Tag Archives: sustainability

Aqua Vino is wine with a cause: marine mammal captivity

The Georgia Aquarium fights to import wild beluga whales.The Georgia Aquarium is promoting its 10th annual fundraiser, Aqua Vino Nights.  According to the Georgia Aquarium, the event offers an opportunity to “witness the remarkable behavior of social animals and socialites” for the ticket price of $150 to $325 (Georgia Aquarium members pay less), for a cause.  The Georgia Aquarium says that the cause is its important southern sea otter research conservation initiatives.  But what other cause does the event support?

Aqua Vino Nights: exploiting some marine mammals to "conserve" others

Aqua Vino Nights: exploiting some marine mammals to “conserve” others

If one traces the money trail for the Georgia Aquarium’s various “initiatives”, he may find a direct trail supporting the aquarium’s claims.  But what of the less direct (or, rather, less obvious) trail?  What does one find?  In the Georgia Aquarium’s own words, one will find “remarkable . . . social animals” held for a lifetime of captivity, doing tricks for a paying public.

Beluga whales captured and held in tanks in Russia awaiting their "disposition." Photo credit M. Lanovoy

Beluga whales captured and held in tanks in Russia awaiting their “disposition.” Photo credit M. Lanovoy

Beluga WhalesOne will find the beluga whales and dolphins housed in concrete tanks, including the window in the Georgia Aquarium ballroom which allows guests to party down while watching the beluga whales.  These whales, who in the wild swim in family and community groups of tens to hundreds and traverse hundreds of miles in regular migration in Arctic waters, are relegated to a morbidly small tank. In its short operation time, four beluga whales have died (the link does not include the death in 2015 of Maris’ latest calf) in the Georgia Aquarium’s tank, and one, Nico, died in 2009 about three weeks after being transported to SeaWorld of Texas.

Despite its morbidity record, or perhaps because of it, the Georgia Aquarium is seeking to import 18 wild-caught Russian beluga whales.  The aquarium awaits the decision of Federal District Judge Amy Totenberg, following an August 14, 2015, hearing in which NOAA, the Georgia Aquarium and intervenors Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Cetacean Institute International and others presented their arguments for summary judgment.

Georgia Aquarium would steal these lives

Beluga whales in Russian waters. The scale may difficult to grasp, but not so difficult that life in a tank is revealed to be a horrid life sentence.  Image from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Anyone who has seen the beluga whales up close at the Georgia Aquarium will undoubtedly come away with a sense of wonder.  “Wonder” is exactly what its customers should be doing.  They should wonder why aquariums and marine parks exploit certain species while claiming that captivity and exploitation of “remarkable . . . social animals” are necessary to conserve?

The beluga tank serves as a backdrop to the Georgia Aquarium's ballroom.

The beluga tank serves as a backdrop to the Georgia Aquarium’s ballroom. Photo from the Georgia Aquarium flickr photos.

DolphinsAnd then there are the dolphins, another of the “remarkable . . . social animals” whom the Georgia Aquarium keeps captive.  The Georgia Aquarium currently holds 13 dolphins in its tank system, including five who were shipped from SeaWorld San Diego on May 13, 2014, but excluding

Shaka, wild-caught, shipped from the Georgia Aquarium to Marineland Florida on December 9, 2013.

Shaka, wild-caught, shipped from the Georgia Aquarium to Marineland Florida on December 9, 2013.  Photo from Dolphin Quest.

Shaka and Lily, who were part of the original eleven dolphins at the Georgia Aquarium, subsequently shipped to its Marineland location on December 9, 2013.

These 15 currently-alive dolphins tell only a thinly-veiled version of the story.  Behind that thin veil are the thousands of dolphins who have been captured (or bred from those captured) by the aquarium and marine park industry.  Marineland Florida, now owned by the Georgia Aquarium, was one of the first of such attractions in the United States.  Its 14 currently-living dolphins, including two who were captured in the early 1970s, mask a record of death that will shock anyone except the callous.  A 2004 report by the Sun-Sentinel noted that “Seaquarium has lost 64 of 89 dolphins since 1972.  Of those whose age could be determined, more than half died at 10 or younger, including 16 in their first year.”  And that was 2004.  (Because the required record-keeping (16 U.S.C. §1374(c)(10)) is unattached to any meaningful enforcement, one wonders whether it is reasonable to have confidence in the accuracy and timeliness of the records, which are accessible via the Freedom of Information Act.)

Capturing for the aquarium and marine park industry.  While the Georgia Aquarium fights to be able to import wild-caught marine mammals, other parts of the world do not have to wage the same fight to capture them.  Even killing them en masse, intentionally, during the capture process is permitted.  In Taiji, Japan, they do not capture beluga whales because Taiji is not located in the Arctic; they capture, and kill, the marine mammals that migrate in its waters.

On September 18, 2015, a community of 75 to 80 bottlenose dolphins were herded in a “drive hunt” into a small cove.  For two days, family members were ripped from one another, with the ones prettiest and deemed most suitable for displays taken for the aquarium and marine park industry.  Fifty, or approximately two-thirds of the community, was captured in a process that is neither humane nor sustainable.

Dolphins thrash in panic as the Taiji dolphin hunters attempt to separate dolphins into "takes" and "not takes." Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Dolphins thrash in panic as the Taiji dolphin hunters attempt to separate dolphins into “takes” and “not takes.” Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

This photo and others taken by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reveal some of the terror that the capturing process causes in the dolphins.  While we do not know what dolphins “feel”, we do know that members of the closely-knit dolphin communities will fight to stay together, even at their own risk, during this process.  Yesterday’s image of the dolphin mother and calf being separated so that the mother could be taken into captivity is horrific to an ethical human.  The calf, not taken with his mother, is now condemned to whatever “life” can reasonably be expected, without the relationship with his mother that would have taught him survival skills.

Dolphins are trapped under a net in the process of capturing, subduing and separating dolphins for the aquarium industry. Photo credit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Dolphins are trapped under a net in the process of capturing, subduing and separating dolphins for the aquarium industry. Photo credit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt quota. Image and data compilation from Cetabase on Facebook.

Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt quota. Image and data compilation from Cetabase on Facebook.

But to an aquarium industry and its supporters (ticket-purchasers) this mother-calf separation is invisible.  The predictable death of the calf will not be noted in a statistic anywhere, certainly not in the quota allowed by the Japanese Fisheries Ministry.  His death and the fate of the pod decimated by the Taiji dolphin hunters will fade into oblivion.  It will certainly not be reported by the industry that will be profitable only so long as facts such as these remain hidden from view.

The entire aquarium and marine park industry is culpable.  The U.S. aquarium and marine park industry likes to proclaim, while it neglects to mention or even abandons the current effort of the Georgia Aquarium, that it no longer captures marine mammals from the wild.  Further, it attempts to distance itself from the Taiji hunt.  It does not want the paying public to connect the dots, but it is without question that the world aquarium and marine park industry has fashioned itself on the U.S. model of shows to attract the public to its turnstiles. The boom of U.S. aquariums that started in the 1950s and 1960s is only beginning in the rest of the world.  China, Japan, the Middle East, islands of the Caribbean and elsewhere are busy playing catch-up to the mature U.S. industry.

But what has been revealed in the 50-plus years since the U.S. boom is that dolphins and whales are not suited to captivity.  The statistics alone tell the tale.  But these statistics and the stories behind them have been distilled into films and books that make the institution of marine mammal captivity anything but the benign image portrayed by the display industry.  Films like Blackfish, A Fall from Freedom, Saving Flipper, A Whale of a Business, Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered, the to-be-released Born to be Free, and the Oscar-winning The Cove present the truth about an exploitative industry that should have been retired long before 2015.  Books like Orca: The Whale Called Killer, Death at SeaWorld, Beneath the Surface and Of Orcas and Men fill in more details than can be captured in films.  All of them reveal that the fascination with whales and dolphins in captivity is a morbid one

The aquarium and marine park industry is, however, profitable.  Highly so.  And as long as the public continues to pass through the cha-ching of the turnstile, the industry will continue to exploit dolphins and other marine mammals.  The world aquarium and marine park industry, modeled after the U.S., uses dolphins and other marine mammals as replaceable, fungible attractions, much as the U.S. industry did in its early years, in a cycle of unending capture.  In the U.S., aquariums and marine parks are beginning to feel the tide of history turning, thanks to the efforts of non-governmental organizations, authors and film-makers.  The National Aquarium, for instance, ended its dolphin shows in 2014, but rumors of its ending dolphin captivity have not come to fruition.  Yet.

Conservation is the new favorite word. In its efforts to “stay current” and face down the growing awareness of the horror of captivity for marine mammals, the U.S. aquarium and marine park industry is attempting to associate, in the public’s mind, captivity with conservation.  “We do good works” is the new mantra.  “Come to the aquarium and take part in conservation.” But the fact remains, and it is a fact, that it is the dolphin or beluga attraction that keeps the money flowing.  The advertisement for the Aqua Vino event at the top of this post makes this perfectly clear.  It is another fact, also born out by this event, that the conservation efforts of the aquarium industry are mainly focused on other species, not the main attractions.  The new message to the public is that we must exploit to do good.  But we are better and smarter than that.  We know that there need be no link between the two.  And we also know that if they are linked, the money for conservation is tainted with the morbid lives of sacrificed individuals.

Aqua Vino may be an event for a cause.  But that cause is marine mammal captivity.

Beluga Cousteau quote

Trailer for Born to be Free:

The warmest year ever recorded, and Sen. Inhofe believes it is a hoax

As Senator Bernie Sanders spoke this week during the Senate confirmation hearing of Gina McCarthy as the new Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I found myself once again encouraged by the existence of true leadership in our country.

I have transcribed part of what he says so that I can delight in seeing the words as well as hearing them, and will not further delay your experience, except to say that I thank the stars above for Senator Sanders, his fine mind, and his willingness to share that mind with us in the face of those, like Senator Inhofe, who have none of those qualities, except the sharing part.  Senator Inhofe never ceases to ignore science and to favor the corporate interests who expressly set out to create the sense that there was, in the 21st Century, any controversy among scientists as to the existence of climate change.

Thank you, Senator Sanders.

But really, this is not a debate about Gina McCarthy.  Senator Barrasso makes it very clear what the debate is about.  And it is a debate about global warming and whether or not we are going to listen to the leading scientists of this country, who are telling us that global warming is the most serious planetary crisis that we and the global community face and whether we are going to address that crisis in a serious manner.  In essence, what Senator Barrasso has just said is, no, he does not want the EPA to do that; he does not want the EPA to listen to science.  What he wants is us to continue doing as little as possible as we see extreme weather disturbances: drought, floods, and heat waves all over the world take place.

So, let me go on record as saying, I want EPA to be vigorous in protecting our children and future generations from the horrendous crisis that we face from global warming.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded for the continental United States, and over 24,000 new record highs were set in the U.S. alone.  It was the hottest year in recorded history in New York, Washington D.C., Louisville, Kentucky, even my home city of Burlington, Vermont, and other cities across the country.

Last year’s drought affecting two-thirds of the United States was the worst in half a century, contributing to extraordinary wildfires, burning more than 9,000,000 acres of land, reported the National Interagency Fire Center.

Heat waves and droughts are not limited to the U.S.  Australia, for instance, just experienced a four-month heat wave with severe wild fires, record-setting temperatures, and torrential rains and flooding, causing 2.4 billion dollars in damages, according to the New York Times.

And to conclude:

And what Senator Inhofe has written and talked about is his belief that global warming is one of the major hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people, that it’s a hoax pushed by people like Al Gore, the United Nations and the Hollywood elite.

. . .

So that is the issue.  That is exactly [what] the issue.  Do we agree with Senator Inhofe that global warming is a hoax? And that we do not want the Federal government, the EPA, the Department of Energy, to address that issue because it is a quote, unquote “hoax”, according to Senator Inhofe and others? Or do we believe and agree with the overwhelming majority of scientists who tell us that global warming is the most serious planetary crisis that we face, and that we must act boldly and aggressively to protect the future of this planet?

That is what the issue is.  And that is why I am supporting Gina McCarthy.

Thank you, Senator Sanders, for continuing to be a voice of reason and science in a globally-warmed desert of hoax-criers and corporate sponsors.  I’m with you.

Mattel or Playmobil – Some Ideas for Whale- and Dolphin-Friendly Toy

Following up on the debacle of whale and dolphin (and shark-killing) toys that Mattel and Playmobil have devised, I have some suggestions that might actually engender a love of and respect for animals and nature, instead of Whale Dominatrix Barbie.

Sea Kayak and Whale from Tombarefoot.com

Sea Kayak and Whale from Tombarefoot.com Can you say, "Freaking Wow!"

Imagine how awesome it would be to see your child developing an interest in stand-up paddling or sea kayaking, such that it actually informed your family vacation next Summer.  How so very awesome to set their young minds on respect and appreciation, instead of control, manipulation, destruction – which is inherent in the current whale, dolphin and shark toys, that are rooted in maintaining and promoting the dolphin show.

A side-show barker couldn’t do much better at promoting the acceptability of whale and dolphin captivity than Mattel’s and Playmobil’s current toys.  But what about, instead of the current repertoire of whale- and dolphin-unfriendly toys, a:

  • Sea Kayak Barbie
  • Stand-up Paddling Barbie
  • Playmobil Dolphin Pod Watch
  • Whale Watching Barbie

Seriously.  Isn’t that the kind of toy you want your sons and daughters using to tease out their imagination (not that they need – or even should have – a plastic toy to do that – that’s a discussion for another day)?  One that calls them to do more than encourage the capture and domination of a species to do stupid tricks?  One that calls them to appreciate and value the magnificence of marine mammals in their own habitat, living in their own family and community groups.

Watch this video and see if you can’t imagine Mattel and Playmobil making a toy for your child that teaches these awesome values, instead of Capture! Dominate! Demean!

Wow.  Methinks there is a San Juan adventure in my future.  And if Mattel made a Sea Kayak Barbie?  Well, let’s just say that I can think of one little girl with an awesome Barbie in her future.

By the way, there are lots of these sea kayak and paddling adventure tours out there.  Since I have never done one, I can’t recommend one yet.  My friend over at Jules Rules is a serious traveler and outdoor adventure girl.  She’s going to be my first line for recommendations.

Mattel oughta have a Jules Rules Barbie.  Now, that is an awesome idea.

1945 to 1955 to 1965; two half-generations of change, Part II

From the last episode of this piece, I began my diatribe rather softly, merely suggesting that the “job creators” who hire the rest of us for a mere pittance, make their money by taking all our resources, leaving us, first, sick and, finally, dead, while creating a dependency on the stuff they sell us, and make us have to have.  <Breath>

Yep.  First, they take all our resources, leaving you water you can’t drink, mountains with soil that has no health (so you can’t even grow and can your own beans anymore, without worrying that there might be toxic levels of metals in them beans), and you with a host of health problems.  In toto, they have left you with a once beautiful home, a home to not just you but also millions of other creatures, that is forever (in all human lifetimes) changed. Forever, disturbed.  The Appalachia of your grandparents’ youth?  Of their grandparents?  Well, at the risk of being accused of being nostalgic, and not merely reporting facts about a very old planet and what a few latecomers have wrought, their Appalachia was better.  Objectively better.  Sorry.  There wasn’t a Superfund site because of the reclaiming of mining equipment.  Then there were watersheds that were created naturally.  Now, we have watersheds that we are working to safeguard and restore.  Fishable.  Swimmable.  Those were the days, and can be again.

But now that I’ve pissed off half of my friends and bored the other, with these bright and sunny facts, I’ll get to the point.  That is, to my opinions about a system that would allow some people to do this to our home and the rest of us, under the guise of “giving us jobs.” Sell it down the road.  This sister ain’t buyin’.

Here’s what I’m thinking.  We must be either:

  • not playing with a full deck of cards, to let some people take us to the proverbial cleaners, as they say, and on an ongoing basis, and saying thanks for it,


  • playing a game of cards with our every breath, that we think is a different card game.  That is to say, they have us thinking we’re playing something we’re not.

Because I think we’re a pretty smart lot, being apex scroungers and all, I believe it’s the latter.  I think we have a full deck, but the cards we are holding in our hot little hands aren’t capable of winning, ’cause we don’t know the game we’re playing.  And we don’t know that we don’t know.

Knowing better than to do so, you bite your tongue as you ask, “What is the card game we are playing?”

Well, since you asked, it’s the game of SORUBNED: the Stuff-oriented, Resource-using But Not Equitably Distributed game!  Yay!  And how’s our hand in the game of SORUBNED?

Well, that’s the thing.  Whether you have a good hand or a bad hand in any card game depends on the game.  It also depends on your understanding its rules.  We play SORUBNED, thinking it was like Go Fish, and didn’t realize that it was more like Blackjack.

Picture the game being played.  The card table that everyone in the 1950s had.  A cheap, beige, vinyl-covered one.  A few folks had the nicer ones with the green felt cover, with oaken hinges and sawtooth joinings.

The  ones who think they are playing Go Fish have the vinyl ones.  The group with the felt knows the rules of SOURBNED and knows that we don’t.  That groups’ members know that if they play Blackjack against an opponent who thinks the game is Go Fish, their opponents will giggle gleefully until the winner is announced.  At the end of the game.

During play, he will giggle along with you as you squeal with delight as he hands you over his Sevens and Fours and Sixes and Threes so you can amass a pile of matching cards.  He giggles in the same tone as you pass your Aces and Jacks to him.  So there we are, our scrambling for as many matching cards as we can; their looking for two cards that will seal the deal.

You know it’s true.  We are waking up to this realization.

The problem is, we should have woken up to the rules somewhere around 1965 (back to the theme of this piece – 1945, when we really began stoking the furnace of unsustainability).  But here we are.  Some woke up a bit earlier, some weren’t ever really asleep, and some have managed to sleepwalk through the whole game, having taken the Blue Pill.

Solution?  That’s for another day.  Meanwhile, I’ll exercise my uniquely 1955 expression of the human ability to ignore the oncoming doom, with a song, as I begin to venture beyond the path between this chair and my coffee pot.

Oh, what a beautiful Jackman!

Oh, what a beautiful day!

I got a beautiful feeling

Everythin’s goin’ my way.

Oh, the sounds of the Earth are like music,

Oh, the sounds of the Earth are like music,

The breeze is so busy, it don’t miss a tree,

And an old weepin’ willer is laughin’ at me.

Oh, what a beautiful mornin’!

Michael Jackson’s Earth Song on Earth Day

Earth Song Elephant Michael Jackson

From Earth Song, Michael Jackson video

This morning I was reflecting that I couldn’t really remember the song when Earth Song was first released.  I thought that maybe it was because, in 1995-1996, the time of its release, I wasn’t paying much attention to videos or even music.  True, I didn’t have a TV for most of that time.

This morning I learned that it was not because I was becoming a fogey or even a budding Luddite, but rather, I hadn’t heard it because it was not released as a single in the United States.

Let me repeat that: Michael Jackson’s Earth Song was not released as a single in the U.S. in 1995-1996.  What is his largest-selling single in Britain was not released in the U.S.  Eh?  Not released in the United States.

Say what?

According to an 2009 article in Treehugger via Creative Loafing (I savor my papers), Epic Records apparently didn’t feel that it was a topic/song of interest in the U.S. market, or would have much appeal here.

Hm.  Americans not interested in global environmental or military devastation (also related to environmental exploitation and resource abuse).  Hm.  In 1995, 1996.  Hm.

So, what was going on in the U.S./world during 1995 and 1996 that might have informed Epic’s decision or determination that not releasing this hugely popular song would be more profitable than releasing it?  Someone with better research skills than I could come up with a comprehensive list, but here’s an appetizer of events in 1995 and 1996:

  • According to Encyclopedia Britannica’s The Environment: Year in Review 1995 (you must have a subscription to read the entire article, which I don’t, but here’s an excerpt): ” The threat of global warming continued to dominate environmental concerns in 1995, and for the first time, climatologists were confident they had detected conclusive evidence of it.”
  • The second UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), aka the Earth Summit, had occurred three years previously.  This important conference lead to the development of the Kyoto protocol and focused on reducing greenhouse gases.
  • On January 3, 1995, Republicans gained control over both houses of U.S. legislative government the first time since the 1950s.
  • The 104th Congress supported and ratified the Contract with America – which omitted any reference to addressing American’s innate right to clean air, clean soil and clean water.
  • 1996 – the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act – not suggesting that this has anything topical in common with this subject, but just the nature of control by the Congress over say over our personal and societal destinies.

I must say that I can’t imagine how it became lucrative to Epic not to release this as a single in the U.S.  Hm.  How can that be?

Well, I don’t know the answer to the Epic Records question, nor care I to find out.  That was then; this is now.  Fuck that.  Actually, I’m quite curious.

Come the Divine Wind; the Earth will take care of the rest.  But it would be really nice if humans woke up before that Wind blows, and before more innocent living creatures had to die for human greed and ignorance.

Well done, Michael.  Happy Earth Day to you.

1945 to 1955 to 1965; two half-generations of change, Part I

Ten, eleven years.  A half-generation.  We in our middling age recognize that our lives ten or eleven years ago are a lot like our lives today.  In many ways, it’s very much the same.  How ten years occurred to us in our youth, more than forty years ago, is very different.

Hence my morning musing on something about the ten or so years on either side of my birth.

The beginning is marked by 1945, a year characterized by a sense of shared elation and promise, but also of our first exposure to true, you-can’t-hide-from-it horror.

Cute movie. But then, I was born in 1955.

From 1945 to 1955, we acted out 1945’s promise and tried to forget anything truly horrid, allowing ourselves a let’s-play-pretend version of it regularly at The Bijou.  The campier the better.  It also made for a cool use of the Theremin.  On the big screen, there were always the lucky few who could, until On the Beach, hide under the bed or spray the giant insects with acid and get away.

The PatioBy 1955 there were more brick backyard grill patios constructed than “ever before.”  And now they were modern and hip, a cool place to have a cocktail and a Viceroy. I’m reminded of that scene, at the very end of Blast from the Past, where Christoper Walken begins to pace off the dimensions of the perfect backyard patio.  For the third time.  That we know of.

The PromiseBy 1955, a half-generation (not my half-generation, mind you, but our grownups’ one.  You know, The Greatest one; the one with the martinis and cigarettes and parties out on the patio while we watched through the big sliding glass doors in our jammies and thought that our parents were the coolest!) had plowed that field of elation and promise, with just a dash of ducking and covering and shameful enemy-inventing and scapegoating.

We churned that promise machine, harder, faster, better to make paper to make ads last longer for products that lasted less.  We pumped more and more hydrocarbons into that system to make it work harder, faster, cheaper, glossier.  Making consumable items with a short life span, then shipping them and selling them in containers that had longer life spans than the thing it contained.

Somewhere between 1955 and 1965, it became apparent that the promise wasn’t exactly coming at everyone in the same way.  We, perhaps vaguely, remember – I can still see the images on the news – the barbed wire marking a line that must not be crossed, a line where you could be shot or injured in attempting to cross it.  A line that notwithstanding the grave threat, I remember seeing a woman in a cotton dress, the kind with the self-belt at the waist, a smallish roundish woman, gathering the folds in her dress, so that they didn’t become entangled in that wire, running for it, risking injury and her life to cross it.  A line where, because of the call to freedom that made humans willing to die to cross it, the Berlin Wall would be erected for what seemed to us to be forever, but not to the half-generation before or after us.

The PriceBy 1965, uneven balance between the promise and the price was becoming stronger and more apparent.  The promise had just about hit its peak relative to the price that the planet could pay.

That was the point when we should have realized that we were on a moving sidewalk to unsustainability.  Before then, we and, I think, even many CEOs, didn’t realize that along with what we were manufacturing, we were busy building inequity with and into that promise-manufacturing system.

Investing in inequityBuilding inequity and demanding oil.  Not only oil, it also demanded way more human labor, way more blood, sweat and tears, for an increasingly less equitable portion of the proceeds.

And stuffBut in that trade, we got more stuff.  Lots more cheap stuff.  Stuff that we could hold, plug in, watch, clean, have repaired.  And replaced.  Stuff that we had to have.  And still have to have.  Stuff that must be bought by the cheapest labor that any human can endure and survive.

For some, who can get the stuff, it seems pretty great.  But there are people on this planet who, not only don’t get the stuff, they have their local economies become addicted to a system that will extract all their local resources and leave them, first hungry, then ill and finally dead.  Whether the resource is timber, food, coal, oil, soil/rock, natural gas, or the animals we can grow using those resources, the system is using it up, and belching out, well, to put it politely, poison and death.

(The second half of this oh-so-fascinating and uplifting article will be published as Part II.)

Snakes and bugs define the Human Phenotype

Is it human nature to be compassionate or to kill a snake or bug

Is it in our makeup to be compassionate or to kill stuff willy-nilly

I was reflecting this morning that among humans, there seem to be three kinds, three categories.  Not defined by what is in our veins, but by what is going on in a 2-4 mm-thick layer in our brains and how we use that layer.  But I like this veinal picture, so I’m using it.

At the root of almost every other trait, whether you are compassionate, quick-tempered, arrogant, slutty or bigoted, I think I may have boiled it down to three basic characteristics.

So, to help you find yourself in the breakdown, I’ll ask a question with a three-alternative multiple-choice answer. 

Question:  If you are driving in your car on a roadway, and you see a live snake crossing the road, what do you do?

1.  Navigate the car so as to avoid the snake
2.  Navigate the car so as to hit the snake
3.  Continue on your path without further thought for the snake at all

Now, there are those who, for safety reasons, will not change direction of the car (look out folks, I’m not one of these), and for those, it’s more a question about what thought comes to mind.  So for the careful driver, I’ll revise the answers to be:

1.  I’d like to navigate the car so as to avoid that snake, but safety directs otherwise
2.  I’d like to navigate the car so as to hit that snake, but safety directs otherwise
3.  I think I’m about to get snake goo on my tires

Most people are either 1s or 3s.  I had the experience of being shown property by a young man who was a 2.   One might have thought that 2s were only so in private, but not so.  Decidedly not so.  This young man was somewhere around 30 years of age, and had apparently inherited the realty business from his father, but hopefully (for the father) not his psyche.  I don’t think he much cared for showing property.  Snake-killing with a vehicle on the road appeared to be his forte.  And perhaps only skill.  That was the last time I saw him.

I think people are more subtle than these three categories or the young realtor, so I’ve come up with another question that will add some details around the edges of the first.

A really cool website with printable pages of free pics for kids to color

Click to go to a really cool website with printable pages of free pics for kids to color

Question:  When you find a bug in your house, what do you do?

A:  Kill it reluctantly
B:  Kill it without thinking
C:  Kill it gleefully
D:  Pick it up and move it elsewhere
E:  Say hello

Let’s look at those refinement categories, A through E.  If you are a 2, it is unlikely that you will be anything other than a B or a C.  Any reluctance in the road killer to kill a roach is probably more related to him or herself (“What shall I do with the carcass?” might be a consideration that would make him or her less likely to kill) than to do with anything on the outside of his person.

But just to keep this little exercise objective and so I won’t add my snipey little assessments, let’s break it down objectively and descriptively, without judgment:

Phenotype 1 – The Snake Avoiders

1A:  Kills a bug in the house reluctantly AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to avoid the snake
1B:  Kills a bug in the house without thinking AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to avoid the snake
1C:  Kills a bug in the house gleefully AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to avoid the snake
1D:  Will pick up a bug in the house and move it elsewhere AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to avoid the snake
1E:  Says hello to the bug in the house AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to avoid the snake

In sum, The Snake Avoiders are, I think, a pretty common lot.  Most of us are there.  And I do believe that, while we will generally avoid killing a snake on the road, there are reasons why we would, nonetheless, kill a bug in our house.  I don’t think that there is a moral or ethical dilemma posed by being anywhere in the 1 Phenotype, except maybe Subtype C.  But again, the glee may be related to creating an environment for a toddler that is, perhaps, just a bit over-protective.  Or perhaps he isn’t tending to his diet appropriately, and hence, has lots of allergies, including a bug one, and so kills bugs with a self-preservative glee.  My next book will be, Change Your Diet, Change Your Glee.  Not really.

Phenotype 2 – The Snake Killers

Was Jeffery Dahmer a snake killer

I'm thinking he might have been a Phenotype 2C

2A:  Kills a bug in the house reluctantly AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to kill the snake
2B:  Kills a bug in the house without thinking AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to kill the snake
2C:  Kills a bug in the house gleefully AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to kill the snake
2D:  Will pick up a bug in the house and move it elsewhere AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to kill the snake
2E:  Says hello to the bug in the house AND navigates (or wants to navigate) the car to kill the snake

If you are a 2, I don’t give a crap whether you deliver home meals to the bedridden.  I would say that you’re scum, except that scum is useful in this world.  You?  You’re a weight on the entire system and hurling us toward planetary destruction.  Oh, wait, dangit.  I wasn’t going to inject my views.  Yeah, right.

I know that this is becoming at least slightly annoying.  I know this because this is a pain in the ass to write.  But it seems to me, on this fine Spring morning, that self-examination is often wanting in the arena of our relationship to the rest of the animal kingdom, the non-humanoid part, that huge part that makes up over 99 percent of it.

So on to the last phenotype, the threes, where it gets more like many of us, and is the last bunch.  Hold the applause (for this being nearly over).

Phenotype 3 – The Goo Seers

3A:  Kills a bug in the house reluctantly AND doesn’t really recognize the snake on the road as life
3B:  Kills a bug in the house without thinking AND doesn’t really recognize the snake on the road as life
3C:  Kills a bug in the house gleefully AND doesn’t really recognize the snake on the road as life
3D:  Will pick up a bug in the house and move it elsewhere AND doesn’t really recognize the snake on the road as life
3E:  Says hello to the bug in the house AND doesn’t really recognize the snake on the road as life

I really think that it is a sad state of affairs that humans really do see the rest of the animal kingdom as so much goo.

Good goo.  Bad goo.  Goo to eat.  Goo to control.  Goo to amuse me.  Goo to love.  Goo to study.  Goo to give a bath to every day and carry with me  wearing its special bow that matches mine to the grocery.

At the risk of a blog riot, it really all boils down to one question:  when will we respect life enough to recognize that it all has a place, it all has dignity, that none of it was put here for us, and that humans are not at the top of some made-up pyramid?

I’m a 1D, working toward 1E.  Who are you?



Humans ‘being fruitful’ and abundant can’t mean obliterate the natural system

Humans 'being fruitful' and abundant can't mean obliterate the natural system

No species obliteration in The Garden of Eden. Since they are already wearing the fig leaves, I'm thinking that God is pointing at what his likeness should eat. Just sayin. But that's for another post; this one's about population and extinction.

Does it?  Can it?  Doesn’t “fruitful” sound to you more like living in a green, productive valley, where all of the natural systems flourish? Doesn’t it have to?  I’m not saying that humans can’t build their aqueducts (although I would highly recommend that they not be lined with lead or aluminum or polyethoxylated tallow amine) to bring in or store some extra water.  But if it inflicts significant damage to the ecosystems that depended upon the natural flowing water both up- and downstream, then I’m thinking we may have violated “fruitful”.

Because fruitful can be, as a matter of fact, quantified.  And in an unnatural system, we may have put more on the death side of the scale than we have added on the “life” side.  When we do that, we have added more humans than the system can support.  When you lose habitat for millions of creatures, plant and animal, for the sake of one species, we then lose the creatures;  and when we take away habitat and creatures at a mere fraction of the human numbers, then, well, you do the math.  But only if you want to know.

So, first start dying the animals and plants.  Only later, but inevitably, the human side starts flagging, too.  – The Hot Southern Girl

Scientists have written and will write about this. And although I be/am/is/are/was/were/been/being a geologist, as I’ve said before, I do not hold myself out as anything more than a remarkably bright, and hot, Southern Woman. Okay, unremarkably bright. And the hot? Well, with global warming and my sustainability schtick, and no tree over my house, I’m left with little to do about that one. Hot, I own.

All this yiping just to show you a couple of graphs.  Here’s a link to a graph on human population growth.  You’ll note that there are three projections.  While one might be tempted to get all jiggity with the lower projections, I’ve got news for you.  The correction that will cause that kind of trend reversal will be, shall we say, horrific for our progeny.

But forget about the projections for a moment.  And focus on the actuals.  In the last 200 years, the human population has more than multiplied six-fold.  Thinking that your wee-knee was fruitful?

Well, think again, nimrod, as you take a gander at this graph, which shows species extensions over the same time frame.  Here in the US of A, we had nearly eradicated the black and brown bear and the red wolf east of the Mississippi River and the American bison West of Mississippi before the curve starts its upswing.  “Up to 1870, 10 to 15 million bison had been living in the American West. Less then two decades later, about 100 animals remained.”  But you knew this.  If we use the species alive in 1800 as the baseline, we are “witnessing” an extinction rate, based on a conservative estimate, of 10,000 times the natural, or background, extinction rate.  I’m seeing the number 50,000 as the extinction multiplier that we are “witnessing”, but again, I’m not a scientist.  And need I remind you, just hot.

Witnessing.  Not hardly.  More accurately, causing, but as long as I am witnessing, can I get an “Amen”, brother, and ask you to revisit in your churches the notion of what “fruitful” or “abundant” means.

For even more numbers, here’s a World Clock on Poodwaddle.com, that might also give you a view into the human population/everything else extinction issue.

The sustainable lifestyle of an Appalachian community

Harlan County Kentucky River Cleanup III 2011 wildflowers

Roadside wildflowers - photo day of River Cleanup III, the Hullaballoo

I am watching a 12:53 video made by The University of Kentucky in 1940, uploaded into YouTube by nologorecords/The Film Archive (I love: you, The Film Archive!) that, I think, is intended to make us feel sorry for the family characterized in the film and ultimately, suggests that Appalachian children should study useful subjects in school like crop rotation instead of how to invest.

As an Appalachian, stock not only of the Europeans that the film narrator compliments as cousins of the early settlers, but also of my Cherokee foremothers and forefathers – I want to say, flpspstiseinptsinflpanfnaenasph.

The film shows an Appalachian family, the progeny of “brave pioneer stock,” scratching a living out of the side of a hill, with worn-out dirt and “the same old seeds” passed from earlier generations.  And that’s where the evil begins.

This films vilifies that which it should celebrate:

  • Self-determination
  • Self-reliance
  • Resourceful instead of resource-intensive lives
  • Recycling and reusing

This film wants us to pity that which we should congratulate and emulate.  This film portrays as unfortunates those whom we should regard as a perfection of humanity: one who lives sustainably with his environs, one who does not overrule his neighbor’s – be it human or other plant and animal – right to its natural life, in its balance and harmony with its niche.   This film uses precisely these same characteristics to portray these people as unfortunates.

We are told that these people did not get enough food or have the proper nutrition: no fresh vegetables in the Winter (although I’m not even believing that these people didn’t have a root cellar containing potatoes, other root vegetables and home-canned goods).  Don’t get me started on nutrition, with most of us still eating an agribiz-invented made-up food pyramid that had a huge part in creating Fat Unfit Unhealthy Nation.

The film doesn’t say, but could have, that these unfortunates likely had less fat and more vegetables in the Summer, because they would be focusing on growing the animal for next Winter’s slaughter, and would need bodies that cooled effectively rather than stored heat.  During the Summer, both the humans and the hog and cow would be grazing on the vegetable bounty provided by the Earth.  Then in Winter, they would eat more fat when their body most needed to store it to generate that extra heat and provide a bit more insulation.

But if all that – not to mention the mournful music – wasn’t enough to plunk your heartstrings to play the sound of pity, they show us more, to feel a pang loud enough to want a vague something “more” for that poor unfortunate family.

What more does it want for these people?  The film apparently wants the children of Appalachia to go to school to study only certain subjects, like how to rotate crops, while avoiding subjects that would not contribute to his or her life, like saving/investing or the banking system.  And certainly they shouldn’t waste their time reading – egad – fairy tales.

Remember: this is a family that, with collaboration with its neighbors, feeds itself, clothes itself, provides its own shelter, with materials at hand.  Newspaper, recycled as wallpaper, with articles on sustainable farming practices.  Guess Mr. Film Man didn’t notice that article.

New ideas are not easy to come by when learning passes from mouth to mouth, from father to son.

We lost ourselves when we as a species completely forgot the lifestyle of a village that supports itself – where some shoe our horses, forge our wheels, make our tools; others grows our flax and cotton one year alternating to corn the next while his neighbors do the opposite; everyone has a kitchen garden; they collectively store the grain for food and seeds for future crops.

I know there are pockets of individuals out there (and I know nothing yet about the Amish or other more traditional village-based communities), so this isn’t intended so much as the castigation it sounds.  It’s more my own call to that part of myself that remembers that the values in the post-Depression era that were all about progress (culminating in a seed company getting patents on food seeds and acquiring monopolitic water rights) may have more than outlived their usefulness.

While I think the film is wrong-headed from start to finish – I do think that more of us should learn about crop rotation, real nutrition, and sustainability in our every day lives.

I’ll close with two questions:

  • Who would benefit if more of us returned to this lifestyle?
  • Who would benefit if we didn’t?

Cove Blue for Jiyu

Jiyu, in her last hours

Jiyu, in her last hours; Photo by Heather Hill

First, I have changed the name of my blog from “Mo’s Blog” to “Cove Blue for Jiyu.”  The rest of this post explains why, somewhere in between the lines.

The life and death of Jiyu the dolphin struck me deeply.  As has been discussed by myself and others, Jiyu was snatched from a free life in the ocean, having witnessed some or all members of her pod being killed, placed into a small sea pen with other dolphins unknown to her and with whom she likely could not communicate, only to languish and then be killed when her value as meat outstripped her value as entertainment.

We cannot bring Jiyu back, and she is at least free from the torturous existence epitomized by the captivity industry, but Jiyu is a bellwether for me.  She is a bellwether for what can happen when a system that is allowed to benefit corporate entities and a few people is allowed

  • to utilize marketing to hide the truth from those outside that system, and
  • to count upon the lack of political or individual will to demand that truth.

I will never forget her.  I will never stop working for dolphin freedom, or the freedom of all creatures, including homo sapiens, to live the life that this planet provides for them naturally, unharassed and untrammeled by unsustainable systems.

If you have read some of my other pieces, you may have ascertained, while wading through my inarticulateness, that my core belief is in the inherent dignity and unity of all life.  That all are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.  I also believe that the logical imperative for a right to be inalienable is that it cannot be purchased with a price that includes compromising or extinguishing even one of another’s inalienable rights.

Human beings appear to have, however, set themselves apart from the rest of the organic and inorganic parts of this Earthly paradise and to merely consider this paradise to be “theirs” to unsustainably, that is, without regard for inalienable rights:

  • extract both substance and information;
  • anoint certain species, that would be all 8.7 million species except homo sapiens (translates, I believe ironically, to be “wise man”),  to be here on Earth for the enjoyment, sustenance, and curiosity of themselves;
  • justify this anointing of themselves as above all others under the auspices of certain religions and mythologies;
  • procreate without regard for how it impacts our ability to respect the inalienable rights of other species, or indeed, of the ecosystem in which our species found ground fertile enough to grow (again, under the auspices of dot dot dot);
  • having procreated beyond a sustainable number that respected the inalienable rights of our fellow Earthlings, in which I include plants, run roughshod over this delicate and graceful Earth by developing unsustainable systems to feed, shelter and clothe that unsustainable human population.

We, this opposable thumb species, take it as our birthright to create any problem and to sell any solution that someone will buy, whether it will crash the entire system.

For Jiyu, I pledge to be part of creating a sustainable world, built upon the truth of  inalienable rights.  It isn’t just about creating a world that respects the dignity of the Earth’s most intelligent species.  It’s also about creating one that truly respects the dignity of humans, too.

That one may catch you on the way home.

Cove Blue for Jiyu.

Photo by Greg Huglin

Photo by Greg Huglin