Archive for August, 2014

A Century of Extinction

August 31, 2014

 (photo: Susannah Sayler/New Yorker)
(photo: Susannah Sayler/New Yorker)

By Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

31 August 14


t’s unusual to be able to date the vanishing of a species. The last time a dodo was seen, on the island of Mauritius, was probably in 1662, but no one knows how long the bird survived, unseen and in low numbers. The last confirmed sighting off a great auk took place on an island off Iceland, in 1844, but it’s likely that stray birds lived on for years, even decades. There have been no confirmed sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker since 1969, but there are still those who maintain there are ivory-bills out there somewhere.

The extinction of the passenger pigeon is one of those unusual cases, and it happened a hundred years ago this Labor Day weekend. On September 1, 1914, Martha, a passenger pigeon who lived in an aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo, was found dead in her cage. At the time, Marthawas believed to be the sole passenger pigeon left on Earth, and, in the intervening century, no evidence has emerged to contradict this. The passenger pigeon was once the most numerous bird in North America, perhaps in the world; it’s estimated that when the first European settlers arrived, at least one of every four birds on the continent was a passenger pigeon. The early colonists were awed by the vastness of the flocks, which contained hundreds of millions—perhaps billions—of birds. As late as the eighteen-seventies, passenger pigeons still could be seen passing overhead in astonishing, sky-darkening numbers; then, over the course of just four decades, the species, Ectopistes migratorius, dwindled down to Martha and her companion, a male named George. Then it was just Martha. And then there were none.

The passenger pigeon’s demise is usually represented as the result of remorseless slaughter, which it certainly was. But the bird’s story also contains an element of mystery, which in some ways is just as alarming.

Passenger pigeons roosted the way they migrated, in enormous flocks. This made them easy pickings for hunters, and the early English colonists wrote of killing hundreds at a go. Once the railroads were laid, the pigeons could be shipped to big-city markets, and the butchery reached a new level. In his book “A Feathered River Across the Sky” (reviewed in this magazine and in The New York Review of Books in January), the author Joel Greenberg describes one of the last great nesting colonies, which was sighted in northern Michigan, in 1878. Telegraph operators relayed the location of the flock to hunters and trappers hundreds of miles away, and soon so many descended on the area that “hotels and boardinghouses ran out of space.” Within a few days, more than a million birds were dispatched.

By the eighteen-nineties, the only passenger pigeon sightings were of small, ragged flocks. And this is what makes the bird’s extinction difficult to entirely explain. Once the passenger pigeon was no longer abundant, it also was no longer worth hunting, or at least no more worth hunting than any other medium-sized bird. So why didn’t it persist at low densities? In his recent book “Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record,” Errol Fuller, a British author, argues that an “additional factor” must have been at work in the species’ extinction, because “in a land as vast as the United States there can be no mopping-up hunting for a species as small as a pigeon.” (Fuller’s book contains a grainy and not particularly flattering photo of Martha standing in her cage in Cincinnati.)

Some have argued that the “additional factor” was deforestation; by this account, it’s no coincidence that the passenger pigeon went extinct right about the same time that land clearing in the eastern U.S. reached its maximum extent. Others speculate that the passenger pigeon was one of those animals that require great densities to survive. One version of this theory holds that the birds mated only in great swarms; another, that the sheer scale of the flocks had protected the birds from predation.

Whether any of these “additional factors” actually contributed to the bird’s extinction is probably impossible to settle at this point. But whatever happened, the mystery should give us pause. Species that seem today to be doing fine may be sensitive to change in ways that are difficult to foresee. And we are are now changing the planet at a speed that’s probably unprecedented in at least sixty million years.

In honor of the anniversary of Martha’s death, the Smithsonian has put her taxidermied body on exhibit. (It’s usually kept in a vault.) The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Adams, Massachusetts, is showing a video installation that mimics the flight of hundreds of thousands pigeons passing overhead, and next month, the Yale Orchestra will perform “The Columbiad,” a hundred-and-fifty-year-old symphony inspired by the sight of a flock.  (A century and a half ago, passenger pigeons were grouped together with rock pigeons in the genus Columba; they have since been reclassified.) All these efforts to mark the anniversary are double-edged: commemorations composed by the culpable. As the naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote in “On a Monument to the Pigeon,” composed in 1947, “For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. … To love what was is a new thing under the sun, unknown to most people and to all pigeons.”



There may be “no food anywhere” along Pacific except in isolated areas — “It’s like crime scene investigation” in ocean — ‘Certainly’ Fukushima is one of stresses to sea life

August 31, 2014


TV: “Surge in marine mammal strandings” on US West Coast — Scientists: “This is very weird”; “My biggest fear is if this… is everywhere” along coast — Whales, dolphins, sea lions, birds recently washing up in large numbers — Many thousands likely dead — Violent seizures shown on news (VIDEO)

Posted: 30 Aug 2014 06:43 PM PDT

Experts: Scary problems on California coast — There may be “no food anywhere” along Pacific except in isolated areas — “It’s like crime scene investigation” in ocean — ‘Certainly’ Fukushima is one of stresses to sea life — Dolphins, whales more likely to be bathed in radiation (VIDEO)

Posted: 30 Aug 2014 09:39 AM PDT

Activists hail San Onofre nuclear power plant reactor shutdown

August 31, 2014

Closing of reactors at 40-year-old San Onofre power plant reflects harsh economics facing ageing fleet of US reactors
Fort Calhoun, Nebraska nuclear reactor threatened by flooding of the Missouri River

The Fort Calhoun nuclear reactor in Nebraska was shut down in 2011. Photograph: AP Photo/Nati Harnik

America’s nuclear reactor fleet moved deeper into middle-aged crisis on Friday when operators decide to shut down two reactors at the troubled San Onofre power plant in California.

They were the third and fourth reactors to be permanently retired this year, underlining the harsh economics facing America’s ageing fleet of nuclear reactors, forced to pay for expensive upkeep at a time of increased competition from cheap natural gas and renewable energy.

The two reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Songs) in southern California had been off-line since January 2012, after the discovery of a radioactive steam leak in one of the units.

Southern California Edison, which runs the plant, had been pushing to re-start one of the reactors on a limited basis.

But there was strong public opposition, and the risk of legal action after the Democratic Senator, Barbara Boxer, last week asked the Justice Department to investigate the plant.

The former nuclear regulator, Greg Jaczko, further set back prospects for a re-start at San Onofre when he told a nuclear safety conference in San Diego that the idea was “not one that instills tremendous confidence in me”.

On Friday morning, the company said it had decided it was uneconomic to try to stay in operation. “We have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if Songs might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors, or the need to plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs,” Ted Craver, the company’s chief executive said in a statement on Friday..

Boxer said she was “greatly relieved” at the decision.”Modifications to the San Onofre nucler plan were unsafe and posed a danger to the eight million people living within 50 miles of the plant,” she said in a statement.

The decision to shut down Units 2 and 3 reduced the number of licenced reactors to an even 100 – the lowest number in two decades.

The plant had been in operation for 40 years. But age caught up to the plants in January 2012 when operators detected a leak inside a steam generator in Unit 3.

The leak was inside a new steam generator, made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which had been installed in 2009.

But nuclear experts said maintenance and upkeep of reactors had become increasingly challenging – especially with heightened safety requirements introduced by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

“Reactors have basically hit their middle-aged crisis. They are through their performance plateau. They are starting to experience ageing issues across the board and maintaining safety is expensive,” said Jim Riccio, a nuclear safety analyst for Greenpeace. “You are having reactors with a lot of ageing problems and the NRC is catching up with problems that hadn’t been fixed for a long time.”

Four nuclear reactors have been shut down so far just this year. In addition to the two reactors at San Onofre, operators permanently retired the Crystal River reactor in Florida in February, after running into significant problems with repairs. The Kewaunee reactor in Washington shut down last month because operators said they could not compete with the prices of natural gas.

A number of other nuclear plants are off-line for repair, such as Fort Calhoun in Nebraska which has been shuttered since April 2011 because of flood risks and other safety problems. Some of those plants, especially those with single reactors, could also be in line for shut-downs by the end of the decade, said David Lochbaum, nuclear safety expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Or as Jaczko the former regulator told the nuclear safety conference earlier this week: “I think it’s time that we need to reconsider prolonging the lifetime of many of these reactors.”


American Socrates: “Climate change “may doom us all, and not in the distant future,” Chomsky said. “It may overwhelm everything”

August 31, 2014
Posted on Jun 15, 2014

By Chris Hedges

Noam Chomsky speaks to the media at a friend’s house in Amman, Jordan, in 2010.  AP/Nader Daoud

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Noam Chomsky, whom I interviewed last Thursday at his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has influenced intellectuals in the United States and abroad in incalculable ways. His explications of empire, mass propaganda, the hypocrisy and pliability of the liberal class and the failings of academics, as well as the way language is used as a mask by the power elite to prevent us from seeing reality, make him the most important intellectual in the country. The force of his intellect, which is combined with a ferocious independence, terrifies the corporate state—which is why the commercial media and much of the academic establishment treat him as a pariah. He is the Socrates of our time.

We live in a bleak moment in human history. And Chomsky begins from this reality. He quoted the late Ernst Mayr, a leading evolutionary biologist of the 20th century who argued that we probably will never encounter intelligent extraterrestrials because higher life forms render themselves extinct in a relatively short time.

“Mayr argued that the adaptive value of what is called ‘higher intelligence’ is very low,” Chomsky said. “Beetles and bacteria are much more adaptive than humans. We will find out if it is better to be smart than stupid. We may be a biological error, using the 100,000 years which Mayr gives [as] the life expectancy of a species to destroy ourselves and many other life forms on the planet.”


Climate change “may doom us all, and not in the distant future,” Chomsky said. “It may overwhelm everything. This is the first time in human history that we have the capacity to destroy the conditions for decent survival. It is already happening. Look at species destruction. It is estimated to be at about the level of 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth, ended the period of the dinosaurs and wiped out a huge number of species. It is the same level today. And we are the asteroid. If anyone could see us from outer space they would be astonished. There are sectors of the global population trying to impede the global catastrophe. There are other sectors trying to accelerate it. Take a look at whom they are. Those who are trying to impede it are the ones we call backward, indigenous populations—the First Nations in Canada, the aboriginals in Australia, the tribal people in India. Who is accelerating it? The most privileged, so-called advanced, educated populations of the world.”If Mayr was right, we are at the tail end of a binge, accelerated by the Industrial Revolution, that is about to drive us over a cliff environmentally and economically. A looming breakdown, in Chomsky’s eyes, offers us opportunity as well as danger. He has warned repeatedly that if we are to adapt and survive we must overthrow the corporate power elite through mass movements and return power to autonomous collectives that are focused on sustaining communities rather than exploiting them. Appealing to the established institutions and mechanisms of power will not work.

“We can draw many very good lessons from the early period of the Industrial Revolution,” he said. “The Industrial Revolution took off right around here in eastern Massachusetts in the mid-19th century. This was a period when independent farmers were being driven into the industrial system. Men and women—women left the farms to be ‘factory girls’—bitterly resented it. This was also a period of a very free press, the freest in the history of the country. There were a wide variety of journals. When you read them they are pretty fascinating. The people driven into the industrial system regarded it as an attack on their personal dignity, on their rights as human beings. They were free human beings being forced into what they called ‘wage labor,’ which they regarded as not very different from chattel slavery. In fact this was such a popular mood it was a slogan of the Republican Party—‘The only difference between working for a wage and being a slave is that working for the wage is supposed to be temporary.’ ”

Chomsky said this shift, which forced agrarian workers off the land into the factories in urban centers, was accompanied by a destruction of culture. Laborers, he said, had once been part of the “high culture of the day.”

“I remember this as late as the 1930s with my own family,” he said. “This was being taken away from us. We were being forced to become something like slaves. They argued that if you were a journeyman, a craftsman, and you sell a product that you produce, then as a wage earner what you are doing is selling yourself. And this was deeply offensive. They condemned what they called ‘the new spirit of the age,’ ‘gaining wealth and forgetting all but self.’ This sounds familiar.”

It is this radical consciousness, which took root in the mid-19th century among farmers and many factory workers, that Chomsky says we must recover if we are to move forward as a society and a civilization. In the late 19th century farmers, especially in the Midwest, freed themselves from the bankers and capital markets by forming their own banks and co-operatives. They understood the danger of falling victim to a vicious debt peonage run by the capitalist class. The radical farmers made alliances with the Knights of Labor, which believed that those who worked in the mills should own them.

“By the 1890s workers were taking over towns and running them in eastern and western Pennsylvania, such as Homestead,” Chomsky said. “But they were crushed by force. It took some time. The final blow was Woodrow Wilson’s Red Scare.”

“The idea should still be that of the Knights of Labor,” he said. “Those who work in the mills should own them. There is plenty of manufacturing going on. There will be more. Energy prices are going down in the United States because of the massive exploitation of fossil fuels, which is going to destroy our grandchildren. But under the capitalist morality the calculus is profits tomorrow outweigh the existence of your grandchildren. We are getting lower energy prices. They [business leaders] are enthusiastic that we can undercut manufacturing in Europe because we have lower energy prices. And we can undermine European efforts at developing sustainable energy.”

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Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress

A collection of Truthdig Columns
by Chris Hedges

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UN climate change report warns of ‘irreversible’ impacts

August 31, 2014

A draft UN climate change report finds that global warming could be irreversible, painting a harsh warning of what’s causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also offers ways to curb climate change.

By Staff, Associated Press AUGUST 26, 2014

  • Jim Urquhart/Reuters/File
    View Caption

Global warming is here, human-caused and probably already dangerous — and it’s increasingly likely that the heating trend could be irreversible, a draft of a new international science report says.

The United Nations‘ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which combines three earlier, gigantic documents by the Nobel Prize-winninggroup. There is little in the report that wasn’t in the other more-detailed versions, but the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

The 127-page draft, obtained by The Associated Press, paints a harsh warning of what’s causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.

Recommended: Climate change: Is your opinion informed by science? Take our quiz!

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report says. The final report will be issued after governments and scientists go over the draft line by line in an October conference in Copenhagen.

Depending on circumstances and values, “currently observed impacts might already be considered dangerous,” the report says. It mentions extreme weather and rising sea levels, such as heat waves, flooding and droughts. It even raises, as an earlier report did, the idea that climate change will worsen violent conflicts and refugee problems and could hinder efforts to grow more food. And ocean acidification, which comes from the added carbon absorbed by oceans, will harm marine life, it says.

Without changes in greenhouse gas emissions, “climate change risks are likely to be high or very high by the end of the 21st century,” the report says.

In 2009, countries across the globe set a goal of limiting global warming to about another 2 degrees Fahrenheit (-16.67 Celsius) above current levels. But the report says that it is looking more likely that the world will shoot past that point. Limiting warming to that much is possible but would require dramatic and immediate cuts in carbon dioxide pollution.

Accident in Reactor 3 fuel pool at Fukushima — Large piece of wreckage falls nearby spent uranium rods

August 30, 2014


Accident in Reactor 3 fuel pool at Fukushima — Large piece of wreckage falls nearby spent uranium rods — M5 quake hits plant soon after — Official: “Unable to say” whether any have been damage (PHOTOS & VIDEO)

Posted: 29 Aug 2014 02:43 PM PDT

Officials reveal about 2 Trillion becquerels of Fukushima radioactive material flowed into ocean every month during 2013 — “Deadly strontium” releases now more than double cesium — “Strontium gets into your bones… it changes the equation” (VIDEO)

Posted: 29 Aug 2014 06:55 AM PDT

Peter Kuznick’s response to the new poll results in Okinawa

August 30, 2014

Global Ethics

Peace Philosophy Centre

Peter Kuznick’s response to the new poll results in Okinawa

Posted: 29 Aug 2014 12:05 PM PDT

Here is a response by Peter Kuznick, Professor of History at American University to the latest poll in Okinawa that said 80% of people there call for cancellation of the Henoko new base plan that the Japanese and US governments are forcing through.80%が辺野古新基地計画を中止すべきだと答えた最新の沖縄での世論調査に対するアメリカン大学歴史学教授ピーター・カズニック氏のコメントを対訳で紹介する。(翻訳・乗松聡子ー訳はアップ後微修正する可能性有)


Peter Kuznick (centre) and Joseph Gerson (left) take part
in the protest at the Camp Schwab gate, August 13.
Photo: New Wave to Hope

The latest poll results are very encouraging and fit the pattern that I was able to observe while in Okinawa and since my return to the U.S. 最新の世論調査の結果は励みになるものであり、私が沖縄にいた間、そして帰ってきて以来見てきた傾向と合致するものだ。

Governor Nakaima’s betrayal and the aggressive actions of the Abe administration, with strong U.S. backing, may have temporarily convinced some of the people in Okinawa that resistance to the base relocation was…

View original post 314 more words

Strontium-90 from Fukushima found along west coast of N. America — “Plutonium… might be in the plume”

August 30, 2014


Newspaper: Strontium-90 from Fukushima found along west coast of N. America — “Plutonium… might be in the plume” — Scientist: There needs to be more monitoring… No sign radioactive releases from plant are going to stop

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 04:56 AM PDT

FROM FUKUSHIMA TO SOLARTOPIA: Speech by Harvey Wasserman

August 29, 2014

Hi Everyone….


From Fukushima to Solartopia: An Atomic Meditation

The link below take you to an article about a speech in Los Angeles: HTTP://WWW.LAPROGRESSIVE.COM/HARVEY-WASSERMAN-NO-NUKES/

THANK YOU!    More to come about Fukushima and Diablo Canyon next time.   NO NUKES/4 SOLARTOPIA HARVEYW


David Swanson on America’s Obsession with War as Foreign Policy

August 29, 2014
Published: Friday 29 August 2014
The U.S. is to blame for its eschewed diplomacy and overall favor of war. But how many wars will the U.S. be able to fight at one time?

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Carl von Clausewitz once called war “the continuation of politics by other means.” Turning that on its head, China’s brilliant diplomat, the revolutionist Chou En-lai, said “Diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.”

America, through the decades of the Cold War, but especially since the inception of the Bush/Cheney administration, and continuing during the two terms of current President Barack Obama, has largely eschewed diplomacy altogether, in favor of war, says David Swanson.

Article image

A long-time labor and peace activist, Swanson, the author of the book War No More: The case for abolition, and of the website War, was the guest on ThisCantBeHappening’s radio program “This Can’t Be Happening!” on Wednesday’s show on the Progressive Radio Network.

He and host Dave Lindorff attempted to count the number of places around the globe where the US is either technically at war (by sending in attack drones to bomb targets inside countries without permission) as in Pakistan and Somalia, is committing acts of war, as in the case yesterday of a US Coast Guard vessel firing a shot at an Iranian boat in the Persian Gulf or in Iraq, where US planes are bombing ISIS targets, or is pushing for or preparing for war, as in Ukraine or Syria. They found the number too high to tally.Swanson argues forcefully that no US military adventures or military threats are legal or moral, but also argues that Russia likewise has no legal or moral right to send its forces into eastern Ukraine to defend ethnic Russians against brutal attack by the Ukrainian military.

While Lindorff argues that at least in the Ukraine, Russia will probably have to, and indeed should, send in its military to defend areas under indiscriminate attack by Ukrainian rockets, cannons and aerial bombardment, both he and Swanson agree that the various crises around the globe are largely of US making, and that this obsession by US policymakers with exacerbating local conflicts, selling and donating arms to conflict regions, often to both sides, has to be ended.

To hear this interview, click here or on the image below.


Dave Lindorff is an investigative reporter, a columnist for CounterPunch, and a contributor to Businessweek, The Nation,Extra! and He received aProject Censored award in 2004. Dave is also a founding member of the online newspaper ThisCantBeHappening!