on the bus : u.s. Vets fight for a green future
Published by the Natural Resources Defense Council
save this fish Fish populations around the world are collapsing. But in Alaska, a visionary partnership between scientists and the fishing industry could protect our beleaguered seas.
A king salmon unintentionally caught in the net of a pollock fishing boat lies on the deck of the Pacific Prince.
PLUS Climate Science and the Media Can America Win the Clean Energy Race? Into the Desert: A Hikerâ€™s Tale
summer 2010 w w w.onearth.org
volume 32 number 2 summer 2010
FE ATU RES
40 Patriots Act by Joseph D’Agnese
Veterans of the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan return home with a new mission: to protect our national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil.
d epartm ents cover story
Two-thirds of the power generated in the United States is lost as heat: what if we could capture it? Plus, weathercasting with brains.
Q&A Coast Guard commandant Thad Allen is the man in charge of cleaning up the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He also turns out to be a lifelong environmentalist.
46 Are We Losing the Green Tech Race?
by Josephine Hearn and George Kokkinidis
24 Living Green
Once upon a time, the United States led the world in clean energy development. Now we lag behind our major economic competitors. Time to catch up.
by Michael Lemonick
The man who wrote Time’s first cover story on global warming looks at climate coverage now.
26 the synthesist by Alan Burdick
48 The Data Trail
Gmail, Hulu, Pandora: cloud computing is handy, it’s efficient, but can it also help the planet?
by Tim Folger
Hiking Arizona’s Sonoran Desert night after night, Dave Bertelsen has amassed a store of knowledge that no professional climate scientist could match.
14 To Garden by Eamon Grennan
57 Walking the Turtle Creek Mall
by William Greenway
onearth online visit onearth.org
See our in-depth coverage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including videos, interviews, analysis, and personal stories, at onearth.org/ gulfspill
8 From the Editor 12 Letters 17 FRONTLINES
Every time you eat Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, Long John Silver’s fish and chips, or a McDonalds Filet-O-Fish sandwich, this is what you’re getting: Alaskan pollock.
What’s the Catch? by Bruce Barcott
With the science settled, Kevin Krajick wonders why the climate skeptics have staged a comeback.
64 open space
by Joanna Foster Facing blindness, a young woman asks how much beauty will be left to see when her sight finally goes.
Of the many threats facing the world’s oceans, one of the most serious is bycatch—all the unwanted species
i n s i d e nrdc
that are scooped up in fishermen’s indiscriminate nets.
10 view from nrdc
In Alaska’s Bering Sea, trained bycatch observers are gathering data that could radically reduce the problem and at the same time make our fisheries more profitable.
by Frances Beinecke
12 eye on washington by Bob Deans
This page and cover: Photographs by Corey Arnold
New breakthroughs will reduce pollution at our nation’s ports.
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You completed your adventure without buying one plastic water bottle?
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Why the Buffalo Can’t Roam
The largest remaining herd of real bison can be found in Yellowstone National Park—and they’re supposed to stay there. But bison can’t read rule books, so each spring, hundreds wander off and are forced back by men in helicopters and on horseback. Fed up with these cruel restraints on nature, wildlife advocates are looking for ways to help the bison break free.
$10 Million for a Lightbulb?
Share your best nature photography with us and we might feature one of your shots in the pages of the magazine [see this issue’s pick on p. 61].
That’s what the government is willing to pay to find a cheaper, longer-lasting, more eco-friendly option to replace the inefficient incandescent bulbs you’re probably using now. But will the next generation of lighting avoid the problems that made consumers unhappy with the CFL?
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new york faces the flood
robert redford reflects
OUR endangered birds
How does a city of islands survive sea level rise? Find out from the Museum of Modern Art in a guided tour of spongy streets, dangling buildings, water-scrubbing oysters, and a reef made out of glass.
In an exclusive interview, the Hollywood icon tell us what inspired his love for the western wilderness and why, more than 40 years later, fighting to preserve it is more important to him than ever.
From snowy owls to marsh wrens, winged residents of backyards across North America are losing their habitat as rapid climate change sweeps across the continent. Meet some of them.
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above: Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures; LEFT: courtesy of Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio
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contributors JOSEPHINE HEARN (“Are We Losing the Green Tech Race?” p. 46) is a Philadelphia native who spent seven years in Washington, D.C., covering congressional politics for Politico and the Hill. Her previous pieces for OnEarth examined the economics of home energy efficiency and traced the global routes invasive species travel by ship.
WHEAT-FREE • GLUTEN-FREE DAIRY-FREE • VEGAN
MICHAEL LEMONICK (“Honesty Is Always the Best Policy,” p. 24) is a senior writer at Climate Central, a nonprofit science and media group in Princeton, New Jersey, and teaches journalism at Princeton University. For 21 years he wrote about science and the environment for Time. He has also written for Discover, National Geographic, Parade, and other publications.
Traditional flavors, Revolutionary ingredients.™
LIGHT ’N CRUNCHY PRETZEL-SNACK
COREY ARNOLD (“What’s the Catch?” p. 28) is a photographer and Alaskan commercial fisherman who has chronicled the lives and work of men and women in the commercial fishing industry around the world. His photographs have appeared in such publications as the Paris Review, Esquire, Outside, and Artweek.
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hearn: Robert wilson; lemonick: Eileen Hohmuth-Lemonick
GEORGE KOKKINIDIS (“Are We Losing the Green Tech Race?” p. 46) is a graphic designer who has won numerous awards, including a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. His Brooklyn-based studio, Design Language, creates information graphics for such clients as the Museum of Modern Art and Good magazine.
WE totally love scientists
e at OnEarth unapologetically extoll the virtues of
Douglas S. barasch
sound science—data that help us see the world as it is, as distinct from how we might like it to be. We do so especially now, when a crazy 1,000-ring media circus so often obscures rather than enlightens us on critical issues. Thus the reemergent scourge of climate deniers, the rewriting of science textbooks, and general confusion about what science actually is and does. We, however, prefer to celebrate human passion and inquisitiveness, which lead us to a deeper understanding of the natural world. Our cover story, by bruce barcott, set in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, offers a fascinating blend of adventure and science. Fishing boats in these icy, turbulent waters venture out to catch shiploads of pollock, from which is made, among other things, your McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich. But in the course of catching pollock, these boats also capture other types of marine animals—unwanted fish, birds, and mammals that make up the collateral damage known as bycatch. Barcott went aboard such a ship, the Pacific Prince, to see biologist Monica Brennan at work. She is one of hundreds of professional bycatch observers who go out to sea to count fish—in her case, pollock as well as bycatch such as king salmon, halibut, and other species. As these are netted and pulled from the frigid sea, Brennan, covered in rain gear and splattered with fish guts, painstakingly takes their measurements. The data she and others collect allow fishery managers and marine scientists to accurately assess the health of various fish populations and prevent their depletion. Contributing editor tim folger profiles another seeker of data, retired probation officer and amateur scientist Dave Bertelsen, who has hiked the same 10-mile trail through Arizona’s Sonoran Desert an astonishing 1,270 times during the past three decades. On those treks he jotted down 195,000 observations concerning hundreds of species of local plants and animals: there another curved-bill thrasher or Gambel’s quail, here a bloated saguaro or blooming ocotillo. His meticulously recorded trove is being mined by a team of scientists at the University of Arizona in Tucson to better understand the impact of climate change on the desert—a landscape seemingly immutable, yet surprisingly fragile and changeable. We are more than ever awash in data, especially digital information. How much power, we wondered, is required to store, retrieve, and transport these countless terabytes? And can this energy be generated in a cleaner, more efficient way? This question is explored by contributing editor alan burdick, who transforms himself into the Synthesist—that’s the name of his new column, which will appear in every issue (and monthly at onearth.org)—to examine intriguing intersections of culture, technology, and the environment. Enjoy our feast of data. Used wisely, may it benefit us all, whether creatures of the air, land, or sea.
view from NRDC
s I write this letter, the horrific oil spill
from the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico covers 3,000 square miles and is heading toward Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. It has already begun to poison the ecologically rich Louisiana coastline, and it has left local communities reeling from the emergency closure of all commercial and recreational fishing. I started my career 35 years ago fighting to block unsafe oil drilling off the Atlantic coast, so I find it unspeakably tragic that more than three decades later we are confronting the consequences of failing to rein in our oil dependence. This latest disaster is a painful reminder: the United States needs a safer, cleaner, more economical approach to energy development, one that will help shift us away from oil and toward renewable sources that can’t destroy our coasts. I realize that drilling has brought jobs and income to Louisiana, but it has also brought intolerable risk. Forty percent of America’s wetlands are found in Louisiana, yet the Mississippi River Delta loses about 24 square miles of wetlands a year as a result of dredging by oil companies and poisoned runoff from upstream farms. I traveled through the coastal region after Hurricane Katrina and saw countless remnants of barrier islands and wetlands. These places had already been made vulnerable by oil development and runoff when the storm hammered them. Now one of our most abundant ecosystems has sufferred another blow. The local economy will suffer, too. Louisiana is home to the largest seafood industry in the lower 48 states, with retail sales of about $1.8 billion a year. The devastation will also compromise the Gulf’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry. I have no doubt this disaster will prompt our lawmakers to take action; perhaps they will pass a series of measures focused specifically on the Gulf of Mexico. But they should also take a bigger, bolder step: pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that will protect all coastal communities and marine life by moving America beyond oil. Such legislation would spur innovations—from more fuel-efficient engines to plug-in hybrids—that will result in cleaner cars and trucks. Last June, the House of Representatives passed a clean energy and climate bill, and a similar proposal was just unveiled in the Senate. We will devote the next several months to helping pass the most rigorous legislation possible. But we need your help: please tell your senators that the time has come to shift to energy solutions that protect, rather than endanger, our communities, our livelihoods, and our way of life.
frances beinecke, President
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nrdc in the news “ ‘there’s...a right way and a wrong way of providing our nation’s future energy needs,’ said Wesley Warren, NRDC’s program director. ‘The right path is one that provides economic growth while providing economic protections.’ ” —From “Offshore Drilling: Impact on Americans,” CNNMoney.com, April 1, 2010
“ ‘oil is semi-volatile, which means that it can evaporate into the air and create a heavy vapor that stays near the ground—in the human breathing zone,’ [said Gina Solomon, senior scientist at NRDC]....‘I’m also worried about the cleanup workers....This cleanup needs to be done quickly, but it also needs to be done safely. Eleven workers are already dead from the explosion; let’s make sure worker and community health is protected from now on.’ ” —From “Burning Oil Sends Heavy Vapor Toward Gulf Residents,” Grist.com, May 3, 2010
“ ‘a lot of people think that conservation means you have to diminish your lifestyle,’ said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with NRDC who helped coordinate greening efforts for the [White House Correspondents] dinner. ‘[But] it’s a question of operating more efficiently and choosing environmentally better products.’ ” —From “At 96, White House Correspondents Association Goes Ecological,”Politico, April 30, 2010
what the gulf crisis teaches us, yet again
eye on washington
by bob deans
the Climate here and abroad Still, the United Nations is hardly to blame. The sheer most influential nations will diversity of national interests, economies, and political sysgather this June in Toronto, tems represented at U.N. talks virtually guarantees policy where they will take the next paralysis on a subject as complex as climate change, says steps toward developing global former U.S. negotiator Adele Morris, who dealt with landsolutions to climate change. use and forest issues during U.N. climate talks a decade These countries—the United ago in The Hague, Netherlands. “If you need a treaty that States, China, India, Brazil, the involves heavy-duty political compromise, that is not how members of the European Union, it happens,” says Morris, policy director for climate and and the 15 other members of the energy economics at the Brookings Institution. so-called G20—hold the keys to curbing the greenhouse Far from a diplomatic free-for-all, the annual G20 sumgases that are warming the planet. They account for mit follows a tightly scripted agenda that builds on goals two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 percent of global laid out in previous sessions. Aides from each country’s economic output, and a comparable level of worldwide diplomatic, economic, and financial policy corps meet carbon emissions. regularly in the months between summits, working to The G20 summit can be a useful complement to the hone agendas and discussion topics. When President U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen last December. It’s a Obama hosted his G20 counterparts last fall, for instance, forum for the countries that have contributed most to they agreed to phase out subsidies for oil, coal, and gas. the problem, explains Jacob Sure enough, when Obama Scherr, director of interna- “The planet’s future will be decided sent Congress his 2011 budtional programs for NRDC, by about 10 countries that have most get proposal earlier this year, who has represented the orit included substantial cuts in of the world’s population and are those subsidies. ganization at global environmental talks since the Rio de responsible for most of its pollution.” When they meet again in Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. June, the G20 leaders will —Jacob scherr, NRDC International Programs “It’s nice to have an agreement report on progress they’ve among 192 countries,” he says, “but the future of the made on their pledges to invest in renewable energy, to planet will be decided by about 10 countries that have exchange clean energy technology, to engage in joint remost of the world’s population and are responsible for search, and to provide financial support to help developing most of the world’s pollution.” countries cope with the impacts of climate change. Of course, big, sprawling U.N. meetings are still vital, But one important piece of the puzzle is still missing. because they bring all countries to the table, rich and To demonstrate true global leadership, it is widely acpoor alike. This is especially crucial in designing aid and knowledged here and abroad, the United States must pass assistance strategies that can help developing countries clean energy and climate legislation at home. Getting a cope with and adapt to climate change. That’s why ne- consensus among a majority of U.S. senators (the House gotiators will meet in Cancun, Mexico, in late November of Representatives already passed climate legislation last to pick up where Copenhagen left off. Some observers year) has sometimes seemed as challenging as brokerwere disappointed when those talks failed to produce a ing a treaty among the world’s 192 nations. But the long binding accord, but there was genuine progress: major wait for domestic climate legislation may soon be over: carbon emitters pledged cuts and agreed to make public a bill was finally circulated in the Senate in May, and if it their progress and assist poor countries. Unfortunately, passes, we could be witness to a new phase of international U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had spent months cooperation and action. raising expectations that negotiators would seal the deal in Copenhagen, when in fact not all nations were ready to deal. Bob Deans is NRDC’s federal communications director.
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illustration by bruce morser
Leaders from the world’s
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red, blue, and green I enjoyed “Renewable Energy
Catches On in Red America,” by Michael Behar (Spring 2010), but I am puzzled by people’s continuing tendency to think of one issue at a time, rather than to mobilize multipronged efforts for conservation. When choosing appropriate sites for solar panels, step one should be to ensure that no endangered species or critical habitat will be violated, and step two should be to consider local water needs, not just electricity. In areas around Tucson, where we expect to have significant water-supply issues in a few years, many people are beginning to harvest rainwater for various uses, while others are single-mindedly thinking about setting up large arrays of solar panels. If water people and power people would communicate with one another, they would realize that they could put gutters on solar panels and pipe off the rain to storage areas. In Tucson, which gets about 12 inches of rain a year, a square mile of solar panels could collect 208,529,432 gallons of water. —charles j. cole
FUEL FOR THOUGHT There are a couple of points that could stand correction in “Driven,” by Craig Canine (Spring 2010). Honda’s first automobile was not the N600 of 1970 (its first to be exported to the United States) but rather the S500 of 1964, a tiny sports car. And Honda’s 1984 CRX-HF was by no means the first mass-produced car capable of 50 miles per gallon. There was a raft of tiny cars available in Europe and Japan, some of which were exported in small quantities to the United States. Some of these two-cylinder, air-cooled cars could approach 60 miles per gallon under the right conditions. —JIM EMERSON Portland, Oregon
LEFTOVERS I’m amazed that Laura Wright, the author of “How to Wage War on Food Waste” (Spring 2010), and her husband, Peter, apparently do not possess a freezer! What’s left from our Thanksgiving bird (organic, free-range) gets segregated into white meat, dark meat, and carcass for soup, then dated
and frozen in freezer bags whose crossed-out labels attest to their six or seven previous uses, ranging from blanched snow peas to leftover corn cut off the cobs from last summer’s garden to three-month-old spaghetti sauce. Likewise the whipped mashed potatoes, even though they’re not as good as the freshly made portion. The wilting greens and vegetables, once sautéed with onion and garlic, could thriftily serve as a soup base. I can’t speak to the half-used tubs of hummus; my heart is broken. But I too would toss the sour milk unless I was on the cusp of making corn bread. Anyway, the illustration is arresting. And I know the putative waste was to make a point. —MAXINE KUMIN Warner, New Hampshire
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Got an opinion? Send in your thoughts by pen or by keyboard. Visit us on the Web at onearth.org. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.
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development to a study of the cumulative impacts of all of the wind and solar energy projects in the county on birds, bats, and other biological resources as well as to a plan that can mitigate those effects. We need renewable energy, but not at any cost. We need it properly sited to minimize the impacts on wildlife. —GARRY GEORGE Chapter Network Director Audubon California Los Angeles, California
It’s this bottom-of-the-garden fierce democracy of leaf and branch—all the tall green things competing for the light—you have to hack at, trying to let the mountain in, something big to reckon with at last, beyond brittle fuchsia branches and the awful blood-drawing, beyond-argument persistence of briars: how they bow to the blade, then come back.
—By Eamon Grennan
illustration by blair thornley
Although master planner Lorelei Oviatt correctly states that no condor has been killed by a wind farm, these birds are rapidly expanding their range toward the wind projects in Kern County, and the current fast pace of permitting turbines, especially on ridges and in condor habitat, increases the risk of this unfortunate event occurring. Audubon California urges Oviatt and Kern County to dedicate a portion of the tax resources from renewable energy
s c i e n c e b u s i n e s s n a t u r e t e c h n o l o g y c u l t u r e p o l i t i c s
Whales to the Rescue What do you get when
heat + new gizmo = power We generate huge amounts of energy, which produces excess heat, which gets wasted. Recover 3 percent of it and you offset half the nation’s electricity needs. Cool.
illustration by david plunkert
b y sco t t dodd
n 1882 Thomas Edison built the nation’s first power plant in Lower
Manhattan, selling electricity to New York City’s rich and powerful. Edison himself flipped the first light switch in the Wall Street offices of J. P. Morgan. But Pearl Street station, equipped with six 27-ton dynamos, also produced tremendous amounts of heat. Edison, always the problem solver, used that heat to make steam, which he then sold to nearby businesses, where it was used to power factories and warm buildings during the winter. When we convert energy from one form to another, as we do when we burn fuel to make wheels spin and electrons flow, invariably some is lost along the way. Since Edison’s day those losses have risen precipitously: today scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimate that nearly two-thirds of the energy generated in the world is lost as heat. If we could reclaim just 3 percent of our waste on a daily basis, they say, we could offset half the nation’s electricity needs. How we go about doing that is no small task, but over the past few years, technology startups, uniscott dodd is OnEarth’s online news editor. This is his first assignment for the magazine.
you cross a whale with a Wall Street trader? A carbon credit. Or at least that’s what one oceanographer’s latest research indicates. Andrew Pershing, an oceanographer at the University of Maine, says that nursing whale populations back to their preindustrial levels could help mitigate climate change. “Whales are like the redwoods of the ocean,” Pershing says. Blue whales can live for a hundred years or more—and they’re huge: a 100-ton blue whale contains nearly 10 tons of carbon. When a whale dies naturally, it tends to sink, locking the carbon away in the cold depths of the ocean. Commercial whaling releases carbon into the atmosphere, through the consumption of meat and oil as well as the decomposition of cast-off body parts. Rebuilding the Southern Hemisphere’s blue whale population from 1,000 to 325,000 (its pre-industrial size) would lock up as much carbon as a forest the size of Los Angeles, Pershing argues. Selling carbon credits for whale conservation could be used to fund monitoring initiatives and marine park management, he adds. “We need to use the markets creatively.” —crystal gammon
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away. During the oil embargo of the 1970s, when every kilowatt counted, the Department of Energy started doling out grants to companies and research labs trying to develop heat-scavenging devices for earthbound situations. A 1979 Popular Mechanics story on a related waste-heat capturing technology known as thermionic conversion declared: “Complex engineering problems remain. But there is considerable optimism that thermionic generators may one day play an important part in the country’s energy picture.” However, the 1970s were followed by decades of cheap energy and, not surprisingly, a lack of interest in spending money on new ways to collect waste heat. But the cost of fossil fuels has risen sharply in recent years. Today,
Tricky Seals Do Science David Holland, a professor
of mathematics and oceanatmosphere science at New York University, has been looking for a better way to measure the flow of ice from land to sea. He needs that information to predict sea level rise over the next century, and he thinks he’s found a research partner who can help: the ringed seal. In August, Holland’s team will travel to Greenland to tag four seals in the Jakobshavn fjord with tiny monitoring devices that include a GPS receiver, a radio transmitter, and a thermometer. As the seals dive up and down in the water column, the monitoring devices will record temperature and salinity. When the seals come up for air, the transmitters will automatically send the results back to Holland’s lab in New York City. “Seals will go where no man will go,” Holland says. Ships can’t get close enough to calving icebergs to take the temperature of the currents that well up under the ice: the warmer the water, the faster the glaciers crumble. Holland and his team are hopeful that the seals won’t wander too far from home— and the study area. If all goes as planned, the researchers may put more seals on the payroll in the near future. —joanna foster
illustration by tim bower
puter chips that are used by other companies in a wide variety of devices, Scullin wants to manufacture thermoelectric chips that could be used to recycle waste heat in anything from home apversity labs, car companies, and pliances to airplane engines. even the Defense Department The concept is simple: a device have begun to take on the chalmade of a semiconducting matelenge in earnest. Researchers are rial is sandwiched between two now working furiously to create strong conductors. When one side devices that will skim waste heat gets hot, electrons begin to flow on every scale, from the tiniest toward the cooler side. The semimicroprocessors to the largest conductor channels them into a power plants. Many of these dewire, creating a flow of electricity vices will be powered not by boilthat can be directed back into the ing water to create steam, as was original gadget, engine, or other done in Edison’s day, but by takheat-generating device, acting as ing advantage of the simple fact an additional power source. that electrons will flow from a hot The first large-scale application metal surface to a cold one. Conof thermoelectric devices could nect the device to a wire and a emerge from the auto industry, new source of electricity is born. where the push for higher fuel “The potential is vast,” says David efficiency is Cahill, a profesdriving car sor of materimanufacturers als science and Researchers envision cell phones to look for anyengineering at with double the talk time and cars that thing that can the University go farther on a gallon of gas—all pull another of Illinois at mile or two out Urbana-Champowered in part by waste heat of each gallon paign. “What’s of gas. really exciting The Michigan–based company about thermoelectrics”—as the as the federal government aims to technology is called—“is that it improve the nation’s energy effi- Amerigon has been honing its exscales beautifully.” ciency, the Department of Energy pertise in thermoelectric technolAlong with wind turbines and is one of the biggest funders of ogy by making seat warmers for solar panels, the next clean en- current thermoelectric research. cars since the 1990s. Today it reergy frontier could take the form Before Matthew Scullin be- ceives federal funding for its effort of an array of tiny semiconductor came the CEO of a thermoelectric to produce electricity from the chips wrapped around anything startup called Alphabet Energy, temperature differential between from a smokestack to a computer he was a doctoral student at Law- the hot gas in a car’s exhaust pipe server, turning heat into usable rence Berkeley, where he helped and the chilly fluids in the car’s energy. Imagine a laptop that create a device that his company coolant system. That surplus elecruns twice as long, powered in aims to commercialize. Scullin’s tricity is enough to improve fuel part by the heat generated by the company is one of a dozen or so efficiency by 2.5 miles per gallon, microprocessor. Researchers en- that have received government according to the Department of vision cell phones with double grants or private investments to Energy’s estimates. Ford and BMW are scheduled the talk time and cars that go far- improve the efficiency of thermother on a gallon of gas—all pow- electrics and bring down their cost to deliver test vehicles equipped ered in part by heat that would by creating new materials, new with Amerigon’s prototype therotherwise be wasted. manufacturing methods, or both. moelectric generators to the The basic concept has been “We have a core technology—a National Renewable Energy Laboaround for some time. NASA has chip—that can be inserted into a ratory in Colorado later this year. “People have been futzing been using thermoelectric de- wide variety of technologies and vices to power deep-space probes applications,” Scullin says, adding with this for 180 years,” says Dan for decades; even after 32 years, that his goal is to make Alphabet Coker, Amerigon’s CEO, hopeVoyager 1 is still beaming back Energy the “Intel of waste heat.” ful that his own thermoelectric radio signals from 10 billion miles Just as Intel makes silicon com- dreams will finally pay off.
of live oak from Florida in the early nineteenth century, because that was the source of most planking for warships. We were involved with marine mammals after we acquired Alaska, because the seal rookeries in the Pribilof Islands were being slaughtered for their furs. We’re still protecting living marine resources in the ocean, marine sanctuaries, responding to oil spills, and regulating waterfront terminals, piers, and ports so they respond effectively to spills of oil and hazardous materials.
Admiral Allen is the son of a Coast Guardsman.
on the waterfront Until the Gulf oil spill in April, not many people thought of the Coast Guard as a protector of the environment. But that’s what it has been for the past 200 years. on the eve of his retirement
in May 2010 as the 23rd commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen was placed in charge of the federal response to the devastating BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Named one of America’s an interview with best leaders by U.S. News & World A dmiral T had A llen Report, Allen first came to public by David Helvarg attention for his leadership role in response to Hurricane Katrina, when he took over from FEMA head Michael Brown and won universal praise from New Orleans and Gulf residents. Under President Obama he has played a significant part in developing an ecosystem-based ocean policy. Admiral Allen was interviewed for OnEarth by David Helvarg, the author of Rescue Warriors: The U.S. Coast Guard, America’s Forgotten Heroes and, most recently, Saved by the Sea: A Love Story With Fish. Most people think of the Coast Guard in terms of search and rescue. Tell me about its environmental mission.
I say we protect men from the sea and the sea from men. Our environmental mission has grown over the 200 years that we’ve had a Coast Guard. The first environmental issue was enforcing a ban on the export 2 0 onearth
You’ve played a key role in the Ocean Policy Task Force set up last year by President Obama. Why do we even need an ocean policy?
Well, first I think the world needs an ocean policy, because of the need for a more measured approach to what is arguably the last global commons. Considering all the multiple uses—energy production, fishing, shipping, recreation, etc.—and their implications will reduce the overall risk to the environment because you’re going to make much wiser choices, rather than reacting to the first person who comes along and says, “I want a license to do this out there.” One key recommendation is for “ecosystem-based marine spatial planning.” What does that mean?
It’s basically taking the notion of urban planning and putting it into the water column, as well as the estuary systems that connect to it and everything that impacts ocean ecosystems. A lot of people think the ocean ends at the shoreline.
Not at all. Most of the problems we have in the Gulf of Mexico
right now relating to hypoxia [the lack of dissolved oxygen, which creates “dead zones”] have to do with discharges and nitrates coming from farmers up in Iowa and Nebraska. So nothing is disconnected from anything else.
nrdc and oil sarah chasis
Senior attorney and director, NRDC ocean initiative, and an expert on ocean protection What lessons do you draw from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? It is clear that we do not know how to adequately protect communities and coastlines from the impact of offshore oil drilling accidents. From faulty technology and basic human error to insufficient and potentially harmful cleanup techniques, there is now proof positive that we need to pause and ask ourselves what it really takes to drill safely off our coasts. We need a moratorium on all new oil activities offshore until the causes of the oil spill in the Gulf and its ramifications are fully understood. For more about offshore oil drilling and the protection of our coasts, visit onearth.org/article/ chasisqa and switchboard. nrdc.org/gulfspill.php
left: photograph for onearth by erika larsen; right: illustration by adam mccauley
I went wading in the water with a crowbar and a gunnysack and collected abalone. That’s something you would not see now because the abalone has been overfished.
How would the concept of spatial planning affect the Coast Guard?
A real good example was when we reoriented the shipping lanes in and around Boston to move them away from areas where right whales were known to loiter. We unknowingly moved those lanes closer to the site of an offshore liquid natural gas facility that was being permitted at the time. The same thing happens with renewable resources like the wind farms off Nantucket. Sometimes people interpret the Coast Guard’s comments on the safety and security of these operations as a decision on the best uses of the waters. But it isn’t. We’re just reacting to what’s been presented to us. The decision on the best use of the water needs to be made at a higher level.
could result in part of the village falling into the ocean. The absence of ice farther offshore allows a longer “fetch”—the area where the wind blows over the ocean and can build up swells that crash into the shore. The people in Shishmaref have tried to reinforce the shoreline, but sooner or later it may not be viable for them to stay there. How much of a problem are fisheries for the Coast Guard?
I would hope that fisheries are part of this marine spatial planning we talked about. For example, as the water in the Bering
Strait warms up there’s a chance that fish stocks could migrate northward. NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], working with the federal regional fisheries council up there, has basically prohibited all fishing north of the Bering Strait until a body of science or data can be developed on which to make knowledge-based decisions about future policy. As global fisheries collapse, how do you deal with illegal fishing?
Through international cooperation. In a typical case last year we were supported by Japanese and
Going back to climate change, what other implications does that have for your day-to-day work?
Any rise in sea levels is going to have implications for anybody who lives and works around the coastline. We’re putting a lot of time and effort into trying to understand this better. Dr. [John] Holdren, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave a real insightful speech at our World Maritime Day event in New York last October. He said that in relation to climate change you have three choices. You can suffer, you can adapt, or you can manage. I’m in the latter camp—I’m for those last two.
The task force has paid special attention to Arctic policy and climate change.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the causes of ice loss in the Arctic. Right now we have an icediminished, not an ice-free Arctic. I’ve tried to keep away from the arguments over the science. I just say there’s water where there didn’t used to be, and I’m responsible for it. Once there is open water we have the same authority and jurisdiction up there as we have in the lower 48. And if there’s increased use—whether it’s increased ecotourism or offshore oil and gas development—search and rescue, law enforcement, oil spill response, and national sovereignty issues all come into play. When you went up there with other Ocean Task Force leaders, what real-time changes made the biggest impression on you?
We went to the small village of Shishmaref, which is north of Nome near the Arctic Circle. It’s one of a half-dozen villages that traditionally have been protected by an ice shelf, but now it’s suffering from erosion that
Canadian maritime patrol aircraft when we were out searching for illegal vessels. A Coast Guard cutter found a Chinese ship, came up alongside, and asked them to identify themselves. The ship’s master failed to stop, but then all of a sudden he heard the Chinese fisheries enforcement officer who was riding with us tell him in his own language to stop, and that was very effective. We went onboard and found they were using illegal drift nets. We escorted the ship to China, where it was seized and the nets were destroyed.
How did you get interested in the environment in the first place? Was it something in your childhood?
driving bugs crazy
ine bark beetles are destroying millions of acres of
forest in the American West in what has become the largest known insect infestation in the continent’s history. Richard Hofstetter, an entomologist at Northern Arizona University, has a plan: he wants to drive them away with really annoying noises. Using tiny speakers like those found in greeting cards, he pumps sound into beetle enclosures in the lab. He’s played recordings of Rush Limbaugh and Guns N’Roses, but nothing disturbs the beetles quite like the scrambled sounds of their own mating and stress signals. “Some sounds cause them to flee, while others appear to disorient them,” Hofstetter says. Still others disrupt mating patterns. “Sometimes they even attack each other, just chew each other up.” Whether these behaviors will add up to fewer dead trees has yet to be determined. Field testing has only just begun. —J.F.
I’m the son of a retired Coast Guardsman. I went to elementary school in Ketchikan, Alaska, and got a pretty good appreciation for nature and how the environment shapes the way we live. When I was in junior high my dad was assigned to a maintenance team working on the lighthouse at Point Cabrillo in northern California, and while he was there I went wading in the water with a crowbar and a gunnysack and collected abalone. That’s something you would not see now because the abalone has been overfished.
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Your Toaster Is Calling While every good eco geek
eagerly waits for the utility company to install smart metering—the system that tells you how much energy you’re using in real time— Google has launched a doit-yourself online tool called PowerMeter. It allows you to view your electricity use by day, week, or month, and each chart is broken down into total usage and “always on” power—the electricity your appliances consume in standby mode (when you think they’re off). The service is free, but you’ll need to buy a home power meter to get it to work: Google has partnered with TED (The Energy Detective), which sells a device for $199.95.
Dan Satterfield preps for his next weathercast.
his forecast is very clear Meteorologists are the closest thing to a science reporter that you’ll find at most TV stations. In Alabama, one weatherman has made climate education his mission.
by lynne peeples
n his slight southern drawl, Dan
Satterfield broke the news during WHNT’s five o’clock broadcast that temperatures were on the rise. “The confidence is very high,” he added, standing in front of his green screen, motioning to a map visible only to his television audience. “You can bet the farm on this one.” A pair of news anchors chuckled from across the studio. Their station’s popular meteorologist was predicting a pleasant “10-degree jump” for Huntsville, Alabama, during the first week of April, and they know that he doesn’t shy from using similar language on-air to describe longer-term global warming trends. At age 50, Satterfield recognizes that many in his audience are “climatically challenged,” and his profession has the power to help those afflicted by science illiteracy. Only about 7 percent of all TV meteorologists work at stations with a designated science reporter, according to Kris Wilson of the University of Texas at Austin, who recently conducted a national survey of weathercasters. “People learn to trust weathercasters and like them, so whatever they say about things like
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climate change carries tremendous weight,” Wilson says. “By choice or by default, weathercasters end up being the science experts.” However, a four-year undergraduate degree in meteorology, which not all weathercasters even hold, doesn’t necessarily make one an expert on the complex workings of the earth’s climate. “Weather and climate are two very different things,” Satterfield says as he settles into his chilly studio office to recharge for the six o’clock show. Between newscasts, he sheds his suit jacket in favor of a black fleece vest emblazoned with a purple Antarctica pin. From the beginning of his career in 1980, Satterfield focused solely on what his bachelor’s degree in meteorology had trained him to do: tell people what to wear that day. And until the mid-1990s, he remained unconvinced that scientists could predict what the climate would be like in 50 years, given that he struggled to forecast beyond five days. (More than a quarter of the weathercasters Wilson surveyed believe that global warming is “a scam.”) But repeated exposure to the “overwhelming evidence”
Under House Arrest Boulder, Colorado, is
evicting the McMansion. In January, a new city ordinance went into effect that limits the footprint and square footage of new and newly renovated homes relative to their lot sizes. The measure, which aims to retain neighborhood character, prevents existing single-family bungalows and ranch-style homes from sprouting additional stories or from being razed and replaced with structures that bulge from lot line to lot line. Supporters praise the new rules for protecting their views of the Flatirons—Boulder’s famous Rocky Mountain foothills—and are grateful for the ordinance’s other environmental benefits: smaller homes require less energy to power, heat, and cool, resulting in lower carbon emissions.
left: photograph for onearth by alex martinez; opposite (top): courtesy of phillips
over to the map
of climate change, notes Satterfield, made him finally say, “Whoa, I need to start looking into this.” Satterfield bought some statistics textbooks and taught himself enough about standard scientific methods to read critically the peer-reviewed journals. He even went back to school for a master’s degree in earth science. Then, for two weeks in 2007, Satterfield witnessed climate science in the making—from the decks of a Russian icebreaker in the Arctic. Upon his return to the newsroom, he began sharing what he had learned, fully anticipating a backlash from his conservative audience. Yet aside from a handful
of complaints, the show’s ratings and viewer questions suggested that people were listening. “Satterfield has a backbone,” says Bud Ward, editor of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. “He makes other meteorologists think, ‘If he can do it in Huntsville, I can do it in Cleveland.’ ” In addition to presenting longer specials, he frequently fits into his three-minute weather segments “something short but powerful that dispels a climate myth,” he says. Following last winter’s blizzard that buried Washington, D.C., and the subsequent buzz among climate skeptics, he showed viewers a world map
depicting January’s temperature anomalies. It was dominated by red dots—above-average temperatures—with only a few blue dots, including the one on Washington. While people in the nation’s capital complained about a record cold spell, Satterfield set out for even colder parts—Antarctica— on a National Science Foundation media expedition to report on state-of-the-art climate research. A picture on his office wall shows him standing at the South Pole, bundled from head-to-toe. The visible part of his face bears a wide grin. “I love the cold,” he says. Then he sheds his fleece vest and suits up for the next broadcast.
painting a fragile planet artist Shaun Tan lives in Melbourne, Australia, where residents get excited when they’re allowed to water their gardens every second day. Australia’s decade-long drought has forced vigilant water conservation and has led to a growing awareness that the nation’s water shortage is not merely the result of living in a sunburned country: climate change, agriculture, and a fondness for the suburban lawn are also at fault. “Sunday Afternoon Drought,” in oils and acrylics on paper, is Tan’s submission to the Society of Illustrators’ Earth: Fragile Planet exhibition, opening in New York City on June 4. In his words, it is an invitation to “recognize harmful dependencies, question normality, exercise our imaginations, and consider alternative ways of being.”
Nice Threads, Sparky Magic ink: it’s the stuff
of spy movies, crime novels, and...electronic pants? Materials scientist Liangbing Hu and his colleagues at Stanford University have developed a special ink that turns ordinary fabric—or even paper—into an energy storage device. The secret is carbon nanotubes, which have outsize surface areas relative to their mass, giving them unique properties. When applied to fabric, the carbon nanotubes dramatically increase the surface area of the material, enabling it to act as a supercapacitor, storing electric charge much like a battery. In this case, the charge is static electricity—a supersize version of the zap you get after scuffing across the carpet in socks—and the nanotubecoated fabric holds enough to charge the iPhone stashed in your pocket. Hu’s group hopes that eTextiles, as they’re called, may one day replace nickelmetal hydride and lithium-ion batteries. The textiles can be stacked to store more charges, enough to operate larger devices such as electric vehicles, or to sock away the power generated by a wind turbine. The eTextiles feel as soft as ordinary fabrics, suitable for wearing, perhaps, provided that they prove to be safe. Hu and his colleagues don’t yet know what happens, for example, when an object coated with carbon nanotube —C.G. ink catches fire.
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honesty is always the best policy
by michael lemonick
am often asked to speak
to science-journalism classes, and when I do, I usually start off with a question. “How many of you,” I ask, “got into journalism to make the world a better place?” Invariably, most of the students raise their hands. “Not me,” I tell them, to
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general surprise. It’s true, though. I admire journalists who see their mission this way. I’m simply not one of them. I decided to be a science journalist because I love learning about how the natural world works, from the subatomic level right up through biology to the planets and the birth, evolution, and ultimate death of the cosmos. Journalism simply gives me a way to make a living at it. For whatever reason—a big part of it is undoubtedly the fact that my father was a physicist—I’m especially drawn to the physical sciences. I’ve been writing about astronomy and physics, for example, since my very first week on my first job at the now-defunct Science Digest magazine, in 1983. By 1987 I was working as a writer at Time, and that summer, when a group of climate scientists came to visit the magazine’s editorial staff, I was intrigued by the story they laid out for us. Since the Industrial Revolution began, they said, humans have been burning fossil fuel and, as a result, pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. CO2 is a greenhouse gas—it traps heat. Therefore, the earth’s average temperature is likely to rise. The scientists’ best guess was that the thermometer would rise by about 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. They acknowledged that this might not sound like a lot. But it would be comparable to the global temperature change that brought the planet out of the most recent Ice Age. And this time it would be happening a lot faster. I loved this story—it was about the physical sciences, it was clearly a big deal, and it was new and surprising to me. Most important, the science was both straightforward and entirely plausible. My enthusiasm, and that of my editors, led to a cover story in Time in September of that year titled “The Heat Is On.” It was, as far as I know, the first major magazine story about what we then called the greenhouse effect. (The story also discussed the hole in the ozone layer, which had just been discovered over Antarctica.) In putting the story together, I had to figure out how to characterize global warming. It was tempting to proclaim impending doom, which would grab attention and sell magazines. That would make my employers happy, of course. In my time at Science Digest, where Andy Revkin, Elisabeth Rosenthal, and several other prominent environment writers got their start, we did a lot of that. My favorite cover lines included “Spontaneous Human Combustion,” “Sex in Space” (I think it involved frogs), and “Space Telescope Sees to the Edge of the Universe! Ten Pages of Pictures” (a story about the Hubble, years before it was launched, with pictures of the telescope being assembled). I was now working at a more responsible magazine, though, and at that point climate change was only a potential threat. There were no definitive measurements showing that the earth was in fact warming or that sea level was rising. This didn’t refute the idea, however. Climate is a noisy system, with temperatures and other indicators wobbling up and down around an average value. The signal of climate change would be too small to see against this noise, even if it was there. It wasn’t long, however, before the signal did emerge from the background noise, in the form of temperature increases, sea level rise, glacial retreat, and dozens of other measures. During the 1990s, the skeptics’ arguments got weaker and the number of skeptics diminished.
illustration by michael byers
“Faced with these hard facts,” I wrote in a 2001 Time cover story, “scientists no longer doubt that global warming is happening, and almost nobody questions the fact that humans are at least partly responsible.” The nature of journalism was also changing during that time. Faced with increasing competition from blogs and other online news outlets, newspapers and magazines were starting to move in the direction of shorter, more sensational, and more user-friendly stories. Time was no exception. The magazine upped its personalhealth coverage and downplayed serious science. In 2003 for example, it ran a cover story titled “The Secret of Eating Smarter.” In 2004 it ran “How to Live to Be 100.” (The answer was “eat smarter.”) My growing discontent with the changes in journalism was reinforced by a seminar I’d started teaching at Princeton University in 1999 called “Life on Mars—or Maybe Not.” It addressed the interaction between science and journalism, looking at the factors that distort science as it moves from the lab or scientific journal onto the front page. Science journalism demands a certain degree of latitude when it comes to representing the complexities
of a particular field: even the most diligent reader is still looking for lively, understandable prose. But in their quest for liveliness, many news outlets started emphasizing worst-case scenarios or looking for the most quotable rather than the most knowledgeable sources. To compound that problem, climate change was becoming a much more sharply politicized stor y. Slowing down climate change will require government
mate skeptics, some journalists started adding dissenting voices in an attempt to add “balance” to their stories, even though scientific skepticism about climate change had largely vanished among true experts. It now lies with nonexperts like Freeman Dyson—scientists from unrelated fields who don’t know much about climate science but weigh in anyway. The move toward sensational-
By 1987 I was working as a writer at Time. That summer, when a group of climate scientists came to visit the editorial staff, I was intrigued by the story they laid out for us.
intervention, which horrified advocates of smaller government. And reining in emissions threatened some entrenched economic interests. Motivated by these extra-scientific arguments, some lobbyists, politicians, and think tanks latched on to these nonexperts to argue the “other side” of the “climate debate”—much as the antievolution movement found scientists to support its efforts to teach the so-called controversy over evolution. Thanks to pressure from cli-
Media Mayhem W ith so man y new media outlets
cropping up all the time—Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr—it’s getting infinitely more difficult to distinguish solid reporting from deliberate distortions. Climate-change deniers with ideological agendas easily find public platforms for their views, even among major news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. The nonprofit Media Matters for America, which devotes itself to ferreting out misinformation, employs a team of researchers dedicated to identifying distorted and misleading climate stories and publicizing noteworthy findings on mediamatters.org.
ism isn’t why I left Time in 2007; the magazine does better than most at staying intellectually honest about science. It was because Time, desperate to cut staff costs, had offered an attractive severance package, and I was ready for a change. Not long after I left, I got wind of a new nonprofit being formed in Princeton. Called Climate Central, it was created by climate scientists and philanthropists who were unhappy with the way the science was being conveyed to the public. Climate Central’s mission was to counter the trend by providing stories to existing media that reflected the best available science—no advocacy, no hype. To do so, Climate Central assembled a team of journalists and scientists who would work together to report significant findings and trends. Sure, it would mean giving up some of the fierce independence that most journalists hold dear, but in light of my growing cynicism about my profession, it sounded pretty great. I managed to get hired. Since then, I’ve published stories on behalf of Climate Central in Time, Newsweek, E360, Parade, and other publications. I’ve tried to live up to the organization’s mis-
sion—by reporting, for example, that famed climate scientist Jim Hansen’s argument that we must reduce CO2 to less than 350 parts per million to avert worst-case climate scenarios isn’t universally accepted by his colleagues; or that the vanishing snows of Kilimanjaro, which Al Gore so eloquently referred to in An Inconvenient Truth, may not be a victim of climate change alone; or that the newly discovered emissions of methane from Arctic subsea permafrost may, but also may not, signal impending doom. But I’ve also tried to be clear at all times that the underlying science of climate change is extremely solid, and that much of the hand-wringing over “Climategate” and “Himalayagate” and other recent challenges to climate science is just nonsense. I’m still refining my own sense of judgment, weighing when it’s important to give a study’s weaknesses prominence and when to mention them on the side, focusing instead on the broader truth that climate change is real and potentially dangerous. I find this approach to climate reporting to be tremendously satisfying. It lets me craft a short lesson about how science actually works, uncertainty and all. It’s not an attempt to sell any one idea; it’s an attempt to get at the truth as best I can. I like to think that this sort of journalism will continue to appeal to readers through all of the wrenching changes now going on in the profession, and will be part of what emerges on the other side. That’s the message I try to pass on to my students and to any other young journalists I talk to. The science of climate change, like all of science, is complex and messy, but the truth eventually emerges from the background noise. Watching that happen, and reporting on it, is endlessly fascinating and important and fun. If the world ends up being a better place as a result, that’s okay too.
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into the data cloud
it by digital bit, and with hardly a
thought, I am ascending into the cloud. You likely are too. The cloud—sometimes called the Cloud, or even just “cloud,” sans article—is the computing reality we’re all hurtling toward and to a great extent already inhabiting. The cloud is best defined by what it isn’t: a hard drive in your laptop or under your desk, or in a closet at your school or office. Once we filled these hard drives with downloaded songs, digital photos, and moth-eaten e-mails. Now we stream our media (Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Vudu; Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker), post our pics (Picasa, Flickr), store our files online, use Webbased e-mail, share Google Docs, and exchange Facebook pokes. We are uploading, outsourcing. And so is big business: companies, universities, entire city governments are forsaking their costly private data centers to instead rent virtual space from “cloud providers” like Amazon, Rackspace, Microsoft, and Google to e-mail, archive, and collaborate. Within 10 years, according to one estimate, 80 percent of all computing and data storage worldwide will transpire in the cloud. Naturally, the collective cloud still lives somewhere—in vast “server farms” in North Carolina, Washington, Oregon, all over. And its emergence raises a number of real-world issues like, oh, the integrity and security of all that data. What the cloud does promise, however, is improved energy efficiency, such that info-tech wonks are tripping over themselves to declare cloud computing the “green computing option.” By migrating to the cloud, it seems, I do old Earth a favor.
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by alan burdick
Maybe, sort of. Existing data centers are notoriously inefficient. Mostly they rev their engines, waiting for rare periods of peak demand— and operating at less than 15 percent of their maximum capacity. In 2006 U.S. data centers consumed 61 billion kilowatt-hours of energy; figure about 80 percent of that energy—enough to fuel six million homes for a year—was spent running processors that processed absolutely nothing. Cloud-computing centers, in contrast, use “virtualization” software to simulate many more computers than actually exist. These virtual machines can be conjured or dispelled to match demand, so the actual machines can run closer to their full capacity. In theory, that saves energy. There isn’t yet a standard way, though, to measure how much better optimized cloud servers are than old-fashioned data centers. As data centers consolidate, their owners face pressure to lower energy costs. Roughly half the electricity that enters a cloud center goes toward cooling it, and several of the cloud giants are building new facilities designed to reduce that drain. Recently the island of Mauritius proposed plans to develop a cloud center cooled by seawater. Meanwhile, pundits are buzzing about a “follow the moon” strategy, in which server loads might be shuffled from place to place, across latitudes and time zones, to take advantage of cooler temperatures or cheaper power. Of course, not all power is green power, moonlit though it may be. No sooner did Facebook advertise the virtues of the impressive new cloud facility it plans to build in Oregon than Greenpeace started a Facebook group called “Stop Facebook from Switching to Dirty Coal,” noting that Facebook’s intended energy supplier, Pacific Power, generates most of its electricity from coal. Of course, electric cars use coal too, if indirectly, and they’re very green. The real issue is that the cloud is growing. It is more energy-efficient than what it’s replacing, but it isn’t using less energy overall. Data centers in the United States currently devour an amount of energy equivalent to 1.5 percent of the world’s total electricity consumption, and that share is rising. Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google, calls this “the paradox of abundance”: the more efficiently the cloud uses electricity, the more of it we consume with our ever-expanding arsenal of always-on smart phones, tablets, and other gadgets. That the cloud seems free to use—Georgetown University analyst Michael Nelson has called Gmail “the entry drug of cloud users”—only obscures its magnificent, and climbing, cost. I like the cloud; it’s comfy, it’s handy. (This article was largely written on it.) But it’s like my membership at Costco: it makes me green the same way “Buy More, Save More” saves me money. Sure, we save energy by computing in bulk—but only if we had planned on computing that much anyway. Some say the cloud will pay for itself, by automatically turning off our lights at night, maybe, or making CDs obsolete. I’m less sure. One study predicts that by the year 2015, the amount of data we exchange on the Internet will have increased tenfold, most of it in the form of videos. It troubles me to think that a tropical island nation is investing in my desire to stream old episodes of Lost. I wonder: when I become one with the cloud, will I still remember what a real one looks like? Alan Burdick, a contributing editor and regular columnist for OnEarth, is the author of Out of Eden (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
illustration by jason coates
whatâ€™s the In the frigid Bering Sea, the Pacific Prince tries to take only the fish it needsâ€”and leaves the ocean healthier
fishing smart The crew of the Pacific Prince, a 149-foot pollock trawler, use innovative net design and a cuttingedge data feedback system to catch fewer unwanted fish.
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catch? By Bruce Barcott Photographs by Corey Arnold
the bowels of the Pacific Prince, a 149-foot pollock trawler, 28-year-old biologist Monica Brennan stands in her orange rain gear, holding an empty plastic laundry basket, waiting for the fish. Two years ago Brennan quit her job as a groundwater specialist in Phoenix. She wanted to try something new. Something adventurous. So she signed on as a fisheries observer. And here she is on a two-and-a-half-month stint on the Pacific Prince. It’s 1:00 a.m. on a stormy winter night in the middle of the Bering Sea off Alaska. The boat is bucking like a rodeo bull. Wind chill factor outside: 12 below. Up in the wheelhouse, Captain Jack Jones watches his crew pull the net aboard. Bering Sea pollock boats tow cone-shaped nets that sieve the water a few hundred feet above the ocean floor, where pollock congregate in massive schools. Imagine a fishnet stocking the size of a boxcar, stuffed with wriggling fish. A crewman opens the net’s side zipper and sends thousands of pollock, a fish with a trout’s sleek body and a cod’s wide-mouth head, sluicing down a hopper. If you’ve ever eaten Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish sticks, a basket of Long John Silver’s fish and chips, or a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich, you’ve eaten Alaska pollock. One deck below, the fish crash onto a conveyor belt that whizzes past Brennan. A mist of saltwater and fish slime fogs the air. Brennan keeps her eye on a cheap wristwatch buckled to her clipboard. Six minutes into the conveyor run, she signals Jamie Buskirk, the ship’s chief engineer, to swing aside a gate that diverts a random sample of the catch into her laundry basket. Then Brennan gets down to business: recording the raw data on the makeup of the net’s bycatch—those troublesome other species that get caught up in the net—that may ultimately save or doom the largest single-species food fishery in the world. Brennan is one of more than 700 frontline biologists who sign up for hazardous duty on America’s high seas for meager pay. Most observers are in their twenties and early thirties. Few pursue it as a long-term career. The hours are long, and the conditions can be cramped and lonely. Observers go to work every day among rough people and in rougher conditions. The purpose of the data they collect is to make sure everyone plays by the rules, which are pretty simple, really: catch legal fish in legal places. More than 120 observers work aboard 110 vessels in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. This year the U.S. fleet will catch 813,000 metric tons of pollock, worth more than $1 billion, in the nutrient-rich waters between Alaska and Russia. That’s about 40 percent of the world’s total whitefish catch. And unlike most fisheries around the world, this one has an observer on hand to observe the vast majority of all catches. As the Pacific Prince heaves and rolls, Brennan works quickly with a steak knife and a pencil. She measures each pollock in her basket and sometimes removes an otolith, a fingernail-size ear bone. “You can read these like tree rings to determine the age of the fish,” she explains. She has to shout to be heard over the roaring conveyor belt, which is moving 200 tons of fish into the ship’s holding tank. Age data are critical in determining the overall health of the pollock stocks: the younger the caught fish, the smaller the future breeding pool. The wide net of the Pacific Prince catches other species besides
pollock. When Brennan pulls a flounder out of her sampling basket, she hooks it on a hanging scale and records its weight on a specially coated data sheet, which is spattered with fish slime. “Bycatch,” she says, tossing the flounder back on the belt. Bycatch is everything a fisherman doesn’t want , and it’s a big problem. The accelerating loss of ocean biodiversity has raised alarms about a future marine world bereft of all but saltwater and jellyfish. There’s no mystery about the main cause. “In 50 years we’ve taken—we’ve eaten—more than 90 percent of the big fish in the sea,” the oceanographer Sylvia Earle remarked last year. We’ve also not eaten an enormous amount of the collateral damage. Bycatch has been a nuisance ever since early humans began casting nets, but few realized the extent of the damage it was causing to marine ecosystems until 1994, when a team of scientists with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the U.S. National Marine Fish- high-tech fishing Captain eries Service (NMFS), and Britain’s Jack Jones filters informaDirectorate of Fisheries Research tion from VHF radios, an echo ran the numbers. They found that sounder, two sonars, chart bycatch made up an astonishing plotters, and a radar screen. 26 percent of the world’s total commercial catch. Every year 27 million metric tons of fish, birds, and marine mammals were being caught, killed, and tossed aside as trash. Spurred by that report, governments and commercial fleets have made efforts to reduce bycatch through a combination of tougher regulations, equipment changes, design innovations (like the turtle excluder, which screens turtles from Gulf Coast shrimp trawl nets), and technological advances like sonar imaging. By 2004, global bycatch had begun to decline. One FAO report put it as low as 10 percent of all landings that year, though many marine biologists say the true figure is closer to 20 percent. While the U.S. fishing fleet has made significant progress in the past decade in reducing the bycatch of birds, turtles, and marine mammals, its record on fish bycatch is atrocious. The latest tally of fish bycatch in America is more than 22 percent, driven mostly by shrimpers on the Gulf Coast and the groundfish fleet in the Northeast. The key to improving this dismal record is the presence of impartial observers like Monica Brennan and the bycatch data she records on her fish-splattered sheet. “If you don’t know how much bycatch is incurred in a specific fishery, you’re powerless to bring about the regulations needed to reduce all that waste,” says marine biologist Jeffrey Moore of Duke University’s Center for Marine Conservation. “And observers are the critical component in that. They’re the only way to gather information with any degree of accuracy.”
ocean advocates like Sylvia Earle can paint a damning portrait of the fishing industry, but the dilemma is this: fishing feeds three billion people. It provides half the animal protein in the diets of 400 million of the world’s poorest citizens, and the livelihoods of 500 million people depend on the trade. It’s not going to stop. The challenge is to identify the most ecologically sustainable fisheries and spread their practices around the world.
this article was made possible by a generous grant from the josephine patterson albright fund for special features 3 0 onearth
When I went looking for the best illustration of observerdriven bycatch reduction, I ended up finding it where I least expected. It wasn’t a small craft fishery but the huge Alaskan pollock fishery. In 1999, pollock fishermen shifted from a largely free-for-all system to a more eco-friendly “catch shares” management scheme, where portions of the overall catch are allocated to each vessel or vessel cooperative (a group of boats that pools its resources), based on its historical catch record. Now, at a time when the Obama Administration is encouraging other fisheries to move to a catch shares system, the pollock fishery is often held up as the best-practices model. It’s economically healthy, its stocks aren’t overfished, and it has earned the seal of approval from the Marine Stewardship Council, the leading international certification program for sustainable seafood. It’s no coincidence that the pollock fishery also maintains one of the highest rates of observer coverage in the world. Most American fisheries have minimal coverage, with observers present for only 5 to 15 of every 100 trips a boat makes. Coverage is limited by the federal government’s ability to pay observers, who are managed by NMFS, an agency of the Department of Commerce. In the pollock fishery all boats longer than 125 feet—which account for the majority of the catch—have an observer on board at all times. They are paid by the fleet itself, to the tune of $13 million a year. A firewall keeps this money from buying influence. Although NMFS manages the observers, they are hired and paid by private third-party contractors. Boat owners and captains pay the contractors but have no say over which observers get assigned to their boats. “There’s more observer data collected in the Bering Sea pollock fishery than in any other in the world,” says Brent Paine, director of United Catcher Boats, a trade association of trawler owners. “And those data are the backbone of every decision we make,” from bycatch regulations to setting the total amount of pollock that can be pulled from the sea, adds Martin Loefflad, director of the North Pacific groundfish observer program for NMFS. However, the pollock fleet has its share of challenges. Starting next year, trawlers like the Pacific Prince must comply with a new drop-dead federal bycatch limit on chinook salmon. More ominously, the annual pollock catch has recently dipped to nearly half what it was five years ago. NMFS scientists believe that this is a normal population oscillation and that the pollock will bounce back in 2011. But some marine conservation groups, including Greenpeace and Oceana, have called for a drastic cut in the commercial pollock catch to avoid the fate of the Atlantic cod, whose population crashed in the mid-1990s and is only slowly being rebuilt. As pollock goes, so goes biodiversity in the Bering Sea. This part of the continental shelf supports an extraordinarily diverse and productive marine ecosystem: more than 450 species of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks; 50 species of seabirds; and 25 species of marine mammals. Pollock, which represents the greatest biomass of any fish in the Bering Sea, serves as a major food source for birds and fish as well as northern fur seals and the region’s endangered Steller sea lions. To see the observer system in action, I made inquiries about join3 2 onearth
ing a boat on the Bering Sea. I was warned that it might be tough. “Fishermen don’t want to tell anyone where they catch fish,” one former pollock fisherman told me. “It’s kind of innate within us.” But after months of entreaties I was led to Jack Jones, the captain of the Pacific Prince, who agreed to let me join him and his four-man crew for a five-day trip to the heart of the pollock grounds. I meet the boat at a fuel dock on a cold, blustery February morning in Dutch Harbor, the rough-and-tumble Aleutian Islands port made famous by the TV show Deadliest Catch. “Welcome aboard,” says Jones. Deep voice, heavy beard, softspoken. “Do you have plenty of Dramamine?” He looks genuinely concerned. I nod yes. “You’ll want to take it now,” he says. “We’re headed for the ice, and we may run into some weather.”
The Pacific Prince
has a reputation as one of the cleanest boats in one of the nation’s cleanest fisheries. In fishing vernacular, “dirty” boats are responsible for lots of bycatch. Clean boats aren’t. In the New England groundfish fishery, where trawlers haul in the traditional Yankee catch of cod, haddock, and flounder, 1.8 pounds of bycatch come in for every pound of targeted species. Gulf of Mexico shrimpers are among the dirtiest fishers in the world. Their small-mesh nets pull up 4.5 pounds
the data collector Monica Brennan weighs a Pacific cod, left, as part of her calculation of the amount of bycatch. Right, Brennan checks the length and sex of a pollock—the intended catch of the Pacific Prince.
of bycatch for every pound of shrimp, an astounding bycatch rate of 82 percent. By contrast, Alaska pollock trawlers have a bycatch rate of 1 percent. The total pollock catch is so enormous, though, that even 1 percent adds up. A number of different species end up in the pollock nets, including cod, flounder, and skate. The mesh in these trawl nets is large enough to let smaller prey species slip through unharmed, and trawlers don’t have the seabird bycatch that long–liners—boats that fish for cod with 10-mile strings carrying up to 20,000 baited hooks—must deal with. Among pollock captains there is one fish to be avoided above all others. “We’ve got to keep the salmon out of our nets,” Jones tells me. “But that’s easier said than done.” In the Bering Sea, two species of salmon—chum and chinook—swim at the same depth as pollock, and they appear in numbers big enough to cause problems. On average, the pollock fleet captures 40,000 to 60,000 chinook every year. Chinook is the most highly prized salmon in the world (they don’t call it king salmon for nothing), and the commercial fishermen and native villagers who depend on chinook for their livelihood get understandably riled by the notion that pollock trawlers routinely wipe out 5 percent to 7 percent of their catch. When salmon are swept up in pollock nets, they can’t be tossed back—many are killed in the crush—and they can’t be sold, because pollock boats don’t have permits to catch salmon. Most bycaught salmon is donated to SeaShare, a nonprofit group that distributes frozen salmon steaks to food banks across the United States. The issue came to a head three years ago when chinook bycatch spiked to 120,000. The Yukon River’s chinook run, once one of the largest in the world, was crashing, and in 2008, commercial chinook fishing on the Yukon was cut by 90 percent. Last year it was halted entirely. The bycatch spike and the Yukon crash were too coincidental to ignore. So
NMFS officials adopted a “hard cap” on chinook bycatch. Starting in January 2011, and for most of the next seven years, the pollock fleet can catch a total of 47,591 chinook as bycatch. The day number 47,592 is caught, that year’s pollock season ends. As in a number of other fisheries, the pollock boats are using gear modifications to attack the problem. Since 2004 the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation, an industry-funded research group, has worked with pollock fishermen to develop a salmon excluder that allows chinook to escape through a portal cut into the top of the net. A number of boats have adopted the device since the disastrous 2007 season. On the deck of the Pacific Prince, I follow Buskirk to the stern, where the net is being taken up on its reel. We are halfway to the fishing grounds, and ice is starting to form on the ship’s rails. “Here’s the salmon escape hatch,” he says, showing me an eight-foot hole in the net that looks like a kayak’s cockpit. (The excluder is sold separately from the net and can be easily sewn into it.) Pollock are relatively weak swimmers, Buskirk explains. Pretty quickly they fall to the “cod end,” the pouch at the back of the net. But salmon can swim along inside the net at trawl speed (about four knots), and they’re able to identify and slip through the escape hatch. Earlier in the season the Pacific Prince crew tested the latest version of the excluder by wrapping an outer recapture net around the trawl net and recording whatever fish escaped. About 25 percent to 35 percent of the caught salmon escaped, but only about 1 percent of the pollock slipped away. Proving minimal pollock loss was critical. If fishermen suspect they’ll lose pollock through the salmon hatch, they won’t adopt the excluder.
the fishing grounds on the morning of the second day. The sea and sky are cast in grays: battleship, gravel, concrete sidewalk, grandma’s hair. The Pacific Prince bobs on three-foot swells. Snow blows sideways across the bow. At the helm, Captain Jones, 58, seems more day trader than trawlerman as he scans the nine computer monitors horseshoed around his command post, looking for signs of fish before deploying his net. Brennan pops into the wheelhouse to record the boat’s position. Outside, crew members bust ice off the deck with sledgehammers. Chunks the size of sedans float by. “We’re getting pretty close to the ice pack,” Jones tells me. “I’m hoping the pollock don’t disappear under it.” Static-filled voices spit comments out of the VHF radio. “A lot of bycatch reduction comes from talking to the other boats, listening to what they’re catching,” Jones says. “Five hours, I got 20 tons,” says the captain of a nearby trawler. That makes Jones wary; 20 tons of fish in a five-hour tow isn’t a lot of fish. “I could fish anytime now,” he says. “But first I want to be sure of what’s down there.” He wants to find a dense school of mature pollock before he sets his net. Quick in, quick out. This simple exercise of patience represents a revolution in fisheries management and bycatch reduction. The pollock fishery used to summer 2010
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operate on a “race for the fish” model. That increased both the bycatch constant, whereas on a trawler there’s a lot of downtime. Posted on the wall behind her is an NMFS notice: WARNING: rate and the catch of younger pollock. “We were killing each other,” says Brent Paine of United Catcher Boats. “Everyone kept investing Harassment of an Observer Will Not Be Tolerated. Violators Will in bigger engines and bigger nets because you had to grab as much Be Prosecuted! When observers first came into fisheries 30 years ago, putting up with intimidation, bribery, and sexual harassment fish as you could as fast as possible.” In 1999, the pollock fishery switched to a catch shares system, was practically part of the job description. It has become less of a which allowed captains to slow down, conserve fuel, and fish more problem, although it still happens. Joe Rehfuss, a veteran Bering Sea selectively for bigger fish in pollock-rich, bycatch-poor spots. It also observer, told me about the time the captain of a cod trawler stood let processors, who turn whole fish into neatly sliced product, work over his shoulder as he worked. “The guy challenged every bit of more slowly and carefully and use more of the fish. Prior to catch bycatch that came up,” Rehfuss said. “He’d say, ‘That halibut was shares, only 19 percent of each fish ended up as salable protein. Now already dead! That shouldn’t count, should it?’” (It counts.) “I hope the work I’m doing makes a difference,” Brennan says. “I’m it’s more than 32 percent (much of the rest is bone and water weight). When the fishery switched to the catch shares system, the Pa- trying to gather high-quality data and get it to the analysts at NOAA [the cific Prince joined a cooperative with a number of other pollock trawlers and a processing plant, which meant Jones had a group of colleagues with whom he felt comfortable sharing information. The catch shares system has worked so well that it’s often invoked as the model for other fisheries. This summer, for example, the New England groundfish fleet is dropping its notoriously ineffective management scheme, which has led to chronic overfishing and soaring bycatch rates, in favor of a catch shares program. In the early afternoon, Jones finds promising signs of pollock. He sets his net and tows for three hours. Just before reeling in, he slows down to a near stop. “I’m going to give it a few minutes at this speed,” he says. “Give the salmon one last chance to find the hole and escape.” Then he reels in. “We’re hauling!” somebody calls out. Below deck, Brennan steps into the boat’s sorting room. As the conveyor belt cranks up, she gets to work: measuring and sexing pollock, noting bycatch, occasionally taking otoliths. I watch her until the sight of fish roaring past on the conveyor makes me dizzy. the pollock grounds On a five-day trip in late February, Captain The Pacific Prince goes on fishing through the night. Jack Jones had to steer clear of two areas temporarily closed to fishing. “I set my watch to military time,” Brennan tells me as we wait for the next tow to begin. “The days flow one into the next, and it’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, of which NMFS is so dark out here in winter that sometimes you don’t know whether a division] so the environment, this huge food supply, and the economy out here can be maintained.” Some days, though, it just feels like hard it’s a.m. or p.m.” On a flat-screen TV in the ship’s mess, Bruce Willis duels Jeremy work. “There are time when the cold wears on you,” she admits. A few minutes after Brennan retires to her cabin, Buskirk bursts Irons in Die Hard: With a Vengeance. During the winter pollock season—there’s a second season in the summer and early fall—the tight through the deck hatch holding something gray and white. “Want to confines of the Pacific Prince are home for Brennan and the crew for rescue a bird?” he says, handing me a fork-tailed storm petrel encased weeks on end. The boat’s owner knows what keeps experienced crew in ice. It is so cold outside that seabirds are freezing to the deck. I gently members coming back season after season: a good captain, hearty thaw the bird in my hands (amazingly, it survives) while Buskirk pops his gloves into the microwave. food, flat-screen TVs, and satellite radio in the wheelhouse. “What do you think, Jack?” he yells up to the captain. “They were talk“This is a good assignment,” Brennan tells me. “It’s a fun crew.” Yet observers occupy an uneasy role on any ship. They’re limited to ing 600 grams a little while ago.” Buskirk has been listening to reports 90 days on any one boat in the course of a year to ensure that they of average catch size from other boats on the VHF. The Pacific Prince remain unbiased. They often work seasonally, like park rangers, crew wants mature pollock, 7-year-olds, averaging 800 grams (about hopping from one fishery to another. Last year Brennan worked 1.8 pounds), the females full of roe. Those are the moneymakers. Jones mulls it over. “I want to make sure it’s not a skewed average,” on a cod long-liner, which she generally preferred. The action was 3 4 onearth
he says. “If they’re catching a bunch of little 200s and bigger 900s, that makes a nice average but it’s no good.” Jones adjusts his reading glasses and peers at the biomass monitor. “Clouds of babies,” he tells me, tapping the screen. “I don’t want to hit that small stuff. It’s not good for the resource and it doesn’t pencil out for us.” If they catch young pollock, Jones and his crew take a double hit to their wallets. Pound for pound, smaller fish yield less protein and roe than bigger fish, which means a smaller check at the end of the season. Catching young pollock also decreases the spawning pool. And there’s no hiding the age of the fish. The otoliths that Brennan removes from her pollock sample are sent to scientists at the NMFS lab in Seattle, who analyze more than 3,000 of them every year. Jim Ianelli, the agency’s lead stock assessment scientist for pollock, told me that otolith data “give us an idea of how many fish are in each year class, and those estimates play heavily into the quota,” the total allowable catch for any given season. There’s no rule requiring Jones to avoid younger pollock. But Brennan’s otolith data act as an incentive for the captain to focus on larger fish and preserve the viability of both the ecosystem and the fishery’s economic system.
map by baker vail; illustration by Bruce morser
harassment is no joke—ask anyone who’s experienced it—but it’s ironic to hear observers complain about being sometimes treated like spies. When the job was created in the 1970s the purpose of an observer was to be a spy. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the landmark legislation that set the ground rules for commercial fishing in the United States, was passed largely in response to the fleet of foreign factory trawlers that were catching massive amounts of fish a few miles off the U.S. coast. The act set a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, known as the EEZ, which extended America’s reach past the 12-mile territorial waters limit established under international law, and booted out the foreign fleet—but not overnight. In a crafty move, Congress allowed decreasing numbers of foreign trawlers to fish in the zone provided they allowed—and paid for—American observers on their boats. “We were there mainly to let the Americans know what the foreign fleet was catching,” recalls Martin Loefflad, who observed on a Soviet trawler in the mid-1980s. America’s deep-sea Pacific fleet didn’t really exist then. Most Pacific fishermen operated close to shore. But as American trawlers began to replace foreign vessels in the Bering Sea, boat owners and fisheries managers realized the value of the data. “It was incredibly useful,” Loefflad tells me. “It let us know where the fish lived and how healthy the stocks were.” By the end of the 1980s American boats had nearly displaced the foreign fleet, and the observer corps was dwindling. Domestic boats, unlike foreign vessels, weren’t required to carry observers, who were seen as costly and intrusive. But then in 1988 the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional councils created by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, became alarmed about bycatch. Alaskan crabbers and halibut fishermen worried that the pollock fleet was decimating their product. But nobody knew the true extent of the damage, because they no longer had enough observer data. When the council threatened tough new limits on the pollock season, the fleet came back with an offer. Instead of shrinking our season, they
nrdc saving our fisheries
brad sewell Senior attorney in NRDC’s New York office, specializing in the protection of Atlantic coastal and ocean resources Why is bycatch such a threat to our oceans?
Bycatch is a principal cause of overfishing and can harm marine ecosystems. In the New England groundfish fishery, which includes cod, haddock, and various flounder species, and the mid-Atlantic squid fishery, it is estimated that more fish—tens of thousands of metric tons each year—are discarded at sea than are landed and sold. Some species are seriously depleted by bycatch, like the iconic Georges Bank cod, which is at only 15 percent of healthy levels and is not projected to be rebuilt until 2055. Bycatch has also decimated populations of key forage fish in the region, such as butterfish and river herring. Are we actually in danger of driving some species to extinction?
Bycatch has caused dramatic declines in sea turtles, seabirds, many species of elasmobranches (i.e., sharks, rays, skates, and sawfishes), and even marine mammals. In the past year, NRDC has requested that the federal government list both the Hawaiian population of false killer whales and the Atlantic sturgeon on the Endangered Species Act list, principally because of the threat posed by bycatch. But bycatch isn’t a problem in recreational fisheries, right?
Not exactly. It’s true that bycatch mortality and the range of nontarget species caught are generally lower in recreational fisheries. And hook-and-release needs to be part of our sustainable fishing future. But for some species, the level of depletion has become so severe and the number of recreational anglers so large that recreational bycatch continues to drive the population downward. In the South Atlantic, for instance, some areas will need to be temporarily closed to all fishing, including recreational, to halt the decline of red snapper. What’s the solution?
We need to treat bycatch in the same way as we treat other types of catch. In 2006 Congress reinforced the prohibition against overfishing by requiring science-based catch limits. In the application of the law, bycatch limits must be set and enforced, which will increase the incentives to modify fishing methods and gear to reduce bycatch. We will also need to do a much better job of counting the fish (and other forms of marine life) that are caught, and not just the portion that is sold. Catch shares programs may make it easier to fund this by improving profitability, but such programs can also increase the discarding of unwanted species and will need to include 100 percent observer coverage.
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said, let us pay for observer coverage. Let the data fall where they may. It was a gamble. Observers might well have confirmed a massive bycatch problem. In fact, they proved the opposite. Their data showed that the halibut and crab bycatch could be handled with minor adjustments that didn’t shut down the season. Today pollock boats continue to foot the bill for observers who monitor about 85 percent of their total catch, costing them $13 million in 2009. Unfortunately, that approach hasn’t been widely adopted. Observer coverage of the 84 U.S. fisheries has steadily increased from 20 fisheries in 2000 to 42 in 2010. All except three—the Alaska pollock, Pacific hake, and Atlantic scallop fisheries—are entirely federally funded. And the government’s $40 million observer budget doesn’t go far.
On the morning
after a late-night tow, Captain Jones burns a stare into a biomass monitor that records fish passing into his net, which is deployed a quarter-mile behind the boat. “This is what we’re catching,” he says, pointing to a cloud of red blips. “I hope.” As Jones watches his net fill, Monica Brennan joins him in the wheelhouse. She notes the ship’s latitude and longitude, then types a string of numbers into a laptop marked NMFS Observer Use Only. With a click, she sends her data bouncing off a satellite into NMFS computers in Seattle. A few minutes later, Jones closes the mouth of his net and turns sharply north. “What’s going on?” I ask. “We’re coming up on a rolling closure,” Jones tells me. He points to a GPS monitor showing the Pacific Prince approaching a shaded zone. “That’s a temporarily closed sector,” he says. “Too much bycatch in there. It’s scheduled to reopen in about 45 minutes, but I don’t want to cut it that close.” When the vessel finds its new heading, he reopens the net. It’s a simple repositioning of the boat. But for anyone familiar with commercial fishing, Jones’s rudder turn represents a radical act. The “rolling closure” isn’t government mandated. It is a system created voluntarily by the pollock fishermen as part of an innovative bycatch-avoidance scheme driven by the data that Brennan and other observers send to Seattle. The idea was hatched in the early 2000s, when the pollock fleet hauled up unusually high numbers of chum salmon bycatch. “There was a lot of pressure on us to reduce our chum numbers,” recalls John Gruver, who owned a pollock trawler at the time. (He sold the boat a few years later and now helps manage United Catcher Boats.) “And we could see the writing on the wall.” Since observers were already compiling daily reports on bycatch, someone suggested, why not use that data to the fleet’s advantage? Working with Karl Haflinger, a fisherman who dabbled in software design, the pollock cooperatives invented their own data-driven bycatchavoidance system. It works like this. The morning after Brennan records her bycatch data, Haflinger downloads it from a password-protected Web site. Haflinger,who runs a company called Sea State, is the teamwork Clockwise from top pollock fleet’s bycatch czar. By left, deckhand Vittorio Vanoni, cross-checking bycatch figures engineer Jamie Buskirk, deckhand with vessel monitoring system Dan Reyes, observer Monica Bren(VMS) tracks—electronic snail nan, and engineer Patrick McGrorty.
trails that record each boat’s location and movement—he pinpoints bycatch hot spots and relays that information back to the fleet. When Haflinger identifies a hot spot, he has the authority, granted by an agreement among the pollock boats themselves, to shut it down immediately. Such rolling closures prohibit fishing in a certain area for a few days or a week at a time. At the end of every week, Haflinger e-mails a report to all captains in the pollock fleet that includes a list of the Dirty Twenty, the boats with the highest bycatch rates during the previous seven days. It’s not a list anybody wants to show up on. “Karl’s sort of our orchestra leader,” says Paul MacGregor, general counsel for the At-Sea Processors Association, a trade association that runs a cooperative of pollock catcher-processors. “He calls the tune, and everyone agrees to follow his lead because we’re all working off the same data source.” Haflinger’s system isn’t perfect. The influx of chinook in 2007 overwhelmed the limits of the rolling closures. “There’s still no consensus on what happened that year,” Haflinger says. “The chinook were everywhere. No matter where we fished we couldn’t keep them out of the nets.” But in other years, he estimates, the system has reduced chinook bycatch by as much as 77 percent.
If the pollock
fleet’s data feedback system is so good, why haven’t other fisheries adopted it? It comes down to two things: money and trust. “Observers are expensive,” admits Chris Rilling, manager of NMFS’s national observer program. “The more lucrative, high-value fisheries are going to have an easier time paying for full coverage,” he says. As other fisheries adopt their own catch shares systems, they are ramping up their observer coverage, as the systems work only as long as everyone stays within their catch quotas—and, perhaps more important, as long as everyone believes the other guys are playing by the rules. Nowhere will that be tested more severely than in the Northeast groundfish fishery (NEGF), which moved to a catch shares system on May 1, 2010, a switch encouraged by the 2006 strengthening of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The NEGF includes nearly 3,400 vessels targeting 24 species from New Jersey to Maine. It’s the nation’s second most valuable fishery. It’s also notoriously rife with cheating and mistrust. A recent survey of Northeast fishermen, managers, scientists, and enforcement officials estimated that 12 percent to 24 percent of the fishery’s harvest of cod, haddock, flounder, and other fish is taken illegally every year. Until this year, observers monitored only one in 10 trips. The low chance of discovery, along with lenient federal penalties, created a perverse incentive to cheat on both target catch and bycatch limits. Dennis King, the University of Maryland resource economist who carried out the study, found that the economic gain from cheating was nearly five times the value of the expected penalty. “We concluded that we don’t have a deterrent here,” King told me. Groundfish boats on Georges Bank, off the coast of New England, already deal with a “hard cap” limit on cod: hit the limit and the haddock season ends. Gear modifications to reduce cod capture have produced mixed results, and the fishery has nothing like Karl Haflinger’s data feedback system. With only 8 percent observer coverage, the data simply won’t support it. This year, though, the ground fishing fleet will ramp up its coverage to 38 percent. Individual boats are expected to pay for those observers, summer 2010
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although for the first year or two the cost will be covered by federal funds earmarked as seed money. It’s anybody’s guess whether fishermen in the Northeast fleet, already in dire economic shape, can afford to pay for the observers. This is not Alaska, says Read Porter, a staff attorney at the Environmental Law Institute who has studied the role of observers in fisheries management. “In the Northeast you’re talking about a lot of small day boats with an average of two crew members. The economic burden is so much higher, to say nothing of the limited deck and cabin space.” With an eye on cost containment, the New England Fishery Management Council created the job of fisheries “monitors” to record data in the new catch shares system. Monitors will have less training and compile less data than observers. Speaking off the record, NMFS officials aren’t thrilled with what they see as the dumbing-down of the observer position, but many see it as a necessary concession. The open secret about American fisheries is that scientists and policy makers at NMFS don’t run the show. The fishing industry does. The eight regional councils established by Magnuson-Stevens effectively let the fisheries industry regulate itself. It’s a model that hasn’t worked so well for either the fishermen or the fish. A few councils, like the North Pacific council, consistently adopt fishing limits recommended by peer-reviewed scientists. Others, like the New England council, routinely ignore the science and overfish their stocks year after year. The overfishing is what led Congress to put sharper teeth in the act’s 2006 reauthorization. That update mandated a halt to overfishing by 2010, which is why the catch shares system is now being implemented in New England. The councils not only set catch limits; they also determine observer coverage. 3 8 onearth
“We’re hoping to eventually transition to industry funding of observers and monitors,” Rilling says. “The Alaska pollock model is the one we’re pursuing. But the Northeast fishery needs some time and seed money to get everything up and running.” The success of a data-driven bycatch-avoidance system in the Northeast ground fishery will take more than money. It will also require trust. “Getting a system like this up and running isn’t really that hard to do,” Karl Haflinger tells me when I drop by the Sea State office, the back bedroom of a suburban ranch house on sleepy Vashon Island, Washington, near Seattle. “The tough part is getting the fishermen to trust a third party like me with their data.” It’s no accident that the Sea State system was created not long after the pollock fleet converted to catch shares. The new system lessened competition among boats, and the cooperatives fostered trust among fishermen. Even then, many were hesitant to open up their bycatch numbers. “Getting everyone to agree to give Karl their data required a big leap of faith,” recalls Brent Paine. It happened because most captains personally trusted Haflinger, a former fisherman, to exercise discretion. But it also happened because the pollock captains knew that the high percentage of observer coverage made it very difficult to cheat. And they knew the numbers were solid. “If you rely on fishermen to estimate their own catch, it’s really hard to get reliable data,” Haflinger adds. Beyond the obvious motivation to misreport one’s own bycatch figures, data collection simply isn’t at the top of a fisherman’s to-do list. “They’ll record it if they have time, if they remember to, and if the engine isn’t broken down or the net doesn’t need mending,” he says. “And remember, you’re out on the Bering Sea in winter. You can see how it might slip down a fisherman’s priority list.”
end of the season Deckhand Vittorio Vanoni, left, makes a final check that the cod end of the net is clean. Right, the Pacific Prince pulls out of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands en route to its home port, Seattle.
“We’re hauling back!” The cry bounces off the walls of the Pacific Prince’s galley. Captain Jones has been towing for a couple of hours. His hold is almost full, and the crew is hoping this tow will send them back to port. Monica Brennan and the four crew members cram in a last bite of dinner before armoring themselves in watch caps, rain gear, rubber boots, and rubber gloves. They have about half an hour before fish begin coming on deck. Brennan takes her station at midship. Working on a deck skinned in ice, three crew members guide the massive net onto the boat. As the cod end comes aboard, the crew members’ faces light up. It’s a good catch, plenty to fill the hold. An hour later, while Brennan completes her samples of bycatch and pollock otoliths, I join Jones in the wheelhouse. “See any bycatch in that one?” he asks. “Mostly some flounder,” I tell him. “I think I may have seen one salmon go by.” One salmon in 100 tons of pollock. I thought it was a pretty good average. Jones doesn’t seem pleased, though. “You see one salmon,” he tells me, “it usually means you’ve caught 10.” After four days of fishing, the Pacific Prince can hold no more fish. Jones points the bow toward Dutch Harbor, 266 miles away. It will take 30 hours to reach the dock. The crew members strip off their rain gear and disappear into their cabins, eager for some warmth and rest. We reach Dutch Harbor just after breakfast. The Pacific Prince pulls
into the dock at the Westward Seafoods processing plant. A dusting of snow covers the slippery wharf timbers. The dock workers swing a fat hose over the side of the boat, and an off-load crew sluices the haul of fish through the hose into the plant. Inside, workers sort the wheat from the chaff: pollock into cutting trays, bycatch into species-specific bins. An observer in the plant records everything that comes and goes. It’s not very high tech. Every once in a while a fish comes falling out of a chute into a dockside barrel labeled with the reject name. Cod. Flounder. Skate. Chinook. Jones, his crew, and Brennan will spend 24 hours unloading and then head back to the pollock grounds. The ice sheet continues to march south, and it’s not getting any warmer. Shortly after unloading the fish, Jones gets the report from the processing plant. The news is mostly good. “In 965,732 pounds of pollock, we had 5 chinook,” he tells me. “About 35,000 pounds of the pollock was too small to be made into filets or blocks. That I don’t like.” (He says 3,000 pounds would be better.) “But the salmon excluder seems to be working without costing us pollock. That’s the main thing.” It has been a successful season on the Bering Sea. Fishermen are getting paid. People are eating healthy pollock. Whether it has been a successful season for the ecosystem, though, has yet to be determined. It will take months for NMFS scientists to collate and analyze information, sent by more than 100 observers, to figure out the health of the population and the final bycatch tally. It all depends on Monica Brennan’s data. Bruce Barcott, a recipient of a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, is working on a book about the battle over salmon and Indian treaties in the Pacific Northwest. summer 2010
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pat r i o t s a c t W e s e n t t h e m i n t o bat t l e in Iraq and Afghanistan. What they saw there has sparked their next mission—to end our dependence o n f o s s i l f u e ls . b y j o s e p h d ’a g n e s e
photographs by emiliano granado
en years ago, Robin Eckstein was a college student in
Appleton, Wisconsin, struggling to pay her bills with bartending and waitressing jobs. Her credit card debt was mounting. Out of the blue, a National Guard recruiter e-mailed her, offering a free college education in exchange for her military service. She enlisted, and reported for active duty in October 2000. Three years later, she was driving supply trucks across the Iraqi desert. Eckstein, 33, has been out of the U.S. Army Jonathan for three years now, but on this frigid Tuesday morning in late March, Gensler she finds herself pulling transport duty once more, this time driving a big, blue biodiesel-fueled bus across the state of Ohio, from Columbus Rank: Captain, U.S. Army to Cincinnati. She is ferrying veterans like herself: Matt Victoriano, an Age: 32 Hometown: Hunex-Marine; Rafael Noboa Rivera, a former Army sergeant; and Nick tington, West Virginia Anderson, a former Army specialist. The foursome is making its way Then: Tank and mortar through the Midwest as part of Operation Free, a campaign to promote platoon leader, Kuwait and clean energy organized by a progressive leadership institute called the Iraq Now: Graduate student Truman National Security Project. Operation Free, now in its second in business at MIT and governyear, includes dozens of vets who have logged more than 25,000 miles ment at Harvard; plans to traveling across 23 states, stopping at union halls, factories, statehouses, start a clean-energy business and radio stations and making appearances on nightly news programs. At each stop the veterans get off the bus and share their stories, eyewitI buried a fellow West ness accounts of the ways in which America’s dependence on oil affects Virginian who was killed not only which wars we fight but also our ability to wage war. In their when his Humvee was struck own words, the vets say what many people have said before: America by an IED that was probmust become energy-independent, invest in renewables, and commit to ably financed by Iran. In my a future that eradicates the threat of climate change—not because it’s the mind, he was killed by a feel-good thing to do but because this nation’s security may depend on it. regime propped up by our oil These vets’ views have become increasingly mainstream, even among demands.
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Rank: Specialist, U.S. Army Age: 33 Hometown: Appleton, Wisconsin Then: Drove supply trucks in Iraq Now:
Rank: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy Age: 28 Hometown: San Diego Then: Safeguarded
Rank: Captain, U.S. Army Age: 30 Hometown: Fayetteville, Arkansas Then:
global shipping routes off the coast of Somalia Now: Graduate student in business at Dartmouth and energy policy at Harvard; newly employed in the wind power industry
Platoon leader, Afghanistan; aide to brigadier general, Iraq Now: Graduate student in both business and government at Harvard; future politician
Volunteers with an animal rescue group We’re not lobbyists. We’re real veterans who are putting a face on energy problems, and people get it. They’ll listen to us before they listen to other people. This is a national security issue. It’s not a left issue. It’s not a right issue. It’s an American issue. 4 2 onearth
I want my children to inherit a country that doesn’t have to send its armed forces overseas to fight—and die fighting—against a government that is partially funded by our own economic choices.
Every American is comfortable with the idea of paying for insurance. You may never get in a car wreck, a hurricane may never hit your house, but you still buy insurance. Why is it that we need 100 percent certainty on the issue of climate change?
national defense experts. James Woolsey, director of central intelligence under President Clinton, is outspoken about the connection between the dollars the United States pays to satisfy its oil addiction and the ordnance lobbed at our troops. “Except for our own Civil War, this is the only war that we have fought where we are paying for both sides,” Woolsey has said. “We are paying for these terrorists with our SUVs.” And in late April, 33 retired generals and admirals signed an open letter to the leaders of the Senate, stating that “America’s billion-dollar-a-day dependence on oil makes us vulnerable to unstable and unfriendly regimes.” They called on President Obama and Congress to “enact strong, comprehensive climate and energy legislation to reduce carbon pollution and lead the world in clean energy technology.”
obin Eckstein is tall and blond, stylish in her
black suit. As she drives the bus down I-71, she tells me in her flat Wisconsin accent what a typical day in Iraq was like. As an Army specialist, a notch higher in rank than private first class, she rolled out of camp every morning in a slow-moving convoy of trucks carrying water and fuel to troops dispersed throughout the desert. Exposed to harsh weather and frequent sniper fire, her detail was one of the most dangerous in the
service. “We were the weakest link,” she says. “If one of us gets taken out, you don’t know how far the dominoes are going to fall.” Without fuel to power up their Humvees, helicopters, and tanks, troops can do little other than sit and wait. Even now, she says, she cannot help but think of thirsty soldiers waiting for fuel in the middle of the desert. Off the bus, several days and several states later, I meet with Aaron Scheinberg, who tells a similar tale in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from the Harvard campus, where the 29-year-old former Army captain is a graduate student. “There were times in Iraq when we couldn’t go anywhere,” Scheinberg says. “We couldn’t have medical helicopters escort us because we ran out of fuel. Other times soldiers were killed bringing fuel to our base.” Just starting a tank’s engine— from a cold start to the moment you’re ready to roll—consumes seven gallons of fuel. Running at a top speed of about 45 miles an hour, the average Abrams tank gets a paltry 0.6 mile to the gallon, he explains. Scheinberg is the New Jersey coordinator for Operation Free, and when he’s not taking classes at the Kennedy School of Government, he’s driving to his home state, volunteering his time and energy to speak at events much like those Eckstein and her crew attend. Scheinberg is one of a half dozen veterans on campus who take time away from their coursework in business, government, and international relations to talk with the media and the public about their shared conviction that clean energy goes hand in hand with the United States’ ability to maintain its competitive edge in the world. Drew Sloan, 30, is in his second year at Harvard Business School, and when we meet up near campus, I notice a faint scar on his right cheek. In 2004, when he was serving in Afghanistan, he was part of a two-vehicle convoy zipping along a riverbed when his Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Sloan woke up four days later in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., recalling nothing of the attack that blew in his vehicle’s windshield and shattered most of the bones in his face. In October of that year, he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He then turned down a medical discharge to go to Iraq, where he earned a second Bronze Star. In late 2009, Operation Free asked Sloan to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. In his written testimony and in person, he argued that climate change and its attendant extreme weather events would only exacerbate geopolitical instability. As sea level rises, he said, millions of people who live in coastal nations such as Bangladesh may have to flee across borders and become climate refugees. If that happens, who would quell the unrest? “The U.S. military is the only institution that can take on a massive humanitarian crisis,” Sloan tells me. “Whenever anyone attacks the science of climate change, they ridicule the data as being uncertain,” Sloan says. “Veterans know you can’t wait for 100 percent certainty. If you wait until everything is clear and laid out, you’re probably no longer alive. Or if you are still alive, you’ve definitely lost because someone else has seized the advantage. Veterans know how to deal with ambiguity and still make decisions.” His testimony hews closely to the U.S. military’s own recently adopted positions on climate change. In the February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a summary of Department of Defense strategies and priorities, the department discussed climate change Summer 2010
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rafael Noboa rivera Rank: Sergeant, U.S. Army Age: 33 Hometown: Denver Then: Fire support special-
ist, Operation Iraqi Freedom Now: Political activist, blogger, journalism student at Ohio University My story is simple: I served. I helped secure oil fields, which is not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just part of my job description. Even if I hadn’t served, I would still care about these issues. But having served brings them all into stark relief. 4 4 onearth
matt victoriano Rank: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps Age: 30 Hometown: Fayetteville, Arkansas Then: Served as a sniper in Iraq Now: In training for the Army’s Special Forces
I believe in the military and I believe it should be used for the right purposes—for defending people. I don’t believe our energy policy and corporate interests are justifiable reasons to send people into harm’s way. I have an obligation to make sure that their lives are not wasted.
for the first time in the report’s history. “Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world,” reads the document, “contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments.” In an effort to reduce its own carbon emissions, Defense Department officials laid out a series of goals that might surprise most Americans. For example, the Air Force will increase its alternative fuel load to 50 percent by 2016; the Army is converting nontactical vehicles to hybrids and electrics stateside; and the Navy is exploring biofuels for its carriers.
n r d c the right stuff
Pete ALTMAN Climate campaign director in NRDC’s Washington office
he last night I’m with the bus in Cincinnati,
Noboa, Anderson, and Eckstein are talking to a group of about 100 people gathered at a labor hall for a green energy and jobs rally. Some people wear hard hats that read, “2 million green energy jobs now!” Others sport T-shirts that say, “Make our energy clean. Make it American.” The vets have been on the road since 6:00 a.m. They held a morning press conference, shook dozens of hands, briefed aides to Ohio governor Ted Strickland, and spent a few harried hours trying to fix a broken brake light along the way. Eckstein is exhausted when she steps up to the podium, but somehow manages to draw on the crowd’s energy. She speaks with conviction as she recalls details from the QDR, telling the crowd that the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency are serious about taking action. “These are not organizations known for hugging polar bears,” she says. The line gets a laugh from the crowd, but a bearded man in his fifties isn’t buying it. He finds it laughable to extol the green leadership of the U.S. military. The military is creating a human and environmental disaster in Iraq, he says. He advocates dismantling the armed forces and using that money to rehabilitate the Midwest’s factories and invest in projects that promote a “humane” green economy. “The military is not a leader,” he says. “The military is the obstacle!” For a moment, it looks as if the riders of the big, blue bus have crashed headlong into the idealism of the old left. But Eckstein responds respectfully. “Thank you for your passion,” she says. “It’s not that I don’t care about the human toll, because—trust me—I do, and I know my fellow veterans do. But if this is the approach we have to take so that certain other individuals will get it, is it not a good approach? Certain individuals, when they hear the words ‘climate change,’ they shut down. For whatever reason, when they hear veterans speak on it, they actually listen,” she says. “They get it, they understand it, and they’re willing to change. That’s what we want. We all want change.” She is taken aback by the applause, and blushes as she takes the next question. Later, as the hall empties out, the man who challenged her is among the first to approach Eckstein to shake her hand. After the crowd disperses, Eckstein and the other vets troop back out to the bus. Tomorrow they will hit the road again. When they get to the next stop—Pittsburgh—they’ll try to help people see, once more, what they have seen.
Joseph D’Agnese is coauthor of Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence (Quirk).
U.S. military veterans and environmentalists don’t seem like natural political allies. When did you realize there was common ground?
A couple of years ago, NRDC was looking to interview people who had found jobs in clean energy industries for one of our Web sites, cleanenergystories.org. As I was reading some of the vets’ stories, I realized how much pride they take in the fact that what they are doing now—helping to build a clean energy economy—is good for national security as well as the environment. They know that they are still serving this country, even after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. How should we work together?
Fundamentally, we can help by making sure their voices are heard. We work to create opportunities to connect them with policy makers and to publicize their unique points of view. This is important because these veterans can reach very different audiences, some that we never could. A clean energy economy can help working Americans on many levels—jobs and national security, for starters—but people get stuck when they hear “environmentalist” and don’t hear the message. When a veteran gets up and says we need to move forward with a clean energy and climate bill instead of giving money to groups and countries that support terrorism, that gets people’s attention. Are your joint efforts paying off?
National security experts, veterans groups, and environmentalists increasingly agree on the solution: putting a price on carbon to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. My goal is for us to work together to raise these issues, first, to help pass climate legislation and, then, during the midterm elections.
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b y j o s e p h i n e h e a r n a n d g e o r g e K o kk i n i d i s
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THE DATA TRAIL
The Sonoran Desert Reveals
Itself to a Passionate Observer
By Tim Folger here’s something different about the
desert this morning. Something’s missing. I don’t notice it at first, but my companion, who has hiked in the Sonoran Desert every week for nearly 30 years, stops on the trail ahead of me and cocks his head. “Listen. . . not a single bird,” Dave Bertelsen says. “We should be hearing cactus wrens, canyon wrens, curve-billed thrashers, Phainopepla”—a crested desert songbird—“Gambel’s quail, Gila woodpeckers. Even in the dead of winter there are birds. This is totally unique. We should be able to just walk along talking and hear birds. To stop and listen hard—I’ve never had to do that before.” We’re climbing a winding path on a rock-strewn slope in Saguaro National Park, a few miles west of Tucson’s city limits. The sun, just four days shy of the winter solstice, will be rising soon. As the world pirouettes out of darkness, a diffuse pink light hides the stars and temporarily softens a hushed landscape in which almost everything seems to be barbed, sharp, or hard. In the still, cool air, a hundred million giant saguaro cacti from here to northern Mexico brace for the dawn, getting a few last gulps of carbon dioxide before sealing their pores and holding their breath all day long to minimize water loss. Bertelsen doesn’t know what to make of the absence of birds on this mid-December morning. For now it’s another datum, brand new, puzzling, and disturbing. Besides, we’re not on his favorite trail, north of the city in the Santa Catalina Mountains, the one he has walked 1,270 times—and counting—since 1981. During that span Bertelsen has amassed an enormous amount of information on the elevation, distribution, and bloom dates of some 600 plant species and subspecies; in 1997 he began keeping equally detailed records of the reptiles and mammals he has encountered during his weekly 10-mile hikes. Last year he added birds. “I now have 195,000 observations,” he night lights Dave tells me as we saunter among saguaros, some Bertelsen examines new of them as tall as four-story buildings. “It’s a buds on an Engelmann pretty substantial data set.” The decades spent walking this landscape prickly pear cactus in have made the 68-year-old retired probation the hills above Tucson. p h o t o g ra p h s b y M i c hael L u n d g re n Summer 2010
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officer a leading expert on the Sonoran Desert’s unique flora and fauna. Bertelsen’s mile-by-mile notes of his treks are so precise and voluminous that a team of scientists at the University of Arizona in Tucson is using them to study the effects of global warming here. His records clearly show that about 25 percent of the plant species he has tracked have shifted their ranges to higher, cooler elevations, a response to desert summers that are now close to 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they were 20 years ago. The change is significant, but Bertelsen worries more about stasis. “To me what’s interesting is not the 25 percent of plants that have adapted by moving up. It’s the 75 percent that are not moving up,” Bertelsen says. “Twenty-five percent is a lot, but 75 percent aren’t adapting. That has big implications. It means most of the desert is not adapting to climate change. Since I started my hikes, the flora have declined 19 percent—that’s species in bloom per mile that I actually see when I’m hiking. For fauna it’s a 43.5 percent decline per mile. We’re going to lose a tremendous amount.” Compared with other besieged but more luxuriant ecosystems, deserts might seem to be relatively hardened to damage, harsh places inhabited by species already used to living on the edge. What, after all, could it matter if a desert, of all places, becomes a little warmer? By one definition the Sonoran Desert
isn’t a desert at all. With 11 or 12 inches of rainfall in a good year, parts of it can exceed the 10-inch limit sometimes used to designate a desert. More generally, though, a desert is defined as a region where water scarcity imposes drastic constraints on life, and the Sonoran Desert easily meets that criterion. It covers approximately 100,000 square miles, from southern Arizona and southeastern California to Mexico’s northwestern coast, including most of the Baja peninsula. Of North America’s four deserts, the Sonoran contains by far the greatest diversity of plant and animal species. Unlike the Mojave and Great Basin deserts to the north and the Chihuahuan Desert to the east—which all have cold winters and one rainy season—the Sonoran has mild winters and two rainy seasons, one resulting from winter storms in the Pacific and another from summer monsoons that blow in from the Gulf of California. Without that second pulse of moisture, the Sonoran Desert would blend almost seamlessly with the continent’s other deserts. Low shrubs would dominate the terrain; some annuals would bloom in exceptionally wet years; trees would be scarce. Instead, the extra rain nurtures life found nowhere else in the world. Saguaros, the iconic
the survivor Bertelsen estimates that this saguaro, with its slashed and broken stem and freeze-damaged limbs, may be a hundred years old.
cacti with great upraised arms, grow only here, along with more than 2,000 other plant species. More than 350 bird species, 60 kinds of mammals, 100 different reptiles, 30 types of freshwater fish, and hundreds of thousands of invertebrates live in the Sonoran Desert. A winter storm watered the desert a few days before my first hike with Bertelsen, and it shows, if you know how to look. Saguaros, like everything here, have evolved to take maximum advantage of intermittent rains. The trunk and arms of a saguaro have vertical pleats, so the entire cactus can inflate like a bellows and store the water absorbed by its roots, which lie just three inches or so below the surface. The roots spread to a distance about equal to the height of the cactus and can guzzle 200 gallons from one rainfall, liquid life that will sustain a saguaro for a year. “This one is full of water,” Bertelsen says, pointing with one of his walking poles to a 30-foot-tall saguaro. The waxy surface of the tumescent cactus has become smooth and even. The sun ascends with us as we continue up the slope of what was, 65 million years ago, the caldera of a volcano. Although the morning remains cool, not more than 60 degrees yet, there is no shelter from the sun. Bertelsen moves at a careful, steady pace, though he’s a bit slower now, he says, than before his triple-bypass surgery in 2004, the same year in which he broke a leg and had to be helicoptered off his favorite mountain trail one night. He prefers to start hiking around midnight—
tons of water surround us, sequestered in a forest of living columns
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illustration: bruce morser
nocturnal activity being a sensible strategy for any desert mammal—and will walk through the night and into the following afternoon without sleeping. He’s sturdily built, wearing a black fleece jacket, khaki pants, sunglasses, and a broad-brimmed hat over his straight gray hair. Thousands of tons of water surround us, sequestered in a forest of tall, green living columns; a single mature saguaro might hold as much as eight tons. Water, water, everywhere, but a lost hiker—or an illegal immigrant—would not find a drop to drink in a saguaro grove; the cactus binds its water in a viscous, slimy fluid. The recent rain wasn’t enough to save some saguaros. Paloverdes— thorny-branched trees with green photosynthetic trunks and limbs that shed their leaves during winter—are also suffering. As we wend up the flank of Wasson Peak, which rises 4,639 feet above sea level, Bertelsen’s count of dead or dying plants ticks steadily upward. I ask him if we’re seeing the impact of the Southwest’s protracted drought. “No question,” he says. “The last time I was on this trail, maybe 10 years ago, I didn’t see any dead saguaros, certainly no dead paloverdes. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here. I want to see what’s happening. That one’s dying,” he adds, nodding at the blackened top of a tall saguaro, multi-armed like some cactus incarnation of Vishnu. Saguaros typically don’t grow arms until they’re at least 75 years old. Judging by the size of its limbs, this one must have been growing for more than a century. It beat many odds during its life, starting as one of the few survivors of the tens of millions of pinhead-size black seeds produced by its parent. Like most saguaros, it probably grew in the lifesaving shade of a nurse plant—a paloverde, acacia, or ironwood tree. After 10 years it would have been just over an inch high; by 30 it would have reached two feet, its growth accelerating exponentially. It endured a drought lasting several years in the 1950s. But the current 14-year drought—the longest in at least a century—is killing it. Saguaros may take two or three years to die. Some remain majestic even in death, standing fully upright, their gray, tubular woody skeletons flensed of all flesh. They’re easy to anthropomorphize. The Tohono O’odham, one of the more than a dozen indigenous cultures of the Sonoran Desert, use the same word—O’odham—for both “people” and “saguaros.” (Tohono means “desert.”) In one of their old stories, the first saguaro appeared when a young girl, neglected by her mother, was transformed into a cactus, her arms forever raised to the sky. The vagaries of life here—one saguaro dies while others on the same hillside stand replete with water—suggest to Bertelsen a biotic complexity that defies any sort of generalized explanation. “What makes something appear and disappear? Maybe a sixteenth of an inch of rain, maybe something that is so subtle we’ll never be able to figure it out,” he says. “I think it’s too simple to try to explain everything in terms of temperature and precipitation. Maybe rain a day earlier or later makes a big difference. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that I’ll see once, and then see 10 years later. I call them desaparecidos, the disappeared ones. Everything doesn’t bloom every year. You’ve got to watch over a long period of time to see what’s happening.” As we walk, Bertelsen keeps up a running commentary on nearly everything we pass: ocotillo, a spindly, spiny shrub with astonishing flame-red flowers; desert mistletoe, a parasite lodged in the branches of paloverdes and other trees; barrel cacti, some of which lean so far toward the sun they uproot themselves; bunches of native grasses—threeawn, bush muhly, tanglehead—that look nearly identical to me; at least two
nrdc this land is our land
sharon Buccino Director of NRDC’s land and wildlife program and an expert on the use of public lands What can federal agencies do to address the impacts of climate change that we are seeing across our most valued western landscapes?
Collecting information about the changes that are occurring is a critical first step. Federal land managers are in a position to act on that information, and they must do so to preserve the beauty and diversity of the western lands so many Americans treasure. Federal managers can act in two important ways. First, they have the power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly. Second, because of the large areas they oversee, they can help preserve the paths of migration and core refugia that many plants and animals will need to survive climate change. What exactly can they do to limit greenhouse gas emissions?
Agencies within the Department of the Interior make key decisions about how public lands will be used to produce energy. The department can take the lead in shifting away from reliance on dirty, outdated fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal and moving toward a healthy and sustainable energy economy based on efficiency and renewables. Where oil and gas drilling continues, the Interior Department can require controls that limit the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane that result from compressor engines, pneumatic valves, and other equipment at well sites. Many of these controls would save companies money, as they keep methane in the system to be sold instead of releasing it into the air. What about plants and animals? What can be done to help them adapt to climate change?
As Tim Folger’s article shows, not all species are capable of adapting to the scale of the changes we are seeing in our western landscapes as a result of climate change. But managers of our national parks, forests, and other public lands can play a valuable role in helping some adapt. The 253 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, for example, offer key migration paths and habitat for both plants and animals. Federal land managers can maintain large, intact land areas that provide routes for species migration in response to climate change. The managers can’t do this alone, but they can spark the collaboration needed to bring wildlife agencies, scientists, private landowners, and others together to ensure that wildlife and plants have options as they respond to the habitat changes that result from warming temperatures.
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kinds of prickly pear cactus—Engelmann and mojave, their broad pads often gouged by pack rats; teddy bear cholla, singularly uncuddly, even for a cactus—five feet of “don’t even think about touching me,” with stubby, plump, jointed arms completely covered with barbed yellow spines that make the whole plant gleam in the bright morning light. Bertelsen carries a comb with him on his hikes in case he brushes a teddy bear—the spines will lodge in your fingers if you try to remove them from elsewhere on your body. “You know a true desert rat because they always have a comb,” he says. “Not for their hair.” Bertelsen’s careful observations have been honed over the years as what started as casual hikes became something more. “I had read something by Thoreau,” he says, “where he wrote how you could tell the time of month by what was blooming. So I started keeping track of blooms—not for anyone, just for curiosity. I always
scales that we’re not able to catch right now. ” Michael Crimmins echoes his wife’s admiration for Bertelsen’s dedication. “We’ve worked with him to tease out the patterns in his data,” he says. “A data set of, first, that quality and, second, that breadth, just doesn’t exist. You would never see this in a funded project. The NSF”—the National Science Foundation—“might give you five years. You couldn’t plan to collect data like this, and Dave is just so good at it, paying attention and being systematic—way better than some field scientists or grad students. Dave does it because he loves it. “What we’ve found is that indeed some plants that bloomed at lower elevations when Dave began are now blooming at higher elevations,” Michael continues. “But additionally, we’ve found a very complex dance of species. Some are responding strongly to climate change, some not so strongly. Some are blooming at a lower elevation instead
“I now have
had a journal, but it quickly became obvious that I needed something more. So I started using a checklist. I started making comments about drought in 1994. Plants had been moving up in elevation, but it happened so gradually it was hard to see; you’re too close to it. That’s why stepping back and looking at the data is so useful. I was doing this because I thought it was interesting. I never thought it would be important.” “I just about fainted when Dave explained what he had. There was so much information there waiting to be mined.” I’m meeting with Theresa Crimmins, an ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She’s recounting how she and her husband, Michael, a climatologist at the university, first met him five years ago after a talk Michael gave on climate change. “Dave came up to me after the talk and said, ‘I have a big data set. I don’t know if you would be interested,’” Theresa says. “He’d been doing this for 20 years. A paid scientist could never collect something of this magnitude.” When I mention Bertelsen’s striking observation that as many as 75 percent of the desert species he’s tracking don’t seem to be adapting to climate change, she offers a more measured judgment. “Dave has an incredible data set,” she says, “but it is segmented by mile; there are a lot more species that could be showing more subtle responses on smaller 5 2 onearth
of higher. The true complexity of an ecosystem is that species respond individually to climate change. They’re not going to get together in a forum and decide as a biome or ecosystem that they’ll do this together; they all have unique strategies to deal with climate. The response of many different species to climate change is wrapped up in Dave’s data set, and it’s very complex. “We’re fighting a bit of conventional wisdom here: that species will move upslope, following an envelope of perfect climate for them which is constrained by temperature. You’d expect that as it gets warmer lower down, species will move up. That works for some species, but not for all. The rate of change is the big story with climate change. When you talk with people, one of the arguments they’ll throw back at you is that the climate has always changed, and that is absolutely right. It’s the rate of change that is the problem right now. It’s changing so quickly that it exceeds the adaptive capacity of some species.” Some adaptations are straightforward, Theresa tells me, and others less so. Warmer temperatures have allowed saguaros, for example, to expand their flowering range to higher elevations. But the flowering range of other plants—ragweed, wild carrot, and greenspot nightshade, to list just a few—has contracted, their upper-elevation limits remaining unchanged while the lower boundaries of their ranges have moved higher. “For the species showing contractions of their flower-
map by mike reagan
195,000 observations; it’s a pretty substantial data set”
ing ranges,” she explains, “what you would try to preserve open we think might be going on is that spaces and let nature take care of warmer temperatures are becomitself. That’s no longer the case. ing increasingly intolerable at the If you can’t manage the resource, lower ends of their distributions in a few decades you could have and low-temperature triggers for a flammable grassland instead of signaling dormancy are not being the saguaros and paloverdes and reached.” Gila monsters. The buffelgrass is The Crimminses published a test. If we don’t solve it, a lot of their analysis of Bertelsen’s plant things will be moot.” data last year in the journal Global Change Biology. They’re only be“That’s where God lives,” ginning to study his animal obserBertelsen says, pointing to a vations. “We need to get that into peak on the southwestern hoa database, primarily his informarizon. We’re on the summit of tion on birds,” says Theresa. “He’s Wasson Peak, some 2,000 feet saying, just anecdotally, that he’s above the trailhead. “It’s Baboseeing massive declines in the quivari Peak. The Tohono number of species.” O’odham say a god lives there.” Climate change is exacerbating Tucson spreads below us; its disanother, more imminent threat to tant edges shimmer in the warm the Sonoran Desert: an invasive air and seem to lap against the species called buffelgrass. “We base of the Santa Catalina Mounhave an invasion by an African tains to the northeast, the site of grass that’s capable of unhingBertelsen’s 1,270 hikes. ing the Sonoran Desert,” says On the way back down the Julio Betancourt, a paleoecologist FIELD NOTES A sample goes into Bertelsen’s notebook for later clas- trail, Bertelsen quizzes me evwith the United States Geological sification; it is Cryptantha barbigera, a member of the borage family . ery 20 minutes or so, asking me Survey. “It’s more disastrous than to identify various grasses. By anything climate change can throw at the desert.” Betancourt, whose mid-afternoon I’ve managed only two correct answers. office is just down the hall from Theresa Crimmins, has spent most of “What’s that?” he asks, flicking a walking pole. his career studying climate change and deserts. Long seconds pass while I ponder a dry grass tipped with stiff bristles. Buffelgrass has been introduced to the southern United States as “Threeawn?” a fodder crop at various times since the late 1800s. It has now spread “All right!” He seems genuinely pleased. “You’ve recognized three across southern Arizona and into Mexico, where it outcompetes many things. I do that every time I bring someone out, try to get you to native plants. Because it evolved in a part of the world characterized recognize three things that you wouldn’t have recognized before. by seasonal fires, it quickly reestablishes itself in areas that have Saguaros don’t count.” been burned. Betancourt and other scientists worry that the expanLater, after pulling a few tufts of buffelgrass in a dry wash, we rest sion of the range of such a fast-growing species to higher altitudes as beneath a rock overhang, and the shade sharpens my appreciation of a result of global warming could convert the Sonoran Desert into a the role nurse plants play in protecting young saguaros. As we drink flammable savanna. water, I ask Bertelsen what compels him to walk the same 10-mile trail The Sonoran Desert has been essentially fire-free for 10,000 years week after week, year after year. or more. Stands of vegetation tend to be separated by wide stretches of “I don’t think I’m compulsive,” he says. “I’m drawn to it. I don’t feel bare, rocky ground, which limits the extent of fires. Very few Sonoran I have to—I just really want to. Every trip there is always something flora are adapted to fire—saguaros die after even small blazes. “Before different. Always.” buffelgrass was here, you could douse a paloverde with gasoline and I tell Bertelsen his words remind me of a quote from John Burroughs, the fire wouldn’t spread,” Betancourt says. In parts of the desert where the nineteenth-century American naturalist: “To find new things, take buffelgrass has covered formerly bare ground, that’s no longer the case. the path you took yesterday.” Buffelgrass and other invasive species provided much of the fuel for the “Oh, I haven’t heard that!” he says. “I like that. I always tell people, fires in 2005 that burned a million acres of desert in Arizona and Nevada. it’s not 1,270 hikes. It’s a hike of 12,700 miles. It’s one journey. It’s not The fires in Arizona, which were sparked by lightning, killed some a separate thing. That’s exactly the way I feel about it. It’s one long, 80 percent of the vegetation on 250,000 acres, including the largest continuous walk.” known saguaro cactus, called the Grand One. “That’s rivaling forest fires,” Betancourt says. “I think the premise Tim Folger is an OnEarth contributing editor and series editor of the annual Best of conservation will change in the Sonoran Desert. It used to be that American Science and Nature Writing (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). summer 2010
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a climate of denial
How ideological fervor and scientific dishonesty raised the “skeptics” from the dead by kevin krajick
his summer, if all goes as planned, Congress will revive last
year’s effort to pass climate legislation. This has been a long time coming. Many lawmakers have been listening seriously since the 1980s to scientists’ warnings that humans are altering the global atmosphere. In 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed and started tracking the state-of-the-art consensus. After a drumbeat of news about record-breaking yearly temperatures took hold in the public mind, National Geographic declared 2004 the year that global warming “got respect.” In 2007 the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize. In late 2009 the nations of the world prepared to gather in Copenhagen to “seal the deal,” in the words of U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, to abate rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Then governments hesitated. Copenhagen was declared dead before arrival. Additionally, during the runup, hackers used e-mails stolen from top researchers in Britain and the United States to suggest that they had systematically exaggerated the threat. This January, it came to light that the IPCC had no peer-reviewed evidence to support its contention that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma (who calls the threat of catastrophic global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”), began calling for criminal investigations of scientists. Bloggers and anonymous e-mailers flooded Web sites and scientists’ in-boxes with hostile screeds and even death threats. James Han-
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sen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA and now perhaps the loudest voice among scientists calling for the world to do something about CO2, has on occasion been afforded police protection. A Gallup poll this March says that the proportion of Americans who think the seriousness of global warming is “generally exaggerated” has risen to 48 percent—up from 35 percent in 2008 and 31 percent in 1997. What the hell just happened? How could so-called climate deniers make such a comeback— and why are they driven by the kind of fury once reserved for gun control or abortion? Is the science fraying, or have its opponents just gotten slicker about undercutting it? Is there a global conspiracy to perpetrate a hoax, and if so, which side is perpetrating it? Do most people even understand what science can and cannot do? These are important questions, and two new books drill into them. Merchants of Doubt, by the science historian Naomi Oreskes and the writer Erik Conway, investigates a sort of reverse conspiracy theory: ecoterrorists and socialists are not the ones foisting dubious science upon us; rather it is deniers who are running their own well-funded and organized long-term hoax. Several previous works (notably, The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney) have ably illuminated similar themes, but this one hits bone. The Climate War, by former Time and Fortune political/ business reporter and editor Eric Pooley, narrates the skirmishes and machinations leading up to last year’s congressional debates about climate legislation and the
Chris Knorr/Design Pics Inc./Alamy
Copenhagen summit. Taken together, the books provide both the historical perspective and the current political insights needed to get a grip on what is happening now. First, a word about “theory,” conspiracy or otherwise. Most people misunderstand the word; to them, a theory is merely a hunch, conjecture, or speculation. Actually, in science-speak, a theory is what scientists develop after examining substantial evidence. It represents their best current understanding of how something works. Hence, the theory that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa; the theory of biological evolution; the theory that germs cause disease; the theory of plate tectonics; and the theory of human-induced climate change. Obviously, some theories have been around longer than others, and more evidence for them has accreted. Global warming is a newer one. Its details in many areas are still fuzzy, but there is an overwhelming scientific consensus about its basic truth. The fact is, science is not composed of eureka moments, when an apple bonks a genius on the head and suddenly everyone accepts what he has to say. It is a slow, repetitive process, frequently involving thousands of people accumulating evidence for decades and centuries. Even then, nature is so complicated that almost no phenomenon fits perfectly into any model. Basically, nothing can be “proved” with 100 percent certainty; science is the process of trying to reduce the amount of uncertainty. Furthermore, science and society are inseparable. The point at which something becomes a “fact” is subjective. If we are not ready to accept some piece of science because of religious, political, or economic factors, it won’t be accepted. Some people will never believe certain theories, because they conflict with their worldview; witness the many devout American Christians who reject
evolution. The last IPCC report, in 2007, says it is “very likely” that climate is warming abnormally and that we, not natural forces, are to blame. By “very likely” they mean 90 percent or greater certainty—and the great majority of all earth scientists agree. As with evolution, you can choose to accept, or find reasons not to. The stars of Merchants of Doubt have worked hard to persuade the public not to accept. Not only that: according to the authors, many of the same people, using the same strategies, backed by the same interests, have worked for decades to undercut scientific warnings about the dangers of smoking,
William Nierenberg, science adviser to a series of presidents into the 1990s; and the Heartland Institute, which in 2008 brought us a convention in New York declaring modern climate science a fraud. All of these people took or distributed money from corporations with vested interests, but Oreskes and Conway suggest that this was not their core motivation. Instead, they view many of their characters as outmoded cold warriors who misguidedly sought out, and tried to save the world from, new perceived threats after the death of Russian Communism. Starting in the 1970s, various of these figures began churning
merchants of doubt By Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway Bloomsbury Press, $27
the climate war By Eric Pooley , Hyperion, $27.99
acid rain, atmospheric ozone depletion, even nuclear proliferation. The book’s main protagonists are Frederick Seitz and S. Fred Singer—prominent, extremely hawkish cold war physicists who, respectively, helped build the atomic bomb and develop space satellites. These were not fringe figures or guns for hire; Seitz was once science adviser to NATO and president of the National Academy of Sciences. Other interconnected characters include PR man Steven Milloy, an oldtime defender of tobacco who is now behind the anti-climatechange Web site junkscience.com;
out propaganda—at first funded by tens of millions of dollars in tobacco money—suggesting that the link between cancer and smoking was unproven. Later, funded by a shifting web of big corporations and conservative think tanks, they claimed acid rain and the ozone hole were caused by volcanoes, not pollution; promoted Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars fantasy; and fought restrictions on secondhand tobacco smoke. On every issue they opposed a strong scientific consensus from the start. How? By sowing doubt: all these things were just “theories.” Any study that did not “prove”
something 100 percent was declared invalid; any study that introduced even 1 percent of doubt was touted as gospel. “This was the tobacco industry’s key insight,” say Oreskes and Conway, “that you could use normal scientific uncertainty to undermine the status of actual scientific knowledge.” People like Seitz and Singer did it well and got away with it because they were scientists. Finally, they entered the currently most pressing debate: climate change. The book dates the campaign against climate science from 1989, right after lawmakers started listening to people like Hansen and the IPCC. By cherry-picking data, Nierenberg, Seitz, and Singer first suggested that the world was not warming; it was cooling. This was a quarter-truth at best: the world cooled from 1940 to 1975, but the long-term temperature trend was, and is, undeniably upward. Several cool years in the 1990s and early 2000s have since been used to perpetuate the lie, but the 1990s were the warmest decade on record, and the years from 2000 to 2009 were warmer yet. When pressed, Singer, Seitz et al. have said, okay, maybe things are warming—but not that much and not in direct proportion to the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. In any case, they argue, if the planet is warming it’s being caused 100 percent by natural cyclic variations in, say, solar radiation. Never mind that the warming is substantial; that the overwhelming majority of scientists say solar and other natural variations come nowhere close to accounting for it; that few scientists expect CO2 and temperature to increase in lockstep; and that the idea of greenhouse warming rests on the most basic, long-tested premises of physics. There are always dissenters from scientific consensus, and sometimes those dissenters do turn out to be right. But dissenting claims on climate frequently go
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beyond normal scientific debate and accuse climate scientists of outright fraud. In one early episode, Singer and Seitz cast a series of last-minute changes in the IPCC’s 1996 report, its second, as some sort of conspiracy to manufacture “a catastrophe—the greatest global challenge facing mankind” (Singer’s words, not those of the IPCC). That attack eerily presaged the attacks of recent months.
One of the fruits of this effort can be seen on Senator Inhofe’s minority page of the Web site of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It contains a phony list of 650-some scientists, co-curated by Singer, who “dissent over man-made global warming claims.” Just 52 people wrote the 2007 IPCC report, the page claims. Never mind that the 52 were merely coauthors of summaries to which thousands of named scientists contributed. Or that the 650 are largely scientists who disagree over specifics, not fundamentals. In the logic of the list, unless everyone agrees on
every number, everyone must be wrong; and if natural effects exist, man-made ones cannot. This is the Tobacco Strategy. (Full disclosure: the institution I work for includes about two dozen scientists on the list, many of whom have angrily—and unsuccessfully—demanded to be removed.) Do these folks really believe what they are saying? Or maybe the bigger question is: why do so many people listen to them? The answer may lie in the fact that the causes against which Singer and others have taken up arms are not just about science; they invite government regulation and
s p o t l i g h t
Climate Refugees By Collectif Argos, MIT Press, $29.95 Munshiganj, Blarigui, Longbaoshan, Dingboche: these are hardly names that trip off the tongue. They are remote, obscure places, yet each of them is emblematic of our future. Munshiganj, in southwestern Bangladesh, is being eaten by the sea. Blarigui is an island on Lake Chad in Central Africa, a body of water that has lost 90 percent of its surface area in the past 40 years. Longbaoshan, northwest of Beijing, is being engulfed by sandstorms—the “yellow dragon.” Dingboche, in Nepal’s Khumbu Valley, is at the mercy of melting glaciers. The numbers of those who may be forced from their homes are vast abstractions: 50 million? 100 million? No one knows. But the beauty of Climate Refugees, the work of a group of French photographers and writers, is that it does not deal in millions, but in individuals. Hamid, the rickshaw wallah; Samuel, the fisherman; Ze Zhen Wang, the farmer; Rames Rai, the yak herder. Writers on the Holocaust have called this “the devil’s arithmetic”: one plus one plus one.... Here are their faces.
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limits on free enterprise—violations of conservative American ideals. Many conservatives may oppose environmental causes, but it is not that they hate the planet; they hate the political solutions that liberals propose for protecting it. This April, a USA Today reporter asked a newspaper editor in Muleshoe, Texas, if the locals were worried about global warming. The editor replied: “Let’s put it this way: Rush Limbaugh has a lot more fans around here than Hillary Clinton.” On a deeper level, there is the somewhat less partisan belief that man will always advance with the help of technology. The idea that we could be messing up nature on a grand scale by making “progress” is heresy to many. The Climate War quotes Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who says that the entire environmental movement “is based on a bias against human power over nature. What gives us power over nature? Energy.” The fact remains that support for climate science has waned across the board. In 2006 more than 90 percent of Democrats— not the current 75 percent—saw solid evidence for global warming, along with a healthy 60 percent of Republicans (compared with 35 percent today). So we are back to the question: what happened? Pooley’s book, which tracks the constant strategizing and horse trading over climate policy among a small, influential cast of politicians, business leaders, environmentalists, and lobbyists, may help explain. In the background, the world economy is crashing, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are looking equally endless. People can worry about only so much bad news at one time. Sociologists call it the “finite pool of worry.” After a while, you have to tune something out. The “true believers” in Pooley’s book, like Al Gore, may be partly to blame for that, framing climate change mainly as a horrible dan-
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c o n t r i b u t o r s
When I read these accounts, I flash back to a tiny village,
remote even by Tibetan standards, where I visited a few years ago. A gangly young man guided me a mile up a riverbank for a view of the enormous glacier whose snout towered over the valley. A black rock the size of an apartment tower stuck out from the middle of the wall of ice. My guide said it had appeared only the year before and now grew larger daily as its dark surface absorbed the sun’s heat. We were a hundred miles from a school, far from TV; no one in the village was literate. So out of curiosity I asked the young man: “Why is it melting?” I don’t know what I expected—some story about angry gods? He looked at me as if I was visiting from the planet Moron. “Global warming,” he said. “Too many factories.”
Illustration by blair thornley
bill mcKIBBEN’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, was published in April by Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt.
ger, not as a challenge to develop a more sustainable path for humanity. Pooley quotes a 2004 essay, “The Death of Environmentalism,” by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus: “Imagine how history would have turned out had [Martin Luther] King given an ‘I have a nightmare’ speech instead,” they say. They have a point. Also, during times of great change—the Obama presidency may yet prove to be one—all kinds of issues that make people mad get conflated. This spring, while Wisconsin considered a rather modest bill to cut carbon emissions, a reader wrote the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “[T]he liberals will shove this nonsense down our throats like they did with the health care debacle. They are stealing our liberty with lie after lie.” And the most unpredictable voices enter the arena. In January, Osama bin Laden issued an audiotape dedicated to climate change, describing it as “not an ideological luxury, but a reality” and calling on the industrialized nations to do something about it. The news media certainly bear blame for doing a lousy job of putting things in context. For years, whenever a climate scientist was quoted, editors insisted on a sideby-side quote from someone attacking him, creating the false impression of a “debate”—the kind of conflict that journalists are
sometimes too prone to thrive on. When the scientific consensus became too crushing, covering climate change became boring. Then, with the buried treasure of the hacked e-mails, things suddenly became interesting again, and newspapers endlessly reported the innuendos of deniers. When the smoke cleared, it was apparent that scientists had needlessly withheld data and said mean things about one another and their detractors—but had done nothing at all that changed the scientific picture. That was not splashed on page one, though. In January, when the story about the Himalayan glacier snafu broke, conservative pundits gleefully declared that the IPCC’s house of cards had collapsed; glaciers weren’t melting and climate change was a fraud. The New York Times and many others dutifully picked up the story, but failed to mention prominently, if at all, that there is no house of cards. Glaciers around the world are melting rapidly. They may not all be completely gone by 2035— but so what? Scientists understand that there is uncertainty; projections of sea level rise for the year 2100, for example, range from less than an inch to as much as six feet. But average readers feel jerked around; they just want to hear the answer. The papers need to explain: scien-
tists know the seas are rising; they don’t know exactly how much; one study is only one study, and there will be many more to come before we arrive at a reliable number. A recent issue of the Economist outlines other uncertainties. For instance, we don’t know to what degree trees and plants might grow better in the presence of more CO2 and thus dampen warming. No one has really sorted out how natural clouds and man-made pollution might also confound the effects of CO2. We don’t know if there is a “tipping point” of temperature
beyond which polar ice sheets might disintegrate, rather than melt steadily, as they are now. And we do not know to what extent, if any, specific droughts, floods, snowstorms, and hurricanes are products of a changing climate rather than random events. There is room for real debate, and skepticism, on many questions. Too often, skeptics get a bad name and are confused with actual deniers. Skeptics are the ones who remind us that we may know something, but we don’t know everything. Many scientists compare planetary climate with a giant oil tanker, and the same may be said of public opinion. When some factor, natural or man-made, is applied to change its course, it takes a long time for it to slow down, start turning, and then gather steam on a new heading. This is the most powerful argument for doing something about climate before we reach the illusory mark of 100 percent scientific certainty— and the most frustrating thing about living in the real world. Kevin Krajick is the senior science writer at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Walking the Turtle Creek Mall The creek is gone, bulldozed in, but because it’s a hundred every day (more in the Wal-Mart parking lot) and because this sunbelt town is the allyou-care-to-eat capital of the world, we’re walking where it’s cool, past the food court’s corn dog smells, between the Scylla and Charybdis of Waldenbooks and the Full Gospel Bookstore, down to Radio Shack and the buxom amputees of Victoria’s Secret. We count cowboy boots, fat Nintendo kids in line at the Cineplex, high-haired ex-beauty queens trailing clouds of Chanel and hairspray. Security, in her mounty cap, nods beneath the single skylight like a plant by a river where a salesgirl dreams she poles her sampan of imitation jewels.
—By W illiam Greenway
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Dispatches news and views from the natural resources defense council
Mass movement Night and day, trucks transport containers from ships at the Port of Los Angeles.
In Major U.S. Ports, the cleanup begins
New programs promise to reduce the toxic pollution spewed by ships and trucks delivering our goods very day, thousands of decrepit diesel
trucks carry containers of goods from giant cargo ships at the Port of New York and New Jersey to warehouses and distribution centers scattered across the sprawling metropolitan area. For decades, communities adjacent to these ports have had to bear the burden of the pollution from the antiquated trucking fleets and the consequent health effects, including increased rates of asthma, cancer, and heart and lung disease. David Pettit, director of NRDC’s Southern California air program, has called the nation’s ports places “where old trucks go to die.” Meanwhile, every ship that sails into port uses fuel that contains 3,000 times as much sulfur as those dirty diesel trucks, creating region-wide pollution problems. Rich Kassel, director of the clean
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fuels and vehicles project at NRDC, describes these ships as “floating smokestacks.” They burn a low-grade form of oil called residual bunker fuel, which contains up to 45,000 parts per million of sulfur, and almost all of the vessels lack even the most basic pollution controls. With the inevitable increase in global trade, these problems will only get worse: container volume at the Port of New York and New Jersey is expected to double by 2020 and triple by 2030. “We all want what we want, when we want it,” Kassel says, “but we rarely think about the pollution involved in getting us that new pair of shoes or that flat-screen TV.” In seeking to alleviate these dual health threats—hazardous emissions from cargo ships and from the trucks that service them—NRDC recently played a leading role in two major breakthroughs. As of January 1, 2011, the oldest, most polluting trucks servicing the
New York and New Jersey ports will finally be laid to rest, thanks to the Clean Trucks Program, a collaboration of the Port Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NRDC, and industry and labor groups. (A similar program was recently implemented successfully at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.) Under the terms of the plan for the Port of New York and New Jersey, all pre-1994 trucks servicing the port—about 636 vehicles—will be replaced by newer, cleaner models. This step alone will reduce soot pollution from trucks by two-thirds and smog-forming nitrogen oxides by half. To facilitate the transition, the Port Authority and the EPA will provide truck drivers with $28 million in direct grants for up to 25 percent of the purchase price of new vehicles, as well as low-interest loans to cover the remaining costs. “Nobody drives an old truck because they like the fumes,” notes Kassel, who co-chaired the negotiations that led to the new program. “They drive them because they can’t afford to buy newer ones.” The plan also stipulates that by
Did You Know…? You can defend the environment while receiving guaranteed payments for life with an NRDC Charitable Gift Annuity.
left: Susan Goldman/Landov; right: Steven Kazlowski/Getty
Single Life Rates Age........ Rate 60.......... 5.0% 65.......... 5.3% 70.......... 5.7% 75.......... 6.3% 80.......... 7.1% 85.......... 8.1% 90+........ 9.5% For more information, contact Peter Meysenburg, NRDC’s gift planning officer, at (212) 727-4583 and email@example.com.
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2017, all trucks at the port will be required to meet 2007 standards. The trucks’ new engines, which are 95 percent cleaner than older models, are certified to meet the most rigorous pollution standards in the world. Replacing old trucks at the ports is crucial to protecting the health of nearby communities, but to address the larger regional impacts, something had to be done about the shipping industry itself. For several years, Kassel urged the EPA to focus on ship emissions, and in 2008, the agency adopted new rules regulating pollution from fishing boats and tugboats. But it would take international action to address the problem of cargo ships. On March 26, the International Maritime Organization, the only body with the authority to regulate international ship pollution, adopted a proposal by the U.S. and Canadian governments to create an emissions control area (ECA) around the two countries. The plan, which begins in 2015, requires all oceangoing vessels within 200 nautical miles of the nations’ coastlines to use fuel with 98 percent less sulfur and to be outfitted with pollution controls to cut smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent and cancer-causing particulate emissions by 85 percent. The EPA calculates that implementing the ECA will prevent as many as 14,000 premature deaths in the United States each year by 2020 and provide relief to five million people who suffer from acute respiratory symptoms. The financial benefits of implementing this measure are projected to exceed the costs by a ratio of 34 to 1. “This is a major public health victory,” says Kassel, a member of the U.S. delegation, “and a huge move forward in developing a system that will continue to get Americans what they want, when they want it, but in a cleaner, more sustainable way.” —joanna foster
The Fight against drilling
wo years ago, NRDC celebrated an important
victory when a federal court ruled against Shell’s bid to drill for oil in waters off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Now NRDC has gone to court to halt Shell’s new drilling plans in the same waters. In January, the Obama administration granted the company permission to do exploratory drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas, despite evidence that this could lead ArCtic Ecology to dangerous oil spills and irreversibly damage the FRAgile An adult polar bear waits at the edge of an iceberg sensitive Arctic ecosystem. the Beaufort Sea off “We know far less about the Arctic than we do in Alaska’s coast. about any other part of the earth,” says Chuck Clusen, director of NRDC’s Alaska program. “We desperately need a time-out on drilling so we can first understand, scientifically, what we need to do to protect this ecosystem.” The Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco will likely issue a decision this summer, says Clusen, although drilling could start as early as June. The Chukchi Sea, which lies off Alaska’s northwestern coast, and the Beaufort Sea, along the state’s northeastern coast, are home to endangered bowhead and beluga whales, polar bears, seals, and dozens of species of Arctic birds. Shell’s new permits allow the company to drill just 20 miles from the wildlife refuge. Arctic ecosystems are already jeopardized by climate change, which is accelerating faster there than in other regions. The human activities associated with oil exploration, including increased pollution, noise, and added roads and traffic, will intensify the effects of climate change, such as the melting of sea ice, according to Tara Connelly, an Arctic scientist in NRDC’s Science Center. “Almost all aspects of the marine Arctic ecosystem are related in some way to sea ice, and its loss will affect everything from algae to top predators like polar bears,” Connelly says. Large animals, including walruses and polar bears, depend on sea ice for hunting and breeding; tiny brine channels within sea ice also house the unique microbial communities that fuel the Arctic food web. Experts predict that a major oil spill will occur if commercial drilling is allowed to proceed. When that happens, little can be done to protect fragile wildlife against the inevitable ensuing devastation. “The conditions up there are dark and very cold, and we just don’t have the technology to clean up oil in cold waters amid broken ice,” Connelly says. “There’s no infrastructure in the Arctic to respond to such a disaster.” —crystal gammon
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BETWEEN THE LINES
A Sweet Victory for Honeybees Within a year after the EPA approved the pesticide spirotetramat, NRDC and the Xerces Society, a nonprofit that works to protect invertebrate wildlife, challenged the registration of this potentially harmful chemical. On December 23, 2009, a federal court in New York invalidated the agency’s approval of the chemical. Below, NRDC experts discuss the court ruling.
For the past few years, U.S. beekeepers have, on average, lost about one-third of their bees annually. Many have lost entire populations. Although researchers still don’t understand the cause, they point to a perfect storm of pesticide contamination, parasites, habitat loss, and climate change.
JONATHAN KAPLAN Public Health, San Francisco
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According to the EPA, the manufacturer’s own studies show that spirotetramat use is associated with increased mortality of honeybees and their brood. Now that the agency is redoing the registration process, it needs to take a detailed look at the environmental effects of this pesticide.
Mayra Quirindongo Public Health, D.C.
When the EPA approved spirotetramat for use on hundreds of crops, it identified but ignored the serious risk of harm to bees, whose pollination is critical to our ecosystem and food supply. The lawsuit highlights the importance of considering the synergistic and longterm effects of such chemicals.
Vivian Wong Litigation, New York
In the scientific world, articles go through a peerreview process before publication to verify the quality of the work. The EPA should do the same. Public notice and comment periods are the only opportunity for all the stakeholders to review and critique the agency’s work.
Gabriela Chavarria Science Center, D.C.
Toxic Fleet in the upper reaches of san
Francisco Bay lie more than 50 decaying military ships, a ghost fleet that is now little more than a toxic dump. Some of the vessels have been in the bay since the Vietnam War, their hulls rusting and depositing heavy metals from peeling paint into its waters. Now, under a new settlement with the U.S. Maritime Administration, NRDC is helping to make sure that the fleet’s pollution ends. “This is an agency that chose not to obey the same laws that apply to every other polluter,” says Michael Wall, a senior attorney with NRDC who has led the push for the cleanup. Although the Maritime Administration has known since the 1990s that heavy metals from the vessels were accumulating in Suisun Bay, it took no action to halt the pollution. More than 20 tons of lead, zinc, copper, cadmium, and other toxic metals have already fallen into the bay. Under the agreement with NRDC, the agency will remove the biggest danger—the remaining paint chips on the ships’ decks, which can wash off each time it rains—within four months. Peeling paint on the rest of the vessels will be removed or encapsulated within two years. The 25 most decayed ships will be removed for disposal within two and a half years, and all ships will be out of the bay by September 2017. “This area should never have been a dumping ground for toxic —c.g. waste,” Wall says.
above: Michael Wall
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SWITCHBOARD:// Online news analysis
http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/awetzler/a_big_loss_for_polar_bearswith.html Doha, Qatar, may seem an unlikely setting for a fight over the future of polar bears, but as the site of the 15th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), it became a battleground for Arctic mammal conservation. While climate change is by far the greatest threat to these Arctic giants—over the next 45 years, polar bear populations will decline by an estimated 70 percent as their habitat melts into the ocean—half of the recognized polar bear populations are also overhunted. Andrew Wetzler, director of the wildlife conservation project in NRDC’s Chicago office, says that while the NRDC-backed U.S. proposal for greater protection for polar bears was defeated in Qatar, the fight is just warming up.
You may have heard the news: the nations meeting at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species rejected a United States proposal, supported and encouraged by NRDC, that would have ended the international com-
mercial trade in polar bears and strengthened the regulation of polar bear sport hunting. There’s no doubt about it, the vote was a big loss. Canada alone takes about 300 polar bears for international trade and sport hunting each year. This is an unsustainable and unnecessary stress on the population. But I comfort myself that some good did come out of the process. As a result of the U.S. proposal, Canada significantly cut back on its polar bear quotas in an attempt (successful, as it turned out) to head off further CITES restrictions. In Baffin Bay, for example, Canada recently announced that it was going to cut its total quota from 105 bears to 65 bears over the next four years. Over the phase-in period alone, that’s 100 bears that won’t be shot. A lot of the credit goes to NRDC’s members and activists, who made sure their voices were heard by both the Canadian and U.S. governments.
show us your nature
Solitary Sunrise Former park ranger and amateur photographer Ralf Burgert captured this chilly dawn over a mountain lake near Buckeye Pass, on the northern boundary of Yosemite National Park.
Simple Steps When we’re faced with an
enormous environmental challenge like climate change, we may be tempted to think of our own personal actions as relatively insignificant in comparison with the magnitude of the issue. But a new collaborative study conducted by NRDC and the Garrison Institute’s Mind, Climate, and Behavior Project suggests that small changes in behavior can have a meaningful impact. On March 12, NRDC’s executive director, Peter Lehner, presented the One Billion Tons report at a symposium at the Garrison Institute, a nonprofit organization that explores the intersection of contemplation and engaged action in the world. The study cites 14 small, affordable steps that, if adopted by all Americans, would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent, or one billion tons—an amount equivalent to all emissions released annually by Germany— by 2020. “Although our individual choices may just feel like a small drop in the bucket, if we all act together we can actually fill the bucket,” Lehner told the group. The simple lifestyle changes recommended in the study include replacing red meat with poultry twice a week, taking one less flight a year, washing clothes in cold water, carpooling twice a week and replacing seven lightbulbs in the home with CFLs. Of course, such changes don’t eliminate the urgent need for strong national climate legislation. But Lehner hopes that “by committing to take personal action to reduce our own carbon footprint, all of us will also become much more engaged —J.F. politically.”
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who we are
what we do
rates. The more people spend on cars and fuel, the less they have to cover costs at home. “Americans devote nearly one-fifth of their income to transportation,” she says. “The benefits of location efficiency and good planning are many. People want the things that smart growth can deliver.” Samir Succar
heard on the street Meet the team that greens the world with dollars and cents
he Center for
Market Innovation (CMI) at NRDC has one very clear goal: to make financial markets work for both investors and the environment. To do that, NRDC has brought together a team of more than a dozen financial analysts, policy makers, and energy specialists. Meet five of them.
Malik grew up in what is now the Czech Republic, spending summers at his family’s cottage near the Polish border—an “environmental disaster zone” rife with power plants and industrial pollution. “I remember the dying forests and the polluted creeks and lakes without fish,” he says. “Seeing that really stoked the fire
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in me to do something about it.” The former Wall Street investment banker joined CMI as its director in December 2009 and has since been busy “shaping a group focused on getting things done,” seeking out projects that have measurable outcomes. “Green should be green—as in the color of money,” Malik says. “It’s not going to happen just because of government or philanthropy; the market has to want it. Our job is to create the right incentives.”
to overcome obstacles like split incentives—for example, when a building owner pays for efficiency retrofits but tenants cash in on the savings.” Mugica grew up in a thrifty household; water and electricity were not wasted. It took her a while to realize “that the whole world doesn’t have that focus,” she says. Her style is not to tell people what to do. “We set up incentives to do the right thing,” she says, “then let market creativity figure out the best way to do it.”
Mugica was one of the founding members of the CMI team, and over the past three years, she has worked to develop market incentives that promote energy efficiency. “Efficiency is a win-win issue,” she says. “But it takes coordinated action on many levels
Henry’s expertise in urban planning makes her CMI’s transportation and land use guru. Based in NRDC’s Chicago office, she recently analyzed how urban design—how walkable a city is, how car-dependent its residents are—affects home foreclosure
Stevenson is a former hedge fund manager who now works to craft effective carbon-market legislation. “If we try to regulate carbon the wrong way, we risk the integrity of the entire effort,” he says. “But if we do it right, it will work for the market, the investors, and the environment.” Stevenson also works to devise legislation to promote energy efficiency. “Industry wants to reduce energy consumption but lacks the capital to make the necessary investments,” he says. “Good policy allows businesses to profit by reducing their carbon footprints.”
illustration by lara tomlin; right: Courtesy of Kendall Cavedo Maynard
the lineup (from left): Samir Succar,Yerina Mugica, Peter Malik, Andy Stevenson, Jennifer Henry
Succar puts his background in electrical engineering to good use trying to find ways to integrate renewable energy into the country’s power grid. “We need a different tool set, a different infrastructure to accommodate wind and solar power,” he says. “Think of it as the transition from horse and buggy to cars. You can develop the best automobile, but if you have to drive it on roads that were built for horses, it won’t work.” Succar began his doctoral work researching semiconductors, but he wasn’t satisfied. “The problems that I was solving weren’t the problems that mattered to me,” he says. He went on to study wind power storage, eventually joining CMI to work on energy transmission solutions.
NRDC Board of Trustees
John H. Adams Founding Director, NRDC; Chair, Open Space Institute
Daniel R. Tishman Chair; Chair and CEO, Tishman Construction Corp. of New York
Richard E. Ayres The Ayres Law Group
Arjun Gupta Founder and Managing Partner, Telesoft Partners
Frederica Perera, Ph.D. Professor, Columbia University; Director, Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health
Henry R. Breck Partner, Heronetta Holdings, Inc., L.L.C.
Philip B. Korsant Managing Member, Korsant Partners, L.L.C.
Robert Redford Actor; director; conservationist
Anna Scott Carter Consultant, NRDC; environmentalist
Nicole Lederer Co-founder, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2)
Laurance Rockefeller Conservationist
Susan Crown Principal, Henry Crown and Company; executive, foundation chairman, community activist
Maya Lin Artist/designer
Jonathan F. P. Rose President, Jonathan Rose Companies, L.L.C.
Shelly B. Malkin Landscape painter; conservationist
Thomas W. Roush, M.D. Private investor; environmental activist
Josephine A. Merck Artist; founder, Ocean View Foundation
Philip “Pete” Ruegger III Chair, Executive Committee, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, L.L.P.
Frederick A.O. Schwarz, Jr. Chair Emeritus ; Chief Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice; Senior Counsel, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, L.L.P. Adam Albright Vice Chair; private investor; environmentalist Patricia Bauman Vice Chair; Co-director, Bauman Foundation
Robert J. Fisher Vice Chair; Director, Gap, Inc.
One woman’s devotion to the natural world lives on
Alan Horn Vice Chair; President and COO, Warner Brothers
Dr. Laura “Clay” Cavedo
Joy Covey Treasurer; President, Beagle Foundation
first developed a deep connection with nature growing up on 68 acres outside Richmond, Virginia, where she was influenced by both her mother’s love of animals and canoe trips with her father. As an adult, she loved the splendor of the desert and adventures in the outdoors, including a memorable descent into the Grand Canyon by mule. Her conviction that wildlife and wild places should be protected and preserved for future generations led to her long association with NRDC; a steadfast supporter for more than two decades, she even named NRDC as a beneficiary of her estate. For Laura, protecting the planet meant not only safeguarding nature but also cutting down on the waste we generate as a society. In her personal life she found ways large and small to pass on this message to friends and family—for example, giving as gifts CFL lightbulbs or literature on how to live green (lovingly packaged in cloth bags, of course, instead of wrapping paper). In honor of Laura’s life and devotion to protecting our world, her family has established an endowed fund, the Dr. Laura Clayton Cavedo Memorial Fund for Planet Earth, which will support NRDC’s most important and urgent work.
honorary trustees Dean Abrahamson, M.D., Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota Robert O. Blake U.S. Ambassador (retired) Joan K. Davidson Former Parks Commissioner, N.Y. State; President Emerita, The J.M. Kaplan Fund
Laurie P. David Producer; activist Leonardo DiCaprio Actor; environmentalist John E. Echohawk Executive Director, Native American Rights Fund Bob Epstein Co-founder, Sybase, Inc.; Co-founder, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2); organizer and director, New Resource Bank
Sylvia Earle, Ph.D. Chair, Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc. James B. Frankel Attorney; conservationist
Michel Gelobter, Ph.D. Founder, CEO, Cooler, Inc.
Peter A. Morton Chairman/founder, 510 Development Corp. Wendy K. Neu Senior Vice President, Hugo Neu Corp.; grassroots community organizer and activist
Burks B. Lapham Chair, Concern, Inc. Jonathan Z. Larsen Journalist Michael A. McIntosh, Sr. President, The McIntosh Foundation
Christine H. Russell, Ph.D. Environmentalist; foundation director William H. Schlesinger President, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
James Taylor Singer/songwriter Gerald Torres Bryant Smith Chair, University of Texas Law School Elizabeth Wiatt Environmentalist; founder, Leadership Council George M. Woodwell, Ph.D. Founder, Woods Hole Research Center
John R. Robinson Attorney
Kirby Walker Independent film/ video producer
Charles E. Koob Partner, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, L.L.P. Ruben Kraiem Partner, Covington and Burling
Nathaniel P. Reed Businessman; conservationist
Frederick A. Terry, Jr. Senior Counsel, Sullivan & Cromwell
president Frances Beinecke eXECUTIVE Director Peter H. Lehner Deputy Director Patricia F. Sullivan Program Staff Wesley Warren, director; Advocacy: Lisa Catapano, Apolinar Gonzales, Erik Laaken, Andrea Martin, Ann Notthoff, Robert Perks, Victoria Rome, Melissa Waage; Air & Energy: Dale Bryk, director; Evelyn Arevalo, Jamy Bacchus, Kaid Benfield, Terry Black, Pierre Bull, Lane Burt, Rita Calvo, Sheryl Carter, Ralph Cavanagh, Brandi Colander, Emily Davis, Donna C. DeCostanzo, Pierre Delforge, Amanda Eaken, Lara Ettenson, Deborah Faulkner, Rishi Garg, David Goldstein, Nathanael Greene, Kristin E. Grenfell, Ashok Gupta, Jennifer Heibult, Justin Horner, Noah Horowitz, Roland Hwang, Richard Kassel, Kit Kennedy, Noah Long, Deron Lovaas, Luis Martinez, Sierra Martinez, Peter Miller, Simon Mui, Colin C. O’Brien, Colin Peppard, James Presswood, Laura E. Sanchez, Thomas Singer, Brian Siu, Rachel Sohmer, Luke Tonachel, John Walke, Sharianne Walker, Margaret Waltner, Devra Wang, Samantha Wilt; Center for Market Innovation: Peter Malik, director; Sarah Brailey, Diane Doucette, John Hale, Philip Henderson, Jennifer Henry, Christine Luong, Sandra Lyutse, Yerina Mugica, Douglass Sims, Cai Steger, Andy Stevenson, Samir Succar, Alisa Valderrama, Starla Yeh; China: Barbara Finamore, director; Michelle BenDavid, David Cohen-Tanugi, Hoober Hu, Joan Hu, Gao Jie, Ruidong Jin, Hyoung Mi Kim, Ping Li, Yang Li, Yuqi Li, Zixin Lin, Mingming Liu, Zhengchun Mo, Jingjing Qian, Alex Wang, Sean Wang, Xiaoli Yan, Chenxi Yang, Mona Yew, Anne Zhang, Xiya Zhang, Yao Zheng; Climate Center: Daniel Lashof, director; David Hawkins, Patricia F. Sullivan Chair for Environmental Policy; Peter Altman, Christina Angelides, Jamie Consuegra, David Doniger, Jennifer Emerson, Antonia Herzog, Laurie Johnson, Elizabeth Martin, George Peridas, Theo Spencer, John Steelman, Lucy Swiech-LaFlamme; Government Affairs: David Goldston, director; Kellie Cutrer; Health: Linda Greer, director and George W. Woodwell Chair for Environmental Science; Dylan Atchley, Diane Bailey, Sarah Janssen, Jonathan Kaplan, Avinash Kar, Susan Keane, Kim Knowlton, Mayra Quirindongo, Daniel Rosenberg, Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Jennifer Sass, Gina Solomon, Suzanne Vyborney, Monique Waples, Mae Wu; International: Jacob Scherr, director; Heather Allen, Elizabeth Barratt-Brown, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Cecilia Herrera, Anjali Jaiswal, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Amanda Maxwell, Jake Schmidt, Elizabeth Shope; Land: Sharon Buccino, director; Johanna Wald, Leonard and Sandy Sargent Chair in Western Public Lands; Janet Barwick, Charles Clusen, Sylvia Fallon, Debbie Hammel, Nathaniel Lawrence, Amy Mall, Franz Matzner, Bobby McEnaney, Helen O’Shea, Rebecca Riley, Justin Sherman, Matthew Skoglund, Louisa Willcox, Craig Dylan Wyatt, Sami Yassa; Legislative Affairs: Richie Ackerman, Genevieve Parshalle, Scott Slesinger; Litigation: Mitch Bernard, director; Allison Clements, corporate counsel; Aaron Colangelo, Elaina De Meyere, Ubaldo Fernandez, Selena Kyle, Ben Longstreth, Nancy Marks, Dustin Meyer, Michael Wall, Vivian Wang; Midwest Regional: Henry L. Henderson, director; Ann Alexander, Joshua Berman, Thomas Cmar, Jennifer Daly, Shannon Fisk, Melissa Lupo, Nancy Metzger, Mollie Nye, Rebecca Stanfield, Dylan Sullivan, Nancy Watson, Andrew Wetzler; Nuclear: Christopher Paine, director; Thomas B. Cochran,
Max Stone Managing Director, D.E. Shaw & Co., L.P.
Thomas A. Troyer Member, Caplin & Drysdale
John Sheehan United Steelworkers of America (retired) David Sive Sive, Paget & Riesel, P.C. (retired)
James Gustave Speth Professor of Environmental Policy, Brown University; Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
Cruz Reynoso Professor of law, UC Davis
Daniel Pauly Director, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia
Hamilton F. Kean Attorney; conservationist
Wendy Kirby Schmidt President, The Schmidt Family Foundation; founder, The 11th Hour Project
Wade Greene Chair for Nuclear Policy; Geoffrey Fettus, Matt McKinzie, Jonathan McLaughlin, Robert S. Norris; Oceans: Lisa Speer, director; Jonathan Alexander, Alison Chase, Sarah Chasis, Karen Garrison, Thomas Hayes, Lawrence Levine, Amy Macaux, Leila Monroe, Regan Nelson, Laura Pagano, Bradford Sewell, Lindsi Seegmiller, Lisa Suatoni; Science Center: Gabriela Chavarria, director; Susan Alter, Dylan Atchley, Nathan Sandwick; Urban: Mark Izeman, East Coast director, and Joel Reynolds, West Coast director; Lisa Copland, Johanna Dyer, Linda Escalante, Jessica Esposito, Eric Goldstein, Lizzeth Henao, Allen Hershkowitz, Darby Hoover, Albert Huang, Michael Jasny, Taryn Kiekow, Adriano Martinez, Robin Marx, Damon Nagami, Melissa Lin Perrella, David R. Pettit, Penny Primo, Laurance Rockefeller, Richard Schrader, Kate Sinding, Steven Smith, Elinor Tarlow, Jessica Wall, Morgan Wyenn; Water: David Beckman, director; Ronnie Cohen, Jon Devine, Noah Garrison, Andy Gupta, Rebecca Hammer, Carol James, Michelle Mehta, Anita Milman, Barry Nelson, Douglas Obegi, Katherine Poole, Monty Schmitt Communications Phil Gutis, director; Cathryn Bales, Ynés Cabral, Anthony Clark, Robert Deans, Alba Garzon, Lisa Goffredi, Sherry Goldberg, Courtney Hamilton, Elizabeth H. Heyd, Daniel Hinerfeld, Serena Ingre, Francesca Koe, Jessica Lass, Kathryn McGrath, Joshua Mogerman, Michael Oko, Jennifer Powers, Adrianna Quintero-Somaini, Kimberly Ranney, Auden Shim, Katherine Slusark, Suzanne Struglinski, William Tam, Benjamin West, Lisa Whiteman, Eric W. Young; onearth Douglas S. Barasch, editor-in-chief; George Black, Scott Dodd, Janet Gold, Jennifer Sta. Ines, Laura Wright Development John Murray, director; Coretta Anderson, Priscilla Bayley, Spencer Campbell, John Cavanagh, Jennifer Chapin, Elizabeth Corr, Justin Courter, Lauren Craft, Lasans Crawford, Maria DeRiggi, Caitlin Driscoll, Sarah Edwards-Schmidt, Travis Eisenbise, Robert Ferguson, Katherine Gibson, Nancy Golden, Shari Greenblatt, Rita Itwaru, Patrick Kiely, Ying Li, Kelly McGonigle, Elizabeth McNulty, Peter Meysenburg, Michelle Mulia-Howell, Emily O’Neill, Shaniqua Outlaw, Matthew Perrin, Caroline Pronovost, Michelle Quinones, Carlita Salazar, Orlena Scoville, Lynne Shevlin, Missy Toney, Julie Truax, Catherine Vega, Nicole Verhoff, Desrene Walton, Marianna Weis, Joyce Wong; Membership: Linda Lopez, director; Jean Bowman, Darlene Davis, Lillian Fernandez, Amy Greer, Alex Hernandez, Katharine Houston, Jordan Kessler, Adrianne Prettyman, Gina Trujillo, Marie Weinmann, Joyce Yeung Finance and Operations Judith Keefer, director; Finance: Hiawatha Barno, Annette Canela, Chun Cheng, Dorothy Clune, Jeff Cruz, Kathy Eason, James Hands, Sharon Hargrove, Lauretta Hoffler, Eunice JeanPaul, Alex Liu, Shih-Chang Lu, Apurva Muchhala, Vivek Nadarajah; Administration: Jackie Albarran, Sonah Allie, Umar Al-Uqdah, Sasha Alleyne, Brian Anderson, Lauren Bern, Larisa Bravette, Anita Brennan, Willa Bugnon, Angela Calderon, William Christie, Tianya Coachman, Matthew Cohen, Genie Colbert, Angeliki Ebbesen, Leslie Edmond, Mimose Elie, Mercedes Falber, Sevi Glekas, Brian Gourley, Molly Greenwood, Anthony Guerrero, Sung Hwang, Tida Infahsaeng, Brian James, Rodrigo Jaramillo, Valerie Keane, Vera Korol, Rene Leni, Shelly Lyser, Felicia Marcus, Malia Palakiko, Leonard Patterson, Shravya Reddy, Ann Roach, Roseann Rock, Stephanie Sandor, Robyn Spencer, Milagro Suarez, Vivek Varughese, Catherine Vega, Bradley Wells
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open space sight, sound, touch, taste, smell
BY joanna foster
Behind my home in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, there was a wood. In road trip with your family. By the time we reached spring, which does not come until late May, fallen trees were velvety Niagara Falls, I had been in the car with my parents with soft green moss, and wood violets perfumed the cold twilight with for two days, and we were all desperate to escape one aching sweetness. In early summer the forest floor was an ocean of another. So instead of plowing on eastward to New glossy dark green periwinkle leaves and violet-blue blossoms. To cross Hampshire, we got out of the car and, walking in oppo- this ocean, I used to inch my way across a fallen birch trunk. When I site directions, hurried to put distance between us. It was mid-March, wasn’t hurrying to get to dinner before my older brothers ate everything, and the railings around the lookout points over the falls were coated I would sit on the old log, dangling my feet in the cool leaves and silken petals. Peeling the papery thin bark in thick layers of smooth, opaque ice, from the log, I would study its secret like fogged glass. Leaning dangerously blushed underside, which mirrored the far over the safety rail, I gazed down at streaming coral clouds that lingered in the thundering falls. The water plumthe treetops after sunset. meting to earth was breathtaking, but And then the land was sold by the what captured my attention was the neighbors, and a gravel road was cut color of the pool below. It was like no through my woods. A chic summer water I had ever seen—not blue like cottage now stands where our rickmy Lake Michigan at home, or clear ety tree fort used to be. The woods Caribbean aqua, or stormy gray like beyond, with their maze of deer trails the North Sea by our summer cottage through trillium and wild strawberries, in Northumbria. This water was a dark, have been transformed into a massive brilliant, emerald green, startlingly secomplex of expensive condos. rene. I consumed the color, inhaled it. Blindness, I thought, would rob me I got high off green. only of the visual impression of the Before returning to the car, I made things I loved: the flickering silver a detour through the gift shop. Among shadows of the quaking aspens, the the pyramids of “real” maple syrup, pearly radiance of a snowy moonlit moose paperweights, and panoramic forest. I assumed I would still have postcards, I found a jade maple leaf the sound of the wind shaking the pendant, which my friends later inleaves and the fragrance of the frozen formed me more closely resembled trees. But listening to the bulldozers marijuana. The trinket itself was tacky, I grew up with the assumption grunting up the hill, I realized that they but the color leaped out at me. I ended that all of the beautiful things surwould take everything: sight, sound, up buying the necklace, not for its taste rounding me would gradually fade touch, taste, and smell. or craftsmanship but so that I could and then, one day, disappear A narrow strip of trees remains at the hold the color of the water in my hands. bottom of our yard, and if I tilt my head When I was 6, I was diagnosed with a rare retinal disease called Stargaardt’s and told that I would be blind to one side I can almost make the cottage disappear into my blind spot. by the age of 16. I grew up with the assumption that all of the beautiful But I can still hear the sound of car engines where before there was only things surrounding me would gradually fade and then, one day, disap- hushed rustling and birdsong. I’ve never seen anything that captures pear. I had stared at the water, knowing that I might never be back or, the colors, scents, and sounds of my woods. I wish there were some that if I did return, I would know only the low growl of the falls and the way I could keep a little piece of it with me, like the jade pendant. For wet slipperiness of ice beneath my fingers. But on my 16th birthday, although I will continue to come back again and again to these woods, I vividly remember gloating in the brightness of each candle. I could long before my sight is gone there may be nothing left to see. still see. Seven years later, there is no knowing how long my vision will hold up. It may decline rapidly or remain stable for years. The Joanna Foster, a recent graduate of Princeton University, is now studying fate of the beautiful things around me is, however, even less certain. science journalism at New York University.
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illustration by Tatsuro Kiuchi
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