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On Feel Sorry for BP Day, Coast Guard reports blasts Transocean's Deepwater Horizon, a Marshall Islands flagship. Somehow role of Govt as irresponsible resource owner is overlooked

April 23rd, 2011 No comments

Yesterday, on Feel Sorry for BP Day (we all know that BP is just another victim of fishermen,other purported victims and Government, right?), the WSJ provided coverage of a Coast Guard report blasting Transocean, owner of Deepwater Horizon, a Marshall Islands flagship owner of the rig that blew up and sank last year, leaving an oil will that has greatly affected the Gulf of Mexico and the health and livelihoods of many thousands of people.

Somehow, both the Coast Guard and the WSJ reporters managed to overlook the 800 lb. gorilla in the room: namely, the role of Government as irresponsible resource owner. How convenient!

These days, even supposedly ‘capitalist’ new organizations don’t seem to have any grasp of how profoundly “non-capitalist” is our energy sector, which is heavily tied to government as resource owner and pollution-permit authorizer.

Here’s the link.

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Great find! Anthony Watts and fellow 'skeptics' have nihilistic fun with new report on long-lasting effect of human changes to atmosphere, oceans & albedo

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Gitchyer climate fun here, at this January 10 post by Anthony Watts at his skeptic climate blog, Watts Up With That: “Abandon all hope, ye who read this”!

Most of the post is a copy of the entire press release concerning an article slated to appear in Nature Geoscience: here is the sub-heading and the initial paragraph:

New paper in Nature Geoscience examines inertia of carbon dioxide emissions

New research indicates the impact of rising CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere will cause unstoppable effects to the climate for at least the next 1000 years, causing researchers to estimate a collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet by the year 3000, and an eventual rise in the global sea level of at least four metres.

The full article is now available online behind a paywall; the free first paragraph is here.

Wanting to share in the fun that Anthony and his fellow skeptics were having with the press release, I left the following comment (now in [out of] moderation):

TokyoTom says:

January 10, 2011 at 1:17 am

This is REALLY funny — because we all know that there is NO inertia to the climate system and that it’s physically impossible that the CO2, methane and other multi-atom radiation-absorbing gas molecules that man is releasing/accelerating release of, and the soot release and other albedo-changing activities of man, will have any physical effect whatsoever, much less one that might be felt for a millenia or so, right?

Pielke, Sr., Christy, Michaels & Lindzen all agree that there is no greenhouse effect, that soot has no effect, and that paleorecords of other long-felt climate influences are the sheerest nonsense, right?

Thanks so much for the fun and reassurance, Tony!

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It's not just oil pollution, over-fishing, fertilizer run-off, plastic or exotic species invasions: Science report says climate change is permanently damaging oceans

July 7th, 2010 No comments

I’ve addressed the poor health of the world’s oceans quite recently, in response to a flip comment  by Lew Rockwell about how the “ecosystem” is likely to “survive and thrive” regardless of environmental and/or political debacles. Further reports of an increasingly serious situation continue to appear.

Further to the information I provided there, I’d like to draw readers’s attention to a recent report in Science and to a recent article in The Economist:

1. Science, June 18, 2010

Here’s the blurb (emphasis added)

The Impact of Climate Change on the World’s Marine Ecosystems

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg1,* and John F. Bruno1,2


Marine ecosystems are centrally important to the biology of the planet, yet a comprehensive understanding of how anthropogenic climate change is affecting them has been poorly developed. Recent studies indicate that rapidly rising greenhouse gas concentrations are driving ocean systems toward conditions not seen for millions of years, with an associated risk of fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation. The impacts of anthropogenic climate change so far include decreased ocean productivity, altered food web dynamics, reduced abundance of habitat-forming species, shifting species distributions, and a greater incidence of disease. Although there is considerable uncertainty about the spatial and temporal details, climate change is clearly and fundamentally altering ocean ecosystems. Further change will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide, particularly those in developing countries.


1 Ocean and Coasts Program, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia.
2 Department of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected]

McClatchy has good coverage (Les Blumenthal, Julky 4, 2010)(emphasis added)


A sobering new report warns that the oceans face a “fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation” not seen in millions of years as greenhouse gases and climate change already have affected temperature, acidity, sea and oxygen levels, the food chain and possibly major currents that could alter global weather.

The report, in Science magazine, brings together dozens of studies that collectively paint a dismal picture of deteriorating ocean health.

“This is further evidence we are well on our way to the next great extinction event,” said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia and a co-author of the report.

John Bruno, an associate professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the report’s other co-author, isn’t quite as alarmist, but he’s equally concerned.

“We are becoming increasingly certain that the world’s marine ecosystems are reaching tipping points,” Bruno said, adding, “We really have no power or model to foresee” the impact.

The oceans, which cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, have played a dominant role in regulating the planet’s climate. However, even as the understanding of what’s happening to terrestrial ecosystems as a result of climate change has grown, studies of marine ecosystems have lagged, the report says. The oceans are acting as a heat sink for rising temperatures and have absorbed about one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities.

Among other things, the report notes:


  • The average temperature of the upper level of the oceans has increased more than 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, and global ocean surface temperatures in January were the second warmest ever recorded for that month.

  • Though the increase in acidity is slight, it represents a “major departure” from the geochemical conditions that have existed in the oceans for hundred of thousands if not millions of years.

  • Nutrient-poor “ocean deserts” in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans grew by 15 percent, or roughly 2.5 million square miles, from 1998 to 2006.

  • Oxygen concentrations have been dropping off the Northwest U.S. coast and the coast of southern Africa, where dead zones are appearing regularly. There is paleontological evidence that declining oxygen levels in the oceans played a major role in at least four or five mass extinctions.

  • Since the early 1980s, the production of phytoplankton, a crucial creature at the lower end of the food chain, has declined 6 percent, with 70 percent of the decline found in the northern parts of the oceans. Scientists also have found that phytoplankton are becoming smaller.

Volcanic activity and large meteorite strikes in the past have “resulted in hostile conditions that have increased extinction rates and driven ecosystem collapse,” the report says. “There is now overwhelming evidence human activities are driving rapid changes on a scale similar to these past events.

Many of these changes are already occurring within the world’s oceans with serious consequences likely over the coming years.”

One of the consequences could be a disruption of major ocean currents, particularly those flowing north and south, circulating warm water from the equator to polar regions and cold water from the poles back to the equator. Higher temperatures in polar regions and a decrease in the salinity of surface water due to melting ice sheets could interrupt such circulation, the report says.

The change in currents could further affect such climate phenomena as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation. Scientists just now are starting to understand how these phenomena affect global weather patterns.

“Although our comprehension of how this variability will change over the coming decades remains uncertain, the steady increase in heat content in the ocean and atmosphere are likely to have profound influences on the strength, direction and behavior of the world’s major current systems,” the report says.

Kelp forests such as those off the Northwest U.S. coast, along with corals, sea grasses, mangroves and salt marsh grasses, are threatened by the changes the oceans are undergoing, the report says. All of them provide habitat for thousands of species.

The polar bear isn’t the only polar mammal that faces an escalating risk of extinction, the report says; penguin and seal populations also are declining.

“It’s a lot worse than the public thinks,” said Nate Mantua, an associate research professor at the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group.

Mantua, who’s read the report, said it was clear what was causing the oceans’ problems: greenhouse gases. “It is not a mystery,” he said.

There’s growing concern about low-oxygen or no-oxygen zones appearing more and more regularly off the Northwest coast, Mantua said. Scientists are studying the California Current along the West Coast to determine whether it could be affected, he added.

Richard Feely, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, said the report in Science seemed so direct because one of the authors was Australian.

“Australians come at you full-bore and lay it on the line,” Feely said.

Even so, he said, the condition of the oceans is indeed deteriorating.

The combination of these impacts are tending to show they are additive,” he said. “They combine to make things worse.”

Asked what the oceans will be like in 50 years if trends aren’t reversed, Bruno, the UNC professor, said that all the problems would have accelerated and there’d be new ones. For instance, he said tens of thousands of species found only in the Pacific might migrate across the top of North America as the sea ice melts and enter the Atlantic, where they’ve never been.

Bruno said a 50-year time frame to consider changes in the ocean was way too short, however.

“I am a lot more worried about 200 to 300 years out,” he said



What strikes me the most about the recent science coming out on this topic, is the degree to which we are modifying fundamental physical and biological processes by warming the oceans. The warming doesn’t just kill sensitive species, it modifies everything from enzyme kinetics, to plant photosynthesis and animal metabolism, to the developmental rate and dispersal of larval (baby) fish to changing the ways food webs and ecosystems function. And the big surprise, at least to me, is how quickly this is all happening. We are actually witnessing these changes before we predict or model them. This isn’t theoretical; this is a huge, real-world problem. Moreover, we, not just our children, will be paying the price if we don’t get a handle on this problem very soon.





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On ocean drilling, it's time for Ron Bailey, oil flack (and other libertarians), to meet Ron Bailey, "tragedy of the commons" guru and to stand up for the Oil Serfs

June 18th, 2010 No comments

Yes, another BP post!

I was a bit critical in my last post of Ron Bailey’s suggestion that a gross “cost-benefit” analysis was a sufficient basis for supporting risky ocean drilling activities, without regard to the institutional structure (a government-managed commons) and incentives at play (profits accruing only to oil firms and royalties to government, but resource users facing downside risks with no rights to disapprove or exercise oversight).

Now I’m puzzled, because in a June 8 post at Reason Online Ron specifically acknowledges the very important research of Nobel Prizing winning political economist Elinor Ostrom (see my posts on the relevance of her work here) on the ability of communities of users to effectively manage commons resources and so to dodge the “tragedy of the commons” outlined by Garrett Hardin. Ron’s post makes particular note of the possibility of effective cooperative management of fisheries, in contrast to the tragically counterproductive  mismanagement by governments of collapsing fisheries and refers to an excellent study by libertarian law prof Jon Adler that is very relevant to the mismanagement by the federal government of marine resources in the Gulf. Here’s the salient port of Ron’s post (emphasis added):

The good news is that research shows that just talking can make Hardin’s logic of ruin anything but inevitable. In fact, historical research shows that Hardin’s overgrazed meadows are rare. For example, the tragedy of the commons didn’t occur in Medieval England because local herdsmen negotiated a set of rules (communication) and established enforcement mechanisms (punishment) to allocate access to scarce pasturage among themselves.

Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues have repeatedly found the same thing in their field work. All over the world, local people talked among themselves and worked out serviceable rules for protecting and benefiting from common pool resources, like streams, forests, and fisheries. Take the famous case of the harbor gangs among lobster fishers in Maine. Although the state government says that anyone is legally permitted to catch lobsters commercially, the harbor gangs restrict access by outsiders by cutting the buoy lines to the traps set by interlopers. This informal management results in a more sustainable fishery and boosts the incomes of the local fishers. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last fall found that local communities are much better at managing forest commons than are governments. In contrast to government management, local communal ownership boosted incomes and forest sustainability.

Ostrom previously noted that large studies from “around the world challenge the presumption that governments always do a better job than users in organizing and protecting important resources.” In fact, a 2002 study correctly noted, “The overall state of the world’s fisheries is much worse today than 45 years ago, even though most fisheries have come under government regulation in this period.” By preventing local people from talking among themselves, it is often the case that governments actually create prisoner’s dilemmas over resources that result in the tragedy of the commons.

Here’s to hoping that Ron and other libertarians start recognizing and elucidating  the very negative role that the government has played in the Gulf crisis, by preventing fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers and the like from exercising control over the resources that sustain them, but has instead very tragically favored – and ineptly/corruptly overseen – oil companies, thereby skewing incentives, frustrating management between fishers and oil companies, and setting up directly the presently unfolding tragedy of the commons.

The problem that we see in the Gulf and other offshore drilling is very much akin to the “Avatar”-like problems of mineral exploitation elsewhere around the world: oil or other mineral extraction companies operate without extensive property rights but on the basis of government approvals, with the companies and governments/elites  reaping the rewards, but with non-consenting natives bearing all of the downside risks. Gulf coast fishermen and residents, meet the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, Nigeria, and New Guinea.

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As BP's oil spills into one of those inconvenient "ecosystems", now even Reason TV rants about "dying oceans"

June 4th, 2010 No comments

Another BP post!

I continue to scratch my head on the knee-jerk reactions by Austrian-libertarians on problems regarding management of common resources: are not our physical and electronic communities commons? Don’t commons support many people directly, and us all indirectly? Aren’t there huge and obvious commons-related problems that stem from government ownership and “management” of resources – be they federal lands, the seas, our fiat currency, or our financial institutions and publicly-listed companies?

Don’t we all know that government gets in the way, frustrating the ability of people with differing preferences to search for and reach mutual accommodations, and instead putting them at loggerheads in zero-sum situations?

The unbecoming reflexive hostility  indicates that even those who think they have their thinking caps on cannot see past the partisan conflict that government itself generates.

But I dither.  Allow me to gather here for interested readers some scraps of information regarding the state of our oceans.

1.  From my initial response to Lew Rockwell‘s “Feel Sorry for BP? ” post:

Lew: “the environmentalists went nuts yet again, using the occasion to flail a private corporation and wail about the plight of the “ecosystem,” which somehow managed to survive and thrive after the Exxon debacle.”

Me: Seems to me your “facts” about the damage done by Exxon Valdez to the “environment” – including the small segments used by by man – and recovery/compensation are basically counterfactual:

Further, it seems you don’t have any real clue as to the escalating damage that man is doing to our shared ocean “commons”. These two TED talks might help open your eyes:

2.  While I think this understates the size of the BP spill, it is still a useful explanation for how the spill trauma differs from natural oil seeps:
The Oil Drum | Natural Oil Seeps and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster: A Comparison of Magnitudes
3.  Those radical enviros over seem to share my concerns; they have put up a new video on June 2 with the alarmist title: “How To Save A Dying Ocean“.  It was written, produced and hosted by Ted Balaker. Nick Gillespie cross-posted it to Big, where there is another comment thread. In both places, readers/viewers seem not to have noticed that environmentalists are now solid supporters of privatizing fisheries.
Here’s a chunk of the description:

The Gulf of Mexico continues to gush oil just as a whaling controversy threatens to land Australia and Japan in international court for killing protected species. Meanwhile, another less-publicized but arguably more cataclysmic oceanic disaster continues to worsen.

Overfishing threatens to destroy most of the world’s fisheries within a matter of decades. …

“Everything in the ocean from the great whales to dolphins to plankton is being jeopardized,” Psihoyos tells Reason.tV. “We’re raping and harvesting the ocean unsustainably.”

Overfishing “could mean the end of certain species,” agrees UC-Santa Barbara’s Costello. He points out that about a third of the world’s fisheries have already collapsed, and many more are heading toward the same fate. Costello says the world’s fisheries are in such bad shape because of the same reason public restrooms are typically foul places: “Nobody owns them. Nobody has the incentive to keep them up.”

One proven solution is a system called “catch share,” in which fishermen have the right to a certain share of the total catch of a type of fish. This form of ownership gives fishermen an incentive to make sure fish populations grow, and according to Costello’s worldwide research, it’s the only thing that seems to work.

Environmentalists are often suspicious of the profit motive, but from Alaska to New Zealand, market forces have been harnessed not for plunder but for preservation. Fishermen like the system because they make money, and environmentalists like it because it supports sustainable practices. Expanding the catch share system may well be the best way to save a dying ocean.

Here’s the video – which is worth a look:

4.  I note that I have already posted extensively on oceans/fisheries management; for interested readers here are links to some of those posts:

5. Finally, one wonders whether, if fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico had clear “catch rights” or similar property rights, and had control over oil gas exploration and development decisions, they would not have done a good deal better in overseeing BP, and whether BP would not have been quite a bit more careful.( Likewise – if BP owned the Gulf, and received revenues from permitting fish harvests!)

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Climate/Oceans: A brief reminder to Ron Bailey that, even though models aren`t always right, the atmosphere and oceans remain open-access commons

July 6th, 2009 No comments

Ron Bailey, science correspondent for ReasonOnline, on July 1 noted in a Hit & Run post that “Models Aren`t Always Right“.

I left the following comment, which I copy here since I didn`t see it post:

“Ron, of course models aren`t always right, but;

1. even Lindzen is arguing for net positive feedbacks;

2. even with the apparent recent temperature plateau, the climate system and oceans are very noticeably changing;

3. we know that there is tremendous inertia in the climate system and that our forcings will play out over centuries;

4. we know that the atmosphere and oceans are open-access commons that will require widespread agreement and cooperation to manage effectively; and

5. there are wide mismatches between those whose investments/activities generate climate risks and those who face the greatest risks.

While haste may make waste, none of these points counsels a do-nothing approach.

Running irreversible, planetary-wide experiments is hardly a conservative or libertarian endeavor.”

In the face of these factors and the rapid pace at which atmospheric levels of CO2 and other GHGs continue to grow, it is hardly reassuring that, as physicist Russell Seitz has noted, “variables as critical as the sensitivity of the climate to the doubling
of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have failed to converge on
uncontroversial values”. 

While MIT climate scientist Richard Lindzen may think that climate “sensitivity” (mean temperature response to CO2 doubling) is as low as 0.5 degrees centigrade only a month and a half ago all of his colleagues disagreed with him in a publication trumpeted by MIT“New projections, published this month in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate, indicate a median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius [9 degrees F!] by 2100, with a 90% probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees [6.3 to 13.2 degrees F!]. This can be compared to a median projected increase in the 2003 study of just 2.4 degrees [and the temps reported are averages, with many places warmer].”


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:…

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:

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:

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).

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.  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:
Photos and other information:
More on ocean junk later.
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George Monbiot: Why do governments subsidize the rush by fishermen to destroy unowned ocean fisheries?

July 9th, 2008 No comments

In the context of the latest fuel strikes by European fishermen, George Monbiot has an excellent piece in the July 8th Guardian that explores the role of governments in subsidizing the destructive “tragedy of the commons” that is ocean fisheries.

It is, however, a shame that Monbiot makes no reference to what many observers are starting to realize:  that the solution to solving over-fishing lies in getting the government out of the business of political management of the resources that fishermen depend on, and putting responsibility, control and incentives to invest in resource management back in the hands of fishermen. 

Although government interference in resource markets has been a resounding failure (witness the destruction of the US salmon fisheries), a light at the end of the tunnel has appeared in the form of privatization through “ITQs” or Individual Transferable Quotas, as noted by:

Ron Bailey, science correspondent of Reason, in “How to Save New England’s Fishing Villages; If only the fishers will allow it” (September 28, 2005) and in”Pick Your Poissons; Economic and ecological diversity for fisheries“(August 25, 2006); and by

Birgir Runolfsson, in Cato’s Regulation, in “Fencing the Oceans A Rights-Based Approach to Privatizing Fisheries” (vol. 20, no. 3, 1997).

Further, Jonathan Adler, law prof at Case Western Reserve University, has a very interesting discussion of how the enforcement of antitrust laws have frustrated cooperative fishery management  (March 2002).

While these materials focus on domestic marine fisheries, similar strategies are needed at regional levels.



Rudimentary climate science; the role of CO2, oceans and volcanoes

April 7th, 2008 No comments

I am posting here a brief summary that I just sent to a Mises Blog contributor, in response to an inquiry I received:

Thanks for your email. 

First, I’m no expert but simply read. With that as background, let me respond on a few points.
  • I think that the general scientific view is that CO2 is a GHG, so that increases in atmospheric CO2 increase the radiative forcing effect of CO2.
  • In the pre-industrial past,  warmings were typically initiated by other factors – chiefly wobbles of the Earth on its axis and in its solar orbit – but as these other factors warmed the oceans, that led to greater releases of CO2 from the oceans and an increase in atmospheric CO2, which reinforced the warming initiated by other factors.  The CO2 warming led to further warming of the oceans, etc., until other factors kicked in that initiated a cooling, which led to an uptake of CO2 by the oceans, etc.  Thus, in the past CO2 had a supportive (but still important) role.
  • Occasional volcanoes (either land or submarine) do not appear to release enough CO2 or warmth to significantly affect the climate, other than the short-tern (one – two year) cooling effect of dust and aerosols.
  • Presently, CO2 releases by volcanoes is orders of magnitude less than releases from fossil fuel combustion – volcanoes like Pinatubo do not even make a blip on the charts of climbing CO2 levels (which clear show season cycles), and there is no evidence of any general increase (or decrease) in volcanic activity.
  • However, there does seem to be evidence of rare cases in the past where massive and long-lasting vocanic eruptions (the Deccan traps and the Siberian traps) have severely affected climate – even being closely related to mass extinction events.
  • Presently, the oceans are absorbing carbon, leading to increase in ocead acidity (reduction of alkalinity).  This will eventually slow the further ocean uptake of CO2.  In the meanwhile, scientists are very, very concerned about the effect that relatively rapid pH change will have on corals and other critters that use calcium (including diatoms).
Here are a few links that might be helpful.


“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman


Categories: AGW, climate change, CO2, ocean, volcanoes Tags: