Tuesday, October 28, 2008

J, K, L

I spent almost a work-week on the water this summer in an inflatable boat fighting seasickness and trying to keep track of the number and actions of the local whale-watching boats pursuing the local pods of orcas.
Paula got me involved with a group called Straitwatch (www.straitwatch.org) which watches whale watchers (and, for some reason, whenever I try to describe what they do, Elvis Costello's “Watching The Detectives” plays in my head). Straitwatch doesn't watch whales, instead they try and educate the public on the legal requirements around whale watching, and they track the activities of the whale watching businesses on the west coast, making sure that everyone is playing by the (same) rules. The rules are pretty simple; no closer than 400 metres front and back to the pod, no closer than 100 metres at the sides. If you're getting close, slow your engines. If you're caught within the minimum distance, cut your engines until the whales move away.
Now I read a report in The West Australian that apparently there are seven orcas missing from the local waters.
Seven gone this year, and that after reports of emaciation in J, K, and L pod's whales.One was the 98 (estimated)-year-old matriarch K-7, another L-101,the six-year-old brother of Luna (the (in)famous Nootka Sound whale). What makes it even worse is that L-67 (mother of L-101 and Luna), and another breeding-age female are both also missing and presumed dead. This makes the third year of a downhill trend for the population of local orca, after topping out at 90 whales in 2005.
To quote from the article; "[p]ollution and a decline in prey are believed to be the whales’ biggest threats, although stress from whale-watching tour boats and underwater sonar tests by the navy also have been concerns." I can speak to the stress from the industry; the busiest day I saw on the water this summer, there were over 40 boats around the whales. There were over 50 boats on the busiest day in August.
It makes economic sense. That day in August there were over forty boats surrounding the whales; ranging from our Zodiac with three people in it, up to large boats carrying fifty plus people that had come over from Vancouver. Which seems crazy to me, but once you multiply fifty people by $75/head, well, $3,750 a trip buys a lot of gas and a pretty extravagant boat. Heck, even ten people in a Zodiac isn't bad—especially if you can do it three times a day.
So there is a strong economic factor in whale watching. But, watching the whales for a moment during a break in data collection, all I could think was here is a group of mammals doing what they've always done—at a minimum, since the ice last receded,—and here we are driving boats over them for the last twenty five or thirty years. To read that K-7 was almost a hundred years old,well, the change from hunted to harassed had occurred in her lifetime. How tired of people had she become? Hell, I'm half her age and I'm tired enough of people that I stay in the house for weeks on end. Bears at least kill the occasional tourist to keep us on our toes, but the local orcas didn't even nibble on the idiot who put on his wetsuit and went swimming amongst them this August. And that is the Disneyfication of the natural world; a disrespect so deep that I can only hope that the swimmer tries it again among the transient whale population. They eat animals that look like seals....

Powered by ScribeFire.

When It All Falls Apart

...put the pieces to use. Like sound-collagist Kumquat, who has created the fascinating "Redheaded Sasquatch For Jesus" (it's an MP3--not the most inventive I've ever heard, but certainly worth a listen).

Powered by ScribeFire.

Another Approach

Welcome to Carrotmob, another approach to focusing on climate change. I came across this from someone posting it on the CJSR listserv (which I still subscribe to just to keep in touch with what's happening at the station). Carrotmob uses the idea that sometimes it's better to use the carrot than the stick. You can check out what happens in the video below:

Carrotmob Makes It Rain from carrotmob on Vimeo.

This is an excellent idea; community, fun, and doing something you'd be doing anyway (spending some $$). It is not the solution, but it is certainly one of a constellation of solutions.And we need a constellation of solutions if we're to have any hope of saving ourselves.
We've been trained (mostly, I suspect, by the narrative needs of movies and television) to focus on the "one big solution" to our problems. If we only did whatever, that would save us all. But real world demands are diferent and much more complex. I can't change the oilsands, but I can change what I do. I can't change Stephen Harper's mind, but I can make a much bigger impact in the municipal elections we're about to go through in Greater Victoria. But we need everyone to make whatever difference they can to slow our greenhouse gas emissions. A carrotmob is one of those citizen-led things we can do to make a difference.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sarah's New Name

In a recent post, PZ Meyers offhandedly renamed Sarah Palin: the "wackaloon from Wasilla." Works for me!
PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He runs the science blog, Pharyngula. And if you're not reading it occasionally, you're really missing out.
Oh, and in related news, the Anchorage daily newspaper has now backed Obama for prez--not the McCain/Palin ticket. What're you gonna do, eh?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Susie Bright

Love her. Really. Honest, intelligent, opinionated, Susie takes the "k" out of Amerika. If you're not a regular reader of her blog (or her books, or listening to her podcasts, or just generally following her in whatever medium she's exploring) you're missing a lot of interesting stuff.
And now Susie is sponsoring a Hallowe'en contest; "Susie's Screamin' Sarah Palin Costume Contest"! Read it, have a chuckle, and get your costume ready! All Hallow's Eve is almost here!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Twelve Kinds Of Stupid

From the Telegraph

Never Been That Big On Horses

And there are reasons why. Here's one from the Telegraph website:

Philippe Priasso

Philippe Priasso is a Dancer performing at the London Dance Umbrella Festival. This year he brought the heat with Transports Exceptionnels, Dominique Boivin’s new pas de deux (or possibly pas de trois) for a dancer with a Komatsu excavator, danced to recorded arias sung by Maria Callas.

This image is borrowed from the Kathimerini website

The Guardian website has a nice excerpt from the performance. But it is clear that this is not just Philippe Priasso and an excavator, but the excavator, the operator (William Defresne), and the dancer. Priasso treats the excavator as a full partner in motion. Dance Insider says of the performance that "[h]owever absurd this balletic meeting between man and machine might sound, the duet choreographed by Dominique Boivin for his Compagnie Beau Geste was a moving and enlightening event." This balletic beauty is obvious even from the short excerpt at the Guardian. Priasso is dangled from the bucket, nudged, lifted, chases and is chased, and forms a strange, moving relationship in space with his odd dinosauric partner.
There is an extended version of the same performance shot by an amateur videographer available on YouTube (embedded below) that captures a little of the grace of the dance, but suffers from its compression to the YouTube format.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Paper fun

Found this lovely animation over at Archive.org.

Yes, It's Getting Hotter

Funny, this comes not from CBC, but from the Western Australian newspaper website:
Autumn temperatures in the Arctic are at record levels, the Arctic
Ocean is getting warmer and less salty as sea ice melts, and reindeer
herds appear to be declining, researchers have claimed.
(...)autumn air temperatures in the Arctic are at a record five degrees Celsius above normal.
(...)The study also noted a warming trend on Arctic land and an increase in
greenness as shrubs move north into areas that were formerly permafrost.
Other findings from the report included that the Arctic Ocean continued to warm and freshen due to ice melt. This was accompanied by an “unprecedented” rate of sea level rise of nearly 0.1 inch (0.254 centimetre) per year.
The report also found that warming had continued around Greenland in 2007 resulting in a record amount of ice melt.

The Greenland ice sheet lost 101 cubic kilometres of ice, making it the largest single contributor to global sea level rise.

Would you have thought...

...that a farm needs to become carbon neutral? If you look at the energy footprint of a modern farm, it's clear that they are significant carbon emitters. From the massive infusion of hydrocarbons in fertilizers, to the major methane release from sewage lagoons, modern farms are anything but non-polluting or carbon neutral. The BBC is reporting on an Italian farm that is striving for full carbon neutrality--from painting buildings a sun-reflecting white, to electric farm vehicles. They are also generating heat for olive oil production through on-farm wood chips (yes, that's carbon neutral. The carbon taken up by the trees is re-released into the atmosphere, it's the solar energy of the wood that is stored and then released).
The farm is in the Umbria region, and is called Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio.

View Larger Map

There is one bit in the article that bugs me.
"One of the key investments is in a unique solar powered battery re-charging centre.
Built by the Austrian company Cellstrom, the centre is a shed-sized
box with 24 solar panels on it that houses a revolutionary liquid-based
The battery can, for the first time, store solar energy.
Until now, electricity generated by the sun has generally had to be used immediately. It is one reason why opponents say solar power is limited."

Uhm, I have a solar battery charger for the car that I got from Canadian Tire. The car battery stores power from the solar cell quite effectively. Now, the car battery is liquid-based as well--lead plates and sulphuric acid. So clearly the Beeb''s reporter, Duncan Kennedy, was unclear on what he'd been told about what was unique in the battery system at the farm, and it is quite appalling that his editor didn't catch him up on it.
But the farm sounds very impressive (looks it too--check out the link to their web page above). This move to carbon neutrality is also impressive--Italy is so far ahead of us in food consciousness in a globalised world. Although Vancouver Island is getting better (particularly with the rise in public awareness of the 100 Mile Diet , the terrific produce coming out of the Cowichan Valley, and locally-based writers like Don Genova).