Tara Oceans Expedition returns after two years at sea

On March 31, 2012, two and a half years after setting sail, The Tara Oceans Expedition returned to the harbor at Lorient, France. True to style, the people of Brittany – some of the saltiest folks in the world, came down in droves to meet the voyagers. But Tara’s mission is not over – there is still much science to be done. The Tara Oceans expedition aims to identify the effects of global warming on planktonic and coral reef ecosystems, and the consequences on food webs and marine life. The crew have traversed the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, and Antarctica. Eric Karsenti (senior scientist at CNRS and EMBL) and Etienne Bourgois (President of Tara Foundation) co-direct the mission.

Sir Peter Blake, formerly partners in the then called “Seamaster,” was murdered onboard on the Amazon River in 2001 by would-be thieves. Blake had been engaged as Director of Expeditions for the Cousteau Society, and was also named special envoy for the UN Environment Programme. While on an environmental exploration trip in South America, monitoring global warming and pollution for the United Nations, this sailing legend and ocean hero met his tragic end. It was unthinkable. In New Zealand, his grave is a place of pilgrimage. With Sir Peter’s tragic death, it looked like his legendary 119-foot schooner Seamaster might never be used to her full potential. But baby, look at her now. Sir Peter would be proud!

Since leaving Lorient on September 5, 2009, the schooner Tara has taken samples at 150 scientific stations around the world, collecting material for laboratory analysis, and has also studied specific coral reef sites. (938 expedition days, including 630 days at sea and 58 days studying corals.) After two-and-a-half years circling the globe, Tara returned to her home port in Lorient on Saturday, March 31, 2012.

With this unprecedented expedition, scientists hope to better understand the functioning and diversity of marine life and provide answers about their role in the face of climate change. Preliminary analyses from 30 stations show that 60-80% of genes characterizing plankton were unknown up to the present.

Tara Oceans is also an outreach expedition; meeting the people of the countries they passed through. During the 50 stopovers, nearly 5,000 children from all continents visited Tara and interacted with the scientists. The mission has been a great human adventure involving hundreds of people onboard and ashore.

In the coming months, the first scientific results will be published. Three papers are in preparation: on the genomics of stations in the Mediterranean Sea, the impact of environment on the complexity of biodiversity, and the effects of ocean circulation on ecosystems. In addition, analyses of their samples will continue for many years in partner laboratories. Possible applications of these results are numerous, especially in the biomedical field and for climate models.

2012 is the year for sharing the Tara Expeditions project – first, this June at the Earth Summit in Rio. The schooner will remain in Brittany throughout the summer. During the French leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, she’ll be in Lorient, then in Camaret-sur-Mer and at the “Tonnerres de Brest”. The schooner will then sail to Paris in September, and dock there for several months.

Richard Branson: Time to Rethink Business as usual

Courtesy of NPR

Photo Credit: Clare Brown

Richard Branson has built a global business empire around the philosophy “have fun and the money will come.”

As the founder of Virgin Group, he grew a mail-order record company into a major record label and a chain of record stores; he started an airline; he created a space tourism company; and he has been actively involved in humanitarian efforts.

Now, Branson argues that it’s time to rethink the way businesses function. You can make money, he says, by doing good. In a new book, Screw Business As Usual, he posits that businesses can make a profit and actively care about people, communities and the planet at the same time.

Branson joins NPR’s Neal Conan to talk about his new philosophy.

Listen to Sir Richard’s inspiring philosophy here!

Newsflash: Game not over for the planet!

Today is one that will go down in the history books as a victory for Planet Ocean and for the 99% of us who are fighting to take our planet back, Avatar-style from those who would use her, abuse her and destroy her. Tonight, perhaps some of the feeling of shame at seeing our fellow citizens being arrested at the White House for exercising their rights is eased. It’s eased just a bit though, as the fight is far from over.  These days I’ll take good news – especially news this big, gratefully.

Over 1,200 people from across the United States and Canada with all different kinds of backgrounds — farmers, ranchers, Gulf Coast residents, faith leaders, indigenous people and climate activists — came to put their bodies on the line and send a clear message to the president that tar sands oil is a death sentence for the planet.

Many echoed the words of NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who said further development of the tar sands would be “game over for the planet.” By delaying the decision on the pipeline, say analysts, Obama has effectively killed it. It was a now or never deal. Not that anyone is going to turn their backs. So this evening, we celebrate with a watchful eye on what happens in 2013.

And now, from Bill McKibbon…

Dear Friends,

Um, we won. You won.

Not completely. The president didn’t outright reject the pipeline permit. My particular fantasy–that he would invite the 1253 people arrested on his doorstep in August inside the gates for a victory picnic by the vegetable garden–didn’t materialize.

But a few minutes ago the president sent the pipeline back to the State Department for a thorough re-review, which most analysts are saying will effectively kill the project. The president explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess. There’s no way, with an honest review, that a pipeline that helps speed the tapping of the world’s second-largest pool of carbon can pass environmental muster.

And he has made clear that the environmental assessment won’t be carried out by cronies of the pipeline company–that it will be an expert and independent assessment. We will watch that process like hawks, making sure that it doesn’t succumb to more cronyism. Perhaps this effort will go some tiny way towards cleaning up the Washington culture of corporate dominance that came so dramatically to light here in emails and lobbyist disclosure forms.

It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end.  As late as last week the CBC reported that Transcanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.

The American people spoke loudly about climate change and the president responded. There have been few even partial victories about global warming in recent years so that makes this an important day.

The president deserves thanks for making this call–it’s not easy in the face of the fossil fuel industry and its endless reserves of cash. The deepest thanks, however, go to you: to our indigenous peoples who began the fight, to the folks in Nebraska who rallied so fiercely, to the scientists who explained the stakes, to the environmental groups who joined with passionate common purpose, to the campuses that lit up with activity, to the faith leaders that raised a moral cry, to the labor leaders who recognized where our economic future lies, to the Occupy movement that helped galvanize revulsion at insider dealing, and most of all to the people in every state and province who built the movement that made this decision inevitable.

Our fight, of course, is barely begun. Some in our movement will say that this decision is just politics as usual: that the president wants us off the streets – and off his front lawn – until after the election, at which point the administration can approve the pipeline, alienating its supporters without electoral consequence. The president should know that If this pipeline proposal somehow reemerges from the review process we will use every tool at our disposal to keep it from ever being built; if there’s a lesson of the last few months, both in our work and in the Occupy encampments around the world, it’s that sometimes we have to put our bodies on the line.

We need to let the president and oil companies know that we’re ready to take action should they try to push this pipeline through in a couple of years. There’s a pledge to take nonviolent action against the pipeline up on our site, and I’ll be keeping your names an emails safely stored away so that you’ll be the first to know about anything we need to do down the road. You can sign the pledge here: http://www.tarsandsaction.org/pledge

In the meantime, since federal action will be in abeyance for a long stretch, we need to figure out how best to support our Canadian brothers and sisters, who are effectively battling against proposed pipelines west from the tar sands to the Pacific. And we need to broaden our work to take on all the forms of ‘extreme energy’ now coming to the fore: mountaintop removal coal mining, deepsea oil drilling, fracking for gas and oil. We’ll keep sending you updates from tarsandsaction.org; you keep letting us know what we need to do next.

Last week, scientists announced that the planet had poured a record amount of co2 into the atmosphere last year; that’s a sign of how desperate our battle is. But we take courage from today’s White House announcement; it gives us some clues about how to fight going forward.

And I simply can’t say thank you enough. I know, because of my own weariness, how hard so many of you have worked. It was good work, done in the right spirit, and it has secured an unlikely victory. You are the cause of that victory; you upended enormous odds.

I’m going to bed tired tonight. But I’ll get up in the morning ready for the next battle, more confident because I know you’re part of this fight too.

Bill McKibben

In Memoriam for Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai

Kenyan environmentalist and the 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner Wangari  Maathai passed on today while undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer at Nairobi Hospital. She was diagnosed with the cancer last year.

Known as “mother of the trees” in her native Kenya, Maathai was a champion of democracy and good management of natural resources. She started the Green Belt Movement in 1977, working with women to improve their livelihoods by increasing their access to resources such as clean water and firewood.

The official website of the Greenbelt Movement, which she founded, posted a tribute to her on Monday morning saying; “Maathai’s departure is untimely and a very great loss to all who knew her-as a mother, relative, co-worker, colleague, role model, and heroine; or who admired her determination to make the world a more peaceful, healthier and better place.” She was vocal with her Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organisation focused on planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights in the country.

The 71-year-old political activist is well known for her constant battles with the government to protect Kenya’s forests from grabbers, mainly high-ranking officials.

“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do,” she once said and warned that: “You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.”

Through her work representing women academics, she spoke to rural women and learned from them about the deteriorating environmental and social conditions affecting poor, rural Kenyans-especially women. The women told her that they lacked firewood for cooking and heating, that clean water was scarce, and nutritious food was limited.

Maathai suggested that planting trees might be an answer. The trees would provide wood for cooking, fodder for livestock, and material for fencing; they would protect watersheds and stabilize the soil, improving agriculture.

This was the beginning of the Green Belt Movement (GBM), which was formally established in 1977. GBM has since mobilized hundreds of thousands of women and men to plant more than 47 million trees, restoring degraded environments and improving the quality of life for people in poverty.

As GBM’s work expanded, Maathai realized that behind poverty and environmental destruction were deeper issues of dis-empowerment, bad governance, and a loss of the values that had enabled communities to sustain their land and livelihoods, and what was best in their cultures. The planting of trees became an entry-point for a larger social, economic, and environmental agenda.

Maathai’s fearlessness and persistence resulted in her becoming one of the best-known and most respected women in Kenya. Internationally, she also gained recognition for her courageous stand for the rights of people and the environment.

Her autobiography The Challenge for Africa (2008), examines the social, economic, and political bottlenecks that have held back the continent’s development, and provides a manifesto for change.