Oceans in Trouble

Current world human population is 7,600,000,000 and increasing. Of this, more than 1 billion people worldwide depend on seafood as a main source of protein, and about 100 million people rely directly on fishing for their income according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The problem: 93% of ocean fisheries are either fully fished or over fished! It is estimated current catch is 250% of the level that is maximally sustainable. In other words, we are killing off the very resource so many depend upon. One large reason for this is subsidies from governments to industrial size operators for fuel, fishing gear, and vessel construction. The problem is not with the little guy but with those who run out miles of net and/or suck up everything from the ocean via large trawlers. This cannot continue. The piper will be paid.

Over fishing is not only a threat to fish stocks but also to the health of the oceans themselves. Healthy fish stocks are vital to health marine ecosystems and to the food security and livelihoods of billions of people. Healthy fish stocks contribute to the balance needed for the oceans to remain viable as a human resource.

Simply, there are too many boats chasing too few fish. One way to correct this is by curtailing capacity-enhancing subsidies to reduce pressure on fish stocks. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is encouraging members to adopt a binding agreement that will limit or eliminate harmful subsidies that cause over fishing.

My thought is this will not happen on any enforceable level, but the cost of inaction is high. What can happen is for the United States of America to aggressively enforce sustainable fishing limits in its territorial waters and eliminate any and all taxpayer subsidies to the fishing industry. We can do that. We can manage and allow scientifically calculated harvest of the marine resources in our waters.

There will be some who will vociferously oppose any limits for catch or exposure time. They will say it never has been so and that they are being robbed of their livelihood. But the problem as with about all environmental problems is too many people and too few resources. Hard decisions by government — the only means of control — are required.

Genetically Engineered Salmon

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is not known for good decisions, but they got this one right. A couple of weeks ago they denied the FDA’s latest attempt to hide thousands of pages of key government documents related to the agency’s approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon for human consumption.

That’s right. You read it correctly. Genetically engineered salmon are now destined for a place on your grocers counter and you will never know it. The FDA did not want the public to know details of the approval process gone through by the agency charged with the responsibility of keeping our food supply safe. Trust us, they said. The FDA did not want you to know why they approved an engineered salmon that contains DNA from the Atlantic salmon, the deep water ocean eelpout, and the Pacific Chinook salmon. This would be the first time any genetically engineered animal has been approved for commercial sale and ultimate human consumption.

What is the big deal about this fish? It is different. The GE version is intended to grow faster than conventionally farmed or wild-caught salmon. The reason: new DNA has been engineered in. The new DNA is a growth hormone gene that is turned on all the time. The GE salmon is claimed to get to commercial size in half the time. Further, it is claimed by the FDA to not be significantly different from wild-caught or farm raised salmon. The truth: it may look the same from the outside, but it is different genetically.
One big concern is if the GE fish were to escape into the wild. It could threaten wild salmon populations by out-competing them for scarce resources and habitat, by mating with endangered salmon species, and by introducing new diseases. The FDA has been heavily criticized for failing to fully evaluate these potential impacts. The developers claim these concerns are meaningless because the GE fish are to be sterile females all raised in confinement tanks. Even that raises additional questions. How are the GE fish becoming 100% female?

In short, the FDA wants to hide. The pubic has a right to know in detail how the agency came to its approval decision for genetically engineered salmon, especially because the FDA’s approach will likely serve as a precedent for the assessment of future GE food animals. The FDA is funded by tax dollars which means the records they create can and should be available to the public and to citizens seeking to know all. The only exceptions should be withholding information critical to national security.

Under the court ruling, the FDA is required to fully complete the record with all relevant documents regarding its approval of genetically engineered salmon. In this case, the public right to know is being protected. It is vital all government agencies get the message hiding is not acceptable. Are you listening EPA and USDA?

Final Silence

[I am working on an idea for a book. The idea has been hanging in my mind for years now. What is below is a Forward I have written for possible use. I thought I would share it in case the book does not get written.]

Astronomers tell us there are a billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. They tell us there are a billion galaxies. These are numbers beyond human comprehension. We cannot conceive of where the ends and the beginnings are or if they are.

Yet, here we are on what astronauts have shown us to be a beautiful, blue water planet floating in the infinity of space and orbiting around our Sun somewhere near the edge of our galaxy. We have no idea whether life, as we know it, exists anywhere else in infinity. We only guess. As far as we now know, there is no place else for our species to go. We, and the millions of other species that live with us and beside us, call Earth our home.

If we believe in God, then we must believe our home is a sacred place and a blessed gift from the Divine. It really does not matter whether we believe the Universe and Earth were created in seven days or in billions of years. Here we are. Here is now.

A curious thought crosses my mind. This is there is no sound in space. The gigantic explosions and nebulae we see with our visual or radio telescopes are silent. On Earth, we know the beauty of sound in rustling leaves blown by the breezes, in the call of birds on wing, the rolling of waves on the beach, and the crunching of dried leaves under our feet in the autumn, the sound of a water fall, of music, of voices and even of whales in the ocean. I wonder whether this will always be or whether Earth will at some time become a part of the Final Silence.

The gift of Earth to us is precious, yet we go about our daily lives behaving as if it were indestructible and limitless of resources, wildlife, fertile lands for crops, and infinite space for concrete and asphalt. Our human mantra is “growth and development” at any cost. It is expansion and domination and control. Rachael Carson poignantly pointed out in “Silent Spring” that mankind is a part of the biosphere which is beyond our control. She talked about being in balance with Nature. Dr. Durward Allen, wildlife ecologist, taught conservation of all natural resources, living and non-living, for the greatest good for the most people for the longest time. John Muir and Henry David Thoreau and countless others described the wonder of it all.

It is our sacred duty to protect and defend planet Earth from harm whether it be from within or without. Our lives and the lives of those that follow depend upon this.

According to some, the Earth has nurtured our kind for over 2 million years. She has given water, shelter, and food to countless generations like a mother to her children. Now she grieves. In the race for technology and with burgeoning numbers, we have lost connection to the Earth in consciousness and spirit. We take and take and take. We create poisons and wastes we spread on the land and water and in air. We even now tamper with the very core of life in the race for more and more. We pass to the next generation a nature that is less than we inherited. For many species, we have already created the final silence. The pace quickens.

Man has come a long way since the beginning of existence to the present. But, we are at a time now of unprecedented population growth and resource consumption, both of which continue their upward paths toward a point where Earth resources cannot forever sustain life, particularly human life, at such levels. If overshoot is great enough and the Earth’s life support systems are fatally damaged, we will inevitably ourselves reach the Final Silence.

Scientists believe there is still time for the way back. It is through leaders willing to put planet over personal gain. It is through the few who now hear voices from the past with the message that all of Creation is sacred. It is for warriors who will not be intimidated, defeated, or silenced. If we do not listen……..

To Albert Schweitzer who said…..
“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth” (a quote used in Silent Spring)

And Albert Einstein who said…….
“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man.”

Sixth Mass Extinction

[Reprint of article by Dr. Paul R Ehrlich; 11 July 2017]

It’s simple. It’s us. The more people there are, the more habitats we destroy. Human civilization can only survive if the population begins to shrink. One should not need to be a scientist to know that human population growth and the accompanying increase in human consumption are the root cause of the sixth mass extinction we’re currently seeing. All you need to know is that every living being has evolved to have a set of habitat requirements.

An organism can’t live where the temperature is too hot or too cold. If it lives in water, it requires not only an appropriate temperature range, but also appropriate salinity, acidity and other chemical characteristics. If it is a butterfly, it must have access to plants suitable for its caterpillars to eat. A lion requires plant-eaters to catch and devour. A tree needs a certain amount of sunlight and access to soil nutrients and water. A falciparum malaria parasite can’t survive and reproduce without Anopheles mosquitos in its habitat and a human bloodstream to infest.

The human population has grown so large that roughly 40% of the Earth’s land surface is now farmed to feed people — and none too well at that. Largely due to persistent problems with distribution, almost 800 million people to to bed hungry, and between one and two billion suffer from malnutrition. As a consequence of its booming population, Homo sapiens has taken much of the most fertile land to grow plants suitable for its own consumption. But guess what? That cropland is generally not rich in food plants suitable fo rthe caterpillars of the 15,000 butterfly species with which we share the planet. Few butterflies require the wheat, corn or rice on which humans largely depend. From the viewpoint of most of the Earth’s wildlife, farming can be viewed as “habitat destruction”. And, unsurprisingly, few species of wildlife have evolved to live on highways, or in strip malls, office buildings, kitchens or sewers — unless you count Norway rats, house mice, European starlings and German roaches. Virtually everything humanity constructs provides an example of habitat destruction.

The more people there are, the more products of nature they demand to meet their needs and wants: timber, seafood, meat, gas, oil, metal ores, rare earths and rare animals to eat or to use for medicinal purposes. Human demands cause both habitat destruction and outright extermination of wildlife. So when you watch the expansion of the human enterprise; when you see buildings springing up; when you settle down to dinner at home or in a restaurant; you are observing (and often participating in) the sixth mass extinction.

The expanding human population not only outright destroys habitats, it also alters them to the detriment of wildlife (and often of people themselves). The more people there are, the more greenhouse gases flow into the atmosphere, and the greater the impacts on wildlife that require specific temperature ranges.

And the more people there are, the more cities, roads, farm fields, fences and other barriers preventing wildlife from moving to areas of more favorable temperature or humidity in a rapidly changing climate. Less recognized, but perhaps even more dangerous to both people and wildlife, is the increasing toxification of the entire planet with synthetic chemicals. Growing populations want myriad more items of plastic that often leak toxic chemicals: more cosmetics, cleansing compounds, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives and industrial chemicals. Many of these novel chemicals mimic natural hormones, and in tiny quantities can alter the development of animals or human children, with potentially catastrophic consequences. As with climate disruption, this is one more case of human overpopulation threatening civilization.

So we don’t really need the evidence meticulously gathered and analyzed by the scientific community showing the unusual and accelerating extermination of wildlife populations — and ultimately, species — to know that human population growth is a major and growing driver of the sixth mass extinction, just as it is with the related accelerating climate disruption. It will take a long time to humanely stop that growth and start the gradual shrinkage of the human population that is required if civilization is to persist. All the more reason we should have started a half a century ago, when the problem first came to public attention.

Poison Time

When driving through the countryside this week on my way to Marion, I came across a sight I hate to see. It was an agriculture tank spray rig with 16 foot booms extended over rows of soy beans. The multiple nozzles on those booms were spewing glyphosate (Roundup) toxic poison. The odor of that herbicide filled the air. You have seen these rigs on the road as they move from field to field. You know, they are the ones that sit way off the ground so high you wonder if you could drive your car under the middle of them to get on your way as they poke down the road.
What you may not realize is they are the purveyors of death. The poisons they spread are supposed to only kill any “weeds” between the rows of soy beans or corn. What is the problem with that you may say. The problem is that this chemical called a herbicide or pesticide causes cancer in humans. This was the determination of the World Health Organization International Agency on Cancer Research. They call it a “probable human cancinogen”. This is the highest designation they can give using only laboratory animals for testing. Pretty tough to use humans. Of course, Monsanto and other companies who now manufacture glyphosate deny this. Some countries have banned its use.
The truth is glyphosate does kill plants. It also kills soil organisms necessary to keep our agriculture lands healthy. It kills life in streams and rivers when it is washed into them by rains and runoff. Think about it. In our neck of the woods, there is virtually no field that does not have tile under the soil to take away soaking rain water along with any fertilizers and pesticides that have been applied to the land. Where does this go? We have a dead zone over 150 miles in radius at the mouth of the Mississippi river as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
And what else? Roundup or glyphosate is used on genetically engineered corn and soy beans. The corn and soy have been genetically modified so they can withstand massive doses of pesticide and live while all vegetation around is supposed to die. Two problems: this has been going on so long now the weeds that were supposed to die are becoming immune to glyphosate. Answer: add more toxic chemicals like 2,4,D; a component of Agent Orange. Or add dicamba, another nasty pesticide that has a habit of not staying where it is applied. The other problem: the chemicals follow the crop to your dinner table. It is almost certain now that if you were tested for glyphosate, you would test positive for it in your body. That stuff is everywhere. Take a look at your local box store shelves as you enter.
But there is trouble for the manufacturers of glyphosate. Multiple law suits have already been filed by people who believe their cancers have been caused by this pesticide. Answer for you: DON’T use it. Stay away from it.

Paris Climate Accord & Director Krull

The director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, John Krull, has done it again in his Tribune column of June 7th about President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. He refers to Trump’s decision as “dumb, bigly, yugely, and dumb”, again. He writes more like I would expect from MSNBC’s hysterical Morning Joe Scarborough or Rachael Maddow than as a responsible, knowledgeable journalist.
The Paris Climate Accord was yet another example of poor judgment by former President Barack Hussein Obama. Obama did not even have the courage to bring this agreement to the United States Congress for debate and agreement before he committed the United States to its terms. The Agreement terms put the United States at great disadvantage and would have cost taxpayers billions of dollars without commensurate benefit. The worst of the Paris Climate Accord was that the two largest polluters on the planet, China and India, would not have been required to reduce emissions, but in fact could increase them, until 2030. In the meanwhile, the United States has in fact already voluntarily reduced emissions to levels of over 20 years ago.
President Trump put America first. He has stated publicly he intends to encourage the development of cleaner energy sources. In almost the same breath when he withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement, he stated he was more than willing to negotiate a new agreement not so punishing to our country. He reminded all the United States is 20 trillion dollars in debt. We can no longer be the money bank for other countries, whatever the cause. It is up to them to deal with their own problems. This is particularly true for India and China who stood to receive United States monetary support from the Paris agreement. They are the biggest problems and we are not their savior. We need to deal with our own country and our own problems.
The climate is changing. Contrary to some right wing conservatives, the evidence is clear. There are dozens of biological indicators of change. I know of none that support ‘no change’ or insignificant change. The temperature of the planet is increasing on average. Ice caps and glaciers are melting. The range of insects, plants, and animals is being modified. Permafrost areas are melting. Sea levels are rising. There is no doubt about these.
What there is doubt about is exactly why and how much of change is due to human activity…. and conversely, how much can be influenced by behavior change by humans. We suspect root causes to be too many people and too much polluting industry. No one wants to address the former.
I am probably one of the strongest environmentalists around. I have demonstrated this beginning as long ago as the 1970’s when in top management of the Kokomo Tribune. I directed a survey of the Wildcat Creek water quality and helped to initiate the first Creek cleanup effort which continues today. The Tribune encouraged the improvement of the waste sanitation plant for better water quality discharge. The Tribune successfully opposed the creation of the Lafayette Reservoir which would have flooded over 4,000 acres of prime farmland. The Tribune was the recipient of the Izaak Walton League media award for conservation. There was more.
I believe the decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord was the right decision for the United States. It appeared too much to be a scheme for redistribution of wealth across the globe. Its terms were voluntary and not enforceable. We need to lead by example in all areas of conservation of natural resources, not be the suckers again to finance the rest of the world. Director John Krull is wrong again. One must question his qualifications to lead a university Department of Journalism.

Pigs VS Produce

The smell. That is the big one between rural residents and pig factory production facilities claiming to be farms. Those facilities are also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, CAFOs, where thousands of pigs or hogs are crowed together in high numbers, by the thousands, in buildings where they are fed out for eventual sending to slaughter to such as the Indiana Packers Corporation plant in Delphi.
Carson Gerber, Kokomo Tribune reporter, had it right in his April 23rd KT article: it is a battle between pigs and produce. Hog CAFOs are anything but farming in the traditional sense. The concentration of hogs in one location produces huge amounts of urine and feces (that’s bowel waste or “crap”) that must be stored in lagoons or tanks until pumped out and taken elsewhere for disposal. In the meanwhile, the operation stinks.
It would be one thing if the stink stayed on the site where it originated. The problem is that it does not. The stink travels miles subject only to the whims of the wind. And it is offensive. Ray Reichard is worried about his flower and vegetable operation that is near where new hog CAFOs are proposed. He worries about people being offended by the odor from hog waste wafting into his greenhouse or lingering on the produce and flowers he takes to farmers markets. He should be worried.
There is a fact that most people do not get. If you can smell something, it means that molecules or “pieces” of whatever is causing the stink are in the air and that these molecules are being drawn into your nose and lungs. Crap and urine in. Reichard worries about his produce carrying the stink to market. What he is really saying is that feces and urine molecules from hogs will have landed on the food and flowers he has produced and have stuck there. Somehow, I do not think people want to be eating this produce or having these flowers in their homes.
Have you ever driven behind a semi-truck hauling hogs? It stinks. Waste and bacterial molecules are being blown off of the truck and hogs into the air and into the air intakes of your car. If you do not want these molecules in your lungs, you need to back off and put your car air system on interior air only, not take air in from the outside.
Hog operations are not what they once were. In the old days, farmers (not animal factory operators) raised hogs, cattle, chickens and other livestock in balance with land that was cropped with a variety of corn, soybeans, and more. Crops were rotated. The waste from animals became fertilizer for fields. All in balance.
If you have not noticed, there is movement toward more local production of healthy food. Farmers markets are more and more popular. People want farms to be healthier with use of fewer chemicals and antibiotics. CAFOs are not compatible with this trend. CAFOs stink.

Rural and Urban Indiana

[letter to Dr. Michael Hicks in response to his Kokomo Tribune column of April 3rd in which he encourages more investment in urban development in Indiana. He believes rural places are at risk and that the best chance for the future is in solid connection to labor markets in “healthy, vibrant and growing regional cities”. I think he missed some things.]
Dr. Hicks:
I am writing in response to your recent column about the decline in rural, small-town Indiana and your position that more investment is needed in urban centers. I have a couple of observations to make.
First, about the decline of rural, small-towns in Indiana: I believe this has largely come about due to the adoption of what has turned out to be devastating agriculture policy following World War II. One of the leaders in this movement was Dr. Earl Butz, former Secretary of Agriculture and Dean of the School of Agriculture at Purdue. He told farmers to “get big or get out” and to produce chickens and pigs like “Fords and Chevys”. This was at the beginning of large, corporate owned agriculture in what has come to be dominated by the giant chemical/seed companies. Today, I believe for several reasons we have a train wreck waiting to happen.
Steve Daily, former mayor of Kokomo, and his family are a prime example of what has resulted. He has told me that at one time there were 13 members of his family involved in agriculture as a way to make a living. After his retirement from Ivy Tech recently, he has gone back to farming; now organic farming. He says that only one other member of his family remains in agriculture. If the Daily family is typical, and I believe it is, it is clear how this would impact small, rural communities.
I believe there is growing recognition of the damage done by ill-advised agriculture policy. We see now that genetically engineered foods will be labeled; one positive step toward recognition of the risks of biotechnology for both people and the environment and of the toxins typically involved that follow food to the dinner table. We see the growth of local farmers’ markets and the increase in demand for “organic” or chemical-free foods. We see the growth of demand for foods produced closer to home; not shipped all over the country or from other countries. I believe we will see a gradual growth of the number of people involved in agriculture and, perhaps, even a reversal in population trends in rural areas.
You suggest we need more investment in urban areas. I suggest as well we need more encouragement in growing healthy food in Indiana. What a difference this would make. Both you and I live in areas dominated by wall-to-wall corn and soy beans, most of which has been genetically modified to withstand massive doses of glyphosate (Roundup) that has now been determined to be carcinogenic. And we wonder why the cancer rate in our nation is the highest in the world.
Finally, an over-arching question: when is enough, enough? Everyone talks about “growth and development” when they really mean more population and more jobs. When is it time to stabilize population and work on increasing standard of living only. I, for one, do not want Kokomo (a regional center) to become an “Indianapolis” or anything even close. Except for the impact of immigration, most of the developed nations of the world are at near zero population growth, but that is a whole other subject for discussion.
Regards, Kent Blacklidge

Vermont in Your Kitchen

[Below is a letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal in response to an editorial  in the WSJ on March 7th opposing the labeling of genetically engineered foods]
Editor….
The Vermont law requiring labeling of all foods containing genetically engineered ingredients goes into effect on July 1st this year. You oppose it. Your editorial on March 7th could have been written by the public relations department of any of the giant chemical/seed corporations. The problem is that it contains just plain false information.
You said, “No agricultural innovation has been more maligned than GMOs, though the technology has proven safe, reliable, affordable and good for the environment”. None of that is true. The technology has not been proven safe. It is haphazard, reckless, and risky. The techniques are crude and potentially very disruptive to native genomes with potentially catastrophic consequences to human health and the environment. To now, the primary reason for GE corn and soy (the major crops) has been to allow them to be massively dosed with glyphosate or other pesticides without killing the crop but killing all vegetation around it. Now glyphosate has been determined to be carcinogenic. Pesticide residues follow the crop to livestock and to the dinner table. Studies have shown serious health consequences to livestock fed genetically engineered feed. So, there are serious safety issues about the genetically engineered crops themselves and as a result of the pesticides found with them.
As a past daily newspaper publisher and as a genetic scientist, I am an adamant believer in the right of the public to know all that is involved in the raising and production of the food they put on their families tables. It is the right of people to make that decision. It is not the right of the chemical/seed companies and corporate farmers to make decisions about what to tell and what not to tell in secret.
Over 60 countries world wide made the decision to either ban or label genetically engineered foods. Several now are considering banning genetically engineered crops altogether. Of those who did adopt genetically engineered crops and used the pesticides designed for them, many are seeing very serious health issues in their populations, particularly among farm workers. I add that over 60 countries cannot be wrong.
The WSJ needs to do more homework. The bill now in the US Senate should never see the light of day. As you concluded… “let the consumers decide what to eat”. Vermont leads the way.

Indiana HB1082

If you care about Indiana’s natural environment, pay attention.
The Tribune front page Associated Press article on February 16th reported on an Indiana Senate committee hearing about House Bill 1082. This bill passed the Indiana House with co-sponsorship by Representative Heath VanNatter and the “aye” vote of both him and Representative Mike Karickhoff, our local representatives. What are they thinking?
HB1082 strips the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) Environmental Rules Board (ERB) of the authority to make or enforce any environmental rules or standards more stringent than the corresponding regulation or standard established under federal law. In short, this says that VanNatter and Karickhoff trust the federal government more than Hoosiers to make the wisest decisions about Indiana environmental protection. They want the federal government to set both the floor and the ceiling on environmental regulations. In the past, the federal government has set only the floor. Under this bill, Hoosiers will not be able to address unique environmental issues with stronger regulations than elsewhere in the nation even if Hoosiers decide they are needed. Any stronger regulations would only be permitted under specific statute passed by the General Assembly. No immediate actions could be taken. The IDEM Environmental Rules Board would be in a straight jacket. One must wonder why.
The IDEM Environmental Rules Board, which makes environmental policy in Indiana, consists of 16 members including 11 appointed by the governor and 6 specifically defined ex officio members.  The ERB came into existence on January 1, 2013, but did not meet until after the inauguration on January 14th of Governor Mike Pence. Under the legislation that established the ERB; the Indiana Air Pollution Control Board, Solid Waste Management Board, and the Water Pollution Control Board were all abolished. Shortly after Pence’s inauguration, he issued an executive order placing a moratorium on new regulations, and announced plans to initiate a process to review all existing regulations with the exception of federal mandates not subject to a waiver request, rules needed to reduce the cost or burden on job creation, and rules to address emergency health or safety concerns. Again, in short, he took action to prevent adoption of any more stringent environmental regulations. Now comes HB1082 which adds to limiting the authority of the ERB. Why?
The AP article tells why. Fred Mills, the director of governmental affairs for the Indiana Energy Association, is quoted as saying “This is not about what is happening today, this is about what could happen.” The article goes on to point out that IDEM’s leadership could be shuffled by a Democratic governor in the future who is “less inclined to give business a break”. So, here it is: control.  The passage of HB1082 cements that control by making it a requirement that any regulation more stringent than federal regulation be approved by specific General Assembly statute. The concern is not about protection of our natural environment. Be clear, it is about political and corporate control.