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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Species Disappearing at an Alarming Rate

First off -- I suggest you click through the link below as MSNBC has some added interactive features and pictures not included here w/ the information that I have re-posted for convenience's sake.

Second, this report shows us two things of great importance:

1) That the great loss of species life (while globally pervasive) appears to happen along the margins of erupting transnational capital development -- places that have either undergone recent moves towards intense urbanization or are suffering through large-scale "resource depletement" programs put in place through unpayable loans granted by the economic hit men who belong to organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. What this tells us is that species justice coincides with global social justice and human rights, as the greatest human suffering also belongs to these same regions. Of course, this is hardly shocking as all suffer equally when made the objects of war and violence -- whether it be conducted with bombs from above or the more spectral armaments of corporate takeovers and privatizations cast as new millennium colonization strategies.

2) A very bright man (below), who is plugged into all the necessary planetary channels on the issue and has unthinkably more amounts of social and political capital to bring to bear on this issue than you or me, finds optimism in a statement like this:
"The good news is that we still have time to save the majority of (the species), if the conservation community, governments, other organizations, and concerned individuals commit a sufficient amount of resources immediately."
Ah, okay! So if all the imperial power-broker capitalists will just listen to rational arguments and put aside their short-term interests -- collectively, because if even a few cheat then the whole strategy collapses -- and NGOs will find a way to work with them, and if the various state governments will put aside their corruption and if all the regional disputes will halt, and all this happens immediately, then something can be done! Whew, and I thought we had lost our fighting chance there for a moment...

Good grief -- with solutions like this it is no wonder that we are in such dire trouble. This answer is the correlate of the universal citizen approach to global democracy that says, "If the UN were just truly transformed and empowered to mete out justice and charity in an equitable and federated fashion such that we had a planetary republic of social democracy, human rights would prevail."

Yes, and if George Bush and his oligarchy of interests were not in power I would be a happier man. If people did not slaughter the innocent needlessly, I would not wake up with a pit in my stomach every morning. If I were not a small piston in a big machine, I would be liberated to follow my desire and enjoy this blessed life instead of practising stoic quietude, revolutionary cynicism, and so-so guitar.

The world's biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, the recognized global watchdog on endangered species said Wednesday in announcing its annual list of most vulnerable wildlife.

At least 15 species have gone extinct in the past 20 years and another 12 survive only in captivity, the World Conservation Union said in a report that accompanies its annual "Red List."

Current extinction rates are at least 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural rates found in the fossil record, the report stated. The data were released as 3,500 delegates gathered in Bangkok, Thailand, for a World Conservation Union conference focused on halting what's deemed an extinction crisis.

The report concluded that humans are the main reason for most species' declines. "Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading threats," the union said in a statement, "but other significant pressures include over-exploitation (for food, pets, and medicine), introduced species, pollution, and disease. Climate change is increasingly recognized as a serious threat."

3,330 more threatened species
The union, which is a coalition of leading conservation groups, called the report "the most comprehensive evaluation ever undertaken of the status of the world's biodiversity."

Among the findings:
15,589 species (7,266 animal species and 8,323 plant and lichen species) are now considered at risk of extinction an increase of 3,330 species since the 2003 Red List. The increase is largely due to the fact that scientists have finally been able to assess all of the world's amphibians.

One in three amphibians and almost half of turtles and tortoises are known to be threatened with extinction, along with one in four mammals, one in five sharks and rays, and one in eight birds.

The numbers of threatened species are increasing across almost all major taxonomic groups.
Craig Hilton-Taylor, who managed the Red List compilation, noted that "although 15,589 species are known to be threatened with extinction, this greatly underestimates the true number, as only a fraction of known species have been assessed.

"There is still much to be discovered about key species-rich habitats," he said in a statement, "such as tropical forests, marine and freshwater systems, or particular groups, such as invertebrates, plants and fungi, which make up the majority of biodiversity."

Species that fared worse than in 2003 are the now-extinct St Helena olive, the Hawaiian crow, which has become extinct in the wild, and the Balearic shearwater and giant Hispaniolan galliwasp lizard, which are now both critically endangered.

Where threats are concentrated
The report found that threatened species are often concentrated in areas that are poor and densely populated, such as much of Asia and Africa.

The union urged better off nations and international groups to step forward to help in those areas.

"The good news is that we still have time to save the majority of (the species), if the conservation community, governments, other organizations, and concerned individuals commit a sufficient amount of resources immediately," said Russ Mittermeier, the head of Conservation International and chairman of the World Conservation Union's primate group.

The entire Red List database is online at

Posted by Richard
11/18/2004 11:13:19 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

More on Alaskan Wolves

Gov. Murkowski heads the decision to shoot 900 wolves from the sky. They had spoken of 500 max. One is too many. Shooting them from the sky -- great sport in the permafrost fallujah. What's next -- hunting over the Internet?

Time for howl-ins across America at Alaska-related targets...

Posted by Richard
11/17/2004 09:11:10 PM | PermaLink

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Rain Forest Remedies (?)

I don't have the details yet on what exactly "a share of the royalties" translates into as regards what the Samoans will receive should UC Berkeley produce a money-maker from Samoan knowledge or natural materials. It's not clear that this is necessarily a model worthy of such praise -- blues artists who signed away the rights to their music for a royalty share amounting to a one-time miniscule payment didn't exactly make out.

On the other hand, valorizing indigenous knowledge and seeking to support and sustain it is a good thing. The direct opposite would be the kind of corporate take-over of biological life forms, such as seeds, where in cases like Iraq, the Bush administration's Paul Bremer has underwritten that it is illegal for people their to save and plant seeds -- as this would be a patent-infrigement against the corporation who owns the monetary rights to them and wishes to lease its genetically-modified product. As unbelievable and horrorific as this is, its the new norm across the world as witnessed by Vandana Shiva's activism in India.

The Boston Globe (below) is hopeful that the Berkeley agreement will provide a progressive captialist model that will bring money to poor cultures and give them incentives not to slash and burn the habitats in which they live in order to make a quick dollar. Others are currently promoting ecotourism in the same vein -- if rich Northerns will pay good money to visit the rain forest, it is argued, indigenes will find it advantageous not to destroy it.

Unfortunately, what is often not examined is the disadvantageous effects of such tourism and capitalizing of less global and monetized regions.

Can it really be expected that rich and powerful corporations will "play fairly" and share equally in the monies made by indigenous knowledge? As the definition of profit is the commoditization of the surplus values the owners of production reap from the labor power of those they oppress, how can the profit-sharing model ever really be fair anyhow? Even if the Samoans were transformed into winners, someone has to lose -- otherwise the system collapses.

Via: Boston Globe
An agreement signed recently by the Samoan government and the University of California Berkeley should be a model for the industrialized world's use of natural substances from the rain forests of the developing world. At a time when human actions, through habitat destruction or global warming, threaten the extinction of thousands of plant and animal species, scientists need the cooperation of indigenous residents in identifying obscure plants or animals with properties useful for medicine or other purposes.

By ensuring a share of royalties for Samoa from any drug derived from a Samoan tree that has shown potential as an AIDS treatment, the agreement responds to criticism that developing countries often get no benefit from Western researchers' bio-prospecting. Sharing profits gives the countries an incentive to work with scientists and not to destroy habitats for farming or logging.

In 1987, ethnobotanist Paul Cox discovered a chemical compound, prostatin, which has potential as an anti-AIDS drug, in the bark and stemwood of the mamala tree in Samoa. The forest in which the mamala trees grew was about to be clear-cut by loggers. It is now a nature preserve. Cox had learned about the antiviral properties of the mamala by interviewing an elderly Samoan tribal healer.

Another example of the importance of communication between scientists and residents of remote, undeveloped areas is described in the Nov. 9 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For decades a poison found in frogs and used in hunting by Colombian tribespeople has helped scientists studying cell membranes in connection with several diseases, including multiple sclerosis. The hitch is that the National Institutes of Health, which collected this toxin 25 years ago for researchers, is running out. Officials cannot easily go to Colombia to get more because of unrest there.

Luckily, an ornithologist, John P. Dumbacher, had learned from residents of New Guinea in 1992 that a bird there caused numbing or burning sensations when eaten. Dumbacher found the same toxin that was in the frog in this bird. New Guineans then provided another tip -- that a beetle also produced a numbing sensation when touched. Dumbacher found the same toxin in it and then found evidence the birds had eaten the beetles. If the beetle turns out not to produce the toxin itself but gets it from a plant, so much the better: That would make it easier to cultivate in a lab.

Dumbacher's account of the tracking down of this poison shows that Western science depends on two resources: the unique habitats in which these species exist and the knowledge of the people who know their properties. The Samoan forest preserve and the royalties agreement should point the way to sustain these resources.

Posted by Richard
11/16/2004 08:37:36 PM | PermaLink

Monday, November 15, 2004

Animation: Save the Endangered Species Act

Not of the stature of Monster Slash, but an informative and humorous take on a deadly serious issue that is really no laughing matter -- the Bush Administration's attempt (with the assistance of the right-wing policy establishment at all levels) to put the final dagger in the major animal/environmental laws that they feel are blockades to the growth of the industries that seek to find profit in those domains. The Earthjustice cartoon gives you the opportunity to sign a petition on behalf of defending the ESA...this in itself won't do much, but it is one small measure towards adding to Earthjustice's legitimacy in DC circles when it goes to negotiate and lobby this issue. At this point, you might do as much to help by getting more informed on the way the Bushites have gone after (or are trying to go after) protective legislation like the ESA, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Roadless Rule, the Clean Water Act, etc., either by striking, amending, or re-framing the existing laws and rules. Then tell two friends and begin to take ownership of the issue(s) for yourself instead of leaving it to the responsibility of symbolic analysts like me and, worse still, corrupt "representatives" at the governmental level like Bush.

Posted by Richard
11/15/2004 09:08:08 AM | PermaLink