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Bernie, Belugas and the Home Depot

"Whew," Bernie Marcus mutters to himself. "As long as everyone's talking about SeaWorld, they won't be coming after my Georgia Aquarium. At least not for the next few weeks."

Bernie, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, donated $250 million to create the Georgia Aquarium. He calls it charity. The animals there call it a prison. And two weeks ago, yet another beluga whale dropped dead there.

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Anything Missing from This Word Cloud?

During the GOP debate last night on the Fox Business channel, moderator Maria Bartiromo put this word cloud up on the screen.

"We asked Facebook to take a look at some of the major issues we're talking about in this debate tonight," she told the candidates. "This word cloud shows what people are focusing on the most."

Hmm, anything missing here? Any of you candidates care to address the elephant in the room? No? Oh well, let's move on. (Maybe we should all just talk about lovely spinach tarts instead.)

Why Our Brains Can’t Understand Climate Change

George-Marshall-2-110815In his new book Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, George Marshall tells the story of what happened at a dinner party when the conversation turned to everyone's latest vacation trips. One of the guests commented that the airline flights to exotic destinations are having an impact on climate change and that our children are going to be paying the price in years to come.

The room went very quiet. Then a guest decided to break the ice. "My word," she said, "what a lovely spinach tart." Oh yes, everyone agreed emphatically, it was a very lovely spinach tart ... and they spent the next ten minutes talking about the tart, the fresh spinach, and the recipe.

It's not just that no one wants to talk about climate change; it's that no one wants to talk about the fact that no one wants to talk about it. Not just the silence, but the silence about the silence.

Marshall's short and easy-to-read book assumes you already know the planet is in big trouble. His focus is on why we seem to be so completely incapable of doing anything about it. Our brains, he explains, are wired to avoid the subject – and not only at dinner parties.

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Climate News to Make Your Blood Boil

What a week for climate change. A blizzard of new studies and reports. Let's start in the Middle East – you know, that place where we dig up more oil than anywhere else in the world. Ironically, much of it will soon be uninhabitable by humans.

A new study shows that countries that border the Persian Gulf will soon be experiencing a heat index of up to 170°F – too hot and humid for even the strongest of humans to be able to survive outdoors for more than a few hours at a time. As Climate News Network explains it: Read more

Animal Protection as a Heroic Enterprise


Everybody loves a hero. And we all would like to be heroes. Heroism is something we humans strive for. Other kinds of animals behave heroically, too, but among humans, it includes the motivation to rise above death and the fear of death.

We humans suffer lifelong anxiety about our mortality. While we spend much of our lives reaching for the stars, we never get away from the fact that we're mortal animals, dust-to-dust, like all the other animals. But when we act heroically, for better or worse, we become identified with a cause or project that's larger than ourselves.

The following is part of a discussion about our need to be part of a heroic enterprise as a way of giving ourselves a kind of immortality. The discussion took place in 1974 between anthropologist Ernest Becker, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death and philosopher Sam Keen.

Heroic enterprises come in many forms: they can be positive and life-affirming (civil rights, animal protection, etc.); or hateful and destructive (e.g. Nazism, the Islamic State) in their attempt to prove their mastery over death.

Becker and Keen discuss why we humans feel the need to see ourselves as heroes and to embrace heroic causes. And after their discussion we consider how, in today's world, animal protection efforts may be the highest form of heroic enterprise.

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The Whale Who Took Down SeaWorld

A footnote to my earlier post about the quandary now facing SeaWorld. Much credit for what's happening in the marine circus world goes to the movie Blackfish, which took millions of people behind the scenes at these facilities. Credit also goes to the former killer whale trainers who now campaign vigorously against keeping these animals in captivity, and to the animal protection world just generally.

But there's one key figure in what's been happening who isn’t acknowledged for starting the whole process. That would be Tilikum, the killer whale who set all of this in motion when he killed his trainer in 2010. Read more

What Should SeaWorld Do Now?


If you were the new CEO of SeaWorld, what would you do?

Last week, you saw yet another nail being driven into the coffin of your company when the California Coastal Commission ruled that if you want to build new, bigger and better tanks for your killer whale shows, you'll also have to stop doing any more captive breeding and refrain from transferring any more whales in or out of the country.

As CEO, you're also trying to deal with the fallout from your company's latest financial report: net income for the second quarter of this year fading from $37.4 million in 2014 to $5.8 million in 2015.

And you're struggling to turn back the growing tide of public opinion against having killer whales and dolphins doing circus tricks in exchange for food. (Plus you're dealing with seemingly endless scandals like when a SeaWorld staffer was found posing as a badly-behaved animal protection activist.)

So, what are you going to do? The options you're considering are:

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How to Live in the Face of Extinction


Could spritzing yourself with Calvin Klein's Eternity Now be the answer to all human anxiety? After all, the ad I just saw for it online was parked right next to a headline warning that "Humanity is Getting Verrrrrrry Close to Extinction."

Too bad I wasn't persuaded by the promise in the ad that "Forever starts now." I’d just finished reading a new book about how we can come to terms with what’s happening to our planet. And buying a bottle of scent or after-shave to ensure your place in eternity isn’t among the author’s suggestions!

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Egg Industry Concession Is No ‘Victory’

Here we go again. The factory farms make a small concession to public opinion, and the animal welfare establishment falls all over itself in joy, calling it an amazing victory for "animal rights", and heaps praise on an industry that profits so hugely from the suffering of our fellow animals.

The small concession, in this case, is that United Egg Producers – the egg industry trade group – is going to abstain from fighting a ballot initiative in Massachusetts that would ban the sale of meat or eggs from caged animals.

But those millions of animals will still live their entire lives in what the industry itself calls "concentrated animal feeding operations", where they will never even see the light of day.

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For Chimps, the End of Vivisection, Almost

hercules-chimp-091515For six years, Hercules and Leo have endured experiments like having electrodes inserted into their muscles so that researchers at Stony Brook University can study the way they walk. This week brought an end to the use of chimpanzees in vivisection that's for the benefit of humans.

A new government ruling puts all chimpanzees, no longer just chimps in the wild, under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. And this means they can no longer be used in biomedical research.

Hercules and Leo are two of the chimpanzees who have come to public attention since the Nonhuman Rights Project filed suits on their behalf to have them released from unlawful detention. Their case is currently working its way through the legal system of New York State. But regardless of the outcome, the experiments involving these two chimpanzees, now eight years old, are over.

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When Paradise Turns Deadly


The gentle creek that flows down Water Canyon turned deadly this week as it exploded into a flash flood killing 15 people, most of them children.

It was beyond horrible for a community that shuns publicity and is best known for its xenophobic, polygamous religion.

But in the coming decades, with extremes of weather in a changing climate, the people of Hildale, Utah, may be a lot better placed than the rest of us to cope with what's coming down the pike . . .

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And Now the Mass Migrations

For several years we've been watching other species setting off on mass migrations as our planet undergoes irreversible changes. Now we're beginning to see mass migrations of our own species, too.

While the unfolding refugee crisis is taking place against a backdrop of war and other savagery, one of the underlying causes is drought.

As we noted two years ago, the current troubles in Syria were sparked by the worst long-term drought and crop failures since the birth of agricultural civilization in the Fertile Crescent. (More than 4,000 years ago, the armies of Lagash and Umma, city-states near the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, went to war after Umma’s king drained an irrigation canal leading from the Tigris.)

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Flash Flood!

It's an El Niño year, and so despite the fact that we're in a long term drought here in the Southwest, it's been a rainy summer. Photographer David Rankin chases flash floods in Southern Utah, and captured this one on August 30th as it came down a normally dry wash and emptied into Lake Powell at the entrance to the Grand Canyon.

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Is the Stock Market a Global Ponzi Scheme?

Well, everything seems to be back to normal on Wall Street after a rocky start to the week. So what happened? Are we OK?

We're certainly back to "normal" if your idea of normal is mass delusion. For a couple of days we got a brief glimpse of what's really happening to the global economy, and then everyone went back to fantasyland. So yes, we're "O.K." – until it happens again. Which it will.

Here's what's going on to the best of my understanding:

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Life and Death in the Parks

All along the road, people stop to get photos of themselves standing next to one or other of these strange formations, known as hoodoos. Then it’s back in the car or the bus and on to the next viewing spot.

But as we check off the “natural wonders” on our bucket list, we’re not really rediscovering our connection with nature; we’re just drifting further from any true understanding of our place in the scheme of things. Which leaves us helpless to take meaningful action when the real world of nature begins to take apart the artificial construct we call civilization.

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Aussie Plan to Kill Wild Cats Will Hurt More Animals

The Australian government has announced a new plan to protect wildlife by killing two million feral cats by the year 2020.

The plan calls for baiting, shooting and poisoning the cats, along with setting up "safe havens" for dozens of the most at-risk kinds of mammal, bird and plant species.

"Over 120 [kinds of] Australian animals are at risk of extinction from feral cats," Gregory Andrews, Australia's first threatened-species commissioner, explained, adding that although "we don't hate cats," we must declare "war" on them.

Will killing the cats actually save these other animals? Many mainstream conservation groups say yes, but some of the most knowledgeable wildlife experts say it can only make the situation worse. Here's why.

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Cecil Is the Least of It


At least Walter Mitty didn’t harm anyone in his fantasies of a heroic life. The same can’t be said for Walter Palmer, a nonentity who imagined that killing animals larger than himself gave some heroic quality to his utterly mediocre life cleaning people’s teeth.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt spoke of “the banality of evil”, applying this to men like Adolph Eichmann who managed the Nazi holocaust.  Evil, she argued, is not generally the province of overt monsters; it’s more usually practiced by unexceptional little men like Walter Palmer.

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Hercules and Leo: Judge’s Decision

Justice Barbara Jaffe at the hearing for Hercules and Leo

July 30th: Justice Barbara Jaffe has issued her ruling on whether the two chimpanzees held captive at a Stony Brook University laboratory have the legal right to be set free and sent to a sanctuary. Bottom line of her 33-page decision:

“For now,” she says, she is bound to follow what a state appellate court wrote in the case of another chimpanzee, Tommy, whose case is now before the New York Court of Appeals. And she concluded that she cannot herself free Hercules and Leo, however much she sympathizes with their situation.

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Ocean Circulation May Be Shutting Down

Remember the 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow, where fresh water from melting polar ice pours into the North Atlantic, pushing down the warm salt water and causing ocean currents there to stop flowing, thus initiating a global catastrophe?

Lots of people laughed at the premise. But if James Hansen and 16 other top climate scientists are correct, we may indeed be seeing the first signs of a complete shutdown to the circulation of the world's oceans.

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The End of Capitalism?

two-headed-wolf.jpgOn December 25th, 1991, the hammer and sickle flag was lowered over the Kremlin, and the Soviet Union came to an end. The communist system that had controlled much of the world imploded and the whole construct simply collapsed.

The door was now open for the flip side of the global economic coin, capitalism, to strut its stuff and show us all what it was made of.

Communism had promised a "workers' paradise" to all who sacrificed personal gain for the greater good of the State – a state that proved itself to be nothing more than a dead weight around the necks of its people. Capitalism held out the promise of "freedom" and happiness through the acquisition of more stuff and without personal sacrifice.

One generation later, we have seen the fruits of unfettered capitalism, and we can sum up those fruits in two words: mass extinction.

In the name of freedom, we are all locked in to a system that takes freely from the Earth but gives nothing back, whose articles of faith are the twin doctrines of "growth" and "progress", and where anyone who questions this belief system is viewed as a heretic, even a traitor. That's because capitalism depends on continuing growth – i.e. making stuff and selling it. And growth depends on the ever-expanding rape of the Earth and all its living creatures (or, as the system describes them, "resources").

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