Our Daily Planet: #ShellKnew, ESA Under Threat, and The Rock
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Friday, April 6th, 2018

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 Climate Change

Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News

Internal documents uncovered by a Dutch news organization reveal that oil giant Shell understood that fossil fuels caused global warming as far back as the 1980s. The documents revealed that the company discussed taking action on climate change but ultimately did nothing. 

From the Post's coverage: The 1988 report titled “The Greenhouse Effect” calculated that the Shell group alone was contributing 4 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions through its oil, natural gas and coal products. “By the time global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation,” the report warned.

The report warned that global warming was going to become a serious problem and that action needed to be taken. The quotes are pretty unsettling:

"With the very long time scales involved, it would be tempting for society to wait until then before doing anything," company researchers wrote in a 1988 report based on studies completed in 1986. "The potential implications for the world are, however, so large that policy options need to be considered much earlier. And the energy industry needs to consider how it should play its part."

“With fossil fuel combustion being a major source of CO2 in the atmosphere, a forward looking approach by the energy industry is clearly desirable, seeking to play its part with governments and others in the development of appropriate measures to tackle the problem”

Why This Matters: In the decades after this report came out, Shell insisted on the uncertainty of climate science and the high costs of curbing emissions despite knowing the truth. Even though oil companies knew the underlying science they still created public narratives to try and discredit scientists who were urging action. In California, the cities of  San Francisco and Oakland, plus four other cities, and several counties are suing big oil companies for damages they are suffering, and will suffer more in the future, from rising sea levels. California is not alone in these types of lawsuits. 

“These companies knew their products were causing sea-level rise, and they deceived people about it,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “Now, that bill has come due.”


Photo: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory/Flicker (check out this album if you get a chance just to see the magnitude of these blooms!)
Giant Green Algae Blobs Plague the Great Lakes 

Every summer, massive green blobs made of toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. As Mother Jones noted, "Last year’s bloom ranked among the biggest ever, blanketing 700 square miles—an area 1.5 times bigger than Los Angeles. The shoreline of Toledo, Ohio, “smelled like a sewer,” according to one reporter."

These fetid growths appear in lakes across the country and the world. They’re called “harmful algal blooms” due to the toxins they generate called microcystins, which when ingested cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headaches, fever, and liver damage. “Pets and livestock have died from drinking water contaminated with microcystins,” the US Environmental Protection Agency reports. The deadly blooms result from phosphorus fertilizer that farmers apply to their corn and soybean crops which leeches into the Great Lakes and fertilizes the algae. Aside from its toxicity, the algae blooms emit methane which is a highly potent greenhouse gas. 

Why This Matters: For the first time, Ohio has declared the entire west end of Lake Erie to be an impaired waterway, after environmentalists spent years asking Ohio EPA to make this designation. The impaired distinction means the lake doesn't meet federal or state water quality goals. For reference, the algae bloom in 2014 left more than 400,000 people around Toledo unable to drink their tap water for two days. To make matters worse, due to increased runoff and higher global temperatures, deadly algal blooms are on the rise.


Threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtle   Photo: National Wildlife Federation
Threatened Species Could Be Endangered

CNN and The Hill are reporting that the White House is considering a drastic, and likely illegal, change to the way the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of the Department of Interior implements the Endangered Species Act.  Under this law, Congress gave the FWS the authority to take "blanket" action to protect a species by taking preventative action to try to avoid the downward spiral to extinction.  Currently, approximately 300 animal and plant species, such as the northern spotted owl and manatee, are deemed "threatened" -- at risk of becoming endangered.

"The Trump administration just issued a death sentence to nearly 300 threatened species," Center for Biological Diversity Endangered Species director Noah Greenwald said.  This news comes on the heels of the announcement that the new acting assistant secretary for wildlife and parks at the Department of Interior is a veteran of Texas state government who has long championed private property rights and fought protections for endangered species.  

Why This Matters:  This proposal, if the Trump Administration follows through, would be a drastic shift in our country's 40-year approach to saving species that are in jeopardy of going extinct.  By the time a species reaches "endangered"
status it is nearly too late, and the actions needed to halt the decline are extremely difficult and costly.  Failure to provide blanket protections to "threatened" species will push many of those species to the brink of extinction.  As the recent death of the last male white rhino reminded us, extinction is forever.  

For a Chuckle:  Read The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri's column on this topic.  Petri's final zinger:  "As long as these creatures exist in the wild, fledgling mines and oil wells cannot thrive, and the rare flat-footed businessman cannot dump waste into rivers. This cannot be tolerated. We are the ones who need protection, not vice versa."  It would be funny if it were not so tragic.  


Interview of the Week: Johan Bergenas, Senior Director of Vulcan, Inc.

Johan Bergenas is a security expert with a passion for saving oceans and wildlife.  He and his team, led by founder Paul Allen, are working to end illegal fishing and wildlife trafficking using technology, policy, and storytelling.  

ODP:  You work for Paul Allen, at Vulcan, Inc. who has always been an innovator.  What kind of innovations are you working on now for conservation?
JB:  At Vulcan, we believe that technology can have a tremendous impact in overcoming societal challenges. Paul Allen’s investments in combating illegal fishing and wildlife crimes combine the use of artificial intelligence with satellite-based technologies to protect billions of dollars worth of valuable natural resources from theft, and in doing so positively impact communities in the developing world that depend upon them. That is a win for the world’s oceans, as well as for global, economic and human security.
ODP:  With so many other conservation challenges, why oceans?
JB:  Vulcan’s environmental portfolio cuts across a wide range of issues including climate, energy, wildlife and
oceans. Oceans are personally important to Paul Allen, but they are also vital to sustain life on earth. People depend on the oceans for the air we breathe, the food we eat and for trillions of dollars in commerce every year. More tools to safeguard the ocean’s precious resources are needed.  That’s why Paul Allen and Vulcan is developing Skylight, which is an illegal fishing surveillance and monitoring tool.
ODP:  How big is the problem of maritime crime?
JB: It's huge! Illegal fishing alone is a multi-billion dollar illicit industry. In the Western Indian
Ocean some estimates suggest that losses to illegal fishing is between $206–$504 million. The numbers are also staggering across West Africa, in South America and the Pacific. Law enforcement organizations are overmatched right now. They need to monitor, surveil and enforce their large maritime domains and particularly to keep illegal fishing operations out of all the new marine reserves (parks) all over the world.
ODP:  Is technology alone the answer?
JB:  Technology is part of the answer, together with advancement in policy and boosted enforcement capabilities. But technology must be well deployed to be effective. It is incumbent on all of us to try to find opportunities to deliver technologies to those with the greatest need. Efficient and affordable are key guiding principles for ocean technology and partnerships are critical.
ODP: Other than technology, what is the key to success in eradicating ocean crime?
JB:  Partnerships within and between governments. Partnerships between public and private entities. Partnerships between NGOs and technology providers. There are some good examples of partnerships pertaining to oceans. For example, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who served as NATO commander between 2009 and 2013, put together an international coalition to take on piracy off the Horn of Africa
. Ocean health and ocean security are two sides of the same coin and there is ample room for conservation and security communities to work more closely together.

Who Should We Interview Next?  If there is someone you know doing great work in conservation -- connect us to them.  We would love to give them a chance to talk about their work and connect with others in our ODP community.  


Photo: Oregon State University
Hero of the Week: Dr. Jane Lubchenco

This week we want to recognize a scientist who has also been both a global leader in ocean science and also a fantastic public servant over the course of her career.  Our hero is the National Science Board's 2018 Vannevar Bush Award recipient, marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University.  This award is given to “exceptional lifelong leaders in science and technology who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service in science, technology, and public policy.”  We can think of no more deserving candidate than Jane. 

I (Monica) had the privilege of working side by side with Jane in the Obama Administration and saw her brilliance and dedication to the public first hand.  She was the first woman Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where she restored the integrity of the agency's climate science and was instrumental in restoring our nation's fisheries.  Jane is only the sixth woman to win the Vannevar Bush Award. 

In addition, before her government service, Jane co-founded three organizations that train scientists to better communicate with citizens about their work. At a time when science is under attack, Jane has been one of its most outspoken defenders.  We hope she will continue to speak up in favor of the importance of science to our nation.

If you have a hero you would like us to recognize, send us an email!  We know there are lots of unsung conservation heroes across the country and we want to shine a light on them and their great accomplishments!  



One Cool Thing: The Rock's Rampage for Gorillas

In Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's new film Rampage he rescues his best friend, a gorilla named George whose parents were killed by poachers. In Johnson's research for the film, he got to spend time with silverback gorillas at the Atlanta Zoo and was struck by the gentleness of one of the large males named Taz. On the Ellen show this past week (watch here), he announced that he was inspired to "adopt" a gorilla in real life through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and is helping spread the word about the foundation's gorilla conservation work. 

Want to Feel Like The Rock? If you can't master the People's Eyebrow (throwback reference), you can "adopt" a gorilla and support protection of these amazing animals at the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Virunga mountains.
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