Category Archives: Oceans/Rivers/Seas

Killing the Ocean

The oceans are “crying for mercy,” a fact that is starkly revealed in a telling 900-page draft of a forthcoming UN report due for release September 25th. The draft report obtained by Agence France-Presse (AFP) assesses the status of the oceans and cyrosphere. It’s a landmark UN report, and it’s not a pretty picture.

In the final analysis, the report amounts to self-destruction that’s largely ignored by most of the leading countries throughout the world. It’s all about greenhouse gassing as a result of human interference in the climate system, thus, evidence that humans are heat machines!

The opening statement in AFP’s news release states:

The same oceans that nourished human evolution are poised to unleash misery on a global scale unless the carbon pollution destabilizing Earth’s marine environment is brought to heel.1

This Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “Special Report” states “destructive changes are already set in motion,” referencing loss of fish stocks, a 100-fold increase in super-storm damage, and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising sea levels. A 100-fold increase of super-storms plus 100s of millions of displaced should draw immediate political action, like a WWII Marshall Plan to fight anthropogenic climate change, but will it happen?

Not only that, powerful evidence of the human link to radical biological shifts in the world’s oceans is poignantly described in Dahr Jamail’s brilliant book: The End of Ice.2

Dahr describes a personal visit with Bruce Wright, senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and former section chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for eleven years, to wit:

By 1975, the water in the Gulf of Alaska had already warmed up 2c. At the time the entire biological system shifted, causing the Alaska Fish and Game Department to “shut down the fisheries to protect what was left… The dramatic shift across the biological system in the Gulf of Alaska in the 1970s was the first evidence of profound change that Wright witnessed and he attributed it directly to the waters being warmed by climate disruption.” (Jamail p. 60)

Thereafter, Dahr fast-forwards to 2016 with shocking descriptions of the ravages of human-generated climate change, (Jamail pp. 60-64), as follows below:

This last summer, the gulf warmed up 15°C warmer than normal in some areas,’ Wright told me, ‘Yes, you heard me right, 15°C. And it is now, overall, 5°C above normal in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, and has been all winter long.

My head swam (Jamail). The biological shift that caused the fisheries to close in the 1970s came from a 2°C change in water temperature… Imagine what is going on out in the Gulf of Alaska right now,’ he said, giving several examples, including die-offs among fin whales.

We (Jamail and Wright) spoke about the declining numbers of halibut… The massive die-off of murres across the entirety of Alaska had been dominating the local news… witnessing the largest murre die-off in the state’s recorded history… starvation… striking numbers, by tens of thousands… the result of water temperatures so high that ‘we not only had extensive paralytic shellfish poisoning, we had a huge bloom of Alexandrium… sand lances had become toxic from feeding on marine PSP toxin… These toxins moved up the food chain. Nearly every animal, from salmon to whales to cod to diving birds, like puffins, auks, cormorants, and terns eat the sand lances or the larvae… Sea otters, steller sea lions, and northern fur seals have all seen shocking population declines across western Alaska… All of our oceans are being affected by these toxic, harmful algal blooms now.

Later that summer, National Geographic reported how toxic algal blooms (as a result of warming oceans) were spreading across the planet, poisoning both people and marine life.

Wright was certain the driving factor was climate disruption, which was warming the North Pacific and Bering Sea and leading to a dramatic increase in PSP. Anyone foolish enough to come to the Aleutians and eat forage fish is playing Russian roulette with their life, he said. Alaska Division of Public Health states clearly that ‘some of these toxins are 1,000 times more potent than cyanide, and toxin levels contained in a single shellfish can be fatal to humans.

Meanwhile, “Earth’s oceans continue to absorb over 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” It’s that source of ocean heat that’s primarily extinguishing marine life.

As such, civilization in toto is subjecting itself to suicidal behavior by failing to listen to scientists and failing to enact emergency measures to convert fossil fuels to renewables. It’s a deadly situation, but still not resonating nearly enough to save the oceans.

Additionally, according to the aforementioned AFP report, without cuts in human-caused emissions, at a minimum, 30% of the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost will melt this century, which would release billions upon billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, which is already filled to the brim with greenhouse gases, thereby accelerating global warming.

All in all, the overall tragedy of the ocean crisis prompts obvious questions: What does it take for world political leadership (especially in America, purportedly, the leader of the free world) to push the big red emergency buttons? Should political leaders be transported to see first-hand sea animal deaths? Should world leaders be “challenged” to eat Alaskan forage fish?

Seabirds are literally falling out of the sky along the West Pacific Coast3; sea lion carcasses line beaches from Vancouver Island to Southern California4; whale deaths are disturbingly too frequent5; the largest toxic algal bloom ever recorded shut down California’s crab industry for months; Alaska is experiencing spikes in deaths of sea otters6 as well as abrupt deaths of several whale species.

Mass sea animal deaths, year after year, are not normal!

The world community must hold its political leaders accountable for abject failure to react. If it were otherwise, meaning, listening to science and acting accordingly, then emergency governmental acts would be underway all across the globe… they’re not!

After all, it’s truly a life and death matter that is hidden from public view, as global warming hits hardest where the fewest people live but where the world’s most elementary and primary food chain is rapidly coming apart at the seams.

Imagine toxins 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide spreading throughout the world’s oceans. Actually, no imagination is necessary because it’s already started in Alaska. For Pete’s sake, first-hand evidence is readily available by simply talking to “locals,” similar to what Dahr Jamail did prior to writing his book.

At some point in time in the near future, it is highly probable that environmental degradation will “force the hand” of the public into open rebellion. Throughout history, it happens “out of the blue.” Ka-boom!

Postscript:

The Trump administration is changing how the federal government “implements key laws” under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Henceforth, governmental agencies will be able to (1) “ignore” climate change implications of their actions as well as (2) “avoid” public disclosure of their scheming. This is extreme radical departure from the original “legal intent” of the NEPA.

  1. “Oceans Turning From Friend to Foe, Warns Landmark UN Climate Report”, Agence France Presse, August 29, 2019.
  2. The New Press, 2019.
  3. “For Five Years Running Now, Mass Seabird Mortality Events Continue in Alaska Waters Which Continue to be Warmer Than Normal”, Alaska Nature & Science, August 2019.
  4. “Surge in Sick, Hungry Sea Lions Off California’s Coast Puzzles Marine Biologists”, The Sacramento Bee, July 4, 2019.
  5. “Feds Declare Emergency as Grey Whale Deaths Reach Highest Level in Nearly 20 Years”, Phys.org, June 4, 2019.
  6. “Officials Investigate Otter Deaths in Southwestern Alaska”, KTOO, Public Media, March 2018.

Reintroducing Otters after a Few Centuries of Harassment

Even in the vast and mysterious reaches of the sea we are brought back to the fundamental truth that nothing lives to itself.

— Rachel Carson1

“I’ve never lived on the West Coast, but I really have absolutely fallen in love with the place.”

Dominique Kone and I are talking at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, covering a lot of ground in the 28-year-old’s narrative, from early years in small towns like Blue Hill and Bucksport, Maine, and then his undergraduate days in the big town (50,000) of Waterville where Kone entered Colby College on a track and field scholarship.

The beauty of going deep on these stories is that readers learn how the NCAA Division III’s fastest athlete in the 100- and 60-meter dashes finds himself in Washington DC working for the PEW Charitable Trust and goes on to set down roots in Corvallis with much time spent completing a master’s in science at the Oregon Coast.

We first meet at an American Cetacean Society gathering where Kone is giving a large audience a thorough and enlightening rundown on his work as a community ecologist studying the possibility of the sea otter finding a home back on Oregon Coast’s waters.

These iconic tool-using mammals, sometimes reaching five feet in length and hitting 100 pounds, have not been a presence on our coastline for decades. Many residents and naturalists might see another member of the weasel family scurrying around the tidewaters and creeks, but those mammals are officially river otters.

Dominque (Dom) Kone’s work is tied to interdisciplinary approaches studying a species like the sea otter (Enhydra lutris).

The Power Point’s title is a typically erudite one associated with grad work: “An Ecological Assessment of a Potential Sea Otter Reintegration to Oregon” under the auspices of the Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna Lab.

Communicating Science His Gift

The powerful element to Kone’s presentation is his at-ease presence and articulateness with a crowd that considers itself amateur biologists.

In the parlance of OSU and other institutions, “transdisciplinary” and “interdisciplinary” define what Dom and his two project fellows are doing to make science much more vigorous and relevant across many disciplines.

This sea otter project is part of a grant OSU received from the National Science Foundation, spurring multiple disciplines in higher education to study the risk and uncertainty in marine science. Dom is one fellowship recipient in his team of three – the others are a social scientist and geneticist.

While the reader will get some of the history surrounding sea otters on the Oregon Coast — from Warrenton to Brookings — and then their localized extirpation and subsequent reintroduction and disappearance, two vital questions in the fellows’ research have been posed and require answering:

1. Does Oregon have suitable habitat for reintroducing the sea otter given the overlapping human activities that have developed over time?

2. What are the potential ecological effects of sea otter reintroduction?

Dom makes it clear that those questions are much more complicated and overlaid with other factors related to potential resource competition, such as interactions with human-based fisheries, which target the same food sources otters do. Add to the mix a marine mammal with the sea otter’s history in California, Washington, Canada and Alaska both positively and negatively affecting the ecosystem separate from Homo sapiens’ needs.

Systems Thinking, Holistic Practices

“My adviser is a professor in the fisheries and wildlife department, but I study within the marine resource management program.” That means Dom has a thesis/project adviser and committee members that include two OSU faculty — a marine ecologist and public policy expert — in addition to an Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (ODFW) shellfish manager and a sea otter ecologist from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The reason inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches are a hot topic, Dom says, is “because a lot of issues facing resource managers involving the environment are really complex to address requiring multiple disciplines to find solutions to all the challenges they face.”

For Dom, who went from four years in the highly diverse and energized DC, to our laid back Corvallis and Coast, he says he has been surprised how gratifying it’s been to be in a place where he can listen to the interests and needs of so many people directly affected by environmental policies and ecological and climatic changes.

He went from a kid who had no robust science classes or ecology clubs in high school in Maine, to this spark plug of a graduate student working on cutting-edge research. Both places, Maine and Oregon, have that one identity issue in common: He was one of three black students in his high school (one was his sister), and he is often the only black student in an OSU classroom.

He touts the added-value of the interdisciplinary project: “I gained skills I wasn’t expecting, like being a good teammate, collaboration and accountability. And I’ve benefited from interacting with people from different disciplines. I’ve increased my communication skills and learned valuable conflict resolution tactics.”

A perfect toolbox for anyone working on endangered species and environmental policies while attempting to integrate the public’s and business stakeholders’ perceptions, needs and demands.

Note: First published at Deep Dive

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In otter news

We talk about conservation biology, ecology, environmental issues and what needs to be done to address many coalescing problems we face on the Central Oregon Coast, in the state and around world in general.

“It’s really important to look at connections and feedbacks,” Dom says as we cover myriad topics. “We need to understand the ecological processes. And scientists can play an important role in listening to stakeholders and their values and concerns. As a scientist and educator, I see my role as educating people on how complex these impacts and variables are in our ecosystem.”

Continually, we talk about the idea that for too long, humans have not considered themselves as part of the natural world. That dominating role has created untold damage to ecosystems that are at the same time both resilient and fragile.

I liken it to arrogance and myopia.

Whether it’s DDT used to kill insects or bringing the American beaver close to extinction, the unintended consequences are apparent to ecologists like Dominique: The American bald eagle almost went extinct due to the DDT causing eggshells to thin and the unhatched chicks to die under the crushing weight of their parents. The eagle’s recovery – largely by banning DDT – is a success story.

For the beaver, much of the East Coast waterways and standing ponds and lakes (wetlands and storm buffers) were created by the beaver, that once numbered 200 million in North America. The fur trade brought them close to absolute extinction. About five percent of the total number of beavers before the fur trade now live in North America (10 million).

Moreover, the fur trade almost brought sea otters to the brink of extinction, Dom states. There were around 150,000 to 300,000 sea otters before heavy hunting, dating from 1741 to 1911, brought the world population to 1,000 to 2,000 individuals living in a fraction of their historic range.

There’s an international ban on hunting them, and from what Dom has studied, we have more than 50 years of managing them through conservation efforts. Dom tells the naturalists with the American Cetacean Society that reintroduction programs into previously populated areas have aided some of the rebounding.

These translocation efforts, from 1965 to ’72, shuttled sea otters form the Central Coast of Alaska to other parts of that state and then British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.

These creatures are enigmatic and iconic. We surmise that the last native sea otter in Oregon was shot and killed in 1906. Those 95 sea otters transplanted from Amchitka Island, Alaska, to the Southern Oregon Coast were our best chance at recovery. Sightings make the scientific journals — in 2004, a male sea otter hung out for six months at Simpson Reef off of Cape Arago. Then, in 2009, another male sea otter was spotted in Depoe Bay. Both otters could have traveled to from either California or Washington

“Within five or six years, the otters mysteriously disappeared,” Dominique states.

He nuances the Alaska population’s vitality by pointing out that maybe three of the stocks are doing well, while the Southwestern Alaskan stock is threatened. Ironically, in 1970, another OSU graduate student, Ron Jameson, monitored the 95 otters while they were here, with sightings along the 276 miles of Oregon coast.

“Very few sea otter carcasses were found on the Oregon coast,” Dom said. “Mortality can’t explain their disappearance.”

Otters Doing What Otters Must Do – Explore!

Other explanations for their exit from our coast could be “otters were doing what otters do – disperse and explore other locations.” The mystery spurs scientists to find answers: Lack of food? Lack of habitat? Human disturbances?

Dom is deft at fielding questions from the crowd of 35, and he explains how conservation biologists consider sea otter recovery an important link in marine conservation. The interrelationship of one species with the total ecological health of other species was first named in 1969 by Robert Paine who looked at the sea otter and other fauna as “keystone species.”

The Central Oregon Coast should think of kelp forests as one key benefit of sea otters making a comeback: These are nurseries for many different aquatic species. Kelp forests give protection to juvenile aquatic animals, who would otherwise be vulnerable targets.

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Here’s the interconnectivity of otters and kelp forests: Sea urchins multiply, forming barrens that sweep the ocean floor consuming entire stands of kelp.

The keystone element to this species Dominique and his cohorts are studying is that since the sea urchin is a main food source for the sea otter, the mammal acts as “protector of the kelp beds.”

We call this “balancing the ecosystem,” so by keeping urchin populations down, the kelp thrives, and the result is other aquatic species are able to mature and live in their natural environment, and sea otters, a threatened species, are able to survive.

The California and Aleutian Island sea otter populations have either declined or plateaued, and therefore the sea otter remains classified as a threatened species.

This otter research project is really a look at how viable a recovery or restoration project is for Oregon — considering all the implications of so-called human resource management.

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The graduate student is looking into the entire suite of unanticipated outcomes or impacts a sea otter reintroduction program might have on the following individual and intersecting issues: law and policy; ecology; fisheries management; politics, economics; social and cultural stakes; genetics; even oceanographic.

Interestingly, while Dom is working as a scientist pulling together the history, biology, fisheries management and public policy sides to Oregon’s possible sea otter reintroduction, he is quick to point out powerful indigenous groups’ spiritual-centered connection to the sea otter, such as the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians and the Coquille Indian Tribe. “We also are looking at what restoring the cultural connections to the sea otter before tribes were forced from coastal lands will do for those communities.”

This once prevalent species comes with it more than its tool-making and cute coastal presence. We have stakeholders with the urchin, Dungeness crab, mussel and clam fisheries. We have all these other human activities, too, along the coast that might make the recovery effort difficult: pollution, shipping lanes, recreation and toxins.

The linchpin for much of my life interviewing people is what makes them tick and from where they came: family, significant emotional events, perspectives honed by trials and tribulations.

Diversity Sets the Standard

Dom’s parents met at Husson University in Bangor, both on basketball scholarships – she having been a white woman with many generations tied to Maine, and his father an African from the Ivory Coast.

Dom says he identifies strongly as a black man, not as bi-racial. While he got interested in science watching religiously PBS’s Nature, he did have opportunities in our country’s national parks through an outing club.

He was the only black child and teen in many situations. When he went to Colby College as a star sprinter and long jumper, he still did not experience much diversity there. It was when he got to DC, as an intern for the National Wildlife Federation and then later as a policy researcher at PEW, that he got a taste of real diversity.

“Sometimes as the only person of color in a room, I have to be aware I am not just representing myself, but my race, yet I don’t want to represent a group since that group is very diverse, too.”

Dom is aware that he can be put into situations of borderline tokenism, and that he has to understand that for younger people, seeing someone like him excel in the sciences gives younger people of color not only a role model but proof that there are inroads being made to accept a more diverse student body, faculty and scientific community.

“Diversity and inclusivity are almost buzz words these days,” he said. “Getting into a program like this one doesn’t solve all the problems. Half the battle is won, part of the systemic hurdle to overcome, but they have to make people of color feel valued and heard, so they will want to stay.”

Dom defends his thesis in December and says he wants to step back from academia for a while, hoping to work in a science policy arena, for a non-profit or governmental agency. He likens his work experience and academic background as a good foundation to be a “boundary spanner” – that is, someone working on scientific research but also developing public policy and drawing on his communications skills to be a workshop facilitator.

“I’ve always wanted to get into endangered species,” he said. “It is amazing, though, how much work goes into any one species, let alone the ecology as a whole where that species interacts with other species.”

One thing we can gather from Dom – he is highly motivated to understand “intersectionalities” in the environmental world. The sea otter seems like a talisman for him to move forward.

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Much like the rain forests of the Amazon, Kelp forests are considered by scientists to be one of the more effective sequesters of carbon dioxide. The linkage between sea otters, sea urchins, kelp forests and ultimately climate change mitigation are coming to the fore.

“A recent study shows kelp forests with higher sea otters present can absorb up to 12 times more CO2 from the atmosphere than if they were just left to the urchin explains the linkage between sea otters, sea urchins, kelp forests, and ultimately climate change mitigation,” according to the organization Friends of the Sea Otter.

Count Dominique, 28, as one of those sea otter’s friends.

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  1. Silent Spring Introduction, 1962

One Woman’s Research on Aquatic Bioinvasions, Seaweed, Wave Energy

Symbioses — prolonged associations between organisms often widely separated phylogenetically — are more common in biology than we once thought and have been neglected as a phenomenon worthy of study on its own merits. Extending along a dynamic continuum from antagonistic to cooperative and often involving elements of both antagonism and mutualism, symbioses involve pathogens, commensals, and mutualists interacting in myriad ways over the evolutionary history of the involved ‘partners.’

— Gregory G. Dimijian, “Evolving Together: The Biology of Symbiosis”

It’s about being really committed. I tell students who are not any smarter than their peers that this takes hard work … to work on one question for five to seven years.

— Sarah Henkel on what it takes to study for and gain a doctorate in marine sciences

One never knows the waters a science-based article will dip into when a writer features one of OSU-Hatfield’s multidisciplinary researchers. Scientists look at very focused questions while naturalists and generalist ecologists look at systems from a broader range, but that interplay is less friction than analysis. As a journalist, my job is to dig deep and find those connections.

For Sarah Henkel, looking at how human-made structures affect what happens at the bottom of the sea is both fascinating and important to all human-activities in and around marine systems.

However, one scientist’s invasive species is another scientist’s opportunistic species. She’s got creed in the study of the benthic zone (what’s happening on the ocean’s bottom) and wave energy.

In her office at Hatfield, Sara and I recognize that the world of ecology is evolving due to innovative research and new questions scientists and policy makers are no longer afraid to ask.

She’s not atypical – a smart scientist who is open to fielding a wide-range of inquiries.

Because of the heavy footprint humans have put upon the environment in the form of cutting down entire forests and jungles, as well as geo-engineering the planet through fossil fuel burning and all the chemicals released in industrial processes, newer challenges to both our species’ and other species’ survival end up in the brains and labs of scientists.

To say science is changing rapidly is an understatement.

One Floating Piece of Debris Can Change an Entire Coast

For Henkel, she wonders what the effects of one pilon, one mooring anchor, and one attached buoy have on ecologies from the sea floor, upward.

The ocean, once considered immune to humanity’s despoilments, is as far as its chemical composition and ecological processes fragile with just the right forcers. HMSC is lucky to have dedicated thinkers like Sarah Henkel working on questions regarding not only this part of the world, but globally.

Students working with Sarah gain varying knowledge she’s accomplished through transitions from inland girl growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, where creeks, deciduous forest and terrestrial animals enchanted her and her sibling, to marine scientist in Oregon.

“Ever since I was in third grade, I knew I was going to be a marine biologist,” she says while we talk in her office at Hatfield. When a child, she visited a “touch tank” at a museum near her home and was completely fascinated with the horseshoe crabs.

Posters of benthic megaflora – seaweed and eel grass – adorn her office walls at HMSC. We’re talking about kelps like bull whip, feather boa, deadman’s finger, witch’s hair, studded sea balloons, and Turkish towel displayed on posters.

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Symbiosis, Cooperation, Opportunism, Invasiveness? That is the Question.

While we talk about kelp/seaweed, she shifts to invasive species like Undaria pinnatifida which hitched onto debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Over a dozen species on a worldwide list of invasive species were on broken dock moorings that washed up near Newport. Three — Undaria pinnatifida, Codium fragile, and Grateloupia turuturu — are particularly hazardous.

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Some of Henkel’s work looks at one gene expression, say, in Egregia menziesii, to uncover how the species responds to various conditions. Some big issues dovetail to Undaria pinnatifida playing havoc in Australia and New Zealand.

Her fundamental question is how can certain invasive species establish niches in very different waters from where they evolved. Looking at temperature and salinity tolerances as well as desiccation limits of species helps cities, states and countries manage opportunistic invasives that not only thrive in new places, but push out endemic species.

East Coast-West Coast: Transplantation

Henkel’s a transplant herself, from Virginia, with a science degree from the College of William and Mary. She tells me that she was lucky to have gotten into a gifted and talented high school program where she attended half a day every morning, then getting bused back to her home school in the afternoon — for three years.

“It [Virginia Governor’s School] was set up like a college, with professors and curriculum more like college-level courses.”

She then transplanted herself to California State University–Fullerton in 2000 to work on a master’s degree. Then, further north, to UC-Santa Barbara for a doctorate in marine sciences.

The final thrust northward was in 2009, to OSU, where she has been ever since.

We laugh at the idea of humans also being an invasive or transplanted species: She brings up a place like San Francisco Bay which is considered by scientists as a “global zoo” of invasive species with as many as 500 plants and animals from foreign shores taking hold in Frisco’s marine waters.

“Scientists think there are more invasives in San Francisco Bay than there are native species.”

She, her husband Will, and their six-year-old live in Toledo because, as she says, “there’s no marine layer to contend with and Toledo has a summer up there.” Mountain biking is what the family of three enjoy – from Alsea Falls, to Mt. Bachelor and Mt. Hood.

If We Build It, Will They Come, Leave or Morph?

“The biggest issue facing wind and wave energy developers in the environmental arena is the high level of uncertainty regarding environmental effects will be difficult to reduce that uncertainty.” – Sarah Henkel

After her Ph.D, from UC-Santa Barbara, Sarah sent out more than a dozen applications for professorships and research positions to universities.

What got her into the OSU Family was her work at a California-based Trust looking at decommissioning offshore oil platforms.

“What sorts of animals are living on platforms? Do you cut them off at the top to allow navigation and then preserve whatever’s grown on it?” Artificial reefs are attractive in increasing species like corals, sponges, fish and crustacean, but she emphasized that’s mostly done in tropical locations. Henkel says she was a strong candidate for OSU because of the school’s work on the effects of wave energy equipment and lines on the ecosystem up here off Newport.

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The marriage between Henkel’s knowledge of benthic ecosystems and the need to understand not only what the moorings of wave energy machines do to fauna like boney fish, crabs, and other species, but also what happens to the mechanisms that are immersed in water as they capture the wave energy was perfect for OSU.

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She points out wind turbines also have anchoring systems and superstructures; however, the actual energy-capturing mechanisms are high in the air as opposed to wave energy devices.

Wave Energy, Blue Energy: No Slam Dunk

“The industry recognizes the value of looking like they are being good environmental stewards,” she says, pointing out her ecological expertise melds well with the industry’s ideal of sustainable, renewable clean energy.

Her role with the Pacific Marine Energy Center is to coordinate all the science concerned with the ecological effects of wind energy – both the siting, building, and operation of any wave energy array.

OSU is looking at wave energy while the other members of PMEC are studying tidal energy (University of Washington) and river energy (University of Alaska).

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small energy generating device, river

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The idea of studying sediment changes caused by anchors and structures located on the bottom – at the grain size level – may not be considered “sexy” when one thinks of marine biology; however, for Henkel the benthic zone is where it’s at.

“The classic question for artificial reefs is attraction versus production: Can there be more fish overall with this additional habitat, or is that artificial habitat attracting fish away from natural reefs?”

The permitting process for the wave energy site off Newport has been both Byzantine and slow, and it’s ironic that in her 10 years at OSU, she’s not had any opportunity to do the field observations and data collecting she was hired to head up. In that decade, Henkel said a 1/3 scale wave energy device was put into the ocean out here for seven weeks.

Henkel is not stuck in limbo, however, since she is conducting research into other aspects of the benthic region with far-reaching implications for our coastal economy.


Crabs on the Move

When we think of the Dungeness crab, most realize it’s Oregon’s leading commercial seafood product; it brought in an estimated $75 million in 2018. Henkel posed a question that many crabbers have had in their minds for years: How far will crabs travel in search of food?

In 2018, Henkel and a colleague from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration superglued acoustic tags onto legal-sized Dungeness crabs near the mouth of the Columbia River and off Cape Falcon.

Acoustical receivers helped the team learn the frequency and distance crabs moved in rocky versus sandy habitat – data that, again, will help understand possible impacts of wave energy testing on marine reserves.

Those 10 tagged crabs in sandy environs near the Columbia left the region within a week; the transmitter, at a price of $300 each, went with them.

Most know that crabbers prefer sandy areas for their pots because of fewer entanglements compared to rocky bottoms.

“It’s interesting because I’ve done a lot of sampling of benthic habitat and there just isn’t a lot of food down there,” Henkel told Mark Floyd of OSU. “There’s usually only very small worms and clams, yet there’s an enormous crab harvest each year and most of that is from sandy-bottomed regions.”

Good science means marching on, so another 20 crabs were tagged and then dropped in waters near Cape Falcon, a rocky benthic zone. Her findings were surprising: “Four of those crabs left the region right away, while the other 16 stayed an average of 25.5 days. One stayed for 117 days.”

“Even though it’s a small sample size, it’s clear that habitat can influence crab movement,” Henkel told Floyd. “The crabs in the rocky areas had more to eat, but they often also have mossy bellies, which may not be as desirable commercially. Commercial crabbers like to target migrating crabs in sandy areas that tend to have smooth bellies.”

Chemical Outflows Studied

Other interesting projects she’s been involved with include a 2012 study of marine species living in Newport waters to see if the Georgia-Pacific containerboard plant outfall pipe, located 4,000 feet off Nye Beach, may be exposing some marine life to contaminants.

In fact, it was the City of Newport that requested OSU researchers look at a variety of species, including flatfish (speckled sand dab), crustaceans (Dungeness crab and Crangon shrimp), and mollusks (mussels and olive snails) because they might be bioaccumulating metals and organic pollutants at different rates.

Henkel and colleague, Scott Heppell, found contamination of those species was not at levels of concern: “There was some concern that metals and organic pollutants may be bioaccumulating in nearby marine life. We tested for 137 different chemicals and only detected 38 of them – none at levels that remotely approach concern for humans.”

New Student Archetypes: Funding at the Whim of New Anti-science Administration

We discuss what characteristics current science students possess compared to when she was a young undergraduate science major in the late 1990s. “We see a lot more students who want their science to matter … they want to be studying things that will improve society.”

This social awareness also has created more collaborative and supportive learning environments, she stresses. “When I was a student, we had the attitude that we didn’t want anyone to see our data until we publish it.”

Now, she emphasizes, there is so much data coming in from all angles; for instance, one project can get 1,000 photos a minute just of one marine species in its habitat. Part of the sharing may stem too from being more socially conscious and concerned than the cohorts for Henkel when she first started school.

Other concerns are tied to this recent shift in administrations – from Obama to Trump. There was a lot of support for renewables under previous administrations, but now under Trump so much is up in the air for scientists working on research projects tagged as “climate change” or “renewable energy,” even those research projects around species protection.

Two large grants the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management manage are at stake.

The Scientist’s Toolbox: Adaptation

To adapt, Sarah says, wave energy research is now looking at developing, promoting and deploying small machines near navigational buoys and aquaculture operations, where batteries die in six months; in the case of aquaculture, automatic feeding machines run on batteries, but with a wave-energy generating device supplying constant power, there would be no gap in the power.

On top of that, thousands of research and navigational buoys in our oceans have batteries that need constant replacing and disposal. Wave energy at the sites would be a constant energy source and reduce waste from battery disposal.

Making lemonade – new breakthroughs in blue energy — out of lemons – subsidies and tax breaks in the billions for the oil industry but none for blue energy – is also part of the scientist’s philosophy.

Sarah’s big takeaway when talking about the power of the Hatfield campus is that students get to work with other agencies and collaborate on real projects. “Not many students can be destined for a job in the Ivory Tower,” she said. Seeing other scientists from other agencies in different roles gives students at HMSC so many more avenues for career paths.

Henkel may be a sea floor expert, but she still knows that looking at how seabirds react to/interact with wind turbines and wave energy fields is important, as is studying the electromagnetic frequency fields created by blue energy generation.

She’s on a mission to get down to the granular level of things, but in the end, each little piece of the puzzle is hitched to the big thing, called the ocean!

Sea Level Rise!

Sea level has been stable, at current levels, throughout recorded history for 5,000 years. That’s about to change. Still, it’s very difficult for people to imagine a change in sea level after 5,000 years of rock solid stability.

Nevertheless, assuming sea levels do rise markedly, one of the biggest questions of the century is whether the world is prepared for sea level rise?

As a guess, the answer is: No, not even close.

Well, they better start making plans because there’s no stopping at 410 ppm CO2 and +1°C post-industrial temperature, sea level rise is locked and loaded. It’s only a matter of when, how much.

A recent scientific forum offers insight. In February 2019, John Englander, oceanographer and world-renown sea level expert, spoke at The Royal Institution, London, which is affectionately called “the home of science.” It’s one of the world’s most prestigious and long-standing institutions.

The Royal Institution has promoted scientific breakthroughs and new theories for 220 years. In 1859, Prof. John Tyndall spoke at the same spot and same desk where John Englander stood to deliver his speech. Tyndall was one of the first scientists to theorize the impact of greenhouse gases (GHG) on climate change.

One hundred-sixty-years later, John Englander spoke about the consequences of Tyndall’s observations, the onset of sea level rise:

We really can’t wait for the tragedy to evolve to deal with it.

Unfortunately:

We tend to make big changes and expensive projects when tragedy has happened… But, with this one, we really can’t wait for the tragedy to unfold to begin to deal with it. And, therein lies a particular challenge for all of us.

Accordingly, sea level rise should be the most important consideration for thousands of coastal communities around the world. And, not only that, but surprise, surprise! Sea level rise is a regular, normal feature in Earth’s climate history of the past 400,000 years. In fact, major instances of sea level rise happened four times during that time.

The four-glacial/interglacial periods of the past 400,000 years happened at the rate of one per 100,000 years with four Down (cold) Cycles each lasting 80,000 years and four Up (warm) Cycles each lasting 20,000 years.

The last Down (cold) Cycle ended 22,000 years ago. Thus, and therefore, today is the tail end of the last Up (warm) Cycle and a new Down (cold) Cycle should already be here, but, no, human greenhouse gases (GHG) like CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide have altered the normal rhythms of the planet, stopped dead in its tracks, preventing another long overdue Down (cold) Cycle.

Englander claims there won’t be another Down (cold) Cycle as long as people exist on the planet. People are “heat machines.” They have changed the planet’s chemistry and physics and thus, artificially extended the Up (warm-to-hot-to-hotter) Cycle.

The paleoclimate record shows temperatures over the past 400,000 yrs ranged plus/minus 5°C and CO2 ranged 180 ppm to 280 ppm.

Today’s CO2 at 410 ppm literally smashes the old record of 280 ppm that stood for 400,000 years. Hmm.

Over those 400,000 years, 5°C temperature change brought 120 meter (394 feet) sea level changes in its wake. Looked at another way, sea level rise equals 20 meters (60 feet) per 1°C temperature increase. Uh-oh! Earth’s already heated that much. Does this mean 20 meters (60 feet) of sea level rise is already “baked in the cake,” ready to burst forward?

Well, yes, but not exactly.  The key ingredient is when it happens because timing is tricky. In days of yesteryear when 280 ppm was top end, CO2 grew at a rate 0.1 to 0.3 ppm/annum, so sea level rise took centuries as temperatures slowly increased, whereas today, CO2 at 410 ppm and growing 3.0 ppm/annum (10xs the paleoclimate rates) is like a turbo-charged Indy race car on a geological track, and it has powered ahead, thus leaving sea level rise choking on fumes. But, it’ll catch up…count on it. Thus, there’s a lag time between GHGs today and temperature rise and sea level rise tomorrow.

Think of Earth, the biosphere, as a big oven, similar to the one at home, when turned to 450°F, the home oven takes several minutes to crank up to 450°F. It’s not instantaneous.  Similarly, the biosphere oven receives tons and tons of greenhouse heat-trapping gases, but its version of “several minutes” is “several years-to-decades” to achieve maximum heat. In other words, your 2010 auto exhaust generated today’s global warming.

It’s all about “timing.” After all, when warming cycles happen, sea level rise usually takes centuries and centuries to increase. For example, 14,000 years ago an increase in temperatures took seas up 65 feet over 400 years. Accordingly, that’s 1.5 feet per decade, which calculation, in part, led John Englander to make the assumption that today’s sea level rise will be 1-2-3 feet by mid 21st century. In turn, that would be a real shocker, especially to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with its median expectation of one-half a meter or 1.6 feet by 2100.

The IPCC’s absolute “worst-case” guesstimate is 32 inches by 2100, but a footnote hidden in fine print says the IPCC does not factor Antarctica into their calculations. Ahem! Antarctica is not included! Mercy!

Englander’s key points:

  • Sea level never rises smoothly. It’s not a straight line or a curved line. There are inflection points when it suddenly rises. So far, that has not been experienced. In fact, over the past 100 years, temps are up 1°C and sea level rise is only up 4 inches.
  • Sea level has been stable, at current levels, throughout human recorded history for 5,000+ years.
  • Thus, it’s very difficult for people to imagine a change in sea level, especially after 5,000 years of rock solid stability.

Today’s big problem: Sea levels are now (today) at an early stage of exponential growth, meaning, the rate of growth is doubling, cycle-by-cycle, for the first time in known history.  Based upon satellite recordings since 1993: sea level rise 1993-98 +1.5MM/yr. 1998-2011 +3.2MM/yr. 2011-2018 5.0MM/yr. That’s nearly double every cycle, which is an exponential function, and it’s trouble, very-very big trouble.

The exponential:

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.1

An exponential, to wit: How long does it take to fill Yankee Stadium with water, assuming 1 drop of water is added, then 2 drops, then 4 drops, then 8 drops, then 16 drops, on and on, doubling the number of drops every minute? Answer: 47 minutes.

Exponential is fast, real fast, and sea level rise is now on an exponential pathway for the first time ever!!! That’s a very big pill to swallow! But still, timing is everything, which nobody knows for certain.

Meantime, the sources of sea level rise are readily identifiable as Greenland 24 feet and Antarctica 186 feet and another 3 feet in glaciers found in Alps and around the world in mountainous terrain.

Greenland is surprisingly big. Englander has been there 6 times; it’s 1,600 miles north to south and 1,000 miles east to west. It’s the biggest island in world with ice 2 miles thick that covers 80% of the island.

Antarctica is even more enormous at 7xs Greenland.  There are four parts to Antarctica:

  • East Antarctica – relatively solid but starting to rumble – it’s the final frontier of global warming
  • West Antarctica – glaciers go under water here and a high risk zone
  • Antarctica Peninsula- melting the fastest and closest to South America
  • Ice Shelves – thick ice slabs resting on the water, serving as backstops to glaciers- increasingly breaking off in ever-bigger chunks; e.g., Antarctica’s Iceberg B-15 at 183 miles long by 23 miles wide.

With mounting concerns expressed by scientists, six Antarctic glaciers are under special watch: Pine Island Glacier – a huge cavity discovered only recently – Thwaites Glacier, a new disturbing discovery found only recently, Haynes Glacier, Pope Glacier, Smith Glacier, and Kohler Glacier. All of these glaciers are located around the Amundsen Sea. Combined, these six have 10 feet of sea level locked up inside. Nobody knows when, but the entire region is extremely vulnerable, already showing the early signals of “losing it.”

Meanwhile, Englander’s guesstimate: By mid century, we could get a couple of feet of sea level rise. But keep in mind it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s the buildup that destroys, and that is now, unfortunately, on an exponential pathway. In other words, it’s an extremely dicey affair that could be gradual, or it could be rapid, awful, and nasty.

Englander’s conclusion: Sea level rise is unstoppable.

Interestingly, ever since the 1990s, mainstream science has been at least 30 years late with sea level projections, consistently way too low, but then again, exponential growth throws off the best of ‘em. It’s a wild card.

According to Englander, there are three key takeaways from his speech:

  • Reduce emissions, immediately – it’s most important to slow warming as much as possible as early as possible.
  • Regardless, sea level rise will still be catastrophic on a global scale. Even with 100% renewable energy tomorrow, sea level rise will happen. As an aside, oceans (2/3rds of the planet) absorbed 85% of planetary heat and emit CO2 when too warm/hot.
  • The sooner “engineering for the future” happens, the easier to adapt.

According to Englander, society has 20-30 years to redesign cities to prepare for the inevitable as thousands of coastal communities must move or adapt to sea level rise. As an aside, and in fairness to contrary opinion, there are scientists that disagree with the timeline of 20-30 years to do something.

The risk factor is heightened by the fact that past sea level rises had saw-toothed patterns with inflection points of rapid increase along the way, making it nearly impossible to predict timing.

As such, and here’s the big oops-a-daisy, with exponentials kicking into gear, it’s truly a gamblers’ world.

According to John Englander, there are no options. It must be dealt with. Come hell or high water, sea level rise is forthcoming.

  1. Albert Allen Bartlett, 1923-2013 /Harvard PhD, Professor Emeritus, Nuclear Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder.

Why Do We Think We Own The Earth?

We are now in climate crisis.  Almost every week another major scientific study hits the news, telling us we are losing this, destroying that and completely obliterating the other; whole ecological systems under threat while those with the power to take the hard decisions twiddle their thumbs and set ‘to-do’ dates that will be all too late to have any impact.  As a recent report notes: ‘Much scientific knowledge produced for climate policy-making is conservative and reticent.’  Policy makers do not want to face the inconvenient truth.

The trouble is that, even if we could somehow halt catastrophic climate change – now looking unattainable – we are also, by the way we live, destroying the ecological systems that keep us and all the earth alive, something equally catastrophic.  Plastic in the sea has nothing to do with climate change.  The loss of topsoil and soil degradation is mostly to do with industrial farming methods.  The destruction of forests is due to financial greed and while it will greatly exacerbate climate change, satisfying the desire for more money comes first.

People who think they ‘own’ the earth are those destroying it.  They are also often the ones who do not believe in climate change.  Surely the rich will always have enough money to buy what they want.  But you can’t buy what you have destroyed.

Many people understand the word ‘environment’ as being something ‘green’ when it is simply a term for our surroundings.  Of course, we should protect green/natural environments, but what we must really protect is the ecology of those areas.

Ecology is the way things work; it is how all life combines to support itself; it is true biodiversity, the balancing of living systems to the benefit of those systems.  It is a whole thing, or it should be, but we keep destroying bits here, there and everywhere. Then wonder why the whole doesn’t seem to work any more.

We can’t pick and choose with Nature.  We can’t say ‘I want to protect that species because it’s useful, but exterminate this one because it gets in my way.’  We accept all of Nature, or we accept nothing.  And we should include ourselves in that, yet we prefer to stand outside – and rule.

How did we arrive at this state of an arrogant claim of ‘ownership’ of the earth?  Let us go back to the ‘beginning’ – Genesis, in particular Genesis 1, verses 27 and 28.

  1. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
  2. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

This, of course, is the Authorised Version of the English Bible, also known as the King James Bible, published in 1611.  Probably the most printed book in the world, the writing, though now very old fashioned, is beautiful.  It has affected and added greatly to the English language.  No modern translations can equal its power.  More importantly, people remember the words and unfortunately it has done a far better job than subliminal advertising.

Consider those words ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over…’  How many people over the last 4 centuries have been taught them, read them, heard them in church?  Missionaries have carried them across the world, spreading the underlying message: ‘We humans own the earth.’

The Authorised version has been updated and put into modern language many times, but out of 27 bibles in English, 23 still use the word ‘subdue’; 13 use the phrase ‘have dominion over’.  The alternatives for subdue and dominion are ‘govern’, ‘rule’, ‘rule over’, ‘reign over’, ‘be masters over…’, ‘be its master’ or bring the earth ‘under control’.  The more recent American bibles make the message clear.  The Contemporary English Version, published in 1995, says:

Have a lot of children! Fill the earth with people and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky, and every animal on the earth.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all use Genesis in their thinking, but this isn’t just about monotheistic religions.  Pretty well all religions put humanity first.  That’s what they’re there for, to help us believe in ourselves as a species; to believe that some higher being or beings will look after us, the humans; put us, the humans, first.

It is easy to see how the West, propelled by men whose lives, regardless of their appalling acts, were based on the bible, has fulfilled the message.  Human population has been, for many years, expanding.  We do cover the earth and there are too few places left that are not under our control.  And our expanding population means an ever-growing demand that the earth must provide for us, even as we destroy the ability of the earth to provide what we need, let alone what we want.

In modern secular society people can be too wrapped up in consumerism to think about whether humans have the right to own the earth.  There is a lot of angry (and justified) discussion about how a very few people own most of the earth.  ‘How unfair!’ we cry.  But if we take that money, power and property away from the ultra rich, we will not give it to the earth where it belongs, but to ourselves, the common man.

It shows up in all shades of political thinking.  Most political parties (barring the alt-right) will claim some desire to help protect the environment, by which they mean ‘manage’.  Take this example from a Socialist Party’s leaflet, with the headline ‘There is only one world’:

… the world’s natural and industrial resources must become the common heritage of all humanity so that they can be used to directly meet the needs of the world’s population…

How did ancient man arrive at this attitude, this arrogance that became the rule so precisely displayed in Genesis?  It wasn’t always like this.

Hunter-gatherer societies, as described by anthropologist Douglas Fry, were small nomadic groups leading relatively stress-free lives, and they did not struggle to find the food they needed.  Then farming took over, in what Jared Diamond called ‘the worst mistake’ in history.

If you grow your food you have to stay in one place in order to care for your crop – your crop, and therefore, perhaps, your land.  That one simple act changed how humans thought and lived.  It created tribes with chiefs; it created ‘territories’ and fights over land; it created civilisations with growing populations, armies and a land bled dry by overuse; civilisations that inevitably collapsed.

Growing food certainly meant more people could be fed but, as Diamond points out, ‘Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.’

The modern world believes it has a ‘right’ to the earth and all it contains, while native peoples believe they have obligations towards the earth that feeds them.  Being indigenous does not mean being perfect in the way humans treat their environment.  Despite having an intimate relationship with their environment, and a deep sense of reverence for the earth, indigenous people still altered the land to enable the way they lived.

For the Algonquin peoples, living in the northeast states of America, ‘natural resources were not just passively foraged; they were actively managed, through such practices as regular burning to clear deadwood, produce pasture, and encourage the growth of nut trees and fresh browse.

Their sometime neighbours, sometime enemies, the Iroquois farmed as well as hunted, but ‘when cornfields lost their fertility or wood and game became scarce, every decade or so’, the people moved to another location.  Really?  Ten years to empty your environment?  There was room enough to do that then.  There isn’t now.

Time and again civilisations have collapsed, often for the reasons that possibly ended the Mayan culture: overpopulation and overuse of the land, endemic warfare and drought.  The Chaco Canyon culture died, it seems, not just because of environmental stress, but of a rigid belief system: ‘the Puebloan people survived only by letting go of tradition’.

But now our civilisation is global and we are collapsing on a global scale.  This time we have nowhere to move and start again.  Forget that dream of relocating to another planet.  We haven’t the time or resources left to go wholesale into space to live on another earth-like planet.  And if we haven’t learnt from our mistakes here, another planet would be trashed.

We humans are proud of our intelligence, our inventiveness, our technology.  That pride in ownership, that greed for more control, and that push to provide more and more goods for ever-eager consumers, using resources that become less and less, has led to the ruination of the planet and now, more than likely, to our own extinction.

Now universities are studying possible technical fixes, geo-engineering, in the hope that we can bring climate change under our ‘control’.  But the danger there is that if some of these fixes appear to work, then everyone will say ‘that’s alright then’, and carry on as before in our earth-damaging way.

In humanity’s desire to own the earth, there are several things we won’t own.  We won’t own the waste we create.  We won’t own the carbon emissions emitted by other countries on our behalf.  We won’t own our mistakes, or the misery they create – and we won’t own our responsibilities.

We are losing the topsoil all across the earth.  Soon, the soil that grows our food (and the food of many other life forms that populate this little planet) will be dead.  This is too big for a technological ‘fix’.

Rivers are struggling.  Some will dry up as the glaciers that feed them melt. There will come a day when there are no more glaciers and the earth will lose its major source of fresh water.  This is too big for a technological ‘fix’.

Left alone, rivers have clean water, are full of life and their regular flooding has benefits.  The Nile Delta, now endangered, once owed its reputation as ‘the bread basket of the world’ to its annual floods.  But the majority of the world’s great rivers are no longer free-flowing.  We have rerouted them, dammed them, constrained them, polluted them with antibiotics, herbicides, pesticides and poured human and animal sewage into them or drained them of their waters to irrigate ‘our’ land.  We have done everything except to allow them to act naturally.  This is too big for a technological ‘fix’.

With a possible major sea level rise, the oceans, poisoned and stripped of most life, will take over land that the human race has claimed as its own.  This also is too big for a technological ‘fix’.

All life has its own form of intelligence which allows it to survive by fitting in to the whole ecological system.  The natural environment should be a thing of beauty, full of busy life, something that both inspires and calms.  It has become a bleak and empty place, where you return from a walk over the hills with a mental list of the things you haven’t seen – because our collective ego has killed them.

For far too long, humanity has regarded itself as ‘outside’ Nature.  We think we are exceptional.  Our ‘intelligence’ rarely produces long-lasting benefits to anything but ourselves.  God forbid that we should be just one form of life among many, with no more ability to survive than the rest of life.  How could we, being who we have become, face that loss of importance?  There is only one thing that makes humanity truly exceptional; our desire to own and control everything, partnered by our horrible ability to destroy what we try to control.

Can we learn from Chaco Canyon and the Pueblo people?  Is it too late to ditch our rigid world view, our superiority, our belief in our ‘right’ to own and control our world?  Can we, before our much-vaunted ‘civilisation’ crashes and we die, learn instead to live kindly with this earth?