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Veteran Journalists Reveal that – Contrary to It’s Claims of “Openness” and “Transparency” – This Administration Is the Most Closed Ever
Long-time CNN political reporter Bob Franken (now with MSNBC) said last week:
FRANKEN: Well, let’s use the “P” word here. This is propaganda when it comes from the White House: government covering the government. It’s not what you’re supposed to do in the United States of America. But we have an administration, every president gets to the point where he dislikes the press. It’s that simple. And every administration tries to manipulate the press. But this is the most hostile to the media that has been in United States history. Not only do we have this thing where they’re…
[Interviewer]: Wait, you would go that far?
FRANKEN: I would go that far.
[Interviewer]: The most hostile in history?
FRANKEN: The most hostile because first of all, we have the situation where they are in fact shutting out the press. And by the way, when they say you can’t have every photographer in, they know full-well that there’s a thing called a pool, which is to say you have one representative from each of the media that represents all of them and shares the pictures and the sound and all that kind of thing. So that’s totally disingenuous, which is a polite word.
But the reason I say most hostile is because of the Justice Department moves that they’ve made against the press. Obviously they have a contempt for the journalistic process. Those of us who are in journalism, of course, believe that it is vital if you’re going to have informed electorate as opposed to one that’s been propagandized.
Many other veteran reporters agree. For example, the Washington Post reported recently:
With the passage of the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a vast expansion of intelligence agencies and their powers, the aggressive exploitation of intrusive digital surveillance capabilities, the excessive classification of public documents and officials’ sophisticated control of the news media’s access to the workings of government, journalists who cover national security are facing vast and unprecedented challenges in their efforts to hold the government accountable to its citizens. They find that government officials are increasingly fearful of talking to them, and they worry that their communications with sources can be monitored at any time.So what are they doing? Many reporters covering national security and government policy in Washington these days are taking precautions to keep their sources from becoming casualties in the Obama administration’s war on leaks. They and their remaining government sources often avoid telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges, arranging furtive one-on-one meetings instead. A few news organizations have even set up separate computer networks and safe rooms for journalists trained in encryption and other ways to thwart surveillance.
“I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit accountability news organization. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for government to monitor those contacts.”
“We have to think more about when we use cellphones, when we use e-mail and when we need to meet sources in person,” said Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor of the Associated Press. “We need to be more and more aware that government can track our work without talking to our reporters, without letting us know.”
These concerns, expressed by numerous journalists I interviewed, are well-founded. Relying on the 1917 Espionage Act, which was rarely invoked before President Obama took office, this administration has secretly used the phone and e-mail records of government officials and reporters to identify and prosecute government sources for national security stories.
In addition to ongoing leak investigations, six government employees and two contractors, including fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have been prosecuted since 2009 under the Espionage Act for providing information to reporters about, among other subjects, the NSA’s communications surveillance, the CIA’s aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects and, in the case of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghanistan war documents.
The Obama administration has drawn a dubious distinction between whistleblowing that reveals bureaucratic waste or fraud, and leaks to the news media about unexamined secret government policies and activities; it punishes the latter as espionage.
Every disclosure to the press of classified information now triggers a leak investigation, said Washington Post national news editor Cameron Barr. “Investigations can be done electronically. They don’t need to compel journalists to reveal sources.”
The Post’s Justice Department reporter, Sari Horwitz, said a Justice official told her that “access to e-mail, phone records and cellphones make it easier to do now.”
After the New York Times published a 2012 story by David E. Sanger about covert cyberattacks by the United States and Israel against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, federal prosecutors and the FBI questioned scores of officials throughout the government who were identified in computer analyses of phone, text and e-mail records as having contact with Sanger.
“A memo went out from the chief of staff a year ago to White House employees and the intelligence agencies that told people to freeze and retain any e-mail, and presumably phone logs, of communications with me,” Sanger said. As a result, longtime sources no longer talk to him. “They tell me: ‘David, I love you, but don’t e-mail me. Let’s don’t chat until this blows over.’ ”
Sanger, who has worked for the Times in Washington for two decades, said, “This is most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
A survey of government departments and agencies this summer by the Washington bureau of McClatchy newspapers found that they had wide latitude in defining what kinds of behavior constitute a threat. “Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material,” it reported in June. “They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for ‘high-risk persons or behaviors’ among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told me that the Insider Threat Program has already “created internal surveillance, heightened a degree of paranoia in government and made people conscious of contacts with the public, advocates and the press.”
“People think they’re looking at reporters’ records,” Post national security reporter Dana Priest told me. “I’m writing fewer things in e-mail. I’m even afraid to tell officials what I want to talk about because it’s all going into one giant computer.”
“Whenever I’m asked what is the most manipulative and secretive administration I’ve covered, I always say it’s the one in office now,” Bob Schieffer, CBS News anchor and chief Washington correspondent, told me.“Every administration learns from the previous administration. They become more secretive and put tighter clamps on information. This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”
The government has taken to protecting criminal wrongdoing by attacking whistleblowers … and any journalists who have the nerve to report on the beans spilled by the whistleblowers. (The government has also repealed long-standing laws against using propaganda against Americans on U.S. soil, and the government is manipulating social media – more proof here and here).
The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.
The government admits that journalists could be targeted with counter-terrorism laws (and here). For example, after Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, journalist Naomi Wolf, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others sued the government to enjoin the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans – the judge asked the government attorneys 5 times whether journalists like Hedges could be indefinitely detained simply for interviewing and then writing aboutbad guys. The government refused to promise that journalists like Hedges won’t be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of their lives without any right to talk to a judge
After the government’s spying on the Associated Press made it clear to everyone that the government is trying to put a chill journalism, the senior national-security correspondent for Newsweek tweeted:
Serious idea. Instead of calling it Obama’s war on whistleblowers, let’s just call it what it is: Obama’s war on journalism.
- The Pentagon recently smeared USA Today reporters because they investigated illegal Pentagon propaganda
- Reporters covering the Occupy protests were targeted for arrest
- The Bush White House worked hard to smear CIA officers, bloggers and anyone else who criticized the Iraq war
- In an effort to protect Bank of America from the threatened Wikileaks expose of the bank’s wrongdoing, Obama’s Department of Justice told Bank of America to a hire a specific hardball-playing law firm to assemble a team to take down WikiLeaks (and see this)
- Obama’s NSA is trying to figure out how to shut down the press once and for all
Washington’s Blog | Business, Investing, Economy, Politics, World News, Energy, Environment, Science, Technology Washington’s Blog
Japanese (And American) Governments Go to Extreme Lengths to Cover Up Fukushima and Other Disasters
Japan and the U.S. are doing everything they can to cover up the danger of the Fukushima crisis.
The Daily Beast notes:
The Japanese government, which already has a long history of cover-ups and opaqueness, is on its way to becoming even less open and transparent after the lower house the Diet, Japan’s parliament, passed the Designated Secrets Bill on Tuesday. With new powers to classify nearly anything as a state secret and harsh punishments for leakers that can easily be used to intimidate whistleblowers and stifle press freedom, many in Japan worry that the if the bill becomes law it will be only the first step towards even more severe erosions of freedom in the country.
Even politicians inside the ruling bloc are saying, “It can’t be denied that another purpose is to muzzle the press, shut up whistleblowers, and ensure that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima ceases to be an embarrassment before the Olympics.”
The new law would enact harsher punishment to leakers and ominously would allow journalists who obtained information by “inappropriate means” and whistleblowers to be jailed for up to ten years. The law would also allow the police to raid the offices of media organizations and seize evidence at their discretion.
The bill has even grants no longer existent agencies the power to classify secrets.
Despite the bill’s enlargement of the state’s power over information, it contains no oversight process to act as a check on ministries and government agencies designating large amounts of information as ‘secret’ for capricious or self-interested reasons.
Masako Mori, the Minister of Justice, has declared that nuclear related information will most likely be a designated secret. For the Abe administration this would be fantastic way to deal with the issue of tons of radiated water leaking from the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant since the triple meltdown in March of 2011.There seems to be no end to stopping the toxic waste leaks there but the new legislation would allow the administration to plug the information leakspermanently.
Mizuho Fukushima, former leader of the Social Democratic Party, compared the bill to the pre-World War II Peace Maintenance Preservation Laws and other Secrecy laws at the time, remarking that there was a time in police-state Japan when the weather reports could be considered “secret.”
““Once you open the door to such kind of laws, the government will have the right to designate anything as a state secret and by speaking about it or mentioning it, you can be arrested and prosecuted.” Ms. Fukushima explained, “Especially during war time, it was very difficult for defendants and lawyers to fight their court cases, because they were not told what exactly what was the state secret that they had been accused of having revealed.”
Outspoken Upper House Councilor Taro Yamamoto, who is known to be a strong supporter of investigative journalism, minces no words: “The path that Japan is taking is the recreation of a fascist state. I strongly believe that this secrecy bill represents a planned coup d’état by a group of politicians and bureaucrats,” he warned.
While his statement may seem alarmist, even a senior official of the National Police Agency agrees. “I would say this is Abe’s attempt to make sure that his own shady issues aren’t brought to light, and a misuse of legislative power.
The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association, the Civil Broadcasters Federation, and most major news organizations in Japan’s have expressed staunch opposition to the bill.
Japan is about to take a giant step back into its oppressive past. When one also considers Prime Minister Abe’s stated ambition to restart Japan’s nuclear power plants and remove Article 9 from the constitution, the article which prevents Japan from waging war, it seems like the Empire of The Sun may be moving towards darker times.
Indeed, Ex-SKF notes that :
A citizen was forcibly removed from the balcony in the Diet where he was observing the debate of the State Secrecy Protection Law in the Lower House on November 26, 2013, as he shouted his opposition to the passage of the law. His mouth was stuffed with cloth so that he couldn’t shout any more while being removed by several guards against his will.
(From Tokyo Shinbun, 11/26/2013, via this tweet)
What’s even scarier to me than the man being forcibly removed by the guards is people sitting near him. They just sit there as if nothing is happening. They are not even looking; the one in the same row even looks away.
It’s not just Fukushima … and It’s not Just Japan
It’s not just Fukushima …
Governments have been covering up nuclear meltdowns for 50 years.
There has been a cover-up by the American government ever since the Fukushima earthquake. TheAmerican (and Canadian) authorities virtually stopped monitoring airborn radiation, and are not testing fish for radiation.
The U.S. government increased allowable radiation levels so that we could be exposed to radiation. Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says that high-level friends in the State Department told him that Hillary Clinton signed a pact with her counterpart in Japan agreeing that the U.S. will continue buying seafood from Japan, despite that food not being tested for radioactive materials.
The American government controls Japanese nuclear policy. And the Japanese would never have proposed such a draconian bill without U.S. backing. Indeed, the U.S. Charge d’Affairs Kurt Tong saidof the Japanese bill:
It’s a positive step that would make Japan a “more effective alliance partner.”
Earlier this year, the acting EPA director signed a revised version of the EPA’s Protective Action Guide for radiological incidents, which radically relaxed the safety guidelines agencies follow in the wake of a nuclear-reactor meltdown or other unexpected release of radiation. EPA whistleblowers called it “a public health policy only Dr. Strangelove could embrace.”
It’s not just nuclear accidents … it’s everything.
The American government repeatedly covers up how bad things are, uses claims of national security to keep everything in the dark, and changes basic rules and definitions to allow the game to continue. Seethis, this, this and this.
When BP – through criminal negligence – blew out the Deepwater Horizon oil well, the governmenthelped cover it up (and here). As just one example, the government approved the massive use of ahighly-toxic dispersant to temporarily hide the oil.
The government covers up the disgusting and unhealthy natureof much industrially-produced food.
The government’s response to the outbreak of mad cow disease was simple: it stopped testing for mad cow, and prevented cattle ranchers and meat processors from voluntarily testing their own cows (and see this and this)
In response to new studies showing the substantial dangers of genetically modified foods, the government passed legislation more or less pushing it onto our plates.
The Centers for Disease Control – the lead agency tasked with addressing disease in America – covered up lead poisoning in children in the Washington, D.C. area.
The former head of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy says that the government whitewashed the severity of the Tennessee coal ash accident.
And after drug companies were busted for using fraudulent data for drug approval, the FDA allowed the potentially dangerous drugs to stay on the market.
Indeed, the cynical might say that the main function of government these days is to throw money at giant corporations and to cover up for them when their misdeeds are revealed.
And the American government is censoring reporters at least as much as Japan.
The Sun’s magnetic field will soon make a dramatic flip, which it does every 10 to 13 years, and scientists are keeping a close eye to see if that reverses the bizarre behaviour they’ve been seeing for the past decade.
Last week, the sun unleashed the biggest solar flare of the year, an X3.3 flare, which was followed with an only slightly less intense X1 flare from a Jupiter-sized sunspot.
X-class flares are the most powerful class of solar flares, and in late October the sun fired off four in the space of a week.
All indications suggest the sun is ramping up to the midpoint of its solar cycle — which is the peak moment at which it is expected to reverse its magnetic field.
‘We would feel happier if we saw the sun doing business as usual.’– Ken Tapping, National Research Council of Canada
The sun has been behaving particularly strangely since the last time its magnetic field flipped in 2003.
So solar physicists such as Ken Tapping at the National Research Council of Canada are watching carefully.
“As you can imagine, we’re concerned about what’s going to happen next,” said Tapping, who leads a team that monitors the sun’s magnetic activity using a radio telescope in Penticton, B.C.
“Obviously, we would feel happier if we saw the sun doing business as usual, rather than heading off into some territory where we basically are not sure we understand what’s going to happen.”
A ‘sphere’ of gas
The sun’s magnetic field is produced by the movement of hot gases as it rotates and as heat rises from the sun’s core to its surface.
Tapping says the magnetic field is what makes the sun appear like a solid sphere rather than a transparent ball of gas: “It changes the fuzzy blob into something that’s more like a block of rubber.”
The effects of this magnetic field extend far beyond the planets of the solar system to the edge of interstellar space.
The polarity of the sun’s magnetic field flips every 10 to 13 years, an average of 11 years, marking the peak and midpoint of each solar cycle. The most recent cylcle, Solar Cycle 24 started in 2008 and is now approaching its midpoint.
According to NASA, the next flip is expected by the end of the year.
Tapping says the event typically takes one to a few months, and can be observed via the strength of the magnetic field over the sun’s surface — something that the Penticton measurements help calculate.
The beginning of the flip is also marked by the appearance of sunspots at high solar latitudes that are “magnetically the other way round” compared to those at the sun’s equator, Tapping said.
Sunspots typically form close to the “poles” of the sun at the beginning of a solar cycle, and gradually move toward the equator over the course of the cycle. The cycles overlap so that sunspots from two cycles typically coexist for a period of time.
Temporary increase in solar flares
Tapping added that the flip will probably have little effect on us humans, other than temporarily increasing the chance of significant solar flares.
‘I think that will give us an indication of whether the sun will sit there smouldering or whether it’s going to come back to usual behaviour.’– Ken Tapping, National Research Council of Canada
Solar flares are eruptions of magnetic energy from the sun’s surface.
If they are directed toward Earth, they can interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, knocking out man-made satellites and power grids, affecting navigation equipment on airplanes, and interfering with other electronics and communications systems.
The potential damage to electronic infrastructure on and around Earth are one of the main reasons scientists keep such a close eye on the sun’s magnetic activity.
Around the solar cycle peak and magnetic flip of 2003, the midpoint of Solar Cycle 23, the sun blasted off 17 major eruptions over the space of three weeks, including a record-setting X28 flare.
The resulting geomagnetic storms generated blood-red auroras on Halloween and partially disabled half of NASA’s satellite fleet, permanently damaging some satellites.
The rise in powerful solar flares at the peak of a solar cycle are due to the increased complexity of the sun’s magnetic field as it prepares to flip.
Start of strange behaviour
While this year’s solar storms are far weaker than the ones in 2003, they are “a bigger surprise even as they do less damage,” NASA says, since they come at the peak of one of the weakest solar cycles in a century.
The 2003 magnetic flip marked the beginning of some unexpected behaviour. The relationship between two measurements of the sun’s magnetic activity that normally correspond — the magnetic field strength and sunspot counts — started to diverge.
The next solar cycle was supposed to start in 2008, but “things just sat,” Tapping said. “And then the next cycle was about two years late in starting.”
Since then, it has been a cycle of unusually low magnetic activity.
“When we see the flip and start to get an idea of how activity starts to build up for the next cycle,” Tapping said, “I think that will give us an indication of whether the sun will sit there smouldering or whether it’s going to come back to usual behaviour.”
He noted, however, that usual behaviour is relative term, since scientists have only been monitoring sunspots since the 1700s, and taking more comprehensive measurements of the 4.5-billion-year-old sun since the mid-20th century.
“In all probability,” Tapping added. “The sun has done this before.
Of all the threats looming over the planet today, one of the most alarming is the seemingly inexorable descent of the world’s oceans into ecological perdition. Over the last several decades, human activities have so altered the basic chemistry of the seas that they are now experiencing evolution in reverse: a return to the barren primeval waters of hundreds of millions of years ago.
A visitor to the oceans at the dawn of time would have found an underwater world that was mostly lifeless. Eventually, around 3.5 billion years ago, basic organisms began to emerge from the primordial ooze. This microbial soup of algae and bacteria needed little oxygen to survive. Worms, jellyfish, and toxic fireweed ruled the deep. In time, these simple organisms began to evolve into higher life forms, resulting in the wondrously rich diversity of fish, corals, whales, and other sea life one associates with the oceans today.
Yet that sea life is now in peril. Over the last 50 years — a mere blink in geologic time — humanity has come perilously close to reversing the almost miraculous biological abundance of the deep. Pollution, overfishing, the destruction of habitats, and climate change are emptying the oceans and enabling the lowest forms of life to regain their dominance. The oceanographer Jeremy Jackson calls it “the rise of slime”: the transformation of once complex oceanic ecosystems featuring intricate food webs with large animals into simplistic systems dominated by microbes, jellyfish, and disease. In effect, humans are eliminating the lions and tigers of the seas to make room for the cockroaches and rats.
The prospect of vanishing whales, polar bears, bluefin tuna, sea turtles, and wild coasts should be worrying enough on its own. But the disruption of entire ecosystems threatens our very survival, since it is the healthy functioning of these diverse systems that sustains life on earth. Destruction on this level will cost humans dearly in terms of food, jobs, health, and quality of life. It also violates the unspoken promise passed from one generation to the next of a better future.
Humans are eliminating the lions and tigers of the seas to make room for the cockroaches and rats.
The oceans’ problems start with pollution, the most visible forms of which are the catastrophic spills from offshore oil and gas drilling or from tanker accidents. Yet as devastating as these events can be, especially locally, their overall contribution to marine pollution pales in comparison to the much less spectacular waste that finds its way to the seas through rivers, pipes, runoff, and the air. For example, trash — plastic bags, bottles, cans, tiny plastic pellets used in manufacturing — washes into coastal waters or gets discarded by ships large and small. This debris drifts out to sea, where it forms epic gyres of floating waste, such as the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which spans hundreds of miles across the North Pacific Ocean.
The most dangerous pollutants are chemicals. The seas are being poisoned by substances that are toxic, remain in the environment for a long time, travel great distances, accumulate in marine life, and move up the food chain. Among the worst culprits are heavy metals such as mercury, which is released into the atmosphere by the burning of coal and then rains down on the oceans, rivers, and lakes; mercury can also be found in medical waste.
Hundreds of new industrial chemicals enter the market each year, most of them untested. Of special concern are those known as persistent organic pollutants, which are commonly found in streams, rivers, coastal waters, and, increasingly, the open ocean. These chemicals build up slowly in the tissues of fish and shellfish and are transferred to the larger creatures that eat them. Studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have linked exposure to persistent organic pollutants to death, disease, and abnormalities in fish and other wildlife. These pervasive chemicals can also adversely affect the development of the brain, the neurologic system, and the reproductive system in humans.
Then there are the nutrients, which increasingly show up in coastal waters after being used as chemical fertilizers on farms, often far inland. All living things require nutrients; excessive amounts, however, wreak havoc on the natural environment. Fertilizer that makes its way into the water causes the explosive growth of algae. When these algae die and sink to the sea floor, their decomposition robs the water of the oxygen needed to support complex marine life. Some algal blooms also produce toxins that can kill fish and poison humans who consume seafood.
The result has been the emergence of what marine scientists call “dead zones” — areas devoid of the ocean life people value most. The high concentration of nutrients flowing down the Mississippi River and emptying into the Gulf of Mexico has created a seasonal offshore dead zone larger than the state of New Jersey. An even larger dead zone — the world’s biggest — can be found in the Baltic Sea, which is comparable in size to California. The estuaries of China’s two greatest rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow, have similarly lost their complex marine life. Since 2004, the total number of such aquatic wastelands worldwide has more than quadrupled, from 146 to over 600 today.
TEACH A MAN TO FISH — THEN WHAT?
Another cause of the oceans’ decline is that humans are simply killing and eating too many fish. A frequently cited 2003 study in the journal Nature by the marine biologists Ransom Myers and Boris Worm found that the number of large fish — both open-ocean species, such as tuna, swordfish, and marlin, and large groundfish, such as cod, halibut, and flounder — had declined by 90 percent since 1950. The finding provoked controversy among some scientists and fishery managers. But subsequent studies have confirmed that fish populations have indeed fallen dramatically.
In fact, if one looks back further than 1950, the 90 percent figure turns out to be conservative. As historical ecologists have shown, we are far removed from the days when Christopher Columbus reported seeing large numbers of sea turtles migrating off the coast of the New World, when 15-foot sturgeon bursting with caviar leaped from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, when George Washington’s Continental army could avoid starvation by feasting on swarms of shad swimming upriver to spawn, when dense oyster beds nearly blocked the mouth of the Hudson River, and when the early-twentieth-century American adventure writer Zane Grey marveled at the enormous swordfish, tuna, wahoo, and grouper he found in the Gulf of California.
Today, the human appetite has nearly wiped those populations out. It’s no wonder that stocks of large predator fish are rapidly dwindling when one considers the fact that one bluefin tuna can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars at market in Japan. High prices — in January 2013, a 489-pound Pacific bluefin tuna sold for $1.7 million at auction in Tokyo — make it profitable to employ airplanes and helicopters to scan the ocean for the fish that remain; against such technologies, marine animals don’t stand a chance.
Nor are big fish the only ones that are threatened. In area after area, once the long-lived predatory species, such as tuna and swordfish, disappear, fishing fleets move on to smaller, plankton-eating fish, such as sardines, anchovy, and herring. The overexploitation of smaller fish deprives the larger wild fish that remain of their food; aquatic mammals and sea birds, such as ospreys and eagles, also go hungry. Marine scientists refer to this sequential process as fishing down the food chain.
The problem is not just that we eat too much seafood; it’s also how we catch it. Modern industrial fishing fleets drag lines with thousands of hooks miles behind a vessel, and industrial trawlers on the high seas drop nets thousands of feet below the sea’s surface. In the process, many untargeted species, including sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and large sea birds (such as albatross) get accidentally captured or entangled. Millions of tons of unwanted sea life is killed or injured in commercial fishing operations each year; indeed, as much as a third of what fishermen pull out of the waters was never meant to be harvested. Some of the most destructive fisheries discard 80 to 90 percent of what they bring in. In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, for every pound of shrimp caught by a trawler, over three pounds of marine life is thrown away.
As the oceans decline and the demand for their products rises, marine and freshwater aquaculture may look like a tempting solution. After all, since we raise livestock on land for food, why not farm fish at sea? Fish farming is growing faster than any other form of food production, and today, the majority of commercially sold fish in the world and half of U.S. seafood imports come from aquaculture. Done right, fish farming can be environmentally acceptable. But the impact of aquaculture varies widely depending on the species raised, methods used, and location, and several factors make healthy and sustainable production difficult. Many farmed fish rely heavily on processed wild fish for food, which eliminates the fish-conservation benefits of aquaculture. Farmed fish can also escape into rivers and oceans and endanger wild populations by transmitting diseases or parasites or by competing with native species for feeding and spawning grounds. Open-net pens also pollute, sending fish waste, pesticides, antibiotics, uneaten food, diseases, and parasites flowing directly into the surrounding waters.
DESTROYING THE EARTH’S FINAL FRONTIER
Yet another factor driving the decline of the oceans is the destruction of the habitats that have allowed spectacular marine life to thrive for millennia. Residential and commercial development have laid waste to once-wild coastal areas. In particular, humans are eliminating coastal marshes, which serve as feeding grounds and nurseries for fish and other wildlife, filter out pollutants, and fortify coasts against storms and erosion.
Hidden from view but no less worrying is the wholesale destruction of deep-ocean habitats. For fishermen seeking ever more elusive prey, the depths of the seas have become the earth’s final frontier. There, submerged mountain chains called seamounts — numbering in the tens of thousands and mostly uncharted — have proved especially desirable targets. Some rise from the sea floor to heights approaching that of Mount Rainier, in Washington State. The steep slopes, ridges, and tops of seamounts in the South Pacific and elsewhere are home to a rich variety of marine life, including large pools of undiscovered species.
Today, fishing vessels drag huge nets outfitted with steel plates and heavy rollers across the sea floor and over underwater mountains, more than a mile deep, destroying everything in their path. As industrial trawlers bulldoze their way along, the surfaces of seamounts are reduced to sand, bare rock, and rubble. Deep cold-water corals, some older than the California redwoods, are being obliterated. In the process, an unknown number of species from these unique islands of biological diversity — which might harbor new medicines or other important information — are being driven extinct before humans even get a chance to study them.
Relatively new problems present additional challenges. Invasive species, such as lionfish, zebra mussels, and Pacific jellyfish, are disrupting coastal ecosystems and in some cases have caused the collapse of entire fisheries. Noise from sonar used by military systems and other sources can have devastating effects on whales, dolphins, and other marine life. Large vessels speeding through busy shipping lanes are also killing whales. Finally, melting Arctic ice creates new environmental hazards, as wildlife habitats disappear, mining becomes easier, and shipping routes expand.
IN HOT WATER
As if all this were not enough, scientists estimate that man-made climate change will drive the planet’s temperature up by between four and seven degrees Fahrenheit over the course of this century, making the oceans hotter. Sea levels are rising, storms are getting stronger, and the life cycles of plants and animals are being upended, changing migration patterns and causing other serious disruptions.
Global warming has already devastated coral reefs, and marine scientists now foresee the collapse of entire reef systems in the next few decades. Warmer waters drive out the tiny plants that corals feed on and depend on for their vivid coloration. Deprived of food, the corals starve to death, a process known as “bleaching.” At the same time, rising ocean temperatures promote disease in corals and other marine life. Nowhere are these complex interrelationships contributing to dying seas more than in fragile coral ecosystems.
The oceans have also become more acidic as carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere dissolves in the world’s water. The buildup of acid in ocean waters reduces the availability of calcium carbonate, a key building block for the skeletons and shells of corals, plankton, shellfish, and many other marine organisms. Just as trees make wood to grow tall and reach light, many sea creatures need hard shells to grow and also to guard against predators.
On top of all these problems, the most severe impact of the damage being done to the oceans by climate change and ocean acidification may be impossible to predict. The world’s seas support processes essential to life on earth. These include complex biological and physical systems, such as the nitrogen and carbon cycles; photosynthesis, which creates half of the oxygen that humans breathe and forms the base of the ocean’s biological productivity; and ocean circulation. Much of this activity takes place in the open ocean, where the sea and the atmosphere interact. Despite flashes of terror, such as the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004, the delicate balance of nature that sustains these systems has remained remarkably stable since well before the advent of human civilization.
But these complex processes both influence and respond to the earth’s climate, and scientists see certain recent developments as red flags possibly heralding an impending catastrophe. To take one example, tropical fish are increasingly migrating to the cooler waters of the Arctic and Southern oceans. Such changes may result in extinctions of fish species, threatening a critical food source especially in developing countries in the tropics. Or consider that satellite data show that warm surface waters are mixing less with cooler, deeper waters. This reduction in vertical mixing separates near-surface marine life from the nutrients below, ultimately driving down the population of phytoplankton, which is the foundation of the ocean’s food chain. Transformations in the open ocean could dramatically affect the earth’s climate and the complex processes that support life both on land and at sea. Scientists do not yet fully understand how all these processes work, but disregarding the warning signs could result in grave consequences.
A WAY FORWARD
Governments and societies have come to expect much less from the sea. The base lines of environmental quality, good governance, and personal responsibility have plummeted. This passive acceptance of the ongoing destruction of the seas is all the more shameful given how avoidable the process is. Many solutions exist, and some are relatively simple. For example, governments could create and expand protected marine areas, adopt and enforce stronger international rules to conserve biological diversity in the open ocean, and place a moratorium on the fishing of dwindling fish species, such as Pacific bluefin tuna. But solutions will also require broader changes in how societies approach energy, agriculture, and the management of natural resources. Countries will have to make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, transition to clean energy, eliminate the worst toxic chemicals, and end the massive nutrient pollution in watersheds.
These challenges may seem daunting, especially for countries focused on basic survival. But governments, international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, scholars, and businesses have the necessary experience and capacity to find answers to the oceans’ problems. And they have succeeded in the past, through innovative local initiatives on every continent, impressive scientific advances, tough environmental regulation and enforcement, and important international measures, such as the global ban on the dumping of nuclear waste in the oceans.
So long as pollution, overfishing, and ocean acidification remain concerns only for scientists, however, little will change for the good. Diplomats and national security experts, who understand the potential for conflict in an overheated world, should realize that climate change might soon become a matter of war and peace. Business leaders should understand better than most the direct links between healthy seas and healthy economies. And government officials, who are entrusted with the public’s well-being, must surely see the importance of clean air, land, and water.
The world faces a choice. We do not have to return to an oceanic Stone Age. Whether we can summon the political will and moral courage to restore the seas to health before it is too late is an open question. The challenge and the opportunity are there.
Hundreds of federal scientists responding to a survey said they had been asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons and thousands said they had been prevented from speaking to the media.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which commissioned the survey from Environics Research “to gauge the scale and impact of ‘muzzling’ and political interference among federal scientists,” released the results Monday at a news conference.
The union sent invitations to 15,398 federal scientists in June, asking them to participate in the survey. More than 4,000 took part.
PIPSC represents 60,000 public servants across the country, including 20,000 scientists, in federal departments and agencies, including scientists involved in food and consumer product safety and environmental monitoring.
In recent years, there have been numerous complaints from scientists and the media about federal scientists being restricted from publicly talking about their research. Some complaints are being investigated by Canada’s information and privacy commissioner.
- Government scientists feel muzzled: survey (metronews.ca)
- Stop muzzling scientists, protesters tell Tories (thestar.com)
- Are scientists being muzzled? A look at the record (macleans.ca)