Sending Out an S.O.S.: It's Time to Save Ourselves
By Peter Willcox
I've been a captain for Greenpeace for 35 years, fighting for our environment in every corner of the globe. I've confronted polluters, poachers, smugglers, terrorists, criminals—both private and corporate, armies, navies, vigilantes and you-name-it. I've been arrested, jailed, had my ships chased, shot at, boarded and attacked, and had French commandos bomb and sink my ship under my feet—killing a crew-mate in the process.
Wherever I go, people ask me why I continue to take the risks that I take in defending the Earth. For me, the answer is simple: I care about what our planet will be like in the future. Not in the distant future, but the very-near-term-future in which my daughters Anita and Natasha (ages 24 and 20) will be living while raising their own children.
Many environmental activist organizations—like Greenpeace—are very much involved in stopping human suffering caused by pollution, slavery, nuclear radiation, toxic waste and climate change. In more than 400,000 miles of sailing for Greenpeace, I have seen the human cost of environmental destruction in every corner of the planet.
In 1985, I brought the Rainbow Warrior to Rongelap Atoll, in the Marshall Islands/South Pacific, to evacuate an entire town to another island because their home island had been poisoned by the fallout from a U.S. thermonuclear/hydrogen bomb. The U.S. knew the islanders were going to be in the fallout zone, and deliberately left them there as human guinea pigs to study the effects of radiation on real people.
For three decades these gentle people had suffered through birth defects, jelly-fish babies (born without spines or bones, and with strangely colored skin), cancer and just plain-old neglect. Greenpeace brought them to a clean island where they could rebuild their lives. Now, 30 years later, these same islands are being drowned—literally—by rising seas.
We think about saving endangered species—the snail darter, spotted owl, the blue whale—but what about the endangered people of Rongelap? All the other low-lying atolls in the Pacific? The millions of people around the world who's lives will be destroyed if the sea levels rise just a little bit more. Coastal zones around the world have three-times the population density compared to the rest, and almost one-quarter of the world's population in these near-coastal zones. That's more than a billion human beings.
These people are just as endangered in the same way birds and fish are. We are destroying their natural habitat and it's our natural habitat too. We don't live in a bubble that is separate from the environment (although if we keep fouling our air and water, things might come to that). We are destroying and using up our environment and we are, and will continue to be, affected by it. Most animal species avoid fouling their own nests. It's a primal instinct. But somehow humankind—supposedly the smartest of all Earth's species—has lost that instinct. We are destroying our own habitat.
Another human cost of environmental destruction is slavery. In the Amazon, thousands of slaves are being forced to deforest their own land for illegal grazing and logging. The pesticides used for farming on the cleared land flow into the rivers that are used for drinking and bathing for hundreds of miles downstream. Another instance of the human toll I've seen is Liberian stowaways hiding in shipments of illegally logged old-growth African forest, and heard eyewitness accounts of similar refugees who jumped off the ships with their hands tied behind their backs, committing suicide rather than be returned to the forced labor lumber camps.
In the Philippines, I witnessed the suffering of hundreds of families being poisoned by the PCB's, dioxins, heavy metals, solvents and waste oil that the U.S. military had left behind on their old bases. One beautiful little six-year-old girl in Manila, Crizel Valencia, had terminal leukemia caused by the toxic materials. This creative and determined girl had painted many of the graphics that we used in the campaign to get the U.S. Military to acknowledge their responsibility and clean up the mess. (Sadly, this still has not happened). During her tour of the second Rainbow Warrior (the first was the ship blown up by the French government), Crizel died in the ship's infirmary, and I saw her mother carrying her off the ship in tears. Seeing that strengthened our resolve to carry on fighting for our environment.
An analogy I like to use about our planet is that we're all on one boat, and with more than 7 billion people on it, it's actually a pretty small boat. As we drill holes into the bottom of the boat we're all living on, the water is rising. And yet we keep on drilling holes, faster and faster, ignoring the fact that the water is lapping at our knees. How much longer can we continue to ignore that what we are doing to our planet is affecting us all? Saving the whales, the forests and the atmosphere is great, no question. One of the main reasons that environmentalists and activists do what they do is that we are trying to save us from ourselves.
When boats are in mortal danger, they send out an S.O.S. call. Our ship, Planet Earth, and the passengers on it are in mortal danger so I'm sending out a different S.O.S. signal: “Save Our Selves." Only we can rescue us from ourselves so I hope we get the message.
Peter Willcox is the author of Greenpeace Captain: My Adventures in Protecting the Future of Our Planet with Ronald B. Weiss, published by Thomas Dunne Books. He has been a captain for Greenpeace for more than 30 years—the most experienced captain in the organization. He has led the most compelling and dangerous Greenpeace actions to bring international attention to the destruction of our environment.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
A tornado tore through a city north of Birmingham, Alabama, Monday night, killing one person and injuring at least 30.
- Tornadoes and Climate Change: What Does the Science Say ... ›
- Tornadoes Hit Unusually Wide Swaths of U.S., Alarming Climate ... ›
- 23 Dead as Tornado Pummels Lee County, AL in Further Sign ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Konisky
On his first day in office President Joe Biden started signing executive orders to reverse Trump administration policies. One sweeping directive calls for stronger action to protect public health and the environment and hold polluters accountable, including those who "disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities."
Michael S. Regan, President Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, grew up near a coal-burning power plant in North Carolina and has pledged to "enact an environmental justice framework that empowers people in all communities." NCDEQ
- Report Urges Biden to Reverse Trump's Environmental Rollbacks ›
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites ... ›
By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.