Category: Environment


On the titanic risks of large cruise ships in polar regions

By Midge Raymond,

Thanks to The Daily Beast for publishing my piece on the risks of large cruise liners in fragile polar environments: “Cruise Ships In The Arctic Take Titanic Risks.”

My Last Continent, while purely fictional, was inspired by very real fears of a shipwreck occurring in polar waters. Yet tour companies keep pushing the limits.

Read the piece here to see what it’s all about.

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Happy World Penguin Day

By Midge Raymond,

Today is World Penguin Day!

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Not that we need an excuse to celebrate these magnificent birds … but it’s still fun to see them getting a little extra attention.

After all, they need the exposure: penguins are facing threats from multiple fronts, from climate change to overfishing. I love this post from One Green Planet, which offers five ways you can help penguins.

To discover the very latest in what’s new with Magellanic and Galapagos penguins, visit the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels. And if you follow Penguin Sentinels on Facebook, you’ll be treated to wonderful penguin videos.

And to learn about the researchers who count penguins at the bottom of the world, check out The Penguin Counters, a documentary about these dedicated researchers and the species they study in Antarctica.

And, finally … stay tuned for My Last Continent, coming on June 21 from Scribner! In this novel, you’ll meet four species of penguins: three Antarctic species, and the Magellanic penguins of Patagonia. Check out the book club kit for a little more info, and join my mailing list for news and updates on the book.

Happy World Penguin Day!

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Ann Pancake’s Eye-Opening and Poetic Environmental Novel

By Midge Raymond,

I am thrilled to see this review of Ann Pancake’s wonderful novel Strange As This Weather Has Been on Off the Shelf today.

As a writer who is passionate about the environment (and often impatient about the lack of progress when it comes to tackling climate change), I know all too well how challenging it is to write about environmental issues without sacrificing story. And Ann Pancake is one of those authors who does it brilliantly, not only by creating unforgettable characters but by evoking a sense of place so beautifully that readers will come away wanting to protect it as much as her characters do.

Check out the review here, and find the book at Counterpoint, IndieBound, Amazon, or B&N.

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Climate change warnings grow more alarming

By Midge Raymond,

It’s more mind-boggling than ever that climate change isn’t being taken more seriously, or discussed more often, especially with scientists’ warnings becoming ever more alarming. In the latest study released this week, research suggests that should the West Antarctic ice sheet melt as currently projected (and with ice melting in other parts of the world as well), sea levels could rise by as much as six feet by 2100. The long-term effects, concludes the New York Times, “would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities.”

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That may sound far away right now, but if you have small children, they could be among the millions displaced by rising oceans: Among the cities that will be disastrously affected are New York, Miami, New Orleans, London, Venice, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Sydney, Australia.

Millions of people in the U.S. alone will be affected, as this New York Times article outlines, and in fact, “most projections vastly underestimate the number of people at risk because they do not account for population growth.”

While the climate deal negotiated in Paris last year was widely celebrated, many scientists warn that this agreement would not reduce emissions enough to limit global warming and the subsequent rise in sea level.

The good news is that it’s an election year, and how we vote will determine the fate of the planet and its inhabitants. There’s also a lot we can do as individuals — from adjusting our daily routines to eating more sustainably.

A few resources to inspire you:



Can birds love?

By Midge Raymond,

I loved this article about pigeons, in which author Brandon Keim writes about an avian romance blooming in his Brooklyn neighborhood. This excellent essay reminded me of a pair of pigeons that attempted to roost and raise babies in the eaves of my own back porch a few years ago (which inspired a short story, “Nesting”). My husband and I loved watching them build their nest, and we shooed away the neighborhood cats who kept harassing them, hoping the birds would stay —yet their attempt to start a family was unsuccessful, and they left us.

It never occurred to us not to see these two pigeons as a pair in love—but then, we’re strange that way, at least according to some people. This is among the reasons I so enjoyed Keim’s essay, in which he writes, “Perhaps love is not what defines us as human but is something we happen to share with other species, including the humble pigeon.”

I’m a writer, not a scientist, so it’s not unpardonable for me to anthropomorphize in my fiction—but what’s remarkable is how many scientists are now talking and writing about animal consciousness in such books as Animal Wise, How Animals Grieve, and Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.

As both a writer and small-press publisher, I love hearing from animals in well-written fiction, too. Among our Ashland Creek Press titles is Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s Love and Ordinary Creatures; steeped in extensive research, this novel tells the haunting story of a parrot who, stuck in captivity without a mate, bonds with his human caregiver—a beautiful and heart-rending story of unrequited love.

Sometimes, as Keim’s article points out, “love’s ultimate measure is the presence of its converse, grief.” Keim offers several examples from the world of birds, and many of us have likely seen it ourselves among other animals—for example, when one of our pets loses a sibling. I felt as though I witnessed penguin love firsthand, while in Patagonia for a Magellanic penguin census, when I saw paired-up birds lying together in the sun or huddled together in their burrows.

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It’s easy to say that we humans are simply projecting, that our own capacity for love makes us believe we’re seeing this in other creatures. But even if this is true, is it such a bad thing? Keim writes, “Ubiquitous and unappreciated, typically ignored or regarded as dirty, annoying pests, pigeons mean something else to me now…Each one is a reminder that love is all around us.”

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And the more of us who can see love in the creatures around us, the better we’ll all become at protecting them and the habitats they live in.

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Penguin Awareness Day

By Midge Raymond,

January 20 is Penguin Awareness Day. Why celebrate a day of penguin awareness, you may be wondering — and how?

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There are 17 species of penguins throughout the world, and penguin awareness is important because these incredible birds face increasing threats every day, worldwide, from pollution to overfishing to climate change. Click here to learn about the most pressing threats to penguins and how you can help.

Another way to help penguins is through citizen science — visit Penguin Watch, and you can take part in ongoing Antarctic penguin research. You can help researchers by annotating images, without ever leaving your desk (though these amazing photos will make you feel as though you’ve traveled around the world).

Check out the Penguin Sentinels organization, a collaboration between the University of Washington, Global Penguin Society, Province of Chubut, and the La Regina family of Punta Tombo, Argentina, and is dedicated to research, conservation, and education. In addition to working at the Punta Tombo colony for more than 30 years, this group also does great work in the Galápagos Islands.

Learn about another penguin program at The Penguin Counters, which follows researchers on their Antarctic penguin-counting journeys.

And, if you’re crazy about penguins, check out the book Penguins: Natural History and Conservation, which offers an in-depth look at all 17 species of penguins and the challenges they face…and help ensure they’re around for generations to come.

And, a million thanks to Scribner for this delightful image of an Adelie penguin with MY LAST CONTINENT (which is about two penguin researchers working in Antarctica).

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Hope for Antarctica’s ice sheets

By Midge Raymond,

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A new study from University of Pennsylvania researchers has found that Antarctic lake deposits have remained frozen for at least the last 14 million years — which suggests that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has also remained intact.

If the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, or  EAIS, didn’t experience significant melting during the Pliocene (a period from 3 to 5 million years ago, when carbon dioxide concentrations were similar to what they are today), this offers new hope that perhaps the continent won’t melt away, as many fear it eventually could.

Current climate change projections indicate that the marine portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is “a goner,” [Jane] Willenbring said. Studies from the past few years suggest that sea level will likely rise a few meters as that ice melts. But the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is 20 times more massive. If it melted, the ensuing sea level rise would be even more catastrophic than the western peninsula’s dissolution.

However, while this study offers hope that a massive collapse of the ice sheet, and the subsequent sea level rise, may not be imminent, the differences between the Pliocene and the rapid warming of today’s climate are great enough that it’s impossible to draw any definitive conclusions. As Willenbring says,”we’ve probably never experienced such a fast transition to warm temperatures as we’re seeing right now.”



Adélie penguins are “iconic symbol of climate change”

By Midge Raymond,

This video, with gorgeous images of Adélie penguins and their chicks on the Antarctic peninsula, is one of the best calls to action I’ve seen for a planet in peril due to climate change.

 

 

Excerpted from James McClintock’s Lost Antarctica and narrated by Harrison Ford (member of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation (EOWBF) Board of Advisors), this brief video shows how the amazing Adélie penguin is being threatened by real-time environmental changes.

 

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Over the last six decades, scientists have observed an average increase of 2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade in the Antarctic peninsula. These warming temperatures lead to increasing humidity, which leads to unseasonable snow. This video shows Adélies trying to keep their eggs incubated despite being buried in snow.

What sort of a world will future generations of Antarctic scientists find when they come to this remarkable place? When they gaze over this landscape, will they be reminded how this place, this peninsula, these ecosystems, served as a wake-up call…?

Climate change isn’t an abstract, faraway notion. It’s happening before our eyes, chick by chick.

Learn more, and help, by visiting such organizations as Oceanites and the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels, which look at our changing planet through the animals that are showing us the effects of climate change.

 

 



The truth about Antarctica’s ice

By Midge Raymond,

A recent NASA study has been making headlines because it has revealed that Antarctica is gaining ice rather than losing it (which contradicts other studies, including one by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). And yet…

“We’re essentially in agreement with other studies that show an increase in ice discharge in the Antarctic Peninsula and the Thwaites and Pine Island region of West Antarctica,” said Jay Zwally, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study, which was published on Oct. 30 in the Journal of Glaciology.

And, while the study shows ice gain in East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica, it may not make much of a difference in the end. Zwally notes, “If the losses of the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antarctica continue to increase at the same rate … I don’t think there will be enough snowfall increase to offset these losses.”

In addition, while NASA concludes that Antarctica isn’t currently causing a rise in the oceans, this means that there’s another contributor out there.

“The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away,” Zwally said. “But this is also bad news. If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea level rise that is not accounted for.”

And while it’s heartening to know that Antarctica is colder and snowier than previously believed, this doesn’t mean we can ignore climate change. This New York Times article portrays the results of a study with a stark headline: Study Predicts Antarctica Ice Melt if All Fossil Fuels Are Burned. As one of the study’s researcher notes, “To be blunt: If we burn it all, we melt it all.”

In other words, the scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research concluded, if we continue to burn the earth’s fossil fuels, all of its land ice will melt — not only Antarctica — and the total rise in sea level could be more than 200 feet. The New York Times spells out what this new world would look like:

A sea level rise of 200 feet would put almost all of Florida, much of Louisiana and Texas, the entire East Coast of the United States, large parts of Britain, much of the European Plain, and huge parts of coastal Asia under water. The cities lost would include Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Washington, New York, Amsterdam, Stockholm, London, Paris, Berlin, Venice, Buenos Aires, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney, Rome and Tokyo.

This piece in National Geographic sums up NASA’s study with a Q&A that shows global warming isn’t something we can ignore. As University of Alaska, Fairbanks glaciology professor Erin Pettit tells National Geographic, “adding a little snow to Antarctica in no way offsets the complete disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet in the near future.”

In other words, despite some potentially good news about our southern continent, the problem of global warming is here to stay, and we must take better care of this planet. The very good news is that we can all make a difference — with our habits, our diets, our votes, and our wallets.

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Saving Antarctica’s krill

By Midge Raymond,

This New York Times story about the threat to Antarctica’s krill is quite alarming. Laboratory research is showing that krill eggs can’t survive increases in carbon dioxide, a condition that mimics the acidification of the ocean due to global warming. Dr. So Kawaguchi has been studying krill for 25 years, and as the Times notes, his “recent research has led to dire predictions about how global carbon emissions will significantly reduce the hatch rates of Antarctic krill over the next 100 years.”

In fact, Kawaguchi told the Times: “If we continue with business as usual, and we don’t act on reducing carbon emissions, in that case, there could be a 20 to 70 percent reduction in Antarctic krill by 2100…By 2300, the Southern Ocean might not be suitable for krill reproduction.”

Krill are already being vacuumed from the sea by commercial fishing trawlers and used to feed farmed fish as well as for oil supplements for humans. And these activities take food from the mouths of those who need krill the most: whales and penguins, sea birds and squid.

For the fifth year in a row, the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is discussing the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Antarctic. At 1.25 million square kilometers, it would be the biggest MPA in the world.

Meanwhile, we can all do our part — by avoiding farmed seafood that depletes the Antarctic krill (and if you need further inspiration to give up farmed fish, this post on the conditions in which farmed fish are raised should do it), and also by choosing plant-based supplements, which helps protect all creatures, which in turn helps protect us. As Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson is known for saying, “If the oceans die, we die.” And he is right.



Book publishing in Antarctica

By Midge Raymond,

Of all that Antarctica is known for, who knew it was once a publishing hub? (Well, sort of.)

I’ve been reading about the Aurora Australis — the first book ever written, printed, illustrated, and bound in Antarctica — soon to be offered at auction by Sotheby’s and expected to bring in £70,000.

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Photo from The Guardian.

 

Aurora Australis was produced during Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition of 1908–09, at Cape Royds on Ross Island in the McMurdo Sound. It was one of many activities Shackleton encouraged of his team so that “the spectre known as ‘polar ennui’ never made its appearance.”

What’s interesting is that by the time this book was created, publishing was not a new thing in the polar regions. Already explorers were publishing articles and newspapers detailing their expeditions — from Edward Parry’s 1819 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage to the South Polar Times, published during Robert Scott’s Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions. And now, of course, you can go online to read the news of what’s happening in Antarctica — for example, The Antarctic Sun, published by the U.S. Antarctic Program; and blog posts from the British Antarctic Survey.

Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition was sponsored by a printing firm, and Shackleton received training and traveled south with a printing press and paper. (Click here to learn more about the challenges of printing in the extreme temperatures of the Antarctic.)

Aurora Australis, which will be auctioned in London on September 30, is 120 pages long and contains poems, stories, essays, and illustrations by ten members of the expedition. Horse harnesses were recycled to create the leather spines, and the covers of the copy up for auction were made from a tea chest. Only eighty copies of the book were printed.



Pirates v. pirates on lawless oceans

By Midge Raymond,

It’s been great to see stories about illegal fishing on the front pages of two major newspapers over the past week. Overfishing is one of the biggest dangers facing our oceans … and yet, often there is little that can be done, as this front-page Los Angeles Times story points out. This is why the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s work is so vital; as the organization puts it: “It takes a pirate to catch a pirate.”

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The LA Times story focuses on the Kunlun, “a decrepit fishing vessel, its huge white hull streaked with filth and rust,” which was suspected of holding $5 million worth of illicit Patagonian toothfish, better known by its more user-friendly name “Chilean sea bass,” a fish whose stocks have been dangerously depleted due to overfishing and is now considered a threatened species. After the market for Chilean sea bass boomed in the 1990s, by the year 2000 twice as much of the fish was being caught illegally.

This article, as well as yesterday’s New York Times cover story, feature the Sea Shepherd’s efforts to end illegal fishing (as well as whaling and other atrocities against marine life) in international waters where poachers are rampant. The NYT piece focuses on the Sea Shepherd’s 110-day pursuit of the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, via the Bob Barker.

As the Times points out:

Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished. Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder (the equivalent of adding it to a Most Wanted List, a status reserved for only four other ships in the world), but no government had been willing to dedicate the personnel and millions of dollars needed to go after it.

So Sea Shepherd did instead, stalking the fugitive 202-foot steel-sided ship from a desolate patch of ocean at the bottom of the Earth, deep in Antarctic waters, to any ports it neared, where its crews could alert the authorities.

It’s wonderful to see the Sea Shepherds getting such positive press for the important work they do. “Maritime lawyers question whether the group has legal authority for its actions — ranging from cutting nets and blocking fishermen to ramming whaling vessels — but Sea Shepherd claims its tactics are necessary. So do some Interpol officials.” In waters where no Coast Guard exists and where poachers will change a ship’s name and port registry up to a half-dozen times, as Australian senator Peter Whish-Wilson told the Times, “Sea Shepherd is doing what no one else will.”

Learn more about the Sea Shepherds and how they help protect the oceans … and, even better, help solve the problem at its roots by not eating fish (this article makes a good case for avoiding fish; these 99 reasons not to eat fish include endangered species as well as important health concerns; and this infographic shows the environmental and ethical impacts of the seafood industry).

 

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