Monday, February 19, 2007

"Bangladesh: At the mercy of climate change"


The Sundarbans nature reserve in Bangladesh's south-west is one of the last untouched places on Earth - and home to the largest population of tigers left in the wild. But the trees in the Sundarbans have suddenly started dying. And not just that: they have started dying in a way nobody has seen before, from the top down.

Nobody is sure what the cause is, but the country's leading scientists think the trees are dying because, in recent years, the water has turned from fresh to salty. The Sundarbans is a massive mangrove swamp, and the sea has begun encroaching. What we are seeing may be one of the first casualties of rising sea levels caused by global warming. "Nobody can say for sure whether it is climate change because there haven't been proper in-depth studies," says Professor Ainun Nishat, one of the country's leading environmentalists, and one of those involved in the UN's recent climate change report. "But this is the sort of effect rising sea levels will have on Bangladesh. We are fighting climate change on the front line. But the battle has to be integrated across all countries."

Then there were the deaths of thousands of fishermen off Bangladesh last summer. The Bay of Bengal was unusually rough. Usually, the authorities only issue a storm warning to fishermen to stay at home once or twice a year. Last year, four warnings were issued in the space of two months. Every warning meant the fishermen lost valuable days at sea. When the last warning came, they could not afford to stay ashore and went to sea anyway. Officially 1,700 drowned, but many Bangladeshis believe the real number may be closer to 10,000.

"Was it climate change? We don't know," says Dr Nishat. "Was it unusual? Yes."

The weather in Bangladesh is going crazy. Last week, a freak tornado struck. Tornadoes occur regularly in Bangladesh - but usually only in the tornado season, in April. A tornado in February is almost unheard of.

Also, there were the strange events of 2004, when the tides in the estuaries of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers stopped ebbing and flowing. The water level just stayed at high tide. The same year, the capital, Dhaka, was hit by floods so severe the ground floors of most buildings were under water, and a catfish was caught in one of the government buildings.

And in 2005, the country had no winter at all. Westerners tend to assume the whole of the subcontinent is hot all year round; in fact, Bangladesh, like much of northern India, gets quite cold in winter. Except that it didn't last year. Winter never came - with serious effects on the year's potato crop. This year, too, it has not been as cold as usual.

"We have a saying, in February, even the tigers feel the cold," says Arun Karmaker, the environment correspondent for Prothom Alo newspaper. "But these days, a visitor to Bangladesh would find it hard to believe."

Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The entire country is basically one vast river delta, and that has always left it at the mercy of weather extremes. The villages of the south-east may often lack electricity or clean water, but a cyclone shelter is never far away. In Dhaka, the rent for a typical first-floor apartment is £52 a month. On the ground floor of the same building, it is just £37 - because the ground floor gets flooded almost every year.

But the country's climate experts say the weather is growing more extreme - and becoming unpredictable. And this is in the most densely populated country in the world, if you don't count city-states or small islands, home to 147 million people. That leaves a worrying question: what happens to those 147 million people if parts of this already overcrowded country become uninhabitable due to rising sea levels...

But what is less well known is that Bangladesh has a defence against that scenario: a huge series of dykes made of boulders that stretch along the entire coast - a literal fortification in the battle to survive climate change. The dykes were put up to protect against the storm surges Bangladesh periodically suffers from, but should be high enough to withstand the predicted rise in sea levels.

But that doesn't mean Bangladesh is safe from climate change, says Dr Nishat. "The dykes create their own problems," he says. "By trapping rainfall on the inside, they could end up causing flooding. And they do nothing to stop salinity spreading through our water."...

"People always come to Bangladesh to talk about rising sea levels," says Dr Nishat. "Have you considered that London is the same height above sea level as most of Bangladesh? You have the Thames barrier, and we have our dykes. By the time Bangladesh is flooded, you will have lost London."

Raining Icicles

Last week we had an ice storm followed by snow and cold and more snow. It was quite lovely.

Today - starting around 9 am - what with the sun, the temperatures rapidly rising into the 30s and occasional wind gusts - the ice from the trees has been crashing down en masse. The birds that are trying to breakfast on the deck outside the window fly for cover every time a new gust comes along. It's so loud that our dog gets to barking.

While I've enjoyed the snow - I'm looking forward to the warmer weather - and getting the truck out of the ditch.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Wind Shifts and Dead Zones

Reported by the BBC - The research was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Francisco, US.

The delicate interplay between the oceans and atmosphere is changing with catastrophic consequences.

Entire marine ecosystems have been wiped out, devastating populations of sea birds and larger marine mammals.

These "dead zones" occur where there are disturbances to the nutrient-rich ocean currents, which are driven by coastal winds.

Extreme marine suffocations have occurred off the west coast of the US every year for the last five years.

The most intense event, which left the ocean floor littered with the carcasses of crabs, happened in 2006.

It was unlike anything that we've measured along the Oregon coast in the past five decades," said Dr Francis Chan, of Oregon State University (OSU).

Other coastal countries including Chile, Namibia and South Africa have also been affected.

The common factor between all of the areas is that marine currents off the coast rise from the deep ocean.

These upwelling zones bring nutrient-rich water up from the deep, triggering plankton blooms that underpin the coastal food chain. Nearly 50% of the world's fisheries are in these areas.

The currents are driven by winds that move surface water away from the coast, drawing more up from the deep.

But now, observations along the west coast of the US suggest that the upwelling is being disrupted, changing its timing and intensity.

For example, in 2005 the upwelling was delayed which meant that the plankton blooms did not occur, leading to a collapse in fish populations.

This particularly hit migrating salmon, which pass along the coast in April and May every year.

"In 2005 they found nothing to eat," said Dr Bill Peterson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). "By the time upwelling started, they were dead."

An even more catastrophic event occurred in 2006 when the amount of upwelling doubled, leading to a huge influx of nutrients and a supercharged plankton bloom.

When these sank to the ocean floor they stripped the water column of oxygen, creating a 3,000 sq km (1,150 sq miles) dead zone, where creatures unable to swim away suffocated en masse.

Dr Francis Chan used underwater cameras to survey the area two months after the event.

"We were shocked to see a graveyard," he said. "Frame after frame of carcass, carcass, carcass."

Crabs, worms and sea stars all perished in the anoxic water.

The event was so severe that the researchers fear that marine life cannot return to the area.

"In previous years, fish that have escaped the low-oxygen area appear to have returned once the oxygen was renewed," said Dr Jane Lubchenco, also of OSU.

"This year may be different, however, because unlike earlier years, the living habitat was also suffocated."

The researchers believe the cause of these events was changes in the intensity of the coastal winds, perhaps brought about by global warming.

"What we know from the climate change models is that the land will warm more than the sea," colleague Jack Barth told the BBC News website.

It is this difference in temperature and pressure that drives the winds.

"As you intensify that gradient - that will drive the stronger winds."...

Live Earth Concerts 7/7/07

The music of Modest Mouse (esp. "the moon & antartica") would be perfect for the Live Earth Concerts.

It would be esp. perfect if they played in Antarctica. I hope the promoters sign them up.


The website will have information as this comes together.

Concerts on all 7 continents:

Brazil - TBD
Japan - TBD
United States - TBD
Antarctica - TBD

“Live Earth” Concerts in All 7 Continents to Reach Global Audience of Over 2 Billion

Los Angeles, CA – Detailing a historic effort to engage billions of people across the globe, Kevin Wall, Al Gore, Pharrell Williams, Maná, Cameron Diaz, and the MSN Network today launched Save Our Selves (SOS) – The Campaign for a Climate in Crisis. The announcement was made at the California Science Center.

SOS is designed to trigger a global movement to combat our climate crisis. It will reach people in every corner of the planet through television, film, radio, the Internet and Live Earth, a 24-hour concert on 7/7/07 across all 7 continents that will bring together more than 100 of the world’s top musical acts. Live Earth alone will engage an audience of more than 2 billion people through concert attendance and broadcasts. MSN has partnered with SOS to use its reach to make the Live Earth concerts available across the globe. The Live Earth audience, and the proceeds from the concerts, will create the foundation for a new, multi-year global effort to combat the climate crisis led by The Alliance for Climate Protection and its Chair, Vice President Al Gore. SOS was founded by Kevin Wall, who won an Emmy as Worldwide Executive Producer of Live 8....

"Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World"

By Michael Parenti (Found at Common Dreams)

There is a “mystery” we must explain: How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?

Over the last half century, U.S. industries and banks (and other western corporations) have invested heavily in those poorer regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America known as the “Third World.” The transnationals are attracted by the rich natural resources, the high return that comes from low-paid labor, and the nearly complete absence of taxes, environmental regulations, worker benefits, and occupational safety costs.

The U.S. government has subsidized this flight of capital by granting corporations tax concessions on their overseas investments, and even paying some of their relocation expenses---much to the outrage of labor unions here at home who see their jobs evaporating.

The transnationals push out local businesses in the Third World and preempt their markets. American agribusiness cartels, heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, dump surplus products in other countries at below cost and undersell local farmers. As Christopher Cook describes it in his Diet for a Dead Planet, they expropriate the best land in these countries for cash-crop exports, usually monoculture crops requiring large amounts of pesticides, leaving less and less acreage for the hundreds of varieties of organically grown foods that feed the local populations.

By displacing local populations from their lands and robbing them of their self-sufficiency, corporations create overcrowded labor markets of desperate people who are forced into shanty towns to toil for poverty wages (when they can get work), often in violation of the countries’ own minimum wage laws.

In Haiti, for instance, workers are paid 11 cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penny. The United States is one of the few countries that has refused to sign an international convention for the abolition of child labor and forced labor. This position stems from the child labor practices of U.S. corporations throughout the Third World and within the United States itself, where children as young as 12 suffer high rates of injuries and fatalities, and are often paid less than the minimum wage.

The savings that big business reaps from cheap labor abroad are not passed on in lower prices to their customers elsewhere. Corporations do not outsource to far-off regions so that U.S. consumers can save money. They outsource in order to increase their margin of profit. In 1990, shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve-hour days for 13 cents an hour, cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the United States.

U.S. foreign aid usually works hand in hand with transnational investment. It subsidizes construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the Third World: ports, highways, and refineries.

The aid given to Third World governments comes with strings attached. It often must be spent on U.S. products, and the recipient nation is required to give investment preferences to U.S. companies, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods in favor of imported ones, creating more dependency, hunger, and debt.

A good chunk of the aid money never sees the light of day, going directly into the personal coffers of sticky-fingered officials in the recipient countries.

Aid (of a sort) also comes from other sources. In 1944, the United Nations created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Voting power in both organizations is determined by a country’s financial contribution. As the largest “donor,” the United States has a dominant voice, followed by Germany, Japan, France, and Great Britain. The IMF operates in secrecy with a select group of bankers and finance ministry staffs drawn mostly from the rich nations.

The World Bank and IMF are supposed to assist nations in their development. What actually happens is another story. A poor country borrows from the World Bank to build up some aspect of its economy. Should it be unable to pay back the heavy interest because of declining export sales or some other reason, it must borrow again, this time from the IMF.

But the IMF imposes a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.

They are forced to open their forests to clear-cutting and their lands to strip mining, without regard to the ecological damage done. The debtor nations also must cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments. Required to grow cash crops for export earnings, they become even less able to feed their own populations.

So it is that throughout the Third World, real wages have declined, and national debts have soared to the point where debt payments absorb almost all of the poorer countries’ export earnings---which creates further impoverishment as it leaves the debtor country even less able to provide the things its population needs.

Here then we have explained a “mystery.” It is, of course, no mystery at all if you don’t adhere to trickle-down mystification. Why has poverty deepened while foreign aid and loans and investments have grown? Answer: Loans, investments, and most forms of aid are designed not to fight poverty but to augment the wealth of transnational investors at the expense of local populations.

There is no trickle down, only a siphoning up from the toiling many to the moneyed few....

"Whales saved by fire on Japanese vessel"

Hundreds will be spared after the fleet's only factory ship is crippled in Antarctic

Japan's controversial whaling operation in the Antarctic is facing collapse this weekend as its most important vessel wallows helplessly off the coast of the icy continent.

The country admitted yesterday that this year's hunt - due to kill 945 whales by mid-March - will probably have to be abandoned as a result of a fire that has crippled its fleet's mother ship, the Nisshin Maru, and raised fears of an oil spill into the area's pristine waters.

Environmentalists hope that the 8,000-tonne ship, the only one capable of processing harpooned whales, will have to be scrapped following what is its second serious fire in less than a decade. If so, they hope it will not be replaced, spelling an end to an annual hunt which has caused protests for a quarter of a century.

With neat irony, the crisis began as Japan was hosting a meeting of pro-whaling members of the International Whaling Commission to work out a strategy for legalising a full return to the slaughter. Commercial whaling was banned after the Commission agreed a moratorium in 1982, but Japan continued under the guise of scientific research.

The fire broke out on Thursday on the vessel's second deck, close to where the whales are processed, and has raged for days, partly fuelled by whale oil from the slaughtered mammals. One crew member was killed and most of the 148 others abandoned ship.

The ship's electronics and engine were knocked out, leaving it drifting about 100 miles from the world's biggest penguin breeding ground, with some 250,000 pairs of Adelie penguins, at Cape Adare, Antarctica.

Environmentalists feared that some 330,000 gallons of oil aboard the ship could leak and be carried by currents to the breeding area.

But Hiroshi Hatanaka, director general of the Institute of Cetacean Research, which is affiliated to the Japanese government, denied this, saying: "Fears that this may turn into some environmental disaster are premature. The area in which the fire broke out is not located near the fuel holds."

Nevertheless, Chris Carter, the Conservation Minister of New Zealand - responsible for maritime rescue in that part of the ocean - says it is "imperative" that the stricken ship is moved further from Ant-arctica and the penguin colony. "The Nisshin Maru is dead in the water", he said. "Somehow, we have got to get that ship away from the coast."

"Mystery of the Himalayas solved"

The mystery of why the Himalaya mountains and the Tibetan plateau are the highest in the world has at last been answered, with the discovery of a gigantic chunk of rock slowly sinking towards the centre of the Earth.

When the massive slab - up to eight times the area of the UK and as thick as a dozen Everests on top of each other - dropped off, the lighter crust above it rebounded upwards like a cork released under water, geophysicists say. This "sudden uplift" would have raised the Himalayas by as much as 2km (1.24 miles) to their present height....

The discovery of the missing mantle - the cold, heavy rock beneath the crust - was revealed last week by Professor Wang-Ping Chen at the University of Illinois, whose team used more than 200 super-sensitive seismometers strung across the Himalayas, from India deep into Tibet.

"While attached, this immense piece of mantle under Tibet acted as an anchor, holding the land above in place," said Professor Chen, whose results are to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. "Then, about 15 million years ago, the chain broke and the land rose."

By pushing the Himalayas to their current altitude, more than 8,000m above sea level, and raising the Tibetan plateau to 5,000m, the detachment of the block was responsible for both the monsoon rains that make south Asia so fertile and the Gobi desert in central Asia. Warm winds blowing from the Pacific Ocean cool as they rise over the mountains, releasing the moisture they contain as torrential rains, leaving almost no water to fall on the arid interior of the continent.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Mountains warming faster than plains"

From: Rocky Mountain News

Mountainous areas of the western United States have warmed faster than plains regions over the past two decades, new research at Boulder’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration labs shows.

Areas such as Colorado’s Front Range that depend on mountain snow pack for water supplies, are especially vulnerable, as snowmelt is beginning earlier with high elevation warming, according to the analysis by Henry Diaz of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory.

"Our high mountains are like the third pole of the planet," Diaz said in a statement. "It’s the world’s coldest regions that are the most susceptible to warming."

Warming trends are 50 percent greater at higher elevations, the research found, and much of the western United States, including much of Colorado, rises above 5,000 feet.

Previous climate research has found snow melting and trees flowering in the Sierra Nevada, Cascades and other western mountain ranges two weeks earlier than 50 years ago. More beetle infestations and the movement of pine forests to higher elevations have also been documented, according to NOAA.

"Relatively small changes in global processes can produce large local changes in temperature and precipitation," Diaz said. "Resulting water shortages can be disastrous for communities a thousand miles away."

Another key finding was that actual temperature records analyzed in the study match computer models that projected faster warming at higher altitudes.

"Now the records are starting to show this acceleration," Diaz said....

Monsanto Genetically Engineered Potato Study Suppressed

A secret feeding study of Monsanto GM potatoes, conducted in 1998 by the Institute of Nutrition of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and suppressed for 8 years, showed that the potatoes did considerable damage to the organs of the rats in the study (1) (2). In comparison the rats in the "control groups" which were fed on normal potatoes or on a non-potato diet were healthier, and had much less organ and tissue damage. This research, fully supported by Monsanto through the provision of the GM potatoes, was conducted at approximately the same time as Arpad Pusztai's research in the Rowett Institute.

The potatoes used in the study were Monsanto GM NewLeaf potatoes bred in 1995 from the Russet Burbank variety to be resistant to the Colorado Beetle. The GM event was registered as 082, and the potatoes are included in the Bt group of GM crops. They also contain an antibiotic resistance marker gene (3). The potatoes were deregulated in the USA in 1998, without any feeding studies being required. Another line was deregulated in 1999. Even earlier, in 1996, Monsanto started to introduce the potatoes into Russia and Georgia, and probably into many other countries with lax approval regimes as well (4). For some reason (probably to assist in the consent process) Monsanto co-operated in some feeding studies involving rats from the Institute of Nutrition of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. Something "inconvenient" showed up in these feeding studies, but the Institute refused to release all the information into the public domain and in 1999 the researchers presented a "doctored" version of their Report in support of Monsanto's application for Russian commercialization. The consent was duly given in 2000 by the Russian regulators on the basis of this corrupt piece of science.

However, Greenpeace and other consumer groups mounted a protracted and immensely frustrating campaign to obtain a sight of the feeding study Report. In May 2004 the Nikulinski District Court in Russia ruled that information relating to the safety of GM food should be open to the public. On the basis of this ruling Greenpeace tried to obtain the GM potato report; but the Institute and Monsanto refused to release it. So Greenpeace and local activist groups again took the Institute to court, and in October 2005 won a ruling that the Report must be released. At last it was handed over, and examined by Dr Irina Ermakova at the request of Greenpeace. She produced a brief Russian paper on her findings, and we have now produced an English- language version with the kind agreement of Greenpeace (5)....

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Scientists sound alarm over melting Antarctic ice sheets"

The long-term stability of the massive ice sheets of Antarctica, which have the potential to raise sea levels by hundreds of metres, has been called into question with the discovery of fast-moving rivers of water sliding beneath their base.

Scientists analysing satellite data were astonished to discover the size of the vast lakes and river systems flowing beneath the Antarctic ice sheets, which may lubricate the movement of these glaciers as they flow into the surrounding sea.

The discovery raises fresh questions about the speed at which sea levels might rise in a warmer world due to the rate at which parts of the ice sheets slide from the land into the ocean, scientists said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

"We've found that there are substantial subglacial lakes under ice that's moving a couple of metres per day. It's really ripping along. It's the fast-moving ice that determines how the ice sheet responds to climate change on a short timescale," said Robert Bindschadler, a Nasa scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, one of the study's co-authors.

"We aren't yet able to predict what these ice streams are going to do. We're still learning about the controlling processes. Water is critical, because it's essentially the grease on the wheel. But we don't know the details yet," Dr Bindschadler said. "Until now, we've had just a few glimpses into what's going on down there. This is the most complete picture to date about what's going on," he said....

"Zoologists plan 'ark' to save frogs from extinction"

Zoologists from around the world were gathering in Atlanta yesterday to plead for a global action plan to save hundreds of species of frogs believed to be on the brink of extinction, because of, in part, a strange and rapidly expanding fungus.

In the past 10 years, the world has lost 170 species of frog to the fungus and other causes. Of the roughly 6,000 varieties of frog and other amphibians still remaining, such as newts and salamanders, almost a third are believed to also be under threat in regions as far apart as Japan, California, Australia and the Andes.

The two-day conference will launch a rescue operation dubbed the "Amphibian Ark". Scores of zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums will create protected habitats for the amphibians and there will also be controlled breeding programmes to save as many species as possible.

In the meantime, research will be stepped up to try to find a remedy to the fungus. Known as a chrytid fungus, it clogs the pores preventing the normal process of breathing through the skin. The condition first makes amphibians drowsy and eventually kills them as skin begins to peel away.

Herpetologists, who specialise in the study of amphibians, suspect that global warming may be partly responsible for the sudden spread of the fungus. Higher temperatures have caused increased daytime cloud cover in high tropical forests, creating perfect conditions for the fungus to thrive on the frogs.

"Something really terrifying is happening to the planet," said Joseph Mandelson, a herpetologist at Zoo Atlanta, and an organiser of this week's conference. "We'd be very stupid if we did not pay very close attention to this."

The plague, now being likened to the HIV-Aids epidemic afflicting humans, is particularly alarming because it is threatening all amphibians, which are a crucial link between water and land animals and a vital part of the ecological food chain in many habitats.

"This is the precedent of a disease working its way across an entire species on the scale of all mammals, all birds or all fish," Mr Mandelson added....

There is no definitive word yet on the origin of the deadly fungus but scientists suspect that it may have shown up first in Africa, home to the African clawed frog, which is known to carry the fungus but which appears to be immune to its effects. Other factors in the amphibian deaths include the use of pesticides and the effects of human development.

Last month, Japan for the first time confirmed that it had recorded frog deaths from the fungus. Species known to have been rendered extinct from it have been identified in Australia and Costa Rica. Other regions seeing the impact of the fungus include parts of the Rocky Mountains, all of Mexico, every country in Central America and several in the Andes range.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thousands of Jellyfish Washed Ashore

My guess is that it is not a matter of a higher percentage of jellyfish dying - but that there are more jellyfish that are thriving in the oceans which result in more that will wash up on the beaches.

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Beachgoers are tiptoeing through a stinky mess at the beach.

Thousands of jellyfish that washed ashore recently are now beginning to rot, creating a stench that's twitching noses from Mayport all the way down to St. Johns County.

"It's really smelling up the beach. And there's so many of them. And we don't know why," said Henry Cooper, who lives at the beach.

Experts say there's an unusually large amount of jellyfish this year, and they say it's all because of the weather.

"I see thousands of them. Thousands. Probably more than that. Nasty. What can you do," said Eddie Thomas, who lives at the beach.

"What you're seeing I think, is a mild winter, and then a series of storms that have blown them ashore. And then consequently, what we have is a large jelly, smelly mess down there," said Dr. Quinton White.

White, a dean at Jacksonville University in biology and marine science, says the washing up of jellyfish is a seasonal event, but it's a lot worse now than usual.

And he says it could be a combination of weather and a changing ocean.

"El Nino is something we're just beginning to get a better handle on. And with global warming and everything else going on, we're seeing ocean currents changing. So we really don't know what's going on right now," said White.

He says while it is a smelly mess now, hopefully it won't last too long.

"I have been running on the beach since 1990 and I have not noticed it. Not so bad as this year," said Cooper.

Workers will be out cleaning up as many jellyfish as possible this weekend.

White says the dead jellyfish is not a health concern. He says just don't eat them.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"Valentine Roses Get Dipped in Chemicals"

That's not a very nice thing.

It's one of those things that is primarily a problem for the workers for whom applying the chemicals is part of their jobs.

It's probably the last thing most people think about when buying roses. But by the time the velvety, vibrant-colored flowers reach a Valentine's Day buyer, they will have been sprayed, rinsed and dipped in a battery of potentially lethal chemicals.

Most of the toxic assault takes place in the waterlogged savannah surrounding the capital of Colombia, which has the world's second-largest cut-flower industry after the Netherlands, producing 62 percent of all flowers sold in the United States.

With 110,000 employees -- many of them single mothers -- and annual exports of $1 billion, the industry provides an important alternative to growing coca, source crop of the Andean nation's better known illegal export: cocaine.

But these economic gains come at a cost to workers' health and Colombia's environment, according to consumer advocates who complain of an over-reliance on chemical pesticides.

Colombia's flower exporters association responded by launching Florverde, which has certified 86 of its 200 members for taking steps to improve worker safety and welfare. Florverde says its members have reduced pesticide use by 38 percent since 1998, to an average of 97 kilograms (213 pounds) of active ingredient per hectare (2.4 acres) per year.

"Every day we're making more progress," said Florverde director Juan Carlos Isaza. "The value of Florverde is that these best practices have now been standardized and are being adopted by the industry."

Nevertheless, 36 percent of the toxic chemicals applied by Florverde farms in 2005 were listed as "extremely" or "highly" toxic by the World Health Organization, Isaza acknowledged.

And unlike in the United States, Colombia has no government regulations about pesticide use inside greenhouses, where toxicity levels tend to rise.

Even with more stringent guidelines, accidents happen.

On Nov. 25, 2003, some 200 workers at Flores Aposentos were hospitalized after fainting and developing sores inside their mouths. Authorities determined this mass poisoning could have been caused by any number of pesticide-handling violations, but fined the company just $5,770.

Government oversight is relatively strict in the United States -- in California, each flower farm's pesticide use is available for review on the Internet. But there are no reliable statistics about chemicals used by Colombia's 600-plus flower farms, in part because only a third belong to Asocolflores, the exporters' association, which does keep good records.

The U.S. requires imported flowers to be bug-free, although not necessarily void of chemical residues, as required for edible fruits and vegetables. But the reliable highland tropical climate that drew U.S. flower growers to Colombia and Ecuador is a haven for pests.

This encourages growers to apply a wide range of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, some of which have been linked to elevated rates of cancer and neurological disorders and other problems.

Causal links between these chemicals and individual illnesses are hard to prove because chronic pesticide exposure has not been studied in enough detail.

But researchers have found some disturbing data: The Harvard School of Public Health examined 72 children ages 7-8 in a flower-growing region of Ecuador whose mothers were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy and found they had developmental delays of up to four years on aptitude tests.

"Every time we look, we're finding out these pesticides are more dangerous than we ever thought before and more toxic at lower levels," said Philippe Grandjean, who led the Harvard study published last year.

...a survey of 84 farms between 2000 and 2002, partly financed by Asocolflores, found only 16.7 percent respected Florverde's recommendation that workers wait 24 hours before re-entering greenhouses sprayed with the most toxic of pesticides.

"...Links Between Personality and Politics"

Some of the things mentioned in the article seem obvious like, "Most liberals, he said, think about morality in terms of two categories: how someone’s welfare is affected, and whether it is fair." But then adds: "Conservatives, by contrast, broaden that definition to include loyalty, respect for authority, and purity or sanctity."

I wouldn't say that it is "broadening" the definition of morality to have more concern for "respect for authority" - I would say that it's a matter of different values. And they tend to be generally self-centered and/or short-sightied ones at that - not especially concerned for the welfare of the group or the environment or the future, for that matter. Loyalty - seems to imply "blind" loyalty - but then they only want "loyalty" to conservatives - not to liberal leaders. As far as "sanctity" - liberals can be plenty interested in spirituality - though it tends to be of an non-authoritarian variety.

I find it interesting, but not surprising, that studies found "that personality traits associated with liberalism or conservatism later in life show up in preschoolers". I think that there are underlying ideas and perceptions about the world that I have probably always had that affect my political outlook.

The article concludes with: What is important, said Larry how psychological tendencies are translated into views about specific political issues: “how many flexible, curious, open-to-experience liberals do you know who want to experiment with restructuring the Social Security system?”

But the restructuring of Social Security seems to be a desire on the part of conservatives to take the country backwords 100 years - to undo the "liberal" changes that took place under FDR - and to make it easier for the rich to get richer and to ignore social problems (of course - the rich have to convince others that it is in their self-interest to support policies that favor the rich whether the policies do or not).

I think it's one thing for people to be rewarded (and be able to keep many of those rewards) for hard work and “conscientiousness” - but it does none of us any good as a group if the needs of all of us (including social stability, healthcare and a safe and stable environment) are ignored. I think going back 100 years puts us all at risk in many ways. And there are more important things than the bottom line.

Some more snips:

Research into why someone leans left or right — a subject that stirred enormous interest in the aftermath of World War II before waning in the 1960s — has been revived in recent years, partly because of a shift in federal funds for politics and terrorism research, new technology like brain imaging and a sharper partisan divide in the nation’s political culture.

“I believe that recent developments in psychological research and the world of politics — including responses to 9/11, the Bush presidency, the Iraq War, polarizing Supreme Court nominations, Hurricane Katrina, and ongoing controversies over scientific and environmental policies — provide ample grounds for revisiting” the psychological basis of Americans’ opinions, party and voting patterns, John T. Jost, a psychologist at New York University, wrote in a recent issue of American Psychologist.

The newest work in the field, found in a growing number of papers, symposiums and college courses, touches on factors from genetics to home décor. Some people have greeted the results with fascination....

For anyone who assumes political choices rest on a rational analysis of issues and self-interest, the notion that preference for a candidate springs from the same source as the choice of a color scheme can be disturbing. But social psychologists assume that all beliefs, including political ones, partly arise from an individual’s deep psychological fears and needs: for stability, order and belonging, or for rebellion and novelty.

These needs and worries vary in degree, develop in childhood and probably have a temperamental and a genetic component, said Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland. A study of twins, for instance, has shown that a conservative or progressive orientation can be inherited, while a decades-long study has found that personality traits associated with liberalism or conservatism later in life show up in preschoolers.

...What Mr. Jost and Mr. Kruglanski say is that years of research show that liberals and conservatives consistently match one of two personality types. Those who enjoy bending rules and embracing new experiences tend to turn left; those who value tradition and are more cautious about change tend to end up on the right.

What’s more, these traits are reflected in musical taste, hobbies and décor. Dana R. Carney, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, who worked with Mr. Jost and Samuel D. Gosling of the University of Texas at Austin among others, found that the offices and bedrooms of conservatives tended to be neat and contain cleaning supplies, calendars, postage stamps and sports-related posters; conservatives also tended to favor country music and documentaries. Bold-colored, cluttered rooms with art supplies, lots of books, jazz CDs and travel documents tended to belong to liberals (providing sloppy Democrats with an excuse to refuse clean up on principle).

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, said he found this work intriguing but was more inclined to see a person’s moral framework as a source of difference between liberals and conservatives. Most liberals, he said, think about morality in terms of two categories: how someone’s welfare is affected, and whether it is fair. Conservatives, by contrast, broaden that definition to include loyalty, respect for authority, and purity or sanctity. Conservatives have a richer, more elaborate moral horizon than liberals, Mr. Haidt said, because there is a “whole dimension to human experience best described as divinity or sacredness that conservatives are more attuned to.”

So how does he explain the red-blue divide? “Areas with less mobility and less diversity generally have the more traditional,” broadened definition of morality, “and therefore were more likely to vote for George W. Bush — and to tell pollsters that their reason was ‘moral values,’ ” he and his co-writer, Jesse Graham, say in a paper to be published this year by The Journal Social Justice Research.

Mr. Jost did his own research on the red-blue divide. Using the Internet he and his collaborators gave personality tests to hundreds of thousands of Americans. He found states with people who scored high on “openness” were significantly more likely to have voted for the Democratic candidate in the past three elections, even after adjustments were made for income, ethnicity and population density. States that scored high on “conscientiousness” went Republican in the past three elections.

Some of these psychological studies have been dogged by charges of bias however. In 2003 a mammoth survey of more than 50 years of research on the psychology of conservatism that Mr. Jost and Mr. Kruglanski undertook with the help of Jack Glaser and Frank Sulloway at Berkeley concluded that conservatives tend to be “rigid,” “close-minded” and “fearful,” less tolerant of minorities and more tolerant of inequality. At the time the conservative columnist George F. Will ridiculed the results: “The professors have ideas; the rest of us have emanations of our psychological needs and neuroses.”

The authors insist they are not making value judgments; whether a particular trait is positive or negative depends on circumstance. “Fear of death has the highest correlation with being conservative,” Mr. Sulloway said. But he continued: “What’s wrong with fearing death? If you don’t fear death, evolution eliminates you from the population.”...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

"EU May Make Harming Environment a Crime"

Harming the environment should be treated as a crime, the European Commission said Friday as it put forward a draft law that would punish serious offenses across the EU with up to five years in prison or a $975,000 fine.

The rules would also allow courts put a company out of business and order ungreen criminals to clean up the environment.

They would punish people and companies behind environmental disasters - such as the Dutch trader that chartered the ship blamed for dumping of illegal toxic waste in Ivory Coast last summer that killed 10, the EU executive said.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said corporations were behind 73 percent of crimes against the environment.

"It is not enough to punish and prosecute managers. It's very important also that corporations pay fines," he told reporters.

Dumping toxic substances, shipping hazardous waste or trading in endangered species can have "devastating effects on human health and the environment," the EU executive said.

"In serious cases, criminal sanctions such as prison sentences should be applied, as they have a much higher dissuasive effect than, for example, administrative sanctions," it said.

The EU's 27 nations currently have different standards for what a crime against the environment is and the Commission said many set "inadequate" punishments.

France, Italy, Malta and Cyprus will have the make the most changes to existing laws, said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

The draft rules will force governments to make sure that a list of environmental crimes - all already banned by national and EU law - are treated as criminal offenses.

They will cover releasing hazardous substances that pollute the air, water or soil; illegal shipments or treatment of waste; the unlawful trade in endangered species or ozone-depleting substances; and running a plant either involved in "dangerous activity" or storing dangerous substances.

Prison sentences or maximum fines should be reserved for serious breaches where people have been killed or seriously injured or in cases where there has been "substantial damage to air, soil, water, animals or plants," the EU said.

But the law will not cover oil spills. The EU says it will put forward a separate proposal to cover pollution from ships later this year.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"The brain scan that can read people's intentions"

A team of world-leading neuroscientists has developed a powerful technique that allows them to look deep inside a person's brain and read their intentions before they act.

The research breaks controversial new ground in scientists' ability to probe people's minds and eavesdrop on their thoughts, and raises serious ethical issues over how brain-reading technology may be used in the future.

The team used high-resolution brain scans to identify patterns of activity before translating them into meaningful thoughts, revealing what a person planned to do in the near future. It is the first time scientists have succeeded in reading intentions in this way.

"Using the scanner, we could look around the brain for this information and read out something that from the outside there's no way you could possibly tell is in there. It's like shining a torch around, looking for writing on a wall," said John-Dylan Haynes at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, who led the study with colleagues at University College London and Oxford University.

The research builds on a series of recent studies in which brain imaging has been used to identify tell-tale activity linked to lying, violent behaviour and racial prejudice.

The latest work reveals the dramatic pace at which neuroscience is progressing, prompting the researchers to call for an urgent debate into the ethical issues surrounding future uses for the technology. If brain-reading can be refined, it could quickly be adopted to assist interrogations of criminals and terrorists, and even usher in a "Minority Report" era (as portrayed in the Steven Spielberg science fiction film of that name), where judgments are handed down before the law is broken on the strength of an incriminating brain scan.

"These techniques are emerging and we need an ethical debate about the implications, so that one day we're not surprised and overwhelmed and caught on the wrong foot by what they can do. These things are going to come to us in the next few years and we should really be prepared," Professor Haynes told the Guardian.

The use of brain scanners to judge whether people are likely to commit crimes is a contentious issue that society should tackle now, according to Prof Haynes. "We see the danger that this might become compulsory one day, but we have to be aware that if we prohibit it, we are also denying people who aren't going to commit any crime the possibility of proving their innocence."...

Parish, N.Y. - 110 inches of snow in 7 days

The National Weather Service said Parish — about 25 miles northeast of Syracuse — reached a milestone early Saturday with 100 inches of snow during the past seven days. Late Saturday, the total had risen to 110 inches. Unofficial reports pegged totals at 123 inches in Orwell and 122 in Redfield, but those measurements include snow from another storm a couple of days before the current weather system. All three towns are in Oswego County.

A warning in effect until Monday morning said 2 to 4 more feet of snow was possible with wind gusting up to 24 mph.

"That's all we need," Mike Avery said as he took a brief break from loading dump trucks with snow to be hauled to a pile outside town. "It's getting monotonous."...

Residents of the nearby town of Mexico see 5- to 6-foot snowfalls every two or three years, but this time even hardened locals are amazed. The only sign of parked SUVs are their radio antennas or roof racks sticking up above the snow. Front doors are buried and footprints lead to second-story windows. Sidewalks that have been dug out look like miniature canyons.

The state transportation department said 125 workers from elsewhere in the state had been sent in with snow equipment to help.

The region is located along the Tug Hill Plateau, the snowiest region this side of the Rocky Mountains. It's a 50-mile wedge of land that rises 2,100 feet from the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. It usually gets about 300 inches — roughly 25 feet — of snow a year.

The hamlet of Hooker, near the boundaries of Jefferson, Lewis, and Oswego counties, holds the state's one-year record with 466.9 inches, about 39 feet, in the winter of 1976-77...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"Vegetarian Is the New Prius"

President Herbert Hoover promised "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." With warnings about global warming reaching feverish levels, many are having second thoughts about all those cars. It seems they should instead be worrying about the chickens.

Last month, the United Nations published a report on livestock and the environment with a stunning conclusion: "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." It turns out that raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and not least of all, global warming.

That's right, global warming. You've probably heard the story: Emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are changing our climate, and scientists warn of more extreme weather, coastal flooding, spreading disease, and mass extinctions. It seems that when you step outside and wonder what happened to winter, you might want to think about what you had for dinner last night. The U.N. report says almost a fifth of global warming emissions come from livestock (i.e., those chickens Hoover was talking about, plus pigs, cattle, and others) -- that's more emissions than from all of the world's transportation combined.

For a decade now, the image of Leonardo DiCaprio cruising in his hybrid Toyota Prius has defined the gold standard for environmentalism. These gas-sipping vehicles became a veritable symbol of the consumers' power to strike a blow against global warming. Just think: a car that could cut your vehicle emissions in half -- in a country responsible for 25% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. Federal fuel economy standards languished in Congress, and average vehicle mileage dropped to its lowest level in decades, but the Prius showed people that another way is possible. Toyota could not import the cars fast enough to meet demand.

Last year researchers at the University of Chicago took the Prius down a peg when they turned their attention to another gas guzzling consumer purchase. They noted that feeding animals for meat, dairy, and egg production requires growing some ten times as much crops as we'd need if we just ate pasta primavera, faux chicken nuggets, and other plant foods. On top of that, we have to transport the animals to slaughterhouses, slaughter them, refrigerate their carcasses, and distribute their flesh all across the country. Producing a calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels -- and spewing more than ten times as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide -- as does a calorie of plant protein. The researchers found that, when it's all added up, the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching to a Prius.

According to the UN report, it gets even worse when we include the vast quantities of land needed to give us our steak and pork chops. Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmed animals are probably the biggest cause of slashing and burning the world's forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder. These forests serve as "sinks," absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, and burning these forests releases all the stored carbon dioxide, quantities that exceed by far the fossil fuel emission of animal agriculture.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the real kicker comes when looking at gases besides carbon dioxide -- gases like methane and nitrous oxide, enormously effective greenhouse gases with 23 and 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, respectively. If carbon dioxide is responsible for about one-half of human-related greenhouse gas warming since the industrial revolution, methane and nitrous oxide are responsible for another one-third. These super-strong gases come primarily from farmed animals' digestive processes, and from their manure. In fact, while animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, it emits 37% of our methane, and a whopping 65% of our nitrous oxide.

It's a little hard to take in when thinking of a small chick hatching from her fragile egg. How can an animal, so seemingly insignificant against the vastness of the earth, give off so much greenhouse gas as to change the global climate? The answer is in their sheer numbers. The United States alone slaughters more than 10 billion land animals every year, all to sustain a meat-ravenous culture that can barely conceive of a time not long ago when "a chicken in every pot" was considered a luxury. Land animals raised for food make up a staggering 20% of the entire land animal biomass of the earth. We are eating our planet to death. What we're seeing is just the beginning, too. Meat consumption has increased five-fold in the past fifty years, and is expected to double again in the next fifty.

It sounds like a lot of bad news, but in fact it's quite the opposite. It means we have a powerful new weapon to use in addressing the most serious environmental crisis ever to face humanity. The Prius was an important step forward, but how often are people in the market for a new car? Now that we know a greener diet is even more effective than a greener car, we can make a difference at every single meal, simply by leaving the animals off of our plates. Who would have thought: what's good for our health is also good for the health of the planet!


I agree that it's pretty easy to switch to a vegetarian diet (or mostly, at least). And well worth it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The "Greenest" Cars

The top twelve Greenest Cars. (More info at the CNN article)

ACEEE's "Green Score" is based on tailpipe emissions as well as pollution created in manufacturing the vehicle. Pollution from manufacturing is estimated based on the vehicle's weight. The average vehicle's "Green Score" is 30.

Honda Civic GX (uses natural gas)
Green score: 57

Toyota Prius (Hybrid)
City mpg: 60
Highway mpg: 51
Green score: 53

Honda Civic Hybrid
City mpg: 49
Highway mpg: 51
Green score: 53

Nissan Altima Hybrid
City mpg: 42
Highway mpg: 36
Green score: 48

Toyota Yaris
City mpg: 34
Highway mpg: 40
Green score: 47

Toyota Corolla
City mpg: 32
Highway mpg: 41
Green score: 46

Toyota Camry Hybrid
City mpg: 40
Highway mpg: 38
Green score: 46

Honda Fit
City mpg: 33
Highway mpg: 38
Green score: 45

Kia Rio
City mpg: 32
Highway mpg: 35
Green score: 45

Hyundai Accent
City mpg: 32
Highway mpg: 35
Green score: 45

Hyundai Elantra
City mpg: 28
Highway mpg: 36
Green score: 45

Honda Civic
City mpg: 30
Highway mpg: 40
Green score: 44

__________________Also a few more in selected categories:

Small SUV - 
Ford Escape Hybrid
Green score: 43

Sports car - 
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Green score: 39

Mid-size SUV - 
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Green score: 39

Minivan - 
Toyota Sienna
Green score: 32

Small pick-up - 
Toyota Tacoma
Green score: 34

"Deadly flooding brings Jakarta to a standstill"

Much of this capital city was under water Tuesday and the authorities warned of the spread of disease after torrential rains, overflowing rivers and clogged sewers brought widespread flooding over the weekend.

At least 29 people were reported to have died from drowning, electrocution or disease. An estimated 340,000 people were driven from their homes and hundreds of thousands remained without electricity or clean water in the worst flooding here in years. The skies cleared Monday but meteorologists said more rain was possible in the days ahead, along with renewed flooding if rivers again burst their banks.

In lower-lying parts of Jakarta that are populated mostly by the poor, water that had risen as high as four meters, or 12 feet, still engulfed entire houses.

Officials estimated that from 40 to 70 percent of this city of 12 million people had been submerged. From the air, it appeared in places that red tile roofs were floating on the brown water....

More Declining Numbers

Sea Turtles Dying Along Bangladesh Coast

More than 200 turtles, some weighing 20 kg (44 pounds) or more, have died in the Bay of Bengal along the Bangladesh coast over the past week, government officials and witnesses said on Monday.

"Around 140 turtles were found dead along a 4-km (2.5 miles) stretch of the beach," Mohammad Aminul Islam, deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar district, said.

He said more turtles were dying on the shores of St. Martin island, 35 km off the country's southeastern tip, Teknaf.

Fishermen have reported that some dolphins have also died.

No one seems to know why the sea creatures are dying...

Baltic Sea salmon stocks dive in 2006

Stocks of wild salmon in the Baltic Sea are in continuous decline but 2006 may have been a particularly bad year, with an estimated drop of 50 percent from the previous year, a scientist said on Monday.

"Fish counters, catches ... All the reports point in the same direction," said Jaakko Erkinaro, a professor at the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute.

"The figure of (a) 50 percent (drop between 2005 and 2006) is likely. Whatever the exact figure is, it's a marked decline," he told AFP, attributing the decrease to several hypotheses: a fall in salinity, warming of the waters or a rise in seal stocks.

"But it remains a big question mark," he said.

Wild salmon quotas were drastically reduced in the 1990s by the International Baltic Sea Fishery Commission, which over the years reduced them from 700,000 fish to 300,000 in 2005.

The European Union decided in October to reduce by an additional five percent the quotas for 2007.

The Baltic Sea is a shallow and virtually closed sea and therefore very polluted.

Pregnant women are, for example, advised to avoid eating wild salmon because of levels of PCBs (polychlorobiphenyls) and PCTs (polychloroterphenyls) five times higher than farmed salmon, according to the European food safety authority.

Erkinaro said salmon was not the only fish species in the Baltic Sea that was threatened.

"There are problems with other species. Cod, for example, in the southern Baltic, or river trout. The causes are varied," he said...

The numbers of beluga, the white whales of Alaska, have halved in 13 years

A new report by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, to be published later this year, will reveal that the number of beluga whales in Cook Inlet has declined dramatically in the past decade and now stands at just 302. This is less than half the number recorded in 1994, according to Brad Smith, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"There is a one-in-four chance that this population is going to become extinct in 100 years," he said. "This is the only population of belugas found in the Gulf of Alaska. If we lose these whales they will not be replaced. These whales are genetically and physically isolated from other populations."

Belugas have become a symbol of man's effect on the environment due to their capacity to absorb large amounts of pollution. Those in the Gulf of St Lawrence in Canada have such high concentrations of chemical pollutants in their bodies that their carcasses are treated as toxic waste. But now the distinctive white whales, an inspiration for Moby-Dick, are showing signs of their own demise.

Decades of whaling have placed belugas in a vulnerable position, accor-ding to campaigners who are now warning that a deadly combination of increasing boat traffic, oil and gas exploration and pollution are all adding to the pressure on the species. The whales are also subject to attacks from polar bears and killer whales, and global warming is changing the movements of the pack ice that dictates their range.

Government scientists are now developing a plan to protect the remaining belugas, which will include recommendations to create areas of "critical habitat" where human activity would be subject to greater regulation....

Monday, February 05, 2007

"Eco-millionaire's land grab prompts fury"

Douglas Tompkinscalls himself a 'deep ecologist'. He is a millionaire on a quest to preserve some of Argentina's last frontier lands from human encroachment by buying them and turning them into ecological reserves.

But Argentina may not permit him such philanthropy. Opponents are branding him a new-age 'imperialist gringo' and claim he has a secret aim: to help the US military gain control of the country's natural resources. Tompkins, who sold his Esprit clothing firm in 1989 for a reported $150m to devote his time and wealth to ecology, takes such attacks in his stride. 'Land ownership is a political act; it arouses passions,' he says.

Tompkins, 63, holds to a very severe brand of environmentalism and is fond of reminding listeners that, unless runaway consumerism is halted, 'we humans will be building ourselves a beautiful coffin in space called planet Earth'.

Yet such statements do not carry much weight with Argentinian nationalists. The heaviest fire has come from radicals in the ruling Peronist party. Left-wing legislator Araceli Mendez introduced draft legislation in Congress a few months ago to confiscate the American's vast holdings. At the centre of the storm is a 310,000-acre estate Tompkins owns in the Ibera wetlands, a labyrinth of marshes, lakes and floating islands of nearly 2 million acres. 'He says he's worried about the birds and the wildlife,' said Mendez. 'But his land is above the Guarani aquifer, one of the most important fresh water reserves in the world, only 700km from an airbase the United States plans to build in neighbouring Paraguay.'

The aquifer is soon to become an issue of strategic defence policy. Argentina's military planners are convinced the country's oil and fresh water deposits could become targets for world powers in an ecologically dark future, and are putting together 'Plan 2025', dividing the country into regions based on their resource potential.

The Argentinian press has suggested Tompkins might be a covert CIA operative securing US access to the aquifer. And even Argentinians who don't share such conspiracy theories are uncomfortable with Tompkins transforming his properties into environmentally pristine but unpopulated and economically unproductive areas....

Tompkins and his wife say they are not old-fashioned imperialists in a new guise. 'All the fears created by the fact that I am American buying land are ridiculous,' said Tompkins. 'My intention has always been to eventually turn over the land to the Argentinian government for a national park.' He has already done so, donating an estate in Patagonia to the National Parks administration in 2004. In the late Nineties he had bought the 155,000-acre Monte Leon sheep farm, including a 25-mile stretch of South Atlantic coast, home to one of the largest Magellan penguin rookeries in the world and also abundant in sea lions, pumas and birds.

But pressure to pass an anti-Tompkins bill in Congress could be strong. The presence of other high-profile foreigners fuels passions. The Italian clothing giant Benetton holds 2.2 million acres in sheep farms in Patagonia and has clashed with the indigenous Mapuche people over land ownership claims. And US media magnate Ted Turner likes to go trout fishing on his Patagonian estates.

For Tompkins, it has been a long road from fashion king to 'deep ecologist'. As the founder of North Face and Esprit, he sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of clothes worldwide every year. All that changed when he became involved in radical environmental projects, what he calls his 'restoration work', returning native animal and plant species to the nation-sized swaths of land he owns....

"Throw a Bucket of Ice Water on Your Brain"

Theater Review from the New York Times:

[Written, directed and designed by Richard Foreman. Presented by the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, Mr. Foreman, artistic director; Shannon Sindelar, managing director. At the Ontological Theater at St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10th Street, East Village; (212) 352-3101. Through April 1.]

Those among you who presume you are still alive might be interested to know that Richard Foreman is throwing a funeral for you at the Ontological Theater at St. Mark’s Church....

“Wake Up” is Mr. Foreman’s second film-theater hybrid. Even more than his first, “Zomboid!,” presented last year, it shows how this priest of the theater has embraced his old adversary only to disarm it. Mr. Foreman creates beautiful filmic pictures for his audience’s consumption. But he refuses to let us wallow in them.

The theory at work would seem to be that we have come to trust too much in the surfaces of artfully arranged pictures and information. Hooking the mind to such surfaces, Mr. Foreman says, is fatal to the unconscious. (“When the world sees itself, it doesn’t,” says a line from the script.) While “Wake Up” is clearly a bid to resurrect theatergoers’ deeper imaginations, the elegiac undercurrent that courses through the show suggests its creator worries that he may be too late.

As usual Mr. Foreman has converted the pocket stage at St. Mark’s into a three-dimensional version of the puzzle drawings in children’s magazines in which objects are hidden in dense mazes of images. The not-so-still-life of the set (everything seems to keep moving, even when it’s not) includes a boxing ring, veiled mannequin heads, books that appear to be climbing the walls, funereal vases of flowers and a propeller airplane with a cargo of plastic baby dolls.

Though the five live performers onstage (four clad in sinister regulation black, one dressed as an aviator) would seem to have plenty to occupy them in this attic of the mind, they are inextricably drawn to the outsized filmed images that hover behind them. And why shouldn’t they be? The people in the film, which was shot in Lisbon, are elegant, cryptic, depressive souls who speak in riddles, bringing to mind the chic denizens of European art-house films from the early 1960s.

As anyone knows who has spent time amid the animated billboards of Times Square, most people — given a choice between looking at life on a screen or at the real thing — will choose to watch the screen. So with “Wake Up,” one’s (shameful) instinct is just to sink into the movie.

No chance of that, though. Mr. Foreman periodically brightens the stage lights to the point that the filmed images bleach into nothingness. Sometimes question marks or X’s cover the faces of the speakers. The live performers open panels in the movie screen, revealing electric candles within.

This constant shifting of attention between two artistic worlds keeps you in a state of perceptual anxiety. Every time you are forced to refocus, whatever you see appears to be freshly reconceived. Despite the fuguelike repetition of images, sounds and words on and off screen, nothing feels fixed.

“Zip between this,” says a voice, “always double procedure.” I can’t remember who said that, whether it was a live performer or a film actor or one of those deep, disembodied voices. The line is typical, though, of the hortatory text, which seems to be trying to rally its audience into rebellion against complacency.

“Here is a world trying to run faster than the unconscious mind,” says the voice (Mr. Foreman’s, as it happens). The actors in the film, whose heads are often covered in newspaper shrouds, keep repeating the words “Maybe it will happen in my lifetime.” Is this the voice of hope or despair? It’s worth noting that they are also given to intoning, “Tick tock, tick tock; it’s broken and it can’t be fixed.”

Both sets of actors have a tendency to fall down, which is always true in Mr. Foreman’s productions. They also all brandish cards, plates, pointers and knives, which they hold suspensefully above their wrists, as if on the brink of suicide. The most haunting filmed images show women, stretched out on tables, who appear to be dead.

You’ll be happy to hear that these women’s eyes eventually flutter open. An optimist could say that Mr. Foreman is portraying a rebirth of unconsciousness — a dying that is actually, as the title promises, a reawakening.

Maybe. But as exhilarating as “Wake Up” is, it is also steeped in melancholy. Usually with Mr. Foreman, snatches of music summon the comic frenzy of silent movies. This time the aural backdrop is darker: a mixture of ringing cellphones, a wandering plaintive soprano and a hushed percussive beat that suggests an advancing army. “It can’t be fixed” is the mantra that stuck in my head.

But that’s probably just my unconscious mind talking. (Yours may have a different opinion.) Hey, that means it’s not dead after all. Mr. Foreman appears to have done his job.

"Mystery killer silencing honeybees"

From the Philidelphia Enquirer

Something is killing the nation's honeybees.

Dave Hackenberg of central Pennsylvania had 3,000 hives and figures he has lost all but about 800 of them.

In labs at Pennsylvania State University, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and elsewhere in the nation, researchers have been stunned by the number of calls about the mysterious losses.

"Every day, you hear of another operator," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, acting state apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. "It's just causing so much death so quickly that it's startling."

At stake is the work the honeybees do, pollinating more than $15 billion worth of U.S. crops, including Pennsylvania's apple harvest, the fourth-largest in the nation, worth $45 million, and New Jersey's cranberries and blueberries.

While a few crops, such as corn and wheat, are pollinated by the wind, most need bees. Without these insects, crop yields would fall dramatically. Agronomists estimate Americans owe one in three bites of food to bees.

The problem caps 20 years of honeybee woes, including two mites that killed the valuable insect and a predatory beetle that attacked the honeycombs of weak or dead colonies.

"This is by far the most alarming," said Maryann Frazier, an apiculture - or beekeeping - expert at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

One of the first to notice the latest die-off was Hackenberg, who lives in Lewisburg, north of Harrisburg in Union County.

He and his son truck about 3,000 hives up and down the East Coast every year as part of a large but little-known cross-continental migratory bee industry.

Hackenberg's bees pollinate oranges in Florida, apples, cherries and pumpkins in Pennsylvania, and blueberries in Maine. Come summer, they are buzzing along the Canadian border, making honey.

This season, Hackenberg hauled his hives to Florida by Oct. 10, just as he has done for 40 years. By November, some hives were empty; others had just sickly remains.

He made some calls and found out a beekeeper in Georgia had seen the same thing.

Since then, with concern mounting, experts have been investigating. A few months ago, they were referring to the die-off as "fall dwindle disease." Now, they have ratcheted up to "colony collapse disorder."

Last weekend, apiarist vanEngelsdorp and other researchers headed to central California, where hundreds of acres of almond trees - the source of 80 percent of the world's almond harvest - are about to blossom.

Last fall, workers transported managed hives - about 450 per tractor-trailer - to California from colder areas such as the Great Lakes and the Dakotas. Now, hives are coming from Texas, Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In all, about half the country's managed hives are needed for the mass pollination.

As workers open the hives to check them, "the picture's not so good," said Jeffrey S. Pettis, a leader in bee research at a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Beltsville, Md.

Pettis said bees often had some winter loss, but this level of death was unprecedented....

Although research suggests the stress of moving bees long distances might be a factor in the die-offs, smaller beekeepers with stationary hives worry the problem will extend to their colonies as well.

Already, Janet Katz, a beekeeper in Chester, N.J., thinks three of her 21 hives are failing.

And the bees are stressed already, she said. "The weather last season was not cooperative," she said. "Over the course of the season it was too wet, too dry, too hot and too cold, all at the wrong times."...

Friday, February 02, 2007

"Diving into the Wreck"

Diving into the Wreck
by Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,

and loaded the camera,

and checked the edge of the knife-blade,

I put on

the body-armor of black rubber

the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.

I am having to do this

not like Cousteau with his

assiduous team

aboard the sun-flooded schooner

but here alone.

There is a ladder.

The ladder is always there

hanging innocently

close to the side of the schooner.

We know what it is for,

we who have used it.


it is a piece of maritime floss

some sundry equipment.

I go down.

Rung after rung and still

the oxygen immerses me

the blue light

the clear atoms

of our human air.

I go down.

My flippers cripple me,

I crawl like an insect down the ladder

and there is no one

to tell me when the ocean

will begin.

First the air is blue and then

it is bluer and then green and then

black I am blacking out and yet

my mask is powerful

it pumps my blood with power

the sea is another story

the sea is not a question of power

I have to learn alone

to turn my body without force

in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget

what I came for

among so many who have always

lived here

swaying their crenellated fans

between the reefs

and besides

you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

I came to see the damage that was done

and the treasures that prevail.

I stroke the beam of my lamp

slowly along the flank

of something more permanent

than fish or weed

the thing I came for:

the wreck and not the story of the wreck

the thing itself and not the myth

the drowned face always staring

toward the sun

the evidence of damage

worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty

the ribs of the disaster

curving their assertion

among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.

And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair

streams black, the merman in his armored body.

We circle silently

about the wreck

we dive into the hold.

I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes

whose breasts still bear the stress

whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies

obscurely inside barrels

half-wedged and left to rot

we are the half-destroyed instruments

that once held to a course

the water-eaten log

the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are

by cowardice or courage

the one who find our way

back to this scene

carrying a knife, a camera

a book of myths

in which

our names do not appear.


"Polar scare: Stranded bears die"

For the first time scientists near the bears home in Beaufort, Alaska, are recording huge numbers of carcasses in the sea. Steven Amstrup said: “We know some have swum for up to 100 miles in a desperate attempt to find food or an ice floe before drowning. It is an increasing problem.”


Pregnant polar bears use land for dens

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - More pregnant polar bears in Alaska are digging snow dens on land instead of sea ice, according to a federal study, and researchers say deteriorating sea ice due to climate warming is the likely reason.

From 1985 to 1994, 62 percent of the female polar bears studied dug dens in snow on sea ice. From 1998 to 2004, just 37 percent gave birth on sea ice. The rest instead dug snow dens on land, according to the study by three U.S. Geological Survey U.S. Geological Survey researchers.

"We hypothesized that the sea ice changes may have reduced the availability or degraded the quality of offshore denning habits and altered the spatial distribution of denning," said wildlife biologist Anthony Fischbach, lead author of the study. "In recent years, Arctic pack ice has formed progressively later, melted earlier, and lost much of its older and thicker multiyear component."

"If Arctic sea ice continues to decline, we predict that the proportion of coastal denning will continue to increase until the autumn ice conditions prevent pregnant bears foraging offshore from reaching the coast in advance of denning," Fischbach said.

The study is likely to give ammunition to conservation groups calling for polar bears to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act...

Yellow-Orange Snow falling in Siberia

Russia's emergency situations ministry said it was dispatching experts to a Siberian province to find out why yellow and orange snow has been falling in several villages, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

"A chemical test unit will be sent to Omsk.... It's main task will be to investigate pollution in the region and establish the degree of danger represented by the anomalous snow fall," the agency quoted an unnamed official from the ministry as saying.

Snow ranging in colour from light yellow to orange and carrying a distinctive "musty" odour was observed Wednesday in five districts of Omsk province, which lies in western Siberia and borders Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS said.

"Residents are advised not to use snow for their household or technical needs and to limit walking, either by people or their pets, in this area," the official said.

The affected area measures about 1,500 square kilometres (580 square miles) and is home to over 27,000 people, the ministry said.

Officials have already been gathering snow samples, it added.

The Omsk province is known as a centre of the oil industry and the provincial capital is among Siberia's largest cities.

"Climate of fear in sinking country"

From the

...Over three decades Mr Gain has seen the waters around his mud house in the coastal region of Munshiganj (Bangladesh), where silt-laden rivers meet the sea, rise 3m (10ft). He has been battered by increasingly violent floods, tornadoes and cyclones, and tasted the salt seeping relentlessly into his drinking water.

Three months ago a tidal river burst through one of the embankments that had protected the region’s rice growers, shrimp farmers and fishermen since 1968. “The water came up to here,” he said, putting his hand to his chest, as dozens of labourers piled sticky, grey earth into the breached embankment.

“People were shocked and very afraid. We worry about what happens in the future. How will we live here?” Nature has never made it easy to live in Bangladesh, a vast delta at the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, mostly lying less than 10m above sea level.

Every year these waterways burst their banks as rainwater and ice melt sluice down from the Himalayas towards the Bay of Bengal.

Cyclones and tornadoes pummel the coast annually, bringing further misery to a country slightly larger than England, yet crammed with 145 million people. Local sea levels appear to be rising, and summer temperatures climbing, causing droughts in the north west.

The result is a “perfect storm” of environmental factors that could make Bangladesh the first significant country to be destroyed by climate change. “Bangladesh is in such a difficult position because all these factors — geographical, demographic, political and climatic — have conspired together,” said Atiq Rahman, head of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies and an IPCC member. “It is a test case for the rest of the world.”

He predicts that if the sea rises by a metre — as some scientists say it will by 2100 — a quarter of Bangladesh will be submerged, forcing 30 to 40 million people from their homes.

As floods have pushed sea- water far inland, contaminating paddy fields and water supplies, thousands of farmers, like Mr Gain, have turned their paddy fields into shrimp farms. They earn more cash, but are less well-off because they no longer have their own food supplies. That leads to malnutrition and disease.

Thousands of “climate refugees” are estimated to have left the region to find work in the cities or neighbouring India....

"Models 'key to climate forecasts'"

From the BBC
The only way to predict the day-to-day weather and changes to the climate over longer timescales is to use computer models.

These models solve complex mathematical equations that are based on well established physical laws that define the behaviour of the weather and climate...

Now, current state-of-the-art climate models include fully interactive clouds, oceans, land surfaces and aerosols, etc. Some models are starting to include detailed chemistry and the carbon cycle.

It is worth thinking a little about why these processes are important, and a few examples are highlighted here:

1. Clouds affect the heating and cooling of the atmosphere
For example, on a cloudy day, less radiation (heating) from the sun reaches the Earth's surface and we feel cool.

On the other hand, on a cloudy night the heat generated during the day is trapped and the temperature near the surface remains relatively warm.

However, it is not just the amount of cloud that is important, but also the detailed properties of the cloud. Thin cirrus cloud high up in the atmosphere has a different effect on climate to thick cloud nearer the Earth's surface.

High level clouds let sunlight through and trap infra-red radiation. Their dominant effect is to warm surface climate

Low level clouds reflect sunlight and trap little infra-red radiation. Their dominant effect is to cool surface climate

2. The oceans take much longer to warm up than the land
They also move heat around the globe; for example, the Gulf Stream in the north Atlantic Ocean brings warm water from the tropical Atlantic up to northern Europe, and has a strong effect on the temperatures that the UK experiences.

3. The land surface influences how much radiation is absorbed at the surface
An area that is covered in trees will be dark and will heat up more by absorbing more radiation. Areas covered in ice, or at the opposite extreme desert, will both reflect more radiation and absorb less heat.

4. Aerosols
These are atmospheric particles, such as sulphate and black carbon that are produced naturally from volcanoes and forest fires, as well as by humans from fossil fuel power stations and other industrial activities.

They generally have a cooling effect on climate, by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the surface (the so-called global dimming effect) and by changing the properties of clouds. The presence of man-made aerosols is reducing global warming in the short term.

5. The chemistry and carbon cycle determine how much carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere
Currently the biosphere (plants, soils, phytoplankton) absorbs half of the carbon dioxide that man produces.

The latest climate model predictions suggest that this will not continue indefinitely and that some parts of the biosphere (in particular soils) could start to release carbon if temperatures increase too much.

"U.N. climate panel says warming is man-made"

The world's top climate scientists said on Friday global warming was man-made, spurring calls for urgent government action to prevent severe and irreversible damage from rising temperatures.

The United Nations panel, which groups 2,500 scientists from more than 130 nations, predicted more droughts, heatwaves, rains and a slow gain in sea levels that could last for more than 1,000 years.

The scientists said it was "very likely" -- or more than 90 percent probable -- that human activities led by burning fossil fuels explained most of the warming in the past 50 years.

That is a toughening from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) last report in 2001, which judged a link as "likely," or 66 percent probable....


US thinktank offering cash to dispute UN climate panel: report

A right-wing American thinktank is offering 10,000 dollars (7,700 euros) to scientists and economists to dispute a climate change report set to be released by the UN's top scientific panel, media reported.

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which receives funding from oil giant ExxonMobil according to the Guardian, sent letters to scientists in the United States, Britain and elsewhere offering the payments in exchange for articles emphasising the shortcoming of the UN's report.

AEI also reportedly offered additional payments, and to reimburse travel expenses.