Monday, 8 December 2014

What is Agenda 21?

The other day a friend made a comment on one of my Facebook posts referring to Agenda 21. Although I’d heard reference to Agenda 21 before, I really didn’t know much about it. This post is the result of my [admittedly cursory] exploration. Agenda 21, I discovered, is a really BIG topic that has huge ramifications for many areas of our lives. This post just touches on some of the barest basics.

Agenda 21 began as a 1992 UN resolution to encourage sustainable development. Defined by the UN, “Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations system, governments and major groups in every area in which humans impact on the environment.” Stated goals include the elimination of poverty, the protection of natural environments (earth, water, air), the encouragement of sustainable consumption, universal education, and gender equality. Most of us would find these goals pretty commendable, and a first impression might be “sounds sensible”. The problem comes with the implementation.

The biggest problem with Agenda 21 is a really fundamental one in terms of personal perspective. Do you perceive your life as all about you (ego, individual), or about mankind/planet-kind in general (the collective)? Do you cry, “me, my, mine” or “we, us, ours?” This is the fundamental conflict between the political Right (protecting personal interests) and the Political Left (socialist, collective, sharing, best choice for all) and its huge incumbent question, “Who has the right to make the decisions for the group as a whole?” No one likes being told what to do, and this is not necessarily “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Agenda 21 implies the role of the UN, or some other international body, as being allowed to set up an overall framework and regulation for various communities, organisations, and even sovereign nations to support these UN  principles, without allowing for a system of checks and balances or democratic vote.

Three arenas where references to Agenda 21 frequently crop up in the conspiratorial media are global warming/carbon tax, land ownership, and population control. Briefly, these are the cases.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has pushed the global warming agenda hard, and if you follow the money trail you’ll understand the idea of taxing people for pollution (carbon tax) is at the core. The UN, after all, is a big organization, and somebody needs to pay the piper. This is a global taxation to be leveed on [presumably] environmentally damaging development, and while the incentive (ahem, penalty) is to get folks to pollute less, it is based on two shaky assumptions: that CO2 levels in the atmosphere contribute to global warming (which is perceived as bad for all), and that man is the primary contributor to global warming through CO2 production. The facts that the earth has not been warming for 20 years, that CO2 is not only a minor player but that increased CO2 levels might actually be good for plant growth, and that although historically CO2 levels and temperature have been linked, correlation does not imply causality, a point which is becoming more evident as CO2 levels continue to rise while earth temperatures do not. All of these points have been blatantly ignored, sometimes out of ignorance, but more often for political and economic reasons. Science does not trump politics or economics in this case.

Land ownership is another big issue.  Agenda 21 documents identify private land ownership as a principal instrument of wealth and accumulation of wealth when land should be used [according to Agenda 21 precepts] in the interests of society as a whole. A startling map of the US identifying no-go and limited-access areas under the associated Wildlands Project “as mandated by the convention in biological diversity” caused more than a little alarm within the Republican Party and some factions of the Democratic Party when it became public.
The Wildlands Project is being pushed by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), another Agenda 21-linked organization active in 70 countries and committed to sustainable development through [opponents argue] the curtailment of individual choice in areas such as housing, transport, land access, and food. Again, this becomes an issue of mine vs. ours…does the “we” trump the “my”, and under what circumstances? And who has the power of decision and control?

A third area where Agenda 21 is raising eyebrows (not to mention concern, paranoia, and anger) is population control. While limiting population growth makes sense given the limited resources of this planet, enforced family planning on a personal level is also perceived as a violation of human rights. While Agenda 21 openly promotes general family planning and the widespread use of birth control, sterilization, and [safe] abortion, there are voices--few in number but compensatorially vocal--who believe that Agenda 21 provides a UN mandate for actively decreasing human population through various methods including warfare, fluoridated water, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, chem trails, GMO foods, pesticide/herbicide use, and deliberate or uncontrolled disease outbreaks (AIDS, Ebola, SARS, etc.).
For a sample, see "The Illuminati Depopulation Agenda"
While being rather alarmist and conspiratorial, this documentary on Agenda 21 and depopulation will leave you thinking, with news clips and quotes from the likes of Ted Turner and Bill Gates on the topic.

Although a more “leftist” philosophy in general, one can find both support for and opposition to Agenda 21 across the political spectrum. While raising awareness of how mankind is impacting this planet, our home, and suggesting positive ways forward to mitigate that impact, Agenda 21 also raises huge issues concerning individual rights and the granting of unprecedented global power to a few elite decision-makers. In a world where big corporations have more economic and political clout than many sovereign nations, I’d be really reluctant to hand over control of my life and environment to a few “wise” guys who think they know what’s best for me.

That’s my bit on Agenda 21 for now. For more reasonably-unbiased information and discussion on Agenda 21, I recommend Ben Davidson’s Suspicious0bservers site, although you have to be a paid member ($3/month or $20/year) to access this particular topic, listed under "premium content". (Most of Ben’s stuff is on planetary and space weather, and much is free to public access including his daily news.) 

I also, in my flicks around the net, came across this interesting article on how bacteria (!) sometimes act for the collective good for the colony and other times operate out of self-interest. That’s way off the topic of Agenda 21, but I was intrigued by how the same I/we issue raised by Agenda 21 for humans exists even for single-celled creatures.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Predator Free New Zealand - A Brave New World or An Asinine Proposition?

I think it sounds like an absurd proposition, but Federated Farmers (FF) and New Zealand’s conservation group Forest and Bird (F&B) announced this week—in all seriousness—their intended goal of creating a  New Zealand free of predators (see here). This extraordinary initiative, first sounded by the Predator Free NZ Trust in 2013, is achievable, they claim, by completely eliminating all of the rats, stoats, ferrets, possums, and feral cats in the country. It certainly is an ambitious goal. Can it be done? And more importantly, SHOULD it be done?

New Zealand evolved without predatory mammals, and the first rats presumably didn’t arrive until the first Polynesian settlers did sometime in the 13th century (although radiocarbon dating of rat bones and paleontological examination of chewed seed hint they could have been here earlier, see here). European settlers brought a variety of familiar animals with them, and imported brushtailed possums from Australia to build a fur trade. Escapees soon inhabited New Zealand’s forests.

Today, the rats and stoats and possums and ferrets and wild domestic cats are all on the blacklist. While many farmers want to control bovine TB (rare in New Zealand, but not eradicated, and possums are carriers), conservationists argue that native birds-- 37 native New Zealand birds are classified as “threatened”—are at risk as long as predators roam the forests.

While pest trapping occurs in some areas, the various conservation departments and farming organisations tend to favour poisons for their pest control. The aerial use of highly-toxic 1080 is the most controversial of the poisons used, especially given the aerial method of application. New Zealand uses about 85% of the world’s supply of 1080, and rather than import it from the US, the West Coast Regional Council has invested in a 1080-manufacturing plant in Rolleston, an “innovative business decision”. This year (2014) has seen the most comprehensive coverage of New Zealand native forest with aerial drops of 1080 (see hereunder a Department of Conservation campaign titled “Battle for Our Birds”, based on the argument that beech tree masting in 2014 will result in so much food that the forests will be over-run with rats, and when the seed runs out they'll turn to birds for food. (The fact that beech trees mast on a regular basis and this hasn't happened before appears irrelevant--but that's off the topic.)

Besides the absurdity of thinking all of the predatory animals in New Zealand can be eradicated, and the ridiculous amount of poison that would have to be dumped on the country to do that (presumably without endangering humans, pets, and livestock), there is a very real question here about the ecological value and benefit of removing predators from the environment. Indeed, the removal of predators from an ecological system almost always has detrimental effects.

Elsewhere in the world, ecologists are increasingly becoming aware of the important role predators play in maintaining a stable ecosystem and encouraging biodiversity. Whether talking about large predators such as wolves and lions or small predators such as sea stars or codfish or armadillos or spiders, the trophic cascade that develops when predators in the ecological system are removed has profound implications for the health of the other residents in that system, often putting the most vulnerable creatures—those most in need of protection—at even greater risk. (See Caroline Fraser’s The Crucial Role of Predators.)

There’s a great little you tube video that shows what happened when wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the US. The impact on, and enhancement of, the entire ecosystem was profound and surprising. The removal of such animals would undoubtedly have the reverse effect. 

While rats and stoats may not be wolves, and conservationists might argue that New Zealand wildlife developed without mammalian predators and has no need for them, the fact remains that their removal would undoubtedly have profound and unexpected implications for our wild spaces now.

New Zealand is a unique island nation, but it is no longer isolated. Man has come here, with his cows and his sheep, his horses, and deer, and dogs, and cats. Early Maori exterminated the moa, large flightless birds that once browsed the forests, and used fire to turn thick forests into more amenable grasslands. Modern man has brought his crops of corn and wheat and ryegrass, his aeroplanes, his herbicides, and his pesticides to these island, and he has now decided that the wilds must not be allowed to develop naturally under the auspices of Mother Nature (who no doubt delights in having a good variety of plants and animals to play with), but that even the wild lands must be managed, just like any good farm. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Poisoned Possums in the Hutt River

I feel like I’ve written more than enough blog posts about 1080, a shorthand term for the toxic chemical sodium fluoroacetate, that is routinely and deliberately spread by aerial means across large expanses of New Zealand forests, ostensibly to “manage biodiversity” by killing pests, most specifically possums, rats, and stoats. Yet I am compelled to write yet another post.

Signs have just gone up (it’s the beginning of November 2014, but I think they appeared just in time for Halloween—a grisly “treat”) along the Hutt River that runs through my community of Lower Hutt and discharges into Wellington Harbour. They warn dog owners to keep pets on leashes to avoid contact with poisoned carcasses that may be washed down the river following rain as a result of an aerial drop of 1080 poison upstream. Dogs are particularly susceptible to 1080 poison, so any canine that might happen to find and chew on a dead possum is at serious risk of death. There is no antidote. 

While posted warnings for dog owners are prudent, I’m bothered by the fact that the Greater Wellington Regional Council has been so quiet about this 2014 drop over Kaitoke Regional Park and the Hutt River catchment area (some 10,000 hectares—25,000 acres—at a rate of 1.5 kg of bait per hectare) that I didn’t even realize was happening until it was all over, and I reckon most other folks didn’t know about it either. Indeed, it took a little bit of detective work on line to find this PDF file put out by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, and the fact the poisoning in this area began 30 September (see here).

The Hutt River catchment supplies about half of the public water for Wellington and the Hutt Valley. The above PDF file offers the rather limited assurance that public water will not be taken from the Hutt Valley catchment during the poison drop nor immediately after it. Presumably by the time the carcasses of dead animals might be washed far enough down the river to poison dogs, it will be okay for us to drink the water from this catchment again.

Hunters are also warned not to take game (deer, pig) from the drop area or within several kilometres of the drop area for at least four months. They haven’t mentioned trout from the Hutt River, popular with anglers, but elsewhere in the country, anglers have been warned to not eat trout caught in water contaminated by 1080 or 1080-poisoned carcasses. Presumably the same goes for eels.

People and dogs play in the Hutt River.
The beautiful Hutt River not only supplies our drinking water, it is a beautiful river running through the heart of a major suburban area. Families, kids, dogs, and anglers love the river as a place to play, picnic, swim, and fish. The water from this river runs through our taps. Assurances that they won’t use this water “during or immediately after the 1080 drop” isn’t very reassuring when anecdotal reports suggest 1080 baits can lay around for weeks after a drop.

Water quality in New Zealand is a hot political issue. With 60% of our monitored rivers deemed too polluted to swim in, let alone drink, and 2/3 of our freshwater fish at risk (see here), it seems daft that adding more toxin to the mix is not only done deliberately, but done without free public debate.

I think it’s sad that Hutt River users this spring need to be wary of poisoned carcasses washed downstream by the rains. I think it is worrisome that our public drinking water is potentially compromised. I think it’s concerning that this all happens seemingly on the quiet. And I think it is seriously time for out-in-the-open public debate about these issues.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Depression Down on the Farm

The other day, the DomPost[i] ran an article talking about how farmers have higher rates of depression and suicide than the general public, and that more farmers died from suicide last year than from traditional “occupational” hazards. There are some obvious factors that were pointed out in the article: the financial ups and downs of commodity prices and bank interest rates, unexpected weather events, the stress of running one’s own business and having to make sound business decisions, and of course the isolation of rural life.

The story began with the “human interest” real-life example of Steve Thomson in Tainui who collapsed one day on his farm and was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack. When nothing obvious was found wrong with his heart, medical staff re-diagnosed the event as a panic attack and said he was suffering from stress. He went on to become “horribly depressed” and ended up on antidepressants. [I haven’t been able to find this particular story online, but others published the same week include Farmer Suicides Raise Alarm and Feeling Down on the Farm.] Those stories all advised farmers to “seek help”. Is it that simple?

I wondered, as I read the paper over my morning coffee, if there wasn’t something else going on here. I wondered if working with agrichemicals had anything to do with Thomson’s abrupt and unexpected heart-attack/panic-attack event and subsequent depression. Synchronicity must have been in play because that morning when I logged onto Facebook, there was a link to a just-published article about how pesticides and herbicides are implicated in the surprisingly high levels of depression and suicide been reported by agricultural workers. (See High Rates of Suicide, Depression Linked to Farmers' Use of Pesticides, published in Scientific American.)

The articles were eerily similar, this second one also beginning with a “human interest” real-life example, this time of Iowa farmer Matt Peters who developed a severe and agitated depression seemingly out of nowhere. Unlike Thomson, he took his own life.

Peters’ wife Ginnie went public after he died to not only raise awareness of the farm-depression-suicide link, but also of the growing evidence of the role pesticides and some herbicides play in mental health down on the farm.

According to the article, long-term or high-exposure use of pesticides and herbicides by farmers have been linked to increased rates of depression and suicide within that sector in numerous studies in the US and elsewhere. (Also see Herbicides Linked to Depression Among Farmers and Pesticides, Depression and Suicide: A Systemic Review.)

The large and increasing role of pesticides and herbicides in agricultural use in New Zealand was highlighted here just recently when Southland dairy cows got sick and some died after eating swedes that were grown from herbicide-resistant seed and, probably, heavily dosed with chemicals prior to grazing. (See my blog post Cows, Swedes, and Dodgy Seeds).

Although farmers are generally advised to keep stock off newly-sprayed pasture, agrichemical manufacturers have sometimes claimed that their sprays are “practically non-toxic to animals” or that they have little or no effect (see here). We cannot know, of course, how the cow or sheep feels after grazing on sprayed pasture, and little if any routine testing is done of meat or milk for herbicide or pesticide residue in animal products intended for human consumption, so we don’t know how much of the residue might be lurking in our foods either.

Desiccated potato plants awaiting harvest (photo from Wikipedia)
Likewise, many food crops are sprayed with herbicides in preparation for harvest. Potatoes, for example, are often sprayed to kill the plants and make harvest easier—they call it desiccation. Other commonly desiccated crops include maize, flax, sunflowers, and linseed. If the spray is systemic—and many are--they cannot be washed off as they have been taken up into the plant structure.

The more I look into this stuff, the more uncomfortable I become. Not only is the use of all these agrichemicals bad news for farmers’ health, I suspect it’s ultimately pretty bad news for consumers’ health too. Unless you grow your own food, or have access to—and can afford—organic products, you are undoubtedly being chemicalized by not only those processed foods with nasty numbers on the labels (additives, colourings, flavourings, flavour enhancers, preservatives, etc.) but even when you go to buy supposedly healthy stuff like potatoes, lettuce, milk and meat at the supermarket.

And lastly, I find myself wondering, with the pesticide/herbicide link to depression down on the farm so easy to research, and with a major article on it out in journals this week, why the New Zealand articles in the paper and online make no mention of the connection, especially given the size of our agricultural sector. Is this a matter of ignorance and writing to a tight deadline, or a deliberate attempt to ignore or cover up the connection for financial or political reasons? I wrote a letter to the editor of the DomPost on the subject, but it was not published.

[i] Daily newspaper in Wellington, New Zealand

Monday, 6 October 2014

Walruses, Sea Ice, and Global Warming

This photo of a large herd of walruses on the shore at Point Lay in Alaska seems to be the new poster icon to portray the havoc and devastation wrought upon ourselves by global warming as a result of our extravagant lifestyle and persistent excessive CO2 emissions. Now, I have several bones to pick with this (these) assumptions.

Firstly, let’s start with the walruses. This is not the first time a large herd of walrus has come ashore and parked for a while. This youtube clip of walruses at Point Lay from 2011 was also touted as proof of the impact of global warming. 

If you dig a little deeper, though, you discover that large groups of walruses have been observed coming ashore since the 1870s, and there is no reason to assume they weren’t doing so long before then. What makes this year’s herd remarkable is that it is the largest congregation of walruses (an estimated 35,000) on record. Which may have as much to do with increasing numbers of walruses overall (some estimates suggest a doubling of population in the past half century, to over 200,000 now, although walrus numbers are hard to count) as it does to ice melt. As walruses hunt and feed in shallow areas of the continental shelf—molluscs and crustaceans making up a large portion of their diet—when the summer ice moves offshore at the end of the summer, walruses likely find it more convenient to rest up on land near the feeding grounds rather than on the ice floes further from their food source.

As part of the global warming story, articles attached to this photo invariably point out—shock, horror!--that the arctic ice is at it’s 6th lowest minimum since records began! But records began just 35 years ago in 1979 when they started monitoring ice cap size by satellite. A period of 35 years is about the length of time climatologists generally consider as ONE data point in the long-term scheme of things—shorter time periods count as “weather”, not “climate”. Of those 35 years, the ice cover was smaller in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012, which could—if you really want to look at individual years—suggest a cooling trend over the past two years.

You don’t hear quite so much about man-made global warming these days, partly because even global warming enthusiasts are discouraged by the planet’s lack of actual warming for about 18 years in spite of ever-increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. The hot new term is “climate change”, and that’s easier to defend because it’s not really measurable. The fact we live on a dynamic planet that does, of course, change with time makes this an easier problem to defend. When politics gets involved in the story, and it moves out of the realm of scientific observation and into the realm of the manipulation of public perception, and by way of that taxation, things get really interesting.

I’ve written previously about the carbon tax issue and, if this is of interested to you, then read on here.