Friday, February 05, 2010

When Pelicans Come Begging

I'm getting bloody tired of climate change denialists, particuarly those shit for brains Tar Sanders. It's here, it's happening and, with the mountains of science that just keep growing, it's effectively proven. Sure there have been a couple of glitches and gaffes along the way but that's like pointing to two suspect trees in a forest. You've got two trees, the rest of us have the entire forest so, for the denialists, it's "put up or shut up" time. You've got an entire multi-trillion dollar fossil fuel industry backing you up so start producing some convincing research to disprove the global warming theory. When the best you can do is claim this is a hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy of middle-class science geeks, then it's time you shut the hell up.

Want to see the ravages of climate change? Come out to Beautiful British Columbia. Take a leisurely drive through our expansive mountain valleys and marvel at the endless stands of forests with their rust-coloured foliage. Aren't they supposed to be green? Well, only if they're living. Once they've been killed off by the pine beetle they turn that rust colour. What's that got to do with climate change? Everything. Cold winters - the sort we used to have, always - kill off the pine beetle infestations, allowing the trees to live and, well, be green. We don't get those winters much any more and so the pine beetles spread and multiply and kill the forests. The only good part about this is that they've now crossed the mountains into Alberta, the last place on the planet where the inhabitants have any right to bitch about climate change.

Earlier this week we heard about Canada's wolverine and how their numbers are plummeting, again the suspected culprit being global warming. But this isn't about wolverine or pine forests or massive stocks of salmon that simply vanish without a trace or invasive species migrating into our coastal waters. This is about the jolly pelican (jolly, that is, unless you have to walk the same dock they use as their latrine).

The Pacific brown pelican is a magnificent bird. They're something to see when they fly in perfect formation, skimming the ocean surface in search of food. I've watched them plunge, headfirst, like giant hailstones into a placid boat harbour, feasting on a school of small fish. They've co-existed with humans on a live and let live basis. They don't seem to mind us at all when we're at a moderate distance.

Something is going on with the brown pelican. A lot of them have stopped migrating and even those that still do are showing signs of starvation. From the Los Angeles Times:

All along the Oregon coast over the last month, hundreds of brown pelicans have turned up dead, starving or begging for food.As many as 3,000 of the gangly seabirds failed to make their annual fall migration to California, many instead winding up at Oregon's rehabilitation centers.

Those that did head south, leaving the Pacific Northwest winter behind, were battered by California's recent storms. Shelters in San Pedro and the San Francisco Bay Area are also full of emaciated pelicans.

Researchers, at a loss to explain the casualties, are looking at unusual ocean currents and the depletion of fish stocks -- as well as warmer temperatures, toxic runoff and algae blooms -- as possible causes.Meanwhile, pelicans are sitting listlessly on beaches and scavenging outside restaurants and canneries.

...This is the second straight year that a large number of pelicans have remained in Oregon rather than trek to the warmer, quieter waters of California and Baja. From 1918 to 2002, the Audubon Society tallied fewer than 100 pelicans in Oregon every winter. Then the number shot up to 554 birds. In 2008, 3,647 stayed.

Three to four thousand pelicans doesn't sound like all that many but nature tends to give us huge numbers of small birds and only small numbers of really big birds.

I'm starting to think the Pacific coast ecosystem has become North America's miners' canary. Change seems to be overtaking the speed at which flora and fauna can evolve to adapt. Of course that's the real danger of global warming isn't it - not so much change itself but the speed at which change is occurring. We can't outrun it and there's your problem. With the exception of some very nasty things like viruses and noxious weeds, we haven't evolved the ability to evolve quickly or at least not quickly enough to stay a safe distance ahead of ourselves.


Anonymous said...

Cue the trolls....the Libs only care about stupid Pelicans....the Libs still believe in science LOL!.....etc.

LMA said...

Hi MofS, interesting post as always. I wonder if the pelicans are not migrating because of low fat reserves due to shortage of fish? It is a sad fact that so many species are going to be endangered as the climate continues to warm. Humans seem most interested in saving the planet for themselves, to hell with other creatures.

I was very disheartened to hear that Brazil has given final environmental approval to the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon rainforest, the third largest hydroelectric dam in the world. So, the forests of B.C. will burn and be eaten by pine beetles, and the forests of the Amazon will be flooded. One way or another, we will get our precious energy.

One small bit of good news is that China is moving ahead with plans to become the world's leader in electric cars, as well as wind and solar. Maybe the end of the age of oil is closer than we think. Too bad, Ignatieff and Harper haven't figured that out yet.

P.S. Welcome back.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi LMA. I suspect you could be right about the fish stock declines impacting the pelican. I know we've had a lot of anchovy migration into our own waters. Salmon stocks in California and Oregon have fallen so much that they've shut down their entire fisheries two years running.

I haven't followed developments in Brazil but this dam sounds like it coule be trouble.

And,yes,China is moving headlong into research, development and production of alternative energy systems. They're already #1 in wind turbine production and they intend to take the solar market as well.

When our government was looking for stimulus spending projects it could have poured money into developing a major alternative energy industry in Canada but I guess that might not be in keeping with their fantasies of our country as a petro-superpower.

Once the Chinese get a grip on the market we can pretty much write off any hopes for a domestic industry. I wish I could blame that all on Harper but, unfortunately, the other two have done no better.

LMA said...

The Belo Monte Dam project sounds like an environmental nightmare, and the approval of the environmental licence is causing outrage among environmentalists as well as indigenous people who have been fighting the dam for over 20 years.

At, an engineer involved in the analysis of the project describes it as:

"an extremely complex project which would depend on the construction of not only one dam, but rather a series of large dams and dykes that would interrupt the flow of water courses over an enormous area, requiring the excavation of earth and rocks on the scale of that required for the digging of the Panama Canal".

Brazil's environmental agency stalled the licence for over 3 months, adding 40 amendments to the project, but finally caved in to political pressure, and construction is expected to begin by the end of this year.

What is the good of renewable energy projects without rigorous, independent environmental assessments? It's enough to make one weep.

Oemissions said...

very saddening info
makes me wonder if the new no cell phone use while driving is effective
i ask this because it shows that money talks or stops talks and that homo sapiens have to wait for punitive decrees before making their own appropriate choices

The Mound of Sound said...

Tell you what, OEM. If fines prove ineffective, legislatures should change the penalties to fines plus points on an increasing scale. Repeat offenders would and should risk losing their licenses.

As a motorcyclist I feel very strongly on this. WE regularly have run-ins with distracted motorists blathering on cellphones doing insane and deadly things like left turns directly in front of us or changing into our lane, forcing us out. That's not people making 'appropriate choices'. There are plenty of graves and rehab hospitals full of cellphone victims.

This isn't about individual liberty, it's about saving lives! Believe me I have forced SUVs to stop and I have been tempted some times to pull the driver out and beat them senseless. That's how I tend to feel when someone tries to kill me for the sake of nothing more than idle chitchat.

Oemissions said...

MOS: I don't even have a cell phone and I am exasperated by having to hear conversations everywhere, especially on the bus. I am tempted to give my opinion to the chatter and frequently do.
Once a guy a was loudly and belligerently chewing out a customer service person for a bank charge, and I had to inform him, that she doesn't deserve his rudeness.
The bus driver actually agreed!
Ofcourse everyone else on the bus were slightly astonished.
I mentioned the cell phone fines in relation to climate change and denial.
People change their light bulbs but that is about as far as it goes in terms of everyday consciousness and action.
People are getting away with murder and causing planetary suffering because we let them and it is frustrating that it will take legislation and fines to get their consciousness and conscience to kick in.
Hey, I get around on my ebike, I know about drivers.
Getting about on my bike and using public transit is my way of attempting to walk the talk.

The Mound of Sound said...

You make several good points, OEM. In today's work world there sometimes isn't enough room to take in all the changes underway in our world. There are plenty of highly educated people who don't think of environmental matters except very infrequently. They're too busy with their careers, raising their families, etc., to get their heads up to look around. That's life I suppose. It may also be their undoing before long.

Nobody I know is perfect. The important thing is to keep trying. I try to drive/ride when necessary which means organizing my errands to do them all in one trip.

I'm in the process of replacing my windows with more modern technology. Not only are they much better insulated but they also enable the house to be really well ventilated during the summer, eliminating the need for air conditioning or even fans.

Soon I'll be getting estimates for a high-efficiency, wood fireplace/stove. The new, hi-tech models come with catalytic converters that scavenge and burn exhaust gases and really cut down on emissions and particulates. They use bi-metallic dampers that curb the initial burn when most wood is consumed and wasted and they've developed what I'm told is an effective, forced air central heating option suitable for small bungalows like mine.

Where I live it's all rocks and Christmas trees. The land isn't good enough for much else so there's always plenty of deadfall at hand for fuel. That keeps you within the surface carbon cycle instead of adding fossil fuel carbon to the atmosphere.

Switching from a natural gas fire to wood also suits me esthetically. It also helps to live in one of the mildest climates in the country. This year is shaping up to be snow free.

I realize that my location permits me to live in ways that simply wouldn't work in other parts of Canada. Many people from harsher provinces retire here specifically because of the mild summers and mild winters.

Oemissions said...

Meanwhile, from his office at Simon Fraser University, the economist Mark Jaccard, a member of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize–winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, consults to NGOs and governments the world over, basically arguing that we don’t have time to effect change through smart hydro meters and ten-cent plastic bags, that rigorously enforced legislation is the only way to go.

This is why I made the correlation with the cell phone fines. People will stop using them because of the fine, not because it affects their driving and believe it.

The Mound of Sound said...

We have to hope Jaccard is flat out wrong. If he isn't, our prospects of getting "rigorously enforced legislation" from today's political gridlock are very remote.

It would take a dynamic, charismatic and credible leader to persuade Canadians to accept the legislative approach Jaccard advocates because of the necessary impacts that will have to be accepted. I don't see that sort of leadership on the horizon and, without it, I certainly don't see the collective will to bear the sacrifices and pain.

Between Canadian indifference and America's charlatan Congress, effective action is pretty much ruled out. What I've come to grasp is that doesn't relieve me of my obligation to do what I can in any case so I'm going to make at least some of the major lifestyle changes called for.

LMA said...

Right on, MofS. I find that doing what I can, however small the sacrifice may be, lifts my spirits considerably. Right now, I live in the city so I am able to get by without driving, although I surely miss the convenience of a car. We used to heat the whole downstairs of our old farmhouse on the north shore of Lake Erie, with a woodstove, not even an efficiency model, and just closed off rooms we didn't use in the winter. One hint, softwoods and conifers are great for snapping, roaring fires, but if you need steady heat overnight, you may have to season some hardwood logs for next winter.

The maddening thing about climate change is that despite money incentives and environmental regulations, we are still progressing so slowly. With respect to Brazil, for example, the government is very enthusiastic about accepting money under REDD to pay cattle ranchers for replanting cleared forest, but on the other hand is approving fragmentation and damming of water courses needed to sustain the existing forest. Go figure. Sort of like the Cons designating a new boreal national park twice the size of PEI, and at the same time forging ahead with expansion of the Tar Sands and boreal forest destruction in an area the size of Florida. One step forward and two steps back?

limo hire said...

Interesting post..and your explanation of British Columbia is too much interesting..

Istvan said...

I was looking for an answer why pelicans are begging for food when I found your blog, where I got plenty of info and explanations. Thank you.

Here is my photo if you want to see it:

Thanks and keep up with the good writing!