Saturday, January 31, 2015

One Of The World's Biggest Lakes Is Dying And We're To Blame

One of the World's Biggest Lakes Is Dying and We're to Blame

Global warming and overfishing are killing Lake Victoria, and locals are scrambling for options.

| Fri Jan. 30, 2015
At Ibrahim Mohammed's fish stall, business is slow.
He's sitting behind a wooden table piled with a dozen tilapia and Nile perch at the market in Katoro, a roadside town in northern Tanzania. The fish—a staple of the Tanzanian diet—came in that morning from Lake Victoria, an hour's drive north. Around us, hundreds of shoppers are snatching up pineapples, textiles, and motorcycle parts. But Mohammed explains that basic economics is keeping customers away from his fish.
"There's less fish," he says. "So the price goes up, so customers can't afford to buy."
In the two years Mohammed has operated this stall, the retail price for both species has doubled. An average Nile perch has gone from roughly $2 to $4; tilapia from $4 to $8. That's far above the overall rate of inflation.
Stories like Mohammed's are becoming common among vendors and fishermen across Tanzania. The freshwater fishing industry here is nine times larger than the ocean fishing industry, and it's a vital source of income for more than 2 million people, according to the United Nations. Half of the freshwater haul comes from Lake Victoria.
Nile perch makes up the majority of the catch. An invasive species that has dominated the lake for half a century, it's driven many of the native fish to extinction, earning it a reputation as an ecological disaster. For fishermen, though, it has become a cornerstone of the economy.
Overfishing and climate change, O'Reilly says, are "the perfect storm."
But over the last several years, locals here say, fish yields have begun to drop. The culprit: a worrisome combination of overfishing and climate change.
Hard statistics are notoriously difficult to come by, as the resource-strapped federal fisheries agency struggles to keep tabs on an industry composed almost entirely of small-scale, informal operators. But a 2013 government auditpainted a disturbing picture. Between 2009 and 2011, according to the audit, yields of Nile perch on Lake Victoria fell about 5 percent.
Further evidence of a population in decline came from the reported size of fish caught. When a fish population is being snatched up faster than it can reproduce, the average length of caught fish tends to decrease, because fewer of them are able to survive into maturity. The audit found that between 2008 and 2010, the number of fish meeting the minimum size criteria at major processing facility near the lake dropped by more than half.
The main problem, according to the audit, is overfishing. It blamed the federal fisheries agency for failing to set and enforce catch quotas, and it found that reported yields of Nile perch greatly exceeded the limit at which the population can be sustainably harvested.
But some scientists also point a finger at climate change. East Africa has warmed by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, a trend that is expected to continue. The rising temperatures are gradually altering conditions within Lake Victoria and the region's other "Great Lakes"—Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi.
"The warming of the water bodies in the lakes so far has actually shown some serious impact on the productivity of the lakes," says Pius Yanda, a climatologist at the University of Dar es Salaam and a contributing author to the 2007 report issued by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Tim McDonnell; Map: borealaShutterstock
A 2003 study in the journal Nature examined algae records from the bottom of Lake Tanganyika and found that over the last century, warming waters have driven down the lake's fish yield by 30 percent. Water near the surface, warmed by the sun and air, traps cold water underneath and prevents the lake from mixing. This prevents nutrients from the depths from reaching plankton near the surface, which in turn leads to a diminishing supply of food for fish.
At the same time, deeper water in the lake gradually loses dissolved oxygen, forcing fish to swim closer to the surface, where warmer water impedes their metabolism and makes them more susceptible to hooks and nets. The result is fish packed into a smaller area, competing for less food, and struggling to survive, says study author Catherine O'Reilly, a hydrogeologist at Illinois State University.
Add in overfishing, O'Reilly says, and "it's the perfect storm."
"These things are making life hard for fish, so you're going to see those populations decline rapidly," she adds.
The same problems could be playing out in Lake Victoria, O'Reilly says, even though that lake is very different from Tanganyika. Tanganyika is extraordinarily deep—second only to Siberia's Lake Baikal—so a lack of mixing is especially problematic. By comparison, Victoria is very shallow and mixes more easily. And because Victoria has such a large fishing industry, as well as polluted runoff from cities on its shores, the climate change signal is harder to tease out. But, O'Reilly says, "there's reason to think that fish populations in Victoria are probably struggling."
Boom to Bust
It's not just fish that are struggling, says Donald Kasongi, director of Governance Links, an environmental nonprofit in Mwanza, the biggest fishing port on the Tanzanian shore of the lake. This city's economy has long revolved around fishing, but now many of the local processing plants have shuttered or are operating at a fraction of their capacity, he says. Kasongi estimates that over the last several years, up to half of the city's full-time fishery workers have had to find other work.
"This is a serious threat for the household economy," he says. "We are now seeing what will happen in the future if we go on like this."
At markets in northern Tanzania, vendors like Ibrahim Mohammed say prices for tilapia and Nile perch have doubled in the last few years. Tim McDonnell/Climate Desk
The situation in Mwanza also stems in part from Tanzania's transition away from the socialist economic system that had been in place since the country's independence from Great Britain in 1961, Kasongi says. In the mid-1990s, the country opened its doors to foreign investment for the first time, and one industry that proved especially attractive was fishing. Within a few years, wooden fishing canoes were making way for large trawlers, and Mwanza was packed with new processing plants.
At the time, fishing seemed like a windfall, Kasongi recalls, proof that a sudden dose of capitalism could jumpstart the foundering Tanzanian economy. But in retrospect, the uninhibited plunder of Lake Victoria was really just setting Mwanza up for a crash.  
"The way we were taking the stock was mad," he says. "Not sustainable, definitely."
Today the real costs of last decade's boom are coming in. One victim of the fish bust is Christopher Kazoni, a lifelong fisherman who was forced to give up working the lake last year after his income took a tumble. Over the summer, he joined with some friends to set up a fish farm, squeezed between a major thoroughfare and the lakeshore. Their artificial ponds are now home to the same species that they used to catch in the lake. Victoria is no longer a reliable source of income, Kazoni says, speaking in Swahili through a translator.
"In 10 or 20 years, the fish will be so scarce that it's better to prepare ourselves now, rather than depending on the lake," he says.
"The way we were taking the stock was mad."
Yet for all the anxiety in Mwanza, climatic changes elsewhere in Tanzania could actually make the lake look comparatively attractive. A 2012 UN study found that between the 1970s and 2000s, precipitation during the country's main rainy season fell by 30 percent. Seasonal patterns that farmers have depended on for generations are becoming unpredictable, Yanda says, as global warming disrupts weather systems over the Indian Ocean.
"The distribution of the rainfall is so sparse, and then you have extended dry spells in between," he says. "This is causing frequent crop failures in the field."
In response, Yanda said, many farmers and ranchers are moving to where the supply of water is more dependable: Lake Victoria. Population density growth around the lake has exploded over the last decade, outstripping the continent-wide average by nearly tenfold, according to the UN. That's putting even more stress on the lake's already-overworked resources.
The best response, Kasongi says, is to pressure the government to crack down on overfishing and lakeside pollution and to encourage policies that will allow fish populations to thrive into the future. Those steps could make it a little easier to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
"We may not go back to where we used to be," he says. "But there is something we can do."
This story was produced with support from the European Journalism Centre.

Obama's $215 Million DNA Sequencing Project Is A Great Idea


Obama's $215 Million DNA Sequencing Project Is A Great Idea

This morning, President Obama is going to announce the new “Precision Medicine Initiative” that he teased in his State of the Union address on January 20 to a roomful of luminaries including the research heads of several major drug makers. It’s a gimmicky grab for budget money that’s scant on details – barely a sketch of an idea.
It’s also a smart move and should be worth every penny.
Obama is requesting $215 million in new investment for the new initiative. The first $130 million of that will go to the National Institutes of Health fund the creation of a national research program tracking the data of 1 million volunteer donors, including, for many, their DNA sequences. Another $70 million will go to the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the NIH, to identify the genetic drivers of cancer. The next $10 million will go to the Food and Drug Administration to develop new regulatory structures to deal with approving more personalized drugs, and the final $5 million goes to the office of the National Coordinator to help get all the relevant information technology systems to cooperate. The plan was described to reporters on a call yesterday afternoon.
Let’s be honest: these initiatives are partly there to make the president look presidential (hoping voters remember Kennedy sending men to the moon and not Nixon’s War on Cancer) and partly as a way to try and fight back the fact that the budget of the NIH has been getting tighter as research costs rise faster than inflation. There are often impressive claims made, as in 2013, when, announcing his $100 million BRAIN Initiative, Obama argued that for every dollar that had been spent to map the human genome, $140 had been delivered to the economy. (Maybe, but that number comes from a report commissioned by Life Technologies , now part of Thermo Fisher, a descendent of the company that made the DNA sequencers used in the project – and during that same period major drug companies, one of the main beneficiaries of the project, cut hundreds of thousands of jobs.)
But whether or not State-of-the-Union science is a good idea generally, this is a good idea today, particularly because of the revolution that the human genome project really did kick off. As a result of the human genome project and private sector efforts byIllumina ILMN -2.41%, the dominant maker of DNA sequencers, the cost of analyzing a human genome has dropped from $400 million to $1,000. The ability to track other kinds of data and to analyze those data with computers has dropped precipitously, though not quite as fast.
That has led to a lot of other efforts to build databases of patient data. That includes the United Kingdom’s effort to amass 100,000 genomes, and also private efforts including those of the billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong’s NantHealth, Craig Venter’s startup Human Longevity, and the biotechnology company Regeneron. It’s good forCelgene CELG -1.42% or Pfizer to sequence lots of genomes, but its better if that data is accessible to researchers everywhere.
The effort Obama is announcing, masterminded by NIH chief Francis Collins, who dueled with Venter’s private company during the last human genome race, seems to try to do this on the cheap, stitching together many ongoing projects into a government consortium. But it’s still the right idea. Having the government, as well as industry, collect this data will make all of it – from genomics to mobile health – more open and free. And that can only mean better science for everyone

Matthew HerperForbes Staff

Leo Tolstoy's Love Letter To Lincoln

Leo Tolstoy’s Love Letter to Lincoln

Just a few years before he died, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy gave an interview about Abraham Lincoln to convey just how universally admired the dead president was. In the interview, which first appeared in the February 7, 1909 issue of New York World, he recounted how a Muslim tribal chief in the Caucasus had offered the writer a prize horse if he could tell them the tale of Lincoln, “the greatest ruler of the world.”
Visiting Leo Tolstoi in Yasnaya with the intention of getting him to write an article on Lincoln, I unfortunately found him not well enough to yield to my request. However, he was willing to give me his opinion of the great American statesman, and this is what he told me:

“Of all the great national heroes and statesmen of history Lincoln is the only real giant. Alexander, Frederick the Great, Caesar, Napoleon, Gladstone and even Washington stand in greatness of character, in depth of feeling and in a certain moral power far behind Lincoln. Lincoln was a man of whom a nation has a right to be proud; he was a Christ in miniature, a saint of humanity, whose name will live thousands of years in the legends of future generations. We are still too near to his greatness, and so can hardly appreciate his divine power; but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us. 

“If one would know the greatness of Lincoln one should lis- ten to the stories which are told about him in other parts of the world. I have been in wild places, where one hears the name of America uttered with such mystery as if it were some heaven or hell. I have heard various tribes of barbarians discussing the New World, but I heard this only in connection with the name of Lincoln. Lincoln as the wonderful hero of America is known by the most primitive nations of Asia. This may be illustrated through the following incident: 

“Once while travelling in the Caucasus I happened to be the guest of a Caucasian chief of the Circassians, who, living far away from civilized life in the mountains, had but a fragmentary and childish comprehension of the world and its history. The fingers of civilization had never reached him nor his tribe, and all life beyond his native valleys was a dark mystery. Being a Mussulman he was naturally opposed to all ideas of progress and education. 

“I was received with the usual Oriental hospitality and after our meal was asked by my host to tell him something of my life. Yielding to his request I began to tell him of my profession, of the development of our industries and inventions and of the schools. He listened to everything with indifference, but when I began to tell about the great statesmen and the great generals of the world he seemed at once to become very much interested. 

Lincoln was a man of whom a nation has a right to be proud; he was a Christ in miniature, a saint of humanity, whose name will live thousands of years in the legends of future generations.
“‘Wait a moment,’ he interrupted, after I had talked a few minutes. ‘I want all my neighbors and my sons to listen to you. I will call them immediately.’ 

“He soon returned with a score of wild looking riders and asked me politely to continue. It was indeed a solemn moment when those sons of the wilderness sat around me on the floor and gazed at me as if hungering for knowledge. I spoke at first of our Czars and of their victories; then I spoke of the foreign rulers and of some of the greatest military leaders. My talk seemed to impress them deeply. The story of Napoleon was so interesting to them that I had to tell them every detail, as, for instance, how his hands looked, how tall he was, who made his guns and pistols and the color of his horse. It was very difficult to satisfy them and to meet their point of view, but I did my best. When I declared that I had finished my talk, my host, a gray- bearded, tall rider, rose, lifted his hand and said very gravely: 

“‘But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know some- thing about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock and as sweet as the fragrance of roses. The angels appeared to his mother and predicted that the son whom she would conceive would become the greatest the stars had ever seen. He was so great that he even forgave the crimes of his greatest enemies and shook brotherly hands with those who had plotted against his life. His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived.Tell us of that man.’

“‘Tell us, please, and we will present you with the best horse of our stock,’ shouted the others. 

“I looked at them and saw their faces all aglow, while their eyes were burning. I saw that those rude barbarians were really interested in a man whose name and deeds had already become a legend. I told them of Lincoln and his wisdom, of his home life and youth. They asked me ten questions to one which I was able to answer. They wanted to know all about his habits, his influence upon the people and his physical strength. But they were very astonished to hear that Lincoln made a sorry figure on a horse and that he lived such a simple life. 

“‘Tell us why he was killed,’ one of them said. 

“I had to tell everything. After all my knowledge of Lincoln was exhausted they seemed to be satisfied. I can hardly forget the great enthusiasm which they expressed in their wild thanks and desire to get a picture of the great American hero. I said that I probably could secure one from my friend in the nearest town, and this seemed to give them great pleasure. 

“The next morning when I left the chief a wonderful Arabian horse was brought me as a present for my marvellous story, and our farewell was very impressive. 

“One of the riders agreed to accompany me to the town and get the promised picture, which I was now bound to secure at any price. I was successful in getting a large photograph from my friend, and I handed it to the man with my greetings to his associates. It was interesting to witness the gravity of his face and the trembling of his hands when he received my present. He gazed for several minutes silently, like one in a reverent prayer; his eyes filled with tears. He was deeply touched and I asked him why he became so sad. After pondering my question for a few moments he replied: 

“‘I am sad because I feel sorry that he had to die by the hand of a villain. Don’t you find, judging from his picture, that his eyes are full of tears and that his lips are sad with a secret sorrow?’ 

“Like all Orientals, he spoke in a poetical way and left me with many deep bows.

“This little incident proves how largely the name of Lincoln is worshipped throughout the world and how legendary his personality has become. 

“Now, why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skilful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character. He had come through many hardships and much experience to the realization that the greatest human achievement is love. He was what Beethoven was in music, Dante in poetry, Raphael in painting, and Christ in the philosophy of life. He aspired to be divine—and he was.

“It is natural that before he reached his goal he had to walk the highway of mistakes. But we find him, nevertheless, in every tendency true to one main motive, and that was to benefit man- kind. He was one who wanted to be great through his smallness. If he had failed to become President he would be, no doubt, just as great as he is now, but only God could appreciate it. The judgment of the world is usually wrong in the beginning, and it takes centuries to correct it. But in the case of Lincoln the world was right from the start. Sooner or later Lincoln would have been seen to be a great man, even though he had never been an American President. But it would have taken a great generation to place him where he belongs. 

“Lincoln died prematurely by the hand of the assassin, and naturally we condemn the criminal from our viewpoint of justice. But the question is, was his death not predestined by a divine wisdom, and was it not better for the nation and for his greatness that he died just in that way and at that particular moment? We know so little about that divine law which we call fate that no one can answer. Christ had a presentiment of His death, and there are indications that also Lincoln had strange dreams and presentiments of something tragic. If that was really the fact, can we conceive that human will could have prevented the outcome of the universal or divine will? I doubt it. I doubt also that Lincoln could have done more to prove his greatness than he did. I am convinced we are but instruments in the hands of an unknown power and that we have to follow its bidding to the end. We have a certain apparent independence, according to our moral character, wherein we may benefit our fellows, but in all eternal and universal questions we follow blindly a divine pre- destination. According to that eternal law the greatest of national heroes had to die, but an immortal glory still shines on his deeds. 

“However, the highest heroism is that which is based on humanity, truth, justice and pity; all other forms are doomed to forgetfulness. The greatness of Aristotle or Kant is insignificant compared with the greatness of Buddha, Moses and Christ. The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moon- light by the sun of Lincoln. His example is universal and will last thousands of years. Washington was a typical American, Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country— bigger than all the Presidents together. Why? Because he loved his enemies as himself and because he was a universal individualist who wanted to see himself in the world—not the world in himself. He was great through his simplicity and was noble through his charity. 

“Lincoln is a strong type of those who make for truth and justice, for brotherhood and freedom. Love is the foundation of his life. That is what makes him immortal and that is the quality of a giant. I hope that his centenary birth day will create an impulse toward righteousness among the nations. Lincoln lived and died a hero, and as a great character he will live as long as the world lives. May his life long bless humanity!”

**This article first appeared in the New York World on February 7, 1909.

Ebola Is Not A Threat To America. Citizens Shunning Vaccinations Is A Threat

You heard it here first!
"Ebola Represents A Trivial Threat To Americans' Health"
Alan: Oh, yeah. Right. I remember Ebola. That was the End-Time Freak-Out that made conservatives crazy back in October

Jenny McCarthy: Poster Girl For Self-Terrorization

The Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh And Scapegoating

Wendell Berry: "Christ Did Not Come To Found An Organized Religion"

Alan: Decades ago, I was surprised to learn -- from the mouth of a Catholic priest -- that Catholic teaching holds that when there is no longer need for the organized church to serve as "wisdom repository" and "protective vault," the organized church will no longer be necessary.

“I am, maybe, the ultimate Protestant, the man at the end of the Protestant road, for as I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one.  He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temple into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here.  Well, you can read and see what you think.”  Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry

Compendium Of Wendell Berry Pax Posts

Wendell Berry Takes Literally John's Statement That "God Loves The World"

“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

Compendium Of Wendell Berry Pax Posts

Compendium Of Wendell Berry Pax Posts

Wendell Berry Takes Literally John's Statement That "God Loves The World"
Wendell Berry: "Christ Did Not Come To Found An Organized Religion"









  • NPR's Science Friday: Brilliant Encounter Between Immunologist & Vaccination Denier

    Alan: The following Sound Cloud audio file features immunologist Paul Offit who gives an incomparably lucid presentation on science denial and how science denial is justified by faith, whether sacred or secular.

    No matter what science reveals -- and regardless the incontrovertible clarity with which scientific finding is demonstrated -- denialist faith always trumps fact.

    In this audio file, immunologist Offit engages an articulate, upper middle class mother from Raleigh, North Carolina, who -- when confronted by scientific proof that invalidates her mistaken suppositions -- summarily dismisses Offit's scientific clarity by saying: "I don't believe it."

    To my knowledge there is no better revelation of anti-science obtusity/perversity than this clip.
    "The Danger Of Science Denial"
    TED Talk by Michael Specter

    Jenny McCarthy: Poster Girl For Self-Terrorization

    How the death of epistemology validates rhetorical vapidity:
    1. The Guardian: "John Oliver's Viral Video Is The Best Climate Change Debate You'll Ever See"

    Stewart, Colbert, Oliver Probe The Spectacular Idiocy Of Climate Change Deniers

    Bill Maher: The Zombie Life Cycle Of Republican Lies. They Never - Ever - Die

    JAN. 30, 2015

    Scientists and the Public Disagree on Key Issues

    • Lee Rainie
      Director Internet, Science, and Technology Research
      Pew Research Center
      Washington, D.C.
    • Michael LaCour
      Doctoral Candidate
      Department of Political Science and Statistics
      Affiliate, California Center for Population Research
      University of California, Los Angeles
      Los Angeles, California
    • Tim O'Brien
      Assistant Professor, Sociology
      University of Evansville
      Evansville, Indiana
    • Brendan Nyhan
      Assistant Professor, Government
      Dartmouth College
      Hanover, New Hampshire