Sunday, February 18, 2018

2832. Scientists Throw Light on Biological Roots of Individuality

By Science Daily, February 16, 2018

Put 50 newborn worms in 50 separate containers, and they'll all start looking for food at roughly the same time. Like members of other species, microscopic C. elegans roundworms tend to act like other individuals their own age.
It turns out that the innate system that controls age-appropriate behavior in a developing worm is not entirely dependable, however. Despite sharing identical genes and growing up in similar environments, some individual worms will inevitably march to the beat of their own drum.
New research from Rockefeller University illuminates the biology that guides behavior across different stages of life, and also suggests how variations in specific neuromodulators in the developing nervous system may lead to occasional variations. The work, led by Cori Bargmann, is made possible by a newly engineered system that allows scientists to record behavioral information for individual worms over an entire lifecycle. It is published in Cell.
"There are patterns at every stage of life that are different from the patterns at other stages, and with the system we created we can see that really clearly in ways that are surprisingly complex and robust," says Bargmann, who is the Torsten I. Wiesel Professor and head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior. "We can also observe something as complex as individuality and start to break down the biology behind it."
Chemical conformity
Our understanding of how genes govern behavior comes largely from experiments that involve altering a subject's normal state with external stimuli over a short period of time, such as giving a mouse some cheese as a reward for completing a maze. We know less about how genes affect behavior as animals go about their normal routines.
Shay Stern, a postdoctoral associate in Bargmann's laboratory, engineered a system to capture spontaneous, internally-generated behavior in worms over the span of their entire development, which totals about 50 hours. The scientists focused on foraging behavior -- the worms' roaming movements in search for food -- and found incredibly similar patterns of activity between individuals.
"Even though the worms were separated and not receiving external cues, they were actively searching for food at the same time point in development as other worms," says Stern. "And we saw very precise differences in foraging behavior at each stage of development."
By creating genetic mutations in some worms, the researchers were also able to identify specific neuromodulators, or chemical messengers in the brain, that normally keep the animals on schedule. A mutation that disrupted the chemical messenger dopamine, for example, affected the worms' roaming speed during late development. Other mutations affected behavioral patterns within each developmental stage, suggesting that different neuromodulators influence behavior over different timescales.
Born this way
While the majority of worms conformed to the same behavioral patterns, a number of individual worms stood out for their atypical foraging behaviors. Variability between individuals is typically attributed to genetic differences or exposure to different environments, but the researchers designed this study to account for these differences, using genetically identical worms in identical environments.
One explanation for these individual variations could be small differences in how the nervous system develops. There is a randomness factor in how some neurons connect with each other that isn't controlled by genetics, notes Bargmann.
But Bargmann and colleagues showed that neuromodulators can also contribute. The researchers found that removing the chemical messenger serotonin from a population of worms drastically reduced the number of worms that displayed unique roaming patterns, or individuality. Indeed, without serotonin, all of the worms exhibited the same foraging behavior at the same time -- a finding that suggests how important individuality is to survival.
"From an evolutionary point of view, we can't have everyone going off the cliff all at once like lemmings -- someone's got to be doing something different for a species to survive," says Bargmann.
Journal Reference:
  1. Shay Stern, Christoph Kirst, Cornelia I. Bargmann. Neuromodulatory Control of Long-Term Behavioral Patterns and Individuality across DevelopmentCell, 2017; 171 (7): 1649 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.10.041

Saturday, February 17, 2018

2831. Too Little, Too Late: Climate Crisis and the OFF Act Bill of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabber

By David Jones, February 16, 2018

Editor's Note: Last week, someone from Food & Water Action Off Fossil Fuels campaign contacted me asking for Our Place in the World's support for Ms. Tulsi Gabber's OFF Act bill in U.S. Congress. Ms. Gabber is representative from the State of Hawai'i.  I was unable to reach the person who called to respond to his request. I decided to share the email with the appeal for endorsement and the text of the OFF Act bill with the System Change not Climate Change (SCnCC) ecosocialist listserv asking for comments.  David Jones wrote back with an interesting response which was expanded for publication below.  I invite response to Jones' critique from the readers.  KN

*       *      *

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”   Somebody

Because the task of critique is to make people uncomfortable, I will preface what I am about to say with some personal background I hope might ease some of the (necessary) tension. I am a laborer with little formal education. I have spent decades as a grass-roots organizer working with mainstream environmental and social justice non-profits canvassing neighborhoods, lobbying legislators, providing comments and testimony to rule making and regulatory processes, collaborating and building coalitions. In other words, trying to work through the institutions of liberal capitalist democracy. I am also the grandfather of a one year old and am anxious- no, outraged- about the future she will inherit. Therefore, in a deep, painful, reflective process I have had to confront the failure of my past activity. As a worker, I had to recognize our movement has imploded. As a citizen I had to recognize our democracy is a hollowed out farce. As an activist I had to accept our strategy was not building a mass movement for progressive change. And that when it came to climate change, time was running out and we had to get this one right. My only option was a total, critical re-evaluation; a questioning of every basic assumption (thankfully done with a supportive intellectual community). Thus was I radicalized. From the pain and ashes rose a systemic, anti-capitalist critique which is still evolving. Challenge me on any of these assertions, please, but that’s where I’m at. 

It is famously difficult to notice your range of options narrowing in real time, as it is happening. This shrinking is a nuanced, negative process that doesn’t become apparent until, (paradoxically, given the sense of urgency), we can stop acting and pause long enough to examine. This is the paradox the climate justice movement has failed to confront. With each moment that goes by and each new ton of CO2 emitted, the possible strategies for avoiding climate catastrophe are diminished. An action that might have produced results in time had it been implemented even five years ago, may now be useless, or even worse than useless in the sense of expending valuable energy and transmitting a false sense of security.
An example would be the climate legislation currently before Congress, a bill called the OFF Act  introduced to the House by Tulsi Gabbar of Hawaii and the 100 by 50 bill introduced by Merkley and Sanders in the Senate. Both contain measures and provisions long sought by progressive climate groups such as government investment in technology R&D, loan guarantees, incentives, subsidies, tax credits and start-up grants. They include a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, a ban on crude and LNG exports, lots of “just transition” and “indigenous rights” language and emphasis on green transport and energy conservation. Money to pay for it to come from fossil fuel majors. Sounds pretty good if you could ignore this sub-section: 

“It is the duty of Congress to ensure that any transition to a 100% clean energy economy does not adversely affect the economy of the United States.” 

But even given their limitations, had bills such as this been passed and implemented just fifteen years ago, they might very well have lessened U.S. emissions and alerted a mostly passive citizenry to the imminent danger. Unfortunately, though the threat of climate change was well known then, no such legislation was implemented for the obvious reason (see sub-section above). And today, even with our expanded knowledge of climate-related extreme weather events and with climate models predicting catastrophic ecological consequences sans action, these bill are non-starters in the US Congress. 

What I am arguing, however, is that even were the movement to rally support and get the bills passed, that even were their provisions implemented, at this late date they won’t come close to the reductions those models say are necessary. In this race, winning slowly is the same as losing. Which is why such measures are simply too little too late. This applies to the provisions of the Paris Accord, to the Tax and Dividend proposal put forth by Citizens Climate Lobby and a host of other regulatory remedies. So why spend precious time and energy promoting them? Many point to past legislative gains such as Clean Air and Water Acts or Endangered Species and Wilderness Acts as positive outcomes resulting from dedicated organizing. Many say these efforts allow us to connect, to build alliances along a broad range of political positions. Many say even slow, incremental change is better than none.

I contend all these regulatory remedies and acts, those proposed as well as those enacted, are problematic in terms of both their content and their form. That beyond their lack of ambition they are easily subverted ( how “clean” is our air and water, how many species are endangered, how much wilderness exist?) and often shift responsibility and pollution to marginalized communities around the globe. And again, I welcome debate on any of these points. 

But I also believe the regulatory or policy approach is problematic at a deeper strategic level as well, what I have called their “form”. I would argue that these legislative, procedural, regulatory “fixes” convey to the general public that what they face is not an unfolding existential crisis, but yet another “concern”, one (among many) that the political class and technocrats will get around to fixing in due time. That you can go about your normal business and be an activist in your spare time. It transmits the message that “democratic” capitalism is a viable project that provides solutions, that the system is legitimate and, though perhaps slow and erratic, works for the benefit of most. That capitalism can be “greened” and given a “human face”.

 Which it isn’t and doesn’t and can’t. Despite the rosy proclamations of mainstream climate groups that the falling price of solar or action at the local level can keep catastrophe at bay, I contend the science tells us otherwise, at the same time admitting this is a subjective analysis, that it is impossible to prove definitively. I would also argue that due to inaction and delay, we have boxed ourselves into a corner time-wise. Climate change is imagined as an infinitely gradual linear process. In reality it is a steep downhill incline leading to a precipice.  That same subjective analysis leads to the conclusion that no amount of subsidies, credits, incentives or change in consumption choices will slow emissions in time to prevent those irreversible feed-back loops or “tipping points” from kicking in, much less bring us back down to 350 ppm. The only thing that will is an end to economic growth as measured by GDP and a whole reconfiguration of the global economy itself. But this necessary, and yes improbable restructuring won’t happen through legislation or local, incremental reform. Such actions will in fact prove counter-productive.

And it’s not as if climate change is the only ecological emergency the planet faced. We are flirting dangerously with other critical “planetary boundaries” which threaten existence (as we know it) every bit as much as global warming, though with differing time-lines. In this sense, endorsing small-scale reform, no matter how well meant, only reinforces the illusion that the problems are manageable under current systems of production and governance. It only further confuses a public inundated with mixed messaging as to the severity of the crisis. And I don’t believe it gets us where the science tells us we really need to be. 
 Which brings up another critical question: Is science the Truth and will scientists be the final authorities? I have made a number of assumptions based on my understanding of “the science” or “data” such as the timeline, the impending effects of warming, the resulting “catastrophe”, etc.. We know the science is based on modeling with a range of variability expressed in percentages; hence, an imperfect predictor. But it is in the subjective, non-empirical realm of the imagination that our vision of collapse or breakdown or catastrophe unfolds. In the time it has taken you to read this the situation has grown more desperate and the apocalyptic literature (film, artwork, research papers) multiplied exponentially. Tick toc.

It is at this point that I anticipate being accused of insisting upon, even fetishizing, ideological purity; of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Surely one has to “meet the people where they are at” and such radical prescriptions will be off-putting to many. 
Perhaps. Perhaps this is an unresolvable tension or “gap”. My rebuttal is that such candor might actually be refreshing to others, to those struggling with grief and information overload, with apathy or burnout or like myself not so long ago, a debilitating jumble of what Mark Fisher called “ideological rubble”. I would suggest the task of the radical then is to open up space foreclosed by the liberal imaginary. And to not make possibly condescending assumptions about one’s audience. By staking out a clear, concise and consistent position we take an authentically political stand, no matter how “marginalized”, one we can defend with empathetic, good-faith arguments, clear reasoning and where helpful, empirical data. What people will sense and be swayed by is the passion and strength of our convictions. Which we can only have if we speak our truth openly.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2830. The Water Footprint of What We Eat and the Climate Crisis

By Anita Kaksrud, Cape Chameleon, Februry 13, 2018
Calves with number tags on their ears
South Africa has 1.7 million dairy cows. Their current rain-fed feed will likely be irrigated in the future, exacerbating their already massive water footprint. Photo: Annie Spratt/
Cape Town and its desperate battle to avoid running out of water is a climate change disaster, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, stated this January. While Capetonians are currently in a dire race against time to conserve water, with the local government limiting its residents to 50 litres of water per day, there is another water-intensive culprit to consider: agriculture.
Lorelei Plotczyk, the founder of the Truth or Drought campaign affirmed this: ‘Animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change and deforestation, both which exacerbate drought.’ Kip Andersen, the producer of the documentary film Cowspiracy agrees. In the 90-minute film, he attributes animal agriculture as the main cause of greenhouse gases, and the main reason for water shortages. ‘It all comes back to animal agriculture, by far,’ he said.
The Western Cape hasn’t had sufficient rainfall for the past three years, and Capetonians are getting a real feel of climate change as the city is currently experiencing its worst drought in over 100 years. Without an eleventh-hour rainfall or overwhelming human intervention, Cape Town will become the first major city to run out of water in the history of civilisation on 11 May.

Agriculture’s effect on drought

The stats are quite comprehensive, even if the conservations around the outcomes are not. Globally, the animal agriculture industry is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the world’s transportation industry combined. These emissions are also expected to increase by as much as 80% by 2050.
In addition to this, just one cow releases 70 to 120 kilograms of methane per year. In Cape Town, there are about 57,000 cattle. This means that each cow releases up to 6.8 million kilograms of methane each year and the 1.5 billion cows in the world produce 240,752,189 kilograms of methane every day. Considering that methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 on a 20-year time frame, there is little doubt that livestock and animal agriculture have a major effect on climate change and global warming.
Even if every country immediately met their commitment to decrease carbon emissions, the world is still projected to reach a 2°C increase in temperature, on average. South Africa, on the other hand, would still experience a  4°C increase by 2030, leading to less precipitation in the winter – Cape Town’s rainy season. This is because Africa is especially vulnerable and exposed to climate change, as the fluctuations in temperature have the potential to change wind and ocean circulation.
Watering can watering some plants in the garden
Experts predict that by 2030, 30% of previously rain-fed crops will need water from irrigation, putting even more stress on the limited amount of water in the dams. Photo: Markus Spiske/

Because of this, the Western Cape is expected to become even drier in the future, and reduced rainfall would become the ‘new normal’. In 2016, 15 billion m3 of water was allocated in South Africa. However, South Africa is experiencing and is expected to keep experiencing a growing population, creating a projected 17.7 billion m3 of water demand by 2030. Altogether, the growing need for water, alongside aggravated drought conditions, is likely to hinder Cape Town’s water supply for the foreseeable future. But where is all the water going?

Who uses our water?

Farmers are the leading direct users of water in South Africa, consuming 66% of all water. However, Cape Town is predominantly an urban area and only 29% of the water consumption is due to agriculture. 29% might not sound like a great deal when compared to the national number, but cuts in the agricultural water usage in the Western Cape still made it possible to push Day Zero back almost a whole month from 16 April all the way to 11 May. This gives us a picture of how many million litres of water make up that 29%.
Furthermore, the greenhouse gases produced by agriculture in other parts of the country also play a role in Cape Town’s drought. Water Footprint Network founder Arjen Y Hoekstra explained that globalisation means food consumption in one place often affects water demands elsewhere because water and greenhouse gases have no boundaries. If the food you eat is not produced locally, it will affect the water levels at the place of production. According to Hoekstra, it has become clearer that livestock significantly contributes to humanity’s water footprint and water scarcity.
Everything we use and eat has a water footprint. According to the Water Footprint Network, ‘the water footprint is a measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted.’ It basically tells us the stress a product puts on freshwater resources. WWF has calculated the water footprint for different foods based on South African production and total water use, including irrigation (blue water) and rainwater (green water).
Infographic the water we cannot see
WWF has calculated the amount of water used to produce different foods in South Africa. The numbers are shocking and show the impact of consumer choice on water levels. Photo: courtesy of WWF
These calculations reveal that half of a hamburger requires the same amount of water as a 60-minute shower with a water-efficient showerhead, and the water needed to produce a mouthful of steak could run your dishwasher 22 times. One teaspoon of milk is equivalent to one flush of a dual-flush toilet and the average bathtub could be filled six times with one litre.
This is an enormous amount of water. Despite this data, many people are still resistant to cutting down meat in their diet. Plotczyk described how eating fewer animal products is a less direct way of saving water, hence it is harder for people to appreciate. Instead, people focus on direct ways of saving, like household restrictions.
Nevertheless, a family of four could save the equivalent of 17 bathtubs of water by swapping one meal of beef per week with lentils. ‘It sounds glib but we can eat ourselves out of this problem… less meat; more water,’ said Stockholm Water Prize Laureate Prof Tony Allan.
And meat is not the only problem. Dairy has a significant footprint as well. South African dairy production holds about 1.7 million cattle, with production rising steadily over the last decade. Western Cape is the second leading dairy producer in the country by province, supplying 26% of the country’s milk. According to Dr. Heinz Meissner, advisor to Red Meat Producers Organisation, cattle are fed mostly by grazing veld and rain-fed dry land, which means they have a greater green water footprint.
Different kinds of fruit at the grocery store
Although fruit requires less water in general, fruit grown in the Western Cape is highly dependent on irrigation, which makes it a notable user of the same dams as Capetonians. Photo: Jakub Kapusnak/

Fruits and vegetables do have a notable water footprint in South Africa as they require irrigation for growth. Meissner says this irrigated water mainly comes from the Theewaterskloof dam, which also supplies the City of Cape Town with more than half of its water for human consumption. However, the WWF’s infographic illustrates how dairy and red meat require far more water in total than the irrigated apple.
It’s not only the animals themselves that are utilising precious water, but also the crops used to raise them. ‘If you refer to water stored in catchment systems and used for irrigation to grow crops used exclusively for beef cattle farming, then there may be an argument,’ said Meissner when asked about the water footprint of the animal feed. What is certain is that the demand for food will increase. Simultaneously, natural resources are becoming compromised resulting in farmers turning to irrigation for the crops that were previously rain-fed, such as livestock feed. By 2030, there will be a 30% increase in irrigation water for crops, exacerbating the water crisis even further.
If we get to a point where the farmers have to use irrigation to grow the animal feed, it would use water faster than nature can replenish. This would again lead to further restrictions on irrigation water, which in turn effects animal products. It is the rhetorical equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.
‘We need to re-examine the place meat and dairy have in the diet of modern man,’ Hoekstra stated in his Water for animal products report. He continued, ‘No national water plan in the world addresses the issue that meat and dairy are among the most water-intensive consumer products, let alone that national water policies somehow involve consumers or the meat and dairy industry in this respect.’
‘We need to re-examine the place meat and dairy have in the diet of modern man,’ Hoekstra stated in his Water for animal products report. He continued, ‘No national water plan in the world addresses the issue that meat and dairy are among the most water-intensive consumer products, let alone that national water policies somehow involve consumers or the meat and dairy industry in this respect.’

Alien vegetation are thirsty consumers

Even though animal agriculture is the main user of water in across the globe, South Africa and Western Cape have its own thirsty users in addition to the livestock and irrigation-dependant fruits. Invasive alien vegetation has long been a problem in South Africa as they use more water than surrounding native plants, lowering the water availability by up to 4%.
As a result of this, 2.7 million hectares of land have been cleared of alien vegetation in the past 20 years, freeing up over 2,000 kilolitres of water per hectare. According to Dr. Christo Marais, Chief Director of Natural Resource Management in the Department of Environment Affairs, over 200,000 condensed hectares still need to be cleared. ‘Invasives are very much part of the package to mitigate the impact of drought and climate change,’ Marais said, but also added that the alien vegetation is only responsible for 7% of the Mean Annual Runoff, and therefore he did not consider it the chief contributor to the drought Cape Town is facing.

Drought’s effect on agriculture

The City of Cape Town has implemented water restriction level 6B, which requires agricultural users to reduce usage by 60%. Western Cape Government Department of Agriculture and their GreenAgri programme admitted that monitoring is not done as efficiently as possible due to lack of government capacity and support to farmers. ‘Water supply to irrigation boards will be cut off once restricted quotas are reached. They have in fact already reached their Day Zero,’ Limberg stated.
Red grapes hanging on the vines
Western Cape is well known for its wine production. Grapes have a big blue (irrigation) water footprint, and will likely be even more dependent on irrigated water in the drier future. Photo: Samuel Zeller/

‘Reducing industry will, of course, free up more water, but it comes with job losses and decreases in rural economic activity, potentially increasing urbanisation, which increases pressure on city water supply,’ a GreenAgri representative said. It is estimated that, due to the drought, about 50,000 jobs will be lost in the agricultural sector, one of the biggest contributors to the South African economy and employment in rural areas. The GreenAgri drought fact sheet points out that this will lead to reduced ‘local food security, increasing food prices, the consolidation of production to fewer producers, a decline in export earnings, and a great dependency on food produce import from other regions of South Africa and other countries.’
GreenAgri also explained that a decline in farming profits and water scarcity has left South Africa with less than two-thirds of the number of farms it had in the early 1960s. However, the farmers of South Africa will still need to continue producing enough food to meet the demand of a growing population.
This is a vicious cycle where animal agriculture is the principal contributor to climate change, but also one of the sectors that is hit the hardest by its effects. Angus McIntosh is a farmer at the Spier Bio-dynamic farm and one of the farmers who personally feels the devastating effects of the drought. ‘We are now having to close half of our egg business,’ McIntosh says, and adds, ‘if we don’t have a normal winter rain I will close the whole farm.’

How do we fix this?

‘In a nutshell: we need more efficiency, producing more or the same from less resources, which additionally implies more intensification, as less resources are used per unit product and commodity. Water, of course, is one of these resources,’ Meissner outlined when asked about the Red Meat Producers Organisation’s plan for a sustainable future. So how do we do this?
Raw meat in the butcher's shop

Eating one mouthful of steak is equivalent to the water consumption of running your dishwasher 22 times. Photo: Lukas Budimaier/
Plotczyk explains that only 3% of a person’s water footprint consists of household use, while 73% comes from the food they eat. ‘Since we know most of our water footprint lies with what we eat, then it’s logical that eating a less-water intensive diet has the potential to save more water than anything else you do,’ emphasises Plotczyk.
Plant-based food also has lower greenhouse gas emissions. For example, legumes have a 250 times lower emissions per calorie than beef, and even 20 servings of vegetables still have lower emissions than a single serving of beef. In addition to this, most animals currently grazing in South Africa are dependent on rainwater. However, this is likely to change in the future due to drier conditions, placing more strain on dam water to supply both animal feed and human consumption. So, what is the best way for humans to help curb the effects of climate change and future droughts? The answer is eating a less meat-intensive diet; but, this is easier said than done.

Will switching to a plant-based diet today save Capetonians from the current drought? Unfortunately, probably not. However, water conservation is a marathon, not a sprint, and even small changes in diet today can bring hope for the future. Plotczyk draws a relatable metaphor: ‘It’s like saying you’ve drained your savings account and have been laid off from your job – so should you keep spending and go into debt, or change jobs and start saving money again? Continuing meat-based diets, which are incredibly water-intensive, in the face of drought and water scarcity would be extremely counterproductive, even if the results are hard to see here and now.’

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2829. The Life and Death of Nigel: The World's Loneliest Seabird

By Yonette Joseph, The New York Times, February 4, 2018
Nigel, on the right, courted the concrete decoy to left until he died in his nest.
LONDON — The story of a lonely seabird named Nigel who tried to woo a mate that had a heart of stone and died on an uninhabited island off New Zealand has captivated many on social media.

Footage of the bird preening and cooing as he fruitlessly courted a decoy made of concrete has been watched obsessively online. Though his chosen partner kept a cold silence, Nigel, a gannet, won the affection of visitors and conservationists alike.

His solitary life shined a light on a yearslong effort by an army of conservationists, devoted volunteers and others to repopulate his species on the island.

News of the seabird’s death in late January hit the island’s caretakers and social media users hard.

“It seems like such a wrong ending for Nigel to die now,” said Chris Bell, 37, a ranger for the New Zealand Conservation Department, who found the seabird dead in his nest. “Just when it looked like it could get better for him.”

Nigel first landed on Mana Island a few years ago (conservationists differ on the year). Mana is about 16 miles, or 25.3 kilometers, northwest of Wellington, the capital. It’s also the site of an ambitious effort to establish a flourishing colony of Australasian gannets, which can be found in social clusters off the coast of Australia and New Zealand. But types of gannets have settled all over the world, including in Scotland.

In the 1990s, conservationists set up concrete gannets on the western side of Mana to lure real birds. They painted the decoys’ beaks yellow, the wingtips black, the plumage white. They played seabird calls over solar-powered speakers.

On the very first day, two gannets swooped in, Mr. Bell said by phone early Saturday. Conservationists congratulated themselves on their instant success. But soon, the birds flew away, and the project stalled.

Then came Nigel.

He quickly took a liking to one of the concrete replicas, according to Mr. Bell, who says he’s the only full-time employee on the island. Month after month, the bird cozied up to his chosen mate, but “she” remained aloof.

“He nested alongside her,” said Linda Kerkmeester, vice president of the environmental conservation group Friends of Mana Island. “He was seen wooing her by preening her. Nigel was also seen trying to mate with her.”

A botanist doing a survey for Friends of Mana Island named the bird Nigel “no mates” because he had no friends.

“I think the saddest part of this story is what a frustrating existence to be courting this stone bird and getting nothing back,” Mr. Bell said. “Not getting rejected, not getting encouragement.”

Though Nigel lived a mostly solitary life on the island, he became the linchpin of the efforts to draw other gannets to Mana.

The colony was one of several seabird projects undertaken by a partnership that included a local tribe, Friends of Mana Island and the Conservation Department to drive gannets to spread out and inhabit other islands.

“New Zealand was an amazing place for seabirds before humans arrived,” Mr. Bell said. “Lots of seabirds nested on the land. Bringing seabirds back to the land is important.”
The seabirds are key to the project because they provide nutrients in the soil for insects and plants to thrive, according to Friends of Mana Island.

New Zealand, whose native species have been devastated by predators like rats that were introduced to the country, is aiming for an environmental moon shot. The nation is waging a battle to eradicate all invasive predators by 2050. Several islands have already been cleared.
Mana, which was farmed from the 1820s to the 1980s, is pest free. It has been restored with 500,000 native trees, and lizards, seabirds and other native birds have been translocated, Friends of Mana Island said.

“Mana Island is a great scientific reserve because Mana never had rats,” Mr. Bell said. “So it’s a great place to reintroduce species.”

In December, after years of hoping the Mana seabird project would take off, conservationists redoubled efforts to build up the colony. They repositioned the decoys and moved the speakers so that recorded bird sounds would be carried clear out to sea. The fake birds got fresh paint. And suddenly, Nigel had company.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2828. A National Coalition Demands Transit Justice

By Kacie Harlan,, February 13, 2018
Amalgamated Transit Union members at a Transit Equity Day event unveiling a local initiative in Jersey City
JUST OVER 62 years ago, Rosa Parks defied Jim Crow segregation that consigned Black passengers to sit in the back of the bus. Her act of resistance spurred the African American community to organize the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most important events of the civil rights movement.
Half a century later, Park's civil disobedience has inspired a national coalition of labor, civil rights and environmental groups to organize Transit Equity Day.
According to the Labor Network for Sustainability, Transit Equity Day "is a collaborative effort of several organizations and unions to promote public transit as a civil right and a strategy to combat climate change." The coalition chose Parks' birthday of February 4 for the day of action, but observed it on February 5 this year since it was a weekday.
While the coalition is small and the day of action made few headlines, Transit Equity Day is a good first step toward a badly needed public transit movement in the U.S.
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LOCAL ADVOCACY groups such as Pittsburghers for Public Transit and OPAL Environmental Justice Portland have been organizing around transit for years, but this year was the first time a national coalition formed to organize a day of action.
It was also the first time organizations representing labor, civil rights and climate change struggles--including the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the Sierra Club and the NAACP, among others-- worked together on this issue, sponsoring or endorsing the event.
The Labor Network for Sustainability put forward four demands:
-- Transportation Justice: Every person in every neighborhood...should have the right to safe, convenient transportation at an affordable cost.
-- Workers Justice: Transportation workers have the right to safe, decent working conditions, family-supporting incomes, and union representation.
-- Community Justice: Communities have the right to a just transit system that provides fair access to jobs and amenities.
-- Climate Justice: Communities are being affected by climate change and have the right to have transit vehicles that use clean, renewable energy.
There were actions of various sizes in 15 cities, each one planned by local organizations that are part of the national coalition. Two virtual town halls allowed organizers to come together via webcam and discuss their local issues and the actions they were planning.
In Nashville, the ATU and Music City Riders United organized around transit safety and workforce training for operators. In Denver, Mile High Connects, United for a New Economy, 9to5 Colorado the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, and the Montbello Organizing Committee called for a "vendor credit reduction" to fund an income-based transit pass.
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THE NEED for a grassroots public transit movement is urgent. Like other public services, transit has been a victim of neoliberalism. Many agencies have been woefully underfunded for decades, leading to poor service delivery, service cuts, maintenance backlogs and fare increases.
The austerity drive has also left agencies using ancient, polluting technologies that contribute to climate change. Public agencies like Amtrak are going without new safety technology, such as positive train control, which could be preventing deadly accidents--in the past two months, there have been three fatal crashes in Washington StateVirginia and South Carolina that all could have been avoided.
Due to lack of regulations, public transit is also facing increasing competition from transportation network companies (TNCs) that are starting to mimic transit service, such as Lyft Line.
Politicians refuse to fund public transit at a level where it can compete with these companies, so the public system is losing ridership to them. Capitalist would love for nonunion TNCs to replace public transit.
At the same time, there are also many areas that are still not served by public transit, despite experience population growth--what are called transit deserts. When local governments finally do build transit, they opt for modes that serve developers more than passengers, like streetcars.
The people who pay the price for all of this are disproportionately low-income workers, including many people of color. Meanwhile, transit operators work in increasingly unsafe conditions--something dramatized by a near-walkout by ATU members over safety issues in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
While all the problems of public transportation have been present for some time, they are likely to get worse during the Trump administration--particularly as a consequence of the White House proposal on infrastructure. As Neil Loehein wrote at, "Everything about Trump's [infrastructure] proposal is structured to create maximum gain and minimal risk for private investors and corporate construction giants, while doing precious little to make sure what gets built is what's actually needed."
Since transit isn't profitable--hence why it was taken over in the public domainby the mid-20th century--it's likely the White House won't prioritize transit projects.
Some commentators are speculating that the Trump administration will enforce new funding requirements for transit projects, such as special tax districts that deprive local tax revenue from cities. There is also talk of taking funding from the federal transit budget to fund highway projects.
Given the urgency of the need, it was refreshing to see a new coalition form to defend public transit and make connections among organizations dedicated to labor, civil rights and climate justice.

2827. The Largest Oil Spill in Decades

By Steven Lee Myers and Javier C. Hernandez, The New York Times, February 12, 2018

At left, the tanker Sanchi billowing smoke off the coast of eastern China on Jan. 10. At right, six days later, a fuel spill visible on the East China Sea. Photos: Minstry of Transport of China; Japan Coast Guard.

ZHOUSHAN, China — A 
fiery collision that sank an Iranian tanker in the East China Sea a month ago has resulted in an environmental threat that experts say is unlike any before: An almost invisible type of petroleum has begun to contaminate some of the most important fishing grounds in Asia, from China to Japan and beyond.

It is the largest oil spill in decades, but the disaster has unfolded outside the glare of international attention that big spills have previously attracted. That is because of its remote location on the high seas and also the type of petroleum involved: condensate, a toxic, liquid byproduct of natural gas production.

Unlike the crude oil in better-known disasters like the Exxon Valdez and the Deepwater Horizon, condensate does not clump into black globules that can be easily spotted or produce heart-wrenching images of animals mired in muck. There’s no visible slick that can be pumped out. Experts said the only real solution is to let it evaporate or dissolve. Absorbed into the water, it will remain toxic for a time, though it will also disperse more quickly into the ocean than crude oil.

Experts say there has never been so large a spill of condensate; up to 111,000 metric tons has poured into the ocean. It has almost certainly already invaded an ecosystem that includes some of the world’s most bountiful fisheries off Zhoushan, the archipelago that rises where the Yangtze River flows into the East China Sea.

The area produced five million tons of seafood of up to four dozen species for China alone last year, according to Greenpeace, including crab, squid, yellow croaker, mackerel and a local favorite, hairtail. If projections are correct, the toxins could soon make their way into equally abundant Japanese fisheries.

Exposure to condensate is extremely unhealthy to humans and potentially fatal. The effects of eating fish contaminated with it remain essentially untested, but “This is an oil spill of a type we haven’t seen before,” said Paul Johnston, a scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter in England. “Working out the impact is actually a huge task — probably next to impossible.”

For China, the disaster has become a test of its ambitions as a global and regional steward of the seas, especially at a time when it is reinforcing its territorial claims, including disputed territories with Japan in these waters. Given its proximity, China has taken the lead in investigating the disaster and monitoring the spill, but it has faced some criticism for what some see as a slow and inadequate response thus far.

Officials in Beijing announced on Feb. 1 that samples of fish taken within four to five nautical miles of the sunken ship contained traces of petroleum hydrocarbons, suggesting possible condensate contamination; they pledged to expand the range of testing to 90 miles, and closely monitor fish coming into markets.

The threat of contamination has raised anxiety in the ports that cling to the rugged coastlines of Zhoushan’s islands, though such fears are usually expressed with quiet resignation lest one offend the government.

“The quality will go down because of the oil in the water,” Hai Tao, a fish wholesaler at the International Aquatic Product City in Putuo, a district on Zhoushan’s biggest island, said as he watched a ship unload hundreds of crates of mantis shrimp, a delicacy headed to restaurants across China.of the disaster.tion and monitoring are still ongoing and we are awaiting results of investigations into pollution and successive fishery resource investigations,” he said.

In the meantime, the authorities have ordered a ban on fishing in the areas affected.
In the East River Fish Market in Putuo, one seller brusquely dismissed questions about the spill as she stood beside a stall full of fish, including a tuna selling for roughly $100. “Our fish are not from out there,” she said, though some of them very likely were.
The size of the area affected by the disaster has expanded and contracted. At one point in January, there were three different spills spotted on the surface, covering an area that measured more than 128 square miles. Complicating the calculations is uncertainty about the amount of condensate that ended up in the water.

China’s Ministry of Transportation initially played down the possibility of a spill, then said 136,000 metric tons had been lost. Later, it revised the figure downward to 111,000 tons — still enough to make it the worst tanker spill at sea since 1991.

Some of the condensate may have burned off in the fires, sparing the sea, but contaminating the air. Officials said they were testing air samples in the provinces around Shanghai.
If any fuel washes ashore, there may be ways to limit the damage in the immediate vicinity, with machines or by hand. But the biggest issue now seems to be that nobody knows the scale of the problem or which parts of the high seas are affected.

The spill is already drifting east toward Japan, but winds and currents can be unpredictable. The contamination could even reach waters as far off as Tokyo.

The Japanese Coast Guard has announced that black globules had been found on at least nine islands along the chain between Okinawa and the main Japanese islands. Those would not be from the condensate, though they could be other oil from the Sanchi wreck.
In any case, the discoveries suggested the condensate may have already reach Japan’s third most important fishery, teeming with bonito and yellowfin tuna. A dead sea turtle, evidently choked by oil, washed ashore on one island, Amami Oshima.

Hiroshi Takahashi, a fisheries official in Kagoshima, said that the impacts of the spill on seafood were “the biggest concern right now.”

The cause of the disaster remains a mystery. The Sanchi was nearing the end of its voyage to South Korea through one of the most heavily traversed parts of the world’s oceans when it collided with the CF Crystal, a bulk carrier flagged in Hong Kong that was delivering grain to China from the United States.

As the Sanchi erupted into flames, the Crystal managed to make harbor — and is now in one of Zhoushan’s many ports.

At least five Chinese Coast Guard ships, aided by fishing boats, led the rescue efforts and the long struggle to extinguish the blaze that consumed the tanker for eight days before it sank on Jan. 14. Japan and South Korea each sent one ship, and the United States Navy sent a P-8A Poseidon aircraft from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

A Chinese emergency team in flame-resistant suits at one point boarded the burning ship, recovering the bodies of two crewmen and the “black box” data recorder before the intensity of the heat drove them off. One other body was pulled from the sea.
On the Shengsi islands, the part of the Zhoushan archipelago that was closest to the accident, the spill could threaten an industry already strained by polluted runoff from the Yangtze and by overfishing.

At one village nestled in a harbor, three boats unloaded their final catches before the start this week of the Lunar New Year holidays. An astounding variety of fish were sorted dockside into plastic trays. Wu Zhihong, who with her husband owns one of the trawlers, said the catch over the last year had been an improvement over the year before.
Ms. Wu expressed hope that the damage from the spill would be limited, absorbed into a wider, forgiving ocean. “The sea is very big,” she said amid a cacophony of fishmongers who descended on the pier to bargain over the catch.