Nitrogen-based fertilizer is one of the cornerstones of the cattle industry as we know it today. When World War II wound down, enterprising industrialists looked for new ways to use the ammonium nitrate that had fed the wartime armaments industry. Fertilizer emerged as the preferred peacetime alternative. This led to cheaper, more abundant grain crops, made even more profitable by generous government farm subsidies. Very quickly, cattle ranchers seized the moment, moving their herds off of pastures and into factory feedlots where corn became their primary fodder.
Crowded and confined, cattle in these concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, fatten up quickly but need hefty doses of antibiotics and other medications to fight off disease. The animals also produce such prodigious amounts of manure that conventional land application methods can’t keep pace. Wastes are pumped into fetid lagoons loaded with nutrients, antibiotic residues, and pesticides—all poorly regulated by state and federal agencies deferential to cattle industry pressures. Runoff into waterways from these open ponds has become one of rural America’s most nettlesome pollution menaces.
News of this new office is less significant when viewed in a fuller context. China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) has for many years talked about its support for saving wild tigers and stopping illegal tiger trade. What SFA officials did not say—and still do not say—is that they were and are investing significantly more effort and money in growing China’s tiger farming industry, upping its capacity to brew tiger-bone wine and seeking international approval for reopening legal trade in luxury products made from farmed tigers. The SFA’s Wan Ziming wrote in a 2009 magazine article that China would be prepared to appeal all the way to the International Court of Justice in The Hague should the UN treaty on international trade in endangered species (CITES) not give its blessing.
With the season’s snowfall now well past the 100-inch mark, no one needs to be reminded of how rough a winter it’s been for Bostonians. Ice dams are everywhere, gutters are straining to the breaking point, and leaks have become the prime topic of water cooler conversation. Yet amidst it all, residential solar power systems have soldiered on.
To be sure, there have been many days when the latest dump of snow has blocked the wintry sun from reaching the 23 solar panels mounted on the roof of our home and adjacent garage. But surprisingly quickly, the snow has slipped off our panels’ slick glass surfaces even as it has clung to the surrounding asphalt shingles. Soon enough our solar panels have resumed their work, generating a healthy flow of electrons.
So far in 2015, the world has seen two rounds of effusive headlines about tigers “roaring back” in the wild—first from India, then from China. Unfortunately, wild tigers are nowhere near “roaring back” anywhere. In fact, their numbers are down by half what they were 20 years ago, while threats to their survival continue to escalate.
Sure, everyone prefers good news. And conservation groups must show donors that some sort of success has been bought with their dollars. But hyperbole can lead to the widespread false impression that wild tigers are much better off than they are.
“India’s tigers come roaring back,” World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced on January 20. “India’s tiger population has significantly increased, according to the 2014-15 India tiger estimation report released today. Recent years have seen a dramatic rise in numbers….” The headline was parroted by news media around the world. But few, if any, that ran the story mentioned the fact that India’s tiger censuses are notoriously unreliable and sometimes dangerously wrong. In fact, just a month after the breaking good news, Indian and Oxford University scientists called India’s census techniques into question. “India’s tiger success story may be based on inaccurate census,” cautioned a headline in the UK’s Guardian. “Reports that India’s tiger population has risen by a third in four years are based on an unreliable count method,” said the subhead.
The United States is one step from bringing trade sanctions against China for its domestic trade in tiger bone and rhino horn.
The fact is the US has been one step away since 1993, thanks to a legal petition filed by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) with the Clinton administration. They did so under the Pelly Amendment of the Fisherman’s Protection Act, which gives the US mandate to punish countries whose nationals undermine international protections for endangered species. Not long after China’s State Council banned domestic trade in tiger bone and rhino horn in 1993, President Clinton put the sanctions on hold, where they remain today.
In July 2014, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) asked the Obama administration to revisit them, providing lengthy documentation to show that China continues to ignore international agreements aimed at stopping tiger trade and allows legal trade in tiger products from tiger farms. The US Department of Interior confirmed it is reviewing EIA’s request.
Now we get to feel what it’s like to live in extreme weather. The16’’ of snow we just received, on top of the 80” we already had—most of which arrived in the past three weeks—has changed the way we live and work. We are experiencing the world we’ve created by our collective failure to address climate change and invest in public transportation. Our offices have been closed 5 of the past 15 workdays.
Meanwhile, we adapt and our work continues. Since our warehouse and printers are located elsewhere, new books ship on time and we are staying in stock with reprints. Our publicity team reaches out to media about new titles, royalties and vendors are paid, new lists of books are launched and promotion continues. We held an editorial meeting via conference call and acquired two books.
Authorities in China seldom respond to the consistent flow of new evidence that Chinese demand for tiger products drives poaching of wild tigers. When they do, it’s important to notice what isn’t said.
The New York Times recently wrote a courageous editorial about China’s “plunder” of Myanmar’s natural resources. “China’s insatiable demand for tiger and leopard parts, bear bile and pangolins has helped to transform the town of Mong La, near the Chinese border, into a seedy center of animal trafficking, prostitution and gambling,” it said. “The people of Myanmar…want this plunder stopped.”
A few days later, China’s official Xinhua News Agency published a retort from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying. “We firmly disagree with the editorial,” Hua was quoted as saying. “We are committed to strengthening cooperation with our neighbors, including Myanmar, to tackle illegal activities, protect natural environment and safeguard the stability of border areas.”
A few years ago, I suggested to a coalition of conservation groups that we use crowdsourcing to engage the world in saving wild tigers and to come up with some fresh, out-of-our-box ideas because business-as-usual was not working.
Two prominent wildlife organizations nixed the idea. “That is not our brand,” one of their people said. “Our brand is that we are the ones who have the solutions.” Never mind that millions of dollars had been spent over decades of effort and wild tigers were still in dangerous decline.
This week, headlines joyfully called out India’s announcement that wild tiger numbers there may be up by as much as 30 percent. That is good news indeed, if the numbers are right. But here is the risk: Many people may take this to mean wild tigers are out of danger, and some organizations married to that we’ve-got-it-covered brand will be playing down the potentially fatal list of caveats.
President Obama delivered a fiery State of the Union earlier this week, immediately making headlines (and exploding the Twittersphere) for a now-famous ad-libbed line about winning both elections. Chatter about the unplanned quip, however, threatened to overshadow the more substantive parts of the President’s speech, in which he promised to tackle inequalities in income, education, and immigration as well as offering concrete measures for slowing climate change, benefiting veterans, closing tax loopholes, and the like. It was also, notably, the first time a President has used the word transgender during a State of the Union address.
For those looking for deeper insight into some of the issues Obama spoke about, we’ve created a State of the Union reading list, and highlighted a few specific titles below:
Two decades ago, international wildlife investigator J. A. Mills went undercover to expose bear farming in China and discovered a plot to turn tigers into nothing more than livestock. Now, a new video for Blood of the Tiger takes viewers deep into the heart of one of these tiger farms.
In 1991, while investigating the industrial farming of bears in China, I visited a fur farm in the country’s remote Northeast corner. I saw mink and other common furbearers along with a handful of tigers who turned out to be the founding breeders in what was the country’s first effort to farm tigers for their bones—for use in medicine.
By 1992, tiger experts declared China’s demand for tiger bone the main driver of tiger poaching, which was skyrocketing throughout the big cat’s Asian range. Then in May 1993, China announced a ban on trade in tiger bone. Conservationists celebrated China’s bold move as the death knell for the demand that was causing wild tiger populations to plummet. They assumed this also meant an end to tiger farming. They were wrong.
January is a time of new beginnings, fresh starts, ambitious goals. At Beacon, we publish some of our most exciting titles in January, books we think will have a long shelf-life. This January, we explore a geopolitical conservation effort, redefine the cause of hate and hate-driven violence, return Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his radical roots, and expose the hypocrisy of “merit-based” admissions practices. These are books you will be thinking about and discussing for the rest of the year.
In our book The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food, we discuss the de facto moratorium on unconventional oil and gas extraction in New York State and the NYS Department of Health review of the process. On December 17, 2014, the NYS Department of Health announced that the public health review had been completed and the recommendation was made that New York State should not permit high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). The acting commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “I have considered all of the data and find significant questions and risks to public health which as of yet are unanswered. I think it would be reckless to proceed in New York until more authoritative research is done. I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.” The commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Joe Martens, added:
“For the past six years, DEC has examined the significant environmental impacts that could result from high-volume hydraulic fracturing. DEC’s own review identified dozens of potential significant adverse impacts of HVHF. Further, with the exclusion of sensitive natural, cultural and historic resources and the increasing number of towns that have enacted bans and moratoria, the risks substantially outweigh any potential economic benefits of HVHF. Considering the research, public comments, relevant studies, Dr. Zucker’s report and the enormous record DEC has amassed on this issue, I have directed my staff to complete the final SGEIS [Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement]. Once that is complete, I will prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State at this time.”
With those statements, months of speculation ended. This was a considerable victory for the grassroots environmental movement that grew up in response to this issue and indeed for citizens of New York State.
Protesters at the People’s Climate March, photo by Tom Hallock
Climate change is happening, and faster than scientists expected. Polar ice caps are melting faster, island nations are going underwater, the ocean is acidifying and warming. In the US, we are suffering catastrophic droughts from California to Texas, along with severe flooding in the East. The answer is to stop burning fossil fuels, but the World Meteorological Organization says that, in 2013, CO2 rates in the atmosphere were rising faster than ever. So what can we do? On Sunday, September 21st, hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe converged in Manhattan to show the world exactly how critical the issue of climate change is to them, and to demand action. Beacon’s Senior Editor Alexis Rizzuto and Associate Publisher Tom Hallock were there to bear witness. We recently spoke with them about their experiences at the march and why climate change is fast becoming one of the most important issues of our time.
This Sunday, September 21st, concerned citizens from across the globe are convening in New York City for what’s being called the largest climate march in history. Over 100,000 participants will march two miles through the streets of Manhattan “to demand bold action on climate change.” For those who are planning to march, or for those who wish to take action from afar, we’ve compiled a list of essential titles that raise awareness about impending climate change—the most pivotal environmental crisis humankind has yet to face:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo meets with supporters at the Hotel Trade Council during a reelection campaign event on September 8, 2014 in New York City.
The September 9th gubernatorial primary in New York State was, in essence, a referendum on the record of Governor Andrew Cuomo, a conservative Democrat. Although the result was never in doubt, the margin of victory has been taken as a measure of satisfaction with his policies and his prospects for higher office. His opponent was a little known and underfunded progressive Democrat in the mold of Elizabeth Warren: Professor Zephyr Teachout, a law professor from Fordham University. Prof. Teachout, while losing the election, scored an important victory by taking 34.3% of the vote to Mr. Cuomo’s 62.2% (Randy Credico took 3.6% of the vote).
This was the strongest challenge to an incumbent governor since primaries were instituted in New York State (1970). Although Cuomo scored victories in the most populated counties, Teachout won half of New York’s 62 counties. The Teachout vote seemed to be motivated by at least two important issues: the perceived corruption of the Cuomo administration and the issue of permitting hydraulic fracturing in New York. Teachout is the author of the recently released Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United(Harvard University Press, 2014) and is considered a strong opponent of corruption in government. She also is an outspoken opponent of unconventional oil and gas extraction, and favors banning the practice in New York State.
LOST HILLS, CA : The sun rises over an oil field in California, where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has contaminated aquifers in a state damaged by drought. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
During summers in California’s Central Valley, an inland area that spans the length of the state from Bakersfield to Stockton, it’s not uncommon to hear a local rejoice when “it will only be 100 degrees today!” The sun is relentless and its heat is stifling, especially during a drought, and especially for the thousands of farm workers who are responsible for nearly all of California’s and much of the United States’ agriculture.
Now, a report from the University of California, Davis explains that if the drought continues for two or more years, Central Valley farmers will be forced to increasingly rely on groundwater reserves, some of which, we are now learning, may have been polluted by fracking wastewater.
Growing up in the heart of the Central Valley, whose claim-to-fame is being the “Gateway to Yosemite,” my preferred remedy for the afternoon summer heat was to frolic in the lawn sprinklers for hours on end, quench my thirst with gulps of water from the garden hose, engineer makeshift slip-and-slides, and bike to the farmer’s fruit stand down the road.
The days of moderately worry-free water consumption are long gone as California rightfully encourages reductions in residential water use during this debilitating drought. What I never imagined is that my trips to the farm stand might become a relic of the past not only due to a lack of water, but to a lack of safe water.
Summer is a time for getting outdoors, listening to the birds, taking long walks in the woods or long naps on the beach. And there’s nothing quite like reading a book outside, or after a day spent basking in the splendor of the natural world. With that in mind, here are five titles to accompany your summer adventures, or inspire your next trip outdoors:
Missoula whitewater rafter Daniel Berger (at rear) and friends float past three airliner fuselages dumped in Montana's Clark Fork river by a train derailment last week. (Courtesy Chuck Irestone)
The picture probably showed up in one of your feeds. It fit all sorts of algorithmic criteria for viral interestingness, shapes and colors and scale otherwise unseen in nature: The steep bank of a Montana river littered with the bare fuselages of three Boeing airplanes spilled from a train track above like oversized logs swathed in aquamarine-colored protective wrap. Or maybe not logs, but uniformly skinny whales beached far from any ocean. Either way, an eye-grabbingly irresistible curiosity. In the foreground, always, whitewater rafters taking selfies.
The river is called the Clark Fork. And I’ve paddled that stretch in canoes and rafts with some of the rafters who showed up in some of those pictures. It’s a section about 40 freeway minutes downstream of Missoula called Alberton Gorge, named for nearby Alberton, Montana—an off-Interstate mountain town of four or five hundred people. Within roughly seven easily accessible river miles are five major rapids that, depending on the flow, range from Class II to Class IV. The last of these is called Fang, and it was just downstream of Fang that the planes were tossed down the bank, coming to scattered rest with their snouts or tails in the water.
The Gorge is a fun stretch to run, but it makes you pay attention. While drownings are infrequent, substantial injuries are hardly unheard of. Boats are flipped all the time in Alberton Gorge, spilling bodies and gear that is later recovered or washed downstream to the intake grates of the next dam, at Thompson Falls, and trucked off to a landfill.
You wouldn’t know it from rocky Alberton Gorge, which is host to an almost constant stream of kayakers and rafters during the temperate months, but the Clark Fork is one of the most badly abused rivers in the United States, and simultaneously one of the luckiest.
In our soon-to-be released book, The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food, we discuss the laws that affect local control of gas drilling in New York and Pennsylvania. At the time of writing, two cases were before the New York State Court of Appeals that would effectively decide if individual towns in New York could ban gas drilling using zoning ordinances (Mark S. Wallach, as Chapter 7 Trustee for Norse Energy Corp. USA vs. Town of Dryden et al. and Cooperstown Holstein Corporation vs. Town of Middlefield). On June 30, 2014, the decision was announced by the Court of Appeals in favor of the Towns of Dryden and Middlefield. It is important to note that “towns” in New York are subdivisions of counties, and constitute most of the land that is not a city or Indian reservation.