Media: The Absent Force

by Ray Grigg

The sobering reports coming from almost all scientists confirm that the response of the media to the unfolding climate crisis is not proportional to the seriousness of the problem. This incongruity between the scientific assessments and the media coverage creates the impression that our greenhouse gas emissions are a manageable challenge, that our corrective measures are adequate, and that we can avoid ecological catastrophe. The opposite on each point almost certainly applies.

The media is largely to blame for this misrepresentation of our predicament. Its efforts to provide balanced coverage is an admirable goal when exploring the broad dimensions of a controversial issue. But not every subject is equally controversial. On the matter of climate change, the media continually juxtaposes messages of alarm with those of reassurance, thereby inflating the importance of minority opinions and giving the impression that the political initiatives being enacted are sufficient to address the problem. But the science is conclusive. Climate change is happening, the consequences will be serious, and will not be averted by the present pledges of greenhouse gas emission reductions. Continue reading

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The Magical Sheen

Photo by CHEK News, of Victoria B.C. http://www.cheknews.ca/first-nations-deliver-salmon-farm-eviction-notice-victoria-214853/

First Nations come together to protest B.C. salmon farms for the devastating consequences to the health of the salmon and consequently their culture, contending it is “cultural genocide.” Photo by CHEK News, of Victoria B.C.

by Ray Grigg

The arrival in July of the Sea Shepherd’s RV Martin Sheen on its “Operation Virus Hunter” expedition to examine salmon farms along the east coast of Vancouver Island had an unexpected effect. The ship’s mere presence created a physical and symbolic place for First Nations to express their seething resentment about an industry that many of them have been opposing for nearly 30 years.

As the ship visited fish farms, it became a catalyst for action by the many chiefs and elders invited aboard. Their growing uneasiness inspired them to respond to the diminishing runs of salmon, herring and oolichans that represent their traditional way of life. These species constitute their life-blood. And they blame salmon farms for spreading the diseases, parasites and pollution that threaten their identity by contaminating their sacred waters.

The threat, they contend, constitutes cultural genocide, for they are literally “salmon people”, intimately bound for millennia to the natural cycles of the wild salmon’s generosity. Since the arrival of salmon farms — without consultation in their “un-ceded waters and territories,” as hereditary chief George Quocksister Jr. explains — their anxiety has been growing. Visits to the actual salmon farms confirmed their worst fears. Continue reading

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All is Not Well With Salmon Farming

by Ray Grigg

All is not well with salmon farming. The industry presents a front of confidence and optimism but behind the public relations image is a reality of threat and fear. The situation in Norway, the country from which the industry spread to Scotland, Chile and Canada’s East and West Coasts, is an indicator of the direction the industry is heading.

In Norwegian salmon farms, viral diseases are proliferating and sea lice are developing resistance to the pesticide of choice, emamectin benzoate (aka SLICE). With increasing frequency, sea lice-infected farmed salmon must now be bathed in a hydrogen peroxide solution to cleanse them of the parasite. This is also becoming the practice in Chile, Nova Scotia and BC. Once allowed for use in Canada only through the Emergency Drug Release Program as a treatment of last resort, SLICE became a routinely applied chemical in June 2009. It is now becoming ineffective.

Although escaped farmed Atlantic salmon do not seem to be a major problem in BC where they are not native, in Norway and Canada’s Maritimes their damage to the native Atlantics may be serious and irreversible. The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research recently tested 20,000 Atlantics in 147 Norwegian rivers and found that, in 109 of these rivers, up to 50% of the wild fish and up to 42.2% of their genes were altered by interbreeding, a genetic contamination that could impair the viability of the wild fish. This would be a serious threat to wild Atlantics in Canada’s Maritimes. Continue reading

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Scientists are Back

by Ray Grigg

Scientists are back. The dictatorial edict of censorship from the Harper government that prevented scientists from communicating freely with the public was lifted within hours of the new Trudeau government taking office. No one was more relieved than Kristi Miller, the head of molecular genetics at DFO’s Pacific Biological Station. Indeed, her research on salmon diseases is now considered high priority by Ottawa (CBC News, July 23/16).

This is a dramatic change from 2011 when the Prime Minister’s Office prevented her from discussing both her research published in Science magazine and the evidence she was giving to the Cohen Commission on the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run. “I was told at the time that the problem with the study was that it was talking about dying salmon, and that wasn’t a positive news story.” So, she explained, “When we were banned, it almost made government scientists second-class citizens in the scientific arena. It was quite embarrassing. I really felt like a second-class citizen.”

Miller and her science colleagues found themselves in the same second-class as wild salmon when the Harper government and DFO gave priority to farmed Atlantics. In Miller’s assessment, “There’s always been research… trying to understand disease processes in aquaculture fish, but never really taken to the level of impacts on wild fish.” Continue reading

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Taking Control

by Ray Grigg

If we think of our relationship with nature as being divided into two basic phases — adapting and then controlling — this may provide a perspective that could guide us toward some practical solutions to our present environmental problems.

For almost all of our existence as a species, we lived in an adaptive relationship with nature, in an essentially wild environment where we reacted creatively and resourcefully to the conditions provided by nature. Eventually we took a modest control of our circumstances by making rudimentary tools, constructing crude shelters and using fire. But mostly we lived by adapting to the conditions that nature presented to us.

This relationship began to change radically with the Agricultural Revolution about 10,000 years ago. We slowly replaced hunting and gathering with crops. Animal and plant husbandry helped us to avoid some of nature’s unpredictable qualities. Continue reading

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Motivated Reasoning

by Ray Grigg

Motivated reasoning is defined by Psychology Research and Reference as “a form of reasoning in which people access, construct and evaluate arguments in a biased fashion to arrive at or endorse a preferred conclusion” — motivated because “people use reasoning strategies that allow them to draw the conclusions they want to draw.”

The fascinating quality about motivated reasoning is that the thinker’s conclusions seem to be reasonable and valid. In reality, however, the psychological urge to confirm an opinion is so important that the thinking skews the reasoning toward a foregone conclusion. Motivated reasoning is an elaborate form of confirmation bias.

People who use motivated reasoning to reach invalid conclusions are actually well-intentioned and honest — they are “driven by an accuracy motivation” and are trying to be principled and ethical. But they are unaware of the thinking mechanism that is leading them to an unsupported conclusion. Thinking, in other words, is more complicated than it seems.

This explains why we need to be aware of the motivation that underlies the reasoning we do. Our emotional and attitudinal disposition can determine the conclusions we reach. So a clue to identifying the presence of motivated reasoning can be found in the degree to which we want or do not want something to be real. Continue reading

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Explaining Trump and Brexit

by Ray Grigg

Things are never quite as they seem. As political pundits and commentators try to explain the extraordinary decision of Great Britain to leave the European Union and the bizarre rise of Donald Trump as the Republican’s candidate for the US presidency, they consider only the surface issues.

The gist of their conclusions is that a growing distance between the rulers and the ruled has allowed the empty space to be filled by the unusual and eccentric. In essence, they contend, the political elite are not communicating with the common people, so strange positions and characters have an appeal that would otherwise be dismissed as irrelevant or fringe.

But this is only the surface explanation. Beneath it are far more profound and disturbing issues that are much more uncomfortable to confront and articulate — issues that politicians are reluctant to explore lest they be deemed radicals. And, perhaps, many voters may not be clearly aware that the actual source of their discontent is the system itself.

Continue reading

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Sea Shepherd’s Presence

The Sea Shepards are coming to B.C. to protect the West's key stone species: wild salmon, from the threats of salmon farming. Photo by Saberwyn CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Sea Sheperds are coming to B.C. to protect the West’s keystone species: wild salmon. Salmon farming is creating significant threats for the coho, sockeye, and chinook salmon as well as the Western North American ecosystems, both coastal and inland.. Photo by Saberwyn CC BY-SA 3.0.

by Ray Grigg

Sea Shepherd, a world-famous environmental organization, has arrived in BC waters. One of it’s ships, the RV Martin Sheen, left Vancouver on July 19th to sail northward into the plethora of salmon farms that populate the province’s coast, many on the routes of migrating wild salmon. On board is biologist Alexandra Morton who confessed the environmental group’s usual tactics were outside her comfort zone. But, unlike the radical actions used by Sea Shepherd to halt illegal whaling in southern oceans, this is essentially a scientific expedition — “Operation Virus Hunter”.

The founder of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, explained its presence here. “It is very satisfying to me to send one of our vessels to my home province of British Columbia, to address one of the most insidious threats to biodiversity on the West Coast — salmon farms. Our mission is to investigate, document and expose an industry that is spreading disease, parasites and destroying the natural habitat of our wild salmon — the coho, the sockeye and the chinook. [Their] exotic Atlantic salmon simply do not belong in these waters.” (Island Tides, July 28/16).

Sea Shepherd’s presence here is highly symbolic, an unmistakable signal that an internationally recognized environmental organization, known for functioning with a passionate dedication to principle, has declared that BC’s salmon farming industry is a major threat to the marine ecology of the region. Continue reading

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Children’s Wisdom

by Ray Grigg

The innocent clarity of children’s awareness has long been recognized as being profoundly wise. Indeed, this wisdom is venerated in many cultures, traditions and philosophies. “Unless ye… become as little children ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). The quest for enlightenment in Eastern traditions is often described as a return to the innocence of childhood. The simple elegance of children’s insights is also a common aspiration of artists.

Growing up, it seems, is a growing away from these admirable qualities — the methodical loss of something crucially important and the dimming of a special light. In 1888, the poet, William Wordsworth, wrote in his Ode on Intimations of Immortality: “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life’s star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy; Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy, But he beholds the light, and whence it flows. He sees it in his joy… . At length the man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day.”

So, what is lost by fading into this “common day” of adulthood? And what are the implications of forgetting the child’s “clouds of glory”?

This question is illuminated by Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka in an essay, “Zoos and Circuses” (Globe and Mail, May 6/16). They posit that the “hidden curriculum” of such places is “to inculcate children away from interspecies empathy and into an ideology of species superiority and entitlement.” Arguably, such a pervasive cultural attitude becomes the foundation of our environmental insensitivity. Continue reading

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Already Too Hot

Climate Spiral 1850-present. Ed Hawkins, climate scientist at the University of Reading put together climate data in a way thats changing how future climate data will be visualized. For more info go to http://www.climate-lab-book.ac.uk/2016/spiralling-global-temperatures/

Climate Spiral 1850-present. Click on image to animate. Ed Hawkins, climate scientist at the University of Reading put together climate data in a way thats changing how future climate data will be visualized. For more info go to http://www.climate-lab-book.ac.uk/2016/spiralling-global-temperatures/

by Ray Grigg

The science of climate change has now reached a level of sophistication that cannot be refuted, and the measurement of global temperature rise is now documented with stunning accuracy. The cause is known — our greenhouse gas emissions; the consequences are sobering— global ecological havoc; the solution is obvious — a shift to clean renewable energies.

A vivid reminder of the seriousness of our situation arrived on June 23, 2016, in an open letter by 20 prominent Australians. Directed to the attention of their government, the writers describe the Paris Agreement’s objective of trying to hold the global temperature increase below 1.5°C, how this temperature briefly spiked to 1.6°C early in 2016, how corals are bleaching and dying, ice sheets are melting, “methane is leaking from thawing permafrost”, and Earth “is already too hot.” The letter calls for an immediate ban on all further fossil fuel development, and a speedy “transition to zero emissions.” It asks for the declaration of “a climate emergency.”

The letter doesn’t exaggerate. The actual rate of warming has exceeded almost every worst case scenario in scientific predictions. NASA confirmed that February 2016 was 1.35°C above the global long-term average, 0.2°C above January 2016, the previous warmest month ever measured. A fascinating spiral graph illustrating temperature increases from 1850 to the present clearly shows a recent acceleration (Island Tides, June 6/16). Continue reading

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