Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Keep Public Lands Public

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

 

Preserve public lands for children yet to come

 We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world, and also fortunate to have parts of the land preserved as national monuments. Several of these are under review, and it is concerning that the national parks and other protected areas may also be in political jeopardy. Protect them so our children can enjoy them.
Richard

Rio Grande Gorge by Daniel Schwen

You have fished for the trophy trout in the Rio Grande in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Or perhaps you’ve hiked Sand Canyon, a bit west of Cortez, and enjoyed the wonderful walking, spring flowers and ancestral Puebloan ruins.

You can kiss these amazing places goodbye if some of today’s politicians have their way. Both the above public lands are controlled by the federal government, as is much of the land in the West. The feds don’t do a perfect job of stewardship, but at least a certain minimum standard of protection is enforced. National monuments restrict and control grazing and extractive industries.

When he was campaigning, Donald Trump pledged to keep public lands under federal control. Unfortunately, ! he is reneging on those promises.

Trump has asked Ryan Zinke, secretary of the Interior, to review 27 of the largest and most recently designated monuments. The idea would be to either abolish these monuments or to decrease their size. It appears that Trump’s motivation is to alter the special monument status for commercial reasons. Yet it is essential that humanity not lose our connection to our land and to our past.

In addition, there are threats to turn control of monuments over to state authorities. At first glance, local control sounds as though it might be a good idea. There would be local or state governments controlling these beautiful parts of our wonderful country. Furthermore, the responsible people wouldn’t need to contact Washington every time they need to buy a new pencil sharpener.

The downside of local control is that local people may! lose sight of the purpose of monuments; they might sell off rights during a time of economic difficulty. Furthermore, locals often don’t have the resources or expertise and would be unable to administer the monuments properly. Many states lack sufficient funds to run their state parks well, let alone take responsibility for national monuments!

National monuments come in all sizes, from a single historical house to the mammoth Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. They were all created by decree by presidents of both parties, on territory that already belonged to the federal government. No president has ever ordered a review before.

Many of the 129 national monuments in the U.S. are of great aesthetic value. Their beauty attracts millions of visitors and is of great value to local economies. Exploration and drilling would spoil their bea! uty and trade short-run profit for long-run ruin.

Bears Ears National Monument was designated at the end of 2016 after years of consideration. It was established with the help of several Native American tribes, who are also involved in its administration. It is under intense scrutiny, probably because of a resolution passed by the Utah legislature “… urging the president to rescind the designation of Bears Ears National Monument designation.”

The response to Utah’s resolution was quick. Clothing giant Patagonia has moved the huge Outdoor Retailer trade show from Utah, where it has been held for 20 years. Other companies joined, and the trade show has announced that the next show will be in Denver. Conservation Colorado put advertisements in Utah papers saying, “We have stronger beer. We have taller peaks. We have higher recreation. But most of all we love our public la! nds.”

Establishing an! d protecting public lands (and oceans) became prudent as our population grew, and as we harvested increasing amounts of the bountiful resources. It is essential to have places for children to explore and for adults to reconnect to the land. In addition, some of the monuments memorialize cultural resources – for instance, Canyons of the Ancients protects more than 6,000 archaeological sites.

There are many good organizations that are monitoring and fighting the attempt to jeopardize public lands. I favor the San Juan Citizens Alliance (sanjuancitizens.org) and Conservation Colorado (conservationco.org). Both have information on their websites and advocate for public lands protection.

We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world that also has copious resources. We should enjoy our surroundings and use the resources carefully but r! emember those who will come after us.

I would like my granddaughters to be able to fish the Rio Grande, hike Sand Canyon and camp in Bullet Canyon without the sounds of pump jacks and chainsaws.

Like you, I have explored parts of Cedar Mesa, which are now protected by Bears Ears National Monument – but perhaps we better hurry back while the monument is still undeveloped.

Or work harder now to preserve it.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2017

Responding to my Climate Change Denying Friends

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Curves of pop & CO2 in air

Please note the two curves above. Although the graph of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (Keeling curve) on the left starts in 1958 and the one on the right (human population) starts in 1800, they follow the same trajectory of steep increase over the past 50+ years.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair

            A recent Letter to the Editor of the Herald got my attention. It would seem that its author and I are living on different planets.

The writer calls Dr. James Hansen’s statement that the world would “overheat” because of carbon emissions “a ridiculous assertion”. NASA has a web page devoted to statements from our country’s foremost scientific organizations. For instance, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states: “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.”

The LTE was in response to Herald article about the wager between Roger Cohen and me. Dr. Cohen (former manager of strategic planning at Exxon Mobil) earned a PhD in physics and is a member of the American Physical Society, which states: “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.”

Let’s go back to the other planet where the writer of the LTE seems to be living. He asserts that polar bears are thriving. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the status of polar bears as “vulnerable”, This would not lead me to believe that they are thriving. Dr. Steven Amstrup, head scientist with Polar Bears International, wrote: “One of the most frequent myths we hear about polar bears is that their numbers are increasing and have, in fact, more than doubled over the past thirty years.”

“The polar ice caps, both of them, are robust” according to this LTE. Unfortunately, Earth’s ice caps are not healthy. Indeed, a large freighter recently navigated the fabled Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean!

There is mixed news from Antarctica. Although ice in west Antarctica is melting, the amount of ice is increasing over the continent. That is a bit of a paradox since the average temperature there has gone up by almost 1 degree Fahrenheit—but it is just so darn cold in Antarctica.

Studies find rising levels of CO2 help some plants but hinder others. Studies of phenology (when plants and animals wake up after the winter) find that climate change is already causing problems that may lead to decreased crop productivity. Many places in the world are experiencing decreased precipitation from climate change. Overall, the bonus of increased CO2 seems to be overwhelmed by other aspects of climate change.

The LTE ends up by stating “…the standard of living of some of the world’s poorest of the poor has risen because of increased vegetation to feed themselves and their animals….” Try telling that to the people who are starving in Madaya—where the Syrian revolution was triggered, in part, by drought caused by climate change. The Horn of Africa is also suffering from chronic malnutrition, as are many other places in Africa and Asia. Drought caused by climate change has worsened starvation in these places. Although the percentage of people who are undernourished in the world has decreased, the improvement is not generally attributed to increased CO2.

People are also suffering from climate change closer to home. Residents of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, will be relocated because their community is disappearing under the rising ocean.

What I find amazing is that, although people deny climate change (or perhaps deny that climate change is anthropogenic), I have yet to read any refutation of the observation that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is rising, and that its rise is anthropogenic. We all understand that this gas, along with methane and water vapor, are greenhouse gases. Without GHGs our planet Earth would be 60 degrees Fahrenheit colder—and totally unable to support life. Doesn’t it make sense that, as the CO2 level rises, the temperature will also rise?

Perhaps we can excuse some of the denial of climate change thanks to the findings of a recent study of people’s reaction to the climate. Apparently the warming that we in the USA have experienced actually has made the climate more agreeable—although that is far from true in other parts of the world.

Greenhouse gases released by people cause climate change; the more people, the faster the climate will change. Family planning is part of the solution! Another part of the solution is convincing our political representatives to support legislation to slow climate change. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (http://citizensclimatelobby.org) has an effective plan to do this. A local chapter has just been formed; you can contact them at: durangoccl@gmail.com.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2016

Consider Human Inhabitants When Creating Nature Reserves

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

tiger closeup 4

Last summer a big game hunter from Minnesota shot Cecil, a famous male lion, in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean officials didn’t press charges against Cecil’s killer.

Many people in this country were outraged that such a rare and beautiful beast had been murdered. The response in Africa was different, however. For us a lion—especially a noble and handsome male—symbolizes freedom and wildness. In Africa, however, a lion means danger.

We live in a protected bubble from which most predators have been excluded. It is true that occasionally a mountain lion will injure or kill a human, but fortunately that is a very rare, newsworthy incident. Black bears are also responsible for a few injuries and rare deaths here in Colorado. The real killer is not a predator but the sweet, innocent herbivore—deer.

Biologist E. O. Wilson has recently written a book advocating that half of the planet become a nature reserve. He wrote: “…I propose that only by committing half of the planet’s surface to nature can we hope to save the immensity of life-forms that compose it.”

I grieve for the loss of biological diversity (biodiversity). Although we cannot know exactly, it is estimated that species of plants and animals are going extinct at 1000 times the normal rate; we are in the 6th mass extinction. There have been five prior mass extinctions, the last one being about 65 million years ago when a huge meteor hit off the coast of Mexico. The resulting explosion changed the climate for centuries, killing off dinosaurs. What is different about the current mass extinction is that it is caused by a single species—ours.

Each species has evolved strategies to maximize reproduction, to gather nutrients efficiently and to ward off other species that imperil it. We are no different, except we have been so amazingly successful. Sadly, our success endangers nonhuman species—and probably ourselves, since our livelihood depends on the web of life.

I have a problem with those who are “prolife”. Our human success is causing the extinction of other animals and plants. By preventing women from access to family planning and safe abortion services, the people who claim to be “prolife” are actually destroying the biodiversity that makes our planet habitable.

Although I haven’t read Wilson’s “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life”, its premise troubles me. Yes, it is important to do what we can to protect other species. Yes, the major cause of loss of species is loss of habitat. Yes, preserves (both terrestrial and marine) have shown their value in preserving biodiversity. The Center for Biological Diversity has a brilliant record of protecting endangered species by preserving habitat.

Turning half the Earth into preserves would slow the loss of biodiversity. But what about the people who currently live on that land—many of whom live in overcrowded, developing countries? what would happen to them?

We had the good fortune to visit the Ranthambhore preserve in India where we observed a Bengal tiger in the wild. We also heard about people who were forced off that land and repatriated to a nearby village. They now make their living by making and selling souvenirs to tourists. This model would not work for half of Earth’s surface, however. Where could all those people settle?

This conundrum is one of the plotlines of “The Hungry Tide” by Amitav Ghosh. This wonderful novel takes place in the Sundarbans, the deltas of four major rivers where they empty into the Bay of Bengal. Thousands of squatters settled on Marichjhanpi Island, an Indian animal refuge, in1979. Piya, a protagonist, biologist and protector of animals, is distressed when settlers kill a man-eating tiger. Forest Guards moved in and destroyed the settlement—and the settlers. Thousands of people were killed in this genocide. Although this sounds incredible, it is based on history.

Thanks to the foresight of Americans a century ago, we have the National Park Service, one of the agencies that take care of our public lands. We should be proud that 14% of our land is currently protected. Costa Rica may have the highest percentage of land preserved for nonhuman use at 25%. It is important to preserve what we have and to continue to protect more wilderness, parks, forests and roadless areas for our enjoyment, and especially for the benefit of other species. However, it is important to keep human rights in mind when considering making new protected areas. Voluntary family planning will help achieve that goal by decreasing population pressure.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2016

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.