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Want to slow climate change? Stop killing sharks

Want to slow climate change? Stop killing sharks

By on 30 Sep 2015commentsShare

With shark attacks on the rise in Australia, a handful of researchers gathered in Sydney on Tuesday to discuss potential shark repelling technologies. A new study published in Nature Climate Change, however, suggests that repelling sharks from vegetated coastal areas — or even more drastic options like partially culling shark populations — could be bad news for the climate. (And, it probably goes without saying, bad news for the sharks.) The Guardian reports:

With about 90% of the world’s sharks and other large predator fish wiped out through overfishing and culling, potential prey such as sea turtles, stingrays and crabs have flourished.

As a result, turtles have been free to munch their way through larger amounts of seagrass and crabs have been able to disturb a greater amount of seabed sediment. Such consequences have “far reaching consequences on carbon cycling and, by implication, our ability to ameliorate climate change impacts” the paper warns.

The research, conducted by academics from Deakin University, University of Technology Sydney and Griffith University, said vegetated coastal habitats store 50% of the carbon buried in all ocean sediments, representing about 25bn tonnes.

The links between predators and vegetated coastal areas (like salt marshes and mangroves) have been previously established, but this study is one of the first to take a deep dive into the actual mechanisms at play and connect these mechanisms to carbon sequestration and climate change.

The scientists write, “Sea turtles and dugongs preferentially forage in seagrass microhabitats that are low in predation risk. Seagrass microhabitats associated with low predation risk have lower [carbon] stocks than do microhabitats associated with high predation risk.” Basically, in the presence of animals like tiger sharks, grazers like sea turtles and manatees tend to feed elsewhere, and slow-growing, carbon-trapping seagrass is allowed to grow unadulterated.

For further evidence of sharks’ utility, just take a look at this animated diagram, as published in Nature Climate Change*:

via Giphy

Immediately, it should be obvious that the derpshark (Carcharodon derpius) and its toothy relatives are not only important keystone species, they are also significantly less frightening than one might have imagined. (The derpshark is, however, deeply terrifying in a more existential sense, much like the fact of Go-Gurt or Justin Bieber’s monkey.)

So Grist’s advice to the Australian policymakers responsible for solving the shark attack problem: Skip the “underwater gates that release electro-magnetic fields and flexible plastic nets” to repel sharks. Instead, why not simply mandate surfers to wear large shark costumes instead of wetsuits? Fighting climate change and shark bites with the same stick — that’s a policy with some teeth.

*Diagram not actually published in Nature Climate Change. Which you probably could have guessed.


Shark culling could indirectly accelerate climate change, study warns

, The Guardian.


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Want to slow climate change? Stop killing sharks

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Chevron and BP are pulling out of wind and solar

Oily withdrawal

Chevron and BP are pulling out of wind and solar

Roo Reynolds


Beyond Petroleum? More like Bake the Planet.

BP and Chevron, two of the corporations that are doing the most to toast the climate, bleat at us in costly advertisements about their meager efforts to harness renewable energy. But now even their modest renewables programs are being quietly dismantled.

“Renewable energy is vital to our planet,” Chevron helpfully reminded us in one of its insincere “We Agree” ads. “At Chevron, we’re investing millions in solar and biofuel technologies.” (Millions! From a company that made $21.4 billion in profits last year.) Beyond the marketing hype, here’s an injection of reality from Bloomberg’s Businessweek:

In January, employees of Chevron’s renewable power group, whose mission was to launch large, profitable clean-energy projects, dined at San Francisco’s trendy Sens restaurant as managers applauded them for nearly doubling their projected profit in 2013, the group’s first full year of operations. But the mood quickly turned somber. Despite the financial results and the team’s role in helping launch more than a half-dozen solar and geothermal projects capable of powering at least 65,000 homes, managers told the group that funding for the effort would dry up and encouraged staffers to find jobs elsewhere, say four people who attended the dinner. …

“When you have a very successful and profitable core oil and gas business, it can be quite difficult to justify investing in renewables,” says Robert Redlinger, who ran a previous effort at Chevron to develop large renewable-energy projects before he left in 2010. “It requires significant commitment at the most senior levels of management. I didn’t perceive that kind of commitment from Chevron during my time with the firm.”

But it’s not like Chevron is acting as a renegade in an otherwise responsible industry.

At the turn of the century, BP hired consultants who redesigned its logo as a green sun/flower mashup. It also introduced the marketing tagline “Beyond Petroleum.” Not all the money from the rebranding effort flowed to admen, though. In 2005, the company excitedly announced that it would spend $8.3 billion on green energy projects over a decade. (Compare that to the $42 billion the company expects to spend cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon mess.) Well, great news — BP hit that spending target a year early! Depressing news — it’s not going to commit to any more spending on renewable energy other than biofuels. From a March Bloomberg article:

BP has been disposing of assets to pay for the costs of the spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and last year put wind farms worth as much as $3.1 billion up for sale. In 2012, it scrapped a four-year old project to spend $300 million on a cellulosic ethanol refinery in Florida, and the year before, it shut its solar power business. It’s keeping biofuel research.

“BP hasn’t made a public commitment on future spending for alternative energy,’’ Phil New, BP’s chief executive officer of alternative energy, said in [a sustainability] report. “The financial commitment we made in 2005 has allowed us to cast a wide net in search of businesses that could be financially self-sustaining, and a good fit for BP. Our biofuels business fits the bill.”

If the reality that oil giants plan to continue blithely wrecking the planet has left you depressed, cheer yourself up with this little Chevron fairy tale:

Chevron Dims the Lights on Green Power, Bloomberg Businessweek
BP Ends Renewables Energy Target After $8.3 Billion Spend, Bloomberg

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Chevron and BP are pulling out of wind and solar

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Air apparent: Once we start geoengineering, it may be hard to stop

Air apparent: Once we start geoengineering, it may be hard to stop

NASA Goddard

Despite the antics of technofixers, policy wonks, and mad billionaires everywhere, geoengineering persists as an appealing-if-wacky solution to all our climate ills. The basic logic is seductive: If we’ve messed up the climate by pumping bad stuff into the atmosphere, maybe we can undo some damage by pumping some other stuff up there, too. Of course, a minefield of potential blunders awaits the intrepid geoengineer, including wreaking havoc on rainfall or depleting polar ozone. And then there is the geopolitical factor, i.e. what may be good for China is not so good for India.

A recent study [PDF] by scientists from North America, Europe, and Japan suggests another, more distant concern, and yet a vital one: What happens when we stop geoengineering?

One of the big mainstays of geoengineering is the idea of solar radiation management, the deflection of some of the sun’s energy before it enters the atmosphere. For example, there is often a measurable temperature decrease in the months following large volcanic eruptions, thanks to a massive belch of sulfur dioxide and reflective particulate matter. Would-be earth hackers suggest copying this effect with artificial aerosols, minus the magma and, ideally, the acid rain. (As if building a giant, friendly, fake volcano in our atmosphere totally doesn’t require the international cooperation, technological innovation, scientific know-how, and hard problem-solving other climate solutions demand.)

Though much is still unknown about the potential effects of intentionally saturating our atmosphere with sulfates, the authors of the recent paper thought maybe it’d be a good idea to look before we leap into the caldera of the fake-volcano business. Using several different atmospheric models, they studied what would happen if 50 years of stratospheric solar deflection were followed by an abrupt halt. The result, reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, could be a rapid and devastating increase in temperature.

Here’s why: If we were to start and then stop maintaining a protective layer of aerosols in the atmosphere, solar radiation would begin hitting us right where it left off — and the effect of the greenhouse gasses accumulated during our half-century in the synthetic shade would quickly become apparent. (The paper warns of the “moral hazard” of geoengineering, letting us off the hook for the dirty emissions at the root of the problem.) Though the different climate models used by the researchers showed different rates of increase, the overall effect was squarely in the “not good” category, including shifts in weather patterns and the usual, depressing decrease in polar sea ice. Basically, if we ever try to rely on geoengineering to save us from our own greenhouse gas emissions, we are all going to have to agree to NEVER STOP.

That means, no political squabbles, no international kerfuffles, no unforeseen consequences, no budget problems, nothing. Good luck with that, world.

Amelia Urry is Grist’s intern.Find this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Business & Technology


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Air apparent: Once we start geoengineering, it may be hard to stop

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We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 8, 2013

Mother Jones

Marines from the Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-East, navigate their way through the obstacle course at Camp Geiger, NC, Oct 4, 2013. This is the first company at ITB with female students as part of a deliberate collection of data on the performance of female Marines when executing existing infantry tasks and training events. US Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Paul S. Mancuso/Released.

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We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 8, 2013

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Colorado Shows Why Liberals Need to Get Better at Insurgent Politics

Mother Jones

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Alec MacGillis has a good rundown of yesterday’s recall election in Colorado, in which a couple of legislators who supported a new gun control law were ousted by the NRA and its fellow travelers. MacGillis points out that although the gun control side had more money and organization than usual in these fights, the NRA was nonetheless working on pretty favorable terrain. Ed Kilgore uses this as an illustration of one of his favorite hobbyhorses:

In stressing the circumstances that made the landscape difficult in Colorado, I’m not making excuses; au contraire, I simply want to draw attention to the fact that progressives chronically have a hard time winning ballot tests in competitive territory in anything other than presidential elections. Much of that has to do with the eternal reluctance to participate in midterm or offyear or special elections by the younger and minority voters who are disproportionately represented in the Democratic Party and progressive causes. That’s the practical reason (added to the moral reasons) why fights over voting procedures are extremely important, and why old-school and new-school voter mobilization techniques are more crucial for the Left than for the Right.

Generally speaking, the right has long been better at building up from the grass roots than the left. My hometown of Orange County is a pretty good example: starting with friendly territory in the early 60s, conservatives made it into a right-wing powerhouse by starting with the school boards, then the city councils, and eventually helping elect Ronald Reagan governor. We all know how that worked out.

This is basically an insurgent strategy, and like all insurgent strategies it was adopted from a position of weakness. If you have a big army, you want a straight-on battle. If you don’t, you adopt the tactics of George Washington. Likewise, if the broad public is on your side, you want to focus on big national elections. If it isn’t, you need to do the hard work of changing things from the bottom up.

In other words, it’s not as though the insurgent strategy is inherently superior. It’s hard work, and it can get washed away in an instant by a big national tide—as it did in 2006 and 2008. In one sense, then, it’s wise not to get too worked up about local losses like the one in Colorado. Those kinds of things happen all the time. At the same time, Ed is right: liberals really do need to figure out a way to get their core supporters to turn out for more than just big presidential elections. The insurgent strategy gave conservatives control of most state legislatures in 2010, which in turn paved the way for unprecedented levels of gerrymandering and a wave of voter suppression laws that threaten to cripple liberals not just locally, but nationally as well for years to come.

I’ll confess that since I have no real experience with this kind of thing, it all puzzles me. Why don’t young and minority voters tend to turn out except in presidential elections? I’m aware that they don’t, and that Democrats have spent plenty of time trying to figure out how to change that, but it’s still something of a mystery.

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Colorado Shows Why Liberals Need to Get Better at Insurgent Politics

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New Mexico’s record drought forcing farmers to extremes


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New Mexico’s record drought forcing farmers to extremes

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Nicaragua OKs plan for cross-country canal, environment be damned

Nicaragua OKs plan for cross-country canal, environment be damned

“Let’s cut it in two and let shipping through.”

Nicaragua is one step closer to being carved in half by a massive cross-country canal. Leftist President Daniel Ortega rammed the project through his country’s congress last week.

The lawmakers gave the Hong Kong-based HKND Group a 50-year concession to excavate and operate the canal, which is intended to rival Panama’s. If it’s actually built — and that’s still a big if — it promises to give an economic boost to the bitterly poor country. Nicaragua would get a minority share of profits and, say backers, tens of thousands of jobs too.

But critics warn that would come at the expense of the environment and clean water supplies. From Agence France-Presse:

Centro Humboldt environmental group deputy director Victor Campos told AFP the project to link Nicaragua’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts will jeopardize the watershed that supplies water to most of the impoverished country’s population when it transits through Lake Nicaragua. …

HKDN spokesman Ronald MacLean said the company was considering four possible routes for the waterway, and all would necessarily go across Lake Nicaragua.

In the lake lies an island with an active volcano and some 300 islets that serve as breeding grounds for the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the largest reptile living in Central America and the Caribbean.

One of the possible canal routes would pass through the sprawling Cerro Silva nature reserve between the southern Caribbean coast and the El Rama River port, home to coastal ecosystems, wetlands and tropical forests that environmentalists warn could disappear.

Also in the path of the construction is the Punta Gorda nature reserve in the southern Caribbean, home to more than 120 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, mollusks and crustaceans.

MacLean said environmental experts would be hired to measure and minimize environmental and social impacts. But groundbreaking is initially scheduled for May 2014, less than a year away, providing precious little time to prepare environmental analyses and recommendations.

Independent experts are skeptical, meanwhile, saying the plan would be so hard to pull off that it may never be realized. From The New York Times:

Experts say that while the approval process led by President Daniel Ortega has been swift, environmental opposition, changes in shipping patterns and construction costs could easily thrust the proposal onto the large list of discarded plans for a Nicaraguan canal.

“It’s not going to happen, that was my first reaction,” said Noel Maurer, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School who helped write a book about the Panama Canal. “A pipe dream might be too strong, but I would just consider it a really bad investment.”

The challenges for Nicaraguan canal planners have always been enormous, and the current project is nothing if not ambitious. It would entail slashing through around 180 miles of thick tropical terrain — roughly triple the length of the Panama Canal — and then pumping a virtual sea through a series of locks deep enough for massive cargo ships.

Activists are already protesting the plans. “Nicaragua isn’t for sale,” the Movement for Nicaragua, a coalition of civil-society groups, wrote in an open letter to the country, the AP reports. “Nicaragua belongs to all Nicaraguans and isn’t the private property of Ortega and his family.”

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Lautenberg Leaves Legacy on Chemical Reform

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Frank Lautenberg, a five-term senator from New Jersey, died Monday at age 89. All over the internet, obituaries for the long-serving progressive note the issues he took up during his tenure, but one that often goes unnoticed is his work to overhaul chemical safety rules. For years, Lautenberg was the leading voice in the effort to reform the Toxic Substance Control Act, or TSCA, a 37-year-old law governing tens of thousands of chemicals.

Less than two weeks ago, Lautenberg unveiled a bipartisan reform bill that would have made some significant changes to the outdated—and many would say, dangerous—chemical rules. The bill was criticized by many in the environmental group as being too weak, especially as compared to bills that Lautenberg had introduced independently in the past. Still, chemical reform will be a legacy issue for Lautenberg.

“He was the person who really started the national conversation on reforming our chemical policies,” said Andy Igrejas, executive director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition public health, environment, business and labor groups working on TSCA reform. “He’s been a real stalwart, a champion.” Despite being in poor health, Lautenberg had continued working on the bill he released in May. “Even as late as last week he was down in DC pushing it forward, crafting it, trying to get bipartisan support,” said Igrejas.

“He wasn’t someone who scared easily,” Igrejas continued. “A lot of politicians want to do the right thing, but in the face of a major lobbying effort by big money interests, they fold. He had the courage to really stick with big issues.”

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also lauded his past work on chemicals: “Perhaps his most enduring achievement was to help inform and protect the public from the harm of toxic chemicals, including creating the nation’s toxic right-to-know law, establishing the US Chemical Safety Board and pushing for greater security at chemical plants.”

Lautenberg is also remember for his work on other public health issues, such as alcohol and tobacco.


Lautenberg Leaves Legacy on Chemical Reform

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Agency That Investigates Plant Explosions "Grossly Mismanaged"

Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by the Center for Public Integrity.

Editor’s note, April 18: An explosion Wednesday at a fertilizer plant north of Waco, Texas, killed between five and 15 people, authorities say, and injured more than 160. The US Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency that investigates chemical accidents and issues safety recommendations, says it expects a “large investigative team” to arrive at the scene this afternoon. As the Center for Public Integrity reported Wednesday, the board has been criticized for failing to complete investigations in a timely manner.

On April 2, 2010, an explosion at the Tesoro Corp. oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington, killed five workers instantly and severely burned two others, who succumbed to their wounds.

Eighteen days later, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and unleashing a massive oil spill.

In both cases, the US Chemical Safety Board—an independent agency modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board—launched investigations. Like the NTSB, the Chemical Safety Board is supposed to follow such probes with recommendations aimed at preventing similar tragedies.

Yet three years after Tesoro and Deepwater Horizon, both inquiries remain open—exemplars of a chemical board under attack for what critics call its sluggish investigative pace and short attention span. A former board member calls the agency “grossly mismanaged.”

The number of board accident reports, case studies, and safety bulletins has fallen precipitously since 2006, an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found. Thirteen board investigations—one more than five years old—are incomplete.

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Agency That Investigates Plant Explosions "Grossly Mismanaged"

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Rand Paul Does Not Deserve a Gold Star for Speaking at Howard University

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Some supporters of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) think he got a bum rap from critics of his speech at historically black Howard University this week. Andrew Sullivan wrote that “the sheer lack of any grace among some liberal commenters on what was an obvious outreach to African-Americans depresses me.” Others, like National Journal‘s Josh Kraushaar, who gave Paul a hearty pat on the back for “showing up to make a case,” were impressed that Paul went to Howard in the first place.

We can count Paul among the people impressed that Paul showed up. “Some people have asked if I’m nervous about speaking at Howard,” Paul joked. “They say ‘You know, some of the students and faculty may be Democrats.'” That landed like a brick on a concrete slab. After that, as though Paul had spent no time learning about Howard itself, Paul proceeded to lecture his audience on the history of black voters and the Republican Party, using the abridged version preferred by Fox News pundits: Lincoln freed the slaves, Democrats were the party of the Jim Crow, so black people should vote Republican. Paul mangled the name of one of the only elected black senators and a Howard alum, Massachusetts Republican Edward Brooke, calling him “Edwin Brooks,” and then asked the audience if they knew that the founders of the NAACP were Republicans. The people in the audience replied, laughing and incredulous, that they did. Later he tried to whitewash his position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and an audience member pointed out that Paul’s opposition to a key provision of the act was “on tape.”

From his first lame joke, Paul condescended to his audience by repeatedly underestimating their knowledge of a subject they almost certainly understand better than he does. Institutions like Howard exist in part because much of America once refused to educate blacks and whites together. Paul might as well go to NASA to lecture the scientists on astrophysics.

Also strange is the presumption that somehow Paul was doing something risky or brave by speaking at a historically black college. Howard University is not a Greyhound bus station at midnight. It is way past time for pundits to retire the notion that white politicians deserve extra credit for being willing to talk to a room full of black people. This is, as one Republican once put it, the soft bigotry of low expectations. The history of Republican politics and the conservative movement means that a black audience has every right to be skeptical of the GOP, and that the burden is rightfully on that party to reconcile with black voters. Politicians are supposed to reach out to voters, not the other way around. No more gold stars for attendance.

The official Republican history of race in America should no longer ignore the fact that Republicans abandoned black people after Reconstruction in the name of “reconciliation” between North and South or elide the party’s post-1964 embrace of the politics of white racial resentment. That the party that was once the party of Jim Crow now gets upwards of 90 percent of the black vote is not an indictment of the Democratic Party. It is an indictment of the Republican Party.

Some of Paul’s defenders, such as The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf, have complained that Paul was unfairly mocked as being “hilariously backward about race,” even though Paul’s positions on war and drug enforcement are much more progressive than other politicians, including many Democrats. Aside from the fact that the Howard audience was quite receptive to Paul on those issues, it’s beside the point. In college, I used to hear all the time from liberals that simply being liberals somehow meant that they couldn’t do or say anything racist. Paul wasn’t being unfairly mocked for his positions on America’s various wars against abstract concepts. He was justifiably mocked for dishonestly condescending to his audience. Having the “correct” politics no more absolves him of that than they would the annoying campus liberals I encountered as a college student.

Paul’s unorthodox (for a Republican) positions on drug enforcement and national security, and even his recent shift on immigration, make him a better messenger to minority voters than most for Republicans. They reflect an admirable empathy for the marginalized and less powerful that the Republican party in general rarely expresses. Despite its misses, during Paul’s Howard speech you could hear the beginnings of a small-government message that might appeal to minorities. But if that message is delivered with a comical underestimation of those who are meant to receive it, then don’t be surprised if they toss the envelope in the trash without opening it.

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Rand Paul Does Not Deserve a Gold Star for Speaking at Howard University

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