Tag Archives: #fear

Fueling Fossil Feelings

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Over the past year, a variety of elections, polls and movements have demonstrated that, for all the endless access we have to information, we are entering an era that emphasizes acting on emotions and fears rather than weighing facts.

Maybe it’s because the constant tsunami of facts threaten to overturn our personal vessels – it’s easier to pilot the waters on ‘what feels right’ rather than take on board a slew of uncomfortable realities that might swamp us.

Screenshot, 'This Moment, and Beyond', an ad promoting Fueling U.S. Forward. Source: Fueling U.S. Forward/YouTube

Screenshot, ‘This Moment, and Beyond’, an ad promoting Fueling U.S. Forward.
Source: Fueling U.S. Forward/YouTube

And for every moment of uncertainty, there are those who are ready to exploit fear in the name of profit.

It appears that a new initiative to promote the fossil fuel industry is one such undertaking. At a time when the effects of climate change are measurably underway, with each successive year being the latest ‘hottest on record’ and higher CO2 levels impacting everything from polar ice levels to drought, you might think that people would applaud rising renewable energy use, improving technologies and lowered costs.

But Fueling U.S. Forward, a public relations group funded by the oil and petrochemical conglomerate of Koch Industries, is a large-scale outreach program in the grand tradition of the tobacco and soft drinks industries: When threatened with scientific information that could negatively impact long-term profits, a multi-pronged approach is taken of discrediting critics and promoting all the benefits of the industry’s products to specific groups.

In the case of Fueling U.S. Forward, the goal is to undermine the proliferation of alternative energies and technologies (such as electric cars and solar panels) by casting them as damaging to the financial interests of minorities and millenials – and at the same time, promote the familiarity of fossil fuels while intentionally obscuring the widely known dangers inherent in their continued use.

A blog post implying that without fossil-fuel based energy, citizens will lose access to the Internet, entertainment, and connectivity. Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

A blog post implying that without fossil-fuel based energy, citizens will lose access to the Internet, entertainment, and connectivity.
Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

Through soft marketing in the form of concerts and events with ‘informational aspects’ and funding to activist groups, Fueling U.S. Forward promotes the well-established Koch agenda of rolling back support for renewable energies, legislation and regulation.

This is a perfect moment for this kind of strategy. Emotions are high, fear is rampant, and fossil fuels are what we know. It should matter that polls show the majority of U.S. citizens support clean air regulations. But given that the incoming U.S. administration has drawn heavily from Koch allies for a variety of key posts, including climate change skeptics and people with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, policy-making and public messaging is likely to fall in line with the oil industry goals.

Screenshot from Fueling U.S. Forward. Innovation is portrayed as impossible without fossil fuels. Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

Screenshot from Fueling U.S. Forward. Innovation is portrayed as impossible without fossil fuels.
Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

Fueling U.S. Forward’s President and CEO Charles Drevna has called burning fossil fuels the ‘pro-human’ solution. One need only look to the ongoing smog crisis in China to see the effects of unregulated burning of fossil fuels (mainly coal) and vehicle emissions – over a million deaths were attributed to poor air quality in 2012 alone. Unless you are a climate change skeptic (and if you are, thank you for giving champagnewhisky a look!), it might be hard to comprehend how an industry can focus so intently on continued profits in the face of generating so much verifiable damage to human health and the environment. But the simple fact is, for these folks, profits determine their view of the world, and not the other way around.

Statistics are implemented to imply that without fossil fuels, economic security is at risk - and with it, health and standards of living. Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

Statistics are implemented to imply that without fossil fuels, economic security is at risk – and with it, health and standards of living.
Source: Fueling U.S. Forward

We can acknowledge the debt we owe fossil fuels in the history of human progress without being bound to them for the foreseeable future.

We can also acknowledge that in this emotional era, vigilance and determination to focus on long-term goals of sustainability and the insistence on hard facts to achieve those goals will count more than ever before in fighting something that is as dangerous as climate change: the intentional instigation of fear in the name of profit.

The Biology Thing

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It’s no secret that the collective imagination has a deep-rooted fear of wolves. Our legends and fairy tales are populated with powerful wolves getting up to all manner of naughtiness, from pretending to be something they aren’t (whether dressed as Grandmother or sheep), to reflecting our animal sides in the form of werewolves, to simply eating things we’d rather they didn’t.

Gray wolf Image: Womaneko/Deviantart

Gray wolf
Image: Womaneko/Deviantart

The gray wolf was hunted to near extinction in the United States, and was then listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act. It’s been making a steady comeback over the years, although by comparison to the real success stories of the ESA, the wolf is nowhere near truly recovered as a species. It’s out of the ICU, but still stuck on life support.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) moved to delist the gray wolf on a federal level in 2013 and turn wolf management over to the state level. It has already been allowed to be delisted in several individual states, and the effect on the wolf population through hunting and trapping has been devastating. Years of conservation work has been undone.

The room to make comments on the USFWS proposal, which had been closed, has now been reopened due to an outcry among conservationists that the USFWS had not used the best available science to reach their delisting recommendation. Comments can now be made here until March 27.

Group of gray wolves (Canus lupus)

Group of gray wolves (Canus lupus)

According to Lance Richardson of Slate, the premature delisting of the gray wolf is due to a confluence of a certain complacency about the protected status of the wolf together with “the residual anger towards wolves in the rural West, where influential ranchers have long fought wolves for depredating livestock. Merge that in with the whole Tea Party fervor against [the federal] government, and what you end up with in the state legislatures is this race to the bottom to see who can be more anti-wolf. The biology of the thing gets thrown right out the window.”

Well, the biology. Apex predators play such an important role in ecosystems, above and beyond controlling the population of prey animals. I’m including a concise summary (four minutes long) of just how important wolves have been to the recovery of the Yellowstone Park ecosystem here:

But the ‘biology of the thing’ is also what allows us to keep fearing wolves even if, since we’ve the means to outrun, outgun and outmaneuver them, they’ve had more to fear from us than we’ve had to fear from them. Big predators have been scaring us for millennia, and it appears that all the scientific understanding in the world can’t do away with that in just a couple of generations.

Unfortunately, if the wolf is delisted by the USFWS, the object of our fear may end up truly being only a creature of fairy tales.

Please take a moment to visit Eripe Lupus, a site that is promoting Twitter storm today in support of comments for the USFWS proposal, to learn more.

From: Old French Fairy Tales by  Comtesse de Ségur / Gutenberg.org

From: Old French Fairy Tales by Comtesse de Ségur / Gutenberg.org

Monsters and Horizons

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We tend to imbue that which we do not know, whether objects of desire or objects of dread, with vague and magnified outlines. Unexplored territory is a potential treasure trove; unexplored territory is rife with monsters far beyond what we have ever known.

Whales attacking a ship on Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, this image from the 1572 edition.  Credit: Credit: National Library of Sweden, shelfmark KoB 1 ab

Whales attacking a ship on Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina of 1539, this image from the 1572 edition.
Credit: Credit: National Library of Sweden, shelfmark KoB 1 ab

Whether the frontier is space, oceans, new continents or climate change, the space between known and the yet-to-be known is populated with mystery. We have the stories of extraterrestrial beings that want to instruct or destroy us, we have the current discussion of dangerous unknown viruses and bacteria that might be released during glacier melt-back combined with dreams of untold sub-glacial mineral wealth.

Olaus Magnus, Carta marina of 1539 Credit: National Library of Sweden, shelfmark KoB 1 ab

Olaus Magnus, Carta marina of 1539
Credit: National Library of Sweden, shelfmark KoB 1 ab

A new book out by historian cartographer Chet Van Duzer, Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, discusses the sea monster illustrations on early mappa mundi, the maps of the world created during the golden age of exploration from the 10th to the 17th centuries.

Some creatures, like the Kraken, were loosely based on real creatures like the giant squid. Animals we now think of as endangered planetary co-travelers worthy of our protection and study, such as whales and walruses, were once considered monsters – they and far more fearsome monsters of fantasy populated the areas of unknown on early atlases and in human imagination.

Clear illustrations of our fear and fascination with uncharted worlds.

Rippling the Surface

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Great White Shark fin

Great White Shark fin

Great white sharks make for such wonderfully fearsome nightmares, those terrfiying tooth-rimmed maws opening into that most primeval of fears, being eaten alive. This apex predator feeds mainly on marine mammals – seals, sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins – and fish. The only real predator that faces the great white is another mammal. Humans.

For all we might think we know about the great white, Carcharodon carcharias, it turns out we don’t really know very much – the rest is beneath the surface, down there with myth, fear and assumption.

From an article in LiveScience,

“One of the most ambitious expeditions ever to tag great white sharks will set sail on July 30 off Cape Cod, Mass. The researchers hope to tag as many as 20 of the enormous sharks, about which very little is known.

The project is expected to be the largest shark-tagging mission in U.S. history, according to the nonprofit shark research group OCEARCH, which is leading the mission along with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The effort is part of an initiative to better understand the animals and to inform the public about the importance of sharks, which serve as top predators and are vital for the proper function of ocean food webs, said WHOI researcher Simon Thorrold. As many as 100 million sharks are killed per year due to both legal and illegal fishing, a recent study found.

“Given how much interest there is in great white sharks, we are still scientifically trying to find out the very basics,” Thorrold said.”

My closest encounter with a great white shark? As I’ve mentioned before, fishermen caught a great white off the California coast where I grew up – we viewed it, gazed down its dead gullet – then it was butchered and we ate it. It gave us shivers to think of what we were eating, and it was too bad that I don’t believe in any kind of magical transfer of powers gained from eating a powerful animal.

Deep sea photographer Daniel Botelho has logged 24-hours in total diving out of a cage with great white sharks. Photo: Botelho/Barcroft Media via DailyMail

Deep sea photographer Daniel Botelho has logged 24-hours in total diving out of a cage with great white sharks.
Photo: Botelho/Barcroft Media via Daily Mail

Peter Benchley, who wrote JAWS and thus authored a generation of shark fear, apparently repented of his nightmare tale even as it made him a fortune. He spent many years working for shark conservation, and is quoted as saying, “”[T]he shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim; for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.”

I hope this latest research project will go some way towards showing us a bit of what’s hidden under the surface.