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Search for the Cause of Global Warming

We’ve been trying and trying to see if there really is compelling evidence that humans are the cause of global warming, and we can’t. With most contrarian positions we’ve published, whether they regarded DDT, GMO’s, Chemicals, Recycling, Nuclear Power, The Hydrogen Hoax, Transportation, or Suburban Sprawl, it’s been pretty easy to allow differing points of view to be expressed – and remain a passionate environmentalist. But are global warming theories, like these other issues, really still open to debate?

In our search for answers we’ve encountered countless informed individuals who didn’t have the slightest understanding of the science, and the scientists we’ve questioned have quickly either given up trying to explain, saying the issues were too complex for a lay person to understand, or they abandoned their initial position and acknowleged that we aren’t really sure whether or not global warming is a product of human industrial activity. This is too bad. Scientists who want us to believe in global warming should do more than paint apocalyptic scenarios for press releases – they should explain, chapter and verse, why they have reached the conclusions they have reached.

Many of the arguments for and against Global Warming theories are covered in our article on that topic, Global Warming, published in April 2006. But one new factor has turned up since then that deserves mention. In our attempts to determine the ratio of anthropogenic (human caused) CO2 in our atmosphere vs. natural (volcanoes, etc.) CO2, we stumbled upon an excellent article entitled “Why Does Atmospheric CO2 Rise?” authored by Jan Schloerer of the University of Ulm in Germany.

Schloerer has compiled charts, by source, that estimate the total CO2 sequestered in the earth and oceans, the total atmospheric CO2, and the yearly emission and absorption rates of CO2. Schloerer writes “Compared to natural sources, our contribution is small indeed. Yet, the seemingly small human-made or ‘anthropogenic’ input is enough to disturb the delicate balance.” This claim is one heard again and again – humans only produce about 5% of the yearly CO2 that spews into the atmosphere, so why is human CO2 that significant?

According to Schloerer and other atmospheric scientists, the isotopes of human produced CO2 differ from the isotopes of naturally produced CO2, and this slight difference in chemical composition makes the anthropogenic CO2 more difficult to be digested by the natural carbon sinks on the planet – hence, this small incremental yearly increase from human activities is causing total atmospheric CO2 to rise. This point, among others (such as why CO2 is a more potent greenhouse gas than, say, water vapor which is millions of times more prevalent in the atmosphere), is a key point that must be better understood.

In the June 26th editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT, Richard S. Lindzen, opined “There is no ‘consensus’ on Global Warming.” In his essay, he says “Nonscientists generally do not want to bother with understanding the science. Claims of consensus relieve policy types, environmental advocates and politicians of any need to do so.”

Global warming is an environmental challenge of potentially cataclysmic proportions. But that doesn’t justify pretending the theory – that global warming is caused by human-produced CO2 – is beyond debate. Responsible environmentalists hesitate to offer any challenge to the widening mandates to control CO2 emissions, lest their environmentalist credentials become questioned. Nobody who opines on the topic of global warming should fail to do their best to make their own conscientious, unbiased assessment of the science underlying their proclamations.

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Saving the Great Sea Turtles: Hawksbill Sea Turtle of Kamehame Beach, Hawaii

Their Struggle to Survive
Turtle Swimming Among Fish
A Hawkbill Turtle in its natural habitat

Editor’s Note: If you are looking for examples of how concerned people have mobilized to help a species, the worldwide efforts to save the Great Sea Turtles is a good place to start. If it weren’t for individuals getting involved on every continent, these ancient species, with lifespans that exceed humans, who travel thousands of miles through open ocean, might well be completely extinct by now.

The list of organizations helping to protect the seven species of Great Sea Turtles is partially represented at the end of this story, but there are far more than we could compile. A good place to find the names of hundreds of individuals and organizations helping the Great Sea Turtles is to access the directory at www.SeaTurtle.org.

In this personal account by EcoWorld correspondant Daniela Muhawi, the struggle of the Hawksbill Sea Turtle to nest on Kamehame beach in Hawaii is described in some detail. Probably the biggest threat to the Great Sea Turtles is the encroachment of civilization on their nesting beaches. Very few Sea Turtle hatchlings ever made it from these nests to the ocean, but nowadays with introduced predators including domestic cats, artificial lighting that make females think it’s daytime and keep them from coming ashore to lay their eggs, roads that block females from their nests, and of course poachers who remove and sell the eggs, the chances for the Sea Turtles to reproduce is slim indeed.

With the help of volunteers around the world who monitor beaches where Sea Turtles establish their nests, however, the odds swing back somewhat in favor of the species. These efforts, along with the steady adoption by fishermen of nets that provide an escape for large sea animals, have given the Great Sea Turtles hope, though they remain endangered. – Ed Ring

Flipper Prints on Shore
A mama turtle’s flipper prints leave distinctive tracks
Are the Great Sea Turtles on the path to recovery?

“It’s amazing how well you can see with the full moon,”

whispers Heidi Minga, a Marine Biology Graduate and volunteer with the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Hawksbill Turtle Project on Hawaii. “It looks kind of creepy though, as if anything could come jumping out of the water.”

The full moon casts an eerie light on the water and the black sand beach. All four volunteers watch the frothing waves, hopeful that the ever-evasive hawksbill turtle will emerge on the shore. The conversation died down a few hours ago and everyone is starting to doze off. Running on four hours of sleep for the past three nights have taken their toll. The volunteers are equipped with dimmed flashlights but they are only used on hourly beach checks. Any other lights might confuse or scare the female hawksbill turtles that are known to nest here.

Watching the soothing waves in the dark does not make the task of staying awake any easier. “Oh my GOD,” yells volunteer Megan Barker, “Something is crawling up my leg, what is it? Get it off me!!” Heidi turns towards her and shines a flashlight on her leg. “Ugh, hold still,” she says, “it’s another one of those centipedes.” The giant nine inch long centipede is making its way up to her thigh. Heidi flicks it off with the flashlight and stomps on its head. Stepping on the giant arthropod only pushes its hard body into the sand. It swiftly scuttles away into some nearby bushes unharmed. The excitement provides the team with some newfound energy that lasts till 2 a.m. Then the volunteers decide it is time to return to the cots laid out at the other end of the beach.

As if on cue, a hawksbill slowly pushes her 200 hundred pound body up the slope past the high tide line as soon as the last volunteer has left the beach. She makes a depression with her hind flippers under the morning glories that line the upper side of the beach and begins to lay her eggs. Her hind flippers curl up slightly with the effort of pushing the soft spheres out of her body and she is oblivious to her surroundings. As soon as she is finished laying her eggs, she gently pushes sand into the depression with her surprisingly dexterous flippers. After flattening the mound she crawls down the beach and disappears when a huge wave sucks her back into the water. Only a few hours later, Heidi wakes up at 6 a.m. to check the beach. She lets out a groan after sleepily stumbling upon the tracks left by the reptile that has eluded them for almost a week. “We should have stayed up longer,” Heidi says to herself.

Baby Sea Turtles in Hand
Even with some assistance making their first
trek from nest to ocean, very few of these tiny
hatchlings will live to adulthood

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project was created to ensure the turtles’ survival. Wildlife Research Supervisor, Will Seitz explains that “the project was started in the late 80′s because fishermen were reporting eggs dug up and eaten by mongooses at Kamehame and dead hatchlings were found on the rocks at Apua Point [Both beaches popular with turtles].”

Volunteers arrive in Hawaii from all over the world. Kevin Craine, an Elementary School Science Teacher, arrived in Hawaii hopeful to make a difference. “I wanted to use my summer vacation to help sustain the biodiversity of a fragile ecosystem. It was a great cause and I wanted to do something different.”

With all the threats Hawksbills and many other marine turtles have to face, their future seems bleak. Kevin explains: “One of the more appalling reasons that many turtles are facing extinction is due to poaching. Turtles are still killed for their shell, their meat, and their eggs around the world. Many are also inadvertently killed while crossing a road to nest. Hotel development has destroyed many nesting habitats as well.”

All seven species of marine turtles are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and six of the seven species of marine turtles are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on their NOAA Fisheries website provide a list of the endangered species of sea turtles:

Green turtle, Chelonia mydas, Endangered/Threatened

Hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, Endangered

Kemp’s ridley turtle, Lepidochelys kempii, Endangered

Leatherback turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, Endangered

Loggerhead turtle, Caretta caretta, Threatened

Olive ridley turtle, Lepidochelys olivacea, Endangered/Threatened

The flatback turtle, found only in the tropical waters of Northern Australia, is listed as vulnerable.

The Australian Government’s Department of the Environment and Heritage gives an excellent description of Marine Turtles:

Green Turtle
A Green Turtle swimming in the
tidewaters of Kamehame beach, Hawaii

“Marine turtles have lived in the oceans for over 100 million years. They are an integral part of the traditional culture of many coastal indigenous peoples throughout the world. Marine turtles migrate long distances between their feeding grounds and nesting sites. They have a large shell called a carapace, four strong, paddle-like flippers and like all reptiles, lungs for breathing air. The characteristic beak-like mouth is used to shear or crush food. All marine turtle species are experiencing serious threats to their survival. The main threats are pollution and changes to important turtle habitats, especially coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove forests and nesting beaches. Other threats include accidental drowning in fishing gear [when turtles are dragged in the nets for hours], over-harvesting of turtles and eggs, and predation of eggs and hatchlings by foxes, feral pigs, dogs and goannas. [Other predators such as cats and mongoose prey on nests and hatchlings in other regions of the world.]”

Fortunately, new fishing techniques that allow turtles to escape nets unharmed are currently implemented by many shrimp trawlers. These Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are a grid of bars that allow shrimp to filter through and divert larger animals like turtles and sharks to a hole out of the net. This drastically reduces the number of turtles killed as bycatch.

Many local families that once enjoyed having turtle on the menu are aware of the declining numbers and will no longer harm the animal. However, this does not mean that turtles are safe from humans. In many parts of the world, turtles are still poached illegally by those wanting to make a profit. Enforcement is lax and turtle eggs, meat, and jewelry can be found for sale in local markets. Poaching will continue as long as turtle items are bought.

Little is known about the life cycle of the marine turtle while at sea, especially when the turtles first enter the water as hatchlings. These years are also known as “the lost years” coined by Archie Carr. Adults feed in the ocean until reaching sexual maturity at thirty to fifty years; then they may migrate up to 3000 kilometers, back to their nesting sites.

Diagram of Turtle Excluder Device
Increasing use of the “turtle exclusion device”
has drastically reduced the number of turtles
inadvertantly trapped and killed by shrimp trawlers
(Source: Australian Fisheries Management Authority)

Australia’s Department of the Environment and Heritage explains the biology of Marine Turtles: “After reaching sexual maturity, marine turtles breed for several decades, although there may be intervals between breeding of two to seven years. When breeding, nesting females return to the same area, thought to be in the region of their birth. As hatchlings, they become imprinted to the earth’s magnetic field and, possibly, the smell of the waters adjacent to the nesting beach which allow them to successfully complete their migration.”

Courtship and mating take place in shallow waters near the nesting beach. Females often mate with more than one male. After mating, the males return to the feeding grounds.

Between nesting efforts, female turtles gather adjacent to the nesting beaches. They return to the same beach to lay consecutive clutches. A female green turtle usually lays six clutches of eggs at two weekly intervals. When ready to lay eggs, the female turtle crawls out of the sea to above the high water mark, usually about one hour before to about two hours after the night high tide. In preparation for nesting, the female turtle scrapes away loose sand with all four flippers to form a body pit. She then excavates a vertical pear-shaped egg chamber with the hind flippers. Often, the sand is unsuitable for nesting, especially if it is too dry, and the turtle moves on to another site. Incubation time and sex of the hatchlings depend on the temperature of the sand. Warm, dark sand produces mostly females and the eggs hatch in seven to eight weeks. Eggs laid in cool, white sand mostly result in males and the eggs take longer to hatch.

The survival rate of sea turtles is naturally small: A tiny fraction of sea turtles survive into adulthood once they enter the ocean. “I saw seven nests hatch while on the Big Island in Hawaii,” says Kevin with a smile, “with an average of about 120 hatchlings per nest, I saw about 840 tiny hawksbill hatchlings scurry into the water as fast as they could. As volunteers we were also responsible for ensuring that the turtles reached the ocean. We would have to help them in the water if there were coastal rocks hindering them from reaching the water or if predators such as crabs and mongoose where nearby. [It is important however, that the hatchlings remember the nesting beach. Babies are only helped as a last resort and are forced to crawl towards the water from the nest as they would do naturally].”

Not only does it take decades for a turtle to reach maturity and lay her eggs, but barely a fraction of the hatchlings will survive to contribute to the next generation. Hatchlings face a number of threats: Crabs, birds, rats, and other predators pick of the hatchlings as they frantically make their way to the water. The turtles that make it to that far have to find refuge from eels and the thousands of aggressive fish that would love to snack on a baby turtle. Adults must reproduce over the course of many years to ensure the population’s survival. Unfortunately, mortality rates are high, even in adults, with current trends in pollution, fishing nets and disease.

Baby Sea Turtle
Barely visible, a hatchling emerges from the
sand to find the sea. A small fraction of these
babies will return, three decades later, to the
same beach to lay eggs of their own.

Heidi Minga has a feeling that at least one of the hatchlings she helped to the water survived: “I saw hundreds of baby turtles that wouldn’t have made it without our help. Maybe one of them will survive and that’s all that matters. But I have a good feeling about one specific hatchling. After a nest’s main emergence [when most of the hatchlings dig their way out of the sand in one large group], we are supposed to monitor the nest for any stragglers for the following two nights. Well, nothing happened the first night after a main emergence at Apua beach. The second night, we were exhausted and I had fallen asleep at 2 a.m. At 4 a.m. I felt the sudden urge to get up and check the nest. When I got there, I saw a little head poking out of the sand. The sun was coming up and he would have fried up from the heat if I hadn’t helped him. Turns out he was tangled in some roots. I helped him out and then ran him to the ocean. He’s a fighter and I have a good feeling about that little guy.”

Females return to the shoreline where they first crawled into the water as hatchlings. Unfortunately, in the thirty years it takes for a turtle to mature, the sandy beach they experienced as hatchlings might have undergone dramatic changes. Hotels, lounging beach goers, off-road vehicles, and other changes to the coast make it unsuitable for nesting. Rather than find another beach, females are known to release their eggs in the ocean where they are immediately rendered unviable.

During the nesting season, volunteers patiently wait on a variety of pristine and secluded beaches hopeful that a hawksbill turtle will painstakingly crawl up the sand and lay her eggs. Ideally, the volunteers will be there to take notes, check the turtles’ tags, or tag a new turtle. Some volunteers leave the program after 3 months without seeing a single Hawksbill.

Kevin was one of the lucky few who saw his fair share of nesting females. “I saw six females nest while in the program for four months,” he explains, “we would sit out on the beach from dusk till two in the morning. We would sit there, either on the sand or on chairs provided to us by the program, and watch the surf for signs of a hawksbill mama emerging. At one of the beaches we work at, Kamehame, most of the turtles that climb up are green sea turtles and they are just there to rest. It is one of the most popular beaches and at dusk dozens of green turtles are visible when they come up for air. We were there for the hawksbills, though. We had to be patient and alert. If it happened to be dark without the benefits of the full moon, we would have to rely upon our hearing and sense of smell. The smell of a turtle that has spent her entire life in the ocean is very distinctive.” The hawksbill turtle only comes on shore to nest. This occurs during the summer months. The males generally stay in the ocean and never leave the safety of the water.

Caged Mongoose
Saving turtle hatchlings includes the
unpleasant task of capturing and destroying
non-native predators such as this Mongoose.

Volunteering for the Hawksbill Project entails some other duties that are in no way glamorous. Non-native mongoose, rats and feral cats are numerous in Hawaii and make an easy meal of baby turtles and turtle eggs. Volunteers trap these animals and euthanize them humanely. “I had to euthanize one kitten and two mongoose on my first day out in the field,” Heidi complains, “it was really hard for me but I knew it helped the ecosystem. These introduced species not only predate on turtles but other native species in Hawaii. We would see paw prints and dug up nests along the beach. I noticed that trapping made a big difference, though. We strategically set up traps at nesting sites. At first there was a mongoose or rat in every trap. Within a few weeks the traps would always wind up empty and tracks would not show up around the nests at all.”

Conservation work is a collaborative effort. Through the help of such organizations as the Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, WWF (Word Wildlife Fund), the Marine Conservation Society, their volunteers and countless other international groups, marine turtles may eventually make it off the endangered species list. Will Seitz urges those who are interested to apply to the program: “Funding is a challenge,” he says, “We are on soft money year to year. Our program is successful thanks to the dedication of volunteers. If anyone is interested in volunteering with the Hawksbill Project, email HAVO_Turtle_Project@nps.gov or call (808)985-6090 for more information and an application.”

Many organizations rely on volunteers for success. The lucky few who bear witness to the first part of the turtle’s lifecycle leave the program knowing that they have just seen one of nature’s many miracles: seeing a vulnerable egg develop into a hatchling that will start the process all over again in no less than three decades.

“Based on the odds,” Kevin says, “all hatchlings I saved might perish in the ocean before getting a chance to reproduce. On average, only one out of five-thousand babies will survive the 20-30 years to become a reproductive adult. In the end, you don’t really know if your work makes a difference&that’s the hardest part of doing conservation work. You might increase the babies’ chances of making it to the water, but in the end you don’t really know if you’ll actually make an impact. There’s no way of knowing unless you try.”

Since 1991, The Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project has tagged 67 adult female hawksbills, documented and protected over 580 nests, and assisted over 63,000 hatchlings to the ocean on the island of Hawaii.

TURTLE RECOVERY PROGRAMS (PARTIAL LIST)

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Recovery Project

Hawaii

Caribbean Conservation Corporation and Sea Turtle Survival League

Panama

Anegada Sea Turtle Recovery Project

British Virgin Islands

Hawaii Wildlife Fund

Hawaii

Dept. of Aquatic & Wildlife Resources – Turtle Program

Guam

Barbados Sea Turtle Project

Barbados

National Fish & Wildlife Foundation – Sea Turtle Conservation Projects

Dozens of projects throughout the Americas

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Evangelical Nihilism

The verdant countryside of Central America

Whatever else, at its best religion can be the savior of humankind, providing the motive, the means, and through adherence to a faith, a united mass of humanity to solve the problems of humankind. Surprisingly, in Latin America, it seems to be the Catholic Church, bolstered with the conviction of thousands of Central American martyrs, that has become the torch-bearer for environmentally enlightened religion. But just as the reformist priests gathered an irresistible momentum, civil war decimated their ranks, and into the gaps stepped fanatical right-wing evangelical missionaries from the U.S. The race is on, between the ineluctable reforming of Catholic doctrine, and the more seductive lure of the fanatics, the nihilistic evangelicals.

Central America in 6-98 was people standing crowded in the back of pickup trucks, flatbed trucks, dump trucks, racing along bumpy dirt roads or swerving through crowded intersections in cities like San Salvador. We rode in the back of the truck a lot since the alternative was three in the cab. We went to the lowlands of Guatamala, to the road junction town of Tiquasate, where there are endless fields of sugar cane, and it stays between 90 and 100 degrees sometimes all night with 100% humidity. Malaria carrying mosquitoes come out in force around 5PM and don’t go away till around 9AM. The sun seemed to be straight overhead all day.

The hillsides in El Salvador were being stripped bare, the last crucial watersheds being cut for fuel, the wells and springs were drying up. In a few cases, there were springs that restarted after trees were replanted. The equation that finds more trees equals more water which sustains more people is simple, but nihilistic evangelicals don’t care. Only their doctrine matters to them, not an evolutionary, ecumenical interpretation of religion. The equation’s converse yields stark realities: a 4% natural increase per year in the population of a country like El Salvador, where there are already over 500 people per square mile, is not sustainable.

In the highlands of Guatemala we visited nurseries in the hills above Lake Atitlan, where at lakeside the elevation was 6,000 feet, and the temperature was moderate. The steep peaks of volcanoes rose to 12,000 feet and higher all around the lake, and Mayan Indian girls sold us their jewelry and fabrics. Everywhere there were old Spanish churches and cathedrals. In Antigua, which from 1520 till 1773 was the capital city of the Viceroyalty of La Plata, the wealthy built cathedrals to receive absolution. When the earthquake in 1773 destroyed most of them, there were already around 30 massive cathedrals; all of them are now magnificent ruins.

Central America’s biggest urban centers are Guatemala City, with three million people, and San Salvador, with two million people. The civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador were brutal, both lasting over a decade and both ending only a few years ago. There are abandoned military checkpoints on all the roads, and many of the former soldiers and former rebels are employed as security guards. The banks and major office buildings all have at least a half-dozen guards, usually armed with assault shotguns, otherwise with automatic rifles. Large grocery stores and other stores invariably have two or three armed private security guards, always in uniform.

Honduras is the most undeveloped of the three countries we visited (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras). In the virgin forest that runs throughout the eastern third of the country it is believed many significant Mayan ruins await discovery. The capital, Tegucigalpa, has only 800,000 people living there, and does not experience the traffic gridlock that grips Guatemala City and San Salvador. The central square in Tegucigalpa at dusk is beautiful, with a huge equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar to one end, and a luminous Spanish cathedral on the other. In the middle of the square is an area of raised dirt where several giant native trees grow, and even in the middle of the day the sounds of the birds that sit there is by far the loudest thing you hear.

Tree plantings are well underway in these countries. The role of women is evolving. Slash and burn farming is slowly dying out. Watersheds are being protected. There are lots of reasons to be hopeful. One of the tree planting foundations that we visited early one evening in El Salvador had their offices in a studio apartment in a concrete building of 32 units stacked two stories high, eight in a row. The building was full of families with fathers and mothers and children, bikes and BBQs overflowing onto the walkways. Dinner smells and TV and fans and all the doors and windows open in the San Salvador heat.

The catholic church, massive, slow moving, and with a tradition of being subtly ecumenical, had incorporated Indian paganism, and in 1980´s Latin America, was beginning to embrace the total emancipation and equality of women. Nothing else can possibly accelerate the lowering of birth rates as fast as the emancipation of women. But the civil wars cost the lives of the boldest of the priests and nuns. Into the gap rode the American right wing evangelicals. Their well funded and seductively reactionary missionary efforts have now made evangelical adherents the fastest growing religious segment throughout Central America.

All the units in the immense apartment complex we visited in central San Salvador were single room cubicles, a door, a window, a sink and stove, a toilet and shower. A random few of the units were offices, in the one we visited they had a small round conference table, a few overturned doors on top of 2 drawer file cabinets, the walls fully occupied with shelves or maps full of pins. Still poor, but their country at peace at last, the people worked with a strange combination of resignation and joy. Only truth can unmask the fanatics. A rational and experientially derived truth that says to encourage everyone to have great big families is nihilistic.

We visited and ate lunch at a women’s coop where they manufactured solar stoves. In the eyes of a 40 year old Mayan women I saw wisdom coming not only from her ancient culture, but from the tribulations of her own time. Returning to the USA and watching U.S. television after not seeing any for nearly a month was amazing, scary, addictive, sensory-overloaded, hallucinogenic. Modern TV, after weeks without it, was an overwhelming bombardment of high opticality and captivating audio. Better than ever. But for a time the stealth was taken away from its subjugating impact, and the raw power of American media was naked to see.

Which is to say this: our mere TV preachers in America are Central America’s US donor funded pied pipers, hotter than the Beetles were at Shea. Pied pipers who tell their acolytes to write the earth’s environment off to the unstoppable and imminent apocalypse, and to concentrate instead on multiplying their numbers.

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