, large volumes of water are forced under pressure into the shale to fracture and re-fracture the rock to boost gas flow. A significant amount of this water returns to the surface as flow- back within the first few days to weeks after injection and is accompanied by large quantities of methane (EPA 2010). The amount of methane is far more than could be dissolved in the flow-back fluids, reflecting a mixture of fracture-return fluids and methane gas.”
“Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the life- time of a well. These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas. The higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured—as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids—and during drill out following the fracturing. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that is far greater than that of carbon dioxide, particularly over the time horizon of the first few decades following emission. Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon. The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.”
-Habitat destruction through infrastructure development A recent report published by the USGS, “Landscape Consequences of Natural Gas Extraction in Bradford and Washington Counties Pennsylvania, 2004-2010
examines in great detail the impacts of infrastructure development on habitat and natural areas including land cover and forest fragmentation. The report concludes that the effects of natural gas infrastructure development is substantial. Infrastructure includes well pads, roads, pipelines, impoundments and other support areas and activities such as processing plants, storage tanks and staging areas.
Part of the Report:
Fragmentation of forest and habitat is a primary concern resulting from current gas development. Habitat fragmentation occurs when large areas of natural landscapes are intersected and subdivided by other, usually anthropogenic, land uses leaving smaller patches to serve as habitat for various species. As human activities increase, natural habitats, such as forests, are divided into smaller and smaller patches that have a decreased ability to support viable populations of individual species. Habitat loss and forest fragmentation can be major threats to biodiversity, although research on this topic has not been conclusive (With and Pavuk, 2011).
Although many human and natural activities result in habitat fragmentation, gas exploration and development activity can be extreme in their effect on the landscape. Numerous secondary roads and pipeline networks crisscross and subdivide habitat structure. Landscape disturbance associated with 9shale-gas development infrastructure directly alters habitat through loss, fragmentation, and edge effects, which in turn alters the flora and fauna dependent on that habitat. The fragmentation of habitat is expected to amplify the problem of total habitat area reduction for wildlife species, as well as contribute towards habitat degradation. Fragmentation alters the landscape by creating a mosaic of spatially distinct habitats from originally contiguous habitat, resulting in smaller patch size, greater number of patches, and decreased interior to edge ratio (Lehmkuhl and Ruggiero, 1991; Dale and others, 2000). Fragmentation generally results in detrimental impacts to flora and fauna, resulting from increased mortality of individuals moving between patches, lower recolonization rates, and reduced local population sizes (Fahrig and Merriam, 1994). The remaining patches may be too small, isolated, and possibly too influenced by edge effects to maintain viable populations of some species. The rate of landscape change can be more important than the amount or type of change because the temporal dimension of change can affect the probability of recolonization for endemic species, which are typically restricted by their dispersal range and the kinds of landscapes in which they can move (Fahrig and Merriam, 1994).
Land use models that transcend traditional economic factors are being developed locally. Riverkeeper has introduced a GIS land use database focusing on watersheds. This groundbreaking approach to identifying value is transforming our ability to promote conservation and protection. Other local working groups are focusing on expanding the concept and identifying areas that have economically quantifiable ecological services values such as intact or partially intact ecosystems on both public and private lands. County Forests, parkland, land banks, abandoned farmland, trails, wood lots, and other areas are strategic places.
A new database approach could form the basis of quantifiable analysis of critical habitat and biodiversity generators. A new database approach could form the basis of quantifiable analysis of critical habitat and biodiversity generators. GIS and Landscape metrics measuring technology is a new tool that we should have in our conservation kits to better measure land cover, use and disturbance relative to biodiversity and ecological productiveness.
We need to better understand how contemporary and historic development is contributing to land use issues such as forest fragmentation, and the transformation of landscapes.
The objective is to create a tool to build upon traditional land use concepts that help citizens and governments determine planning, zoning, conservation, and land protection. One potential outcome is incentives that would target keeping public and private land ecologically productive.
We can recreate an ecologically productive waterfront by avoiding industrial, commercial or inappropriate mixed-use development. Only if we make significant public investments does this land become valuable land for the developers. Instead of driving profits just to the developers, lets invest in an economic plan that benefits a broader spectrum.
By concentrating development on the downtown side of the river and harbor and we will build a better city. The outer harbor should remain as open space with public access. How about a National Marine Sanctuary just off shore? An economic plan that encourages conservation through recreational and tourism will make us wealthier as a sustainable community.
We encourage environmental groups to pay attention to the city’s current investment in a new green code, and the Brownfield Opportunity Area Grants, in particular the Outer Harbor BOA, which will be addressing and defining waterfront development for the coming decades.
Community owned lands such as parks and streetscapes effect biodiversity. A positive effect include intentional designs and planning focused on dedicating more “greenspace” land including rails to trails, bike and pedestrian corridors, walkable neighborhoods, better access to public transportation (Transit Oriented Development – TOD, for instance), reduced automotive traffic and parking, “complete streets”, and appropriate development opportunities. Concentrate urban areas, reduce sprawl, and the Buffalo Green Code are all important and fundamental tools toward a greener urban area. Restore the Urban Forest. Create and restore native habitat for wildlife. Invest in education. If you have a yard you can make a difference. Here is how- Learn about the kinds of beneficial animals such as pollinators, local birds, and butterflies that depend on native plants, and then landscape with those plants! There are plenty of local organizations that promote this kind of gardening. One word of caution, -avoid using native plants in rain gardens that collect street runoff. Toxic materials from automobiles, lawn chemicals and other poisons can accumulate in these gardens and if you are using plants that attract native butterflies, birds, and bees, they will absorb the toxins, which can be counterproductive.
VI. Conclusion- A Biocentric Viewpoint is Needed Now!
We must take up Suzuki’s call to activism and take a biocentric point of view. If humans are to have any chance at a future, or at a future that works, we must understand that we need to work in partnership with the Earth’s biosystems and ecological foundations and not against them . They are us. If we continue to work at odds with them, if we continue to treat our natural resources as both commodities and as externalities, and if we continue to exploit these foundations as profit centers for a political economic strategy focused on growth and expansion, we will guarantee our lost fate. This will be a fate of declining economic capacity, declining social stability, and the evisceration of the environment and the collapse of our climate systems that have sustained life on the planet since before the dawn of human kind. We can rise to the challenge. The decisions and consequences will be born out by our actions, our strategies, our sacrifices, and our willingness to understand and engage in the real problems and solutions that we are confronted with. Otherwise we have lost the opportunity to work toward a positive future quality of life for those that will come after us.
Janine Benyus, author of “Biomimicry, Innovations Inspired by Nature” and President of the Biomimicry Institute has an important message for the Business Alliance For a Local Living Economy Conference (BALLE 2013) being held in Buffalo. “Just take care of your place and it will take care of you.”
The message resonated in the crowd of localist economy activists, entrepreneurs, and innovators, gathered for the 11th Annual Conference which is being held for the first time in Buffalo.
Biomimicry is the science of trying to understand how nature works, how humans are a part of nature, and how humans can better stand a chance to survive and thrive if they adopt important natural principles.
“Organisms and the ecosystems and services that they provide for take care of the place so that 10.000 generations from now, there will still be a place” she told the enthusiastic audience. 10,000 generations? How often do we think about our social, economic, and environmental impacts on the next generation? In business, it’s the next quarter isn’t it? The future? -What a concept!
Many of the BALLE participants are deep into the politics of economics. The contrasting philosophies and on the ground struggles between the concepts of dog eat dog competition v. the cooperative nature of working for the greater good of building communities and economies from the ground up are consistent themes of the BALLE movement. Thinking about how to move the effort away from the “me”, to the “we” is a fundamental concept of both nature and sustainability. Thinking about how our economy will effect future generations is a substantial characterization of localism. Localists will tell you that if you are a part of a localist movement, you care about the people, the places, and the environment. You come to think about making sure that as the tide rises, all people have floatable boats. If you have a purely global focus, you work to extract of wealth and ignore the damage to the environment and society, justice issues that become nothing more than “externalities” to the profit taking.
Although it is still considered heretical in many scientific circles, Benyus said, “science is more and more discovering that cooperation, or mutualism, has a strong place in the way that systems, ecosystems survive”. In other words it is not just about survival of the fittest. Parts of systems work together to create the healthy whole. Biodiversity requires mutualism and cooperation. Biodiversity creates opportunity and sustains life.
As an example she describes Mycorrhizal Fungi. “Living soils have dense networks of this fungi that connects organisms and serves as both a communication system and a support system in terms of helping to share water and nutrients amongst organisms.” “We call it the Common Mycorrhizal Network (CMN) and it connects, defends, and supports the world. It is part of the symbiotic and deeply shared cooperation that characterizes how an organisimistic society knits together.” This is a profound description of how a cooperative system allows biodiversity to flourish and life to thrive. It is more than a metaphor about how our economic system is modeled. “This mutualism demonstrates that ecosystems are generous rather than strictly competitive,” Benyus tells us.
She continues. “Humans are mostly oblivious to this. Our factory agricultural system is intent on killing soils and introducing synthetic toxins that destroy biodiversity and destroy life opportunities.” Development of any sort pays little attention to how nature survives and thrives, which effects how humans survive and thrive. This knowledge is consequential.
Nature is very efficient and natural systems produce no waste. Ubiquitous natural polymers such as cellulose, starch, RNA, keratin, silk, collagen, help to characterize such things as strength, elasticity, and water solubility and help produce the structures of life forms including bones, wood, shells, claws, and spider webs. Natural polymers are biodegradable and are not waste products. Humans have introduced more than 350 non- biodegradable and toxic polymers including polystyrene and plastics. This toxic waste stream is one of the great tragedies of humanity and are direct results and consequences of the political economic decisions of a consumer society. Biomimicry can help us move toward the use of natural or natural influenced polymers, help us reduce waste, and help us to detoxify the planet.
A very exciting development is the Biomimicry Institute’s (Biomimicry 3.8-reflecting 3.8 billion years of evolution) new emphasis on urban structures and infrastructure. Later this month the 7th annual Biomimicry Education Summit and Global Conference will be held in Boston. Benyus told us that there will be an emphasis on promoting resilient cities, which will include developing and refining metrics on ecological performance standards for development. When we replace an ecosystem with a city, we remove its ecological services. Do we have to do that? We are just learning what that means. As we understand ecological services better including water and air filtration, carbon sequestration, heating and cooling influences of urban trees, and how that effects climate change. Benyus told us that she was in a new building in Manhattan and was told that the air filtration system in the building returns air to the outside that is 3 times more clean than the air that enters the building. “That’s a good starting point to think about this”, she said. “Our cities can find ways to be generous if we learn from ecosystems and how they create opportunities for 10,000 generations. Buffalo could take a great leap forward if you work with us on developing and implementing ecological performance standards.”
Perhaps the fundamental message of the BALLE Conference is about cooperation as opposed to competition. Can human systems including political economic systems find cooperative ways to thrive and help lift all boats. According to Janine Benyus, Lets move from me, to we. Just ask nature. Most people at BALLE2013 would agree.
Janine Benyus Ted Talk: The Promise of Biomimicry
One of the fundamental environmental injustice stories of our times, Our Stolen Future, is the first part to a two part series of the Green Watch Special Report entitled “A Sepulcher of Profit” The article was originally published in Artvoice on October 20, 2011. The author is founder of GreenWatch and the Learning Sustainability Campaign. Click here to visit GreenWatch on Facebook.
Our Stolen Future
In the early autumn of 2011, life on earth continues to be assaulted by and exposed to a wide variety of manmade toxins. The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 languishes before an inept and hostile Congress. The act, an overhaul of the ancient Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, would both protect Americans and allow the United States to join three important international treaties based around the Stockholm Convention of Persistent Organic Pollutants signed by 174 nations. According to the Healthy Families Coalition, the passage of this act would allow the United States (US) to lead international efforts rather than stand by while allies and trading partners make important decisions.
Why is this act languishing and why is Congress hostile? One can assume that it is an economic decision based on conservative politics that promote profit for the few above all other principles.
Next June it will be 50 years since Rachael Carson wrote and published Silent Spring. This authoritative book linked the creation of poisons and pesticides to widespread animal mortality. Carson accused the chemical industry and public officials of creating an abomination of disinformation and the public of a lack of critical thinking. This deadly mix of poisons for profit and the gaming of the systems by industry and public officials has only gotten worse.
In more recent years other books and studies have backed up what Carson called irresponsible economic and public policies. In 1996, Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence and Survival?, written by a team of authors led by Dr. Theo Colborn, introduced us to some of the terrible consequences of our chemically infused society. Colborn is an environmental health analyst known for her work in endocrine disruption. Our Stolen Future is essentially a detective story detailing how man-made chemicals in our environment are causing catastrophic human health effects. Consequences include endocrine disruption, birth defects, reduced disease resistance, diminished fertility, and compromised intelligence and behavior. This book shook society when it was first published, and if you have not heard of it, you should check it out online: http://www.ourstolenfuture.org.
More recently another extraordinary book, Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill, has been published by Chelsea Green Publishing. In it, former New York Times chief environmental reporter Philip Shabekoff and his wife, the widely accomplished family and consumer activist Alice Shabekoff, investigate and chronicle how our economic policies have submerged our planet in a thickening haze of toxic soup. It tells of how most of these poisons that have been made for profit come into our bodies from little studied exposure routes. The statistics in this book are shocking. It tells us that today in the US one in three children are born sick. Most of these children will endure lifelong consequences of disease.
The book identifies sources of these illnesses by comprehensively describing the health effects of exposure to industrially “produced for profit” toxics. Like Our Stolen Future, the book details health consequences that include a widening array of birth defects, cancers, asthma, obesity, diabetes, mental and behavioral abnormalities, and other serious illnesses.
The author’s research shows that the blood of newborns contain traces of nearly 300 synthetic chemicals. Milk from virtually every mother on the planet contains high levels of dozens of man-made poisons. Breast milk by almost all accounts is superior to other infant food, but the increase of toxins in breast milk is alarming. Other researchers have estimated that each human on the planet may contain traces of at least 700 human made toxins.
According to the National Cancer Institute, half of all men and women living today will have cancer at sometime in their lives. One-eighth of all women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. These diseases are strongly linked to human made toxins and environmental exposures.
Poisoned for Profit describes how these toxic products enjoy a complicated and dense web of legal protections. It details how private sector money has purchased highly paid lobbyists, scientists for hire, politicians, and policy makers to trick the public, often working secretly and behind the scenes, and almost always providing no accountability. It shows how legal and marketing strategies of gaming of the regulatory and safety systems has allowed the modern plague of profitable poisons.
Unless you are tuned in, you don’t hear much about this. Instead we hear the loud shouts that there is too much regulation and that environmental and other regulations hurt growth, hurt the economy, hurt jobs, and hurt our future. Most regulatory agencies are on the chopping block. This is just one of the ways that our political leaders are feeding the hidden hands that underpin and undermine our economic health.
Rachael Carson focused a great deal on the consequences of pesticides on both human health and on the lives of birds and insects. Her work is often considered one of the founding points of modern environmentalism. Unfortunately, in the decades since, industry has established new ground, created new products, and has continued almost unchallenged in developing a toxic legacy that we may not be able to escape. Critical environmental thinking today brings into focus the dual challenges of climate change and the ever-increasing loss of biological diversity that underpins life on earth. Whether or not humans can survive either or both is the scientific, ecological, economic, and social challenge of ours and the next generations.
The Vanishing of the Bees
In August 2010, a Buffalo-based not-for-profit hosted a seminar at Alfred State College focused on colony collapse disorder (CCD), a disease affecting commercial honeybees. CCD, as it is known, has swept across the planet and has resulted in the death and destruction of up to 80 percent of commercial honeybee colonies. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the US has been hard hit. These pollinators service 90 percent of our plant-based food crops, and the services are worth approximately $15 billion annually.
The New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NYSAWG) partnered with Alfred, the Penn State University Center for Pollinator Research, and the USDA Agricultural Research Services Honey Bee Pollination Lab in Tucson and invited Western New York beekeepeers, honeymakers, and others interested to come and hear the most recent findings regarding why the bees are vanishing.
Judy Einach, executive director of NYSAWG, told us that Western New York agriculture reflects the national statistics. Agriculture is still one of the most significant areas of regional wealth and the impact of honeybees and pollinator services is an issue here as it is elsewhere. In 2007, New York’s 36,350 farms had combined sales of $4.4 billion.
The conference focused on updating attendees on current scientific knowledge about CCD. The main message is that widespread man-made toxins are underlying the decline in health and ultimate disappearance of domesticated bee colonies.
This is controversial because the creation and use of these toxins have become the backbone of agriculture worldwide. The manufacture of just about every product on earth is dependent on the use of man-made chemicals. Industry and government regulators do just about anything they can to justify the use of chemicals. The US is a leading nation in the manufacture and approval of chemical poisons, sometimes hiding behind a curtain of industry-justified “proprietary ingredients” that do not bear up under scientific and public scrutiny. Sometimes these chemicals hide behind the misleading label “inert ingredients.” You would think that inert ingredients mean “safe.” They are anything but.
Penn State researcher Mary Anne Frasier and her team have scrutinized the impact of these toxins on honeybees. “These bees are testing for multiple chemicals, and we are just learning that the many and often complicated biological interactions that are stimulated by these toxins are seriously impacting the health of individual bees and colonies.”
“For instance, we are finding that it is not just the active ingredients that cause damage.” The other ingredients, or “inerts,” are not as well studied. Inerts can include solvents, preservatives, and other substances and can be highly toxic.
“The inerts and the combinations of the ingredients, and in combination with other toxins pose significant dangers,” said Frasier. “Multiple exposures to combinations of both active and inactive ingredients and other chemicals that bees are exposed to may be a central reason behind CCD.”
I asked about other sources of these chemicals. “They are everywhere,” she said.
Indeed they are. We live in a world saturated with man-made toxins. Water, soils, cultivated plants and wild plants, even the air is full of toxins. These man-made toxins affect the biology of all living things, including beneficial insects and other pollinators, birds, fish, plants and on up the food chain to humans. The honeybees are but a shocking harbinger of the kind of biological effects that life on the planet is experiencing. Just read Silent Spring, Our Stolen Future, and Poisoned by Profit.
Rust never sleeps
With a tip of the hat to Crazy Horse and Neil Young, it is important to realize that we are subsumed by toxics. There must be a resurgence of our own self- renewal and relevancy. Toxics currently are us. Toxics infest our biological world, have changed our bodies, and there is no known escape. It may seem to be a political externality but our culture is absolutely transformed by economic strategies that promote our complete immersion. Agriculture and food fueled by “Monsantoized” best practices represents just the tip of the iceberg. Virtually every product produced and consumed comes with a toxic legacy that we are only beginning to understand. This endless list of products includes cleaners, cosmetics, clothing, furniture, soaps, paints, paper, plastics, medicines, clothing, dyes, foods of all sorts, and especially the systems that we employ to produce products—energy, transportation, storage, marketing, and our waste and disposal systems. All come wrapped up in a toxic load that bodies absorb.
The air we breathe, the food that we eat, the waters that we drink, the land that we live on, and the buildings that we live and work in are virtual fountains of man-made toxins. Regulatory systems have become feeble, institutionalized foxes guarding the henhouse. Consumer, banking, health, and environmental overseers are a vanishing species, just like the honeybees.
The assault on these even moderately responsive regulatory institutions continues to be championed by industry mouthpieces. Pundits, public officials, and politicians are often backed up by cash and well funded “think tanks” producing perfunctory talking points. They have vowed not to stop until there are no regulatory rules left in the United States. Writing in the conservative National Review in late July, Jim Lacey pontificates that bureaucrats for whom no one voted make decisions for which no one is holding them accountable, and that the resultant costs to business exceeds the national debt in the form of hidden taxes.
Regulatory agencies have lost the power and will to protect the public’s greater interest. Instead they standby as guardian over the industries economic interests. US environmental regulators almost always act on behalf of industry, espousing the “what’s best for the economy” argument. This is a bitter and often convoluted argument that has its political genesis in the growing economic divide between the haves and the have-nots.
While it has been argued that unregulated economic development and growth is in the public’s greater interest, it is also argued that unregulated growth is unsustainable. Why aren’t we having this public discussion?
The Precautionary Principle
In many countries, regulators act on what is known as the “precautionary principle.” If a product is possibly dangerous, or human health effects are predicted or potential, the product is not given a green light until the danger has been proven to be remediated by the manufacturer. Many pesticides and other chemicals in use in the US are banned in other countries.
In the US the regulatory process is exactly the opposite. The manufacturer always offers its own conclusions that a product is safe. Opponents such as consumer groups and other watchdogs must prove that the product is dangerous. Consumer groups rarely have the financial resources to go against a well funded industry. For us, it is buy and maybe die. Buy first.
Following in a long line of regulatory decisions, in June of this year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of a new pesticide to treat “nuisance” insects. The active ingredient of the product, Dinotefuran, is a broad-based insect killer that has long been linked to CCD. Industry scientists say the product is safe and industry profiteers say that the product is good for the economy. Growing scientific evidence, outside of industry science, is showing that this toxic is a problem for honeybees. Despite that potential economic impact on food production, it is now legally used in at least seven Northeast states. Add this to a long list of killer pesticides, miticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other toxins approved by the EPA and used by agriculture that industry and regulators want you to oxymoronically consider “safe.”
The decline of this accountability in the name of profits and economic growth is continuous and off the radar of most people. Our culture has become the enabler that allows the gaming of the system, and the proliferation of poisoned products. How do you argue that unlimited economic growth based on unregulated profit is the best course for humanities future considering the abuses? How do you say that to the one in three children born today with lifelong disease associated with profitable, man-made chemicals? How do you tell that to your mother or sister with breast cancer? How do you tell that to your father or grandfather with prostate cancer?
In Our Food
Virtually every bit of food that we eat is infiltrated by pesticides, preservatives, flavor-enhancers, dyes, antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, hormones, artificial vitamins, other medicines, and other manmade toxins. Recently the FDA confirmed that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US go to animal agriculture. We consume this. For years scientists have warned that an overuse of antibiotics is creating superbugs that make us sick even unto death. These superbugs are getting harder to treat.
Fruits and vegetables—fresh, canned, packaged, or otherwise brought to you—are full of chemicals from the growth cycle, the distribution cycle, and the display and preservation cycles. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) has a website, http://www.whatsonmyfood.org, which goes into this in excruciating detail. The site reveals that 888 million pounds of pesticides are applied in the US each year. That average out to three pounds per person. An average American child gets five servings of pesticides in their food and water each day.
According to PAN, detectable pesticides and residue are found on and in much of our organic harvest. These chemicals arrive by air, dust, water, and cross-pollination from nearby genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Some organics are better than others, but the mass-produced organic fruits and vegetables that we buy in big supermarkets are additionally contaminated by water source contaminants, preservation processes, storage and distribution infrastructure, and packaging. Various cooking processes create toxic combinations involving cookware, heat sources, and various room contaminants. Non-organic food including meats and other packaged and canned goods are exposed to or infused with a wide variety of toxins. This includes all of the above and antibiotics, preservatives, hormones, and a wide array of other toxins. When we eat them, they become us.
A recent study published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry finds that a single glass of milk, including organic milk, contains 200 or more manmade chemicals. These include medicinal residues such as painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, lipid regulators, anti-elliptics, beta-blockers, antibiotics, hormones, and perceptible quantities of herbicides, pesticides, dioxins, and other substances including radioactive materials. These are all linked to cancer. One powerful growth hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor One (IGF-1) is considered a fuel cell for any cancer. IGF-1 is particularly linked to breast, prostate, and colon cancers.
In addition, our food system is exposed to or helps release toxics throughout the life cycle of the product. Transporting, storing, handling, and disposing of food and packaging, releases other contamination into the environment. These toxins find their way into our blood and bodies.
Late last year Wikileaks released diplomatic cables from the Bush administration era revealing that the US government drew up ways to retaliate economically against European nations’ precautionary measures that ban Monsanto GMO crops.
In our Water
Virtually all drinking water on the planet is at risk or is presently contaminated due to manmade toxins. A bill has passed through the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives with the Orwellian title “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011.” This bill promises to eliminate all federal oversight regarding the Clean Water Act, one of America’s landmark environmental laws. Under this new bill, states could be the decision-makers and could allow. “in the interests of business and cost benefits,” contamination that we have not seen since the early 1970s.
Water is contaminated in many ways including industry, agriculture, urban sewers and runoff, rural sewers and runoff, airborne pollutants (including particulate matter from power plants) and numerous other point sources and non-point sources. Groundwater from wells, bottled water, or water from public drinking sources are not necessarily clean or safe.
The New York Times published an article last year “Millions in U.S. Drink Contaminated Water” which said that 20 percent of the nations water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act in the last five years. It says that while regulators are informed, more than 49 million people have been exposed to illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic, agricultural chemicals, radioactive substances, and bacteria from sewerage.
According to WNYEWG, America’s drinking water is contaminated by at least 300 known toxins. While this group lists the Buffalo water supply as the 15th safest big city supply in the US, Buffalo’s water was implicated in a portion of the study that suggested that the city’s drinking water had unacceptable levels of hexavalent chromium, the contaminant that made Erin Brockovich famous. In this part of the study, Buffalo’s water ranked 25th most contaminated out of 31 cities tested.
Contamination from hydraulic fracturing is a frightening new threat. Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Department of Conservation have declared that hydrofracking can occur in New York State, except for certain watersheds. Oil and gas drilling processes use up to 700 ingredients (many of them “prprietary” and thus secret) in water injected into the ground to create fractures for gas release. The secret ingredients include known carcinogens and heavy metals including pesticides, bacteriacides, lubricants, and radiation. It was revealed last winter that the City of Buffalo Sewer Authority Treatment facility has permitted dumping of fracking fluids into Lake Erie without knowing exactly what they contain. We know they contain the above listed ingredients, but we do not know the exact proprietary formulations. And we will not. New York State has declared that proprietary formulas can remain secret.
The Great Lakes contain about 84 percent of North America’s fresh surface water and 21 percent of all of the fresh water found on earth. They are surrounded by vast agricultural operations and huge urban/industrial areas. Surface runoff, sewers, and air deposition contaminate the Great Lakes waters and watersheds. Groundwater-pumped from underground aquifers is contaminated by surface agricultural practices, runoff from urban areas, winter treated roadways, oil and gas extraction techniques, landfills, sewer systems, and multiple other sources.
In our medicines and cosmetics
We are becoming increasingly aware that growing numbers of pharmaceuticals and drugs are contaminating our drinking water. Medicines and drugs of all types including anti-depressants, estrogen, anxiety medications, antibiotics, and heart medicines are produced and consumed in increasing numbers each year. According to a report released by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, more than 3.4 billion prescriptions were written in 2006, representing a 60 percent increase since 1990. These numbers have only increased since 2006. Drugs enter our drinking water when people either excrete them or dispose of them by flushing them down the drain. Water treatment plants are not designed to remove these types of contaminants. The US Environmental Protection Agency does not require water utilities to test for these chemicals. The federal government has not set safety limits for drugs in drinking water.
A recent DEA effort to ask citizens to turn in their unused drugs was largely reported as an effort to control illegal street use of the drugs. But the DEA also indicated that one purpose of the event was to eliminate inappropriate disposal of unused drugs by flushing them down the toilet, which is a disposal strategy encouraged by many pharmaceutical companies and other drug dealers wishing to hide the evidence.
If you wash food and dishes with soap and water, it could contain a variety of substances including antibacterial chemicals like triclosan, a pesticide. Triclosan is found in hundreds of consumer products including some soaps, lotions, toothpastes, children’s toys, and clothing. Triclosan is a known endocrine disrupter that blocks or mimics hormone functions in the human body. Triclosan was revealed by an Associated Press investigation in 2008 to be one of the most detected chemicals in US waterways. Ninety-six percent of triclosan from consumer products is disposed of in residential drains. This chemical is not completely removed in wastewater treatment. When the wastewater is released to the environment, some of the triclosan is converted into chloroform and various forms of dioxins.
There are a reported 12,000-plus ingredients used in cosmetics. Many of these ingredients have been linked to health issues. In a little over 70 years the FDA has decided to ban just 12. Like other toxics from the manufacturing sector, the cosmetic industry polices itself. Most ingredients are not listed and are obscured by claims of proprietary formulas. Yet we know that many shampoos and body washes contain sodium laureth sulfate, which has a byproduct, 1,4 dioxane, a known carcinogen that is suspected to also cause kidney, nerve, and respiratory problems. Many personal care products also contain formaldehyde, which is not regulated in the US. According to the National Cancer Institute, formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. According to Annie Leonard, producer of the documentary film The Story of Cosmetics, both of these substances have been found in dozens of brands including Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Sesame Street Bubble Bath. Leonard also reports that many lipsticks contain lead, inlcuding some of the top-selling brand names: L’Oreal, Maybelline, and CoverGirl. Leonard says that lead, a known neurotoxin, has been found in every brand of kid’s face paints tested. Many sunscreens have the same hidden dangers. Over half contain oxybenzone, suspected as a hormone disrupter. This toxin readily penetrates the skin and has been found in the bodies of 97 percent of those tested by the Centers for Disease Control.
In garden and farming products
Monsanto’s over-the-counter Round-Up and Rodeo are widely used by homeowners and gardeners in urban and rural areas. Glyphosate is the active ingredient. This is an herbicide or plant killer. For years Monsanto has told us that Round-up, if “used correctly,” is perfectly safe. According to the ChemicalWatch Factsheet produced by Beyond Pesticides, Glyphosate is linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other acute human health effects. A report delivered before the European Parliament in Brussels last year by researchers from Brazil, the UK, and the US articulates links to low-level exposure of glyphosate with birth defects. Recent studies confirming these effects are upping the pressure on this common herbicide, but its use is growing.
Using it “correctly” is an oxymoron. It suggests minimum use and low exposures. Minimum use does not serve Monsanto’s bottom line well. These two products are widely used in agriculture and are incorporated into many GMO seed crops. Most if not all GMO seed crops have been developed to be resistant to chemicals such as glyphosate. This has lead to an expanded use of Round-up and other chemicals. According to the GMO Journal, which advocates for science-based sustainable agriculture and safe food practices, research indicates that since GMOs were introduced about a decade ago, agriculture has applied 318 million more pounds of pesticides than compared to the amount of pesticide likely to have been applied in the absence of GMO seeds. Increased applications have led to the creation of “superweeds.” These pest weeds are evolving as resistant to glyphosate and the other toxins.
Increased use means more exposure to workers, consumers, children, and the environment.
Our entire food supply has become dependent on factory farming methods that are not environmentally friendly. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides, miticides, and a wide variety of other applications and practices are commonplace on almost every farm and food operation on the planet. It is hard to isolate a tract of land and guarantee that the food products created there are uncontaminated. It will become more difficult to confirm organics as time goes on. The distribution, marketing, preservation, and packaging cycles introduce more toxics into the food and into the environment. Modern farming technology is even abandoning soil and instead moving toward more chemically fixated or even sterile growing media as a method of combating the pests that take advantage of the standard practices of industrial monocultures.
In everything else
A new study released by the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found that Americans have twice the amount of Bisphenol A, or BPA, in their bodies than do Canadians. The author of the study, Laura Vandenberg, thinks that it is because Canada has stronger anti-BPA regulations than the USA. The study also found that infants and adolescents have higher levels in their bodies than do adults. BPA is a manmade poison found in many plastics and resins including toys, baby bottles, water bottles, shower curtains, metal food cans, clothing, and a wide variety of other products. It is also a hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing, synthetic estrogen. It has been linked to heart disease and breast cancer.
Last summer a study by the WNYEWG revealed that it is found at high levels in cash register and ATM receipts. About 40 percent of the receipts from gas stations, banks, convenience stores, and post offices contained dangerous amounts of the poison. According to the report, the chemical leaches from the paper and transfers to the hands, skin, food, and mouth. It can also be directly absorbed through the skin. It can penetrate so far into the skin that it cannot be washed off. In 2010, Canada banned products that contain BPA, as have several other countries. But not the USA. California recently rejected a ban after an aggressive, industry-sponsored campaign against the prohibition.
Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is a poison plastic from which many building and consumer products are made. It is classified as a known human carcinogen by the EPA. It is dangerous throughout its life cycle. PVC releases phthalates, which you can smell. (It’s that new car smell.) Phthalates are endocrine disrupters. PVC releases dioxins, which are among the most dangerous manmade substances on earth. PVC can be found in children’s toys, household products and furnishings, automobiles, and of course building products, including siding, fences, rails, doors, and windows. These toxins enter our bodies when we come in contact with them or when we breathe the air that they are released into. Recently the City of Buffalo has been discussing testing air for toxic particles released during recent industrial fires. The Clean Air Coalition of Western New York and its executive director, Erin Heaney, have been doing great work revealing that unsafe levels of chemicals such as benzene were found in the air after an industrial fire in Black Rock, affecting residents and firefighters. When PVC burns, it releases both hydrochloric acid and dioxin.
It’s the economy, stupid!
Politics continues to play the biggest role in saturating the earth with manmade toxic chemicals. In the current frenetic atmosphere of American politics, it is sometimes difficult to see any hope through the myopic lens of anti-environmental, anti-regulatory, and antisocial behavior that is exhibited by our leadership.
The political philosophy and choices involving big profit and the endlessly expanding global economic plan has no room for precautionary principles or accountability other than the accountability of profit. The well-being of society is currently a free-market-driven concept that is controlled by a hidden hand that is mostly concerned with building consumers and not educating us about the downsides. And of course in our new American atmosphere big money controls most of the messaging.
Our culture is highly dependent on an economic system that is focused almost exclusively on growth. Global growth promotes market exploitation based on philosophical/political decisions and value judgments. The growth argument goes that the future depends on this sacrosanct value. This strategy promotes expanded energy markets and production, and the manufacture and sales of more mostly cheap, disposable, and toxic stuff. Much of this is manufactured in places other than the United States and consumed by growing populations worldwide that want more stuff. More natural resources are commoditized and used up as consumer markets are exploited. It does not necessarily reflect concerns for human well-being and health. Products from cars to computers are designed with planned obsolescence. It keeps the pressure on consumers to purchase more and more. Credit schemes and dissembling free market arguments are being dropped like atomic bombs on people and governing structures across the globe. This is done in the context of a growing inequality between the rich and poor. Polarizing social economic arguments plague our political campaigns and our media. It is getting worse. Most Americans don’t even understand fundamental climate change issues, never mind care about them. What are our strategies to deal with the external costs and the burdens of vanishing bees, vanishing biodiversity, an unhealthy environment, and sick humans? Has our system failed us?
There are no nuances here. People are desperate. They prefer to refer to the vested interests that have created our poisoned planet as the “job makers.” The exploitation is made invisible by deeply ingrained economic fears. Economic development is so vested in consumerism and consumerism is so vested in toxics that it is almost impossible to see a way out.
Critical thinking and resulting dissent have become vanishing skill sets. Media makes it simple by not going into details other than talking points created by the vested interests. Mostly these talking points are repeated over and over until they become truths in our disintegrating mindsets. Our society grows dumber, fatter, and sicker and more vulnerable.
Do we have to defer to the privatizers, the downsizers, and the deregulators? Accountability other than to profit is vanished with the bees. We are not protected from the poison for profit predators that are taking our lives and have compromised our future. Shouldn’t this be a fundamental issue of national security?
Why not a critical discussion on “limits” to growth. Isn’t it possible that the growth meme is not sustainable? Free market fundamentalists unequivocally say no. Sustainability theorists link economy with ethics and society and believe that the real bottom line is the environment. This suggests that as we operate within our economic policies, there are absolute limits to growth. These are conflicting social and scientific values that we in 2011 are failing to address.
In Western New York, citizen movements promoting local economy, local food, fair housing, neighborhood infrastructure such as parks and gardens, and the “faster, quicker, cheaper” movement to take over the development of the waterfront, and to generally speak out and up for a better future, offers a lot of hope. Now we must build on this and find ways to advocate for better control of poisons that are made for profit. Supporting the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 is a good start. Drop a line to your elected officials, local and national, and let them know that you expect them to vote for this.
Jay Burney is founder of the Learning Sustainability Campaign and Greenwatch. Greenwatch provides a forum for discussion of a promotion of community literacy about issues related to ecology, sustainability, and biodiversity. Visit Greenwatch on Facebook and look for future Greenwatch articles in this newspaper.
This article on other sites:
A Sepulchur of Profit, Artvoice, October 20, 2011
A Selpulcher of Profit (Poisoned by Profit), Learning Sustainability Campaign
Of course we are shocked, just shocked by a new report released last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists reveals that for nearly three decades, many of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies have knowingly worked to deceive the public about the realities and risks of climate change. The report uses materials from leaked documents, documents obtained through lawsuits, and disclosures from Freedom of Information Act requests.
The Report- The Climate Deception Dossiers, released on July 9, uncovers a coordinated campaign of deception and misinformation underwritten by familiar companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell, Peabody Energy, and other members of the fossil fuel industry.
The report uncovers activities and publishes documents related to industry hired public relations professionals engineering of opinions and public perceptions about the reality of climate change and actions that governments, including the US Congress have or could take.
Documents published in the study iinclude The American Petroleum Institutes 1998 “Roadmap” Memo which focuses on a “Global Science Communications Plan” and the intent to use paid scientists to act as industry spokespersons; the “Western States Petroleum Deception Campaign” which included the creation of industry sponsored “grassroots groups” to activate campaigns and opposition to climate change science; forged letters from the coal industry public relations engineers to Members of Congress -especially during the congressional debate in 2009 about the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009”; the creation of the phony “Information Council on the Environment” which pretended to be an autonomous science based group but in fact was wholly funded by the coal industry and included a $500,000 advertising campaign; and deceptions initiated and carried out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which continues a disinformation campaign in local, regional, and federal legislatures and agencies.
These many messages have probably entered into your brain through the brilliantly mesmerized and non critical media outlets that help to characterize our knowledge and opinions. these media outlets include most that are located in Buffalo. The messages are designed to create doubt about the realities of climate change and the impact of the fossil fuel industry. The Public may be the only place that you will find this particular bit of news
Read the Full Report Here
In another bit of astounding Monday morning news comes a report from the DeSmog Blog that Shell Oil may remove the word “oil” from its name as it moves to drill in the arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. Shell Oil probably will become something like “GreenShell Environment and Ecology Explorations.” If you have any good ideas about what Shell’s new name could be, please use our comments sections below to post your considerations.
From the Union of Concerned Scientists Climate Deceptions Dossier Press Release:
“As early as 1977, representatives from major fossil fuel companies attended dozens of congressional hearings in which the contribution of carbon emissions to the greenhouse effect was discussed. By 1981 at least one company (Exxon) was already considering the climate implications of a large fossil fuel extraction project.
In 1988, the issue moved beyond the scientific community and onto the national stage. James Hansen, a leading NASA climate scientist, testified before Congress that scientific data had confirmed that industrial activities were causing climate change. It was also in 1988 that the United Nations formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. Congress introduced the National Energy Policy Act in an effort to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases.
It is difficult to imagine that executives, lobbyists, and scientists at major fossil companies were by this time unaware of the robust scientific evidence of the risks associated with the continued burning of their products.
-More than half of all industrial carbon emissions have been released since 1988—after major fossil fuel companies knew about the harm their products were causing.
-Indeed, one of the key documents highlighted in the deception dossiers is a 1995 internal memo written by a team headed by a Mobil Corporation scientist and distributed to many major fossil fuel companies. The internal report warned unequivocally that burning the companies’ products was causing climate change and that the relevant science “is well established and cannot be denied.”
-How did fossil fuel companies respond? They embarked on a series of campaigns to deliberately deceive the public about the reality of climate change and block any actions that might curb carbon emissions.
-The result? More than half of all industrial carbon emissions have been released since 1988 and there is still no comprehensive U.S. federal policy to address the problem.”
The UCS report concludes that in order to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the damages that they have knowingly done including the overall cost to humanity of the economic, environmental, and social costs -we should as a civil society, demand that they:
Stop disseminating misinformation about climate change. It is unacceptable for fossil fuel companies to deny established climate science. It is also unacceptable for companies to publicly accept the science while funding climate contrarian scientists or front groups that distort or deny the science.
Support fair and cost-effective policies to reduce global warming emissions. It is time for the industry to identify and publicly support policies that will lead to the reduction of emissions at a scale needed to reduce the worst effects of global warming.
Reduce emissions from current operations and update their business models to prepare for future global limits on emissions. Companies should take immediate action to cut emissions from their current operations, update their business models to reflect the risks of unabated burning of fossil fuels, and map out the pathway they plan to take in the next 20 years to ensure we achieve a low-carbon energy future.
Pay for their share of the costs of climate damages and preparedness. Communities around the world are already facing and paying for damages from rising seas, extreme heat, more frequent droughts, and other climate-related impacts. Today and in the future, fossil fuel companies should pay a fair share of the costs.
Fully disclose the financial and physical risks of climate change to their business operations. As is required by law, fossil fuel companies are required to discuss risks—including climate change—that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. Today, compliance with this requirement is not consistent. Jay Burney is environment and ecology editor for The Public and a founder of GreenWatch.
by Jay Burney / Jun. 1, 2015 9am EST
Greenwatch: A Biocentric View on Climate Change and a Call for a Real Climate Action Plan
Our life-sustaining environment is devastated by a wide variety of forces that humans have to develop a much more profound perspective on. We have a climate emergency and it is a call for all hands on deck.
Most often when we think about climate change we begin to think about energy production and the move away from the fossil fuel industry. We are motivated to move toward what is characterized as renewable energy strategies. Science tells us clearly that the use of fossil fuels adds carbon and other greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. These gasses are directly connected to warming temperatures, climate instability, and the collapse of ecosystems. We are right to challenge the fossil fuel industry so that we have a chance at a quality of life for the generations that follow us. How renewable energy strategies can best be developed remains a complicated political and scientific strategy.
Human-generated climate change does not begin with fossil fuels and fixing it does not end with renewable energy strategies. Climate problems, ecosystem collapse, and any potential solutions must go way beyond the kinds of fuels we use to power our civilizations. Fixing our energy systems are stepping stones, and we need to understand and plan with that perspective. It is a matter of life and death.
Q: What is the environment?
A: The natural systems including ecosystems and the biodiversity that all life, including all human life depends upon.
Biodiversity and the ecological systems that have evolved along with and in support of a stable atmosphere are disappearing. Rapidly. These systems create clean water and air. They work to regulate and moderate temperature. These are fundamental parts of the hydrologic cycle that effects precipitation and drought. They promote food sources for all living things including humans. They are the systems that have evolved on our planet that have created a stable atmosphere and other conditions to promote both life and a quality of life that have benefited the human species. In this very fundamental context, we are the environment and everything we do impacts the ecosystems that we depend upon.
The collapse of biodiversity impacts hyper-local contexts as well as regional and global conditions. How we act locally to conserve and protect our natural resources has a tremendous impact on both global and local conditions. These conditions include environmental conditions, and social issues including health, access to water, and economic equity. It is clear that this is all linked to social stability. Famine and poverty are principle drivers of the wars that are ravaging many parts of our planet. War does not benefit the environment that supports human life.
The costs to repair these broken and lost systems are astronomical. They are beyond any currently envisioned economic systems ability to address. This does not mean that we should not try.
The economy is the principle driver of climate change. In particular our system theory of free market capitalism has a tremendous flaw. The hidden hand of this freemarket political concept has reacted either inconsequentially, or has deliberately precipitated what future generations will surely characterize as the greatest failure of this system.
This economic system exploits the environment. This harms people. For instance, forests are considered valuable only for the value of timber and other commodification contexts. Land grabs based on exploitation of forests kills people and eradicates cultures dependent on the forests. Other ecosystems, such as rivers and oceans, become dumps for intentional waste streams. Legalized pollution and lack of regulation produces profits for some, death for so many others. The harm, including the economic harm done by cutting the forest and the real costs of pollution is considered an “external” cost that is to be borne by the wider society. It is intentionally designed to promote profit and growth without recognizing the fundamental harm. This economic policy is why we have a mass destruction of the environment.
David Suzuki, the renowned Canadian spokesperson for biodiversity calls the formalized system of “externalities” a form of “brain damage.”
New Ocean Carbon Study
Last week, the Royal Society, which is the National Academy of Science in the UK, released a new study about the critical nature of biodiversity and fish populations in the oceans—and how these populations contribute to climate moderation through promoting carbon sequestration.
This can be a complicated topic but one that has a tremendous significance regarding atmospheric carbon issues, how we treat our waterbodies and the wildlife that populate and support the ecosystems on which we are all dependant.
The study follows up on great work by Sylvia Earle, who has visited Buffalo often and was one of the original administrators of the National Marine Sanctuary Program of NOAA, and who raised the alarm about changing oceans in her pivotal 1995 book Sea Change.
This passionate scientific analysis eloquently spoke to how humans’ use and destruction of the world’s oceans—including the use of the oceans as a dump and consumption on a massive and unsustainable scale of fish populations for human food, has destroyed the ocean ecosystems. Those changes tremendously impact climate and global ecological stability. Since this warning first appeared two decades ago the declining conditions of the oceans and the overconsumption of fish have been unabated.
Video: Sylvia Earle TED Talk on Protecting our Oceans, (similar to a presentation she gave in Buffalo at the Learning Sustainability conference in 2001)
Ocean carbon sequestration is very important. The oceans absorb almost ½ of the billions of tons of CO2 emitted by humans. The new Royal Society report helps to identify the science of how this happens. It reveals how humans have impacted the process. The complexity of the ocean ecosystems and their capacity to absorb CO2 includes relationships to the food chain and how microorganisms such as phytoplankton found near the surface are consumed by varying levels of other organisms in the depths. These organisms include the fish that we consume as food, or waste as part of unusable harvesting. In the natural ocean system, these organisms, which represent 95% of the biomass of the oceans, are recycled by other organisms until the carbon is sequestered in the depths. The study says that disrupting this system, by human consumption and killing off the biodiversity including the mid to deep sea fish, harms the carbon sequestration cycle. Harms it more than we have ever known.
What are the links to the Great Lakes and our Western New York region?
One way to think about this is to understand that there is an actual physical link from our homes and properties to the world’s oceans. In addition to our consumption of ocean fish and other ocean “products”, what we do upstream is critically important. What we do in our communities, our homes, and our places of business ultimately reflects on the condition of our local and regional ecosystems. The health of our local ecosystems significantly impacts the health of the ocean and as this study reveals, the stability of our atmosphere.
What can we do?
We need a local and regional Climate Action Plan that not only deals with energy production and consumption but also deals with the real impacts of development including infrastructure impacts on ecosystems. A Climate Action Plan with a deep ecological perspective on conservation and restoration planning that funds the scientific study of problems and solutions could become a blueprint for a sustainable future.
We must make the connection between how our local and regional Great Lakes ecosystems and watersheds connect to the collapse of oceans. If we need to focus on the capacity of carbon sequestration of our ecosystems in order to financially justify the planning, lets do it. Governor Cuomo says that he is committed to an active and substantial approach to climate change. Lets make this kind of work a substantial part of that.
This most specifically includes how we develop, how we characterize development, and how we create infrastructure for energy, transportation, and waste streams. This must effect how we develop our watersheds, outer harbor and our many miles of shorelines. We need to rethink how we use these areas to deposit our urban and agricultural waste streams. Most of this comes down to our philosophical investments in growth and expansion. We use these natural systems, destroy them, and treat them as economic externalities. They are in fact not externalities. They are the most profound foundation upon which healthy life and a thriving participatory population is based. We must now make the pragmatic choice to recognize the costs and make the appropriate cultural adjustments.
If we are going to get serious about climate change we have to move beyond supporting energy systems and economic systems that exploit the world of natural systems that support our quality of life.
Can we fix this? We don’t know but we hope to engage in this conversation in this column in the coming weeks and months.
Send us your thoughts.
GreenWatch is a collaborative project of the Learning Sustainability Campaign, Western New York ClimateWatch, and the Public.
Jay Burney is environment and ecology editor for The Public and a founder of Greenwatch.
GreenWatch: The Sixth Extinction, the EPA, and You
by Jay Burney / Jun. 26, 2015 12am EST
Just a few days before the EPA released a new cost benefit climate change analysis this week by the Climate Change Risk Analysis (CIRA) Project, USEPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gave an interview to CNN’s John Sutter.
She told Sutter, and the new report leaves no doubt, that climate change has already reached the point where lots of people are going to die as a result. This includes 12,000 per year in “major cities” in the US by the year 2100.
The human health impacts and explicit references to loss of life are somewhat of a public coming out in terms of our government’s promoting awareness of this kind of cost benefit analysis. It is a real challenge by scientists to find ways to engage the public and the leaders that they elect about the dire emergency that we are facing. The report also points out the staggering monetary costs under a variety of increasingly shrinking real world climate change scenarios. Acknowledgement of these costs is not so new. It is probable that actual costs will exceed trillions of dollars in the coming decades. Maybe that is just too abstract for most Americans to digest. How about this-lets get down to the bottom line. Climate change will kill you.
The new EPA report- “Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Actions” is just the latest in a series of reports by the government on climate change that began with the launch of the initial White House/USGCRP National Climate Assessment on the Great Lakes Region at an event at the Statler in downtown Buffalo in 2000.
That report, which continues to be the foundation of how science characterizes climate change and the impacts in our region, articulated that more heat waves, more intense precipitation events, and cumulative negative effects on human health; ecosystems including freshwater resources; agriculture; and overall economic productivity will create significant impacts in how well our future works. It helped to open the floodgates to understanding the economic impacts. Things have not become better.
More Than Energy — More About Consumption Most if not all climate strategies including assets in this new EPA report, directly address the economic costs and consequences of greenhouse gas emmissions and of our continued reliance on fossil fuels. Under almost all circumstances the locus of the energy discussions focus on transforming energy production to more renewable resources. This is certainly important, but this often complicated and divisive industrial production and distribution discussion frequently misses the point. Our economic system is about limitless growth and it is fueled by consumption and consumption is eating the earth and all of its systems. While finding strategies to release less carbon into the atmosphere is essential, it is also critical to face directly the failings of our economic system. Climate change is the greatest failure of our economic system. Social injustice is both a product of our economic system and increasingly of climate change. If you are not at least thinking about that, you are failing to recognize the forest for the trees.
Biodiversity and Ecosystem Collapse As readers of GreenWatch know, I focus on the impacts of biodiversity and ecosystems, -until recently a topic obscured by energy discussions. Increasinlgly these ecological impacts are being recognized as fundamentally significant factors driving climate change and not just being driven by climate change. Guy McPherson, Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at the University of Arizona describes part of the complexity of these relationships as “feedback loops” where actions build upon actions in an ever expanding cycle of ecological collapse. Read more of Professor McPherson’s work at his blog Nature Bats Last.
The new EPA report helps to bring to the forefront some of those biocentric concerns that we need to wave a sustainability flag around. From the report:
Ecosystems are held together by the interactions and connections among their components. Climate is a central connection in all ecosystems. Consequently, changes in climate will have far-reaching effects throughout Earth’s ecosystems. Climate change can affect ecosystems and species in a variety of ways; for example, it can lead to changes in the timing of seasonal life-cycle events, such as migrations; habitat shifts; food chain disruptions; increases in pathogens, parasites, and diseases; and elevated risk of extinction for many species. Climate change directly affects ecosystems and species, but it also interacts with other human stressors on the environment. Although some stressors cause only modest impacts by themselves, the cumulative impact of climate and other changes can lead to dramatic ecological impacts. For example, coastal wetlands already in decline due to increasing development will face increased pressure…”
Simply put, the loss of biodiversity will continue drive ecosystem collapse and climate change that will do great harm to all life on earth including human life.
The good news is that the report says that we can still ameliorate the consequences of climate change. Not a really good chance, but a chance. The report lays out a series of strategies that we need to initiate or continue to build upon if we want to have any effect on the consequences. We will explore some of these strategies in coming columns. The bad news is that we are progressing rapidly into deeper and deeper trouble and we remain unable to save ourselves.
Speaking of Extinction
The new EPA report is an important step in helping us to personalize the coming and ongoing consequences of climate change. To bad it isn’t getting wider coverage or being pushed as the Climate Emergency that it is. We clearly have one and it would be wise to manage our intellectual and civic resources to address and plan for our rapidly approaching future. Failing to do so is stimulating social, economic, and environmental catastrophes across parts of the US and across the globe. The EPA report comes just on the heals of another report released this week by a collaboration of scientists based at the Stanford University Center for Conservation Biology and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The report “Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction” was published 19 June in the journal Science Advances, a publication of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science).
It characterizes and catalogues the rapid escalation of what scientists have recognized as “The Sixth Extinction.”
Co-authors on the paper include Paul Erlich of Stanford, Anthony D. Barnosky of the University of California at Berkeley, Andrés García of Universidad Autónoma de México, Robert M. Pringle of Princeton University and Todd M. Palmer of the University of Florida.
You may recognize one of the principle authors Dr. Paul R. Erlich, founder of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford.
Erlich is one of the world’s pioneering scientists in work on population, resources, the environment, and public policy. He is a founder of the field of Coeveloution which is the understanding of how the evolution of species impact each other and the ecosystems in which they exist. His work in the area of cultural evolution and environmental ethics reach deep into how humans have changed the planet.
The new Stanford study shows that the current extinction episode made more familiar by Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2014 book “The Sixth Extinction” is escalating and is worse than previously thought.
Erlich told reporters “There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.” “Parrots, raptors and penguins, large mammals and small insects, including the honey bee, are now in obviously danger. The coral reefs could be gone by 2070, -a disaster that could precipitate the loss of as much as a quarter of the ocean’s species.
The report concludes that people are at fault for this “global spasm of biodiversity loss.”
Here is the Stanford News report Standford researcher declares thet the sixth mass extinction is here.
From the Stanford University Press Release:
“Using fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a background rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses. This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible.
Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.
“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.
Other Conclusions The Stanford report also finds that:
-Even with extremely conservative estimates species are disappearing at about 100 times more than the background rate. The background rate is defined as what could be expected if there were not accelarators such as human development and climate change driving the ship of life on earth.
-The most dramatic human-caused impacts on the ecosystem occurred after the Industrial Revolution. For instance, the death rate for birds, mammals, amphibians and fish since 1900 has been 72 times what has historically been the normal rate between extinctions.
-Since 1800, 540 species of known animals have been wiped out, most of them vertebrates. The study found that, under normal circumstances, those animals would have lived another 800 to 10,000 years.
-Impacts on birds have been and will continue to be severe. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Great Auk, and Imperial Woodpecker are amongst those relatively recently lost.
It has been well over a decade since we began to find ways to catalog and compare the evidence that humanity and indeed all life on earth is in the throws of this Sixth Mass Extinction. Scientists have been following that trail for over half a century starting at least with Rachel Carson. There have been bumps in the road, including the hysterical distractions of social engineers, warmongers, and the somnambulance of self hatred sometimes steaming from the melting pot. But the evidence is here.
We will continue to write about strategies to be more proactive in our cultural approaches to climate change. Significantly we have no regional or local comprehensive Climate Change Action Plan. And even if we did it will take a lot of arm twisting to convince anyone with any thoughts or capacity to work through this to incorporate conservation and biodiversity into what are almost exclusively economic development dominated energy plans that play to our green energy and jobs sensibilities. We need better local leadership. Without it we remain committed to trouble. Can we find our way home? What do you think?
Dr. Paul Erlich Video Youtube
Jay Burney is environment and ecology editor for The Public and a founder of Greenwatch
by Jay Burney / Jul. 9, 2015 11am EST
This is personal.
GreenWatch began in 1996 as collaboration between myself and Paul MacClennan, retired Buffalo News Environmental Reporter, and the Buffalo Institute of Urban Ecology, Inc. The purpose was to help to organize the local environmental community and to deliver a local Western New York printed newsletter to the offices of elected officials and policy makers. We did not last long. We could not get continuing funding for the publication. But we did not go away. For almost a decade we worked quietly and diligently to advocate environmental literacy, pubishing articles here and there (thank you Geoff Kelly), publishing newsletters, working online as that media deveoped, hosting forums and workshops, engaging a variety of people, organizations and media makers.
It was the gulf oil disaster that stimulated the concentrated relaunch of GreenWatch in April of 2010. At least we could cover our costs utilizing the emerging technology of online postings. We engaged and continued to develop our network of media makers in order to help contextualize what we felt were important and badly covered environmental stories.
It was clear from the national press that was covering the Deepwater Horizon/BP/ Haliburton/Macondo Prospect blowout disaster that no one in any pressroom across the land had any clue as to how to cover the story.
That is because the media at that time had abandoned in-depth environmental coverage across the board and were working on financial strategies that would support the expensive mainstream media tradition.
The business and war climate of the time tried to push environment into an obscure corner designed to be at best an afterthought in the great political morass of the Cheney Bush rampage. The mainstream media, which was then still the dominant think treacle, characterized all environmental issues as PR issues that negatively effected the economy. Regulations and taxes = evil, growth and profit = the only good. “Consume good citizens, -it will help your depression to go away”. That lens allowed main stream media to get away with dosing the citizens with the talking points of BP, Haliburton, and the very confused and subjugated federal, state, and local agencies that had any so called responsibility for the disaster.
Even our local media, for instance the Buffalo News, had not replaced Paul with an environmental reporter since his retirement almost a decade previous to the Gulf disaster. I was pleased that the BN was willing to publish several of my stories as Sunday ViewPoints Covers and I deeply thank the editors for that. But in 2010 it remained the normal at the BN to assign business reporters to cover environmental issues such as the occasional SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review) challenges raised by concerned citizens. Reported from a business perspective, SEQRA and the regulations that it represented were treated as “the creation of an unfriendly business climate” rather than trying to protect the health and well-being of the citizens and the ecology that our lives depend upon. The local electronic media was worse. Talking heads read talking points about sewers and bird kills, and fish kills, and smiled. This was the status across the nation in 2010 when the Macondo blowout added to the ongoing destruction the Gulf of Mexico and ruined the lives of millions of people.
From a more cynical point of view, just about every media outlet that was covering this disaster had an agenda to play it down to the point where at first it was treated as an almost irrelevant blip on the “business as usual” screen. It was a maddening time. It remains so. This is arguably the largest environmental disaster in history. Calling it a “spill” is one of the greatest language engineering PR feats of this century. It ranks up there with “Death Tax” and “Entitlements”! Language counts!
We would like to think that it has gotten better. At least we are still writing. We believe that the influence of GreenWatch has brought increased scrutiny to media coverage of environmental issues and positive investments locally and nationally in relatively knowledgeable and critical thinking reporters and story development. Our work on national issues including the BP disaster, Colony Collapse Disorder, fracking, sustainability, and our work on local issues including the Buffalo outer harbor and local critical media engagement activities have resulted positively for our community. We thank our supporters and those that have found us as a resource.
A Review of The Deepwater Horizon Blow Out
This particular portion of the Gulf of Mexico disaster began on what we have been told was 20 April 2010. This is when a massive explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig, sank it, killed 11 platform workers, and ruptured the underwater pipes connected to the oil field beneath the Gulf of Mexico. 87 days later, on 15 July 2010, we are told, the gushing oil well was capped. We are told that the leaking was stopped entirely by 19 September. Since then there have been numerous reports that this is not true.
The official government estimate of what escaped from the blown well is 4.9 million gallons, but this is a controversial estimate with most parties disagreeing as to the exact amount of oil that entered into the ocean ecosystem.
Lets get this straight- It was not a spill. It is a disaster. It was shocking, as in “we were just shocked” to see that the catastrophe coverage was almost universally assigned to print business reporters or tv talking heads that read talking points from industry. The media marched behind the rising aggression of the PR of industry. The truth is that this was arguably the greatest single environmental disaster to ever happen on America’s corporate watch. It is a significant contributor climate change which is the greatest failure of the freemarket.
The cover up of the true magnitude of the disaster is one of the greatest crimes of the century. Never forgive, never forget was a favorite phrase of the original GreenWatcher Paul MacClennan. And we have not.
Late last week an $18.7 billion settlement was announced regarding all federal, state, and local claims against BP for its role in the disaster.
According to the agreement which has yet to be accepted by the United States District Court in New Orleans, BP would pay the federal government a civil penalty of $5.5 billion under the Clean Water Act over a 15 year time frame, and would pay $7.1 billion under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) to the gulf. The later amount is which is defined as compensation for direct environmental harm caused by the spill.
Many, including those of us at GreenWatch, think that this settlement is not enough. Initially the federal government sought $18.7 billion in just in Clean Water Act fines.
According to an article published this week in Rolling Stone:
“Mark Lyons, regional administrator for Oxfam America, which has been working for economic equity in the Gulf of Mexico for 20 years, tells Rolling Stone that “BP got off cheaply.” He added, “The judge had already found gross negligence, and based on the Clean Water Act formulas, BP should have been looking at $13 to $18 billion for the oil spill alone. Add to that the natural resource damages and the fact that there is enough research on oil spills in general and the shock to Gulf in particular to say that a settlement at this level is both premature and cheap. It’s a bargain for BP.”
What exactly has been the environmental harm to the Gulf and the surrounding communities?
If you listen to the PR talking points of BP including the ongoing advertising campaign, the answer is not much.
We disagree and we are not alone. The contaminating oil/hydrocarbons which spread for thousands of miles and polluted sensitive shoreline and estuarine communities. These sensitive communities are ecological engines that help to clean water and air, create healthy soils, and promote strong opportunities to keep the gulf vibrant. Vibrancy includes contribution to weather and atmospheric conditions as well as continuing to provide a source of living for the humans that depend upon a clean ecosystem and fishery. It is easy to make the connection between a dead or dying ecosystem and things like ocean temperatures and currents, climate change, and economic vibrancy and economic justice.
In March of this year, BP issued a report claiming that the spill didn’t cause a “significant long-term impact” to Gulf wildlife and fisheries and that the massive cleanup was largely successful in limiting the spill’s damage. But government officials and environmentalists dismissed the report for cherry-picking its information. “BP misinterprets and misapplies data while ignoring published literature that doesn’t support its claims,” declared the Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees, a group of state and federal agencies charged with evaluating the spill’s impacts.
In 2012 the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) issued a report evaluating the overall ecological damage cased by the blowout, and focusing on restoration scenarios. They estimated that the NRDA costs to restore the Gulf to 2010 conditions would easily reach $31 billion.
NWF said in that report “We cannot trust the assessments of BP and it’s allies”. At first BP tried to sell the public on the fact that only 1,000 gallons were leaking per day, when it turned out that they knew that 53,000 plus gallons were leaking. BP also invested significant cash in an ongoing PR campaign that created the false impression that “the disaster was not so bad and everything was under control.” The talking points generated by this PR campaign were widely reported in the media. By 2013 BP cited the $50 million ad campaign costs as part of their reparation expenses and investments in the clean-up. That may very well have been the best investment by BP, because convincing people, including the judge, that “its better than we know” seems to have significantly decreased the cost of the settlement to BP.
The Corexit fix for the gushed oil was worse than the original disaster
Obviously the leaking wells in the Gulf directly contaminate the ocean with release of oil and gas into the water. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is probable that the solution offered initially, in the context of 1.8 million gallons of the oil dispersant Corexit, was even worse for the environment then the oil gash. Corexit is a chemical cocktail designed to break crude oil slicks into tiny droplets that are heavier than water, so that they can sink to the ocean floor, there to be “consumed” by tiny marine organisms and made to vanish from our radar screens. Out of sight, out of mind. In addition, the chemical brew created by mixing Corexit and crude oil has been implicated in the serious illness of thousands of Gulf Coast residents, especially the many that were hired by BP to disperse the chemical, or clean up the visible oil scars.
In June of this year, Playboy published a revealing article (pardon the pun) about the ongoing health catastrophe’s of the people that live and work in the Gulf of Mexico.
From the June 2015 Playboy article:
“BP also barred journalists from oil-soaked beaches, asked cleanup workers and scientists conducting BP-funded research to sign confidentiality agreements and even had in-house discussions about attempts to “direct” and “influence” scientific research studies, according to a series of e-mails Greenpeace obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. “You could not speak about what you saw,” says George Barisich of the cleanup program. “That was one of the rules. Otherwise you’d lose your job.”
According to a report by Florida State University published in 2014, more than 10 million gallons of the Corexit mixed oil remains on the gulf sea floor being consumed by the tiny marine organisms that it is engineered to feed. These droplets are also consumed by a variety of other creatures including fish.
According to a 2012 study by Georgia Tech researchers, combining Corexit with crude oil makes the brew 52 times more toxic to the marine organisms that consume it. These organisms are an essential part of the food chain. And this has shown itself in the oyster beds, coral reefs, crabs, shrimp and other crustaceans that have contributed to the health of the ecosystem and the economy of the region. This has shown itself in the condition of dolphins, whales, birds and literally every other creature that depends on the ecosystem of the gulf. And there is nothing good to report. The fisheries have collapsed despite what the PR people want you to believe. Hundreds of thousands of Gulf coast people have been pushed into extreme poverty and are experiencing horrible health consequences. People are dying. The Gulf is about gone. And we are talking, at least in terms of supporting humanity, that this is gone forever.
What we have here, is a failure of our economy. The model that we use, which includes legalized pollution and treating the negative impacts of profit on our social and environmental conditions as externalities, is as David Suzuki puts it “brain damage.”
Why is it that day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, we allow profit takers to extract wealth for themselves while the rest of us pay the costs of environmental disaster with our hard earned cash, our health, and our lives? Are we really that stupid? What is in that stuff that is trickling down on us? It is certainly not reflective of a vibrant economic future for most of us.
Long History of Environmental Destruction of the Gulf
This disaster that has unfolded in the Gulf of Mexico began many years before the Macondo blowout when underwater wells began to be developed. The first official offshore freestanding well rig in the Gulf of Mexico was constructed by Pure Oil and superior Oil Company in 1938. It was wiped off its pilings in 1940 by a hurricane, was rebuilt and is said to have produced 4 million barrels annually until it went out of production decades later. Companies like Kerr-McGee and Halliburton got into the rig business and engineered a variety of innovations for the big oil companies including BP right up through and beyond the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Most of these wells have been abandoned. According to an Associated Press investigation published in July of 2010, more than 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf may be leaking. Furthermore they found that it is impossible to engineer a cap to plug an undersea well, although industry sources say that “a correctly plugged well will last forever.” Many of these wells were abandoned and or plugged decades ago, long before contemporary construction regulations came into existence or because operators have violated the regulations. The bottom line is that the wells are not inspected because there is little money and no regulatory teeth for enforcement. The government relies industry operators to file paperwork regarding conditions of wells, and after a certain period of time, they no longer have to file anything to anyone. According the AP report the official government policy on inspecting these wells, abandoned or not is “out of sight, out of mind.”
Another AP report published in May of 2015 on just one leaking well in the Gulf shows that the well owned by Taylor Energy Company which has been known to be leaking for over a decade, may leak for another century. It has leaked up to 1.4 million gallons since 2004. According to the report, the company says that nothing can be done to completely eliminate the chronic oil slicks that often stretch for miles off the coast of Louisiana.
What could be worse? It is simple to comprehend what is worse-All oil and gas wells leak. Some leak methane directly into the air, some create ground and water contamination with toxic pollutants. Millions of wells, all wells across the globe, leak. In the US alone it is estimated that there are 2.5 million “abandoned” oil and gas wells, none permanently capped.
This is a huge issue that relates completely to climate change. Legal pollution on a massive scale, profitable greenhouse gas emissions, and the ongoing destruction of earths ecosystems that are treated as economic externalities are central to our fate.
Just yesterday (8 July) an AP report revealed that a portion of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, known as the Seahorse Key on Florida’s gulf coast has been very recently abandoned by the thousands of birds including Blue herons, Roseate spoonbills, Snowy egrets, pelicans. This is a rookery that has existed for decades that is now vanished. US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Vic Doig is quoted in the report as saying “It’s a dead zone now. This is where the largest bird colony on the Gulf Coast of Florida used to be.” It is too early to link this to the Macondo blowout but it is not to early to assume that human activity contributing to the ongoing ecological disaster of the Gulf of Mexico is going to be identified as a source of the problem. BP? $19 billion over 18 years? Never forgive, never forget. Thanks Paul!
Jay Burney is environment and ecology editor for The Public and a founder of Greenwatch
For decades, denial has been a river running through Washington, Albany, Buffalo and probably through your house. Harris polls conducted between 2007 and last year indicate Americans’ belief in climate change has dropped from 71 percent to 44 percent.
Today, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and an election campaign that ignored climate change, we face an onrushing economic, cultural and environmental reality that will shape our future. If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to call it climate change, then call it something else. Call it a “situation,” because whatever you call it, we have a situation.
The question is: Are we in a position in Western New York to address and mitigate the potential consequences of climate change? Do we have a sustainable future? The answer is: Maybe.
During his election victory speech, President Obama said, “We don’t want our children to live in an America … that is threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
It’s about time. Now he and other policymakers, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, are raising climate issues, understanding that if we do not, we face a precipitous decline in our future opportunities. This includes the potential for disasters like Hurricane Sandy, which made many of our friends and families refugees – without shelter, food, power, heat and water. Imagine the consequences of a storm-caused, prolonged, deep winter power outage in Western New York.
Since the Clinton White House sent Dr. Peter Sousounis here in 2000 to release the initial Regional Climate Assessment (Great Lakes), we have witnessed escalating global and regional change, including warmer winters and extreme weather events.
Sousounis said at that 2000 event held in the Statler, “We can predict increasing average temperatures, changing lake levels and extremes in weather conditions in the coming decades.”
Last spring, NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director Dr. James Hansen, initially a climate skeptic, declared: “Now we can go beyond global and regional predictions because we have actual evidence that climate change has arrived, and is worse than we thought it would be.”
This is all eye-opening.
What our region does in the coming months and years regarding climate change will help to characterize the future of our community. This is a collective responsibility. We have to educate ourselves and invest in personal, neighborhood and regional strategies that address our future. It must be a wide-ranging discussion that affects virtually every aspect of our lives. This will determine our ability to survive as a species. It is about you and me. We can make a difference.
There is a lot going on locally, and more is on the way. A primary strategy to dealing with climate change is to address renewable energy issues. Programs such as FIT (Feed In Tariff) help to incentivize renewable energy by guaranteeing markets and values to investors and making renewables competitive in the energy market. This is important. It is a no-brainer given our current political economy of consumerism and growth. But is it enough?
Sustainability rests on three pillars – culture, economics and environment – and understanding relationships between these three pillars with one caveat: The environment is the bottom line. Without a substantial environmental context, the others could not exist.
In the free market, where profit is the objective, the environment is considered to be an “externality.” This means that the costs to the environment of economic development – including polluted water, air, food, soil, climate impacts and the very real costs of human health – are born by society and not the entities engaged in profit-taking. This socialized offloading of responsibilities and real costs is a fatal flaw of the free market and makes “sustainable development” an oxymoron. Climate change may be the biggest failure of free markets.
David Suzuki, an outspoken Canadian environmental activist, resigned from his own organization recently because of economic threats by big donors. He calls our economic system “brain cancer.”
Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine,” said this system empowers what she calls “disaster capitalists” – those who make money by deliberately creating or taking advantage of economic shocks and then exploiting a distracted citizenry. She would argue that disaster capitalism took full advantage of Western New York after the surprise October snowstorm of 2006. Shocks include environmental crises and destabilizing events such as the austerity budgets now sweeping parts of the European Union.
We need to treat climate change as an “emergency situation,” Klein said. “That means pulling out all the stops.”
She said that many well-meaning environmental organizations are as much a part of the problem as part of the solution. Because of their own economic pressures, many enviro groups have promoted business-friendly solutions. If they rock the boat much, like Suzuki, they are threatened with defunding. Klein said that while important, simply changing light bulbs to be more energy efficient, planting trees or advocating investment schemes to make energy more renewable while ignoring the climate change elephant in the room – consumerism and growth – is not enough.
Klein said that most enviro-groups enable the economic and policymaker hands that feed them by addressing strategies that everyone in that bubble considers “winnable” and not strategies that push the envelope and demand solutions to the emergency that confronts our planet. Emergency declared. Now what can we do?
>Support local business
Many activists point to local economies as a way toward a more sustainable future. Large corporations treat communities like Buffalo as an extractable profit center. They invest relatively little, and take a lot. When they are finished, they leave behind abandoned buildings and neighborhoods, a looted environment and forgotten people.
Sarah Bishop, executive director of Buffalo First, which is laying the groundwork for a local economy, said, “A local economy is about local dollars staying local, and local businesses being more responsible, responsive and engaged about local issues, including local culture and environment.”
“Choosing a locally owned store generates almost four times as much economic benefit for the surrounding region as compared to shopping at a chain,” she said. “This is a hopeful statistic in a city and region that has seen significant divestment over the past quarter century.
Bishop recently co-sponsored a visit to Buffalo by Chicago activist Naomi Davis, founder of “Blacks in Green.” Davis, whose focus is on livable and walkable self-sufficient neighborhoods, told us that a “city is comprised of many villages.” Each village can create local jobs, benefit and investment, and support individuals and families. Can we do this in Buffalo?
The ecological services of habitat, including clean air and water, are fundamental to life and have a great impact on wealth. The atmosphere evolved as a part of a biodiverse system. Biodiversity helps to regulate atmospheric gasses, including greenhouse gasses, by absorbing and storing carbon. Protection of our remaining habitats – oceans, forests and freshwater ecosystems – is fundamental to addressing climate change.
Externalizing the environment in the name of economic development encourages the destruction of biodiversity. This destruction has both cause and effect. Science is pointing to an ongoing current extinction episode, described as the sixth great extinction, with climate change as an accelerant.
Protect Great Lakes
One of earth’s greatest natural resources is the Sweetwater seas known as the Great Lakes. Each year, more than 20 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into the Great Lakes, which contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. This causes biodiversity loss and subjects humans to disease and the ravages of climate change. Western New York is responsible for between 2 billion and 4 billion gallons of raw sewage released each year.
Jill Jedlicka Spisiak, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, is working with the Buffalo Sewer Authority on a green infrastructure plan that, if fully financed, could reduce the release of raw sewage significantly.
“A major investment in sewer infrastructure is needed,” she said. The cost of the project is estimated to be $500 million over 19 years. It is imperative that we find money to address this problem.
There is a new approach to land use modeling that is beginning to emerge in Western New York. The model would begin to evaluate land use from an ecological services perspective, rather than the traditional land use models that characterize land as an economic commodity, such as agricultural, mining, etc. This new model would help to quantify the real values and costs of land, and would help to inform zoning and tax practices that currently “externalize” environment.
These are just a few examples of solutions that are emerging locally. Finding a comprehensive strategy, including some of these projects, can make a big difference and help to create a sustainable future for all of us.
This situation is an emergency. If we don’t treat it as one, and if we don’t seize the reins, we can expect a future predicated on a globalized disaster economy that will turn our region into a Third World nation instead of the sustainability leader that we can become.
Jay Burney, a naturalist, writer and conservation activist, founded the Learning Sustainability Campaign and is chairman of Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve.
When Sam Hoyt, Regional President of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) , parent organization of the Erie Canal harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) delivered his remarks at the quickly called press conference Friday March 6, he continued to spin the various talking points about the good intentions and public engagements of the ECHDC regards Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. Under the direction of Gov. Cuomo’s demand to “get something done” now-the ECHDC engaged in a short process last summer to create a “new plan” for development on the Outer Harbor. This short process has been widely criticized as it led to a “final plan”, released last September, that sets aside much of the Outer Harbor landscape for private condo development including in Wilkeson Pointe Park. The released final plan, which is now being described as a “blueprint” limits public access, promotes sprawl, and offers no real understanding of the ecological context of the shoreline environment affected by the development. At the press conference Hoyt and the ECHDC have once again promised us that they will release a “revised final plan”, soon. “Late March or early April” declared Hoyt.
This press conference was called in response to The Investigative Post’s (IP) Dan Telvock, WGRZ, and Artvoice’s recent stories about newly obtained environmental and health assessments that show that many sites planned for development on the outer harbor are contaminated (including one partially remediated Superfund site). The reports were obtained by the IP under the Freedom of Information Act. The original reports were commissioned by the NFTA and the ECHDC and presented in 2012. They were available to the ECHDC prior to the hiring of Perkins & Will which received a $738,000 contract to design the “new plan” for development on the Outer Harbor. According to the IP story, neither Perkins & Will or the ECHDC mentioned the reports during the so-called and very short-term “public engagement” process that took place in July and August of 2014. The final plan that came out of that quick process pushes new neighborhoods and private condominiums, and suggests a little recreational space on contaminated sites. The contamination was referred to in broad terms in the “Existing Conditions Report”, prepared by Perkins & Will in July 2014 produced before the initiation of public process. The IP story says “The report mentioned that most of the Outer Harbor is a brownfield, but vaguely summarizes as a constraint the “range of soil conditions” that could require “different approvals, remediation, and structural needs.” This was not revealed during the public engagement process.
When pressed by Telvock at the hastily called press conference, Hoyt said, “Everyone knows that we have contaminated sites on the Outer Harbor.”
One has to assume that the definition of “everyone” must be spinning in the minds of the ECHDC public relations consultants who will now have to manage the engineering of communicating that concept. We can hardly wait. The public, who seems to be on the outside looking in, was not informed of these sites during the “public engagement “ process, which began and vanished in the heartbeats of late last summer.
Did Perkins & Will know about the environmental and health reports in any detail, or where they withheld from them as well? Their published plans include a children’s playground smack on top of the partially remediated Superfund site. “It has been fully remediated” said Hoyt when challenged about that. Not according to the IP story, which quoted DEC officials indicating that the site adjacent to Terminal A, known as the “Radio Tower” site, remains a Superfund site. It’s history includes that in the 1990’s it was found to include contaminates such as nitrobenzene at 3,500 times higher than safe for residential neighborhoods. Although it has been partially remediated it remains dangerous and current restrictions disallow residential development on the site. In addition, 40 percent of the 58 surface soil samples taken in the Outer Harbor by for the study show carcinogens or heavy metals. It is unseemly and grotesque that any state agency or contractor would promote residential or playground development on these contaminated lands.
But then again, this is the state of New York, where The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) has been in a steady state of decline for decades so that developers can build and profit with more efficiency. This is the state of New York where Love Canal was sanctioned as a housing development. This is Buffalo New York, where Hickory Woods, another superfund site was turned into a residential community and sold to unknowing homeowners who suffered health consequences for more decades. It is a sad legacy that does as much to characterize development here as anything else does.
Another bit of news that came out of the press conference involves Wilkeson Point. This public park, next to Times Beach Nature Preserve on Fuhrmann Blvd, was built and announced as a new public park designed to promote nature through wildlife oriented no- mow meadows, native trees and plants, bioswales for stormwater management, and a series of walking and biking trails next to a beach and boat docks. It is a bucolic and beautiful waterfront setting that has been enjoyed by thousands for the two seasons that it has been open to the public.
Last fall, as its final development plan was unveiled, Wilkeson Pointe was revealed to be the planned site of a new privatized condo community. The public park concept is vanquished by private developers interests. The news that came out of Friday’s press conference was when Sam Hoyt said that we have spent $6 million dollars to remediate Wilkeson Pointe. Does that make it condo market ready? The $6 million is a base cost to remediate that site to the conditions to create the park.
We are told that the Wilkeson Pointe remediation involved 12 inches of soil used to “cap” most of the site. That may make it difficult to build condo’s including building out infrastructure such as sewer, power, and water. Common sense says that we should expect more remediation expenses here. Perhaps significantly more public expenses designed to privatize the parcel and intentionally spent to deny the public meaningful access.
In addition, experts tell us that Wilkeson Pointe was and is not nearly the most contaminated site on the waterfront subject to development plans by the ECHDC.
Given the $6 million figure for the relatively small Wilkeson Pointe site, we can begin to think through what it will cost the public to create what the ECHDC calls “market driven” development throughout the outer harbor. We are just going to keep calling this “intentional sprawl”. In addition to ongoing and new remediation costs, which could be astronomical, other expenses will include more studies -including preparation of SEQRA reports and evaluations, what will undoubtedly continue to be an expensive PR campaign to develop the market, and the potential for extraordinary legal fees. What will this all cost is a crucial number that the ECHDC has failed to reveal.
Who will benefit from the public investment? Developers, banks, lawyers, consultants, and public relations firms. In short, those individuals and interests that make up the ECHDC brain trust. Astonishing.
Another important point that Hoyt repeated at the press conference is that the final plan includes 180 acres of open space. He, Gioia, and Tom Dee have often used that to disarm critics, and yet they have stated that the development of the Outer Harbor will be “market driven”. Let us also remember that when Tom Dee was asked by Dan Telvock during an interview last fall, if the ECHDC could guarantee that the open space would remain open space, Dee responded “No of course not, that would be irresponsible planning.”
Buffalo’s Outer Harbor 2014 – photo by Jay Burney
Consider all of those coded words for the moment It is clear that the ECHDC is using public money to focus on creating market demand. This is an essential part of the PR campaign to promote the kind of sprawl and development that they are engaged in for the benefit of others than the general public.
Now we can begin to pinpoint not only how much the public will be paying for creating shovel ready sites- fundamentally a scheme to create a market for a land grab by private interests. Now, because of reports by individuals such as Dan Telvock and the IP, we can begin to try to hold our decisonmakers accountable for how they are spending the public’s money. Show us the numbers ECHDC. What are the real costs of your plan, your revised plans, and your re-revised plans. When we hear carnival barkers like ECHDC President Robert Gioia declare angrily that we need this development to pay for green space, we can now begin understand the misdirectional spin that goes on around how the public trust and pocketbook is used to create economic and environmental harm.
This smoke and mirrors approach by the governor’s local team continues to infect the public discussion. It is remarkably deceptive. Lets always remind ourselves of that level of deception as they continue to promote endless sprawl on our Outer Harbor as a “World Class Vision”.
We need to quantify costs and benefits. We need the ECHDC to honestly engage in that process and to honestly engage the public in that discussion. We need to evaluate and discuss the costs of sprawl v. the benefits of ecological restoration in a sensitive and valuable place that could help us hold onto one of our most valuable resources, -clean water in the rapidly failing Great Lakes and especially Lake Erie. Ecological stability is a vision that is both missing from the ECHDC plans and which if invested in could improve the quality of environment, the quality and future of our economy, and helps to promote our quality of life and health. The intentional sprawl promoted by ECHDC does exactly the opposite.
Sometimes we need to consider the costs and benefits of letting the wind blow and the grass grow, another way to think about such things as passive remediation. Lets be clear, there are opportunities for appropriate economic investments and development on the outer harbor- but sprawl should be eliminated from that equation. It might take longer than Governor Cuomo’s stated timetable of getting something done now- but couple the right choices with good investments including such things as intentional habitat restoration and an investment in protecting the Great Lakes with tourism economy that draws people to our region for our outdoor experiences in one of the most important outdoor places on the planet, might even make our waterfront a World Class waterfront and destination.