Coasts in Crisis: Plastic on the Shoreline

by Gary Griggs, author of Coasts in Crisis: A Global Challenge

An Earth-changing development took place in New York City in 1907 when plastic was first synthesized. It had all the right stuff for a huge range of uses: lightweight, flexible, strong, moisture resistant, relatively inexpensive, and a quality that has plagued us ever since, durability. This stuff just doesn’t break down or go away very quickly. Throughout the 20th century the development and use of new kinds of plastics and new products and uses proliferated rapidly.

I have spent much of my life studying beaches and coastlines and over 50 years ago I started collecting beach sands from my travels. Each one is unique and I think of them as the DNA or the fingerprint of some particular set of geologic and oceanographic conditions. I now have about 300 or so sand samples stored in glass vials and spread around on windowsills, bookshelves, and in frames, both at home and in my office.

My collection has gotten the attention of a number of friends over the years that now send or bring back beach sand from various far-flung places around the planet. A few years ago, a good friend who travels a lot, usually to coastlines that are often remote and difficult to get to, sent back beach sand samples from the Andaman Islands. This archipelago of 572 islands, many uninhabited, lies in the Indian Ocean, about 350 miles west of Myanmar and about 800 miles east of India.

These islands are not on any of the usual travel paths and are not easy to get to but my friend and his family were able to charter a boat and visit a number of these isolated islands and bring sand home. One of his emails included some beautiful pictures and then the words: “Sadly, although inhabited, and remote, the island was covered with plastic!”

The widespread use and then disposal of plastic as well as other debris has become an issue of global proportions. With the durability of plastic beverage bottles, plastic bags, detergent and food containers, we believe that about 60-80 percent of all marine debris in the ocean is plastic and it’s found on the beaches of every continent and from Iceland to Antarctica, sad but true.

Despite a growing effort to reduce plastic use and consumption, single-use plastic bags and water bottles in particular, globally we produce about 360 million tons of plastic annually, without about one-third of that going into disposable, single use items. Estimates are that about one percent is recycled globally, with most of the rest ending up in landfills, or often transported or blow into coastal waters.

While over a billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water, they usually aren’t the ones consuming all of the bottled water. Americans, who are almost all fortunate to have very good quality and regularly tested tap water, consumed 9.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2012. This water was guzzled from 103 billion single-use plastic bottles, or 3,250 bottles emptied every second, all year long. Despite the prevalence of recycling programs and convenient containers for disposal, only about 20% of the bottles are recycled and the rest are discarded, ending up in dumps or in some cases, the ocean or on our beaches.

While cleaning up beaches is helpful and beneficial, the ultimate solution to the problem of plastic proliferation along our shorelines and in the oceans of the world isn’t clean up and removal, but in prevention- cutting off or eliminating the plastic, Styrofoam and other marine debris at the sources. It means taking every action necessary to keep the trash from getting into our rivers, waterways and oceans to begin with.


Gary Griggs is Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is author or coauthor of Introduction to California’s Beaches and CoastLiving with the Changing California CoastCalifornia Coast from the Air, The Santa Cruz Coast (Then and Now), and Our Ocean Backyard.


#7CheapThings: What Is Cheap Money?

Welcome to the second post in our #7CheapThings blog series! Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. How has the cheapening of these things made the world safe for capitalism? Follow along to find out.

If we want to understand the idea of cheap money, we have to first go beyond money and zoom out to take a look at the larger picture. At the core of capitalism is a cycle that expands beyond just money and encompasses commodities as well. Money flows into commodities which then flow back into money. It is here that the authors note:

A peculiar and very modern magic lies here. States wanted the loot of war, but needed money to pay the military. Without war, they couldn’t acquire riches which they needed, in part, to pay for the previous war. War, money, war. Bankers needed governments to repay them, and governments needed bankers to fund them. What’s new about capitalism and its ecology isn’t the pursuit of profit, but the relations between the pursuit, its financing, and governments. The planet was to be remade through these relations, and they are the subject of this chapter.

This cycle is fueled by the cheap money in question, specifically “a secure denomination of exchange that can be relied upon to facilitate commerce, controlled in a way that meets the needs of the ruling bloc at the same time.” Said cheapness includes two major characteristics: the appropriation of a primary commodity such as gold or oil and its regulation that allows interest to remain low and control over the wider cash economy which only states can provide.

In the end, however:

Cheap money means one thing above all – low interest. Even in today’s world of fast-moving container ships and high frequency stock trades, credit is the lifeblood of capitalism. If cheap work, food, energy, and raw materials are the necessary conditions for capitalist booms, cheap credit makes it all possible. Historically, there’s been a virtuous circle of cheap money and new frontiers. When opportunities for profit making contracted in established regions of production and extraction, capitalists took their profits and put it into money-dealing. That’s one reason why, after each great boom in world capitalism – the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, the British in the mid-nineteenth century, and the American postwar golden age – there’s been a curious process that scholars call financialization. We’re living in such a time at the moment, and history doesn’t reassure – such cycles of accumulation usually end in war, with the rise of new financial powers, as we’ll see below.

Two movements make financialization attractive and even useful for capitalism. One is that, as we’ve seen, when the world’s economic pie stops growing, leading powers tend to go to war, or at a minimum build up their warmaking capacity. As we will see modern states rarely self-finance their wars. They have to borrow money just like anyone else. The other thing that happens is that capital in the heartlands of the system begin to flow towards the frontiers. In the late nineteenth century, for example, gigantic sums of British capital, in the form of loans, flowed out of London and towards the rest of world, especially to build railroads. Thus the significance of financialization – relatively cheap British capital flowed out to make possible a global railway network, which in turn was central to the next century’s extraordinary food and resource extraction. This worked so long as there were bountiful frontiers, where humans and other natures could be put to work – or otherwise extracted – for cheap. When the boom made possible – in part – by the global railway network went bust, in the 1970s, a new era of financialization began. And though the neoliberal era owed it existence to precisely the inverse of cheap money – the 1979 Volcker Shock – a long era of cheap money followed. As Anwar Shaikh explains, the neoliberal “boom” — such as it was – that began in the 1980s was “spurred by a sharp drop in interest rates… Falling interest rates also lubricated the spread of capital across the globe, promoted a huge rise in consumer debt, and fuelled international bubbles in finance and real estate.” What’s different today is that, where once finance was a bridge to a renewed era of profitability, because of how finance, science, and empire cooperated to make new frontiers of cheap nature, there are no such frontiers today. In the twenty-first, money masks the underlying problems of socio-ecological crisis, magnifying the contradictions in the process.


Raj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Jason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.


Hurricanes versus Earthquakes: How Natural Disasters Compare between Florida and California

by Gary Griggs, author of Coasts in Crisis: A Global Challenge

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, followed by Jose and Katia next in line, like commuters on the freeway headed for work. What’s going on here? We generally don’t think too much about hurricanes here in California, but it’s hard to miss the news now.

Hurricane Harvey may be the most damaging storm to ever hit the United States. And in terms of wind speed in miles per hour, Irma is reported as being the strongest hurricane ever recorded and it has yet to hit the coast of Florida. Irma is currently leaving a path of complete destruction as it blasts through the Caribbean. On the island of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control, There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Homes are under water, cars are floating through the streets, and inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and cut off from the outside world. These aren’t losses that are going to be repaired or replaced in a few weeks time. It will take months to years to return to normal.

Some residents of the Atlantic coast of the US are often quoted as saying that they would much rather live with hurricanes—where at least you know they’re coming—rather than the uncertainty of earthquakes that we all live with here in California. The truth, however, is that while large earthquakes in the United States present clear dangers, they don’t begin to compare with hurricanes in terms of damage of loss of life. Our average annual death toll from earthquakes in the United States over the past century or so is about 20 per year. If fact, in the entire 240 year history of the United States, there has only been a single earthquake that led to deaths of more than 200 people, and that was the great San Francisco shock of 1906. We just don’t get big earthquakes that often, at least historically, although they will come and we shouldn’t be complacent about them.

Hurricanes, however, have been responsible for more loss of life in the United States than any other natural hazard. While California may get a damaging earthquake every decade or so, we can get multiple hurricanes in a single season, and 2017 is making that abundantly clear.

Over 60 million people along the U.S. Gulf and South Atlantic coasts live in coastal counties that are vulnerable to hurricanes and, like most coastal regions, those populations continue to increase. From 1900 to 2015, there were 631 hurricanes that affected these counties as well as the Caribbean region, or 5.4 per year on average. 245 of these, or about two each year, have been classed as major hurricanes based on damage and death tolls. On average, about 800 fatalities have been recorded yearly, but this likely is an underestimate as reliable information from older hurricanes is often lacking. Losses are unfortunately increasing every year because more people are retiring to warm hurricane-prone areas like Florida, and investment in homes and other development, and their values, are increasing.


Gary Griggs is Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is author or coauthor of Introduction to California’s Beaches and CoastLiving with the Changing California CoastCalifornia Coast from the Air, The Santa Cruz Coast (Then and Now), and Our Ocean Backyard.


A Fresh View of Floodplain Ecology and Management

by Jeff Opperman and Peter Moyle, co-authors of Floodplains: Processes and Management for Ecosystem Services

Last week, we saw tragic images of floods across the world, from Houston to Niger to south Asia, with more than 1,300 deaths from floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Floods are among the most costly natural disasters worldwide and the loss of life and property, from Houston to Mumbai, gave a very human face to the impersonal statistics: in recent years, global damages have ranged between $30 and 60 billion and more than 100 million people have been displaced by flooding.

These events are also warnings about a likely future: in a warming world, many regions will experience more frequent and intense flooding.

It is hard to imagine a flood-management system that could have effectively contained the historic amount of rain that fell on southeast Texas—several feet in just a few days. However, even if all floods can’t be contained, governments must still invest in measures to improve safety for people and reduce damages. The key is to move beyond a primary focus on the structural measures—dams and levees—that strive to contain floods, and toward a “diversified portfolio” approach. Nonstructural measures—such as zoning, building codes and insurance—are key to keeping people out of harm’s way. Another critical strategy is to integrate green infrastructure—natural features such as wetlands and floodplains—into flood-management systems.

In river basins around the world, from the Mississippi to the Sacramento to the Rhine, managers have moved away from a strict reliance on engineered levees, which confine rivers and attempt to contain floods. Instead, they have moved towards reconnecting rivers to parts of their historic floodplains. On these reconnected floodplains, floodwaters can spread out and reduce risks to communities and farmland in other areas.

We have documented this trend, and reasons why green infrastructure can be so effective, in our book, Floodplains: Processes and Management for Ecosystem Services.

The book is based on our many years of studying floodplains in California, a leader in using floodplains for flood management. But we also explore other regions, especially Europe, Australia, and Asia, for new insights.

Our focus is reconciliation ecology, the science of integrating functioning ecosystems into landscapes dominated by people. This framework is key to understanding the full potential of green infrastructure: by reducing flood risk, wetlands and floodplains function as infrastructure. But they are also “green”—they are ecosystems that are influenced by complex and intertwined biophysical processes. The first part of our book reviews these processes—encompassing hydrology, geomorphology, biogeochemistry, and ecology—and how they respond to management interventions.

A hallmark of green infrastructure is that these ecosystem processes can provide multiple benefits beyond flood-risk reduction. For floodplains, these benefits include habitat for fish and wildlife, groundwater recharge, carbon sequestration, and open space and recreation. Thus, realizing the full potential of green infrastructure will come from an integrated approach, one in which engineers, scientists and planners collaborate on management to provide multiple benefits. The second part of the book includes a number of case studies of these new management approaches.

To be clear, we are not suggesting that floodplains and wetlands are the answer to reducing current and future flood risk. Rather, we think that a flood-management system that relies on green infrastructure in addition to engineered infrastructure and sound nonstructural policies, will increase safety for people and provide a broad range of other benefits.

The book’s closing paragraph articulates this optimism that integrated management can improve safety for people while promoting a range or natural services:

“Our time spent on rivers and floodplains has certainly shown us that much has changed and been lost over time. But we have seen more than just glimmers of hope in reconciled floodplains that are diverse and productive. We take heart from the huge flocks of migratory white geese and black ibis that congregate annually on California floodplains and from knowing that, beneath the floodwaters, juvenile salmon are swimming, feeding, and growing among cottonwoods and rice stalks, before heading out to sea. We can envision greatly expanded floodplains that are centerpieces of many regions, protecting people but also featuring wildlands, wildlife, and floodplain-friendly agriculture. Connectivity among floodplains, people and wild creatures is within reach, as is a future in which people work with natural processes rather than continually fighting them.”


Jeffrey J. Opperman is the global lead freshwater scientist for WWF and a research associate at the University of California, Davis.

Peter B. Moyle is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology and Associate Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis.


National Parks in the Jaws of Climate Change

by Stephen Nash, author of Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change

Along the trails of the inner Grand Canyon, it’s probably well over a hundred degrees today. And by coincidence, today’s the day that someone leaked a draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the report says.

National parks shifting south as the climate heats up.

It’s always been hot in the Canyon in summer. A string of 100-degree days is common, and climate scientists aren’t telling us that today’s heat is necessarily caused by global warming. They are saying, instead, that the odds o f severe heat are greater now, and accelerating. Their projections signal an urgent threat to all our tens of millions of acres of national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and public lands.

As I learned from scientists during research for my book Grand Canyon For Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change, the damage is underway. The threat spans different species, elevations, and latitudes. In the Canyon region, climate-related die-offs in strands of aspen, Ponderosa pine, piñon pine, and juniper have already been seen.

“There’s a difference between ‘alarmist’ and ‘alarm,’ right?” David Breshears asks. He’s the lead scientist at the University of Arizona’s Terrestrial Ecology Lab. “One is saying there’s a problem when there isn’t. But in some cases you have a big problem and you need to pull an alarm.” Breshears is aware that the scale of destruction, and its urgency, are not easy to fathom. “All the evidence coming in is that it is going to be much worse than we’ve expected,” he said.

“Hopefully, that’s a motivation for action,” he said. “This is large-scale dramatic change—a very large proportion of trees in a landscape you loved have suddenly died. And that causes a whole cascade of other changes.”

With and without the climate factor, the national park system’s trend lines for wild species hardly reassure. Populations of the exquisite native birds at Everglades National Park have fallen by an estimated 93 percent even since the 1930s, when the park was established. At Sequoia National Park the namesake giant trees are threatened by future drought and heat. At current rates of melting, the glaciers at Glacier National Park will be gone within twenty years. The glaciers at Denali National Park and throughout the central Alaska Range are “thinning and retreating rapidly,” according to the Park Service.

At Great Smoky Mountains, our most-visited national park, one in six mammal species may be gone within the next few decades because of climate change, and the losses continue on after that. Fifty-four plant and animal species are already on the threatened/endangered list at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, which can afford programs to try to help only five of them. Many more will join the list.

The trend is nearly as grim at many of the other parks. A full 96 per-cent of National Park Service land and 84 percent of park units are in areas where warming was already underway during the twentieth century. Without connections to our larger publicly owned landscape, the lifeboat system that we established for wildlife when we initiated the park system a hundred years ago begins to sink. In a stable climate, we have been able to defend protected areas to a degree, as natural landscapes with closed boundaries. An unstable, shifting climate is now forcing those boundaries open.


Stephen Nash is the author of two award-winning books on science and the environment, and his reporting has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington PostBioScienceArchaeology, and the New Republic. He is Visiting Senior Research Scholar at the University of Richmond.


#7CheapThings: Cheap Nature

Welcome to the first post in our #7CheapThings blog series! Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. How has the cheapening of these things made the world safe for capitalism? Follow along to find out.

 

Raj & Jason, in their book, argue that humans in a capitalist system abuse the ecosystems that they are a part of, with the demand for profit outweighing detrimental effects on the environment. In this shift towards profit governing life, a split between the ideas of “Nature” and “Society” needed to occur. What exactly is meant by that is outlined in the excerpt below.

In the English language, the words nature and society assumed their familiar meanings only after 1550, over the arc of the “long” sixteenth century (c. 1450–1640). This was, as we shall see, a decisive period in England’s capitalist and colonial history. It marked the rise of the Spanish and Portuguese empires and their construction of massive New World production systems, worked by coerced Indigenous and African labor. These transformations were key elements of a planetary shift in the global center of power and production from Asia to the North Atlantic. That shift did not come fast. Europe was technologically and economically impoverished compared to civilizations on the other side of Asia, and only after 1800 did that change. China, recall, already had the printing press, a potent navy, gunpowder, and vibrant cities, and it was marked by both wealth and environmental crisis. Where European capitalism thrived was in its capacity to turn Nature into something productive and to transform that productivity into wealth. This capacity depended on a peculiar blend of force, commerce, and technology, but also something else—an intellectual revolution underwritten by a new idea: Nature as the opposite of Society. This idea gripped far more than philosophical minds. It became the common sense of conquest and plunder as a way of life. Nature’s bloody contradictions found their greatest expression on capitalism’s frontiers, forged in violence and rebellion—as the witch killing demonstrates.

We take for granted that some parts of the world are social and others are natural. Racialized violence, mass unemployment and incarceration, consumer cultures—these are the stuff of social problems and social injustice. Climate, biodiversity, resource depletion—these are the stuff of natural problems, of ecological crisis. But it’s not just that we think about the world in this way. It’s also that we make it so, acting as if the Social and the Natural were autonomous domains, as if relations of human power were somehow untouched by the web of life.

This means that we’re using these words—Nature and Society—in a way that’s different from their everyday use. We’re capitalizing them as a sign that they are concepts that don’t merely describe the world but help us organize it and ourselves. Scholars call concepts like these “real abstractions.” These abstractions make statements about ontology—What is?—and about epistemology: How do we know what is? Real abstractions both describe the world and make it. That’s why real abstractions are often invisible, and why we use ideas like world-ecology to challenge our readers into seeing Nature and Society as hidden forms of violence. These are undetonated words. Real abstractions aren’t innocent: they reflect the interests of the powerful and license them to organize the world.

That’s why we begin our discussion of cheap things with Nature. Nature is not a thing but a way of organizing—and cheapening—life. It is only through real abstractions—cultural, political, and economic all at once—that nature’s activity becomes a set of things. The web of life is no more inherently cheap than it is wicked or good or downloadable. These are attributes assigned to some of its relationships by capitalism. But it has been cheapened, yanked into processes of exchange and profit, denominated and controlled. We made the case in the introduction that capitalism couldn’t have emerged without the cheapening of nature; in this chapter we explore the mechanics and effects of this strategy.

Click here to win an Advance Reader’s Copy of A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things on Goodreads. Giveaway ends on September 15th.


Raj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Jason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.


Who “Owns” Information when Environmental and Corporate Interests Clash?

In this post, Daniel Bourgault, professor and researcher of physical oceanography at Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski in Quebec, Canada, talks about the difficulties environmental researchers can run into when commercial interests withhold environmental data.

Professor Bourgault, you recently published the article “Commercially Sensitive” Environmental Data: A Case Study of Oil Seep Claims for the Old Harry Prospect in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada in UC Press’s new journal Case Studies in the Environment. So tell us, is there a big, natural oil seep in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence?

DB: We don’t really know, but it would be surprising that there would be significant amounts of oil naturally seeping out of the seafloor of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Example of oil slicks (these, in the Gulf of Mexico), as seen by satellite. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The Gulf of St. Lawrence has been studied and monitored for many decades by oceanographers, including chemists, geologists, biologists and physicists. If oceanographers had ever found any indications or had serious suspicions of the presence of natural oil in the seawater of the Gulf of St. Lawrence it would certainly have been reported. Yet, there is nothing in the scientific literature that points at any such evidence. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so the possibility cannot be completely ruled out either. The only indications we have are provided by the oil company Corridor Resources who have been stating for about the last 15 years in their publicly available annual reports that they have indications from satellite images that there are six sites around the Old Harry prospect that would naturally and permanently seep oil. Under some circumstances, satellite images may indeed reveal the presence of oil at the sea surface. Think for example of large incidents such as the Deep Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico where surface oil slicks could easily be detected from space. In some cases, the oil detected from satellite images could also come from natural seafloor seeps if the oil is light enough to float all the way to the sea surface and if the amount released is large enough to be detected by satellite images. However, while this information might be credible, it cannot be independently verified since the satellite data and analyses that Corridor Resources hold are kept secret in the name of “commercial sensitivity”. Unambiguously identifying oil seeps from satellite images is not a trivial task by itself. Plus, determining the source of the seeps and whether the source is natural or not is really difficult and can rarely be done with satellite images only. So we are puzzled as to how Corridor Resources could have concluded that there were six oil seeps around the Old Harry prospect based only on an analysis of satellite images.

What does it mean when data is “commercially sensitive?”

DB: The specific meaning of this expression varies from state to state, and it depends on how it is defined in laws and case law. But in general, it means that the industry, or government, considers that publicly disclosing the information may result in a material loss to, or a prejudice to its competitive position. Basically, it implies that the potential harm resulting from the disclosure outweighs the public interest in making the disclosure. In our case study, it’s not clear to us why the information is judged to be commercially sensitive by Corridor Resources or Airbus Defence and Space (i.e. the consultant who actually carried out the analyses and provided the data). What appears to us to be paradoxical is that Corridor Resources publicly discloses the main conclusion of their private study, i.e. that they have apparently found evidence that there are six persistent oil seep sites around the Old Harry prospect (they’ve even presented a map of the location of those six seeps), but can decline to – and indeed cannot be forced to – present the data and analyses that support this conclusion. We wonder what material loss or prejudice could result from presenting the data and the method that the conclusions wouldn’t already? One possibility could be that Corridor may lose potential investments and take a hit on their share value if the conclusion is demonstrated as false or weak.

From an environmental point of view, the information about whether or not the Gulf of St. Lawrence naturally seeps oil is fundamental to know. Such information is needed in order to construct a reliable baseline initial state against which any new man-made oil contribution resulting from eventual oil and gas development could be compared with, and impacts on the marine environment, ecosystem, and people be then truly assessed.

In this context, we propose that it might appear sensible to label some information as “socially sensitive” or “environmentally sensitive” to balance the existing “commercially sensitive” information.

What is the most surprising thing you found when communicating with Corridor Resources or with Airbus Defence and Space in order to gain access to the data behind their claims about Old Harry prospect?

DB: How long it took to obtain answers! The questions we initially asked were simple and straightforward and could really have been answered in a week or so. Yet, the process took 9 months, from 20 July 2015 until 26 April 2016.

For example, here’s an excerpt of the first email I sent to Corridor Resources:

20 July 2015

I recently came across a document published by Corridor in 2011 that tells that evidence were found from satellite images of oil seeps emanating from the flanks of Old Harry.

Corridor’s annual reports also tells that six such seeps had been detected. For example, we can read in the 2000 annual report that: “Six natural oil seeps have been detected on the ocean surface by satellite, emanating from the flanks of this prospect.” I find this information very interesting and very relevant and I’d like to learn more. Could you please send me more information? Could you please send me the satellites images that were analyzed as well as a report that tells how these images were analyzed and interpreted? That would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Daniel Bourgault

I then had to send two reminders to finally receive a first response on September 2, 43 days later. I received a short response telling me that the data were proprietary information and that Corridor Resources was not at liberty to distribute them.

I immediately acknowledge the receipt and asked a few more questions on September 2. Again, I had to wait another 40 days to get a response (on October 12). It has been like this for 9 months.

But again, as I mentioned above, what I find most surprising is that Corridor Resources is at the liberty to publicly share the conclusion of the analyses but not the data or the method.

Does the public have a right to access environmental data?

DB: In general, at least in Canada and in the US, a lot of environmental data are publicly available. For example, the St. Lawrence Global Observatory (https://ogsl.ca/en) portal offers to anyone a lot of basic environmental data for the Gulf of St. Lawrence such as air temperature, wind conditions, sea temperature, salinity, currents, dissolved oxygen, sea level and much more. Some satellite images are also publicly and freely available from the US or Europe. However, some very specialized data sets and analyses are not always publicly available, especially when those data are owned by the private sector. For example, the oil seeps detection analyses carried out by Airbus Defence and Space for Corridor Resources on specialized satellite images are not publicly available.

In our paper, we introduce the idea that under some special circumstances of public interest, the public should have the right to access specialized environmental data in the name of an alternative concept we could call “socially sensitive” or “environmentally sensitive information or data.” This could balance the rights of the public to know and the right of the industry to secrecy. At the moment, the laws and regulations usually give precedence to the right to secrecy, but the balance sheet of the industry is not the only thing we should protect.

 

Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case study articles, case study pedagogy articles, and a repository for editor-reviewed case study slides. The journal aims to inform faculty, students, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.

Through December 31, 2017, all Case Studies in the Environment content is available free. To learn more about the journal, please visit cse.ucpress.edu.


The Future of our National Parks System

 

The current political administration in the United States has raised into question the future of our public lands. Given the continued discussion over the ownership of national parks and monuments, the below excerpt from Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change, is both timely and informative.

This faint old path isn’t on the brochure map, but it leads to a fine perch just the same. Moving past the car choreography and selfie poses at the popular Desert View area near the eastern border of Grand Canyon National Park, I find my way on a late afternoon.

Crumbling pavers end in a trace that weaves through rabbitbrush and juniper and over to a suitable rock, right on the abyss. No glance out there yet. I don’t want to risk vertigo until I’m settled. Then, with a beer and a bag of salt peanuts, I can drift out over two billion years of geology, a hundred centuries of human striving, and a timeless void.

Anywhere you pause along the hundreds of miles of edge brings dizzying contrast. The infinitesimal meets the cosmic, as a cliff swallow careens against far-off rock and sky. The immediate—check your foot-ing on that limestone grit, there’s a long fall pending—opens abruptly onto silent eons of cycle and revision. Another contrast: under a longer gaze the wild and timeless look of this panorama bears the lasting marks of recent human activity. They are the destinations of this book.

As we head into its second century, few would disagree that we want the park system to fulfill its mandate to preserve nature. “The core element of the national parks is that they are in the perpetuity business,” as Gary Machlis, science adviser to the director of the Park Service, told me. “The irony is that our mission is to preserve things in perpetuity, and we do it on an annual budget and a four-year presidential cycle.” The natural systems of the parks, he said, represent an island of stability—as long as we protect them and plan well for their future.

The centenary of the Park Service has just passed, along with some well-deserved national self-congratulations. Perhaps this would be a discreet time to say that the parks’ natural systems are, in the estimation of many scientists, falling apart. In that view all public lands need long-term life support, beginning as soon as we can pull it together. We’re on a precipice, both politically and biologically.

Read more from the author in a recent article, ‘At Bears Ears in Utah, Heated Politics and Precious Ruins,’ on the New York Times website, or check out his website to learn more.


On the Road to ESA: A Q&A with Case Studies in the Environment Section Editor Cynthia Wei

Cynthia Wei is a Section Editor for the Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation section of UC Press’s new peer-reviewed journal, Case Studies in the Environment, as well as Associate Director of Education at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), based in Annapolis, Maryland.

We caught up with Cynthia as she made her way to the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), held this year in Portland, Oregon.

Cynthia Wei, Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation Section Editor

Cynthia, not only are you a Section Editor for an environmental journal which takes a case study approach, but you also developed and lead SESYNC’s short course, Teaching Socio-Environmental Synthesis with Case Studies. What is your background and how did that lead to an interest in case studies?

Cynthia: My background is in animal behavior, and when I used to tell people about my research on honeybees and birds, I found it easy to engage with non-scientists about what I did. But inevitably, the conversation would circle around to the question: “So how does your work help humans?” With some degree of exasperation, I’d often shrug and say: “Why does everything have to be about humans?!” I would have a different response now as I’ve come to realize that the human dimension is inescapable; we are hard-pressed to think of an environmental issue, ecosystem, or species that is not influenced by humans in some substantive way. These days, my work focuses more on helping students to learn about the relationships between humans and nature, particularly through the use of environmental case studies in the classroom. For me, case studies are a natural fit for teaching in the environmental arena. Understanding and addressing environmental problems involves many complex, abstract theories and concepts, and case studies help students to learn these by providing detailed examples that tangibly illustrate these difficult ideas. Furthermore, the problems presented in cases are often very compelling to students.

Why are case studies important for ecology?

Cynthia: As an experimental biologist, as many ecologists are, the concept of publishing a case study was somewhat foreign to me, and the idea of publishing a single example of a phenomenon ran counter to my trained instincts (i.e. that’s an anecdote!) However, like natural history monographs, I think there is great value in publishing research-based, detailed descriptions of a single subject, event, or issue. Because environmental problems are often deeply complex and require a systems perspective, case studies illuminate the roles and relationships between various factors in a socio-environmental system or problem in a detailed, nuanced way. Thus, case studies that can illustrate the roles of ecological factors and their relationship to other factors in a system are important for helping us understand and address a particular environmental problem involving that system.

Would you encourage ecologists to submit their own case studies to Case Studies in the Environment?

Cynthia: Absolutely! In the section that I am responsible for (along with Martha Groom, University of Washington, and Tuyeni Mwampamba, UNAM) we have already published some interesting case studies, including material on Bosque Protector Cerro Blanco, a dry tropical forest reserve in Ecuador; on an Australian woodland rehabilitation project; and an analysis of a massive data set on human-bear conflicts in New Jersey; with additional case studies coming soon on an eco-hotel in Costa Rica and on environmental justice, indigenous peoples, and development in British Columbia. I would encourage any colleagues at ESA to talk with me about case studies (you can likely find me at the SESYNC booth in the exhibit hall), or to get in touch via the journal at cse@ucpress.edu.

 

Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case study articles, case study pedagogy articles, and a repository for editor-reviewed case study slides. The journal aims to inform faculty, students, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.

Through December 31, 2017, all Case Studies in the Environment content is available free. To learn more about the journal, including guidelines for prospective authors, please visit cse.ucpress.edu.

 


Our Most Precious Resource: A National Water Quality Month Reading List

August is National Water Quality Month, a time to reflect on what we are doing to both prevent water pollution and preserve water resources around the country. Check out the list below to learn more about water history, climate change, and the future of water in the western US.

The Atlas of Water: Mapping the World’s Most Critical Resource by Maggie Black

Using vivid graphics, maps, and charts, The Atlas of Water explores the complex human interaction with water around the world. This vibrant atlas addresses all the pressing issues concerning water, from water shortages and excessive demand, to dams, pollution, and privatization, all considered in terms of the growing threat of an increasingly unpredictable climate. It also outlines critical tools for managing water, providing safe access to water, and preserving the future of the world’s water supply.

 

Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner

In this incisive examination of lead poisoning during the past half century, Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner focus on one of the most contentious and bitter battles in the history of public health. Lead Wars details how the nature of the epidemic has changed and highlights the dilemmas public health agencies face today in terms of prevention strategies and chronic illness linked to low levels of toxic exposure. Including content about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Lead Wars chronicles the obstacles faced by public health workers in the conservative, pro-business, anti-regulatory climate that took off in the Reagan years and that stymied efforts to eliminate lead from the environments and the bodies of American children.

 

Water and Los Angeles: A Tale of Three Rivers, 1900-1941 by William Deverell and Tom Sitton

Los Angeles rose to significance in the first half of the twentieth century by way of its complex relationship to three rivers: the Los Angeles, the Owens, and the Colorado. The remarkable urban and suburban trajectory of southern California since then cannot be fully understood without reference to the ways in which each of these three river systems came to be connected to the future of the metropolitan region.

A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program for monographs.

 

Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History by David Gilmartin

The Indus basin was once an arid pastoral watershed, but by the second half of the twentieth century, it had become one of the world’s most heavily irrigated and populated river basins. Launched under British colonial rule in the nineteenth century, this irrigation project spurred political, social, and environmental transformations that continued after the 1947 creation of the new states of India and Pakistan. In this first large-scale environmental history of the region, David Gilmartin focuses on the changes that occurred in the basin as a result of the implementation of the world’s largest modern integrated irrigation system.

 

Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West by James Lawrence Powell

Where will the water come from to sustain the great desert cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix? In a provocative exploration of the past, present, and future of water in the West, James Lawrence Powell begins at Lake Powell, the vast reservoir that has become an emblem of this story. Writing for a wide audience, Powell shows us exactly why an urgent threat during the first half of the twenty-first century will come not from the rising of the seas but from the falling of the reservoirs.