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About the Author
David Taylor is a journalist, writer, and former Director of Communications with the David Suzuki Foundation. His work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and other newspapers and magazines across Canada. He has also written for television and film and is a past winner of the CBC’s Signature Shorts screen writing competition. Taylor graduated with honours from the University of Victoria, where he also completed the post-graduate Harvey Southam professional writing program and was the first person to receive the Harvey Southam Award for his thesis on journalism ethics. He lives with his family in New Westminster, British Columbia.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpts from The Big Picture
by David Suzuki and Dave Robert Taylor
Human hormones mess with male fish
Most people alive today were born after 1950. To these people, our modern world is just the way things have always been. Imagining life without TV, radio, telephones and the internet is next to impossible. Teenagers probably have a hard time imagining life without text messaging!
And it’s true, human reach is now profound. We are the most integrated, interconnected and mobile species that has ever existed on this planet. Some of these interconnections produce marvelous results. We get to know other cultures. We understand more about history and each other. We can easily chat with friends and family on the other side of the world.
But we have to remember that, although we are connected with each other more than ever, we are also intimately connected to the rest of the natural world. These connections can manifest themselves physically, such as through global warming. But they can also manifest themselves biologicallyand in some surprising ways.
Recently, researchers writing in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that male fish became feminized” when exposed to human hormones. Some of the fish, a type of fathead minnow, produced early-stage eggs in their testes while others actually developed tissues for both reproductive organs.
How would fish be exposed to female human hormones? Through treated or untreated municipal wastewater, of course. It seems that widespread use of birth control pills has elevated the amount of estrogenic substances going into our waste stream. Remember, things that go down our toilets don’t just disappear. They can actually survive simple sewage treatment processes and end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans.
Reports of fish feminization due to human female hormones are today fairly well documentedbut long-term studies of what impact this can have on fish populations have not been done. For this latest study, researchers actually added the synthetic estrogen found in contraceptive pills to a remote lake in northern Ontario in amounts that are normally found in human wastewater. They did this for three years, and monitored the results over a period of seven years.
The results were startling. As expected, the male fish developed some feminized characteristics, such as producing proteins normally synthesized in females. But what really disturbed the scientists was how populations of the fish crashed to near extinction levels by the end of the experiment. Feminization of the males combined with hormonal changes to the females apparently damaged their overall reproductive capacity to the point that the fish were unable to maintain their population.
Conclude the researchers: The results from this whole-lake experiment demonstrate that continued inputs of natural and synthetic estrogens and estrogen mimics to the aquatic environment in municipal wastewaters could decrease the reproductive success and sustainability of fish populations.”
This spells trouble. Most of us have probably never heard of the fathead minnow, but these fish are a vital food source for well-known and popular sport fish that people have heard ofsuch as walleye, lake trout and northern pike. They are also well-studied and often used in toxicology testing because they have short life cycles, adapt well to lab conditions and are representative of a large family of fish.
The authors of the report describe the fathead minnow as a freshwater equivalent of the miner’s canary.” In other words, what happens to the fish, as with the bird, could happen to humans in short order unless we are very careful. Cell phones and the internet aren’t our only connections with each other and with the world. We are biological creatures too and we have to remember that these are the connections that ultimately matter the most.
Climate change myths debunked
In spite of explosive news coverage about global warming over the past year, most people still have only a very rudimentary knowledge of this complex issue. Unfortunately, this lack of knowledge has led to persistent myths, which are slowing down real action that could prevent the worst damage from occurring to our economy and to our environment.
Most of us are just too busy to get to the bottom of climate science. It’s undeniably complicated and it’s more than most people want to deal with in their daily lives. We all have to worry about our jobs, our families, and just getting through hectic days. Global warming is scary and we hope someone does something about it, or tells us what to do.
For some, however, doubting the science of global warming has taken on an almost religious zeal. Those blessed with "knowledge" shake their heads sadly at people who are concerned about a warming planet and are trying to do something about it. They pontificate about how the public has been misled by a few (usually European) academics who rely on "faulty" computer models, socialist biases, or both.
Talking to these people is hard because they come armed with obscure-sounding references about things like the "medieval warm period," "solar flares" and "hockey-stick" graphs. They seem so sure of themselves that the media still routinely feature these so-called global warming skeptics in opinion articles, television interviews and especially on talk radio.
Media outlets love these guys (yes, they are mostly men and they tend to be the same, often paid, "experts" over and over again) because it stirs things up. These pundits specialize in arguing and confusing people, the same way tobacco industry lobbyists did and still do. Having people argue on talk radio is that medium’s bread and butter. And what better way to get people riled up than to have a self-proclaimed "expert" tell everyone that global warming is a myth?
The problem is that some people believe it. Or, more often, it creates just enough doubt for peopleincluding politiciansto ignore the issue. And that’s dangerous.
Many environmental organizations’ websites correct some of the most common myths perpetuated by climate skeptics, but a new resource is the best I’ve seen yet. New Scientist magazine, the world’s largest general interest science magazine, has a new feature called Climate change: A guide for the perplexed and it debunks 26 of the most common myths about global warming. Available in the latest print edition, and free online, the guide is an invaluable resource for separating fact from fiction.
New Scientist journalist Fred Pearce does an impressive job of sifting through the most common misconceptions about global warming, exploring everything from computer models and hockey stick graphs to ice core samples and various temperature readings. He looks at what the best evidence indicates, as well at what areas need further research. It’s a fascinating piece of work.
And it’s badly needed too. Many governments are still stalling on taking substantial steps to reduce the heat-trapping emissions that are causing global warming. As the scientific academies representing 13 nations recently wrote in a joint statement on climate protection: "The problem is not yet insoluble, but becomes more difficult with each passing day."
That’s why it’s so important to debunk these myths and move on. They’re slowing us down at a time when delay makes the problem more and more costly, and more and more difficult to fix. If you want to help, read New Scientist and arm yourself with knowledge, then tell a friend or, even better, an elected leader, and take down these myths once and for all.
Table of ContentsTable of Contents
1.What we don't know can hurt us: Science and the dangers of ignorance
2.Smarter than your average planet: Interconnections in the biosphere
3.Getting to know the Joneses: Protecting the diversity of life on Earth
4.Solidarity for Mother Nature: Natural services and economics
5.Hot hot heat: Global warming and climate change
6.You can't get there from here: Car culture and global transportation
7.Jellyfish - it's what's for dinner: Feeding the planet in the 21st century
8.Children of a lesser god: Technology and a culture of consumerism
9.Lights, camera, sound bite: Social change and the media
10.Public policy for a sustainable planet