Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Are the Beliefs of Earth-Based Peoples a Valid Guide to Their Behavior?

Are the Beliefs of Earth-Based Peoples a Valid Guide to Their Behavior?

Ken Fischman, Ph.D

Jon Young with Bushmen in Botswana

Jon Young with Bushmen in Botswana

Is there any validity to the oral histories of indigenous peoples? Typically, the avatars of western culture do not put much stock in the legends, stories, and myths of indigenous peoples. Being people of technology and the written word, we especially look down on those who have no written language, regarding them as “primitive,” and therefore not worthy of being taken seriously if we bother to study them at all.

When we study another culture, we usually take only so-called hard evidence seriously. Evidence such as bones, implements, hieroglyphics, and ruins can be touched, photographed, categorized, and put in the form of graphs and tables. We even define whether a people had something called a “civilization” in such a way as to downgrade the importance of  any people unless they had monumental ruins, a written (and decipherable) language, hierarchical social orders with division of labor, and whether or not they made war.(Guess which one counted highest.)

My point here is that I do not think that we attach sufficient significance to the beliefs of Earth-based peoples. Imagine if you can, that a future historian dismissed the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as not having any bearing on the way people lived in North America during the past 200 years. I think that you would agree that such an attitude was ludicrous and showed sloppy scholarship indeed.

Yet, in a very real sense, this is what many scholars do when it comes to the beliefs and behavior of people whose traditions are oral. I believe that we should take these beliefs more seriously and give them more weight when we attempt to reconstruct events in pre-history. I came across the following story some years ago and found it a good example of this principal.

 

The Legend of Mount Mazama

 (As told by a Klamath elder to a soldier in 1865. Retold by Ella E. Clark In: Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1952.)

The story begins when the spirit of the Below-World fell in love with the chief’s daughter and demanded that she marry him. This overture was denied and the rejection did not sit well with the spirit, who threatened to destroy the people. “Raging and thundering, he rushed up through the opening and stood on top of the mountain.”

The spirit of another great mountain now intervened and the two mountains began some sort of combat. “Red hot rocks, as large as the hills hurtled through the skies. Burning ashes fell like rain. The chief of the Below-World spewed fire from his mouth. Like an ocean of flame it devoured the forests on the mountain and in the valleys. On and on the curse of the fire swept, until it reached the homes of the people. Fleeing in terror before it, the people found refuge in the waters of Klamath Lake.”

The Klamaths decided that someone should sacrifice him- or herself to appease the spirit. Two medicine men climbed the mountain and jumped into the opening [Caldera?}

“Once more the mountains shook. This time the chief of the Below-World was driven into his home and the top of the mountain fell on him. When the morning sun arose, the high mountain was gone.” Then, according to the Klamaths, rain fell. For many years rain fell in torrents and filled the great hole that was made when the mountain fell …”

Note: This legend appears to be describing the simultaneous eruptions of two volcanoes. The very language seems to be evocative of volcanic eruptions. The Klamath’s legend appears to be about Mt. Mazama in Oregon, and its twin, Mt. Shasta in northern California, as having spirits who lived in them, and openings [vents?] which led to a lower world through which the spirits passed. The Klamaths apparently knew when the mountain was active because when he [the spirit] came up from his lodge below, his tall form towered above the snow-capped peaks [smoke, steam?].

volcano erupting

 

After all, how would the Klamaths know about such things unless they had actually witnessed them? The only trouble with believing that this legend was a kind of transposition of an eyewitness account is that there have been no volcanic eruptions in the Pacific Northwest since Mt. Mazama blew its top three thousand years ago. Could the story have been passed down from generation to generation for such a long time period?

Before you dismiss such an idea as fanciful, consider the part about the rain filling the great hole made when the mountain fell. It seems to be describing Crater Lake, which was formed in exactly that fashion when Mt. Mazama collapsed.

Our culture, which depends on the written word and now also on electronic bytes, can hardly conceive of such prodigious feats of memory. However, many other cultures, which depend on oral history to keep accounts of their people’s stories, developed this capacity over millennia.

Crater Lake, Oregon

One startling example of this capacity is cited by anthropologist Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty in her delightful book, Other People’s Myths. O’Flaherty states “ India has two sorts of Sanskrit classics, typified by two great texts, the Rig Veda and the Mahabbarata.  The Rig Veda is a massive collection of hymns, a text of over 350,000 words (as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey combined); it was preserved orally for over three thousand years. The Mahabbarata is one of the two great Sanskrit epics (the other being the Ramayana), a text of over 100,000 verses, or three million words (almost ten times as long as the Rig Veda, and fifteen times the combined length of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament); it was preserved both orally and in manuscript form for over two thousand years. “

These texts were recited flawlessly in villages from one end of the Indian subcontinent, to the other without a single mistake. Doniger tells the perhaps apocryphal story that it was only when these classics were translated by an English Consul into print that mistakes began to appear.

Navaho “singers” are capable of memorizing three-day ceremonies so flawlessly that no mistake creeps in. In fact, these ceremonies are never written down, but are passed from one singer to another down the generations. Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, tells the amusing story of one such singer, Jeff King, who, in 1966, recited his ceremony and made a sand painting for a distinguished audience at the New York Museum of Natural History. When he had appeared to finish, he was confronted by one very knowledgeable woman, who insisted that he had left something out. “No” he said. “Yes” she said, and insisted that he put it in. “I cannot, he said, if I did so, every woman in Manhattan would become pregnant.” As Campbell put it, “Those Navaho ceremonies had power!”

(Jeff King Sand painting below)

In sum, I believe that western scientists and anthropologists are mistaken to dismiss the oral histories of these people. In doing so, they are losing a lot of valuable knowledge, that may have at least as much validity as Carbon 14 isotope studies.

The reason why I emphasize that oral histories should be taken more seriously is that I have trouble with people who tell me that the only reason that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples did not destroy their environments just as thoroughly as we seem to be doing, is that they lacked bulldozers and insecticides.

On my side, I find it hard to believe that people who regarded the rivers as their sisters, would have raped them by pouring toxic waste into them, or thought of their forests as brothers, would have clear-cut them. Explain to me how people who looked at wolves as older brothers and whose scouts emulated them, like the Cheyenne did, would have turned around and shot them from Cessnas if only they had they possessed such equipment.

Wildlife Services airplane displays killed wolf decals on engine cowling

 

Trophic Downgrading or Where Have All the Predators Gone?

THE TROPHIC DOWNGRADING OF PLANET EARTH

(Or, where have all the predators gone?)

  J.A. Estes, et al. (2011) The Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth (2011) Science, 15 July, 333(6040) 301-306.

Summary and Comments by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

This is a paper that is worth your diving into because the information it contains is important to the health of our planet. I will help you get through it by summarizing and commenting on it. You can either read the summary or skip directly to my comments on it at the end of this post. What is it about? It deals with the recent and rapid disappearance of top predators, such as wolves, lions, & sharks, mostly brought about by the actions of that top predator of all – mankind, and the surprisingly profound effects their loss is having on ecosystems worldwide.  It was the feature article in the July, 2011 issue of Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. Among its 23 authors are: John Terborgh, Joel Berger, Michael Soule, and William Ripple. The former three are considered to be among the founders of the field of Conservation Biology, and Ripple is our foremost researcher into the effects of top predators on the ecosystems of North America. Simply put, a trophic cascade (TC) is the effect that the absence or abundance of a top or apex predator has on succeeding levels of the rest of the ecosystem. The authors have gathered a vast array of evidence showing that these losses lead to ever-increasing and widespread effects on other living creatures, on ecosystems, and on the Earth itself. Terborgh pioneered this type of study by showing the profound effects of the presence or absence of predators on the fauna and flora of isolated islands in the Barro Colorado, a recently flooded region near the Panama Canal. Soule, in a classic paper, neatly demonstrated how the presence or absence of coyotes effected the bird and cat populations within the urban canyons of San Diego. Ripple has shown the profound influence that the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstoneand loss of mountain lions in Zion National Park  have had on the animals and plants in those areas. In this paper, these scientists turn their attention to the effects of predators on ecosystems worldwide and warn us of the present and impending dangers that our  steady & seemingly inexorable extermination of predators is having on the Earth

Summary of the Paper

 The loss of apex predators all over the world is having a pervasive influence on nature. There are cascading effects of the disappearance of predators. These “top-down forcings” (causes of variability) are having unanticipated effects, such as increase in disease, wildfires, losses in carbon sequestration, appearance of invasive species, and disruption of biogeochemical cycles. In its 4.5 billion years of existence, our planet has undergone several mass extinctions, with huge loss of biodiversity, followed by novel changes. We are now in the early to middle stages of a sixth mass extinction. Man has mostly caused these recent extinctions. Many of them are started by the removal of apex predators. These extinctions may be mankind’s most pervasive effect on the natural world. Extinction obviously means a permanent loss of these animals, which in turn often has a ripple effect, causing many other changes throughout the ecosystem. These widespread changes are what are referred to by scientists as “trophic cascades” (TCs). Some of the ultimate outcomes of TCs are: fires, disease, climate change, habitat loss, and pollution. Theory behind concept of TCs: (1)  An ecosystem is shaped by its top consumers (usually apex predators). (2)  Alternative stable states. TCs push a system, and it reaches tipping points. These are thresholds or breakpoints, and when they are reached, significant phase shifts occur. (3)  Connectivity – this is built around connection webs and through the mechanics of predation, competition and mutualism (organisms that have a supportive effect on each other), biologically, and through physicochemical processes. Cryptic nature of TCs: Species interactions are usually invisible under stable conditions. They may require years to become evident due to the long generation times of some species.  The effects usually do not become evident until after the loss. The scales of TC s can be much more vast than most feasible scientific studies can handle. Most field biology studies concentrate on small, discrete areas, and on non-motile species, with short generation times, making them easy to  manipulate. This results in an incomplete and distorted picture of apex predator influence. Hence, the authors have written what is called a mega study, which brings together the results of many other similar studies, using similar protocols & subjects. This enables them to combine the studies & to note general principles and draw important conclusions with more certainty. Widespread Occurrence of TCs: TCs have been documented throughout the world. When apex predators are reduced or removed, and sufficient time and space are accounted for, their influence becomes obvious. “Natural experiments” showing these effects are pervasive: e.g. loss of: killer whales, lions, wolves, cougars, sharks, sea otters.

These interactions are often complex. e.g. apex predators have little influence on megaherbivores:  Elephants, hippos, rhinoceroses, etc. in Africa are basically invulnerable to predation. Mostly, therefore effects are seen in the increase in smaller herbivores: e.g. Thompson’s gazelle, impala. Influence of apex predators on autotrophs (An organism capable of synthesizing its own food from inorganic substances, using light or chemical energy. Most plants are autotrophs): (a)  Increase of autotrophs – by suppression of herbivory (any animal that feeds mostly on plants), e. g. the loss of sea otters, which prey on shellfish,  have diminished the health of kelp forests. The extirpation of wolves from forests has resulted in a corresponding increase of ungulates adversely effecting other animals and plants in various ecosystems. e.g. the removal of wolves from what has become Rocky Mountain NP in Colorado has resulted in the overgrowth of elk, which in turn have devastated much of the plant life. (b) Decrease of autotrophs – e. g. large mouth bass by feeding on smaller fish, which feed on 200 kinds of plankton (microscopic aquatic plants & animals)  have decreased their numbers to such an extent in many mid western US lakes, that this has resulted in a loss of oxygen, leading to the demise of other life forms in these lakes. Herbivory and Wildlife: Increase in herbivory (mostly domestic animals that eat plants) has resulted in a change from grass lands to scrub lands, & the burning up to 500 million hectares (ha) in the global landscape and has released over 4,000 metric tons (Tg) of CO2 into the atmosphere. Diseases: e.g. Rinderpest (an infectious viral disease) in East Africa decimated ungulates. (animals like wildebeests & buffalos that chew their cud). This led to an increase in plant biomass, which in turn led to wildfires. Vaccination and control eliminated Rinderpest and this led to the recovery of the wildebeests and buffalos. Because of this, shrub lands became grass lands, which reduced the frequency and intensity of wild fires.

e.g. Impacts of predatory fish on mosquito larvae: effects the incidence of Malaria. Physical & Chemical Influences: There is a linkage between apex predators & atmospheric CO2. e.g.  presence or absence of predatory fish in lakes can effect the production & uptake of CO2. e.g. whaling transferred 105 million tons of carbon from whales to the atmosphere. e.g. Extinction of Pleistocene herbivores reduced atmospheric methane & contributed to a drop of 9° C. temperature drop in the Younger-Dryas period, some 12,900 years ago. Soils: e.g. Herbivores profoundly influence soils. e.g. introduction of rats & arctic foxes in high latitude (mostly arctic) islands reduces soil nitrogen by disturbing nesting birds. Water: e.g. collapse of large demersal (bottom feeders) fish in the Baltic Sea led to a 20% decrease of silica in pelagic diatoms (one-celled organisms that make up the majority of plants found in the open sea). e.g. Yellowstone wolves protect riparian vegetation from over-browsing herbivores. This leads to more shade & cooling of streams, which in turn decreases streambed erosion & increases cover for fish & other aquatic organisms & leads to an increase in songbirds.

Invasive Species: Lack of top-down predators allows invasive species to spread. e.g. spread of the brown tree snake, originally from the Solomon Islands, on Guam, which has exterminated most of its birds, was due to lack of other predators, which could have held the snake population in check. e.g. reduced fish predation in the Mississippi River led to the invasion of zebra mussels. Biodiversity (Abundance of & diversification in living creatures): Biodiversity(BD) is now largely confined to protected areas (e.g. national parks, designated wildernesses). Loss of BD has been mostly caused by over-exploitation (hunting, fishing, increase of areas reserved to domestic & other ungulates, etc.) has led to habitat loss & fragmentation of ecosystems. e.g. over browsing by an increasing population of elk in Rocky Mountain NP is due to lack of natural predators,(i.e. wolves). The same situation occurred in: the Kaibab Plateau, adjacent to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, which was overrun with deer. Minnesota has a serious problem with areas overrun by more than 1 million deer. Princeton NJ had to employ sharpshooters to kill deer, which were overrunning suburban gardens. Deer (ironically) starved on Deer Island in San Francisco Bay due to their burgeoning population, which was unchecked by predators.  Mesopredators (coyotes) in San Diego canyons strikingly changed populations of songbirds and cats.

e.g. Sea Stars in intertidal areas interact with mussels, wiping out many species. e.g. loss of small vertebrates after the extirpation of wolves, cougars & bears in temperate & boreal North American forests changed the ecology of these forests. Effects of Tree Longevity: e.g. wolves & other megapredators were almost entirely eliminated in the US by the 20th century. At that time there began to be recruitment failure & reduced tree growth rate in many places (most obvious in national parks). e.g. wolves were eliminated 100 yrs. ago on Anticosti Island in mouth of the St Lawrence River. This led to a decrease in the number of saplings & an increase in graminoids (grasses), e.g. wolves were extirpated from the Scottish island of Rum 250 -500 years ago, resulting in total loss of its forest. It is now treeless.

Conclusion: “Best management solution is likely restoration of effective predator regimes.” [English translation: Bring back the predators] Paradigm Shift in Ecology: There is clearly a top-down forcing in ecosystem dynamics.  [We argue that ] “burden of proof be shifted to show for any ecosystem, that consumers do (or did) not exert strong cascading effects.” Conclusions: Unanticipated changes in the distribution & abundance of key species, as well as pandemics, population collapses, eruptions of unwanted species, major shifts in ecosystem states, are caused by altered top down forcing , brought about by loss of native apex consumers. Repeated failures to anticipate & moderate such events arise through  fundamental misunderstandings of their causes. Resource managers usually base their actions on the expectation that physical causes are the ultimate drivers of ecological change. “Top-down forcing must be included if there is to be any real hope of understanding & managing the workings of nature.”

 COMMENTS – Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

 I find it helpful in understanding TDG to picture a pyramid, with the predator at the peak or top & prey animals at several successive & increasingly wider levels, (indicating larger populations) underneath. For example, sharks are the top predators in our oceans & they prey on smaller fish such as tuna, which in turn prey on smaller fish like anchovies, etc. until the lowest & most fundamental layer is reached, which consists of microscopic plankton (autotrophs) & is effected in a profound way.

Along this line, I recently read a paper published in Nature by Daniel Boyce of Dalhousie University in which the author utilized hundreds of thousands of historical records to show that the clarity of most of our oceans has been greatly increasing in the past few years. This is an indirect but powerful method, showing that plankton populations are decreasing rapidly. Because plankton are the base prey in our oceans, their scarcity would adversely effect all fish populations & since they are the ultimate autotrophs (think of what would happen if their dry land equivalent, grasses, were to decrease considerably) tend to increase CO2. Such a profound worldwide change undoubtedly has more than one cause, but the disruption of world fisheries through the loss of top predators is probably a contributing factor.

It is easy to overlook the effects of some predators, either because they are not charismatic megafauna, like “lions & tigers & bears oh my!” or are out of sight much of the time. For instance, who would even thought of sea stars as predators? I know that I had not until recently despite my background in Zoology.  Yet it has been shown that their loss can have profound effects on shellfish.  And those cute little sea otters. Who would have thought that they have an important effect on kelp beds? The film, “Jaws,” which came out in 1975, gave sharks a bad name that they have yet to overcome. That, together with the insatiable appetite of Chinese & other Orientals for shark fin soup (Talk about waste. They cut off the fins & throw the shark carcass away) & the dislike of commercial fishermen for sharks, who they view as competitors, in the same way that many elk hunters view wolves, has led to their wholesale destruction. No thought was given to the sharks’ role as the ultimate apex predator in the sea & the  effect their demise is having on other fish lower in the TC pyramid. It is quite possible, even probable, that the loss of many commercial fish species is linked not only to overfishing but also to the destruction of sharks, which has upset the ecological balance in oceans. In this connection, commercial fishermen may be doubly responsible for the serious depletion of fisheries worldwide, through their overfishing & destruction of apex predators.

My own studies on wolves and as an advocate for them has given me a fresh perspective on their importance in maintaining healthy forests. In this respect, the authors’ citing of studies showing that the eradication of wolves changed the flora of Anticosti Island in the St. Lawrence estuary & deforested the Scottish island of Rum, is instructive & worrying.

We do not however, need to go to the ends of the earth to find examples of TDG. In my own little part of northern Idaho, we have seen the results of overfishing in Lake Penderay, invasive species like spotted knapweed & the infamous zebra mussels, and loss of biodiversity caused by overpopulation of elk in the Clearwater NF. There are a substantial number of elk hunters in the state of Idaho, whose idea of heaven seems to be forests containing only elk & hunters. One of their leaders recently stated that he would only be satisfied when hunters success rates reached 90% Success rates throughout the Northwest have been historically at around 18 -20% (Spokesman Review 2/22/08). Idaho already contains over 100,000 elk. He apparently wants to turn Idaho into an elk farm, where hunters do not even have to get off their ATVs to kill elk. I doubt that many other Idahoans would agree with that vision. These hunters & the politicians who support them are responsible for the present vendetta against wolves, which in the last year has resulted in the killing of around 429 out of only 760 wolves in this state & the extension of the wolf hunt to year around, a hitherto unheard of strategy for “managing” wildlife.

I hope that this publication on the importance of top predators, like wolves, will be brought to the attention of state wildlife organizations like IDF&G and will result in a change of their policy toward a greater respect for these animals. For those of you who are interested in finding out more about this fascinating & important subject of how the loss of top predators is effecting the earth, I recommend the following books:

Monster of God – by David Quammen A very readable account of how our fear & killing of predators is changing the world.

Where The Wild Things Were – by William Stolzenberg A journalist writes about the research that been revealing the key role that predators play in ecosystems.

Song of the Dodo – by David Quammen One of our best scientific & nature writers chronicles the researchers & their studies who have created the new field of Conservation Biology.

Of Wolves and Men – by Barry Lopez A brilliant examination of wolf biology & the often-searing history of mankind’s relationship to these fascinating & badly misunderstood animals.

Wolf Country – by John B. Theberge. The results and conclusions of wolf biologist from an eleven year study of wolves in Algonquin Park, Canada. This book includes a lot of valuable information, written in a readable and popular format.

Stephen Augustine’s Comments on Idaho’s 2011-12 Wolf Hunt

 

Stephen Augustine’s Comments on Wolves to Idaho Fish & Game and Op Ed in The Reader

Stephen Augustine’s eloquent and perceptive words about the Idaho wolf hunt disserve the attention of all those who care about the fate of our wildlife. He points out that the Idaho Fish & Game’s (IDF&G) charter requires them to manage game only for the benefit of hunters, and hopes that the agency will eventually be replaced by one that reflects the majority pro-wildlife views of Idaho’s citizens.

He also shows the far-reaching effects of wolves’ trophic cascades on the well being of other inhabitants of our forests, some of them surprising, like those on songbirds, kokanee salmon, and even bees.

Stephen also makes the important point, that contrary to what we often hear from hunters, it usually costs them more for the meat they obtain from hunting than it would for them to hunt through supermarket aisles.

Finally, he finds the present wolf hunt to be very similar to the bounties that resulted in the original extinction of wolves.  He points out that wolves are being persecuted, not because they wreck havoc in our forests, but on the contrary, because they were beginning to exert their appropriate age-old role of apex predators, and hunters and ranchers could not stand the competition.

        Ken Fischman

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Comments to the Idaho Fish & Game Commissioners

Coeur D'Alene, 09 November 2011

By Stephen Augustine, Co-Founder of Sandpoint Vegetarians

Good evening. My name is Stephen Augustine and I am a resident of Sandpoint, Idaho. I am an ardent supporter of wildlife conservation in Idaho with an annual donation on our tax return and wildlife plates on our vehicle. I firmly believe and uphold the law that ALL the wildlife in the State of Idaho is to be maintained for the benefit of ALL the people of Idaho.

Last month was an interesting month: planet Earth reached 7 billion people, the Javan rhino became extinct in Vietnam, and purse seiners took advantage of the turmoil in Libya to plunder critical Bluefin tuna spawning grounds in the Mediterranean. Earlier, in July, the universally respected journal Science, published a report titled "The Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth". The report concluded that the most pervasive and far-reaching negative impact that humans have had on Earth's natural ecologies is the removal and destruction of apex predators – species such as Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean or wolves in the Rockies. Our shared planet is, sadly, stressed well beyond sustainable limits.

It is long past time for humans to grow up and stop being hedonistic, shortsighted, schoolyard bullies. Here in Idaho we still have a chance to preserve some remnant of what is natural. Managing wildlife in Idaho as a big stocked killing arena is NOT natural. Sadly you, IDFG, are tasked to operate under an obsolete charter wherein Idaho is perceived to be some fantasy frontier and all wildlife exists to be hunted and killed. This is reflected in observing that IDFG's wolf "management" policies are designed precisely to ensure that wolves do NOT play a meaningful ecological role and that they do not upset the status quo wherein you, IDFG, try to provide your client-hunters a maximal number of elk for them to kill.

I realize that, to some extent, your hands are bound by this outdated and anachronistic charter. Even your staff biologists have to stifle their advanced training and modern science to kowtow to the desires of people who want to go out and kill something. The hysterical prattling, by those calling for bounties on wolves, has nothing to do with anything related to truth or what is relevant to the people of Idaho. One needs only look north to Canada, with 50,000 wolves, where presumably there are no elk or deer left, all the young children have long since been gobbled up by vicious “Canadian wolves”, and all the remaining Canadians are severely infested with Echinococcus granulosus.

You should realize that you do not need to give in to the shrill voices calling for yet more creatures to kill but can make decisions that serve the majority of the citizens of Idaho – a majority who want to see an integrated and natural ecosystem where species like wolves are restored to their meaningful and necessary place. In the meantime, I remain hopeful that, within the next generation, IDFG will be replaced by a new agency that has a new and more rational charter and has as its constituents ALL the people of Idaho.

Thank you for your time.

Stephen Augustine

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cry Wolf

By Stephen Augustine, Co-Founder of Sandpoint Vegetarians

Op Ed in Sandpoint Reader, September, 2011

Tuesday, August 30th marks the beginning of a 7-month open season on the estimated 1000 wolves dispersed throughout Idaho. Wolves will run a gauntlet of hunters armed with any weapon of their choice, electronic calls, snares and leg-hold traps. To garner more kills and revenue, Idaho Fish & Game (IDFG) will be selling an unlimited number of wolf tags and has reduced the price of a non-resident wolf tag from $186 to a mere $31.75.

This open season on wolves is brought to us courtesy of a completely out-of-place rider attached to the Congressional budget bill that was passed on April 14th of this year and summarily removes wolves from the Endangered Species List. The rider, sponsored by Montana Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus along with Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, was forced through by powerful hunting and ranching lobbies and undermined the rule of law in matters that should have been left to scientists.

Exactly three months after the passage of the budget bill and its perverted rider, Science, one of the world’s most respected and cited scientific journals, published a collaborative report by some of the world’s most respected wildlife biologists titled Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth. The report concludes that the most pervasive and far-reaching impact that humans have had on Earth’s natural ecologies is the removal and destruction of apex predators. Not just big predators like wolves, cougars, lions, tigers and sharks but other smaller species such as bass, otters, sea stars, foxes, and coyotes. The removal of such apex predators results in a disruption of the incredibly complex interactions between flora and fauna in a healthy natural ecosystem – interactions that have evolved over thousands if not millions of years. In the case of wolves in Idaho their interactions with their prey species results in a “trophic cascade” that positively impacts the vibrancy and health of not only trees and native plants but other fauna such as songbirds, eagles, ravens, beavers, wolverines, kokanee salmon, steelhead, bees, butterflies, and many, many others.

In many aspects the western states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming exhibit a frontier-like attitude where sound science takes a backseat to other interests. In this context natural resources are perceived to be unlimited, public lands are to be used for mining, logging, and ranching and the role of wildlife is to be hunted. Never mind that any frontier ceased to exist over 100 years ago and that the pressure of growing populations consuming at ever greater levels requires us to be ever more cognizant of protecting and preserving the few wild places that do exist and enjoying them in non-consumptive ways. Sadly, wildlife management agencies such as IDFG operate on a charter that is almost as old as that frontier and reinforces that frontier mindset. IDFG was chartered in 1938 to provide “continued supplies of such wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.” Indeed, in relation to the aforementioned hunting, fishing and trapping, the ubiquitous and telling word that is used by both the sellers (IDFG) and buyers (hunters and hunting lobbies) is “harvest.” The employees of IDFG end up being glorified livestock managers who use science selectively to further the goal of providing a maximum number of animals for hunters to kill.

Many proponents of this outdated charter justify it by saying that numerous people depend on hunting to put food on their table. About two years ago IDFG commissioner Tony McDermott from Sagle conceded to me that his expenses to bag an elk were in actuality greater than buying a comparable amount of meat at the grocery store. Assuredly, there are hunters in Idaho who do in fact stock their freezers with meat (usually deer) at a cost lower than buying an equal amount of meat from the grocery store. Assuredly, some of those same hunters also depend on hunting to put food on their tables to supplement their meager incomes. One might posit that this state of affairs is a sad reflection of a wealthy society that has failed its people who, as a consequence, have to resort to hunting and gathering in order to survive. That sad reflection aside, what percentage of the total hunting population might these need-based hunters constitute? Drawing from all the hunters with whom I have had conversations my estimate is on the order of 5% and probably not more than 10%. The rest would be “sportsmen” engaged in the presumably pleasurable hobby of finding and killing animals for “sport.”

If the wildlife in Idaho truly belongs to all the people of Idaho then all wildlife in the state should be protected and conserved using general tax dollars for the benefit of the majority of the population and not just for that small segment of “sportsmen” who “pay to play.” From that majority viewpoint IDFG is an obsolete relic and needs to be completely disbanded and a new organization should be created with a new charter.

Coming back to wolves, the bottom line is that they do not have a bounty on their heads because they are overstepping their natural bounds in any meaningful way. Far from it – they are being persecuted precisely because they are beginning to exert a valid and meaningful role in the ecology of wild Idaho. Unfortunately both the sellers and buyers perceive that legitimate role as that of a vicious competitor who has no place in their neatly stocked ungulate farm.

 

 

 

 

The Bear Hunter

 

THE BEAR HUNTER

  by Ken Fischman                                          

Published in The Sandpoint Reader, 1/31/05

The phone rings in a plush office of a high rise Boise office building. An elegantly dressed, middle aged man, answers it at his desk. He hears a woman's, voice. “It is now 0900 hours on the ninth of September, year 2005. Your Super Remote Teletronic Animal Harvesting Device has made a bear-kill at 0700 hours of this day in sector B345 of the Payette National Forest. Please refer to your electronic map for the best route to this location".

The man is delighted. This hunting season he will get his trophy head. He cancels his appointments for the rest of day and heads home, where he exchanges his vintage red MG sports car for his $45,000 Mitsubishi pickup, which is carrying a John Deer Special remote-control all-terrain vehicle in its bed. He hastily loads it with a sealed package containing, among other things, a canvas bag, rope, and small chain saw, and heads north on Rt. 55.

During the two hour ride he reminisces about the vicissitudes of the old days of bear hunting, when he used bait and dogs, and the failed campaign by those "lunatic animal lovers" to infringe on the rights of hunters to hunt bears in the most efficient manner possible. He chuckles, and thinks “You cannot stop progress", He muses further on how primitive man used to hunt huge cave bears with only spears and pit traps, and how physically  exhausting and dangerous it must have been.

         What a great improvement these new high tech methods over the 1990s hunting methods.  Now the odds are more on our side, and there is no need to get up at 5:30 AM, bundle up, trudge into the mountains, get cold, wet, dirty, and then sometimes not even get a bear.

         In his mind, he goes over the new high tech hunting methods, such as remote sensing devices, laser-aimed, computer-controlled weapons, and satellite tracking game locators that can be set for any kind of animal.  He then remembers with chagrin that the previous model he had sometimes misidentified the game animal. One time he took off a whole day to go up there, expecting to harvest an elk, and instead found a cow! However, the dealer had assured him that glitch in the harvesting software had been.

corrected in the new model that he had recently purchased. It had better be. He had paid a mint for it!

He arrives at the trail head, and still in his business suit, he unloads the ATV, places the package in it, and climbs in. He turns on the computer, punches some keys, and away he goes, automatically being driven to his "kill". The ATV's computer ascertains the shortest way to the kill and maneuvers expertly, using its universally jointed, independently suspended wheels to get over and around all obstacles. The man sits, back, mixes himself a drink, and turns on the TV. Not finding anything interesting, he switches it off and his mind turns to how he and his wife had argued about this new hunting device.

         “I really will never understand that woman, how she can prefer to hike into the forest, insisting that she enjoys 'experiencing nature first hand." Several times she had actually tried to entice him to go with her! No way. He did not want an that effort and discomfort. He saw with distaste the way she had to bundle up with boots, gloves, down coat, and her silly red wool beret.

The ATV arrives at a shallow but steep ravine, that it cannot negotiate and cannot find a good route around due to heavy alder thickets. The ATV's computer informs him of this, and that the kill is located only thirty feet away. "Damn", he thinks, "I should have spent the extra money and gotten the model with tree-cutter capacity." He curses, because it has become obviously windy and colder. He gets out, unzips the packet, pulls out and puts on Mylar coveralls. He starts to carry the canvas bag and chainsaw down into the ravine. His patent leather shoes slip on the scree, and he tumbles to the bottomtwisting his knee and hitting his head on a rock.

         He regains consciousness, minutes or perhaps hours later, finding himself at the bottom of the ravine and in a full-scale blizzard. He cannot see more than a few feet ahead. He realizes that his knee is hurt badly enough so that he cannot walk, and he feels panicky. He tries to calm himself but soon begins to drop into hypothermia.  He thinks “I’ve got to get back in the ATV, and order it to get me back to the trail head. I can also radio for assistance, and the satellite tracker will guide the Medic copter to me." As he drags himself laboriously over the lip of the ravine, he lifts his head and sees a beautiful fox standing in the snow, looking at him. He feels a strange kinship with it, but the fox just flicks its tail and calmly trots into the storm. "Wait, don't go," the bear hunter mumbles.

He looks ahead and dimly perceives a snow-covered form lying on the ground ahead of him. "Damn" he says. "It's the bear. I climbed up the wrong side of the ravine!" He reaches out to the form and grasps something that comes away in his hand. He looks at it. It is a red beret.

He lapses into unconsciousness again. The storm grows in intensity. It will be very cold that coming night on the mountain, just as it has been for millennia

 

 

The Biology And Politics Of Breast Cancer

 

The Reader 6/9/05

 

         THE BIOLOGY AND POLITICS OF BREAST CANCER

 

                                             by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

 

Dedicated to the memories of:

         Vicki Long

         Mary Shackelford

         Barbara Veranium

 

A Parable for Our Time

         People in a town along a river spotted a person drowning in the turbulent waters and attempted to rescue him. The next day they noticed more and more people struggling in the torrent, and redoubled their efforts to save them. They became experts in river rescue and invented more and more ways to try to retrieve and resuscitate the drowning victims.  In fact, as time went on, they became world-famous for their ever-more innovative river rescue techniques, of which they were quite proud.

         However, don’t you think it odd that in all this time, they never thought to look upstream to find out who was pushing these people in? (adapted from Living Downstream, by Sandra Steingraber,)

         In this article, I invite the reader to walk with me upstream, along the banks of that river.

        

The Biology of Cancer

         In order for the reader to better understand what cancer is and what its medical and political implications are, it is necessary first to cover a few basic biological concepts. 

         Cancer cells are cells that no longer obey the body’s controls. They revert to a primitive state, and have a tendency for perpetual growth and tumor formation.  Genes are the basic units of heredity within cells. You can think of them as a set of blueprints for building and controlling your body. There are thousands of different kinds of genes in human beings.

         DNA is the chemical stuff that the genes are made of. DNA is an extremely long molecule, made of thousands of subunits.  The genes are attached to each other in groups of hundreds, like a string of pearls. There are 46 of these strings in each human cell and we call them Chromosomes.

         A remarkable property of genes is their ability to make identical copies of themselves.  They distribute these copies, one to each of the new cells produced through a process called Cell Division.  Therefore, every cell in your body contains a duplicate set of genes.

         If every cell in your body has an identical set of genes, then why do some cells look and act differently from each other?  Muscle cells produce a protein, called myosin, that enables them to contract.   Brain cells produce neurotransmitters, which enable them to send signals to other cells.  The explanation is that all of the genes in a cell are not functioning all of the time.  There is one set of genes functioning in a brain cell and a somewhat different set in a muscle cell.

         Which groups are functioning is controlled in two different ways.  The first way is controlled by other genes; the second, is by chemical signals from outside the genes, which may even come from distant parts of the body.  Hormones are the chemical messengers involved in this kind of remote control.

         An Oncogene (“cancer gene”) is one type of controller gene that plays important roles in Breast Cancer (BRCA). It is normally involved in directing growth and cell division.  It is only when genes of this type are malfunctioning that they cause cancer.  You can think of a faulty Oncogene as if it were a stuck accelerator on an automobile.

         There are two types of cancer: (1) inherited and (2) acquired: 

         The inherited type occurs as a defect in the person’s genes and has been passed on to him/her through the egg or sperm from one, or both parents . The defective gene is therefore found in every cell of his body.  This gene can be passed on to the next generation, again through the reproductive cells. Familial BRCA is of this type. 

         Acquired cancer, on the other hand, occurs due to changes that take place in the genes in at least one of the person’s cells during his lifetime. If it does not occur in one of his reproductive cells, it cannot be passed on to the next generation. Examples are: lung cancer, Leukemias, and most BRCAs.

         A mutation is a change in a gene.  The change is passed on to the cells resulting from division of the cell that carries the mutated gene.  When these cells divide in their turn, the mutation is passed on again, and so on and so on, until there can be millions of such cells, each with the identical defect. 

         There are several ways in which these mutations can come about. One way is for a mistake to happen while the DNA is duplicating itself.  Another way is for an environmental agent, like radiation or a chemical, to come in later, and damage the DNA in some way.  A third way is for a mistake to occur later, during cell division.  The chromosomes might break or not be distributed equally between the resulting cells.  Any one of these kinds of mutations, and sometimes all three, can be involved in producing a cancer cell.

 

 

 Breast Cancer – A World-Wide Epidemic

 

         Breast Cancer is a disease that strikes one woman in seven. The incidence of BRCA has risen steadily since World War II. It increased 60% between 1950 and 1988. This increase has nothing to do with increased longevity.  For example, women born in the USA between 1947 – 1958 have three times the rate of breast cancer as their grandmothers had at same age. In 1991, 170,000 American women were diagnosed with BRCA.  The latest available figures are for 2002, with 205,000 new cases.  That is an 20 % increase in eleven years.

         This type of cancer is effecting younger women more and more. BRCA kills more women between the ages of 35-50 than any other disease.  Why has this veritable explosion in BRCA occurred?

         The American Cancer Society (ACS) points to ‘lifestyle’ and heredity as the prime villains.  Their brochures exhort women to: (1) exercise, (2) lower fat in their diets, (3) perform breast self-examinations, (4) examine their family history, and (5) receive regular mammograms in order to detect BRCA, etc. Yet, the great majority of BRCAs cannot be explained by either inheritance or so-called ‘lifestyle’ factors. Let’s examine a few circumstances:

         The list of chemicals and other environmental agents, known or suspected to be cancer-causing is a very long one.  Yet, in all this time, only about a dozen have been banned by U.S. government agencies.  Here are just a few of the more egregious cases.

         Twenty seven years ago evidence was presented that women working in the plastics industry and exposed to Vinyl Chloride (VC), faced an increased risk of BRCA. (J. Occup. Med., 1977). VC was acknowledged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be a human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). It was not banned however, and enormous quantities of it are still being produced and distributed around the world.

         Polychlorinated Biphenyls, better known as PCBs, are strongly suspected of causing BRCA.  General Electric dumped PCBs into the Hudson River in New York state until the 1970s.  There are an estimated one million pounds lying on the bottom of a 40 mile stretch of the river .

         Well known risk factors for BRCA are: (1) early 1st menstruation, (2) late menopause,  and (3) late or no childbirths. What these factors have in common is that they all increase a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogens. 

         Estrogens are hormones, secreted by a woman’s ovaries each month. It effects only cells with Estrogen Receptors on their surface. The hormone attaches to the receptor. Then the Estrogen-Receptor complex penetrates into the nucleus and activates one particular set of genes while turning off another set. The net effect is to increase cell proliferation in: (a) the vagina, (b) the uterus, and (c) the breast. Estrogen therefore stimulates ovulation, menstruation, and breast development. 

         A full term pregnancy early in a woman’s life protects against BRCA. Why? The current theory is that breasts do not completely develop until the last few months of the first pregnancy.  Once they are developed, cell division in them slows, and because DNA in non-dividing cells is less sensitive to damage from radiation and chemicals, these women are less vulnerable to BRCA.

         Early onset of puberty is also a strong risk factor for BRCA. Consider the following  facts: The average age of female puberty in the 1940s was 13 – 14 years. At present it is 10 – 11 among whites, and even earlier among black girls. Some possible explanations are:

         Since WWII, over 70,000 Synthetic Organic Chemicals (SOCs) have been produced, some in enormous quantities, and distributed all over the world.  They have infiltrated our air, water, food, and our very bodies.

          (1) many pesticides, herbicides and other SOCs are endocrine-imitators, (i.e they have estrogenic effects).  SOCs may hasten the onset of puberty. There is strong evidence that Atrazine, the most widely used herbicide in the world, has this type of effect.  Despite this, the EPA has recently refused to ban it.

         (2) Americans eat a greater proportion of meat in their diets than any other people. Chickens and cattle are often treated with hormones in order to make them grow faster.         

         Women who have fatty diets have greater risk for BRCA.  The NCI, and many other authorities, have concluded from this that fat causes cancer, and they have told women to change their lifestyles by doing more exercise and eating less fatty foods.  Some scientists however believe that it is not the fat, but what is in the fat that causes BRCA. Many SOCs are fat-soluble, and therefore tend to concentrate in fatty tissue such as the breast and bone marrow.  The more obese you are, the more carcinogens you accumulate. (Carcinogen concentration in fatty tissues may also explain why the incidence of Multiple Myeloma, a hitherto rare cancer of the bone marrow, has increased ten-fold in the past few decades) . 

         SOCs not only lodge in fatty tissues, they become biomagnified (concentrated) there.) In addition, SOCs are not easily metabolized and excreted.  Therefore, they may linger in tissues for years. Some researchers have called fat the body’s hazardous waste site.

 

Inherited Breast cancers

 

         You have probably heard of  Breast Cancer Families, in which several generations of women develop BRCA.  Two BRCA genes have been identified: BRCA-1 & BRCA-2. Women who possess BRCA-1 also have a higher risk for Ovarian cancer, but this does not appear to be so for those who have BRCA-2. Women who inherit either mutant gene are at much greater risk earlier in their lives for subsequent steps in the carcinogenesis process (described further on in this article). This is demonstrated by the high percentage of women possessing the gene, who get BRCA in their 20s (40%), compared with the much lower percentage of women who have the gene, who get BRCA in their 80s(1%).

         A good way to distinguish between inherited and environmentally-induced diseases is to compare populations in different parts of the world. It has been observed for example, that BRCA rates in the U.S. are thirty times higher than in parts of Africa.  We can also evaluate  groups of people before and after they migrate from an area of high disease incidence to one of low incidence, or vice versa.  BRCA rates rise in Jewish women who migrate from  North Africa to Israel; rates decrease when English women migrate to Australia.  Their genes  of course remain the same. Only their environment has changed.        

         As previously mentioned, inherited Breast Cancers were the predominant form of BRCA before the 1940s.  Their incidence has not increased in the ensuing years.  They are now a tiny minority of all BRCA cases, probably no more than 5 – 10%, and effecting only about 1/3 of 1% of all women. The other 90 – 95% of BRCAs are classified by US government agencies as ‘sporadic’, meaning that the cause is unknown.

         Saying that most BRCAs are ‘sporadic’ reminds me of a story about a novice boxer.  His manager sends him into the ring against a much more experienced opponent.  He is getting badly beaten.  At the end of one round he comes back to his corner with his nose bleeding, one eye almost closed, and bruises all over.  His manager tries to buck him up.  “You’re doing great kid” he says “You have him on the run. He hasn’t laid a glove on you.”  The kid turns around and looks at the manager.  “Yeh?”, he says, “Well you better keep an eye on the referee because someone out there is sure beatin the crap out of me!”                 

 

  Mechanism of Carcinogenesis

         Normal cells do not become cancer cells in one swoop. For example, Benzo(a)pyrene is the principal cancer-causing agent in tobacco smoke.  It and Croton oil are much more effective in inducing cancer when applied sequentially, rather than together. This is evidence that there is more than one step in cancer production.

         Mutations are usually chance events that could occur in any one of the cell’s thousands of genes. Routine errors could be made during DNA replication, or a gene could be damaged by a carcinogenic  agent.  The first step toward cancer is a mutation.  This is obvious because tumors continue to grow even after the carcinogen is removed.  Therefore, an event has occurred that is being passed from generation to generation of its cells.                          

        

         Another clue that cancer is a multi-step process is the long lag time, or latent period after first exposure to a carcinogen before a recognizable cancer develops.  It may take many years.  This lag time occurs because two or more rare chance events have to take place in order for a cell to become cancerous.  The probability that two rare events will both happen is the product of the chance for each of them to happen by itself. 

         A simple illustration of this is flipping a penny.  If you flip it once, the chance that it will come up heads is 1/2. If you flip it twice, the chance that it will come up heads both times is 1/2 X 1/2, or 1/4.  Imagine then that if the chances that each of these two mutations occurring in the same cell is a couple of thousand to one, the probability of both happening is a very long shot indeed. Time however, is an additional factor.  The longer the cell lives, the more likely it is that the second mutation will eventually occur.

          The stages for inducing a cancer cell are called: (1) Initiation, (2) Promotion, and (3) Progression

         1.  Initiation is usually a small subtle lesion in DNA. There are no visible changes, but it can be recognized by the body and reacted to.  The immune system may recognize changes in the cell surface and then destroy the aberrant cell. Any weakening in these defense mechanisms could lead to retention of initiated and therefore potentially cancerous cells, making it more likely that some of them will survive to reach the next stage of carcinogenesis.        

         2.  Promotion unfolds over long time period and does not involve mutations, but encourages changes in which certain genes are activated. Promotion can be stimulated by substances like Estrogens.  Here is the good news.  When the influence of these substances is removed, cells usually revert back to the previous stage.

         3. Progression – Mutations pile up at the molecular (i.e. DNA) level and chromosomes become increasingly damaged and unstable.  Some of these changed cells become cancer cells. The production of many different chromosome abnormalities in the same tumor has the effect of making it a heterogeneous group of cells with different properties.   It makes diagnosis & treatment more difficult.

          Many carcinogens have multiple roles. They can take part in more than one of these steps, and do so at: (1) different times, and (2) different concentrations. Dioxins, which are common byproducts of  incineration, suppress immunity, as well as induce mutations. This is why there is no such thing as a “safe” dose of a carcinogen. Similar exposures may pose very different threats to different people or at different times. e.g., those whose cells are already initiated, may react to trace amounts and move to the next stages.

         We are constantly exposed to more than one type of carcinogen at the same time and to many exposures of the same carcinogens over periods of time. There may be cumulative effects from multiple exposures.  DDT and another carcinogen, called AAPA, accelerate tumor formation when applied simultaneously, although neither alone is capable of doing so.  This effect is called synergism.

        

 

 A Real War on Cancer

 

         For many years, BRCA research went under-funded and the whole issue of BRCA was virtually ignored by both government and private research institutions.

         Finally, in the early nineties, women began to take note of the success of the Gay Community in turning these institutions’ attention to AIDs research.  Women quickly showed that they had learned a lesson in the politics of disease.  The Breast Cancer Fund, founded by women, emphasizes that women must stop thinking of BRCA as only a personal tragedy, and demand more emphasis on true prevention, removal of carcinogens from our environment.

         October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Women are showered at that time with literature emphasizing prevention and early detection. The message is: get a mammogram, go on a low fat diet, exercise, and cut back on alcohol consumption.

         There is not one word about primary prevention though – removing chemical carcinogens from our environment.  Is this merely an oversight?

         The chief sponsor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is AstraZenica, a giant multinational corporation, which manufactures the BRCA chemo- prevention drug, Tamoxifen.  It also produces herbicides and fungicides. In addition, AstraZenica now owns the Salick chain of cancer treatment centers.

         This seems like a cozy arrangement for AstraZenica.  It produces suspected BRCA carcinogens. It is also involved in the treatment of cancer, and it is now selling a BRCA-prevention drug.  It also gets all kinds of good publicity from Breast Cancer Prevention Month, and uses that to deflect our attention away from the environmental causes of cancer.

                  Sandra Steingraber, author of “Living Downstream”, a book documenting the environmental causes of cancer, states that  “By emphasizing personal habits rather than carcinogens, they frame the cause of the disease as a problem of behavior rather than as a problem of exposure to disease-causing agents…. It presumes that the ongoing contamination of our air, food, & water is an immutable fact of the human condition to which we must accommodate ourselves.”

 

How Can We Really Win The “War On Cancer”?

         The most important action we can take is to make the ‘Precautionary Principle’ the law of the land. The Principle states, in part, that "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health, or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.  In this context,

the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of

proof." The European Union has already invoked the Precautionary Principle, first against Genetically Engineered food, and now against suspected carcinogenic agents.

          Last, but not least, join an activist organization that will represent your interests. The next time that you are asked to donate to a ‘cure for cancer’, you might consider the Breast Cancer Fund when you ponder where your money will be most effective.

 

SIDE BAR

 

 

 

 

 

          

 

         

The End Of Oil

 

THE END OF OIL, AND THE RISE OF DENIAL (6/3/06, rev. 9/10/11)

Ken Fischman,Ph.D.,  Lanie Johnson, M.A.,  and the Ancient Pathways Players

Climbing Hubbert’s Peak

Back in 1956, an oil geologist, by the name of L. King Hubbert, published an article in which he predicted that oil production in the U.S would reach its peak between 1970 and 1972, and from then on would decrease every year.
Despite the fact that Hubbert was a respected scientist and that he presented solid evidence for his conclusions, he was derided, laughed at, or ignored by almost everyone in the oil industry.
In 1972, oil production in the U.S. peaked, and since then it has declined every year. That, and not oil industry greed, China’s new energy appetite, or rebellions in Libya, is the main reason why you are paying over $3.00/gallon for gasoline and our country is dependent on foreign oil.
By the way, my bill for heating and cooking with Propane went up 28% last winter. Did you know that natural gas production in the U.S. peaked way back in 1956, and has gone down every year since then?
Other scientists have improved L. King Hubbert’s fact gathering, formulas, and calculations, and have extended the methodology he successfully used to predict Peak Oil in the U.S. to computer simulations of world oil production.

They have concluded that world oil production will peak within a few years, or has already peaked. Kenneth Deffeyes is a Geologist from Princeton University, and is one of the leaders of the Peak Oil movement. He has calculated that world oil production reached its highest level in November, 2005. It is in the nature of the oil industry that we only learn about such events after they have happened.
Deffeyes, Colin Campbell, who is a Scottish geophysicist, energy investment banker Matthew Simmons, along with Roscoe Bartlett, who is a former engineer, and presently a Republican Congressman from Maryland, have been sounding the alarm. They have been derided, laughed at, or just plain ignored. It is only now, with the price of energy sky-rocketing, that they are getting any public attention at all.
If you remember your history, the Greek seer, Cassandra, made dire predictions about the fate of Greece. She was laughed at too. But, she had the last laugh. Classical Greece is gone. You can visit the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, if you buy your airline tickets now while you can still afford them.

The End of Cheap Oil

Now, you may wonder, why am I talking about oil at a workshop on ancient skills and beliefs? It is because the impending loss of cheap oil is going to profoundly affect the way we and our children lead our lives.

[enter stage L -- a fairy, dressed in pink tutu, with a diamond tiara, and a wand with a star at its end – “she” is flippant and bubbly, and speaks in falsetto, kind of like Glenda the Good, from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz]


“Hi, I’m the Tooth Fairy (TF) and I’ve come to tell you that there’s nothing to worry about. There’s plenty of oil left. All you have to do is look for it under your pillow!”


[KF] Hey, wait a minute! You’re interrupting a serious discussion. And you look ridiculous in that tutu. These people are here to learn important things that will affect their lives. Please do not interrupt us. [TF glares at K, petulantly, hands on hips ]


[KF] Now, where was I? Oh yes, even the phrase “oil production,” is misleading. Human beings have never produced even one drop of oil. It was all produced by Nature some 600 million years ago. More properly, we ought to call it “oil extraction.” The amount of oil available is, for all intents and purposes, finite (unless you want to wait around another 600 million years.) When it’s gone, it’s gone, and all the wishful thinking in the world won’t bring back a drop of it.
The fact is, that the world is rapidly running out of conventional oil, and this fact is absolutely critical because our contemporary, technological civilization is organized around and totally dependant on cheap oil. This situation is being compounded because every year America’s appetite for oil is increasing. China and India’s economies are growing at 10%/year and are they running around the world, trying to lock up all the existing and potential oil and natural gas sources they can get their hands on. When demand increases and supply goes down, the law of economics tells us that the price will increase. My truck camper makes about 9 miles/gal of gas. I ‘m thinking of trading it in for a Prius.


[TF] Oh, yoo–hoo! I have an easy solution. You know, when children lose a tooth, all they have to do is put it under the pillow, and the tooth fairy (that’s me!) will come in the middle of the night and replace it with a dollar bill. Now, all you have to do is place your empty gas tank under your pillow and the Tooth Fairy will fill it up with oil made from Canadian tar sands, or Pennsylvania coal, or Ethanol from corn – better yet, we can fill it with Abiotic oils from the bottom of the sea of which there’s an endless supply! Of (course) no one’s ever seen it, but I am sure it’s there because we need it!


[KF] Now look here, you demented elf! You are interrupting a serious discourse and making a farce out of this. Leave this room right now, or I’ll Canadian tar-sand and feather you! [TF exits in a huff, stage Rt.]

Say Goodbye To Cheap Oil

Thank goodness were rid of that ridiculous person. Magical thinking will not help us. This is a rational society. Only a few years ago, the price of oil was 35$ per gallon. Now it is over $80. I predict that the price of oil next summer will be over $100 per gallon, and that the price will go up every year from now on.
The high price of energy will profoundly change our lifestyles. The Global Economy, which is based on the ability to cheaply transport goods from one part of the world to another, will inevitably collapse. Economies will, of necessity, become localized, and we will have to depend on local food supplies.
Everyone knows. . .


[Oil Fairy] Hi there. I’m the Oil Fairy and I’ve come to tell you that there’s plenty of oil around the Caspian Sea. And, we know there’s lots of oil under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge without having even drilled test wells there, or ……


[KF] Great! Another idiot! Look here! If they started exploring ANWAR tomorrow and found oil, which is not certain, it would take at least 10 years to locate, drill, and build a pipeline to carry the oil down to us. Furthermore, even the most optimistic estimate of how much oil there is under those herds of Caribou, would supply U.S. needs for only 3 to 6 months. But, it sure would make a lot of money for Exxon, BP, etc. And maybe they can get Halliburton to build the pipeline.

[OF] But all I have to do is wave my magic wand and. . .


[KF] There is no such thing as magic! You can’t make something from nothing. Why don’t you go away and stop bothering us with your wishful thinking? [TF stands petulantly, hands on hips, & glares at KF]
They have looked everywhere, and there are no hidden sources of oil. Not only that, but there is no adequate substitute for oil. You can’t stick a nuclear energy plant in your car and make it run, or put one in a Boeing 747 and make it fly either. Too heavy. You can convert coal to gas, but the more coal you dig, the more expensive it will be to get to, and how are you going to transport that heavy stuff from Pennsylvania to Florida? And up and up will go the costs.
As for corn-derived Ethanol, it is the latest fad of the technofixers. At least two studies have shown that more energy has to be put into the process than can be gotten out of it. Corn is a very energy- demanding crop. It will make a lot of money for agribusiness, but it is not the answer to our energy problems. Not only that, but every acre put into production of corn for Ethanol, is an acre taken out of the production of food in a country where the number of food-producing farms is shrinking every year. If our government is so worried out our dependency on foreign oil, how vulnerable will we feel when we become dependant on foreign-grown food?

What Is Oil Good For?

The first thing people think about when you mention oil is fuel – energy – energy to drive your car to work, to fly by plane to the West Coast in order to spend Thanksgiving with your far-flung family, energy to push that diesel locomotive up the track, bringing cheap stuff to Wal-Mart.
But energy needs are just the tip of the iceberg. Where do you think your anti-allergy pills come from? Your antibiotics? Most medications are synthesized from oil. By the way, what do you think is the most expensive kind of building to construct and maintain? (pause) Anyone?  No, it’s not the Pentagon. It’s your local hospital. By the square foot, by the little white pill, by the 2 million dollar MRI they just installed. A single Cancer treatment costs almost 10 thousand dollars. . . . . It is by far the most expensive structure around. What do you think will happen to your medical bills when oil hits $100/barrel? $200/barrel?


By the way, what do you think plastic is made from? Take a wild guess. …. Hey, Oil Fairy, do you know how much plastic there is in your house? your refrigerator? your automobile? I’ll bet even your magic wand is plastic.
Another question for you fairy! Do you like bananas in your cereal for breakfast? Now, don’t tell me you just wave your wand and make them appear! Do you know
where that banana came from?


[OF] Timorously – Ecuador?


[KF] How many bananas are you going to eat when the cost of transporting them from Ecuador doubles? triples? How much of the food that you buy in Safeway is grown within 100 miles of here? Very little, but food distribution patterns are going to have to change or we will not be able to feed over 320 million Americans. Bioregionalism anyone?


[OF} I think I’ll leave . The batteries in my magic wand seem to have run down. I wonder what batteries are made of? Goodbye.

[KF]  Good riddance! Whew! We are finally rid of her! Now, where was I? Oh yes,
Let’s talk more about food. After all, it is your ultimate energy supply. Is your food cheap? plentiful?. . . What is the fertilizer that makes that food grow made from? Anyone?….  How about the pesticides and herbicides that they use on farms? What are they made from? …. How much oil did they expend to manufacture that tractor, and the other mechanized equipment found on most farms today? And, how much energy is used to run them? How much fuel was expended to transport food from Imperial Valley, California to your dining room table last night?
How much plastic is there in your computer? And how much oil did they use to dig up, refine, and transport all those rare materials that give your hard disk that prodigious amount of memory the computer companies boast of?

The Technofixers

And that’s just the beginning. What about – - – - – - – - – - -

[Big rumpus –Technology Fairy enters – stage L]


[TF] Hi – I’m the Technology Fairy, and I’ve come to save you! Not to worry! I’ve got a technological fix for everything! Just look under your pillow!

(someone in audience shouts – “Hey “Techy,” you’re cute”)


[TF] I’m not only cute, I’m clever. Hey, do you know what we can do to squeeze more out of an oil field? I can drill on a slant to get oil from under nearby mountains or drill down a mile with offshore drilling rigs that are already a mile below the ocean surface.


[KF] (exasperatedly) It’s already been done, and you know what happened. Remember BP and the Gulf oil spill?


[TF] Oh – well, I can pump water into the wells to push up more oil.


[KF] Been there – done that. Do you wonder why the Saudis are doing it now? Can it be that their oil fields are drying up? It adds to the cost, and eventually it messes up the entire oil field.


[TF] Oh – well, I can explore other parts of the world, using high-tech equipment, and find loads of oil.


[KF] Until 2006 oil companies had been spending less money every year on oil exploration. Only now, with the price of oil soaring, has it become worthwhile for them to put money into exploration. The reason for that is that they have almost certainly already found all the great oil fields on Earth. There is no other place to look for large amounts of oil except the Arctic Ocean and the South China Sea, and that’s why China, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam have recently been threatening each other over that area. I don’t think that superpowers fighting an oil war is going to help lower the cost of oil.


[TF, getting surly] Yeah, well how about all those hydrogen-driven cars? – clean, no pollution, free energy. yippee!


[KF] You know, it’s a funny thing. Nobody talks about where they’re going to get all those H2 atoms. You see, they’re going to pull them off of – guess what? ….  oil and natural gas. That’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. You see, H2 cars are not energy sources. They are really just big batteries, and where is all that infrastructure to transport the H2 atoms to where they can be pumped into cars? It’s non-existent.


[TF] Boy, what a spoil-sport you are! Hey – they can get the H2s from water. Any school kid knows that! We’ve got plenty of water. All you have to do is stick a positive electrode in one end of a water tank and a negative one at the other – voila – (that’s a French word, you know!) you’ve got all the H2 atoms you want – just like we did in high school science class!


[KF] You forgot one little thing – the electric current to do the job. You will use more energy to liberate those H2 atoms than they will generate. That’s a good way to go broke -– energy-wise.


[TF] Well, what about all that Liquefied Natural Gas from Africa?


[KF] Listen, speaking of energy, you re wasting ours. What’s next? Are you going to invent a perpetual-motion machine? Get lost, will you! – First, they must transport the LNG at -260° F in tankers. Then, what do you do with it? They will need to build special ports to receive LNG, and special facilities to store and transport it throughout the United States. They will have to build an entirely new infrastructure throughout the country, and where will the trillions of dollars come from to build this in a country that is already in over $3 Trillion in debt? Do me a favor Technology Fairy. Get lost! Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!


[TF] Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, go drown in your misery. What a grouch! I have a million ideas of how to get more oil. What about all those Tar Sands in Canada? Maybe there’s some on Mars. There’ll always be a technological fix right around the corner. Off I go to find one. Don’t worry – be happy. La De Dah De Dah – – – – – – – – [exit stage R]


[KF] Well, I sure hope we’ve seen the last Fairy.

[voice from audience –“Don’t you bet on it”!]

[KF] The end of cheap oil will obviously have profound effects on our lives, both upon our economy and our social structure.

The Great Denial

There are two other things I would like you to think about coming out of this discussion – myths and psychology.
Most people do not think that our modern, technological, rational culture has any myths. Myths are for ancient Greeks with their Olympian Gods and for African witch doctors, and Siberian Shamans.
How many of you think that our culture has any myths? – – – – -
Good. We just talked extensively about two of them. Can you name them for me?
…. 1. The resources of the Universe are inexhaustible. i.e. the Horn of Plenty myth
2. There is a Technological Fix for everything.