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Book Review: Seaweed Chronicles

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I usually put book reviews on my other blog but in this case I think there is enough coherence with the ostensible reason for this blog to put it here.

I was offered the book to read – more than once – by email. What surprised me when I got the advanced reading copy to see on its back cover that I could have got it from NetGalley. As it was I was happy enough to curl up in a chair and spend a few hours with the hard copy. Unusually for me, I had a pen in my hand, as there were no page numbers shown in the table of contents, so I was writing them in as I read. I also found myself marking up the pages – in ink! – which is something I would never do with a book whether I had borrowed or bought it. One reason for that is that my copy also has no index, which makes going back to find stuff really time consuming. For instance, I was pretty sure she must have considered sea level rise, but it is going to take a while to thumb through to find the references.

While the author is based in Maine her coverage does range widely and one of the early chapters deals with the interrelationship of bull kelp, otters and orcas in the Pacific Northwest which I found fascinating. If a book doesn’t get your attention in the first chapter or two, you are unlikely to finish it. This one won me over early and kept me reading.

There is also quite a bit about Acadain Seaplants Limited of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia “the biggest seaweed harvesting, processing and research company in the world”. Naturally this company gets quite a lot of coverage not least because of its expansion into the waters off New England. It is quite often referred to as a Canadian company, and not just because of the alliteration. The book is very much about the people “who work and live at the shore”. Most of these communities started as fishers and whalers, and as those resources became exhausted worked their way down the food chain and the seaweed – being algae – is pretty much as low as you can get.

“As seaweed harvests take the place of lost fisheries in many areas of the world, they present some of the same issues we have here [Maine]: the growing desire of coastal people to take good care of what’s left, a need for more education and study, and an acknowledgement that the oceans in our lives are in trouble.”

This theme recurs throughout the book.

“the more we perfect our capacity to harvest wild nature, the closer we come to destroying what we seek.”

There is a great deal about the tragedies of the commons – and the framework of rules and sanctions for breaking those rules – that are essential to ensuring the commons continue.

“… our environmental history includes species that are gone forever: the passenger pigeons…,the Labrador duck, the sea mink, the great auk …the schools of cod once stretched from bays outward fifteen miles or more…they seemed limitless.”

And we are now looking at the extirpation of the resident orcas in the Salish Sea and the woodland caribou both victims of the indecent haste to get as much of the tar sands exploited while the subsidies last (they aren’t worth much without). And as long as we go on electing politicians like 45 and Ford – or Trudeau and Notley come to that – we look like “succeeding”.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book and felt I learned a lot: after all as is common to those educated in Britain in the 1950s and 60s we had to make a choice between arts and science in school. Ever since I have been conscious of the need to make up for my scientific ignorance – and how difficult that is when so many people resort to “Well, I’d explain it but you haven’t got the math.” This book is not like that. What did surprise me is how much of it is actually familiar. Yes, I know we need seaweed. I have learned how to read nutritional labels and I did know that there is a lot more than just sushi wrappers. I also realise that we need to come up with much better frameworks of regulation not just of the shoreline people but of the big corporations which seem to continue to escape every constraint placed upon them.

What must remain wild for the health of the planet, and what can we take, as we face climate change and diminishing natural resources?

 

Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water’s Edge
by Susan Hand Shetterly
Algonquin Books
On sale August 7, 2018
ISBN 978 1 61620 574 4

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Environment

Alaska Trip: Part 1

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We returned to Vancouver on Wednesday from a trip to see glaciers, railways and the history of The North. We flew up to Anchorage and then took the train to Denali, and from there went on to Fairbanks by bus. Air North flew us to Dawson City then it was back on the bus for Whitehorse and Skagway where we joined our ship, MV Volendam. We had expected to ride on the White Pass and Yukon railway, but a huge boulder on the tracks was blocking traffic, so we had to stay on the bus. The ship took us to Glacier Bay (also a National Park) and Ketchikan (quite the opposite), and then traversed the Inside Passage. That was also a bit of a nonevent, as the first section was overnight and the day was socked in by the weather.

I will be posting pictures to flickr, but I have learned that little attention is paid when a large quantity of images get posted there all at once. It is also necessary to do some editing, adding map tags and commentary. But this morning I was in my storage locker looking for the screen I used to use for slide shows. That was in the days when my pictures were transparencies on film, but they were rarely seen by more than a small audience. I thought a slideshow here might get some more attention

Since the way slideshows work on WordPress also requires some effort, and I am sure you will appreciate at least some indication of what you are looking at, I am going to try a series of short slide shows with a little text. Feedback is encouraged, if not a comment then at least a “like”. If this works for the first day or so, then I will post more.

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Flying in to Anchorage one of the first things you see is the wind farm on an off shore island. Alaska has huge amounts of oil and coal, yet they are also under threat from rising seas and melting permafrost.

The stuffed moose is in the middle of the airport lobby – as is the float plane which is unique. 

The little locomotive was used in the building of the Panama Canal and subsequently on the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Both of these were US federal government initiatives, back in the day when this was about the only feasible way to achieve such results.

“People Mover” is a term of art in the transportation business and usually refers to rail based, driverless vehicles in airports and theme parks. I quite like the use of the term by the local transit agency: it does not just cover full sized buses but also vans and shuttles.

The large locomotive was built for the use of the US Army in the second world war and then worked on the Alaska Railroad for another ten years.

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We arrived in Anchorage a day before the start of the land tour to give us more time to explore the town. This meant we were able to rent bikes for a couple of hours to ride the shore line trail which includes a very interesting area where we found the explanation of the very strange topography of the waterfront.

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That evening we were staying in the Captain Cook, the best hotel in Anchorage, and far better accommodation than the Ramada. We had a room near the top floor with a view over the ocean. The hotel naturally features a portrait of the great explorer – and there is a lovely piece of public art between the hotel and the car park of the small fleet of ships he commanded on three round the world voyages

Our after dinner walk enabled me to get some shots of the Alaska Railroad – and we also visited the area where most of the townspeople were fishing for salmon. The next morning we joined the train – just two dome cars – with at seat service of drinks and snacks throughout the day and lunch served in the lower deck dining room. The views are spectacular – with glimpses of passing trains in the loops – and the ability to move around and a lower deck open viewing platform.

Part two will cover the Denali National Park and our Tundra Wilderness Tour.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2018 at 10:17 am

Film Review: “Blue”

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No, I am not reduced to promoting blue movies.

This was an offer I got in my email. I have been allowed a preview of a new movie that will be in theatres on June 8, World Oceans Day. It will be shown at 40 cinemas throughout Canada on that day at 7pm (except in Calgary, 8pm) and to see it you have to book on line in advance. The link is at the end of this post.

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We saw it on the screen of my MacBook Pro, which isn’t bad, but the first thing I thought was that this will look so much more impressive on a big cinema screen rather than a 15″ retina.

In recent years I have been able to travel and visit a number of ocean sites where we have swum with turtles and stingrays. We have seen the abundance of life on the reefs off the coast of Mexico both in the Caribbean and the Baha California. I have eaten freshly caught tuna in American Samoa. And when I lived in Victoria, my landlord would drop a huge oyster on my grill while I was cooking supper. I am a great fan of sushi and of fish and chips.

And all the while I have been conscious of decline. I have heard about coral bleaching and great plastic gyre. Of the collapse of fish stocks – first cod in the Atlantic off Newfoundland and the decline of the salmon here. Everywhere we have been there have been people warning of the dire situation. And it just seems to be getting worse.

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This still comes from a sequence about the scourge of shark’s fin soup. Not something I have ever tried, and now never will.

It is true that the whales seem to be recovering, but that only seems to encourage the Japanese to expand their utterly bogus “scientific” whaling.

I hope that this film is successful. We certainly need to change direction and there are – at the end of the film – some suggestions.

The following section is copied from the information about the movie I was sent.

Half of all marine life has been lost in the last 40 years.
By 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.

The way the ocean operates is different to how we thought of it 100 years ago. We can no longer think of it as a place of limitless resources, a dumping ground, immune to change or decline.

BLUE takes us on a provocative journey into the ocean realm, witnessing a critical moment in time when the marine world is on a precipice. Featuring passionate advocates for ocean preservation, BLUE takes us into their world where the story of our changing ocean is unfolding. We meet those who are defending habitats, campaigning for smarter fishing, combating marine pollution and fighting for the protection of keystone species.

This feature documentary comes at a time when we are making critical decisions that will decide the legacy we leave for generations to come.

BLUE shows us there is a way forward and the time to act is now

CREDITS
KARINA HOLDEN – Director, Producer, Writer
SARAH BEARD – Producer
SUE CLOTHIER – Executive Producer
JODY MUSTON – Cinematographer/DoP
VANESSA MILTON – Editor

FILMING LOCATIONS – USA, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia

MAIN DIALOGUE LANGUAGE – English

AWARDS

Festival International Du Film Documentaire Océanien 2018| Winner – Le Prix Okeanos

New York Wild Film Festival 2018 | Winner – Best Impact Film

Vancouver International Film Festival 2017 | Winner – Best Impact Film

Byron Bay Film Festival 2017 | Winner – Best Environmental Film

Australian Screen Sound Guild 2017 | Winner – Best Sound in a Documentary 2017

AACTA Awards 2017 | Winner – Best Cinematography in a Documentary

“The Ozzies” Ozflix Independent Film Awards 2018 | Winner – Best Cinematography

So now how to get tickets

BLUE is a World Oceans Day event that takes place throughout Canada ONE SHOWING ONLY — on Thursday, June 7 at 7:00 pm (exception – Calgary at 8:00 pm).

This is a cinema-on-demand screening from Demand Film, and
ALL SEATS MUST BE RESERVED IN ADVANCE, ONLINE AT
Demand Film Ticketing.

You can see the trailer and find the map of events in Canada at that link.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 7, 2018 at 9:09 pm

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unlikely

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There are still some glaciers

I took this picture out of the window of a plane flying from Vancouver to Terrace last week. It was a beautiful day, and I spent most of the flight staring out of the window at the Coast Mountains. There are still some glaciers there. Not as many now, and they are probably somewhat smaller than they used to be, though apparently that is not the case everywhere. However, the reason that I am posting this picture here, now is that it is very unlikely that we will be able to take photos like this in the future.

This is not a matter of belief. Climate change is an established fact. What is worse, climate change denial means that we are putting off the necessary actions to meet that challenge. Most disappointing in that regard are the actions of the present governments in Canada and British Columbia. Justin Trudeau was elected to change the policies of the previous conservative government. He said that he would live up to commitments to reduce ghg emissions and signed the Paris accord. But at the same time he was determined to see the expansion of the Athabasca Tar Sands – and that includes building a new TransMountain pipeline to feed a much expanded export terminal in the Burrard Inlet. He claims that this is necessary to fund the development of newer, cleaner alternative energy sources. The Premier of British Columbia opposes that idea – but not because of its impact on climate but the probable impact of a spill – either on land (which would be the responsibility of Kinder Morgan) or at sea (which would be the responsibility of the federal government – which is to say all Canadians). He is also promoting a completely unnecessary hydroelectric project called Site C on the Peace River near Fort St John.  I say “unnecessary” because it is only needed if there is more development of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) for export. Fracking the gas for export releases methane, and makes LNG a worse case of greenhouse gas increase than coal.

In both cases, there are short term political gains because so many people have been taken in by the promise of economic growth and jobs from the tar sands and LNG expansion. But both rely on developing markets in Asia – and that is also unlikely. Because there they are developing wind and solar power far more rapidly than we are. China is determined to be the leader in electric car production. Most of the previous climate change agreements failed to deliver simply because western politicians refused to accept that China and India would do their part to reduce carbon emissions, due to their determination to increase their own economic status. In fact both are benefitting from the rapidly dropping cost of renewables. They also have access to much closer and more convenient fossil fuel resources. There is plenty of natural gas there, for instance, and Chinese oil refineries are not designed to cope with heavy oil feedstocks.  The latest news about a new BC LNG plant is that it will be designed and built in Japan. So much for all those new jobs we were supposed to be getting. Another unlikely prospect.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 2, 2018 at 11:52 am

Oilsands research “game changer”

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This is a story I saw on the CBC News web page this morning. The short version is that it is possible to recover vanadium from bitumen, and this may have a commercial future in battery production. It is about time that this kind of attention was paid to raw materials in general and mining in particular. One of the first stories I recall reading when I was new to BC (and working for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources) was how new technologies were making mining spoil sites worth re- processing to capture valuable minerals missed in early extractions. The oil sands tailing ponds are currently viewed as simply something to be ignored, and quite probably left for someone else to clean up, once the current “gold rush” approach to exploitation of the tarsands as fast as possible is over.

What caused me to open a new browser window was this bit from the CBC story

“Without storage capabilities, renewable energy production still has to be backstopped by natural gas or other types of traditional power plants.”

That is simply not true. There are all sorts of storage capabilities that can be employed with existing technologies. Elon Musk’s battery project is just one example, but actually it is also recently been reported that one big change has been the re-use of older electric vehicle batteries as longer term off-vehicle storage of power once the initial life in the battery has been completed.

UPDATE

In its first four months of operation, Tesla’s mega-battery system in South Australia was faster, smarter, and cheaper than conventional gas turbines, according to a new report by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

The performance milestone has observers and analysts excited about a breakthrough in grid security and resilience that could be a death knell for natural gas peaker plants.

 “The 100MW/129MWh Tesla big battery, officially known as the Hornsdale Power Reserve (HPR), was officially switched on December 1,” RenewEconomy recalls, “with 70 MW providing network security for the grid operator, and another 30 MW operating energy arbitrage in wholesale markets.”

A particular highlight was the battery’s “virtually immediate” response to “a major outage of a fossil fuel generator in [New South Wales] on December 18,” prompting AEMO to conclude that “commissioning tests and simulations confirm that the HPR is capable of responding more rapidly to a contingency event than conventional synchronous generation.”

 

Perhaps the most obvious example of available storage is the current hydro installations. Just pump the water back uphill, refill the reservoir and then run it through the generation cycle again. Pumped storage was in use in North Wales at the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station  since 1965! (It has since been decommissioned.) Nuclear power stations have a similar problem to renewables. The power they produce cannot be turned off. The reactor runs all the time including times when there is no need for the electricity. That is just a different way of looking at the intermittent power production of wind and solar power.

Pumped storage is the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available, and, as of 2017, the United States Department of Energy Global Energy Storage Database reports that PSH accounts for over 96% of all active tracked storage installations worldwide, with a total installed nameplate capacity of over 168 GW.[3]

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source

“the study shows the huge advantage to both the United States and Canada of working together to supply much of the zero-carbon energy from Canada’s hydroelectric potential, and to store excess flows of renewable energy in Canada’s hydroelectric reservoirs (just as Denmark stores its excess wind power in Norway’s hydroelectric reservoirs)”

Jeffrey Sachs oped in the Globe

 

There are also proposals to to provide power storage by driving a heavy electric train up a hill when power is available and then letting it run down again using regenerative braking when power is needed. SkyTrain in Vancouver – and trolleybuses – both do this now! And electric motor is a generator run backwards.

The CBC seems far too ready to promote natural gas.  It is actually a worse greenhouse gas producer than coal simply due to the volumes of methane released due to fracking and subsequent processing.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 12, 2018 at 11:50 am

STEP UP AND SAVE ELEPHANTS

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#ivoryfreecanada PR Image - Mark Drury

© Mark Drury Photography (@markjdrury)

Vancouver, BC, March 14, 2018 – The poaching of elephants has reached unprecedented levels, threatening their very survival. In the face of this crisis, Elephanatics, a Vancouver elephant advocacy non-profit group, claims Canada is not supporting the worldwide initiative to save both African and Asian elephants.

At the last meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) congress, it was overwhelmingly decided that globally, governments must close their legal domestic markets for elephant ivory as a matter of urgency. Canada was one of only four countries to vote against it.

 A coalition of 95 Canadian and international scientists, politicians and animal conservation organisations have co-signed Elephanatics’ letter urging the government to ban the domestic trade of elephant ivory. They include the BC SPCA, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Mike Farnsworth, the Solicitor General of BC, International Fund for Animal Welfare, WildAid, Born Free Foundation, Humane Society International and African Wildlife Foundation.

 In addition to the global signatories, Elephanatics created an #ivoryfreecanada online petition that garnered over 120,000 signatures – and hundreds more each day – from concerned citizens wanting to see an end to elephant ivory sales in Canada. Even though elephants are not native to Canada, elephants are still important to many Canadians. The petition accompanied the letter sent today to the Minister of Environment & Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.

It is estimated there were 12 million elephants in Africa in the early 1900s. Today there are approximately 415,000. That equates to a 97% decline in a century. Asian elephants are even more endangered with less than 40,000 left. Conservationists and scientists agree that at this rate the world’s largest land animal will disappear from the wild within our lifetime.

Fran Duthie, the President of Elephanatics claims, “The Canadian government has a unique opportunity to play a leadership role in elephant conservation by closing its domestic elephant ivory trade, thereby eliminating all legal loopholes. Ignoring this opportunity would put Canada at odds with the growing international movement to save elephants from extinction.”

The international trade of elephant ivory was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) from 1990. However the domestic trade of ivory within a country is only regulated by national and local governments. Illegal ivory – ivory stolen from an elephant from 1990 onwards – flows through legal domestic markets because it is difficult to differentiate between old and new ivory without extensive and costly testing.

“That really is the history of the ivory trade,” says Peter Knights, Chief Executive Officer of WildAid and a signatory to Elephantics’ letter to the government. “When there’s been legal ivory trade, it’s served as a cover for laundering of illegal ivory.”

Several countries have changed their laws to protect elephants. In June 2016, the United States imposed a near total ban in domestic ivory sales. Two months later, France became the first European country to ban its domestic trade. China shut down its domestic ivory trade at the end of 2017. The United Kingdom recently solicited public feedback on a proposed domestic ban and 85% of the public supported it. In January 2018, Hong Kong’s legislature voted in favour of banning all ivory sales by 2021. Taiwan is expected to announce a ban on domestic ivory sales starting in 2020. Singapore is considering a full ban.

Due to the US Administration over-turning their ban on elephant trophy imports last week, there is additional onus on the rest of the world to increase their efforts to protect elephants.

The loss of elephants causes significant negative environmental effects. Elephants are a keystone species as many plants and animals rely on them to survive. They trek through the jungle, creating a path for smaller animals from mice to cheetahs. More than 100 plant species rely on elephants for propagation as they spread the seeds great distances via their dung.

In addition, international security is compromised by the scourge of elephant poaching. The price of unprocessed ivory in China reached its peak in 2014 at around US$2,100 per kilogram. This has made the ivory trade very attractive to terrorist groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army.

For three weeks in 2017, Canada participated in “Operation Thunderbird”, a global wildlife enforcement investigation involving 60 countries. It was organized by INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization and CITES. Globally, 8.2 tons of elephant ivory was confiscated in the three week operation. Some of it came into Canada.

Julie MacInnes, Wildlife Campaign Manager of HSI/Canada states, “CITES has recommended that all nations with ivory markets that contribute to poaching and illegal trade close these markets. Multiple seizures of illegal ivory in Canada in recent years clearly indicate that an elephant ivory market closure is warranted, particularly given the items seized likely represent only a small fraction of the problem. It is time Canada respect the CITES recommendation and protect elephants by prohibiting ivory trade.”

By closing domestic elephant ivory trade, Canada would join a growing number of countries that are leading the path towards the long-term survival of this significant and iconic species. The public may sign the #ivoryfreecanada petition at http://bit.ly/ivoryfreecanada.

*     *     * 

Elephanatics is a non-profit organization founded in 2013 in Vancouver. It aims to help the long-term survival of African and Asian elephants through conservation, education and action. For the last 4 years in Vancouver, Elephanatics hosted the Global Walk for Elephants and Rhinos, an international event involving over 120 cities.

elephanatics

Written by Stephen Rees

March 14, 2018 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Environment

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The true cost of Fracking

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This Eye-Opening Infographic May Surprise You
There are significant pros and cons, making fracking a highly controversial issue.
By Reynard Loki / AlterNet May 23, 2016,

the-true-cost-of-fracking-dv3

Written by Stephen Rees

February 26, 2018 at 6:18 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

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