Thursday, November 11, 2010
In a recent blog by The Intellectual Activist, An Objectivist Review, Robert Tracinski makes a bold statement about the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in saying that the real disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is not an environmental disaster but is “a government-made disaster” with respect to the economy.
His two main arguments regarding the spill were 1) that the fishery closures and the moratorium on deep-sea drilling were pre-emptive and will prove to be a detriment to the economy and 2) that the oil spill has not caused an environmental disaster.
The closing of fisheries and the moratorium on deep-sea drilling
In the first paragraph of his blog Robert Tracinski attempts to discredit the seriousness of the oil spill using an excerpt from a New York Times article which describes the anticipated announcement from the U.S. government stating that the majority of oil spilled had been taken care of with the help of natural processes and human intervention. There was an immediate backlash towards this claim by scientist and environmental groups who claimed that the government misinterpreted the data which might have been due to a political agenda to lessen the perceived damage . When the government, in a position of authority, is the source of misinformation in what was considered to be the largest oil spill on record, it is understandable to have diminished confidence in their abilities. However, the closing of the fisheries in oil affected areas was not based on misinformation, but based on implementing reasonable safety measures to address concerns for the public’s health and safety. The author would like you to believe that this is the implementation of the precautionary principle to demonstrate that the current government takes the approach of “assume that it’s tainted and ban it, then look at the evidence later”. However, the decision to close fisheries was not an example of the precautionary principle, which makes decisions based on possible damage, as the damage had already occurred, but more accurately could be based on the human rights principle which addresses our rights to health and wellbeing.
Next he attempts to demonstrate that the government is indecisive in its commitments based on its disregard of Judge Martin Feldman’s preliminary injunction of the moratorium put in place by the government and then their early lifting of the same moratorium. Robert Tracinski makes no mention that there were concerns that the same judge may not have been impartial in the ruling owing to personal investments in companies that would be directly affected by the moratorium .
In an article by Larry West, the United States Interior Secretary Ken Salazar explained that the decision to impose a Moratorium on the drilling of oil was based on concerns for the health and protection of local communities, coasts and wildlife . They felt that the industries oil spill response plan was inefficient to deal with the current situation and before drilling could commence again there needed to be an investigation and new plans drafted . The shutting down of fishing and oil exploration was the responsible decision. Their decisions could be seen as implementing the participation principle, which includes the environmental impact assessment and the equity principle which includes the consideration of future generations.
Of course in decision making the economy needs to be factored in and, unfortunately, in this scenario there is a tradeoff; health and safety to the detriment of economic growth and stability. The tourism industry will also suffer until people feel confident that the crisis is over. On the flip side, due to this disaster there has been an influx of people involved in the management of the aftermath from government officials to volunteers. These people will all need to eat and sleep; there will be a demand for boats and all the necessary equipment for clean-up and research crews. It is unclear if this contribution to the local economy would outweigh the anticipated job loss.
It is too early to know the extent of environmental damage, if any, caused by the oil spill
From the beginning of the incident, approximately six months ago, and since the flow of oil was halted in July, there is very little information to be found in the way of official reports and published research. At present there is still research being conducted as well as continued clean-up and restoration of the ocean and coastline. A very brief report put out by NOAA on November 1, 2010 shows that research teams have found wildlife affected by the oil spill, namely birds and sea turtles . And further in a very brief article on the NOAA website “Deeper Insights: Researching the Spill Under the Sea”, as of November 3rd they have discovered coral colonies at a depth of approximately 1400 meters that are either dead or dying . These are examples of detrimental ecological effects that we know of currently. Though, much is still unknown about the short term and long term effects on the marine life and the example of the captured marine life, live and dead, and coral only demonstrates that much marine life, those in deep sea environments, will not be as easy to assess and whose effects may be most prominent.
Robert Tracinski’s argument should not be considered an evidence based argument as his reasoning and support for these claims are aimed at attacking the character of the government, and making conclusions about the potential environmental impact based on no official reports or published research. I argue that the government did make the responsible and necessary decisions in calling the closure of fisheries in areas directly affected by the spill and for a moratorium on off-shore deep sea oil drilling. Further, it is entirely too soon to make the claim that the oil spill has and will have no effects on the surrounding environment. I do however agree that the already crippled U.S. economy will only fair worse from the temporary and partial shut-down of two major industries but as a direct cause of the oil spill and not the government’s reaction to it.
 An Overview of Protected Species Commonly Found in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA Fisheries Service. 2006. http://www.offshoreoperators.com/marinedebris/Protected-Species-In-GOM-NOAA.pdf Accessed November 2, 2010.
 West, L. Government Imposes New Deepwater Offshore Drilling Moratorium. About.com: Environmental Issues. July 13, 2010. http://environment.about.com/b/2010/07/13/government-imposes-new-deepwater-offshore-drilling-moratorium.htm Accessed November 2, 2010.
 Deepwater Horizon Response Consolidated Fish and Wildlife Collection Report. 2010. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). http://www.restorethegulf.gov/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/Consolidated%20Wildlife%20Table%20110210.pdf Accessed November 4, 2010.
 Deep Sea Subsurface Oil Assessment. 2010. Restore The Gulf.gov. http://www.restorethegulf.gov/ Accessed November 2, 2010.
 Deepwater BP Oil Spill, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). November 1, 2010. http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/FINAL-NRDA_by_the_Numbers_11.03.pdf.pdf Accessed November 11, 2010.
 Goldenberg, S. Gulf Oil Spill: White House Accused of Spinning Report. August 5, 2010. The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/05/oil-spill-white-house-accused-spin Accessed November 11, 2010.
 Near Shore Submerged Oil Assessment. 2010. Restore The Gulf.gov. http://www.restorethegulf.gov/ Accessed November 2, 2010.
 Tracy, T. Groups Seek Judge’s Removal in Drilling-Moratorium Case. July 2, 2010. The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704293604575343361857605650.html Accessed November 10, 2010.
 Deeper Insights: Researching the Spill Under the Sea. NOAA. http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/2010/11/deeper-insights-researching-the-spill-under-the-sea/ Accessed November 10, 2010.
Amy Heinzerling in her article “Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fall in 2009 – Past Decade Still Sees Rapid Emissions Growth “, expresses joy about the decreased carbon emissions from fossil fuels in most industrial countries in 2009. But later she states that it is only due to recession, that the global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels decreased from 8.5 billion tons in 2008 to 8.4 billion tons in 2009.
The main article -
Other References –
A subject that has been receiving a lot of attention over the past few years is that of skin cancer. This attention is for a good reason, for over 73 000 Canadians in 2007 were diagnosed with it, so it is a real problem. As many people know, one of the main causes of skin cancer is exposure to Ultra Violet (UV) radiation. Exposure to UV radiation has increased greatly over the years as a result of air pollution and the resulting negative effects on the ozone layer. However, despite all of the research done in humans, of all the species on the planet humans are probably exposed to the least amount of UV radiation due to the amount of time spent indoors and technologies such as sunscreen that have been developed to help prevent skin cancer. The majority of all species are exposed to these increasing levels of UV every day. One of these animals is whales, especially due to the amount of time they spend near the surface doing such basic activities as breathing and eating. The theory is that because whales do not have any fur or feathers to protect their bodies, they have nothing to prevent the UV radiation from damaging their skin. However, I believe that this issue is greatly over rated.
First of all, one of the greatest dangers regarding sun exposure is when the sun is avoided for long periods of time, and then suddenly, the organism is exposed to the sun for hours at a time. An excellent example in humans is somebody who works in an office, and then goes to beach for the day. They are likely going to have very bad sunburn, whereas somebody like a farmer who spends a great deal of their time outside, does not experience hardly any negative effects from a day spend at the beach. This is greatly the case for whales. They spend every day of their lives exposed to this ultraviolet radiation, so they are very likely going to build up some sort of resistance to it.
Even in the actual study itself, most of the data that they collected was from the air through the use of photography. They used this to determine any sort of skin discolouration, and found that there was more damage to whales with lighter coloured skin compared to whales with darker coloured skin. However, this is probably just an effort to darken the whale’s skin to help protect it if the UV rays are getting stronger. Therefore this skin discolouration is more of an adaptation, something that organisms do all the time, rather than a disease.
The researchers also had no way of knowing whether or not the discolorations that were appearing on the whales skin were actually a result of UV or due to some other external factor that nobody has yet considered. Just because humans have certain reactions to overdoses of UV radiation, it does not mean that an animal which has a much tougher and thicker skin would experience the same effects.
A thinning ozone layer is by no means a good thing. However, I believe that the study on the effects of UV was bias because they wanted to find UV damage in the whales, and did not really investigate other possible causes of the discolorations. There is still a lot of work to do as far as research is concerned before we will be able to know for sure what the effects of increased UV levels have on whales and other similar wildlife.
Adam Gibson (0705733)
Whether or not the Alberta tar sands should be shut down has been in debate for years now. Groups like Greenpeace have been trying to raise awareness about this issue and they, in fact, recently came out with a movie named “Petropolis”(4), which gives the viewer an aerial sight of the oil sands’ mining site in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Many believe that the Alberta tar sands are a never-ending environmental disaster. One such person, Kumi Naidoo, made this opinion very clear in his emotional article “Tar Sands: is this the real Canada?”(August 27th 2010), found in The Huffington Post.
This mass reserve of oil is found underneath the Boreal forest in Canada, and is a mixture of oil (technically known as bitumen), sand, clay, and other minerals.(2) The land must first be clear-cut, and then the surface mining begins.(2) The oil sand is trucked to a cleaning facility where it is mixed with hot water and diluent, which will separate the bitumen from the sand.(2) The bitumen is then sent off for refinement, and the waste product is put in tailing ponds.(2) For bitumen deposits buried more than 75m deep, situ recovery is used.(2) For this, super-heated water is pumped into the ground, the bitumen separates and is brought to surface, leaving the dirt behind. This means no tailing ponds.(2)
As you can see from the picture, the surface mining is a pretty ugly process. Critics use photos and words like “tar sands” to paint a picture of desolation.(3) In the article Naidoo says “…it looked like the moon; that giant swaths of forest had been levelled only to be replaced with vast toxic lakes of chemicals or churning black pits of bitumen and industry.”(Naidoo, Tar Sands: is this the real Canada?, par.6) The phrase “tar sands” is in fact incorrect because tar is a substance made from pine wood or coal, where these “tar sands” are just oil sands. As well, only 2 percent of the oil sands can be mined because the rest is too deep.(3) When observing “Petropolis” I noticed that most of the shots where of different angles of the same thing.(4) Put all this information together and we come to the conclusion that activists use dirty words like “tar sands” and multiple photos of the same site in order to twist the perspective. Never once in the entire article did Naidoo correctly refer to the oil sands by oil sands, he instead opted to name them tar sands. At the end of the article Naidoo asks you to “…bear witness and act on what you see.”(Naidoo, Tar Sands: is this the real Canada?, par.17). A bias picture no doubt.
Naidoo makes the claim “Sadly, Canadian politicians have abdicated their responsibility for Alberta’s land, water and people.”(Naidoo, Tar Sands: is this the real Canada?, par.14). However the issue has been brought up to the government. The government supports the continued expansion of the oil sands of Alberta, according to the minister of the environment, Honourable Jim Prentice.(5) He made it clear that the oil sands must be developed in an environmentally responsible manner.(5) As well Senator Mitchell made a statement that if Canada had funded the carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology, then it would be possible to operate the oil sands better.(6) In fact, the government of Alberta has put down an investment of 2 billion dollars towards CCS technology, and is currently developing the policies and regulations needed in order to move the development forward.(8) Carbon Catching and Storage, or CCS, is a new process which is currently being used globally.(8) Sites in North America, Norway, and North Africa have already been safely successful.(8) What happens is the CO2 is dehydrated and compressed into a liquid form, where it is then pumped into a porous rock formation about 1 to 2 kilometers below ground.(8)
When Naidoo went to Fort McMurray, he also went to a village downstream named Fort Chipewyan and met with community leaders. These leaders told Naidoo about the poisoning of the Athabasca River and how it is wreaking havoc on their communal health.(1) Naidoo says “the elevated rates of cancer in the community.”(Naidoo, Tar Sands: is this the real Canada?, par.10). I question how he came about this information. Nonetheless, assuming it was true, what is causing it? Without doing any further research, we would assume that the tailing ponds are responsible. However the government of Alberta has developed an action plan to reduce/eliminate the amount of leakage from tailings.(7) All tailing ponds must be constructed like the figure below, which will monitor groundwater and seepage facilities (see figure below.)(7) They have also released a statement in a fact-sheet that says “Comprehensive monitoring programs have not detected impacts from tailing ponds on surface water or potable groundwater”(Government of Alberta, Oil Sands: Tailings, page.1). In either case, what is the difference between this and distributed cosmetics that contain toxins?(8)
Naidoo makes a few comparisons. He compares Canada’s human rights treatment with that of South Africa, and says that First Nations are being ignored.(1) Too bad the oil sands industry is the largest employer of First Nations in all of Canada,(3) and Canada is nothing like South Africa. He also makes a comparison with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.(1) How can you even compare the two? He says “There is one difference though: in Canada there is no end in sight.”(Naidoo, Tar Sands: is this the real Canada?, par.17). Yes there is, when the oil runs out. The oil sands, just like the extraction of any other non-renewable natural resource around the world, will be done until it is depleted.
Oil sands have their failings, just like anything else. Nuclear leaves toxic waste, ethanol burns food, wind power kills birds and makes humans sick,(6) there is no perfect solution. Naidoo makes a heart-wrenching argument which I was initially convinced of until I did some further research. He uses words like “tar sands”, “dirty oil”, “destruction”, “violation”, etc. in order to evoke a certain emotion. For example, does the title of his article not make you feel a little guilty inside? Let’s not forget the (deliberate?) use of “tar sands” in it. His article provides no numerical data or quotes, only assumptions and observations turned into a well written bias view.
Naidoo, Kumi. (2010, August 27). Tar Sands: is this the real Canada?. The Huffington Post.
Government of Alberta. June 2010. Talk About: Oil Sands.
Debate of the Senate: Importance of Canada's Oil. 3rd session, 40th parliament, 147(60).
Prentice, Jim. The Speaking Points of the Honourable Jim Pentice. (2010, Febuary 1st). Environment Canada.
Debates of the Senate: Speech From the Throne. 3rd session, 4oth parliament, 147(13).
This article does a good job of stating all the benefits related to using biodiesel and even goes over a few possible arguments against biodiesel such as performance in cooler climates. To this Novack (2010) responds that with refining, biodiesel can be used anywhere diesel power is common. However, this article lacks providing strong evidence to support the claims it makes. Nowhere in the article does it state why biodiesel produces fewer emissions than regular diesel, it just states that it does. In order to increase the strength of the claims made in the article, a little background on biodiesel or the main differences between biodiesel and regular diesel would be very beneficial. Doing so would greatly increase the credibility of the statements being made in the article.
Although the article does go over a few arguments against biodiesel, the biggest arguments against biodiesel are not even mentioned. These arguments are the fact that production of biodiesel could possibly create more greenhouse gas emissions than just using regular diesel. This is a major argument that many people against biofuels make and one that needs to be addressed when trying to argue for biofuels. The author should have tried to explain that the use of biofuels such as biodiesel are only said to produce more emissions that it prevents through the use of vehicles used to collect the crops. The large quantity of crops needed in order to create biodiesel creates the added problem of using fuels in order to make fuels. The author could have argued that there are eco friendly ways to harvest crops followed by evidence to support that statement. Without the evidence to support a statement or claim, it holds no weight in an argument.
Another possible argument against biodiesel that was not addressed in the article was the fact that the amount of crops needed to provide biofuels is quite high which means that the amount of water required in order to grow these plants is staggering. The author of the article should have addressed this possible problem with biofuels with a response that would discredit this claim. Such a response could be that there are many ways that water can be recycled for further use in watering crops. This statement would also have to be followed by evidence to support this statement such as the journal article written by Carr et al., (2010) titled: Water reuse for irrigated agriculture in Jordan: challenges of soil sustainability and the role of management strategies which discusses both the benefits and costs of the reuse of water. Such evidence would provide a large amount of credibility towards the claim Novack is trying to make.
Furthermore, there is the question of costs. This is the major argument that would apply to the general public. This topic is not even discussed in the article and defiantly should be because biofuels do generally cost more than regular fuels. This is an argument that someone against biodiesel would defiantly raise but had the author anticipated this argument, he could have easily came up with a rebuttal that would neutralize this claim against biodiesel. Biodiesel may be more expensive, however the mileage you get from bio fuels is substantially larger than that of regular fuels (Cuebert, 2010) therefore, the argument that biodiesel is more expensive holds no weight at all. This claim would once again need to be supported by evidence such as the article written by Mike Cubert (2010) comparing the cost of the two types of fuels and how much mileage you would get from each.
In conclusion, the article written by Novack does present many good points that support the use of biodiesel, however the lack of evidence to support the claims he makes as well as the lack of controlling the arguments that would be made against biodiesel makes the article and claims made weaker. Providing solutions to problems such as water needed and costs of biofuels supported by evidence found from other sources, would greatly increase the credibility and strength of the claims made in this article. It isn’t enough to state that something is good, you have to provide evidence to support that claim and evidence to discredit claims against it. Overall this article did a good job of stating why biodiesel is beneficial and with the addition of evidence to support it and evidence to discredit claims against it, the article could prove to be a powerful tool in proving the benefits of biodiesel to others as well.
Carr, G., Nortcliff, S. and Potter, R. 2010. Water reuse for irrigated agriculture in Jordan: challenges of soil sustainability and the role of management strategies. The Royal Society. 368: 5315-5321.
Retrieved from: http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/368/1931/5315.full
Cubert, M. 2010. Really, How Much Does Biodiesel Cost?.
Retrieved from: http://www.infobiodiesel.com/Really,_How_Much_Does_Biodiesel_Cost_.html
Novack, J. 2010. Biodiesel as Alternative Green Energy. Economic & Environmental Benefits of Biofuel.
Retrieved from: http://www.suite101.com/content/green-fuel-biodiesel-as-alternative-energy-a119479
According to Dr. Mark Clayson who wrote the blog “Global Warming – Let Us Stop Beating Ourselves Over It” on gettingoffgrid.com, global warming does not exist. In this blog Clayson makes a number of claims as to why he thinks that global warming has become a topic that the general public concerns themselves with far too much, and even goes as far as to claiming that it does not even exist. Due to the fact that Clayson doubts the existence of global warming, he then as a result makes claims against global warming that are quite irrational and irrelevant to the situations that have been transpiring on Earth. In this blog Clayson represents his argument that global warming does not exist with four statements that he sees from daily life and uses them as facts, even though he does not take the scientific or realistic aspects of these occurrences into consideration. One of the reasons that Clayson does not believe in global warming is the fact that he believes that because Earth has cooled and warmed up in the past, we should therefore not continue to worry about the fact that Earth has been increasing in temperature. Along with the fact that Earth has been cooling and warming for years, Clayson also argues in his third point that Earth is also moving away from the Sun which accompanies his argument.
“1. The earth has warmed up an cooled down many times in its history. It is still here and it is still going strong despite man’s existence and influence on it. ... 3. The earth is moving away from the sun at a rate of knots. This is a natural phenomenon and one which will lead to global cooling rather than warming. It is the reason why Mars is cold and Pluto is very, very cold. The earth will cool, it will happen.” (Clayson 2010)
Now, although it is true that ice ages have occurred in the past, the reason for one to occur now is not the same as for one to have occurred in the past. The ice ages that have happened in the past had much greater extremities and happened for different reasons. One also must take into consideration the fact that humans did not have scientific knowledge at the time at which the last ice age occurred. (Also take into consideration that many people believe that we are all still currently in an ice age if we look at Greenland and the two Antarctic poles.) The fact that ice ages have occurred in the past, like Clayson says, is very true, but Clayson did not think over how many species actually survived the ice age; not many. Along with ice ages, global warming has also occurred in the past, the only difference from the past would be that, along with the time at which ice ages happened, scientific knowledge was not existent at that time. One has to be realistic; global warming is occurring now because of the impact that we are making on Earth and the decisions that have been made as to how to treat it. Clayson was correct in saying “despite man's existence and influence” but the global warming that is occurring now is due to the impact that we have been making on Earth. Humans have greatly impacted, if not created the global warming that is currently occurring. To say that we should stop worrying about it because we have nothing to do with it and that we cannot stop it is just irresponsible and selfish because we are very much partly to blame. Deforestation, burning fossil fuels, methane from cattle and rice paddles, and much more are all the influences of the human race and are also a large part of the reason why global warming has currently been an issue.
When Clayson makes his statement about the planets moving away from the sun, although this statement has not been proven to be true, but if it were, the rate at which the planets are moving away from the sun is not fast enough for there to be such a great impact as the cooling of Earth. The predicted rate at which the plants are moving away from the sun is that of which we can adapt to. Either way, if this fact were to be true, it would not prove in any way the global warming is not possible.
Clayson does make relevant and believable points, to people who are not properly and scientifically educated of the facts and studies that have been taken place for years. His arguments are very superficial and do not have much scientific relevance nor truth. Clayson claims that global warming does not exist because of the polar bears. He makes some quite ridiculous claims, especially when he explains that because polar bears are still in existence, this means that global warming does not exist. He says,
“Polar bears have seen the ice cap melt before and they are also still here – OK, I admit, a few of them have lost their lives on the way and it is pretty uncomfortable being on top of a floating piece of ice that has melted off from the main flow – drowning is not nice but neither is being mauled by lions, but the wildebeest don’t complain too much.” (Clayson 2010)
To assume that global warming does not exist because the polar bears are still in existent is just not relevant in any way to science. Polar bears are currently an endangered species of bears and to say that dead animals are not complaining is simply irrational. I understand that Clayson is trying to imply that polar bears have survived melting and the heating of the Arctic before, but to use this to try to disprove scientifically proven theories is quite unrealistic, especially since the polar bears are endangered.
Overall, the arguments against global warming are not very strong, if not irrelevant. A lot more scientific knowledge and research would have to be used to properly disprove a scientific theory that has been studied for years. The arguments that are presented are weak and do not stand, especially when they are compared to the scientific data that is presently supporting the existence of global warming.
By Eliza Solis-Maart
Original Blog: http://gettingoffgrid.com/2010/11/09/global-warming-let-us-stop-beating-ourselves-over-it.html
The Terror of the Three-eyed Fish
In the change.org blog post “What If Frankenfish Won’t Stay In Their Cages?” the writer, Jess Leber, makes many assertions regarding the farming of genetically engineered salmon. Three of such claims strongly oppose the proposed farming of these so called “Frankenfish.” She claims that (1) the genetically engineered salmon will escape from captivity, (2) these will then breed with wild salmon, and (3) this interbreeding will cause the extinction of wild salmon species. Little to no evidence is put forward by Leber to support these strong claims.
The fundamental flaw I see in her argument is that she makes these very one-sided allegations without, for the most part, providing proper evidence, but instead referencing to other opinionated bloggers such as her. In other words, she backs up her own claims with other equally unsupported sources. From this flimsy foundation, I find myself questioning the validity of these claims which Leber usually fails to justify.
The fact that the writer makes claims based on information taken from secondary sources is the main reason why I believe the evidence isn’t strong enough to make said claims. For example, Leber asserts that the FDA has approved the genetically engineered salmon safe for human consumption based on “scarily insufficient testing.” However, she fails to elaborate on the methodology of the testing or produce any sort of evidence which may support the claim that this testing was indeed insufficient. She instead references to a blog posting on the very same website which just so happens to make the same unsupported claim in different words.
In her post, Leber asserts that genetically engineered salmon are an environmental risk because they will eventually escape captivity. Her argument for this assumption is that, in the past, we have seen farm salmon escape into the wild and mix with wild salmon. However, she does not provide any evidence which relates to the specific case of AquaBounty’s GE salmon, the case at hand. These genetically engineered salmon are to be kept in land-based facilities, effectively isolating them from wild salmon populations. Leber neglects to mention this fact when asserting her claim that these salmon will pose an environmental risk. If the salmon are being bred and stored on land, away from wild species’ ecosystem, then I see no argument for environmental risk.
The writer’s second major claim is one that, once again, is completely unsupported by any hard evidence. She references another blog which presents the same unsubstantiated claim that these genetically engineered salmon could possibly breed with wild salmon species. The GE salmon that could be produced by AquaBounty are said to be 100% sterile. However, Leber writes that “about 5 percent of them could conceivably breed” without presenting any evidence to back up this claim. After following her sources, I was unable to find anything but the same groundless claim that these fish are not completely sterile as they are said to be.
Leber’s third main claim, that interbreeding between genetically engineered salmon and wild salmon will cause the eventual extinction of the wild species, is one which I do not disagree with. Rather, I disagree with the intended impact of the claim. McGinnity et al (2003) show that the invasion of farm salmon into wild populations can lead to the extinction of the wild species within 40 generations. While this is true, the previous two claims mentioned above would have to have been true for this third to even be possible. Therefore, this last claim appears to be a scare tactic aimed directly at the unsuspecting, open-minded reader. I see this as an attempt to cause uncertainty in the minds of readers, leading to feelings of anxiety about accepting genetically engineered salmon as a safe and reliable project.
The general trend in Leber’s unsubstantiated claims is an incorrect interpretation of the precautionary principle. She believes risk is associated with genetically engineered salmon, but in reality it is uncertainty which is present, two fundamentally different concepts. Leber’s strong precautionary principle view does not take into account that uncertainty is present in all matters such as these. Therefore, it is not a viable solution to refuse all that may have uncertainty. This point of view is regressive.
McGinnity, P., P. Prodöhl, A. Ferguson, R. Hynes, N. O Maoiléidigh, N. Baker, D. Cotter, B. O’Hea, D. Cooke, G. Rogan, J. Taggart & T. Cross. 2003. Fitness reduction and potential extinction of wild populations of Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, as a result of interactions with escaped farm salmon. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 270(1532): 2443–2450.
Benefits of Land-Based Aquaculture Systems. http://www.aquabounty.com/
The first issue with Laumer’s position is that he is comparing the effects of a natural event which has occurred an infinite number of times over the history of the planet, to direct human interference with the ocean ecosystem. Aquatic environments can adapt to changes due to natural events, and this affects the species within that system, as seem in the case of the Aleutian volcano eruption. However, just because the ecosystem can sustain iron from the occasional eruption and be fine (with some positive effects noted e.g. rise in salmon population), this does not mean that the same would be observed with a larger and continual addition of iron by humans. Not to mention the damage already done to the oceans by human activity that was previously thought to be harmless. Some potential risks are overpopulation of one species negatively affecting others, or levels of iron being added that would be toxic to some organisms. The effects of the Aleutian eruption do not give us a clear prediction of the outcomes associated with human intervention in the North Pacific Ocean ecosystem, or any aquatic habitat for that matter.
The introduction of iron to induce plankton growth as a way of combating climate change is based on the logic that the larger number of plankton will absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere. The CO2 will be absorbed into their bodies and when the organisms die it will sink to the bottom of the ocean with the organism. However, tests have been done to try to understand the effects and potential for such practices, for example the team of scientists aboard the Polarstern who tested iron fertilisation in the South Atlantic. The team found that the increase was only in one type of plankton, and that its population increase did not lead to any increase in CO2 being sequestered on the ocean floor. The extra plankton was eaten by other organisms that would eventually release CO2 back into the atmosphere.
The unexpected outcome from the Polarstern experiment is also a reminder of the countless examples where humans have tried to fix the negative effects of their interventions with nature with more interventions that only give them a new problem. This is most prominently visible in conservation attempts on islands where new species have been introduced to solve some problem produced by human migration (e. g. control populations of pests such as rats or insects), only to cause problems themselves and become pests. Humans have proven themselves to be short-sighted many times in the past when it comes to controlling the environment. In the context of geo-engineering, Europe could implement some technology to improve its climate; however this could have detrimental effects on Asia, a third party who had nothing to do with the development or use of the technology. When we are looking at possible solutions to global problems through technology, we need to do testing to have some idea of what the outcomes of our actions will be, because if our efforts go awry, it will affect everyone on the planet.
The UN closed its recent convention on Biological Diversity with a moratorium on geo-engineering banning the implementation of geo-engineering techniques by individual bodies without consulting the UN. Laumer interprets this as putting a complete halt on planning for a potential climate “emergency” where geo-engineering would be needed. However the moratorium simply asks that “governments to ensure that no geo-engineering activities take place until risks to the environment and biodiversity and associated social, cultural and economic impacts have been appropriately considered” (http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/5227 , 2010). Also it prevents small groups of scientists in either the private or public sector from implementing technologies that will potentially affect other nations. It allows research into what we will do in the face a climate disaster but prevents the pre-emptive application of them by individual parties.
This is how it should be, as geo-technologies to reduce CO2, such as iron fertilisation, can easily turn into cheap ways for western industry to “make-up” for their damaging ways, instead of changing them. Introducing geo-engineering too soon will lessen the will of governments, industry, and ordinary individuals to change wasteful habits into sustainable ones. Why bother cutting down on use of fossil fuels if there is a quick fix for the climate? What is the motive for developing sources of clean energy? Using geo-engineering at this point is just putting a bandage on the issue of climate change without addressing the root cause of the problem. The focus needs to be on changing the human behaviour that has gotten us to this point.
Lauman implies that geo-engineering should be allowed to develop without interference from government organisations and that the restrictions on its growth are due to overzealous fear of potential negative effects. Control of geo-engineering is necessary to prevent it’s over use and misuse for economic means, to prevent big industry from continue with wasteful practises, and to keep our attention on the changes necessary to human lifestyle that has brought about the earth’s climate problems. Without remedying these activities humans are likely to end up in some other environmental crisis, even if we could control CO2 levels. The reaction of the ocean ecosystem to a naturally event does not immediately prove that humans meddling with ecosystems will fix all our problems. Geo-engineering should continue to be researched in case humanity does find itself faced with disaster. Putting all our attention to geo-engineering and implementing it right now is illogical and like mopping up the water from an over-flowing bathtub without first turning off the faucet.
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Retrieved November 11, 2010, from http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/5227