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Archive for November, 2008

A physicist cogitates on solving the fiat currency problem

November 29th, 2008 No comments

Lubos Motl, a bright young Czech physicist with a winning way with those he considers idiots*, has decided to cogitate on fiat money and the US`s screwed up monetary system, and proposes to peg the dollar to the Dow:

You might think that I am going to defend the gold standard or something of this sort. Well, you are not infinitely far from the truth. But gold is obsolete, arbitrary, and dangerous. Someone can find a lot of gold in the future and we don’t want the world’s economy die at that moment. Gold doesn’t represent the overall economy – what people actually want to pay for – well. And if you think that all the commodities have fixed price ratios and only the “money” is fluctuating, note that the gold/silver price ratio has been oscillating frantically, by orders of magnitude in both directions. Pretty much everything can oscillate and does oscillate. 

The gold standard brings some advantages but now we have a more comprehensive framework to adjust the advantages: we want to suppress the most unstable and harmful degrees of freedom by redefining the money. There is one more general advantage of the gold: you know what you own. With money, you own pieces of paper whose value can be manipulated by arbitrary decisions of the government. And an uncertainty about the value of things – their ill-definedness – is creating havoc. The only reason why prices expressed in the fiat money don’t fluctuate wildly is that the other sellers don’t know any definition of the money, either. ūüėČ So we want to peg the money to something more well-defined: to redefine them. What is it? It’s the stocks.

I think Motl is hopelessly self-deceived on his proposal, but it`s one made in good faith and presents an opportunity to educate Motl and his audience on Austrian views of money, government and markets.  Any takers?

* Idiots of various stripes, but particularly envirofacist/commies, climate alarmists and yours truly; we have discussed Motl here in connection with Bret Stephens, my favorite befuddled neocon at the WSJ ).

Beggar’s Banquet: a note on bailouts to the NYT’s Tim Egan

November 28th, 2008 No comments

Timothy Egan, reporter, acclaimed book author and current columnist at the New York Times, posted an honest and understandably  confused piece last week, in which he called for a temporary end to the frenzy of Bush-era socializations and wealth-transfers – so at least Obama will have a chance to try sometihing REALLY helpful when he comes into office.

Here’s what I had to say to Tim in comments:

Tim, the right answer is the old answer – no bailouts. 

Let firms, towns and states with problems take care of them themselves.  Unless we are talking about a voluntary community effort, bailouts are just a way for politicians to look good while they move money from those who make money to those who lose it, and is a further drag on investment and economic growth.

So would be a “green” jobs plan by Obama – far better to level the playing filed by eliminating ALL energy subsidies than to have the corrupting and senseless distortions we get from the hand of government.  Perhaps a carbon tax at the production end could be justified, but only if the revenues were rebated to citizens pro rata to provide incentives while avoiding regressive pain [and pork].

The government’s efforts to “solve” the problems that it is even now encouraging by socializing risk show promise only of paralyzing personal responsibility and initiative, sucking up capital and recreating the Great Depression.

Categories: bailouts, green jobs, obama, Tim Egan Tags:

Tragedy of the ocean commons: stocks of giant Atlantic bluefin tuna look ready to crash, like the once rich cod fishery

November 28th, 2008 No comments

Despite an 80% drop in populations of east Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna since  the mid-1970s, and continued massive overfishing above agreed quotas, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), under pressure from fishermen in the European Community,  on November 25 approved tightened 2009 fishing quotas that nevertheless exceed the recommendations of ICCAT’s own scientists by 50%.  Quotas were cut from 28,500 tonnes in 2008 to 22,000 tonnes, and the ICCAT also approved other measures designed to bring illegal fishing under control, but it is unclear whether these measures will be sufficient – particularly as illegal fishing in the past has been at multiples of quota levels.  ICCAT scientists had recommended that the quota be cut to 15,000 tonnes.

The EC praised the results, in the face of opposition by the US, Canada and Norway, which had supported the quota recommended by scientists.  Environmental groups of course were disappointed and called for tuna boycotts and suggested that all the member nations to the CITES convention (on trade in endangered species) should consider listing bluefin tuna as an endangered species – which would bring all commercial exploitation to a halt.

I looks like the pressure is on – both on the valuable bluefin tuna resource and on the relevant national governments, fishermen and consumers to better manage it.  The west Atlantic stocks of bluefin have apparently already collapsed, due to mismanagement by the US government.

As I noted on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog:

Andy, this is an ongoing shame, the roots of which are not human greed but, as indicated by your reference to a “tragedy of the commons”, a lack of any ownership of the resource by those fishing it. The result is wasteful investment by fisherman in a race to catch fish before others do, no incentive for fishermen to invest in managing stocks sustainably, pressure by fisherman on governments for higher quotas, catches that exceed quotas, and government subsidies to keep unprofitable fishermen from losing their livelihoods. If we managed our agriculture the same way, we’d have a race to harvest, but nobody planting. More here: http://mises.org…

The answer clearly lies in finding ways to link the interests of the fishermen more closely to the resource that they rely on; while this is difficult in the case of international fisheries, there have been a number of success stories for fisheries that are managed by various countries. Transferable fishing quotas (and an ability to keep track of catches) have been the key: http://www.ifqsforfisheries.org/.

Given all of the different governments involved it may be difficult to expect agreement tighter and more meaningfully enforced quotas, but a key possibility lies with Japan, which buys most of the bluefin tuna. As the chief purchaser (of course there are a variety of private purchasers involved), Japan is in a position to insist on purchasing only tuna caught by boats that properly record their catches and to unilaterally limit its own purchases to a sustainable level. Since the Japanese do not want to see the tuna fishery collapse, they have finally begun to support tightening quotas and finding other ways to improve management of the tuna stocks: http://www.seafoodsource.com/NST-3-50140600/ICCAT-Discusses-Sharp-Tuna-Quota-Cuts.aspx

Consumer boycotts and pressure on Mediterranean governments to end subsidies to fishermen (a problem George Monbiot has noted [see the Mises link above]) are other leverage points.

Is a semi-privatization of the fishery, by allowing fishermen to transfer the quotas they receive (including purchase by interested consumer and environmental groups), possible?  Can Japanese consumers (and other sushi eaters) in particular bring pressure to bear?

More on the science of the bluefin tuna stocks here and here (the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics).

Doug Bandow urges Republicans to rebuild based on calls for a modest foreign foreign policy

November 28th, 2008 No comments

Doug, you were right on Iraq in 2003 and are right now, but haven’t you forgotten one little thing? 

What gives you any cause to believe that the stiff-necked neocons and others who fell for their war-mongering (the Christian right and other) will either admit their mistakes or be neutralized in the Republican party?

Categories: Doug Bandow, Iraq, neocons, republicans, war Tags:

Chris Horner and neocons on climate change "alarmists": the pot calls the kettle black

November 28th, 2008 No comments

Chris Horner of CEI has long been a near one-man band in attacking the excesses of the left with respect to concerns about climate change (while appearing to forget concerns by some on the right, corporate heads, scientists and defense/intelligence analysts as well).  I think Horner from time to time has some astute observations, but think that his passion comes at a cost of balance and self-awareness. 

His screed yesterday on NRO’s Planet Gore about climate “alarmists” on the left caught my eye because it precisely because it mirrored my own perception of what I saw in the neocon right with respect to the invasion of Iraq, the “War on Terror” and fear of Islamofacists:

“What does it tell you that some people rush to lash out with (typically personal) nastiness at the public expression of ideas of which they do not approve?

“After all, while we’re used to the Left’s mindset — that every one of their ideas needs to be a law and tolerance only extends so far as it suits their ideology or biases — as I have demonstrated, there is a remarkable Gang Green that seizes upon all heretical thought or speech and seeks to teach its purveyor a painful lesson.

 

“This is indeed a movement premised on fear — fear of debate, democracy, and science.”

 

I am not sure of Chris’s politics with regard to the War on Terror – he seems to have kept his lip securely buttoned on that issue even as words continued to fly on climate change – but I have twice blogged about one neocon – Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, who is very good at spotting what he thinks is unjustified fear-mongering by others even while ignoring his own.  Just as Chris Horner is quick to point to the nastiness of his opponents on climate change issues, while either ignoring his own or considering it perfectly justified.

 

Of course Joe Romm and others on the Left who fall into ad homs and demonization strategies with Chris are just as guilty; such we know is the predilection of those engaged in politicized struggles over resources that are either unowned, imperfectly owned or are “publicly” owned.  Behind each adversary lies someone seeking to obtain or protect a rent from the public. 

 

Does Austrian economics teach us to ignore the preferences of one rent-seeker in favor of another, or to strive to enable greater catallaxy by clarifying property rights or improving common-property institutions?  Are there any adults in the room, or simply squabblers?

[Revised] Corporations, the state, limited liability and rent-seeking: Some criticisms of Huebert and Block's criticisms of Long

November 26th, 2008 No comments

[Update:  Items 2 & 3 revised and an item 4 added.]

J.H. Huebert and Walter Block have posted a critique of Roderick Long‘s recent Cato essay.  Allow me to make a few comments:

1.  Huebert and Long argue that “There Is No Such Thing as Corporate Power”, stating that:

“Long writes that “Corporate power depends crucially on government intervention in the marketplace.”

But what does he mean by “corporate power”? A corporation is merely a group of individuals who have entered into a particular type of business relationship. The corporate form allows them to be known collectively by their business’s name instead of their own names. And it allows them to enter into contracts under which they limit their own liability – something which is perfectly legitimate under libertarianism. (Objectivist historian Robert Hessen has made this point well in his book, In Defense of the Corporation, and see our article, “Defending Corporations,” forthcoming in the Cumberland Law Review.)

The corporation, therefore, has no power to speak of.

Instead, only the state has power.”

(emphasis added)

This omits something rather crucial – that the corporate form allows owners to sidestep any personal liability for the wrongful acts that their corporation commits, with the result that liability of the corporation is limited by its assets.  Can someone point me to where libertarian principles defend this result?

2.   Huebert and Block further state that:

“sometimes the state uses its power to confer benefits, direct and indirect, on corporations. It also uses its power to confer benefits on partnerships. And sole proprietorships. And individuals. There is nothing special or different about government privileges for corporations – so why does Long single them out?”

I’m sorry, but a state grant of uncontracted-for limited liability vis-a-vis consumers and others IS a special privilege , and the very reason why so much economic activity is concentrated in corporations, as opposed to partnerships, sole proprietorships and individuals.

Further, there is indisputably quite a difference in SCALE of the benefits that the state confers on corporations, particularly larger ones.

3.  Huebert and Block concede that

“There is a kernel of truth in Long’s viewpoint – some larger firms do use the apparatus of the state to steal an advantage over smaller competitors. As a matter of history, things work out this way more often than in the opposite direction.”

But they fail to acknowledge the obvious implications of this concession:  the aggregated resources and long lives of larger corporations make it much easier for them, as compared to individuals, other forms of association and smaller corporate rivals, to effectively seek rents from the state by offering bribes of various forms (campaign contributions, lecture fees, junkets and revolving-door employment) .  Consequently, the state very often marches to the tune of large corporate drummers, with lobbyists and politicians acting as entrepreneurs in brokering the rents.  It is readily apparent that in the larger firms, executives are very effective at extracting equity at the cost of investors, and are often likewise effective in socializing costs (via federal and state bailouts) when their firms fail.

The creation and expansion of the corporate form has worked hand-in-glove with a steadily expanding and intrusive state.  Huebert’s and Block’s statements that “The corporation, therefore, has no power to speak of” and “onlly the state has power” are both obvious rhetorical excess.

4.  While Long argues that “In a free market, firms would be smaller and less hierarchical, more local and more numerous … and corporate power would be in shambles. Small wonder that big business, despite often paying lip service to free market ideals, tends to systematically oppose them in practice.”  Huebert and Block take this to mean that Long is making the “unfounded” assertion that “big business needs the state to survive”.  Rather than being unfounded, such a view simply cannot be found in Long’s essay.

Huebert and Block argue that:

As it is, there are big businesses that don’t benefit much from government and there are small businesses that benefit greatly from government. In a fully free market, undoubtedly, large and small businesses would both survive, succeed, and prosper. Long’s assertions to the contrary are unfounded speculation.

The first two sentences are unobjectionable, and are not inconsistent with Long’s points. 

Of course what a fully free market would look like is pure speculation, all around.  But without the ability of larger firms to use the state to raise barriers to entry, it seems to me axiomatic that there would be a greater percentage of smaller firms.

Barbarians at the gate? The WSJ wrings its hands over Somali pirates but ignores the failure of property owners to defend themselves

November 26th, 2008 No comments

The Wall Street Journal runs a remarkably whiny¬†and unperceptive piece by weekly “Global View” columnist¬†Bret Stephens about the expanding problem of ocean piracy off of Somali waters in and around the Gulf of Aden.¬†¬† An unvarnished neocon and former¬†editor of the Jerusalem Post, Stephens rather reflexively reviews the¬†outbreak of piracy as an existential threat by barbarians to a civilized,¬†flabby and impotent¬†West, for which the proper response is a¬†wakening resolve to defend civilization via¬†a “muscular” (i.e., violent) response by the US and other civilized Western states, less hampered by a concern for legal niceties.¬† The editorial is accompanied by a video clip of an interview of Stephens by WSJ assistant editor James Freeman in which Stephens states his views even more strongly.

Under a headline of “Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?”, Stephens uses his soap box to decry¬†a “legal exquisiteness” that has left¬†the civilized West apparently impotent to deal with “the most primordial” of the various forms of “barbarism” alive today – the growing number of ragtag but surprisingly effective Somali pirates.¬† (What are the other forms of barbarism that merit mention by Stephens?¬† The “suicide bombers on Israeli buses, the stonings of Iranian women, and so on.”)¬† Stephens argues that¬†a move from the halcyon days when captured pirates could be quickly and harshly dealt with – which treatment he argues was responsible for the elimination of piracy in the late 18th century (“a civilizational achievement no less great than the elimination of smallpox a century later”)¬†– to modern civilized justice is responsible for this outbreak of piracy, and calls for a defense of civilization that keeps in mind the lesson for how such barbarism was defeated in the past (viz., quick and harsh treatment of pirates).¬† Says Stephens,

our collective inability to deal with it says much about how far we’ve regressed in the pursuit of what is mistakenly thought of as a more humane policy. A society that erases the memory of how it overcame barbarism in the past inevitably loses sight of the meaning of civilization, and the means of sustaining it.

Someone a little more skeptical of the benefits of government action might note that not only do the Somali pirates certainly not threaten civilization (and to date have used very little violence), but that the success of the pirates can be laid at the door of the owners of the vessels and cargo and their insurers, who have to date apparently failed utterly to even try to fend off any of the pirates.  The success of a few pirates has simply invited more piracy attempts Рcrime is contagious, as Ron Bailey notes today on Reason.  No doubt there are plenty of governments that would love to have their military actual provide some useful services, but why should the failure of property owners to take even minimal precautions and self-defense measures not only not be mentioned, but be rewarded with government stepping into the breach?

Given the lack of self-defense by vessels, it is hardly surprising that¬†Somalis and others view¬†ships as equivalent to common property, to be harvested on a first-come, first-served basis, with a resulting rush of entrepreneurial Somalis entering the new profession.¬† Sure, we could use a little law and order, but there’s a reason why firms that wish to survive and prosper put¬†a little effort of their own into protecting their own assets (and those of their customers).

Stephens’ own¬†failure¬†to consider the responsibility of property owners to protect their own assets is surprising.¬† And Stephens strikingly and conveniently fails to note the role of the US in hampering the emergence of a Somali state and perpetuating lawlessness.¬† But to a neocon, so many problems look existential and seem to require the application of violence by states.¬†¬†In spying “barbarous” actions by others, neocons (i) never seem to consider how barbarous are our states themselves (look at the many innocent deaths that the US is responsible for, directly or indirectly, in Iraq and Afghanistan), (ii) often ignore the role of government in creating problems, and (iii) frequently overlook the much vaster thefts perpetuated by governments and by corporate insiders who line their own pockets while persuading governments to socialize losses.¬†¬† Neocons seem to form a part of the “Great Theft Machine”, by which every problem looks like a nail for the hammer of state, and whereby those calling for more hammer blows conveniently forget to call attention to those who benefit most from the use or manufacture of hammers.

It is a shame that the Wall Street Journal sees so many problems just crying out for “strong states” to solve, while ignoring the real and much more pressing problems that such states themselves create.¬† (We have encountered Stephens before, in an intelligence-insulting piece that dissed the leading National Academies of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Schelling and now Exxon and AEI as “deluded” believers in the “sick-souled religion” of global warming.)

Fein on Iraq: Obama should unilaterally limit Presidential discretion by rejecting the AUMF

November 26th, 2008 No comments

Good idea, Bruce, but do you really expect Obama to bite, and thereby drastically reduce his own discretion? 

Obama already has George W. Bush and Congress to blame for the war – what important advantage does he gain by claiming the AUMF was an unconstitutional delegation of authority to the President?  We all know that Presidents of all political stripes have traditionally looked for ways in which they could unilaterally use military force abroad in order to “wag the dog” at home and there by gain domestic political advantages.  It seems a bit much to expect Obama to unilaterally cut off the tail that he now has considerable discretion to wag.

I tend to agree with Fein’s arguments that the system has gone wrong; I just don’t think we can realistically expect a President to unilaterally offer up a check on his own power.  But if Obama proves me wrong, I’ll certainly rejoice.

Categories: AUMF, Bruce Fein, Congress, Iraq, obama, war Tags:

Jerry Taylor/Cato fails to fully engage Yglesias’ "free-market case for revenue-neutral carbon pricing"

November 25th, 2008 No comments

Along with Roderick Long‘s recent Cato Unbound piece on libertarianism and corporatism, Cato hosted a reaction essay by liberal Matthew Yglesias, in which Yglesias made the following side comment:

The free-market case for a revenue-neutral carbon pricing scheme seems fairly impeccable to me. But instead of organizing its climate change efforts around seeking to ensure that any future carbon pricing plan be as close to revenue neutral as possible, Cato prefers to steadfastly defend the rights of industry to unload air pollution unimpeded.

Yglesias’ comment on carbon pricing elicited a longer response by Cato senior fellow Jerry Taylor, who in Cato-at-Liberty argues that the case for carbon taxes was not at all “impeccable”.   Unfortunately, Taylor does exactly what Yglesias argues –

  • Taylor ignores Yglesias’ implicit agreement that any carbon pricing should be as revenue-neutral as possible, which further implies support by Yglesias of the notion that the government should avoid using any carbon revenues to subsidize particular technologies;
  • Taylor refuses to address the question of whether relatively slim, revenue-neutral carbon pricing approaches are much preferable to the heavy-handed, pork-ridden policy alternatives that are being floated before Congress; and
  • by proffering arguments by Indur Goklany, Taylor in effect concedes that the best policy is for the government to do nothing, other than to encourage adaptation and to fund adaptation efforts in the developing world – thus conceding to industry a continuing “right to emit GHGs”. 

It is a puzzle that Taylor doesn’t explicitly address these points, particularly as the policy debate has very much shifted ground from whether the government should act to the question of what policy is preferable.   While I believe that Jerry Taylor and Indur Goklany make important points, they can hardly expect to be effectual in their efforts to stand against greater federal policy intervention if they ignore the change in political currents and fail to more directly engage obviously sympathetic observers like Matt Yglesias, to establish and build on common ground, or to more forcefully argue on the basis of principles.

Moreover, Taylor rather surprisingly compounds his disengagement by pulling an apparently skewed figure (the rather low mode rather than the higher mean) from a 2004 review of climate change cost-benefit studies by economist Richard Tol,  who has conducted further reviews and analyses and this year has come very strongly out in favor of carbon taxes.  In the August 12, 2008 issue of Economics — the Open-Access, Open-Assessment E-Journal, Tol concluded:

… the uncertainty about the social cost of carbon is so large that the tails of the distribution may dominate the conclusions
(Weitzman 2007b)—even though many of the high estimates have not been peer reviewed and use unacceptably low discount rates. …

There are three implications. Firstly, greenhouse gas emission reduction today is justified. Even the most conservative assumption lead to positive estimates of the social cost of carbon (cf. Table 1) and the Pigou tax is thus greater than zero. Yohe et al. (2007) argue that there is reason to reduce greenhouse gas emissions further than recommended by cost-benefit analysis. The median of … peer-reviewed estimates with a 3% pure rate of time preference and without equity weights, is $20/tC. …. The case for intensification of climate policy outside the EU can be made with conservative assumptions. … Secondly, the uncertainty is so large that a considerable risk premium is warranted. With the conservative assumptions above, the mean equals $23/tC and the certainty-equivalent $25/tC. More importantly, there is a 1% probability that the social cost of carbon is greater than $78/tC. This number rapidly increases if we use a lower discount rate—as may well be appropriate for a problem with such a long time horizon—and if we allow for the possibility that there is some truth in the scare-mongering of the gray literature.  Thirdly, more research is needed into the economic impacts of climate change—to eliminate that part of the uncertainty that is due to lack of study, and to separate the truly scary impacts from the scare-mongering.

Tol, R.S.J. (2008), ‘The Social Cost of Carbon: Trends, Outliers, and Catastrophes‘.

Taylor should be aware of this paper, as Richard Tol is well-known and -regarded, and Tol’s above paper was available as a draft in August 2007 and widely discussed (including here).  Consequently, Taylor’s quoting of old numbers that Tol has himself moved away from looks like cherry-picking and in any case will not convince anyone who has moved on from 2004.

Further, while Taylor refers readers to an excellent study by Indur Goklany, he fails to note that Goklany is a strong advocate for “adaptation”, namely, the view that:

The world can best combat climate change and advance well-being, particularly of the world’s most vulnerable populations, by reducing present-day vulnerabilities to climate-sensitive problems that could be exacerbated by climate change rather than through overly aggressive GHG reductions. 

But can’t one agree with Goklany’s preferences and yet kill two birds with one stone, by using domestic carbon taxes to fund contributions to global development efforts?  The “adaptation is preferable to mitigation” dichotomy simply fails.

Here’s to hoping for more constructive engagement from Jerry Taylor and from Cato.

Fauxtography? While the oceans swim in plastics, Pollowitz calls those who photograph the results liars

November 21st, 2008 No comments
In a brief comment entitled “Fauxtography?” in the conservative National Review blog on November 18, Greg Pollowitz (founder/CEO of iQ Venture Partners Inc.), remarks on a recent article and photo purporting to show the fatal ingestion of plastics by albatrosses.  http://planetgore.nationalreview.com/post/?q=Zjk3M2ZlNTE0ZDRjMGFiYWFjMWYyMWQ0MDk4ZTM3MGU=.  Pollowitz notes that “The caption on the pic suggests the bird did eat this much junk, but I don’t see how that’s possible,” and so blithely opines that “Junk in the oceans is a huge problem, but alarmist fauxtography is not the way to a solution.” (my emphasis)
Here’s the photo in question:
 
It is nice to know that Pollowitz shares with the Greens the view that “junk in the oceans” – mainly extremely long-lived plastics – is “a huge problem”, but it is very disappointing that when confronted with a graphic photo he prefers to trumpet his ignorance by questioning the veracity of those in the field who are documenting the level and pervasiveness of the problem. 
 
But what are blogs for, if not for opinionated people to shoot their mouths off on matters they know nothing about personally and can’t be bothered to investigate?  Hopefully this does not represent the kind of due diligence that Mr. Pollowitz conducts when making investments – even as it may usefully indicate both how much he values his own reputation and the degree of credibility we should give to the National Review.
 
Even a modest scratching through the web finds plenty of hard information on the accumulation of plastic and other junk in the ocean, plus a fair number of the kind of photos and graphic videos of dead birds that Pollowitz finds difficult to believe. While it is difficult to know what may happen to birds at seas, it is rather easy to document that the chicks of certain seabird are dying (since they die on land) as a result of being filled up by their parents with indigestible plastic garbage.  Here is just a small sampling of information, photos and videos.
 
Jean-Michel Cousteau made the following observations regarding his visit to Kure, a remote atoll in the far reaches of the Hawaiian islands:  

There is grim news we must all face. Many of you who have been following our logs, or reading and viewing news reports, are aware of the shocking scenes that we found along the shoreline and reefs of these islands. Hundreds of seabirds, mostly young albatross, lie dead along the beaches with an endless variety of plastics lodged in their decomposing bodies. On almost every island we explored, the landscape was littered with the discarded products of human society from thousands of miles away -cigarette lighters, golf balls, toothbrushes, children’s toys, and fishing floats among others.

While the NWHI are largely uninhabited, the North Pacific gyre, a convergence zone of the entire North Pacific Ocean acts as a “pollution highway,” bearing plastic debris along its path. These plastics become encrusted with fish eggs and are plucked from the ocean by albatross adults seeking food for their chicks. They swallow the eggs encasing the plastics, return to their chicks, and regurgitate the deadly combination into the hungry mouths of their young. These young birds simply cannot digest plastic materials and the accumulation of plastics over the first six months of their lives can result in starvation and possible death.

Here is some reporting by the BBC this year from Midway, which along with Kure is part of the new 1200 mile long wildlife refuge and Marine National Monument newly declared by Pres. Bush

The Midway Islands are home to some of the world’s most valuable and endangered species and they all are at risk from choking, starving or drowning in the plastic drifting in the ocean.

Nearly two million Laysan albatrosses live here and researchers have come to the staggering conclusion that every single one contains some quantity of plastic.

About one-third of all albatross chicks die on Midway, many as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents.

I watched as the deputy manager of the wildlife refuge here, Matt Brown, opened the corpse of one albatross and found inside it the handle of a toothbrush, a bottle top and a piece of fishing net.

He explained how some chicks never develop the strength to fly off the islands to search for food because their stomachs are filled with plastic.

Award-winning wildlife photographer David Liittschwager took photos similar to that which Pollowitz calls fauxtography:
 
One photo from Kure Atoll shows a dead, 6-week-old albatross chick, its open abdominal cavity jammed with discarded plastic cigarette lighters, bits of PVC pipe and other human garbage.  … Liittschwager watched researchers conduct a necropsy.

“When the bird was opened up, it was immediately obvious what had happened,” he continued. “Its stomach was easily four to five times the size it should have been, and when you touched it, it was crunchy. There were two visible ulcers where sharp objects had ruptured its stomach from the inside. Seventy-five percent of its left lung was damaged with scar tissue and infection.”

Human carelessness killed this and dozens of other chicks. Our plastic castoffs were caught up in the same ocean currents and intermingled with the squid and flying fish eggs gathered by adult albatross off the North American coast. The parent birds inadvertently scoop up the toxic flotsam while flying thousands of miles to forage for nourishment to fly back and regurgitate to their young.

“This is the most remote island of the most remote island chain in all the world,” Liittschwager said. “This is as far away as you can get, anywhere, from human civilization.” 

Liittschwager further noted in his book Archipelago (emphasis added):
 
The contents of Shed Bird’s proventriculus weighed 340 grams, more than 80 percent of this was plastic. Imagine: Three plastic bottle caps weigh approximately 5 grams, and a regulation baseball weights about 140 grams—two baseballs’ worth of plastic in Shed Bird’s stomach!  An albatross chick’s proventriculus is designed to hold huge amounts of food, as there may be many days between meals while the parents are out foraging. Chicks eat whatever their parents feed them, plastic included; if these items accumulate in their proventriculi, they will feel full and may not beg properly. Albatrosses eat indigestible items that exist in nature, like squid beaks, and a well-fed chick will have a proventriculus full of these items, which it eventually throws up as a bolus at about the time it’s ready to fledge. …. After the death of Shed Bird, I found and examined 60 Laysan albatross chick carcasses on Kure Atoll. Most to them contained more than 200 grams of plastic
 
Greg, an apology is in order – to Ms. Cynthia Vanderlip,
the biologist and Manager of the State of Hawaii’s Kure Atoll Wildlife
Sanctuary, who snapped the picture in question (and whom you can see
conducting one of the albatross necropsies below).  She is apparently
not a liar. Pollowitz, are you a gentleman?
More information for readers:
Albatross necropsies:
[View:http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=FinDNPopXQY:550:0]
[View:http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=6o_rtV68Yn8&feature=related:550:0]
Photos and other information:
   
BBC: 
More on ocean junk later.
Categories: birds, ocean, plastic, Pollowitz, pollution Tags: