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Not Enough Fish in the Sea

George Monbiot, The Guardian
We need omega-3 oils for our brains to function properly. But where will they come from?

The more it is tested, the more compelling the hypothesis becomes. Dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and other neurological problems seem to be associated with a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, especially in the womb(1,2,3,4). The evidence of a link with depression, chronic fatigue syndrome and dementia is less clear, but still suggestive(5,6,7). None of these conditions are caused exclusively by a lack of these chemicals, or can be entirely remedied by their application, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that some of our most persistent modern diseases are, at least in part, diseases of deficiency…

This shouldn’t surprise us. During the Palaeolithic, human beings ate roughly the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids as omega-6s(10). Today we eat 17 times as much omega-6 as omega-3. Omega-6s are found in vegetable oils, while most of the omega-3s we eat come from fish…

There is only one problem: there are not enough fish. In March an article in the British Medical Journal observed that “we are faced with a paradox. Health recommendations advise increased consumption of oily fish and fish oils within limits, on the grounds that intake is generally low. However … we probably do not have a sustainable supply of long chain omega 3 fats.”(14) Our brain food is disappearing.

If you want to know why, read Charles Clover’s beautifully-written book The End of the Line(15). Clover travelled all over the world, showing how the grotesque mismanagement of fish stocks has spread like an infectious disease. Governments help their fishermen to wipe out local shoals, then pay them to build bigger and more powerful boats so they can go further afield. When they have cleaned up their own continental shelves, they are paid by taxpayers to destroy other people’s stocks. The European Union, for example, has bought our pampered fishermen the right to steal protein from the malnourished people of Senegal and Angola. West African stocks are now going the same way as North Sea cod and Mediterranean tuna.
(20 June 2006)
According to Wikipedia, omega-3 can also be obtained from “vegetable sources such as the seeds of chia, perilla, flax (linseed), walnuts, purslane, lingonberry, seabuckthorn, and hemp.” Of these only flax and walnut products might be readily purchased. Common Purslane is a widespread (and tasty) garden weed. -AF

Europe’s hunger for coal

Mark Landler, The New York Times / IHT
In the shadow of two hulking boilers, which spew 10 million tons of carbon dioxide a year into the air, the Swedish owners of this coal-fired power station recently broke ground on what is to be the world’s first coal-fired plant that produces no carbon dioxide emissions. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, presided over the ceremony.

“We accept the problem of climate change,” said Reinhardt Hassa, a senior executive at Vattenfall, which operates the plant. “If we want a future for coal, we have to adopt new technologies. It is not enough just to make incremental improvements.”

But the new plant here, which will be just a demonstration model, pales next to the eight coal-fired power stations Germany plans to build for commercial use between now and 2011 – none of which will be free of carbon dioxide emissions.

“That is really a disappointing track record,” said Stephan Singer, the director of climate and energy policy at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Brussels. “Just replacing old coal plants with new coal plants won’t enable Germany to meet stricter carbon emission targets.”

Europe likes to think of itself as a place that has moved beyond its sooty industrial past, where its energy comes from the windmills that dot the Dutch countryside and the Danish coastline, or the carbon-free nuclear plants that dominate France’s power industry.

But with oil prices soaring and worries rising about the reliability of gas piped from Russia, Europe must depend heavily on that great industrial- age relic, coal – a cheap, plentiful fuel, but one that emits twice the carbon dioxide of natural gas.
(19 June 2006)

The Dirty Secret Of China’s Economy

Business Week
The 2008 Beijing Olympics is being billed as one of those glorious defining moments in history that will signal China’s arrival as an economic power. But what if the global media pack and the millions of tourists who descend on China two years from now take away a less-than-flattering impression of the Middle Kingdom?

Yes, China is a remarkable growth story. But it is also fast becoming an ecological wasteland, home to world-class smog, acid rain, polluted rivers and lakes, and deforestation. Environmental problems play a role in the death of some 300,000 Chinese people each year, according to World Bank estimates.

China’s torrid growth statisticsthe mainland clocked 10%-plus growth in the first quarteralso mask the huge economic costs of this evolving environmental crisis. On June 5, China’s State Environmental Protection Administration [SEPA] issued a report that the mainland’s pollution scourge costs the country roughly $200 billion a year, or some 10% in gross domestic product, from lost work productivity, health problems, and government outlays. That is a staggering admission…

Pan Yue, vice-minister of SEPA, predicted last summer at an environmental conference in Beijing that “the pollution load of China will quadruple by 2020” if nothing is done. Some 20% of the population lives in “severely polluted” areas, according to SEPA estimates, and 70% of the country’s rivers and lakes are in grim shape, figures the World Bank.

Changing all this will require a tremendous amount of political focus by Beijing. It will need to crack down on environmental renegades inside Chinese industry, encourage a move from high-sulfur coal as the mainland’s primary energy source, and push to secure the most environmentally friendly technologies from abroad
(20 June 2006)

Investors Seek Climate Change Information

New York Times
Investors worried about the possible financial fallout from greenhouse gas emissions have asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to require that companies disclose their financial vulnerability to changes in climate.

Yesterday, a group of 27 investors who collectively manage more than $1 trillion in assets sent a letter to the S.E.C. chairman, Christopher Cox, asking that financial risks linked to climate change issues be included as part of routine corporate financial reports.

The letter, whose signers included several state officials, including the New York Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, defines risk broadly.

“Investors have a right to know if a company’s buildings are in the path of hurricanes that might be exacerbated by climate change, or if it will face high costs when greenhouse gas emissions are regulated,” said James Coburn, a policy adviser at Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups that sent the letter. “They need that information to reduce their portfolio risk.”
(15 June 2006)

Lovelock’s Folly – A Book Review by Albert Bates

Albert Bates for The Permaculture Activist via Transition Culture
[ Rob Hopkins writes: Albert Bates, still the presenter of the single most inspiring talk I ever attended (Findhorn 1995, GEN conference, for any speech nerds out there…), has written an excellent review of James Lovelock’s ‘Revenge of Gaia’. Having a background in permaculture, ecovillages and also in many years campaigning against nuclear power, he is in a unique position to deconstruct Lovelock’s thinking. His review is respectful where necessary, and shows a deep understanding of the subject matter. It is by far the best review of it I have so far read. ]

James Lovelock turns 87 in 2006 and wants to take another turn around the book signing circuit before he bids adieu. After that he can leave his Devonshire cottage and go into the West as Middle Earth passes out of the age of elves and men.

Picture Lovelock, clad in sandwich board, standing on Hyde Park corner declaring that the end is nigh. Forecasting the future is not something many scientists attempt, and setting a firm date for say, a mass die-off of the human population, is hardly even scientific, but Lovelock does, and that date is 2056 to 2081 (in order to be witnessed by our children or grandchildren). The Revenge of Gaia is both a tour de force and a sad collection of the rantings of a crazy old man.

Too many variables stand between here and 2056 to make me comfortable with that prediction—the waning of 11, 80, and 200 year solar cycles, the slowing of the Atlantic conveyor, Peak Oil, and a plethora of permaculturists making soil and planting trees, to name a few.

At its low points, Lovelock‘s stridency in postulating arguments—on the side of fission, fusion and synthetic food, against organic farming, environmentalists, solar and wind energy—to his real and imagined critics, reveals a lack of deeply seated confidence in his own positions. By contrast, when he is in his element, he is a stolid font of higher wisdom and a gifted educator.
(21 June 2006)

Gore on Charle Rose show.

Charlie Rose, PBS via Google Video
Long interview (56 minutes), recommended by reader SW who says “better than his movie!” Starts with clips from the recently released “An Inconvenient Truth.” I haven’t been able to find an online transcript. -BA
(20 June 2006)

Jim Hansen in NY Review of Books

David Roberts, Gristmill
In the latest issue of the The New York Review of Books (not yet online here), legendary climate scientist Jim Hansen leaves behind the cozy confines of technical scientific writing and launches into the world of book review prose. He does remarkably well.

The books at issue are Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers, Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes From a Catastrophe, and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but Hansen mostly uses the books as a pretext to lay out the basic state of conventional wisdom on the climate issue, namely: Things are bad and getting worse, species are set to die out and sea levels are set to rise, we can either continue on with business as usual or set a new course, and we really should set a new course, because within 10 years we’ll pass a point of no return. Regular Grist readers will find it all quite familiar, but Hansen does a nice job of presenting the information in a compact, dispassionate, and frightening form.

Perhaps more juicy, from a purely tabloidy perspective, are some nuggets about Gore and Hansen’s relationship toward the end of the piece. To wit:

The reader might assume that I have long been close to Gore, since I testified before his Senate committee in 1989 and participated in scientific “roundtable” discussions in his Senate office. In fact, Gore was displeased when I declined to provide him with images of increasing drought generated by a computer model of climate change. (I didn’t trust the model’s estimates of precipitation.) After Clinton and Gore were elected, I declined a suggestion from the White House to write a rebuttal to a New York Times Op-Ed article that played down global warming and criticized the Vice President. I did not hear from Gore for more than a decade, until January of this year, when he asked me to critically assess his slide show. When we met, he said that he “wanted to apologize,” but, without letting him explain what he was apologizing for, I said, “your insight was better than mine.”

An Inconvenient Truth is about Gore himself as well as global warming. It shows the man that I met in the 1980s at scientific roundtable discussions, passionate and knowledgeable, true to the message he has delivered for years. It makes one wonder whether the American public has not been deceived by the distorted images of him that have been presented by the press and television. Perhaps the country came close to having the leadership it needed to deal with a grave threat to the planet, but did not realize it

(20 June 2006) That’s “The Threat to the Planet” by Jim Hansen in the NY Review of Books.