Monday, June 13, 2011

Agent Smith on Humans as a Virus

In the spirit of my colleagues posting on environmental films, and following on the Evil Animals post from last week and Professor McAllister's May 24 post on consumption, I thought I would highlight one of the most profound environmental insights in cinema (sci-fi cinema at least!).  The movie "The Matrix" came out in 1999. At that time, the thought of my being involved in legal academics had never even crossed my mind, and had it done so I wouldn't even have known what that meant. Yet one clip in the movie had a deep impact on how I viewed our place in the world - and provided a theoretical framework for pushing me further along the path of environmental concern. The clip involves an interrogation of Morpheus by Agent Smith....

 

...The day after watching "The Matrix" I went to the Galleria Mall in Birmingham, Alabama. I stood at the top of the escalators above the food court and watched the people swarm. Hundreds of people scurried across each others' paths. Shopping bags filled with plastic and metal goodies were draped across arms, backs, and strollers. Hundreds more people sat in the food court stuffing their faces with hamburgers, chicken, pizza, cotton candy, cookies, ice cream and every other American delight you can imagine (a time release camera from 1995-2000 would have demonstrated these people getting larger as well, as the number of obese people worldwide increased by 100 million during that five year period). I couldn't help but feel the pall of depression come over me as I thought "Agent Smith was right!" And worse still I am sure I had just washed down an endorphin rush to the frontal lobe from eating an over-sized burger with an endorphin rush from purchasing some copious quantity of plastic play-things.

If everyone on earth consumed as much per capita as Americans do, we would need at least 5 earths to sustain us. I say "at least" because the number of earths we would need is increasing as our consumption increases. Stating the obvious, something needs to change. 

The great thing about humans though, as the robots found out at the end of the Matrix Trilogy, is that we can think and do not always perform according to expected and established protocol. We have the ability to adapt and change and learn from past mistakes and previous destructive behaviors.  Though we certainly can operate like a virus, and currently are operating like one at the rate at which we are consuming the earth, we have a chance and ability to change course.

The World Wildlife Fund's Jason Clay, in his talk "How big brands can help save biodiversity," provides some interesting insights into how we can actually harness components of our consumptive culture to protect the environment. His thoughts can be seen here:

 

- Blake Hudson

June 13, 2011 in Biodiversity, Economics, Film, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 30, 2011

When All Else Fails Bring Up the "Other" Carbon Problem

When confronted with friends or students who may be skeptical of the human role in climate 1 change, I say "forget the temperature, let's talk about ocean acidification." Ocean acidification has been described as "the other carbon problem," and only recently have the implications of increasingly acidic oceans garnered much attention. Can we measure the increased concentration of carbon in the atmosphere when compared to pre-industrial levels? Check. Do we know that as a result of higher concentrations of CO2 the oceans have absorbed an increasing amount of carbon over time? Check. Do we know the scientific process whereby this carbon causes ocean water to become more acidic, and can that increasing acidity be measured? Check and check. In short, the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacts with ocean water to form carbonic acid, and surface waters today are 30% more acidic than they were at the 2 beginning of the Industrial Revolution. 

A recent article highlights that even conservative projections are that the oceans will be twice as acidic by the end of the century as they were in pre-industrial times. This increased acidity reduces the ability of a variety of important sea creatures to form and maintain shells or skeletons built from calcium carbonate - a result that would likely ripple all the way up the food chain. As these creatures are taken out of the food web, the negative impacts on fisheries and ocean life - and correspondingly the 1 billion humans that depend on those resources - will be profound. This is not to mention the damage that will continue to accrue to the ocean's dying coral reefs and other abundant biodiversity. 3

Researchers have recently set out to investigate the potential implications of rising ocean
acidity. These researchers have monitored a variety of viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton, and zooplankton, introducing varying levels of acidity into their local environment (mesocosms) to predict future impacts on these organisms. 

It certainly seems clear that since we can measure the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, we know it is humans who released (and continue to release) it, and we know the basic workings of the "greenhouse effect" when there are higher higher concentrations of COand other gases in the atmosphere, then we should see the need to, at the least, proceed cautiously by reducing carbon emissions and attempting to mitigate against climate change. But until that exercise of logic becomes as mainstream among the populous as it currently is among scientists, the case of ocean acidification is a more tangible example of how increased levels of carbon dioxide damage our environment. My approach is to challenge people to go measure it themselves, rather than wallowing in uninformed denial. 

For a compelling introduction to the issue of ocean acidification, see this documentary produced by NRDC:

 

- Blake Hudson

May 30, 2011 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, International, Law, Physical Science, Science, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Can't See the Forest for the People - Southern Forests Threatened By Increasing Population

The U.S. Forest Service recently released a report detailing the projected impacts population growth and urbanization will have on southeastern forests over the next 50 years, reducing Southern Forests them by as much as 23 million acres (or 13%).  The report provided four primary reasons for the decline: population, climate change, timber markets and invasive species.

Southern forests are among the most biodiverse forests in the United States, and a disproportionate number of endangered species are located in the southeast when compared to other regions of the U.S. 

The report indicates that private individuals and companies will be crucial to the effort to curb the destruction, noting that nearly 90% of the forestland in the south is privately owned.  Even so, regulation of land uses such as private forestry and urban development is seen as a role constitutionally reserved for state and local governments.  In turn, the southeastern U.S. maintains some of the most lax forest regulatory standards (not to mention zoning standards) in the world, even less rigorous than many developing countries, according to a study performed by Cashore and McDermott and as seen in the below chart (a "9" denotes the most stringent forest regulatory standards and a "0" the least).

Forest Stringency
Most all southeastern U.S. states maintain "best management practices" that are completely voluntary on the part of the forest manager. These BMP's may suggest to a private forester that he or she leave a buffer zone of trees around watercourses in watersheds in order to prevent erosion, siltation and eutrophication of waterways, among other environmental and economic harms. But foresters can feel free to ignore those "standards" and clear timber to the edge of the stream if they so choose.  The only claim an adjacent landowner might have against the offending party is a common law nuisance claim, if there was damage caused to their property by the erosion, etc., since no regulatory remedies are available.

A co-author of the Forest Service report stated "We're counting on policy-makers...to implement and act on some of the findings...That is our hope."  Hopefully policy-makers at the state and local level will take heed of the report and make much needed changes to the approach and rigor of both southern forest management and urban growth control. As a southern forester myself, I really would prefer not to have 10% fewer trees gracing this beautiful, and environmentally rich, part of the country.

- Blake Hudson

May 23, 2011 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Conservation Triage - "Should Conservationists Allow Some Species to Die Out?"

A recent article highlights the controversial concept of "conservation triage," whereby limited conservation resources are directed toward the species with the "best prospects for long-term survival." While the list of endangered and threatened species is growing, the funding for such programs is increasingly tight, and always finite.  

The article highlights the plight of the California condor, the population of which dropped to 22 individuals in 1987. Twenty five years later the condor numbers only 192 living in the wild, while 189 live in captivity.  The program to monitor and maintain condor populations costs more than $4 million a year, while the typical minimum viable population size for long-term species survival is about 5,000 individuals. At least one group of conservationists have asserted that "it is time for the global rescue operation to adopt the mind-set of a battlefield medic: Some endangered species are far more likely to recover than others, so we should identify those and save as many as we can." These conservationists argue that "you could save hundreds of butterfly species with the same investment being put into the condor."

Others, on the other hand, argue that "focusing on the cheapest wins 'may increase the short term tally of species, but we would end up saving only the most convenient ones.'" These conservationists point to the white rhino, the population of which dropped to 20 individuals at one point, but that stands at over 17,000 today.

This controversy demonstrates yet another tough choice faced by those concerned about the environment. It also highlights how approaches to habitat conservation can provide economic efficiency gains that can save both the most species and provide better long-term survival opportunities for those, like the condor, that are in limited numbers in the wild.  

Land development activities are appropriating increasing and copious amounts of habitat/natural capital every day.  It would seem a shift in focus from the costly propping up of single species in quickly developing areas to the prevention of habitat destruction is in order. The internalization of these environmental harms into our economic development costs may seem like triage to development interests and consumers, as they forgo - in the short term - a slight decrease in profit (or developers pass that cost down to the consumer). But in the long run it will be a far less costly triage than that proposed by some conservationists.

- Blake Hudson

May 16, 2011 in Biodiversity, Land Use, Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Roy Gardner on "Lawyers, Swamps, and Money - U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics" (New Book)

Wetlands expert Roy GardnerStetson University College of Law, has recently published a fascinating book on U.S. wetland law and policy.  The book, Lawyers, Swamps, and Money, U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics has recently become available for purchase (Island Press), and you may purchase a copy here. You can read the press release for the book below.

Professor Gardner is one of the nation's leading experts on wetland law and policy. His book reflects not only his expertise, but also his special ability to make the details of wetland law and policy accessible to all - even despite the complex web of constitutional, administrative, and environmental questions raised.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in wetlands, and think it would be great supplementary reading for Natural Resources Law and Policy or related courses.

Professor Gardner is the director of Stetson's Institute for Biodiversity Law and Policy, and was instrumental in Stetson University College of Law becoming the first school in the country to gain membership to the US National Ramsar Committee, which supports the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in the United States.  Stetson students worked with the site manager of Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to seek its designation as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and it was successfully designated as such in the spring of 2010.

Gardner book cover

 

PRESS RELEASE     

Lawyers, Swamps, and Money

U.S. Wetland Law, Policy, and Politics

By Royal C. Gardner

Washington, D.C. (April 2011) — A leading expert on wetlands law and policy has written an engaging guide to the complex set of laws governing these critical natural areas.  

Lawyers, Swamps, and Money explains the importance of America’s wetlands and the threats they face, and examines the evolution of federal law, principally the Clean Water Act, designed to protect them.  Royal Gardner’s writing is simultaneously substantive and accessible to a wide audience — from policy makers to students to citizen activists.

Readers will first learn the basics of administrative law: how agencies receive and exercise their authority, how they actually make laws, and how stakeholders can influence their behavior through the Executive Branch, Congress, the courts, and the media. These core concepts provide a base of knowledge for successive discussions of:

• the geographic scope and activities covered by the Clean Water Act

• the curious relationship between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency

• the goal of no net loss of wetlands

• the role of entrepreneurial wetland mitigation banking

• the tension between wetland mitigation bankers and in-lieu fee mitigation programs

• wetland regulation and private property rights.The book concludes with insightful policy recommendations to make wetlands law less ambiguous and more effective.

The book concludes with insightful policy recommendations to make wetlands law less ambiguous and more effective.

- Blake Hudson

April 11, 2011 in Biodiversity, Constitutional Law, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Physical Science, Science, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Plater on Deepwater Horizon and TVA v. Hill

Environmental law, by definition, looks forward.  But it also pays to look back.

Today, one of the most experienced leaders in the field, Prof. Zyg Plater, will help us do both.  He will give two lectures at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Plater1

The first, "Lessons from Disasters: What We Are Learning from the BP Deepwater Blowout in the Gulf of Mexico That We Should Have Learned 21 Years Ago in Alaska," draws on Prof. Plater's experience as Chair of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission's Legal Task Force following the Exxon-Valdez disaster.  Any examination of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, of course, raises questions not just of environmental degradation but of energy planning, national security, the debate over peak oil, sustainable development, and the direction of our society itself.

The second talk will be delivered as the annual Wallace Stegner Lecture, sponsored by the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment.  As counsel for farmers, Cherokees, and environmentalists in the U.S. Supreme Court, Prof. Plater is perhaps better equipped than anyone to comment on what one of the most important cases in the field, TVA v. Hill, has to teach us about where environmental law -- and environmentalism -- is headed today.  The title of the lecture is "Classic Lessons from a Little Fish in a Pork Barrel."

Prof. Plater's remarks on the Deepwater Horizon begin at 12:15 p.m. Mountain (2:15 p.m. Eastern; 11:15 a.m. Pacific).

His Wallace Stegner Lecture will begin at 6 p.m. Mountain (8 p.m. Eastern; 5 p.m. Pacific).

If you cannot join live in Salt Lake City, there will be simultaneous webcasts at www.ulaw.tv.

-Lincoln Davies

March 10, 2011 in Biodiversity, Cases, Current Affairs, Energy, Sustainability, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lions, Tigers, and Bears...All Gone?

A recent CNN article described the plummeting population of big cats in Africa, noting that populations have dropped from 450,000 fifty years ago to as few as 20,000 today. Worldwide tiger populations have experienced similar drastic declines, with an estimated 95% drop in population over the past one hundred years - from 100,000 tigers at the turn of the 20th Century to as few as 3,200 today.  Of course, scientists are similarly concerned about the implications of climate change for polar bear populations, not to mention numerous other bear populations around the world. These scenarios raise interesting questions about the significance of "charismatic megafauna" in either spurring environmental protection (cute and cuddly panda bears) or in exacerbating species decline due to the "prize value" of the animal (ivory elephant tusks, tiger meat in Asian markets). 


Charismatic megafauna are often described as species that people "really care about," such as pandas, whales, and bald eagles, to name a few. So what does it say about the status of global biodiversity when we continue to witness precipitous declines in populations of charismatic megafauna?  Perhaps the problem is jurisdictional: lions and tigers are distributed in developing countries with far less stringent environmental protections and where the animal's economic value is far higher when it is dead rather than alive.  The case of mountain lions and wolves in the U.S. lends evidence in this regard, as each (the western mountain lion, at least) is recovering in population size and regaining portions of former habitat presumably due to the (relatively recent) focus on environmental protection throughout their habitat range. But as the polar bear and a variety of other species demonstrate, economic growth and habitat fragmentation also play a key role in the decline of these species.  So, if lions, tigers, and bears are charismatic megafauna that people "really care about," what happens to global resources that people hold in far less regard? 

- Blake Hudson

March 7, 2011 in Africa, Asia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, International, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

GAO Report on Wildfire Management

GAO on September 9th published a report "Wildland Fire Management: Federal Agencies Have Taken Important Steps Forward, but Additional, Strategic Action is Needed to Capitalize on Those Steps." GAO-09-877 . A summary, the GAO Highlights, is contained in this link. 


September 9, 2009 in Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sustainable Fisheries Law

I teach Sustainable Natural Resources Law in the spring.  Here's a new publication brought to my attention by Gerd Winter that looks like a great fit for introducing students to the fisheries area.  A slightly edited summary of the book courtesy of Gerd appears below:

Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law

As most of the fish resources in the world's oceans are constantly depleting, the development of effective and efficient instruments of fisheries management becomes crucial. Against this background, the IUCN
Environmental Law Programme proudly presents its latest publication in the IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper Series, edited by Gerd Winter, a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law, which focuses on a legal approach towards sustainable and equitable management of fish resources.

This publication is a result of an interdisciplinary endeavour with worldwide participation studying multiple demands on coastal zones and viable solutions for resource use with emphasis on fisheries. The book consists of six case studies including Indonesia, Kenya, Namibia, Brazil, Mexico and the EU, which are preceded by an analysis of the international law requirements concerning fisheries management. The final part of the book summarizes the case studies and proposes a methodology for diagnosing problems in existing management systems and developing proposals for reform.

Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law thus helps the reader to learn more about the international legal regime for fisheries management that is currently in place, improves the understanding of the institutional and legal problems related to fisheries management that countries face at the national level, and provides guidance for sustainable use of fish resources through a "legal clinic" for fisheries management.

The book was published as IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 74. Free copies can be ordered at the IUCN office or downloaded (2,05 MB) from the IUCN website at: Toward Sustainable Fisheries Law

September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Biodiversity, Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

World Council of Churches Statement on Eco-Justice and Ecological Debt

Many of us attempt to bring ethical perspectives to bear on issues raised by our classes in addition to ecological and economic perspectives.  Although it may be a bit late for those of you who have already started class, here is the most recent statement by the World Council of Churches on eco-justice and ecological debt.  In a related, but fascinating, note, the WCC as part of its current  programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology is attempting to articulate a consumption and greed line -- in addition to the more typical poverty line.  This would provide practical spiritual guidance on when, in Christian terms, too much is too much.  Check it out!!!


WCC Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt

02.09.09

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee adopted a "Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt" on Wednesday, 2 Sept. The statement proposes that Christians have a deep moral obligation to promote ecological justice by addressing our debts to peoples most affected by ecological destruction and to the earth itself. The statement addresses ecological debt and includes hard economic calculations as well as biblical, spiritual, cultural and social dimensions of indebtedness.

 The statement identifies the current unprecedented ecological crises as being created by humans, caused especially by the agro-industrial-economic complex and the culture of the North, characterized by the consumerist lifestyle and the view of development as commensurate with exploitation of the earth's so-called "natural resources". Churches are being called upon to oppose with their prophetic voices such labeling of the holy creation as mere "natural resources".

 The statement points out that it is a debt owed primarily by industrialized countries in the North to countries of the South on account of historical and current resource-plundering, environmental degradation and the dumping of greenhouse gases and toxic wastes.

In its call for action the statement urges WCC member churches to intervene with their governments to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adopt a fair and binding deal at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, in order to bring the CO2 levels down to less than 350 parts per million (ppm).

 Additionally the statement calls upon the international community to ensure the transfer of financial resources to countries of the south to refrain from oil drilling in fragile environments. Further on, the statement demands the cancellation of the illegitimate financial debts of the southern countries, especially for the poorest nations as part of social and ecological compensation.

In a 31 August hearing on "ecological debt" during the WCC Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Dr Maria Sumire Conde from the Quechua community of Peru shared some ways that the global South has been victimized by greed und unfair use of its resources. In the case of Peru, Sumire said mining has had particularly devastating effects, such as relocation, illness, polluted water,and decreasing biodiversity.

 The concept of ecological debt has been shaped to measure the real cost that policies of expansion and globalization have had on developing nations, a debt that some say industrialized nations should repay. Dr Joan Martinez Alier, a professor at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain, said climate change, unequal trade, "bio-piracy", exports of toxic waste and other factors have added to the imbalance, which he called "a kind of war against people around the world, a kind of aggression."

 Martinez went on saying: "I know these are strong words, but this is true." He beseeched those present, at the very least not to increase the existing ecological debt any further.

 The WCC president from Latin America, Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega of Cuba, said ecological debt was a spiritual issue, not just a moral one. "The Bible is an ecological treatise" from beginning to end, Ortega said. She described care for creation as an "axis" that runs through the word of God. "Our pastoral work in our churches must be radically ecological," she said.

 Full text of the statement

 More on the 31 August hearing on ecological debt

 WCC countdown to climate justice

WCC programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology

More information on the 26 August - 2 September 2009 Central Committee meeting

 

September 3, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Religion, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Good news: world fisheries could avoid collapse by using new management tools in both developed and developing countries

Planet Ark reported that Dr. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University and colleagues are publishing a paper in Science that suggests world fisheries may avoid a total global collapse by using proven management tools in both the developed countries and the developing countries.  This is notable because Dr. Worm had predicted total global collapse of fish and seafood populations by 2048.  But, the effort will require rebuilding 63 percent of fish stocks worldwide and applying proven management tools not only to the ecosystems primarily affected by developed countries, but also those primarily affected by developing countries.   These management tools include: restrictions on gear like nets so that smaller, younger fish can escape; limits on the total allowable catch; closing some areas to fishing; certifying fisheries as sustainable; offering shares of the total allowable catch to each person who fishes in a specified area. Researchers indicated that fishing limits must be set well below the maximum sustainable yield, which is the highest number of fish that can be caught in an area without hurting the species' ability to reproduce. Maximum sustainable yield should be an absolute upper limit, rather than a target that is frequently exceeded.

Worm's optimism was provisional, because the current research only looked at about one-quarter of the world's marine ecosystems, mostly in the developed world where data is plentiful and management can be more readily monitored and enforced. Of the 10 major ecosystems studied, scientists found five marine areas had cut the average percentage of fish they take, relative to estimates of the total number of fish. Two other ecosystems were never overexploited, leaving three areas overexploited. The fisheries in the study were the Iceland Shelf, Northeast U.S. Shelf, North Sea, Newfoundland-Labrador Shelf, Celtic-Biscay Shelf, Baltic Sea, Southern Australia Shelf, Eastern Bering Sea, California Current, and New Zealand Shelf. 

Strict fisheries management in the developing world has put increasing pressure on fisheries controlled by developing countries, particularly African countries that struggle to provide food for their populations.  To deploy effective fisheries management globally will require addressing the management capacity and governance problems of developing countries and reducing the poverty that makes effective management and governance so difficult.

July 30, 2009 in Africa, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How this virus developed and why it may be a killer

The Mexican swine flu virus is a swine influenza A/H1N1 virus hybridized (mixed) with human and bird viruses.  We have some immunity to human flu and to some strains of swine influenza A/H1N1;  We don't have immunity to bird flu, which is why that virus is so virulent - with a kill ratio of almost 50% -- and why so much pandemic planning and preparedness focused on bird flu.

New Scientist reports:

This type of virus emerged in the US in 1998 and has since become endemic on hog farms across North America. Equipped with a suite of pig, bird and human genes, it was also evolving rapidly.  Flu infects many animals, including waterfowl, pigs and humans. Birds and people rarely catch flu viruses adapted to another host, but they can pass flu to pigs, which also have their own strains.If a pig catches two kinds of flu at once it can act as a mixing vessel, and hybrids can emerge with genes from both viruses. This is what happened in the US in 1998. Until then, American pigs had regular winter flu, much like people, caused by a mutated virus from the great human pandemic of 1918, which killed pigs as well as at least 50 million people worldwide. This virus was a member of the H1N1 family - with H and N being the virus's surface proteins haemagglutinin and neuraminidase.  Over decades, H1N1 evolved in pigs into a mild, purely swine flu, and became genetically fairly stable. In 1976, there was an outbreak of swine H1N1 in people at a military camp [Fort Dix] in New Jersey, with one death. The virus did not spread efficiently, though, and soon fizzled out.

But in 1998, says Richard Webby of St Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, swine H1N1 hybridised with human and bird viruses, resulting in "triple reassortants" that surfaced in Minnesota, Iowa and Texas. The viruses initially had human surface proteins and swine internal proteins, with the exception of three genes that make RNA polymerase, the crucial enzyme the virus uses to replicate in its host. Two were from bird flu and one from human flu. Researchers believe that the bird polymerase allows the virus to replicate faster than those with the human or swine versions, making it more virulent.

By 1999, these viruses comprised the dominant flu strain in North American pigs and, unlike the swine virus they replaced, they were actively evolving. There are many versions with different pig or human surface proteins, including one, like the Mexican flu spreading now, with H1 and N1 from the original swine virus. All these viruses still contained the same "cassette" of internal genes, including the avian and human polymerase genes, reports Amy Vincent of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Ames, Iowa (Advances in Virus Research, vol 72, p 127). "They are why the swine versions of this virus easily outcompete those that don't have them," says Webby.

But the viruses have been actively switching surface proteins to evade the pigs' immunity. There are now so many kinds of pig flu that it is no longer seasonal. One in five US pig producers actually makes their own vaccines, says Vincent, as the vaccine industry cannot keep up with the changes. This rapid evolution posed the "potential for pandemic influenza emergence in North America", Vincent said last year. Webby, too, warned in 2004 that pigs in the US are "an increasingly important reservoir of viruses with human pandemic potential". One in five US pig workers has been found to have antibodies to swine flu, showing they have been infected, but most people have no immunity to these viruses.

The virus's rapid evolution created the potential for a pandemic to emerge in North America.  Our immune response to flu, which makes the difference between mild and potentially lethal disease, is mainly to the H surface protein. The Mexican virus carries the swine version, so the antibodies we carry to human H1N1 viruses will not recognise it. That's why the CDC warned last year that swine H1N1 would "represent a pandemic threat" if it started circulating in humans. The avian polymerase genes are especially worrying, as similar genes are what make H5N1 bird flu lethal in mammals and what made the 1918 human pandemic virus so lethal in people. "We can't yet tell what impact they will have on pathogenicity in humans," says Webby. It appears the threat has now resulted in the Mexican flu. "The triple reassortant in pigs seems to be the precursor," Robert Webster, also at St Jude's, told New Scientist.

While researchers focused on livestock problems could see the threat developing, it is not one that medical researchers focused on human flu viruses seemed to have been aware of. "It was confusing when we looked up the gene sequences in the database," says Wendy Barclay of Imperial College London, who has been studying swine flu from the recent US cases. "The polymerase gene sequences are bird and human, yet they were reported in viruses from pigs."

So where did the Mexican virus originate? The Veratect Corporation based in Kirkland, Washington, monitors world press and government reports to provide early disease warnings for clients, including the CDC. Their first inkling of the disease was a 2 April report of a surge in respiratory disease in a town called La Gloria, east of Mexico City, which resulted in the deaths of three young children. Only on 16 April - after Easter week, when millions of Mexicans travel to visit relatives - reports surfaced elsewhere in the country.

Local reports in La Gloria blamed pig farms in nearby Perote owned by Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of US hog giant Smithfield Foods. The farms produce nearly a million pigs a year. Smithfield Foods, in a statement, insists there are "no clinical signs or symptoms" of swine flu in its pigs or workers in Mexico. That is unsurprising, as the company says it "routinely administers influenza virus vaccination to swine herds and conducts monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza." The company would not tell New Scientist any more about recent tests. USDA researchers say that while vaccination keeps pigs from getting sick, it does not block infection or shedding of the virus.

All the evidence suggests that swine flu was a disaster waiting to happen. But it got little research attention, perhaps because it caused mild infections in people which didn't spread. Now one swine flu virus has stopped being so well-behaved.

This leads us to the policy question: why should humans keep pigs?  Like other meat, pigs consume an extraordinary amount of resources to provide nutrition.  Maybe the ancient Israelites had an insight that we have lacked -- there may be more wisdom in the Torah and its laws than we knew.  Perhaps it is time, or past time, for our eating habits to evolve lest an even more virulent strain of swine flu develop.  Assuming that this pandemic passes without too many deaths, we may need to rethink whether it is good to keep large quantities of pigs.  For now, the virulent bird flu does not seem easily communicable.  Let's keep it that way. 

April 29, 2009 in Agriculture, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, International, North America, Religion, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bush Administration Midnight ESA Consultation Rule Revoked

  FWS Press Release:

Salazar and Locke Restore Scientific Consultations under the Endangered
             Species Act to Protect Species and their Habitats

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the two departments are revoking an eleventh-hour Bush administration rule that undermined Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. Their decision requires federal agencies to once again consult with federal wildlife experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – the two agencies that administer the ESA – before taking any action that
may affect threatened or endangered species.

“By rolling back this 11th hour regulation, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law,” Salazar said. “Because science must serve as the foundation for decisions we make, federal agencies proposing to take actions that might affect threatened and endangered species will once again have to consult with biologists at the two departments.”

“For decades, the Endangered Species Act has protected threatened species and their habitats,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “Our decision affirms the Administration’s commitment to using sound science to promote conservation and protect the environment.”

April 28, 2009 in Biodiversity, Governance/Management, Physical Science, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Findlaw environmental case summaries - March 30 - April 3

Table of Contents

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CASES

• Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, Inc.
• New Jersey Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. US Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n
• Columbia Venture LLC v. S.C. Wildlife Fed.
• Center for Biological Diversity v. Marina Pt. Dev. Co.

FindLaw's case summaries are copyrighted material and are not intended for republication without prior approval. You may, however, freely redistribute this e-mail in its entirety.
To view the full-text of cases you must sign in to FindLaw.com. [Findlaw registration is free]

U.S. Supreme Court, April 01, 2009
Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, Inc., No. 07-588
In a petition for review of EPA national performance standards for cooling water intake structures, the grant of the petition is reversed, where the EPA permissibly relied on cost-benefit analysis in setting the national performance standards and in providing for cost-benefit variances from those standards. Read more...

U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, March 31, 2009
New Jersey Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. US Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, No. 07-2271
Petition for review of an Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision denying NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection request to intervene in relicensing proceedings for the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station is denied where in reviewing the application to relicense the nuclear power facility, the Commission is not required to make an environmental impact analysis of a hypothetical terrorist attack on the facility as the relicensing of Oyster Creek does not have a reasonably close causal relationship with the environmental effects that would be caused by a terrorist attack. The NRC also already addressed the environmental impact of such an attack in its Generic Environmental Impact Statement and site-specific Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Read more...

U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, April 03, 2009
Columbia Venture LLC v. S.C. Wildlife Fed., No. 05-2398
In a challenge to a FEMA decision regarding certain base flood elevation determinations, the District Court's order vacating those determinations is reversed, where Plaintiffs failed to show that they were prejudiced by FEMA's failure to timely publish notice of the decision in the Federal Register. Read more.

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, March 30, 2009
Center for Biological Diversity v. Marina Pt. Dev. Co., No. 06-56193
In an action under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA), judgment for Plaintiffs is reversed, where: 1) Plaintiffs did not give sufficiently specific notice of intent to sue under the CWA; and 2) the ESA action was moot because the species at issue had been delisted during the pendency of the appeal. Award of attorney's fees to Plaintiffs is affirmed, where the mootness of the ESA action did not affect the fee award. Read more...

Feedback
We value your comments! Please take a moment to tell us what you think by sending us an e-mail.
Subscription Information
Click here to subscribe to a FindLaw Newsletter. To unsubscribe, click here.
Advertising Information
For more information about advertising in FindLaw Newsletters, click here.

April 28, 2009 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Cases, Governance/Management, Sustainability, US, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Call for Entries - 4th International Water Film Festival

If you're traveling this summer, you might want to film something about water and submit your masterpiece to the 4th International Water Film Festival.  Entries are due July 31st.  For more info, visit  Drink Water for Life blog - water film festival.


April 17, 2009 in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Film, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 13, 2009

E.O. Wilson seeks to create networked encyclopedia of life

E.O. Wilson's TED talk pleads for a networked encyclopedia of life, because of the dimensions of the unknown regarding life on earth. E.O. Wilson is, of course, the sage advocate for biodiversity protection and the most famous voice associated with conservation ecology -- although Jane Lubchenko may have surpassed him with her rise to power.  Here's his bio.  EO Wilson bio.  Here's his talk:

April 13, 2009 in Biodiversity | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Refuge regulations limiting commercial fishing operations are not a taking

Palmyra Pacific Seafoods, L.L.C. v. U.S., No. 08-5058 (Fed. Cir. April 09, 2009) PDF

Yesterday, the Federal Circuit decided a takings case where the U.S. created a wildlife refuge around an island on which the plaintiff had acquired contractual rights to operate a base and pier for its commercial fishing operation. The refuge regulations prohibited commercial fishing within the refuge and allowed limited sports fishing to facilitate operation of a camp owned by the Nature Conservancy.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the
Court of Federal Claims' dismissal for failure to state a claim.  The Federal Circuit reasoned that the government's regulation of activities in the waters surrounding Palmyra may have adversely affected the value of plaintiff's contract rights, but did not take the contract rights themselves.  The plaintiff is left with an ability to fish beyond the 12 mile limit of the refuge.  Even if the government regulation targeted plaintiff's contract rights in order to promote the interests of another party, creation of the refuge and its regulations  still did not constitute a compensable taking as those actions regulated conduct in which plaintiff had no protected property interest.

April 10, 2009 in Biodiversity, Cases, Constitutional Law, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Spotted Owl Taking a Dive

The Justice Department has signaled that the US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to revisit the northern spotted owl recovery plan and the reduced critical habitat designation issued last year at the end of the Bush administration. The Bush administration's plan opened 23 percent of 1.6 million acres designated as critical habitat in Oregon to increased logging.

The recovery plan may be too little, too late.  Even as the Fish and Wildlife Service revisits last year's controversial plan, there is scientific concern about whether the owls can recover in light of continued loss of habitat from logging, a shrinking gene pool in some areas, increasing risk of catastrophic wildfires due to climate change, and competition from barred owls invading spotted owl habitat. 

Northern Spotted Owl
  U.S. Geological Survey.

April 10, 2009 in Biodiversity | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oil Spill along Australia's Sunshine Coast

Reuter's reported tomorrow -- the joys of the international dateline -- that Queensland premier Anna Bligh declared Moreton Island, Bribie Island and southern parts of the Sunshine Coast to be disaster zones after an oil spill from a cargo ship spread over 60 kilometers of beach.  The cargo ship carries 100 tons of oil and the spill from the ship is far larger than initial reports indicated.  The cargo ship's hull was pierced by a container swept overboard in heavy seas caused by a cyclone near the area.  The clean-up of the spill will be difficult due to the heavy seas and high tides from the cyclone and the spill is being carried into rivers in the area.  The Queensland EPA reports that the spill has already affected seabirds and turtles.

By the standards of major oil spills, the Australian spill is unremarkable.  The Exxon Valdez spill involved nearly 11 million gallons or 5500 tons of crude oil.  But, like the Exxon Valdez, this spill occurred in an ecologically sensitive area and an area dependent in part on a large tourist industry.  When we weigh the small probabilities of large spills associated with various activities, such as offshore oil drilling, with the possible benefits of that activity, we need to carefully examine how close any spill might be to ecologically sensitive areas and areas dependent on tourism.  The lesson of the Exxon Valdez is that even the most expensive cleanups cannot fully recover many of the living resources that are destroyed by oil spills close to shore.

For those of you who were not alive or may have forgotten, the Exxon Valdez spill was one of the most destructive oil spills in history.  Here's an account of that spill that I recently wrote:

EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker owned by Exxon Corporation, went aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska.  The oil tanker had just departed the Valdez terminal with over 53 million gallons of crude oil, transported from Prudhoe Bay Oilfields through the Alaskan pipeline bound for Exxon’s West Coast refineries.  The vessel spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, and the oil eventually covered 11,000 square miles of ocean and 1300 miles of shoreline.  The oil spill immediately killed between 250,000 to 500,000 seabirds, more than 1,000 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 orca whales, and billions of herring and salmon eggs. 

Today, twenty years after the spill, 26,000 gallons of oil remain contaminating roughly six kilometers of shoreline.  Of the thirty-one natural resources identified by the Natural Resources Trustee as affected by the spill, ten have recovered during the last 20 years, fourteen are still recovering, two have made no progress toward recovery (herring and pigeon guillemot), and five lack sufficient data to determine the extent of recovery. 

The Exxon Valdez oil spill is still considered the most environmentally damaging oil spill to date, even though it is no longer in the top 50 oil spills in terms of the size of the spill.  As the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has indicated, “[t]he timing of the spill, the remote and spectacular location, the thousands of miles of rugged and wild shoreline, and the abundance of wildlife in the region combined to make it an environmental disaster well beyond the scope of other spills.”

The Accident

After a harbor pilot successfully navigated the Exxon Valdez through the Valdez Narrows, he returned control of the ship to Captain Joseph Hazelwood.  To avoid icebergs in the outbound shipping lane, Hazelwood maneuvered the ship into the inbound shipping lane.  Hazelwood then put the ship on autopilot and left a third mate in charge of the wheelhouse and an able seaman at the helm.  The crew failed to reenter the outbound shipping lane.  While Hazelwood was relaxing in his stateroom, the Exxon Valdez went aground on Bligh Reef, rupturing eight of her eleven cargo holds. 

Hazelwood, who Exxon knew was an alcohol abuser who had not completed treatment and had stopped attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, had drunk five double shots of vodka, amounting to 15 ounces of 80 proof alcohol, shortly before leaving Valdez.  In addition, neither of the crewmen Hazelwood placed in charge of the tanker had their mandatory rest period before beginning duty.  The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the accident identified five factors that contributed to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez: the third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue and an excessive workload; the captain failed to provide navigation watch, possibly due to impairment from alcohol; Exxon failed to supervise the captain and provide a rested and sufficient crew for the vessel; the U.S. Coast Guard failed to provide an effective vessel traffic system; and lack of effective pilot and escort services from the Valdez terminal through Prince William Sound.

Litigation

Five separate sets of lawsuits arose out of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. 

First, Exxon Shipping pled guilty to negligent discharge of pollutants under Clean Water Act (CWA) section 309 as well as criminal violations of the Refuse Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).  Exxon pled guilty to criminal violations of the MBTA. Exxon was fined $150 million, the largest fine ever imposed for an environmental crime. The court forgave $125 million of that fine in recognition of Exxon’s cooperation in cleaning up the spill and paying certain private claims. Of the remaining $25 million, $12 million went to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund and $13 million went to the national Victims of Crime Fund.   As criminal restitution for the injuries caused to the fish, wildlife, and lands of the spill region, Exxon agreed to pay $100 million, evenly divided between the federal and state governments.

Second, the federal and state governments sue Exxon Shipping and Exxon under CWA section 311 and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act section 107, to recover damages to natural resources for which the governments are trustees.  In settlement of those civil claims, Exxon agreed to pay $900 million with annual payments stretched over a 10-year period. The settlement also contained a $100 million reopener for funds to restore resources that suffered a substantial loss or decline as a result of the oil spill, the injuries to which could not have been known or anticipated by the trustees at the time of the settlement.  The United States demanded the full $100 million under the reopener provision in 2006.

Third, within two or three years of the accident, Exxon settled the claims of various fishermen and property owners for $ 303 million. 

Fourth, a class action involving tort claims against Exxon, Hazelwood, and others by commercial fishermen, Native Americans, and property owners resulted in a $ 5 billion jury verdict against Exxon.  That jury verdict was reduced by the 9th Circuit to $ 2.5 billion and the U.S. Supreme Court in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker vacated the 9th Circuit award, limiting punitive damages against Exxon to $ 507.5 million, the same amount of compensatory damages, in addition to the compensatory damages due to plaintiffs. 

Finally, Captain Hazelwood was prosecuted by the State of Alaska for operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and negligent discharge of oil.  Despite evidence that Hazelwood had consumed numerous alcoholic beverages before departing Valdez and still had alcohol in his blood many hours after the accident, an Alaskan jury found him not guilty of the operating under the influence charge. The jury did find him guilty of negligent discharge of oil.  Hazelwood was fined $50,000 and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service in Alaska. 

Resulting Legislation

Frequently environmental legislation is the result of a dramatic event or environmental accident.  In the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress reacted by enacting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which created a fund to finance oil spill cleanup when parties do not voluntarily clean up oil spills for which they are responsible, set up a broad liability scheme to provide a federal cause of action for cleanup and other damages arising out of oil spills, set standards for oil tankers and oil storage facilities to avoid future spills and improve spill response, and sought to improve emergency responses to oil spills through regional contingency planning. 

For more information about the environmental impacts of the spill and the clean-up that was undertaken under the auspices of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, visit the Council's website.   http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/



 

March 15, 2009 in Australia, Biodiversity, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Columbia Basin Bulletin e-book on Columbia River salmon lititation

I'm not a big fan of paying for PDFs, but here's a resource that students of the Columbia River salmon litigation should be aware of. CBB link If you're not familiar with CBB, go take a look.  You can sign up for their free weekly newsletter and you can subscribe to their archives.

Salmon and Hydro

An Account of Litigation over Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinions for Salmon and Steelhead, 1991-2009

First Edition, February 2009

A NOAA Fisheries "biological opinion" is the federal government's primary guide for recovering13 species of Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act . A "BiOp" must insure that these ESA-listed fish survive and thrive in the Columbia/Snake River Basin hydropower system . Yet, since the first salmon ESA-listings in 1991, these biological opinions have been the subject of continual litigation. It is in federal court where one sees most clearly the divisions and difficulties of Columbia Basin salmon recovery. This issue summary offers a historical account of this continual litigation since the first ESA listings and summarizes the major issues that have dominated Columbia Basin Salmon recovery since 1991.

Salmon and Hydro: An Account of Litigation over Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinions for Salmon and Steelhead, 1991-2009, a 77-page document in an easy-to-read Adobe PDF format, is available for digital download through our secure payment system. Price: $19.95

 


Salmon and Hydro book
 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

For Excerpts Click These Links:

INTRODUCTION

 

I. 1991-1995: Three ESA Listings, Four Biological Opinions, Five Court Challenges

II. 1995-1998: Reasonable And Prudent Alternatives, Spread The Risk, Long-Term Configuration, Adaptive Management; River Governance; Regional Parties Stake Their Positions; A BiOp Finally Passes Legal Muster

 

III. 1998-1999: More ESA Listings; A Supplemental Steelhead BiOp Guiding River Operations; Independent Science Advisory Board Weighs In On Smolt Transportation; Appeals Court Upholds 1995 BiOp; Supplemental BiOps On New Listings, Snake Water

IV. 1999-2004: Not Just Hydro, But All The ‘Hs’; Recovery In 48 years?; Mitigation Must Be Certain To Occur; Another BiOp Bites The Dust; A Remand; Corps Rules On Snake River Dam Removal

V. 2004-2008: A New BiOp Says No Jeopardy From Hydro Operations; A New ‘Environmental Baseline’; Redden Says No Again; Discretionary Actions vs. Non-Discretionary (Dams’ Existence); Court Runs The River; Upper Snake River Gets Own BiOp

VI. 2008-2009: A ‘Collaborative’ BiOp; New Fish Funding Agreements, New BiOp Support; Montana Finally Likes The Reservoir Plan; Earthjustice Says New Approach Inadequate; Oregon Left As Only State Opposed To BiOp; Should Independent Scientists Evaluate BiOp?; Parties To Litigation Grows; Clean Water Act Now An Issue; A New Round Of Briefings

VII. Conclusion: Rushing To Redden’s Finish Line

March 3, 2009 in Biodiversity, Cases, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Law, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)