CONGRATULATE Forest Stewardship Council for 1st Baby Steps Ending Greenwash of Old-Growth Forest Logging

FSC certified clearcut of boreal forests for toilet paper

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) claims to certify the sustainability of forest management. Yet for two decades FSC with the support of major NGOs like WWF and Greenpeace have greenwashed industrial scale old-growth forest logging – across an area two times the size of Texas for throw away consumer items such as toilet paper and lawn furniture – as being environmentally sensitive. A new motion has been presented by FSC member Greenpeace at FSC’s General Assembly, and passed, which would increase protections for primary and other old-growth forests. EcoInternet has campaigned quixotically for such limitations upon FSC primary forest logging for a decade. Please make it clear that best science indicates old-growth forest logging is never ecologically sustainable, and FSC must end its certification of such logging by implementing Motion 65, in order to set a precedent that marks the beginning of the end for all old-growth forest logging globally.

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Mellow Yellow

Mellow Yellow

Sam Cox/Flickr

From The Nature Conservancy

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VICTORY: Welcome Baby Steps by Greenpeace and FSC on Ending Old-Growth Forest Logging

old-growthReflections upon having taken on Greenpeace and other lesser FSC old-growth logging apologists over their greenwash of old-growth forest logging and winning, and why 66% is the next 350.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

“All we ever wanted was for the good-guys Greenpeace and FSC to stop logging old-growth forests.” ― Dr. Glen Barry

Action Alert: Congratulate Greenpeace and FSC for Their Commitment to Stop Greenwashing Logging of Old-Growth Forests

Greenpeace does many things well, such as photogenic posing with celebrities and pithy slogans on banners. But this does not include admitting error or treating critics with dignity and respect. For the past decade my small organization EcoInternet has alerted the world to the fact that Greenpeace founded and for years directed the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – an organization that promotes industrially logging Earth’s last large old-growth forests – and spearheaded a global campaign to get them to stop. After years of stonewalling, turned slowing to embracing our policies, this week they promised to stop logging intact forest landscapes, potentially a substantial victory for the real forest movement.

After tens of thousands of people around the world have over the years protested NGO involvement in FSC old-growth logging, we have successfully pressured Greenpeace and FSC into taking the first step and admitting they have a problem. After twenty years of gorging themselves upon logging old-growth forests – by our measure destroying an area two times the size of Texas for consumer products such as toilet paper and lawn furniture – all while accepting money for forest protection (gotta admit they have chutzpah); this past Friday Greenpeace and FSC made vague promises at FSC’s general assembly to stop logging old-growth forests.

After years of ridicule and contempt directed at their critics, FSC and Greenpeace did exactly what we have demanded (without admitting to having done wrong) and pledged to someday really soon stop logging old-growth rich intact forest landscapes. Gandhi was oh so right on how crazy ideas – like forest protectors shouldn’t log old-growth – eventually, after much disparagement, end up becoming self-evident truths that can’t be denied.

At first our quixotic efforts to get FSC and Greenpeace to stop logging old-growth forests, waged mostly through essays, twitter, and online action alerts, were met with almost universal credulity and scorn. The sort of poorly informed, hipster progressive liberal that Greenpeace epitomizes reacted time and again with scorn and disbelief. Never mind as the campaigns leader over the past 25 years I have earned a doctorate in land resources, have worked for the World Bank in forest policy, lived in Papua New Guinea’s rainforests for many years, and pioneered use of the Internet for forest conservation. I was not part of the coolness of the Greenpeace tribe and so I was not worthy to question Greenpeace policy.

But slowly things shifted. Initial outraged denials of “Greenpeace would never be involved with logging old growth forests” gave way to “but can’t you see that the Forest Stewardship Council helps log old-growth so much more carefully?” But as truth is prone to do, facts just kept on accumulating, and the doublespeak behind claims of sustainably logging 60 million year old naturally evolved life-giving ecosystems for toilet paper became untenable.

The Science Is Clear: Old-Growth Forest Logging Must End

Over the recent decade ecological science has firmly established that first time industrial logging of primary and other old-growth forests is neither ecologically sustainable nor economical. Naturally evolved ancient forests are in fact decimated by logging – FSC certified or otherwise. While to the untrained Greenpeace eye trees still stand after selective certified logging – old-growth structure, function, composition and dynamics are inexorably much diminished or even lost.

My recently published peer reviewed journal article portends the end of old-growth forest logging. Entitled “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse”, my findings are that past a certain threshold, loss of terrestrial ecosystems threatens our and the Earth’s very existence. I present a tentative hypothesis of the threshold based upon percolation theory and what we know of ecosystem collapse at other scales – that 66% of Earth’s land must remain covered in ecosystems, 66% of which must be large and intact ecosystems (for totals of 44% intact ecosystems, 22% agro-ecological buffers, and 33% zones of sustainable development). Further information on this proposed tenth planetary boundary can be found here:

My History with Greenpeace and FSC

My love of ecology took focus in the late 1980 as I hitchhiked from Milwaukee to Madison each Thursday for a three day weekend of canvassing for Greenpeace, and later I did the same in Washington DC. It was my first environmental job. I was good at it, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars for Greenpeace, and I learned to think on my feet, communicating environmental ideas on the doorstep of many a skeptic. Later as I interacted with, and was used by Greenpeace staff for my residency in Papua New Guinea, unease began to creep in.

As a Greenpeace campaigner would jet into PNG’s rainforests with top of the line gear for a few days, pull off a stunt as they pumped local movement members for information, and then issued press releases speaking of their victories; it suddenly occurred to me: Greenpeace is not about substantive ecology solutions. First and foremost, Greenpeace is about grandstanding. About getting the perfect image and looking cool, and not about crafting and implementing the difficult, ecological science based policies required for ecological sustainability.

During my Peace Corps stint in Papua New Guinea in the early 1990s, and later as the World Bank’s Papua New Guinea rainforest specialist, I was an avid supporter of FSC. This is when FSC was still being presented as small-to-mid scale community eco-forestry under a rigorous ecological management plan. I have always supported indigenous peoples carefully selecting individual trees to mill and process in their communities for finished high-end products. Indeed, I helped to set up and support several such schemes (more difficult than it sounds, but the only social and ecological justification for logging old-growth). But by the late 1990s as pressure to meet market share for “sustainable” old-growth timbers intensified, FSC began certifying slightly improved business as usual industrial heavy logging of old-growth forests.

Over the past decade on several occasions tens of thousands of forest conservationists sent millions of emails to Greenpeace and FSC allies through Ecological Internet’s campaign. We logically presented the case of how logged primary forests are no longer primary, how these large intact old-growth forests power the biosphere, and how building markets for old-growth toilet paper – and claiming it as a campaign victory – exacerbates the problem of their loss. And despite EcoInternet’s global campaign being ridiculed by RAN and Greenpeace as “spamming by one blogger”, we know there is no doubt that FSC and Greenpeace would not have reformed themselves on their own.

Never once were we substantively acknowledged or responded too. Now granted we are not Emma Thompson looking for a virile mate. But we made a good faith effort to establish dialogue regarding the efficacy of claiming old-growth forests can and should be destroyed with claims of sustainability, and we could have logically expected some sort of response and policy debate. Greenpeace’s mates at the Rainforest Action Network went so far as to disavow our protests by claiming I was crazy (yeah, crazy like a fox, thinking forest groups who take money for protecting forests shouldn’t be logging them).

But that is not how insular, bureaucratic Greenpeace works. They are a business, committed primarily to their fund-raising and empire building. FSC never took the time to engage or debate on their logging of old-growth forests, though individuals clearly were sympathetic and connected through various social media channels. I could make similar observations about the bad conduct of other forest movement luminaries – foremost the Rainforest Action Network – and serial press release rewriters Mongabay. But neither are serious forest movement participants worthy of the effort.

Instead, resisting our calls to resign from FSC, Greenpeace set out to reform the organization from within. Despite having founded FSC, and holding the Director’s position of the international board for years, apparently keeping FSC from logging old-growth forests had not occurred to them previously. Suddenly Greenpeace decided logging old-growth forests was not so good after all. And so after being pressured by some way less cool and powerful forest conservationists, Greenpeace embraced getting FSC out of the business of logging old-growth forests.

And to their credit, Greenpeace’s resulting intact forest landscapes campaign has been well run and a success. This past Friday Greenpeace got 90% of FSC members to vote to commit to not logging intact forest landscapes. Those that have followed the campaign know there is no way this ever would have happened if EcoInternet had not demanded FSC and Greenpeace stop logging old-growth. As the vote was taking place, hundreds of thousands of protest emails from EcoInternet’s global network were streaming into participants, effectively sealing the success of a decade long campaign.

EcoInternet Victorious in FSC Campaign

EcoInternet and I hereby declare victory in our campaign to get FSC and Greenpeace out of the business of logging old-growth. We will remain vigilant and monitor their commitments, as we now look towards other logging certifiers to do likewise. We will continue our overall vision of ending old-growth forest logging as a keystone response to sustaining our one shared biosphere, by targeting all that profit from continued ecocide. Now that the purported good guys have committed to ending their destruction of old-growth forests, we can work on getting all others to stop as well.

It is too early to see whether FSC can survive without profiting from greenwashing the pillaging of ancient old-growth forests. But they are now on record as committing as an organization to no longer certifying forest products from intact forest landscapes. Whether this has meaningful planetary ecological benefits depends on whether this is interpreted as FSC certifying products as being old-growth free, something we will continue to demand.

As for me, I have learned that taking truth based principled stands can succeed in achieving so much more than gimmicky campaigns. Despite all my snarkiness after years of ridicule, and running this campaign on personal finances while going into debt, we have gotten what we wanted all along: an acknowledgement that legitimate forest protectors don’t log old growth forests.

EcoInternet and I will now move forward in our campaign to protect and restore enough large, intact, and connected natural ecosystems to maintain the biosphere. Letting bygones be bygones, we sincerely hope that Greenpeace and their pals in WWF, the Sierra Club, and even RAN join us. Let’s together make 66% the next 350.


Please continue to congratulate Greenpeace and FSC on their commitment to stop logging intact forest landscapes, pushing them to define this as ensuring all FSC products are free of old growth, at

And please donate to EcoInternet’s campaign to protect and restore enough old-growth forests to sustain the biosphere. Our coffers are bear and we need money for programmers and Internet servers at:


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California Here We Come

California Here We Come

Gilad Rom/Flickr

From The Nature Conservancy

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Ebola Is Ecosystem Collapse

Ebola Is Ecosystem Collapse

Ebola Is Ecosystem Collapse

The global environment is collapsing and dying under the weight of inequitable over-population and ecosystem loss.

“We learn the meaning of enough and how to share or it is the end of being.” ― Dr. Glen Barry

Deep ecology essay by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet | MORE: Read about Love in the Time of Ebola | ACT to Demand More Doctors and Hospital Beds NOW | Ebola Newsfeeds from EcoInternet on Web, Twitter, and RSS

The surging Ebola epidemic is the result of broad-based ecological and social collapse including rainforest loss, over-population, poverty and war. This preventable environmental and human tragedy demonstrates the extent to which the world has gone dramatically wrong as ecosystem collapse, inequity, grotesque injustice, religious extremism, nationalistic militarism, and resurgent authoritarianism threaten our species and planet’s very being.

Any humane person is appalled by the escalating Ebola crisis, and let’s be clear expressing these concerns regarding causation is NOT an attempt to hijack a tragedy. Things happen for a reason, and Ebola was preventable, and future catastrophes of potentially greater magnitude can be foreseen and avoided by the truth.

The single greatest truth underlying the Ebola tragedy is that humanity is systematically dismantling the ecosystems that make Earth habitable. In particular, the potential for Ebola outbreaks and threats from other emergent diseases is made worse by cutting down forests [1]. Exponentially growing human populations and consumption – be it subsistence agriculture or mining for luxury consumer items – are pushing deeper into African old-growth forests where Ebola circulated before spillover into humans.

Ebola almost certainly spread to humanity from eating infected bushmeat

Ebola almost certainly spread to humanity from eating infected bushmeat

Poverty stricken communities in West Africa are increasingly desperate, and are eating infected “bushmeat” such as bats and gorilla, bringing them into contact with infected wildlife blood. Increasingly fragmented forests, further diminished by climate change, are forcing bats to find other places to live that are often amongst human communities.

Some 90% of West Africa’s original forests have already been lost. Over half of Liberia’s old-growth forests have recently been sold for industrial logging by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s post-war government. Only 4% of Sierra Leone’s forest cover remains and they are expected to totally disappear soon under the pressure of logging, agriculture, and mining.

My recently published peer-reviewed scientific research [2] on ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse indicates more natural ecosystems have been lost than the global environment can handle without collapsing. Recently published science reports that 50% of Earth’s wildlife has died (in fact been murdered) in the last 40 years [3].

Loss of natural life-giving habitats has consequences. We are each witnesses to and participants in global ecosystem collapse.

There are other major social ills which potentially foster global pandemics. Rising inequity, abject poverty, and lack of justice threaten Earth’s and humanity’s very being. These ills and global ecosystem collapse are causing increased nationalistic war, migration and rise of authoritarian corporatism. West Africa has been ravaged by war and poverty for decades, which shows little signs of abating, particularly since natural habitats for community based sustainable development are nearly gone.

War breeds disease. It is no coincidence that the 1918 flu pandemic – the last great global disease outbreak that killed an estimated 50-100 million – occurred just as the ravages of World War I were ending. Conditions after ecosystems are stripped by over-population and poverty are not that different – each providing ravaged landscapes that are prime habitat for disease organisms.

West Africa’s ecological collapse has brought people into contact with blood from infected animals causing the Ebola epidemic. Once human infection occurs, ecologically denuded, conflict ridden, over-populated, and squalid impoverished communities are ripe for a pandemic. As the Ebola virus threatens to become endemic to the region, it potentially offers a permanent base from which infections can indefinitely continue to spread globally.

Perma-war is not a strategy to fight Ebola

Perma-war is not a strategy to fight Ebola

Since 911 America has slashed all other spending as it militarizes, viewing all sources of conflict as resolvable by waging perma-war. Africa needs doctors and the U.S. sends the military. Both terrorism and infectious disease are best prevented by long-term investments in equitably reducing poverty and meeting human needs – including universal health-care, living wage jobs, education, family planning, and establishment of greater global medical rapid response capabilities.

We are all in this together. Our over-populated, over-consuming, inequitable human dominated Earth continues to wildly careen toward biosphere collapse as sheer sum consumption overwhelms nature. West Africa’s 2010 population of 317 million people is still growing at 2.35%, and is expected to nearly double in 25 years, even as squalor, lack of basic needs, ecosystem loss, and pestilence increase. This can never, ever be ecologically or socially sustainable, and can only end in ruin.

Equity, education, condoms, and lower taxes and other incentives to stabilize and then reduce human population are a huge part of the solution for a just, equitable, and sustainable future. Otherwise Earth will limit human numbers with Ebola and worse. It may be happening already.

We are one human family and in a globalized world no nation is an island unto itself. By failing to invest in reducing poverty and in meeting basic human needs in Africa and globally (even as we temporarily enrich ourselves by gorging upon the destruction of their natural ecosystems), we in the over-developed world ensure that much of the world is fertile ground for disease and war. There is no way to keep Ebola and other social and ecological scourges out of Europe and America if they overwhelm the rest of humanity.

Ebola is what happens when the rich ignore poverty, as well as environmental and social decline, falsely believing they are not their concern. There can be no security ever again for anybody as long as billions live in abject poverty on a couple dollars a day as a few hundred people control half of Earth’s wealth.

We learn the meaning of enough and how to share or it is the end of being.

Walmart parking lots and iPads don’t sustain or feed you. Healthy ecosystems and land do. The hairless ape with opposable thumbs – that once showed so much potential – has instead become an out of control, barbaric and ecocidal beast with barely more sentience of its environmental constraints than yeast on sugar.

Ebola is very, very serious but can be beat with public health investments, coming together and showing courage, and by dealing with underlying causes. In the short-term, it is absolutely vital that the world organizes a massive infusion of doctors and quarantined hospital beds into West Africa immediately, even as we work on the long-term solutions highlighted here.

Ultimately commitments to sustainable community development, universal health care and education, free family planning, global demilitarization, equity, and ecosystem protection and restoration are the only means to minimize the risk of emergent disease. Unless we come together now as one human family and change fast – by cutting emissions, protecting ecosystems, having fewer kids, ending war, investing in ending abject poverty, and embracing agro-ecology – we face biosphere collapse and the end of being.

A pathway exists to global ecological sustainability; yet it requires shared sacrifice and for us all to be strong, as we come together to vigorously resist all sources of ecocide. It is up to each and every one of us to commit our full being to sustaining ecology and living gently upon Earth… or our ONE SHARED BIOSPHERE collapses and being ends

I desperately hope that Ebola does not become a global pandemic killing hundreds of millions or even billions. But if it does, it is a natural response from an Earth under siege defending herself from our own ignorant yet willful actions. We have some urgent changes to make as a species, let’s get going today before it is too late.


[1] We Are Making Ebola Outbreaks Worse by Cutting Down Forests: Mother Jones

[2] Barry, G. (2014), “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse”, Management of Environmental Quality, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 542-563. Read online for personal use only:

[3] Living Planet Index: Zoological Society of London and WWF


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Epic Clouds

Epic Clouds

Paul Vallejo/Flickr

From The Nature Conservancy

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Textbook Theory Behind Volcanoes May Be Wrong

News Writer: 
Marcus Woo

In the typical textbook picture, volcanoes, such as those that are forming the Hawaiian islands, erupt when magma gushes out as narrow jets from deep inside Earth. But that picture is wrong, according to a new study from researchers at Caltech and the University of Miami in Florida.

New seismology data are now confirming that such narrow jets don’t actually exist, says Don Anderson, the Eleanor and John R. McMillian Professor of Geophysics, Emeritus, at Caltech. In fact, he adds, basic physics doesn’t support the presence of these jets, called mantle plumes, and the new results corroborate those fundamental ideas.

“Mantle plumes have never had a sound physical or logical basis,” Anderson says. “They are akin to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’ about how giraffes got their long necks.”

Anderson and James Natland, a professor emeritus of marine geology and geophysics at the University of Miami, describe their analysis online in the September 8 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to current mantle-plume theory, Anderson explains, heat from Earth’s core somehow generates narrow jets of hot magma that gush through the mantle and to the surface. The jets act as pipes that transfer heat from the core, and how exactly they’re created isn’t clear, he says. But they have been assumed to exist, originating near where the Earth’s core meets the mantle, almost 3,000 kilometers underground—nearly halfway to the planet’s center. The jets are theorized to be no more than about 300 kilometers wide, and when they reach the surface, they produce hot spots.  

While the top of the mantle is a sort of fluid sludge, the uppermost layer is rigid rock, broken up into plates that float on the magma-bearing layers. Magma from the mantle beneath the plates bursts through the plate to create volcanoes. As the plates drift across the hot spots, a chain of volcanoes forms—such as the island chains of Hawaii and Samoa.

“Much of solid-Earth science for the past 20 years—and large amounts of money—have been spent looking for elusive narrow mantle plumes that wind their way upward through the mantle,” Anderson says.

To look for the hypothetical plumes, researchers analyze global seismic activity. Everything from big quakes to tiny tremors sends seismic waves echoing through Earth’s interior. The type of material that the waves pass through influences the properties of those waves, such as their speeds. By measuring those waves using hundreds of seismic stations installed on the surface, near places such as Hawaii, Iceland, and Yellowstone National Park, researchers can deduce whether there are narrow mantle plumes or whether volcanoes are simply created from magma that’s absorbed in the sponge-like shallower mantle.

No one has been able to detect the predicted narrow plumes, although the evidence has not been conclusive. The jets could have simply been too thin to be seen, Anderson says. Very broad features beneath the surface have been interpreted as plumes or super-plumes, but, still, they’re far too wide to be considered narrow jets.

But now, thanks in part to more seismic stations spaced closer together and improved theory, analysis of the planet’s seismology is good enough to confirm that there are no narrow mantle plumes, Anderson and Natland say. Instead, data reveal that there are large, slow, upward-moving chunks of mantle a thousand kilometers wide.

In the mantle-plume theory, Anderson explains, the heat that is transferred upward via jets is balanced by the slower downward motion of cooled, broad, uniform chunks of mantle. The behavior is similar to that of a lava lamp, in which blobs of wax are heated from below and then rise before cooling and falling. But a fundamental problem with this picture is that lava lamps require electricity, he says, and that is an outside energy source that an isolated planet like Earth does not have.  

The new measurements suggest that what is really happening is just the opposite: Instead of narrow jets, there are broad upwellings, which are balanced by narrow channels of sinking material called slabs. What is driving this motion is not heat from the core, but cooling at Earth’s surface. In fact, Anderson says, the behavior is the regular mantle convection first proposed more than a century ago by Lord Kelvin. When material in the planet’s crust cools, it sinks, displacing material deeper in the mantle and forcing it upward.

“What’s new is incredibly simple: upwellings in the mantle are thousands of kilometers across,” Anderson says. The formation of volcanoes then follows from plate tectonics—the theory of how Earth’s plates move and behave. Magma, which is less dense than the surrounding mantle, rises until it reaches the bottom of the plates or fissures that run through them. Stresses in the plates, cracks, and other tectonic forces can squeeze the magma out, like how water is squeezed out of a sponge. That magma then erupts out of the surface as volcanoes. The magma comes from within the upper 200 kilometers of the mantle and not thousands of kilometers deep, as the mantle-plume theory suggests.

“This is a simple demonstration that volcanoes are the result of normal broad-scale convection and plate tectonics,” Anderson says. He calls this theory “top-down tectonics,” based on Kelvin’s initial principles of mantle convection. In this picture, the engine behind Earth’s interior processes is not heat from the core but cooling at the planet’s surface. This cooling and plate tectonics drives mantle convection, the cooling of the core, and Earth’s magnetic field. Volcanoes and cracks in the plate are simply side effects.

The results also have an important consequence for rock compositions—notably the ratios of certain isotopes, Natland says. According to the mantle-plume idea, the measured compositions derive from the mixing of material from reservoirs separated by thousands of kilometers in the upper and lower mantle. But if there are no mantle plumes, then all of that mixing must have happened within the upwellings and nearby mantle in Earth’s top 1,000 kilometers.

The paper is titled “Mantle updrafts and mechanisms of oceanic volcanism.”

Caltech News tagged with “earthquakes”

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Love in the Time of Ebola

Love in the Time of Ebola

Love in the Time of Ebola

Overpopulation, ecosystem loss, climate change, and Ebola itself are all growing exponentially. The human family must come together now to stop Ebola in West Africa or risk a global pandemic that could potentially kill billions – even as we commit post-Ebola to solving the disease’s root causes of rainforest loss, poverty, war and inequitable overpopulation.

Deep ecology essay by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet | MORE: Read how Ebola Is Ecosystem Collapse | ACT to Demand More Doctors and Hospital Beds NOW | Ebola Newsfeeds from EcoInternet on Web, Twitter, and RSS

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is doubling every 20 days, killing 70% of those infected. We are approaching a total of 10,000 official infections, though the actual number is almost certainly much higher. At this rate of growth, we can expect 10,000 new cases a week in December, with a far greater chance of the disease spreading internationally. It is clear that if Ebola is not stopped in Africa in the coming months, it will never be kept from Europe, America, and the rest of the world.

Despite some success containing the disease at its periphery, all who love the human family and Earth understand that avoiding a global pandemic depends upon the international community marshaling resources and rushing into the Ebola maelstrom to decisively stop it at its source. Efforts from the US military sending troops for logistical support, Cuba sending doctors, and Doctors Without Borders taking the lead in treatment and stopping infection are commendable but are too little and haphazard.

We have under two months to stop the deadly Ebola virus from – well, going viral. We must stop bickering, roll up our sleeves, and rush into the fire. Doing so will require massive amounts of aid, as only 1/3 of the initial $ 1 billion necessary to fight Ebola in Africa has been raised. Western democracies have plenty of money to wage perma-war but apparently meager funds and few doctors to avoid global pandemic. This is a shocking betrayal of international security by the world’s nations, and must not be tolerated. (You can take action with my organization EcoInternet to demand more Ebola aid.) [1].

Ebola’s real threat lies in its exponential growth and virulence, unleashed by overpopulated, sick ecosystems. As long as Ebola rages in Africa, no one in the world is safe from the threat of global pandemic.

Political Partisanship, Conspiracy Theories, and Scientific Denial

The poor initial response to a few Ebola cases in the United States is largely a result of public health budget cuts, anti-science partisans, and an inability to focus upon non-military threats to our security after a decade of war. It has been interesting to see politicians who deny climate change science and call overpopulation a myth act qualified to instruct us on Ebola epidemiology.

It is deeply irresponsible for scientifically illiterate people to pick and choose truth, as well as to spread conspiracy theories for political advantage. In addition to the current Democratic administration’s continued displays of incompetence; the anti-science, anti-intellectual bias of the GOP and the Tea Party in particular is partially responsible for poor Ebola (and climate change) responses.

It is un-American (a term I do not throw around lightly) – when the United States and the world are faced with the risk of an Ebola pandemic – for political partisans to be primarily concerned with scoring points rather than with honest policy needed to minimize human suffering and perhaps avert civilization’s collapse. The gravest threat of Ebola spreading in the United States comes from conspiracy theories, political partisans, and anti-science haters.

Having an opinion based on superstition, limited experience, and indoctrination is not the same as spending a life studying to become a scientific expert, thus earning the right to speak truth authoritatively. With Ebola, as with climate change, we must either listen to the experts or face the threat of willful ignorance leading to our own ruin.

For example, few understand the profound scientific implications of a disease that spreads exponentially. To illustrate, if a small patch of lily pads grows exponentially by doubling in extent daily to cover a pond in 30 days, on what day is the pond half covered? Day 29! On day 26 just over 6% of the pond is covered, and the situation looks manageable. Exponential growth sneaks up on you, and when the problem becomes clearly evident, it is too late. Overpopulation, ecosystem loss, climate change, and Ebola itself are all growing exponentially.

I do not believe calling America’s reaction to Ebola “panic” is accurate or fair. The shockingly deadly emerging disease grows fast and kills violently, and once established, it spreads widely. Thus concern and fast action are prudent. The greater revelation has been how the United States has been exposed as a deeply self-absorbed society – worried about the latest iPhone app, celebrity antics, and dumping buckets of cold water on their heads while showing or even flouting a lack of interest toward the global environmental decline and poverty which have led to Ebola and threaten global ecological sustainability.

We know how to stop Ebola. Rapid quarantine (or voluntary isolation) and rapid, close tracking of those who were in contact with infected individuals are key to breaking the cycle of exponential growth. The current epidemic in Africa will not play itself out until on average each Ebola patient spreads the disease to less than one other individual. Fighting Ebola and ensuring that conditions no longer persist for further disease outbreaks requires money from governments. It should not be up to business leaders and celebrities to foot the bill.

Long-Term Root Causes

Ebola is what we can expect when inequitable overpopulation destroys ecosystems, leading to abject poverty, perma-war, and disease. The best ecological science indicates that Ebola existed at low levels in intact rainforests, only emerging as forests were overwhelmed by over-population and as people resorted to eating bushmeat, bringing people into contact with infected blood. It would be hard to custom-build a prime habitat more encouraging to disease organisms than the one in western Africa: overpopulated humanity crowded together in destitute conditions, leading to hunger and weakened immune systems, with impoverished communities arrayed across vast, ecologically weakened regions.

Ebola is a brutal reminder of the consequences of ignoring scientific truths on ecology, public health, and overpopulation – all multiplied by climate change. My recently published peer reviewed science journal article entitled “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse” found that when more than 66% of a bioregion’s ecosystems are lost that rapid environmental deterioration followed by collapse ensues. [2] West Africa has lost 90% of their natural ecosystems and Ebola is thus part of the natural responses one can expect as ecosystems collapse. In a globalized world we cannot continue to ignore such deteriorating social and ecological conditions and expect to avoid more Ebola-type crises.

Ebola has been worsened by militarization and massive spending on war – both in Africa and by Western democracies – as governments have turned a blind eye to non-military threats to security, slashing budgets for public health, anti-poverty measures, environmental preservation and reclamation, and community development. Pervasive economic inequity also contributes to Ebola. The disease is fed by poor socio-economic conditions: according to the World Bank over a billion people live in extreme poverty on less than $ 1.50 a day, while 300 individuals live as opulent oligarchs, having as much wealth as half of the planet’s people.

Perhaps no Ebola causative factor is more troubling – or more insistently denied – than overpopulation. West Africa is one of the most obviously overpopulated places in the world, and those that deny the part that plays in the Ebola crisis are in denial of basic science. Hunger and illness are pervasive, women are not well educated to control their own lives and fertility, and the result has been a nearly constant state of war.

West Africa’s current population of 317 million people continues to grow 2.35% annually – meaning it is doubling every 25 years. The subsistence needs of these masses have already destroyed the vast majority of West Africa’s forests, causing poverty, war, and ultimately Ebola. Those denying that the growth of human numbers from 1 to 7 billion in 130 years while overwhelming natural ecosystems poses a problem are not paying attention and betray both their captivity to indoctrination and their ignorance.

I have recently begun writing [3] and speaking [4] more about overpopulation – along with the ramifications of ecosystem loss  – highlighting and communicating how both are the root causes of biosphere collapse. Yet let me be clear: to note West Africa’s profoundly overpopulated landscapes and depauperate ecosystems is not to wish death or depopulation on anybody. It is merely to point out ecological truth that is self-evident to those who observe carefully and think freely.

Post-Ebola, we must rid ourselves of the ridiculous notion that permanent poverty, inequitable overpopulation, rainforest loss, and continual war in Africa do not affect us all. Otherwise, we can expect more Ebola-type crises as these forces of ecocide overwhelm the biosphere.

Love in the Time of Ebola

Please have empathy for human suffering in West Africa as thousands (and perhaps soon millions) face painful, vicious death from Ebola. No humane person wishes such a fate upon anyone. And even as we come together to rush to put out the Ebola fire, it is vital we address the disease’s root causes before they become a global emergency in their own right. We show our love for the world by justly and equitably addressing these ecological and social crises before they kill us all.

Let us hope that the initial spread of Ebola in the United States is over. Clearly the fledgling outbreak has caused a massive increase in awareness of the danger posed by Ebola, if not yet of the outbreak’s underlying causes, and how similar crises can be avoided. At the very least we have had good practice in tracing and isolating those who have come into contact with the virus and in treating the disease, which will prove crucial in dealing with many more infections before humanity stops the epidemic in Africa.

Besides preparing yourself and your family to weather a possible Ebola pandemic, the single biggest thing you can do to stop Ebola at its source in West Africa – thus avoiding a global pandemic – is to donate to Doctors Without Borders. [5] Please avail yourself of Ebola newsfeeds [6] from EcoInternet, which is committed to communicating ecological aspects of Ebola and stopping the disease and other manifestations of ecosystem collapse at their source. Finally, in times of Ebola, climate change, poverty and environmental collapse, make sure that whoever you vote for supports and respects science.

In order to avoid global pandemic, the human family must show it loves each other and our shared Earth more than consuming stuff and political partisanship. A better, more just and equitable world is possible if we choose to address converging social and ecological crises. We earn the right to continued existence by coming together to beat Ebola in Africa, while committing to solving the disease’s root causes of rainforest loss, poverty, war, and inequitable overpopulation.

### ENDS ###

[1] Ebola Is Ecosystem Collapse, More Doctors and Hospital Beds Needed NOW. EcoInternet Action Alert, October 4, 2014.  With background essay “Ebola a Symptom of Ecological and Social Collapse” by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet, October 1, 2014.

[2] Barry, G. (2014), “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse”, Management of Environmental Quality, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 542-563.

[3] On Overpopulation and Ecosystem Collapse – essay by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet. May 17, 2014.

[4] Too Many Humans; Not Enough Biosphere. Dr. Glen Barry Interview on 95bFM.

[5] Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

[6] Ebola is Ecosystem Collapse newsfeed and blog at and Twitter newsfeed at


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Seismology and Resilient Infrastructure: An Interview with Domniki Asimaki

News Writer: 
Jessica Stoller-Conrad

Domniki Asimaki

Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

Building homes and other solid structures on a dynamic, changing earth can be a very big challenge. Since we can’t prevent an earthquake or a tsunami from happening, scientists strive to understand the impacts of these forces, and structural engineers try to build infrastructure that can survive them. And that intersection is where the work of Domniki Asimaki comes in.

Asimaki, professor of mechanical and civil engineering in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, is interested in the behavior of geotechnical systems under the influence of forces such as wind, waves, and seismological activity. Using this information, she hopes to make predictive computer models that can lead to the design of an infrastructure that is resilient to natural and man-made hazards. The effects of natural forces on man-made structures can also help in the cost-effective design of infrastructure for sustainable energy harvesting such as offshore wind farms—a promising green energy solution.

Born in Greece, Asimaki earned her bachelor’s degree from the National Technical University of Athens before heading to MIT for both her master’s and doctoral degrees.

Although Asimaki only joined the Caltech faculty in August, she has been thinking about moving to Pasadena since her first trip to campus a decade ago. Recently, she spoke about her work, her hobbies, and what it’s like to finally be at Caltech.


What will you be working on at Caltech?

I am interested in the response of soils and foundations to dynamic loading, with emphasis on earthquakes. The work exists at the interface between civil engineering and earth and atmospheric sciences. Specifically for seismic loading, my research is trying to translate the output from simulations done by seismologists into input that engineers can use to design stronger structures.

In general, geotechnical engineering is an old field. Now we know a lot more about how soils behave, and that extends from the foundations of a house to the foundations of a bridge to nuclear reactors to dams. But that knowledge has been disconnected from advancements in earth sciences, and this gap has, in turn, hindered the integration of these advancements into structural design practices. I think it’s an area of opportunity.


How does this work provide a link between the scientists and structural engineers?

Traditionally, structural engineers designed buildings using empirical data—like actual data from a previous earthquake. Today, with more than half of the global population concentrated in areas prone not only to major earthquakes but also to severe droughts and more extreme climatic events such as sea-level rise, there is an ever-increasing need to improve these empirical models, incorporate new, sustainable construction materials, and to build stronger, more resilient urban environments. I think the big promise of seismological modeling is that rather than using empirical data to make decisions about which ground motions buildings should be designed against in the future, we can actually run real earthquake scenarios in a simulation.

This can help provide a real prediction of the shaking against which the structural engineers can design buildings—provided, among other things, that seismologists have information about the soils on which their structures are built. And that’s the gap that I’m hoping to fill.


How does this work translate to the harvesting of wind energy?

There is growing interest in offshore wind farms to be used as a source of sustainable energy, but since it’s still pretty new, we don’t have domestic experience about the best way to build these wind farms. We want to understand how the foundations of offshore wind turbines behave under the mix of forces from the rotor, from the waves, from currents and tide, from wind—regular wind or hurricane wind—and how all of these different types of dynamic loading affect the behavior of the foundation. We also want to understand how the behavior of the foundation, in turn, affects the stability of the wind turbine’s performance and capability to harvest energy.

This specific application of my work is a fascinating direction for me. It is an opportunity to ask why design models work and how can we maximize performance capabilities and minimize cost. People like myself with an engineering background, but also with scientific curiosity, can work in areas like this and set the performance and design standards from scratch. But because the energy-harvesting industry is just starting out, we need to make it innovative while still financially feasible.


We have a lot of seismology expertise at Caltech. Was that a factor in your decision to come here?

It’s a big part of my research interest, and so Caltech has always been the place that I felt I should be. It is a unique place in the sense that it’s small enough so that different disciplines are closely connected. And there’s a role that I can play, bringing research programs together. It has all the key players that I need in the same space, and it provides a great opportunity for us all to work together and build a seamless research continuum, from seismology to resilient infrastructure monitoring and design.


Are there any other reasons you’re looking forward to living in Southern California?

Because it’s gorgeous! I’ve never had the opportunity to have such nice weather, which is good because I love to swim, and the pool here is beautiful. I actually went to the pool on campus on the second day that we moved here. I hadn’t even started yet, and I said, “I’m new faculty. I promise. I can prove it.” And the guy who runs the show there, John Carter, was nice enough to give me a visitor pass so I could swim.

Do you have any other outside interests?

I love to cook. Elaborate cooking, from traditional Greek to exotic Asian cuisine and lots of other things. I am adventurous in my cooking but very traditional at the same time because I make everything from scratch. To graduate from MIT was a little easier than to graduate from a Greek mother.

Caltech News tagged with “earthquakes”

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The Fells

Basheer Tome/Flickr. From The Nature Conservancy.

The Fells, also known as the Hay Estate, was originally the summer home of John Milton Hay, a 19th-century American statesman. It is located in Newbury, New Hampshire, on New Hampshire Route 103A, 2.2 mi (3.5 km) north of its junction with New Hampshire Route 103.

A Slice of the Fells – Middlesex Fells Reservation. Join me for a walk through Middlesex Fells – a beautiful wooded area bordering Melrose, Malden, Medford, Winchester, and Stoneham.


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