Archive for the ‘Marine’ Category

The water thing

Speaking of not getting along so well when water is an issue:

Lawyers for Georgia, Florida and Alabama are gearing up again for battle, now that tri-state water negotiations have collapsed and the federal government says it will decide how to dole out water rights.

At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon issue a short-term water operations plan — a move that could set off a fresh wave of legal maneuvering.

So the Federal Government is moving in. Ah: reminds me of home.

The dispute, by the by, is over things like this:

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Mazda: William McDonough called…

William McDonough is, amongst other things, author of the utterly brilliant Cradle to Cradle. Short version: when we recycle, say, a plastic bottle, we do not get another plastic bottle. In fact we downcycle materials, making less and less-robust products with each iteration. We do, slowly, waste resources. McDonough’s call is for pure recycling, or upcycling, in which that plastic bottle gives us another bottle. A car, for example, can have all of its parts recovered (including paint, rubber, plastics, etc.) and used to make the same thing again on the next car.

Introductions over. I discovered another alternative universe for myself, this evening, reading this article in Wired magazine (Techno-Cowboys of the Deep Sea: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace).

Short version: incredible. And this isn’t just because I’m a weirdo who can read entire books about the Beaufort Scale while not actually liking the ocean’s role. It’s an incredibly interesting story.

However. This piece stood out the strongest, for me:

For more than a year, the 4,703 Cougar Ace Mazdas sit in a huge parking lot in Portland, Oregon. Then, in February 2008, the cars are loaded one by one onto an 8-foot-wide conveyor belt. It lifts them 40 feet and drops them inside a Texas Shredder, a 50-foot-tall, hulking blue-and-yellow machine that sits on a 2.5-acre concrete pad. Inside the machine, 26 hammers — weighing 1,000 pounds each — smash each car into fist-sized pieces in two seconds. The chunks are then spit out the back side.

Though most of the cars appeared to be unharmed, they had spent two weeks at a 60-degree angle. Mazda can’t be sure that something isn’t wrong with them. Will the air bags function properly? Will the engines work flawlessly throughout the warranty period? Rather than risk lawsuits down the line, Mazda has decided to scrap the entire shipment.

4,703 cars, reduced to nothing but unusable pills. Not a single part of the automobiles recovered or recycled. Insane.

LFA Sonar: executive orders trump marine conservation

I’ve been at this for a while (see here, here and here). Seems President Bush always has the taking-the-ball-home-with-him approach to Democracy in his back pocket.

President Bush exempted the Navy from an environmental law so it can continue using sonar in its anti-submarine warfare training off the California coast – a practice critics say is harmful to whales and other marine mammals.

The Associated Press should bloody well know that it is not critics alone who make such a claim: by all accounts everyone accepts the damage. Some people just don’t care.

Looks as though is yet not the end of the affair (which is, of course, good):

The decision drew immediate criticism from environmentalists who had fought to stop the Navy’s sonar training.

“The president’s action is an attack on the rule of law,” said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “By exempting the Navy from basic safeguards under both federal and state law, the president is flouting the will of Congress, the decision of the California Coastal Commission and a ruling by the federal court.”

NRDC spokesman Daniel Hinerfeld said the group would be filing papers with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later Wednesday or Thursday to challenge Bush’s exemption.

This idea of an “attack on the rule of law”. In a previous post, I discussed those rules and laws. Specifically, here is a section of the law (the Marine Mammal Protection Act, among others) that Bush is attacking:

The Congress finds that —

  1. certain species and population stocks of marine mammals are, or may be, in danger of extinction or depletion as a result of man’s activities;
  2. such species and population stocks should not be permitted to diminish beyond the point at which they cease to be a significant functioning element in the ecosystem of which they are a part, and, consistent with this major objective, they should not be permitted to diminish below their optimum sustainable population.

Further measures should be immediately taken to replenish any species or population stock which has already diminished below that population. In particular, efforts should be made to protect essential habitats, including the rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance for each species of marine mammal from the adverse effect of man’s actions;

I would remind you that, as a law, this passed both houses of the legislative branch of government, plus the executive branch (of it’s day, although amendments subsequent to that have also passed). That one Executive Order from one dry-drunk dodgily-elected president can even be supposed to be able to undo such is kind of embarrassing. That’s not really big-d Democracy, you know.

Here’s a reminder of the effect:

I should think almost anyone living in a city can appreciate how many millions of miles they are from truly understanding the pain this must cause an innocent mammal (just thought I’d throw that in). It most certainly affects more than ‘just’ whales, too.

Hypoxia (environmental): oxygen depletion, a reduced concentration of dissolved oxygen in a water body leading to stress and death in aquatic organisms

From Wikipedia. From the World Resources Institute (via the Daily Green):

Like carbon, the nitrogen cycle is all out of whack. In this case, the origins are similar. Instead of burning petroleum or coal, nitrogen comes from natural gas transformed into ammonia fertilizer and used to grow crops; what doesn’t absorb into the soil runs off into streams, which flow into rivers, which flow to the ocean, where the nitrogen fuels “dead zones” – areas where nitrogen (and phosphorus) fertilizes so much algae growth that it absorbs enough oxygen to make the water inhospitable to fish and other marine life. Jellyfish are about the only thing that thrives in these conditions; corals certainly do not.

The World Resources Institute recently mapped the world’s dead zones and found a whopping 415 eutrophic zones, including 169 that are known to be hypoxic and another 169 that probably are. The researchers believe the number is much higher, since only the United States and the European Union do an adequate job of counting and reporting problem coastal areas. China and other fast-growing Asian economies are likely polluting their coasts, but the problem hasn’t been documented, the researchers say.

The map (click for the larger version):

WRI pic

According to the WRI:

More than 1,000 scientists estimated, in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, that, as a result of human activities over the past 50 years, the flux of nitrogen has doubled over natural values while the flux of phosphorus has tripled.

It appears to be part of a broader policy release, due in February. They’ve written a couple of things (in 2003) about the problem on a more localised scale. Globally, I’m looking forward to seeing their ideas about funding conservation and replacing incomes (since agriculture usually pumps the nitrogen into these areas – not for nothing am I Australian). In a world with increasing food prices, I can’t imagine pressure easing from agricultural intensity naturally.

LFA Sonar, round next

Last time I was making fun of this line:

“The safety of the whales must be weighed, and so must the safety of our warriors. And of our country.”

from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (I never did find out how the average “warrior” felt about whales needing their brains blown up to keep them safe. There’s just something emasculating about it).

Now we’re on to a hold ‘nother frequency (no, seriously):

A federal judge forbade the Navy on Thursday from using a powerful form of sonar within 12 miles of the California coast and slapped other restrictions on naval war exercises in a ruling that could have repercussions in the Pacific Northwest.

U.S. District Judge Florence Marie-Cooper said noise from the Navy’s midfrequency sonar far outstrips levels at which federal rules require ear protection for humans on the job. Whales’ hearing is extremely sensitive.

“The court is persuaded that the (protection) scheme proposed by the Navy is grossly inadequate to protect marine mammals from debilitating levels of sonar exposure,” Marie-Cooper wrote in her ruling.

The Navy offered to reduce the sonar’s intensity when whales approached within about 1,100 yards and power down further before shutting the sonar off when the creatures got within 200 yards. The judge ordered sonar shut off when marine mammals are within 2,200 yards.

By the Navy’s own estimate, it would harass or harm marine mammals, as prohibited by the Endangered Species Act, about 170,000 times, the judge said. The Navy said the series of 14 exercises would temporarily deafen whales 8,000 times and cause permanent injuries in more than 400 cases.

I like those numbers. The Endangered Species Act (1973 and, seriously, Nixon really did do a tonne of cool stuff), by the by (there is also the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), while we’re on the topic), contains passages such as

The Congress finds and declares that —

  1. various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation;
  2. other species of fish, wildlife, and plants have been so depleted in numbers that they are in danger of or threatened with extinction;
  3. these species of fish, wildlife, and plants are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people;

… the United States has pledged itself as a sovereign state in the international community to conserve to the extent practicable the various species of fish or wildlife and plants facing extinction, pursuant to —

  1. migratory bird treaties with Canada and Mexico;
  2. the Migratory and Endangered Bird Treaty with Japan;
  3. the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere;
  4. the International Convention for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries;
  5. the International Convention for the High Seas Fisheries of the North Pacific Ocean;
  6. the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; and
  7. other international agreements;

and … encouraging the States and other interested parties, through Federal financial assistance and a system of incen-tives, to develop and maintain conservation programs which meet national and international standards is a key to meeting the Nation’s international commitments and to better safe-guarding, for the benefit of all citizens, the Nation’s heritage in fish, wildlife, and plants.

… The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the treaties and conventions set forth in subsection (a) of this section.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act is as lofty in its ideals (being, after all, an Act that protects even non-endangered species):

The Congress finds that —

  1. certain species and population stocks of marine mammals are, or may be, in danger of extinction or depletion as a result of man’s activities;
  2. such species and population stocks should not be permitted to diminish beyond the point at which they cease to be a significant functioning element in the ecosystem of which they are a part, and, consistent with this major objective, they should not be permitted to diminish below their optimum sustainable population.

Further measures should be immediately taken to replenish any species or population stock which has already diminished below that population. In particular, efforts should be made to protect essential habitats, including the rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance for each species of marine mammal from the adverse effect of man’s actions;

All of this, of course, means less since the military went to war against the environment (not without help, as last year’s series by the Washington Post illuminated).

This is the other problem: speaking Environmental-Economically, there isn’t a great deal on offer, in the way of options. A recalcitrant military, and complicit/compliant legislative/executive branches do not make for workable solutions to serious negative externalities. Particularly over the last 6 years – I’m sure the likes of Inhofe and Stevens (okay, possibly just Inhofe) are honest and sincere men, but to have them in charge of things like this just wasn’t helping. These are the fortunes of democracy.

More generally, though, a government cannot construct a market to solve an environmental problem, when that problem is caused by its own military (still less these days). A government can hardly tax its own military punitively for those actions. All a government can do is regulate itself. If it won’t do that, and we don’t care enough to vote our force (and, let’s face it, we don’t – we still haven’t done a damn thing to stop random mass shootings in this country. How much less do we, as an electorate, care about marine mammals?), there aren’t really any other options. No military commander is likely to turn around and announce that they think they’ve played with their billion-dollar toys long enough for the time being, and anyway dolphins are getting hurt.

Final quote:

The service said exercises off Southern California are important because they give sailors training around undersea mountain ranges like those where they might chase subs elsewhere in the world.

“Despite the care the court took in crafting its order, we do not believe it struck the right balance between national security and environmental concerns,” said Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.

Give a person a hammer, and every problem looks like a nail. It’s the definitions of “national security” that deliberately exclude the environment that are the problem.

New Chinese Ballistic Missile Submarine Spotted

I don’t have a tag for this, but I cannot imagine that it is worth creating a new one, for the purpose.

I mentioned a couple of times the Chinese investment in US Navy-capable submarines to take back the Western Pacific, forcing each future US President to dread being made to play the role of Chamberlain.

Well, some bloody genius has found pictures of the new Jin-class submarine, bumming around on Google maps. Coordinates: 38°49’4.40″N, 121°29’39.82″E.

FAS-spotted jin-class

I’d complain that some people have all the luck, but it’s the Strategic Security Blog of the Federation of American Scientists, so. Not luck, so much.

In fact someone else mostly uncertainly spotted one a year ago.

First spotted Jin-class

It is rather easy to find, now that the map has been ‘tagged’. Partly this is purely me-being-a-boy. Partly it is how excited I get at the prospect of diplomacy when the gunboats become more evenly-matched. Another Cold War is out – our news media is utter shit, but they’re still good enough to defeat state secrets of that magnitude, Dick Cheney or no Dick cheney. My country is also involved – tied to the US via the ANZUS Treaty, just as the US is kind-of tied in turn to Taiwan via the US-Japan Security Treaty.

I say kind of: that treaty, as far as I’m aware, only includes Taiwan if Japan and the US decide it does (we join immediately if the US is engaged in any form. Our Prime Minister was the first to pledge assistance after 9/11, in fact – he was in Washington at the time). Our Foreign Minister also thoroughly embarassed himself a while back, promising that the security of Australia and China was made jointly-dependent, thanks to our enormous (around AUD25bn or so, over 25 years) Gas-and-Uranium trade, exchange deal.

I think it is actually a couple of deals, tied together to prevent people understanding the extent to which we’re selling Uranium, the magical, final natural element, to China (on the Periodic Table, Uranium is the last naturally-occurring element, meaning the ‘heaviest’. Everything higher than 92 was made by throwing protons at atomic nucleii to see what would stick).

See what I mean, about how quickly things become less easily understood? Precisely. Hence my renewed interest. China has already embarassed the US Navy with its Song-class submarines, and that could well have been by accident. They’re playing these cards very close to their chests, indeed.