A handshake may never have taken place between the presidents of Iran and the United States, but another odd couple did manage to press the flesh during the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, met for the first time with his counterpart in India, Manmohan Singh. The heads of state pledged to work together to settle violence in the disputed region of Kashmir.
The two powers have fought three wars over Kashmir, and tensions have been escalating again over the last several weeks. The region had been relatively stable since 2003, when a cease-fire helped bring rare peace to the “line of control,” the border dividing Kashmir between Pakistani and Indian forces. Yet tensions reignited in 2008, when the bombing of a hotel in Mumbai was blamed on Pakistani militants. And this year has seen a spate of violence: in September separatists attacked Indian security forces, killing 13 people.
It is tempting to abandon all hope for a lasting peace in Kashmir, a region where much blood has been shed since the original partition of India in 1947. But the stakes are higher now than perhaps ever before. The fact that India and Pakistan are nuclear powers is reason enough for concern. And as the United States plans its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, a stable relationship between Pakistan and India is essential to long-term peace in the region. The two countries should recommit themselves to a strict cease-fire in Kashmir. A permanent solution, however, may have to wait for a more propitious time.
A record run of Chinook salmon has escaped hungry sea lions, gulls and pelicans at the mouth of the Columbia River and made their way 146 miles upriver and through the fish ladders of Bonneville Dam. By official count, over one million salmon charged through the gauntlet—400,000 more than average. Fishing boats crowded the river so thickly at the Hanford Reach, another 200 miles up-river, that “you could practically walk from boat to boat across the river,” as one man said.
Thirteen distinct populations of salmon are listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The strong resurgence of the Chinook has increased calls to remove some wild salmon populations from endangered-species lists, but it is too early to determine whether this year’s run is evidence of a permanent trend or a unique blip.
Multiple, often competing interests contributed to this turnabout: tribal cultures, commercial and recreational fisherman, ecology advocates and hydroelectric power operators who modified the dam’s turbines to allow juvenile fish to pass through at safer depths. The tribes have spurred development of hatcheries and cleared spawning areas of debris and invasive species. Further, ocean conditions have been favorable in recent years, with abundant food for the salmon’s survival. This seemingly rare piece of good news offers a model for promoting complex ecological, economic and cultural values by using the best scientific data available, encouraging dialogue and compromise and supporting unified, concerted efforts by multiple parties.
Save Our Seas
Climate-change prognosticators frequently issue gloomy warnings about rising sea levels swallowing coastlines. Those predictions are scary enough, but what is going on beneath the surface of the global ocean may be just as frightening. Scientists associated with the International Program on the State of the Ocean report that cumulative effects from anthropogenic (human-related) activity are seriously degrading the ocean’s ability to perform its role as the earth’s giant carbon sink. Earth’s oceans are choking on the carbon humankind is throwing off, whether from fossil fuel-burning or from agricultural and sewage run-off.
We already know about vast ocean deserts where oxygen levels are too low to sustain aquatic life. They may soon grow larger. According to the report, the oceans’ oxygen inventory could decline as much as 7 percent by 2100. Global oceans are also troubled by warming and acidification that can devastate reef ecosystems. I.P.S.O. researchers refer to these stressors—deoxygenation, acidification and warming—as the “deadly trio.” In the near future, these scientists say, much ocean life, including the plankton at the base of the oceanic food chain, will find itself in “unsuitable environments.” They predict “cascading consequences,” including a breakdown in food webs and a global increase in oceanographic pathogens.
According to the report, there is still time to mitigate some of the worst possible outcomes. Any meaningful effort to respond to global warming should improve oceanic conditions. And most coastal states are already capable of limiting sewage and agricultural pollution more effectively; they just have to muster the political will to do so. The overall message of the I.P.S.O. report is clear: Humankind can no longer treat the global ocean as its open sewer.