Tuesday, September 8, 2015


                               by Fireweed for The Island Word, September edition, 2015

life expectancy for a fin whale - approx. 94 years
     The presence of a fin whale in north Puget Sound recently has been cause for excitement! Second largest creature on earth after the blue whale, this endangered mammal was once common in the Salish Sea. Commercial hunting over the past century devastated the species' population, so the new sighting has marine experts hopeful about the potential for a comeback in the region.

     The young male appeared healthy but a bit on the thin side, according to marine biology professor Jonathan Stern. The unusually warm weather that led to a huge algae bloom extending from California to BC this summer resulted in a “major reduction in food availability for whales,” says Michael Harris, managing director of Puget Sound Express whale-watching. If, as a result, this particular marine mammal was forced to swim further afield in search of fish, it is well within reason to connect his appearance with climate change.

it's not looking good for polar bears
      We know that many life-forms are moving north or into deeper waters as their habitats shift at an ever increasing rate. According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, animals and plants that can expand their ranges stand the best chance of survival. Those that are highly specialized in what they eat or where they live, especially those whose habitats disappear completely, do not have time on their side. “Species have experienced swings like this in the past,” explains environmental biologist Peter Alpert in National Geographic, “but [the changes] have probably taken a thousand times longer.”
millions of hectares of BC forest habitat burned
  Ravaged by extreme weather and a startling number of intense fires this summer, BC is transforming before our very eyes. While late rains eventually relieved us of a protracted dry spell, California's climate is definitely expected to continue advancing in our direction. Without sufficient snowpack this winter our watersheds will struggle to sustain flora and fauna again next year. As Ray Grigg wrote recently, “the old ecologies of the Pacific Northwest are being reshaped as climate change begins the long and disruptive process of altering weather and remaking the biological structure of the region.”

       Most privileged people are conditioned to feel far removed from the social unrest that has already come with climate change in distant areas of the world. But the tragic drowning of three year old Aylan Kurdi, his brother, mother and others fleeing the crisis in Syria has recently brought Canadians face to face with the life and death struggle of 'climate refugees.' While analysts are quick to emphasize that climate change is not solely responsible for the drought in Syria and that drought is only one of many stressors that led to the humanitarian crisis and civil war, the need for far more widespread recognition of the complex ways in which drought, resource scarcity, and conflict in general intersect seems urgent.
Syrian children in refugee camp - Northern Iraq
      According to Francisco Femia, director of the Washington, DC-based Center for Climate and Security, the international community is not looking into environmental stress nearly enough. Five years of extended drought in Syria, he says, forced massive population displacement from rural areas into urban areas. “Those dynamics may have contributed to social unrest,”says Femia, “ and the sustainability of the revolutionary movement.”
      It is also important to note that poor agricultural practices, like over-grazing by livestock, have contributed to desertification of the ecologically fragile Syrian steppe for decades. According to biodiversity conservationist Gianluca Serra, “a major role in the unfolding disaster was played by affluent urban investors who threw thousands of livestock into the steppe turning the grazing into a large-scale, totally unsustainable, industrial practice.”

Syrian drought exacerbated by climate change

     Even if Syria recovers politically, it is estimated that it will have lost nearly 50% of its agricultural capacity by 2050. The circumstances are far more complex than can be adequately addressed here, but if global greenhouse gas emissions continue at current rates, water shortages and droughts will only worsen.

      While we will never be able to precisely calculate the contribution of climate change to any one geopolitical event or human crisis, we can and must take responsibility for the myriad ways in which we collectively add to it. The necessity of reducing animal product consumption, particularly by those of us who have access to alternative sources of nutrition, is an ongoing theme in this column for a very important reason. Animal agribusiness produces more GHG emissions globally than all transportation combined.

     Anyone lucky enough to eat three times a day has the ongoing opportunity to respond pro-actively to the realities of global climate change, endangered species, and vulnerable people around the world by making compassionate food choices. For more on this topic, and thanks to the generous support of actor Leonardo deCaprio, Netflix subscribers can tune in for the important documentary “Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret” starting on September 15th!

For additional references and links, please see SEPT. 2015 RELATED LINKS, on the right hand side of this page.

MUHAMMARA– Syrian Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip (thanks to Jeanette!)


2 cloves garlic, mashed

1-2 red chili peppers, chopped, seeds removed

Juice of one organic lemon

4 red bell peppers, roasted

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
2 T. Pomegranate molasses
1 C of organic whole grain or gluten-free bread crumbs)

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until mostly smooth, like pesto.
Depending on the heat of your chili peppers, you may wish to use more, or less.
Serve with fresh pita bread, or as a sauce on baked tofu kabobs... Bon appetit!

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