Monday, March 30, 2009

The ASOC Take on Antarctic Tourism

I promised this post a little while back...

ASOC has a great pamphlet called "Know Before You Go" that we're getting printed up for distribution at the ATCM next month.  It has important information that people should keep in mind when visiting the continent.  In the past, commercial tour operations have contributed to environmental pollution and disturbance of wildlife.  Though many companies have taken steps in recent years to reduce the impact they have on the environment and the wildlife, tourists can still do a lot of damage if they're not properly educated.

ASOC stresses in the pamphlet that ALL human activity in Antarctica leads to environmental pollution and impacts.  Therefore, it is important for visitors to weigh the benefits of their activities in the region against the negative impacts BEFORE THEY GO.  And, if people chose to visit the continent, they should be diligent in minimizing any and all impacts.  People can accomplish this by doing the following things:

- Minimize the waste they create while in Antarctica.  It takes a lot of fuel to either treat that waste on sight or to transport it back on the ship.
- As much as possible, avoid carrying non-native plants, animals and microorganisms with them on their trip.
-Make sure that their expedition completes an environmental impact assessment before leaving (required under the Antarctic Treaty).
-Avoid disturbing wildlife through noise, pollution, human presence and habitat destruction.  DO NOT GET TO CLOSE TO THE ANIMALS! Close proximity to humans has been shown to cause a heart rate increase of 20- 100% in birds.  Being approached by humans may also cause birds to abandon their young/nests.
-Take extra care not to uproot moss and lichen wherever possible.  

Information summarized from the Know Before You Go pamphlet. (FYI: It's a massive file...)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I'm putting up a few more cool facts today as I continue work on the educational packet.  Hopefully, I'll be able to post the who thing on here once it's completed.  It may take a while, though - I really want it to look professional and I've been taking my time structuring it in MS Word.  I found out I could do some pretty cool things...

Anyway, here are the cool facts I wanted to share:

Many people assume that Antarctica's largest land animal is the penguin or seal. However, the continent largest land animal is the wingless midge, a type of fly that is no more than ½ an inch long. Penguins and seals are aquatic animals - they spend most of their time in the water.

One of the six species of seals in Antarctica, Weddell seals, can hold their breath 30 times longer than humans. This allows them to dive to depths of almost 2000 feet and to spend more than an hour under the thick ice.  

There are two flowering plants found on the Antarctic Peninsula: Deschampsia antarctica (Antarctic hair grass) and Colobanthus quitensis (Antarctic pearlwort). Most other plant life is composed of lichens and mosses.

Scientists have discovered fossils of plants and animals revealing that millions of years ago, Antarctica was much warmer with temperate forests (SHOCKING, right?).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Children's Section

Things have been hectic with midterms and papers and such - I haven't had as much time for blogging as I'd like. Also - I've been working on my two big projects:
*The ASOC history, which is almost done (I'm just gathering stories from campaigners and organizing things), and
*The children's section - my new (and probably last) project.

Here are some fun facts I've gathered as I've worked to put together an educational packet:

Antarctica is the fifth largest continent. It has a land area of 14.4 million sq. km (5.4 million sq. miles) – about 10% of the earth’s land surface. The continent is as big as the U.S. and Mexico combined.

The ice sheet covering the continent actually doubles the continent’s surface. Without the ice sheet, the Antarctica would actually be the smallest continent.

98% of Antarctica is covered by ice and snow. Only a few high mountain peaks and a few bare rocky areas are visible. This ice averages at least 1 mile thick, with some places being as much as 4 miles thick.

The ice covering Antarctica is very heavy. The weight of the ice cap causes the ice to spread outward and slide toward the coast at a rate of 660 ft./year.

The coldest natural temperature ever was -89.2 ˚C (-128.6˚F), recorded at the Russian Vostok Station in Antarctica on 21 July 1983. This temperature is colder than the surface of Mars!

Antarctica is divided by the Transantarctic mountains. This mountain range crosses the entire continent and divides it into East Antarctica and West Antarctica. The Eastern part of Antarctica is colder than the Western part because of its higher elevation (thicker ice).

Antarctica is the windiest place on earth. On the coast, katabatic winds (winds that carry high density air from a high elevation down a slope under the force of gravity) can blow up to 200 miles an hour.

Antarctica is considered a desert because it gets so little precipitation. Annual precipitation is estimated at only 200 mm (8 inches).

During the summer months in the Southern Hemisphere, daylight in Antarctica lasts 6 months. The South Pole faces the sun for half of the year because of the tilt of the earth’s axis. During the winter, though, the continent is in the dark.


Also - check out ASOC's webpage! Claire recently revamped the whole thing and it looks AWESOME!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Environmental Ethics - Non-anthropocentric Philosophies

I've been busy at ASOC working on finishing up the 30 history in preparation for the upcoming ATCM meeting in Baltimore, hence the lack of posts. But I have been reading and today I want to share with you one of the articles I recently read.

In the book Environmental Values I picked up from the AU library a few months back, there was an article entitled "Non-Anthropocentric Value Theory and Environmental Ethics" by J. Baird Callicott. The article was on the dry side, so unless it's something that really interests you, I wouldn't recommend trying to muddle your way through it. Instead, I'll sum it up as best I can here:

The author begins by discussing that the definition on environmental ethics is one that isn't completely agreed upon. Some view environmental ethics as an application of established philosophical ideas with respect to the environment, yet others see environmental ethics as it's own unique ethics - something that may perhaps require its own moral and even metaphysical principles. The author argues that if environmental ethics is in fact a theoretical, as opposed to applied discipline, that the "most important philosophical task for environmental ethics is the development of non-anthropocentric value theory" (Callicott 67).

Anthropocentric value theory, as I've already discussed, is defined as any theory that assigns intrinsic value to human beings and regards all other things (other life forms included) as being valuable only to the extent that they are means to some human end (instrumentally valuable). The use of a utilitarian calculus to decide the moral rightness/wrongness of any action with environmental consequences would be inherently anthropocentric.

Callicott then goes on to discuss a number of non-anthropocentric theories; theories that challenge the idea that human beings are the only species with intrinsic value.

He begins with what he describes as the most conservative theory: 'animal liberation' theory. This theory is the most conservative because it requires the least change from our prevailing anthropocentric, utilitarian ethical paradigm. Animal liberation, or ethical hedonism, only requires that classical utilitarianism be implemented consistently. Proponents of this theory argue that the idea that only human experiences of pleasure and pain was never within the original principles of utilitarianism. Problems we incur with this theory are similar to the problems we incur with utilitarianism as more commonly interpreted. That is to say, ethical hedonism would allow the destruction of forest for pasture for cattle, since plants are not sentient beings. Also, this theory doesn't take into account the delicate balance of species necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

The next theory Calicott explains is ethical conativism. Ethical conativism is born out of the Schweizerian reverence for life. This theory defines interest in terms of conatations (will-to-live) and intrinsic value in terms of interest. That is, things have intrinsic value if interests may intelligibly be assigned to them. Ethical conitavism opens up the realm of ethics to plants as well as humans and other animals because it argues that plants have interests even if they are not conscious of them. However, it still is an inadequate theory because, like ethical hedonism, it doesn't acknowledge the difference between wild vs. domestic species, and the role of super organismic entities (i.e. biomes, the biosphere). Also, if ethical conativism were to be strictly followed, its proponents would have to be fruititarians (only eating already dead fruits and vegetables).

Calicott identifies better alternatives such as 'theistic axiology' (all things in the world are good and have intrinsic value because they are created by God, the 'stewardship view' (in which humans are obligated to protect and take care of nature), and 'holistic rationalism' (all good things are inherently good/valuable to the degree of their 'goodness').  However, he finds these theories inadequate as well.

Though Calicott does not propose a theory for environmental ethics, he identifies four characteristics that any appropriate value theory for environmental ethics must have.  
These are: 
1.Both individual organisms and 'super organismic entities' (such as food webs) must be seen as possessing intrinsic value,
2. Should distinguish between wild and domesticated animals and plants,
3. Must be consistent with current evolutionary and ecological biology,
4. Must give intrinsic value to all the parts and species of our present ecosystem.