Archive for December, 2011

The Gulf of Mexico: High Hopes.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Dr. Nancy Rabelais continues to monitor, analyse and comment on the everlasting Dead Zone in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

Nancy Rabelais is still at it. She deserves awards not just for her research on the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, but also for her enthused persistence for about the last 30 years. She has monitored the Dead Zone, warned relentlessly about it, pushed hard for corrective action, while the Dead Zone continues to recur every year. In fact, she just won the Heinz Award and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Ketchum Award honoring her extraordinary effort and ability.

The Dead Zone in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Red indicates hypoxic (oxygen depleted) water. (

The Dead Zone, a result of runoff of fertilizers from the endless cropland of the immense Mississippi watershed, is, of course, just one of the discouraging stresses that have largely wrecked the Gulf Coast. Fish have been overfished, wetlands lost, barrier islands eroded, estuarine habitats degraded, pipelines laid, shipping channels dug, levees built, freshwater flow diverted – and then the ecosystem was hit first by Katrina and then by the pollution from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Existing (red) and planned (blue) oil and gas pipelines: it is getting crowded (

What a test of resilience, for both a natural ecosystem and for the affected human communities.

In response to all of this, The Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force has just published its report, and it’s a report to want to believe in. The Task Force, established by Presidential Executive Order, was composed of representatives from the five Gulf States and from 11 Federal Agencies. The group listened to everyone – state and federal agencies, tribes, communities, academics, local government, business and industry, NGOs.

The Task Force report insists on the integration of the coastal human communities as a critical part of the ecosystem. It recognizes that waiting for scientific certainly is inappropriate, and that adaptive management should guide us through the restoration efforts. It calls for extensive monitoring and modelling by scientists, which is what they do best. It imagines a restored ecosystem, with improved water quality, protected coastal resources, sustainable fisheries, and enhanced community resilience.

If it is actually possible to restore a large-scale ecosystem, the Gulf Coast should be an excellent place to try. As always, the needed ingredients are knowledge, ability, incentive, cooperation, funds, and political will. Challenging, to say the least.

The Gulf of Mexico - large, complex, rich in resources, threatened but fixable (

Of course it is a long-term plan, but nothing in the proposal is impossible. Much of it should have started sooner, in response to Rabelais’ work, and as a result of Katrina’s impact. Maybe this time it will become reality.

High hopes, yes. Based on past practices, we should limit our expectations.

But this is a chance, a rare opportunity to do the right thing. Let’s do this. And show ourselves and the world that it can be done, that large ecosystems can be restored to something that might be sustainable. They don’t need to deteriorate to sterility and oblivion.

Go Gulf.

Futile attempt at adaptation on Dauphin Island - a typical migrating sand bar, a barrier island off the coast of Louisiana. We're smarter than this (

Leadership Exists

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

A young Canadian Inuit hunter, Jordan Konek and his cousin Curtis Konek, have traveled from Nunavut to Durban, South Africa, to the very sad UN climate change summit occurring there. They carry the message that the Arctic is melting and that their hunting culture will soon be lost.

Jordan (left) and Curtis Konek, Inuit from the Canadian Arctic, are in Durban, calling for action(

They are there because Canada once again is the pariah, the voice for taking no action on controlling carbon emissions. No country in the world, not even the US, is more disappointing than Canada, which continues to advertize the Alberta tar sands as the ‘ethical alternative’. Such an embarrassment.

Joesph Konek accepts the Colossal Fossil mock award on behalf of Canada at the UN climate talks in Durban (

Other industrialized countries of course have succeeded in taxing carbon emissions.

The best recent example is Australia, where per capita carbon emissions have been the world’s worst – greater than in both Canada and the US. Now the 500 most polluting companies in Australia will have to pay $24 per ton on CO2 emissions. The target is 80% reduction of 2000 levels by 2050. The resistance to this has been great, and will continue to be so. But it has happened.

Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia, announcing the new carbon tax (

Carbon emission taxes have in fact existed in the four Scandinavian countries since 1990-1992, and the United Kingdom since 2001. Some taxes exist in India, and even China is indicating plans to limit emissions.

Despite of the unfortunate official federal positions of Canada and the US, a few states and provinces are going their own ways. A cap and trade scheme is pending in California; nine North East states established the Regional Greenhouse Initiative for cap and trade in 2006 and 2009, though New Jersey’s Governor Christie wants out; the US Western Climate Initiative, involving California (the 6 other states withdrew in November) and 4 Canadian provinces has at least not totally collapsed in the current political climate; Quebec province and British Columbia have carbon taxes; and Ontario has an encouraging Green Energy Act.

Lisa Jackson, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, is a rare effective environmental leader in the US at the national level (

Even some North American cities are going it alone. Boulder, quite famously, started a Carbon tax in 2007, and is the greenest city in the country. Seattle, Portland and San Francisco are moving toward sustainability. Vancouver plans to be carbon neutral by 2012, and to be the greenest city in the world by 2020.

A movie worth looking for is The Island President, currently doing the film festival circuit (it won the award for best documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival in September). Directed by Jon Shenk, it follows the efforts of the extraordinary president of the Maldives as he tried in 2009 to get the international community at Copenhagen to pay attention to the impact of global warming on low lying island nations.

Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives (

Leadership may not come from our nationally elected leaders – though as Australia and the Scandinavian countries tell us, that isn’t impossible – but it can come from smaller jurisdictions, and this certainly should continue to give us hope.

It’s all a reminder that strong, passionate and intelligent leaders do exist.

We should encourage them wherever we can find them.