Warning: include_once(/home/edwardwest/spacespace.net/wp-content/plugins/wordpress-support/wordpress-support.php): failed to open stream: Permission denied in /home/edwardwest/spacespace.net/wp-settings.php on line 307

Warning: include_once(): Failed opening '/home/edwardwest/spacespace.net/wp-content/plugins/wordpress-support/wordpress-support.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/local/lib/php:/usr/local/php5/lib/pear') in /home/edwardwest/spacespace.net/wp-settings.php on line 307
SpaceSpace » 2006 » July

July 2006


I saw both of these articles in short succession- it’s interesting to consider them as a pair.

The first was an LA Times article by Kenneth Weiss about the degredation of our world’s oceans:

In many places — the atolls of the Pacific, the shrimp beds of the Eastern Seaboard, the fiords of Norway — some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading.

Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked.

Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago.

Jeremy B.C. Jackson, a marine ecologist and paleontologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, says we are witnessing “the rise of slime.”

As their traditional catch declines, fishermen around the world now haul in 450,000 tons of jellyfish per year, more than twice as much as a decade ago.

This is a logical step in a process that Daniel Pauly , a fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia, calls “fishing down the food web.” Fishermen first went after the largest and most popular fish, such as tuna, swordfish, cod and grouper. When those stocks were depleted, they pursued other prey, often smaller and lower on the food chain.

“We are eating bait and moving on to jellyfish and plankton,” Pauly said.

In California waters, for instance, three of the top five commercial catches are not even fish. They are squid, crabs and sea urchins.

This is what remains of California’s historic fishing industry, once known for the sardine fishery attached to Monterey’s Cannery Row and the world’s largest tuna fleet, based in San Diego, which brought American kitchens StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea.

Overfishing began centuries ago but accelerated dramatically after World War II, when new technologies armed industrial fleets with sonar, satellite data and global positioning systems, allowing them to track schools of fish and find their most remote habitats.

The result is that the population of big fish has declined by 90% over the last 50 years.

But other things have happened as well in the last 50 years- in the industrialized world, people are living, longer, healthier lives, and are actually much more physically robust well past when our great-great grandfathers were often debilitated and bed-ridden.

In this New York Times article by Gina Kolata, she explores the way our bodies have changed over the last one-hundred years. American men are on average three inches taller, 50 pounds heavier, and even have higher IQ’s.

Instead of inferring health from causes of death on death certificates, Dr. Fogel and his colleagues looked at health throughout life. They used the daily military history of each regiment in which each veteran served, which showed who was sick and for how long; census manuscripts; public health records; pension records; doctors’ certificates showing the results of periodic examinations of the pensioners; and death certificates.

They discovered that almost everyone of the Civil War generation was plagued by life-sapping illnesses, suffering for decades. And these were not some unusual subset of American men — 65 percent of the male population ages 18 to 25 signed up to serve in the Union Army. “They presumably thought they were fit enough to serve,” Dr. Fogel said.

Even teenagers were ill. Eighty percent of the male population ages 16 to 19 tried to sign up for the Union Army in 1861, but one out of six was rejected because he was deemed disabled.

And the Union Army was not very picky. “Incontinence of urine alone is not grounds for dismissal,” said Dora Costa, an M.I.T. economist who works with Dr. Fogel, quoting from the regulations. A man who was blind in his right eye was disqualified from serving because that was his musket eye. But, Dr. Costa said, “blindness in the left eye was O.K.”

Taken as a pair, it’s a fascinating story. Yes- our lives have much improved in many ways (ways that I can scarcely even conceptualize, I imagine) but at the same time, as a species, we’ve wrought tremendous damage upon this small earth of ours.

The signs seem to suggest that we’re starting to witness a certain kind of revision of the mass-consciousness with regards to environmental degredation, with “green” beeing one of the hippest buzzwords. . . but will it be too little too late?

Is it possible to make the kinds of changes we need to make, for us to continue here on this planet in any kind of desireable way, for the next one-hundred years?

(Even Stephen Hawking made news the other day for askinga very similar question.)

Click on the photos to see the rest of the pictures.