Wednesday, January 29, 2014

30. Seeds of doom planted around the world

One of the item-groups that Mark Lee included in his TIME CAPSULE 2050 was an collections of aerial and ground level photos of a tar-sands pipeline-burst in progress.  The photo was also one of the dozen or so he showed at the congressional hearing in early  
October on bill HR-1896.

Senator John Buchanan (D-MI) began his presentation with an event that occurred in his home state: "On the evening of Sunday, July 25, 2010, at about 6 p.m. EDT, a 40-foot long pipe segment in Line 6B of the Enbridge pipeline located approximately 0.6-miles downstream of the Marshall pump station ruptured, which caused a million-gallon spill of heavy crude oil originating from Canada's Alberta tar sands.  The spill flowed into Talmadge Creek in Calhoun County, which drained into the Kalamazoo River. To this day, although Enbridge has been fined $3.7 million, there is still more bickering than remediation, and the spill area will remain poisoned for decades if not centuries to come...  All in all, judging by the hundreds of spills that have come to pass thus far, many of them unreported, it is deemed that heavy crude pipeline spills are inevitable, not if, but when, and that no amount of blames and fines can bring environmental health back.  It is not the clean-up that is the most important, but the prevention, and "no pipeline, no spill" is the only iron-clad guarantee...."

"Anyone who has fed a baby knows that there is bound to be food spillage.  Does this mean that we have to stop feeding the baby?" asked Senator Ralph Conway (R-TX) during the question period.

"If the senator is trying to arouse people's maternal instinct, he should talk about Mother Earth," countered Buchanan.

"Mother Earth?  Is Senator Buchanan trying to appease the hippy elements of his constituents?" retorted Conway.

"I'll rise above that, Senator Conway.  Suffice to say that whereas his baby is metaphorical, our babies are real, and we are talking about their future."

"Allow me another analogy then, Senator Buchanan," said Conway smugly.  "Are you saying that due to inevitable civilian collateral damage, we should stop all bombing?”

"You said it, Senator Conway, not I, though for once I tend to agree."

"It is a matter of energy independence, Senator Buchanan," said Rep. Sara Hunter (R-AK).  "We either import crude from a friendly country like Canada or an America-hating OPEC country."

"If I may use another analogy, Rep. Hunter,”responded Buchanan smoothly, “you are trapped inside an oil drum, one already crammed full of very slippery people.  If energy independence is your true aim, rather than profiting from your oil stocks, you'd be championing solar and wind rather than fracking and pipelines.”

"We are talking about a steady inflow of crude to maintain our American Way of Life, Senator Buchanan,” chimed in Rep. Nathan Quinn (R-MO). “Do you drive a gasoline car?  If you do, don't you fine what you're doing a little hypocritical?"

"Yes, I do, Rep. Quinn, but it only goes to prove my point.  Oil is addictive, and our current policy is to feed the addiction.  Even if I drive an electric car, the electricity still comes primarily from coal.  To drive an electric car plugged into a solar grid is not far removed from the American Way of Life.  We're not talking about stopping driving, we're talking about switching from gasoline to clean and renewable electricity - meaningfully.  All the American consumer has to do is to switch from fill-up to plug-in or battery exchange.  It is up to the American energy establishment to make the technological transition." 

"If we don't buy crude from Canada, they will still sell it to China. We'll just make things tough for us and easy for the enemy, and in doing so we could lose our competitive edge," said Senator Mitch Dealy (R-LA).

"You are evidently unfamiliar with this fact, Senator Dealy, but the U.S. is spending less than 10% of what China is spending on renewable energy R&D. What you are advocating is not in our best interest in the long run," answered Buchanan.

"Senator Dealy has a point," interjected Senator Rich McClean (R-UT).  "Where there is oil to be burned, it will be burnt, if not in America, then in China and India.  It will change the global political balance, but it won't make any difference to the planet."

"Negative.  The U.S. and China are currently the world's two leading fossil-fuel consuming nations, but the difference is that on a per capita basis, an average American consumes five times as much fossil fuels as an average Chinese.  As pointed out before, China is outspending America on green energy well over 10 to 1.  Even if America goes up to spending just 50% of what China does in renewables, it will make a lot of difference to the planet."

And so it went for a full hour with Buchanan.

When Mark Lee was called to the stand, he was likewise grilled.

"So what is so bad about a pipeline leak?  Most cars leak some oil.  Are you advocating banning all cars?" asked Rep. Agatha Sewell (R-MS).

"When we talk about a 'leak', we think about seepage through a worn seal, and when we talk about a 'spill', the word invokes the image of a glass of milk," said Mark easily.  "A dilbit pipeline 'spill' is more like an explosion, one powerful enough to blow the 40-foot pipe-segment to shreds. The reason for this is that viscous dilbit takes a lot of pressure to move, even on the flat, typically 1300-1450 PSI.  But when it comes to uneven terrain, the pumping stations have to generate a huge amount of extra pressure to force the heavy oil up from valley-bottoms to mountain passes.  So you can imagine what a 'leak' at the valley-bottom would be like.  And, believe me, the 'leak' would be at the valley-bottom, not on the mountain pass. No, it won't be drip-drip-drip, but a big bang followed by a huge splashing gush that could last for hours."

"There is such a thing as clean-up.  To clean up spills is an honorable, earth-friendly profession offering jobs to thousands of workers.  You want these people to all get pink slips?" asked Senator Ken Gaston (R-SC).

"Spill remediation is an unnecessary necessity due to lack of prevention.  And prevention can generate more jobs that remediation.  Metaphorically speaking, with a large clean-up crew constantly on stand by, you might even wish for a spill to justify its existence.  If your argument is sound Senator, we'd still be keeping cigarette salesmen in business, while the hospitals stand by to receive lung cancer patients.  Fact of the matter is that we currently have no effective clean-up technology for spilled dilbit.  One of the main reasons is that unlike oil, dilbit is heavier than water, so it sinks down to river-beds, lake-beds and sea beds alike.  The much touted oil booms have no containment effect, except for the inevitable sheen on the surface.  You cannot begin to really remove the spilled dilbit without dredging, and even so, only partial recovery can be expected, while in doing so, you stir up the precipitated dilbit all over again. The rest will just work itself into the nooks and crannies, releasing their toxins slowly over time.  To this day, no dredging has been done in the aftermath of the Kalamazoo spill.  The toxins are just sitting there, slowly poisoning the river for decades to come. Where there are pipelines, there will be explosive 'spills', and since you never know where and when, there is nothing you can do about it.  As Senator Buchanan said, prevention is better than cure, and the only spill-proof prevention is if there is nothing to spill, meaning, no pipelines."

At about the same time when Mark was uttering these words in the middle of the afternoon in Washington DC, Rebecca was crouching motionless in a hide attached to the trunk of a large banyan tree 20 feet above the ground beside a watering hole in a tiger reserve in central India.  This was the fourth night she had done this, but it would be different from the first three.  For one thing, it was a night of the full moon.  For another, she had established a scanty but usable pattern, enough for her to predict that the tiger would come and drink some time between 1 a.m. and 2  a.m.  But the main difference would be that this would be the night in which one of the last remaining thousand or so Bengal tigers in India would die.

There used to be upwards of 100,000 tigers of 8 subspecies in the wild - Bali, Bengal, Caspian, Indochinese, Javan, Siberian, South China and Sumatran - all in Asia.  Of these, 3 had been driven to extinction in the mid-20th century - the Bali tiger, the Caspian tiger and the Javan tiger.  Of the remaining 5, the Bengal tiger had the largest number remaining, but that was in relative terms.  There used to be 50,000 to 80,000 Bengals in India in the beginning of the 20th Century, but unregulated trophy hunting by the British royalty and high level army officers, as well as the Indian maharajas, had reduced the number down to below 2,000 by the 1980s.  "Unregulated" can be demonstrated by the fact that at least two maharajas killed over 1,000 tigers each, not counting those chalked up by the British.  And the 2,000-plus tigers killed by the two maharajas alone outnumbered all the tigers left in India at the opening of the 21st century.

The species Panthera tigris, having now been red-listed as CITES 1, that is, Endangered, is out of bounds to trophy hunters, but not to poachers.  By definition, nothing is out of bounds to poachers, and Rebecca right now was where poachers frequented, but not trophy hunters.  And yet, she did not consider herself a poacher.  She had purchased from the Maharaja of Pawan the "right" to hunt a Bengal tiger in "his" tiger reserve, the only restriction being that it has to be done at night after the reserve had been closed to the public - for the princely sum of US$400,000.  This "right" was a privilege which the maharaja could himself exercised as an option, which so far he had not, and was not likely to due to the fewness of the tigers in the reserve and the prevalence of poaching by destitute villagers tempted by the pittance and whiskey offered by illegal traders, though nonetheless his nocturnal shikars for other species such as Chital and Sambar deer would continue.  Considering the decline of the royalty class worldwide, $400,000, which would translate into rupees by the millions, was not an amount a self-disrespecting maharaja, or descendent thereof, would easily turn down.  And of course there would be bribes all around to keep things quiet so that the outside world would never know.  Just that another tiger had been poached.

Ironically, her desire for a tiger was triggered inadvertently by Mark Lee, the "Tiger Champion" in the popular TV documentary series Wildlife Champions aired on Discovery Channel and Animal Planet in 20 countries and 6 languages around the world, which she could not miss had she wanted to.  No, he did nothing in instigate it, and before he appeared on her horizon, she had never targeted the tiger as she did the Big 5.  For one thing, the chances that she could obtain a license to import a tiger trophy into the U.S. would be slim to none - much slimmer than to import even her rhino trophy since in part the rhino hunt was legal, and guided by a legal American hunting outfit.  But as was her usual MO, she did an in depth research on Mark and his work before approaching him, and the tigers had been roaring at her to take one of them ever since.   Her character was such that her desire reigned supreme in her life.  Once it had surfaced, it would have to be satisfied no matter what and at any cost.  How to import the trophy into the U.S. - she'd figure it out after she had had the trophy in her possession to import.

As she was crouching uncomfortably in the tree-hide waiting for the tiger to appear, she had a lot of time to think.  That Mark Lee, for example, was to her incomprehensible.  For sure, there was a lot to understand about this man, tons of facts and figures piled on a solid scientific foundation, but spinning off on to all kinds of tangents, some of which spinning off tangents of their own.  But all these were within the grasp of her intellect.  Save one - "Why?"

"What does he stand to gain from all the things that he had done, amazing as they may seem?" she asked herself.  "None of his schemes could make him rich.  He spends zero percent of his time, energy and money on fund raising.  He doesn't seem to be backed by any business or organization.  He is not selling or investing in anything.  His own website is a dot org, not a dot com.  So, what is he after?  If not fortune, then fame?  And then, he doesn't eat meat, and doesn't kill for sport, or for any other reason.  And the most incomprehensible of all, he chooses to work for the animals who has no way of thanking him or paying him back if they wanted to, so, what's his reward?  What pleasure does he get out of life?  Sure, he has a girlfriend who looks like me, but..."  

She didn't finish the last sentence.  She had no idea where it had come from nor where it was leading to.  Perhaps it was the fact that Mark was a Canadian of Chinese descent, but it led to the Chinese monks she saw the week before when she paid homage to the world-famous Shaolin Temple, one of the well-springs of Chinese martial arts which she deemed the most sophisticated of all martial arts around the world, in spite of the fact that she was a black-belt in Japanese Karate which she deemed a lot simpler and more straight-forward than its Chinese counterparts of almost any style, north or south.  She was privileged to participate in an exercise session, and was blown away by the physical prowess of the more senior monks - and she was a woman who could pull an 80-pound compound bow.  

One thing puzzled her slightly about the monks.  While practicing their martial arts, their stances were erect, knightly and proud, but when walking, they tended to look down on the ground a yard or so in front of their feet.  This was too prevalent to miss.  Upon being asked, the "PR monk" said, "Oh, that.  We just want to make sure to not step on a worm or an ant.  They too have a right to live."  This she found even more amazing than their martial arts.  And she more than happily donated her father's bottle of crystalline morphine, labelled "China", to the temple before she left.

Before China, it was Japan - the first stop of her westward around-the-world tour.  Following what she had read of what Mark did in Japan, she landed in the Narita International Airport in Tokyo, and rented a car by which she drove to Osaka, then down to the fishing town of Taiji in the Wakayama Prefecture, just as Mark once did. 

Being a blonde white woman, she stood out like a bacon in the night.  And in the light of day, when she drove into town, she felt herself being glared at by the locals with undisguised hostility.  One yelled at her, "SEA SHEPHERD BITCH!  GO HOME!"  When she tried to rent a hotel room, she was told by all she approached that there was "no room available, so sorry."

She took a room in the neighboring town, and commuted back and forth to Taiji.  Her perseverance paid off.  There was a high viewpoint above Taiji Harbor where she could see the whole town, the harbor and the open Pacific Ocean.  She would arrive there before sunrise and climbed ten feet down the cliff to a ledge where she sat down and waited.  On the fifth day, she saw the thirteen dolphin-driving boats streaming in tandem out of the harbor, then headed out to sea, where she saw through her binoculars a school of about fifty dolphins.  The boats circumvented the dolphins, then fanned out in line abreast, and began driving the dolphins into the Cove by hammering on their sounding rods.  

Rebecca climbed back up the cliff and drove over to the Cove, in time to see the boats blocking the mouth of the cove and stringing up two parallel nets across its entrance to trap the dolphins in.  Soon, a couple of vans bearing the logo of Dolphin Base arrived from which a half dozen men in wet suits emerged.  They had the dolphins driven to the beach at the end of the Cove, from amongst which they chose a few young and unblemished females for capturing purposes, and a few hours later, carted them away.  The rest of the dolphins were driven into a side cove and kept there overnight with sub-nets, to be killed the next morning.  This side-cove was not visible from the road the way the holding bay was.  To further hide the slaughter from the public eye, and cameras, large blue tarps had been hung up in the killing bay.  Further, the path between the two bays were blocked by barbed wire, and a sign saying, "DANGER!  FALLING ROCK!"  Even Rebecca knew it to be fake.

That afternoon, she saw some Shinto priests blessing the thirteen drive boats at the harbor upon their return.

The next morning, she drove back to the Cove, and found the water sloshing out from the killing bay into the larger holding bay to be blood red.  

Given that dolphins were not a species that would interest a trophy hunter, she felt indifferent about it; just curious about how, according to reports found in Mark Lee's website, up to 20,000 dolphins, mostly Bottlenose, nicknamed by the locals "cockroaches of the sea", were killed in this tiny fishing hamlet every year.  She also made the mental note that the Shinto religion was apparently not to focus on compassion for animals as Mark does, but to make sure that no Kamikaze would hit the dolphin-hunting fleet, and presumably there would be a larger shrine for blessing the controversial Antarctic Research-Whaling Fleet as well.  What did bother her was the constantly hostile treatment she was receiving there based upon her race.  

Reluctantly, with mixed feelings, she brought the bottle of crystalline morphine labelled "Japan" to the Shinto temple across the road from the Fishermen's Co-op, as prearranged by her father by mail, and there, she did receive an above-minimum degree of decorum and courtesy.  

Two days later, she boarded her flight to China at the Narita International Airport, and felt relieved when she left Japan.

Then her ever present hunter's instinct tapped her on the shoulder.  She must concentrate at the task at hand and that was to ambush the tiger when he came to the watering hole to drink.  One careless noise, one inadvertent scratching of the canvass of the hide, one shuffling of her feet, could alert the tiger to her presence.  But it was she who was startled - by the sound of the tiger lapping water.  That he had appeared out of nowhere, walked right past under her hide until his front paws got wet, had completely escaped her attention.  

Cautiously, she pulled open the canvass curtain a slit, mounted an arrow on her 75-pound compound bow, drew the bow in one fluid and silent motion, placed the 30-yard green dot in the sight on the torso of the tiger from his 7 o'clock, steadied her aim for ten seconds, then let the arrow fly.

The tiger roared and jumped six feet into the air, landed facing the opposite direction and dove headlong into the undergrowth.  The beaters descended from their own hides and began tracking the tiger's blood trail, which led to his body a mile and an hour later.  

And she was beyond ecstatic, enough to willingly make the slightly vexing detour to the Temple of Durga - the goddess whose mount was a tiger - to make the offering of a battle of crystalline morphine, as her father had directed.  After all, he was the one who paid the maharaja for her tiger-hunting privilege. 

In the days to come, according to the itinerary set by her father, she would be plane-hopping to Pakistan, Kuwait, Israel, Egypt, Crimea, Greece, the Vatican, Spain and Ireland, each a dropping point of a bottle of crystalline morphine.

And then, while she was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean flying from Ireland back to the U.S., she had one hell of a revelation.

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