Extinction Tourism

by Ray Grigg

By NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using AMSR-E data courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data (NSIDC), and sea ice extent contours courtesy of Terry Haran and Matt Savoie, NSIDC, based on Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) data. - NASA, http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NewImages/images.php3?img_id=17800 en:NASA Earth Observatory, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3123398

In 2013, the Northwest Passage was expected not to open up for travel until Mid-Centry  (Scientific American, A. Jogalekar 2013 March 6, 2013), but now in 2016 it is being done. Shown here is the rate of change from 1979 – 2007.  NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using AMSR-E data courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data (NSIDC), and sea ice extent contours courtesy of Terry Haran and Matt Savoie, NSIDC, based on Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) data. – NASA,

The Crystal Serenity, a 300-metre long luxury cruise ship on its journey from Alaska to New York via the Northwest Passage, will be the first vessel of its size and sophistication to traverse this complex and dangerous waterway. Now, unfrozen because of global warming, the iconic Northwest Passage will be able to offer a unique blending of excitement and indulgence to the adventurous 1,070 passengers and the crew of 700.

The expedition required meticulous planning. Only about 10% of Canada’s Arctic waters are adequately charted. So, two veteran ice pilots are assisting in navigating the huge ship. The Crystal Serenity is also accompanied by a British icebreaker, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, along with two helicopters to scout for threatening ice conditions.

Professor Michael Byers, a UBC expert on climate change and Arctic sovereignty, noted that the expedition could be the beginning of a new industry called “extinction tourism”. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Climate of America’s Presidential Election

by Ray Grigg

Forest fires are stressful. So are floods, droughts, storms and other forms of extreme weather. They make people feel insecure, anxious, victimized and powerless. So our psychological response to this pervasive uneasiness is to return to the comfort of a remembered past, to imagine a safe and peaceful time before the threats and nervousness destroyed our sense of peaceful normalcy. Fear and flight reactions are close beneath the surface in such behaviour. Emotion takes precedence over thought, and carefully reasoned considerations defer to basic survival instincts.

The psychology that operates in individuals also functions in countries. This is dramatically illustrated by the current race for president of the United States. Lurking beneath the surface of the country’s political, social and economic problems is a host of serious environmental threats, particularly climate change. It is not necessarily foremost in people’s concerns. But it’s nonetheless there, working at a low level of awareness, adding to people’s edginess. It inspires irrational behaviour, warps the interpretation of information, distorts the meaning of evidence, confuses cause with effect, and twists values into parodies of themselves.

Can Donald Trump make beneficial change or is he just riding off the fear of the present for a nostalgic memory of the past?

Can Donald Trump make beneficial change or is he just riding off the fear of the present for a nostalgic memory of the past?

The media, of course, is abuzz with the latest titillating news about the presumptive Republican candidate, Donald Trump, and his “Make America Great Again” campaign — the political pundits as hyperactive as Trump has been abrasive. While most of their opinions demonstrate abject silliness, a few insightful ones have been exposing the compounding malaise that is undermining America’s confidence. The causes are numerous: income inequalities that have become socially dysfunctional; taxation policies that don’t adequately fund essential public services; exploding national debt; a political system obscenely distorted by money; polarized ideological intransigence that has paralyzed government; unrestrained corporate power; foolish foreign military adventures that have opened a Pandora’s Box of seemingly unsolvable problems ranging from terrorism and civil wars to economic turmoil and humanitarian disasters. Continue reading