I’m Done Listening to John Mayer

Posted by Greg on Feb 15, 2010 in Music, Op-Ed

Yesterday on his show, Dennis Miller took a jab at John Mayer. Never once did I feel like Miller was out of line. Last week, Jim Fusilli of the Wall Street Journal took a more pointed and deeply analytical jab at Mayer. Never once did I think he was out of line. Back in November, I took a jab at Mayer in a review of his album Battle Studies. l don’t think my assertions were completely wrong.

Before his controversial Playboy article, Mayer was already a preening, self-absorbed lightning rod who moonlighted as a singer-songwriter. So the fact that he stoked up some more controversy is nothing new. But it seems this time, his careless, tasteless comments in said Playboy article prove that he truly knows no limits and has no censor. And as the weeks go by, the interest of, for and about Mayer is completely waning. I don’t think I’m alone in this assertion.

The real question though is this: is he too impressed by the reflection in his mirror to even stop and care?


The Demise of the Coral Reef

Posted by Greg on Feb 4, 2010 in Op-Ed

Killing Nemo
By Amy Mathews Amos

It’s a true story. Well, not exactly true — clown fishes and blue tangs can’t really talk like they do in the animated film “Finding Nemo.” But those beautiful fish inhabiting the aquarium in your dentist’s office or cousin’s home are taken directly from tropical coral reefs. And if you found yourself rooting for Nemo, brace yourself.

Each year an estimated 30 to 60 million coral reef fish are removed from tropical reefs and shipped halfway around the world for ornamental display in the United States and Europe. Along the way, many die. Their perilous journey takes them from their coral reef home to a diver’s net, to a boat, to a holding facility, to a jet plane, to an importer’s warehouse, then to a retail store. They make this trip largely in plastic baggies and boxes, the water replaced every few days to replenish oxygen and remove built-up waste. Not surprisingly, the dirty water and stress take their toll. So to make up for the fish that die, divers take even more from the reef.

While we may find cartoon characters adorable, in reality few of us empathize with captured fish. But beyond the trauma to Nemo and pals is the impact of this largely unregulated practice on coral reefs. More than 85 percent of fish caught for the marine aquarium trade come from Indonesia and the Philippines. Overfishing is rampant in these countries, and controls are almost nonexistent. Dr. Brian Tissot, a biologist at Washington State University, has studied the impacts of the marine aquarium trade. Some reefs have been “knocked flat,” he says, from overfishing, with fish populations a tiny fraction of what they would be without the trade.

But it’s not just fish populations that get destroyed. Coral reefs are structures produced by living organisms in oceans. The primary organisms typically are stony corals that secrete an exoskeleton of calcium carbonate, creating a reef that supports the corals and a huge variety of other animal and plant life. Divers often squirt cyanide into reefs to stun fish, making them easier to catch. Cyanide typically doesn’t kill the fish outright, but it does kill corals and other life on the reef. Divers also pry corals apart to find fish hiding in crevices, destroying a reef structure that took decades or centuries to build.

All of this comes at a time when corals can least afford it. Pollution and overfishing for food are major problems on these reefs. And corals are notoriously vulnerable to increases in water temperature and other effects of climate change. According to Tissot, the net effect of removing so many reef fish is that to make coral reefs less able to handle stresses like global climate change. “Our best defense against climate change is a stable reef with an intact ecosystem. A reef that retains its own natural complexity will be more resilient to these changes.”

The good news and the bad is that this destruction is driven largely by demand in the United States and Europe. Because we created most of the demand, we can also change it. “Just reducing the mortality rate would make a huge, huge difference,” says Dr. Eric Borneman, a coral biologist at the University of Houston and author on the aquarium hobby. He urges hobbyists to buy fish only from reputable businesses that buy from responsible exporters who can trace their fish to their source. These businesses sell healthy fish clearly handled well throughout their journey. These fish may cost more initially, but their higher survival rates make them less costly. They don’t need to be replaced—and therefore don’t fuel demand for overfishing on coral reefs. Borneman also urges hobbyists to learn “which fish are almost impossible to kill and which are almost impossible to keep alive” in captivity. Those that won’t survive in a tank should never be removed from the reef.

Brian Plankis, president of the nonprofit Reef Stewardship Foundation, maintains that, “Everyone can take action to help coral reefs, not just hobbyists.” Reduce your carbon footprint by driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, take public transportation, and buy electricity from renewable sources, he recommends.

Ultimately, changes need to happen on the water—to end overfishing and cyanide use—in the countries the fish came from. But reducing demand in the United States can help: without a market, there’s nothing to sell. Changes to U.S. import laws are needed to prevent unregulated or poorly managed fish from entering the country. And stricter shipping requirements would reduce the number of fish that die en route.

In the meantime, keep rooting for Nemo. The future of the world’s coral reefs may depend on it.

Amy Mathews Amos is an independent environmental consultant advising conservation groups and others on marine conservation issues.. This article appears courtesy of Blue Ridge Press.


Help Save Dimock, Pennsylvania

Posted by Greg on Feb 4, 2010 in Op-Ed

Came across the distressing news that back in November, Cabot Oil, based in Houston, TX, started drilling into shale in the fields of Susquehanna County in northern Pennsylvania, in the hopes of attaining natural gas. While their efforts are commendable, how hard is it for someone to go about this methodically and with a careful, fool-proof plan. Instead it sounds like they attacked the whole project like a bull in a china shop. Now residents are taking showers with tainted water and drinking from tap water that’s off-color and foul smelling. Natural gas is great and all, but not for a cost like this. For more details on attempts by Northern PA residents to stop the drilling, head on over to the Damascus Citizens Web site.

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