Thursday, March 29, 2007

Jupiter's Auroras

From NASA:

...Jupiter's hyper-auroras never stop. "We see them every time we look," says Gladstone. You don't see auroras in Alaska every time you look, yet on Jupiter the Northern Lights always seem to be "on."

Gladstone explains the difference: On Earth, the most intense auroras are caused by solar storms. An explosion on the sun hurls a billion-ton cloud of gas in our direction, and a few days later, it hits. Charged particles rain down on the upper atmosphere, causing the air to glow red, green and purple. On Jupiter, however, the sun is not required. "Jupiter is able to generate its own lights," says Gladstone.

The process begins with Jupiter's spin: The giant planet turns on it axis once every 10 hours and drags its planetary magnetic field around with it. As any science hobbyist knows, spinning a magnet is a great way to generate a few volts—it's the basic principle of DC motors. Jupiter's spin produces 10 million volts around its poles.

"Jupiter's polar regions are crackling with electricity," says Gladstone, "and this sets the stage for non-stop auroras."

The polar electric fields grab any charged particles they can find and slam them into the atmosphere. Particles for slamming can come from the sun, but Jupiter has another, more abundant source nearby: the volcanic moon Io, which spews oxygen and sulfur ions (O+ and S+) into Jupiter's spinning magnetic field.

Somehow, these ions make their way to Jupiter's poles where electric fields send them hurtling toward the planet below. Upon entering the atmosphere, "their electrons are first stripped away by molecules they run into, but as they slow down they start grabbing electrons back. The 'charge exchange reaction' produces intense X-ray auroras," he explains...

"Exxon's Shame"

A blog post from "The Nation"

Alaskan wood carver Mike Webber unveiled his "Shame Pole" this past Friday in Cordova to mark the 18th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which devastated the area and ruined lucrative herring and salmon fisheries.

The pole tells the grim story of the spill: sea ducks, a sea otter and eagle float dead on oil. A sick herring with lesions is featured. There's a boat for sale with a family crew on board, commemorating fishermen who went belly up, and a bottle of booze to remind people that Joe Hazelwood, who was captain of the Exxon Valdez, had been drinking before turning the helm of the ship over. Topping the pole is the upside-down face of former longtime Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, sporting a Pinocchio-like nose.

None of these apocalyptic images were the hardest part of the job however, as Webber told the Anchorage Daily News. "No, the toughest part was etching the words 'We will make you whole again' from the trunk of yellow cedar,' said the Alaska Native carver. That infamous promise was made to the state's inhabitants after the spill by Don Cornett, formerly Exxon's top official in Alaska.

The reality is that after eighteen years and countless false promises, ExxonMobil has still not paid the billions of dollars in punitive damages that the courts have determined it owes the spill victims--this despite the fact that the company posted the most profitable year in 2006 of any corporation in history. In 1994, a federal court in Anchorage, Alaska, awarded $5 billion in punitive damages to fishermen, Native Alaskans, and other plaintiffs in a class action suit against the oil giant. But rather than accepting its obligations Exxon has been fighting the verdict, employing hundreds of lawyers, filing countless appeals and effectively buying science that supports its claims.

This has added injury to injury as more than 30,000 people whose lives and livelihood were disrupted by the spill have now been dragged through years of litigation. During this time, according to the advocacy group ExposeExxon whose excellent mailing prompted this column, 6,000 plaintiffs have died waiting for compensation...

Uptick in carbon dioxide is recorded at Mauna Loa

A 50-year record of air measurements from Mauna Loa Observatory shows a steady increase in carbon dioxide, with faster growth since 2005, says station chief John Barnes.

But global warming has been slowed under an international agreement to reduce production and use of ozone-depleting chemicals, he said. "That's like the good story."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 11,140-foot observatory on Mauna Loa has the longest continuous measurements of atmospheric CO2 in the world.

During 800,000 years of history recorded in ice cores, including big ice ages every 100,000 years, carbon dioxide cycled from 180 to 280 parts per million molecules of air, Barnes said.

That changed around 2005, when atmospheric carbon dioxide hit 380 parts per million, he said.

"The de-seasonalized, postindustrial trend in added carbon dioxide has been increasing exponentially, with a doubling time of about 32 years," according to a NOAA report on global CO2 measurements....

The Mauna Loa Observatory is one of five base-line stations for the Earth System Research Laboratory. Scientists there are trying to get a global picture of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere for research and climate modeling, to see what will happen in 50 to 100 years, Barnes said.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The 2 Pound Toad

Australian Environmental Group Captures 'Monster' Toad the Size of a Small Dog

DARWIN, Australia - An environmental group said Tuesday it had captured a "monster" toad the size of a small dog. With a body the size of a football and weighing nearly 2 pounds, the toad is among the largest specimens ever captured in Australia, according to Frogwatch coordinator Graeme Sawyer.

"It's huge, to put it mildly," he said. "The biggest toads are usually females but this one was a rampant male ... I would hate to meet his big sister."

Frogwatch, which is dedicated to wiping out a toxic toad species that has killed countless Australian animals, picked up the 15-inch-long cane toad during a raid on a pond outside the northern city of Darwin late Monday.

Cane toads were imported from South America during the 1930s in a failed attempt to control beetles on Australia's northern sugar cane plantations. The poisonous toads have proven fatal to Australia's delicate ecosystems, killing millions of native animals from snakes to the small crocodiles that eat them...

Peru's alarming water truth

From the BBC:

Oscar-winning Al Gore chose to call his film about global warming An Inconvenient Truth. But for Peru it is more like an alarming reality.

Government officials, water experts and environmentalists agree the rapid melting of the spectacular Andean glaciers featured in the film is threatening the long-term economic and human development of what is South America's most "water-stressed" country.

"Global warming for us is not just about the environment," warns Julio Garcia of Peru's National Council on the Environment, Conam.

"It's more about how on earth we can develop Peru in a sustainable way over the coming years."

Peru's water problem lies in part in the peculiar geography of the country.

Most of the Pacific coast would be desert if it were not for the water flowing down from the Andes.

Seventy per cent of the population live along the coast, where less than 2% of the country's water resources are found.

In contrast, the Atlantic side of the Andes has 98% of the water and about a quarter of the population...

Peru has the largest number of tropical glaciers in the world. These water towers are crucial for slowly releasing water, particularly in the dry season. And Peru desperately needs the water all year round.

Apart from the need for drinking water, 80% of the country's power has traditionally come from hydro-electricity. And, the current boom sectors of the economy - agro-exports and mining - also absorb huge volumes of water.

Estimates by a team of Peruvian and international scientists say that Peru and Bolivia, which together account for more than 90% of the world's tropical glaciers, have lost about a third of the surface area of their glaciers between the 1970s and 2006...

Greenland Gravity (Ice) Measurements

This figure shows the ice mass loss in Greenland as observed by Grace over the period 2002-2005 measured in cubic kilometers per year. The ice mass loss observed contributes about 0.4 millimeters (.016 inches) per year to global sea level rise. Image: NASA/JPL/U.Colorado
...Just a few years ago, the world's climate scientists predicted that Greenland wouldn't have much impact at all on sea level in the coming decades. But recent measurements show that Greenland's ice cap is melting much faster than expected.

These new data come from the NASA/German Aerospace Center's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace). Launched in March 2002, the twin Grace satellites circle the globe using gravity to map changes in Earth's mass 500 kilometers (310 miles) below. They are providing a unique way to monitor and understand Earth's great ice sheets and glaciers.

Grace measurements have revealed that in just four years, from 2002 to 2006, Greenland lost between 150 and 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year. One cubic kilometer is equal to about 264 billion gallons of water. That's enough melting ice to account for an increase in global sea level of as much as 0.5 millimeters (0.019 inches) per year, according to Isabella Velicogna and John Wahr of the University of Colorado, Boulder. They published their results in the scientific journal Nature last fall. Since global sea level has risen an average of three millimeters (0.1 inch) per year since 1993, Greenland's rapidly increasing contribution can't be overlooked.

"Before Grace, the change of Greenland's ice sheet was inferred by a combination of more regional radar and altimeter studies pieced together over many years, but Grace can measure changes in the weight of the ice directly and cover the entire ice sheet of Greenland every month," says Michael Watkins, Grace project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif...

"We have to pay attention," Velicogna adds. "These ice sheets are changing much faster than we were expecting. Observations are the most powerful tool we have to know what is going on, especially when the changes - and what's causing them - are not obvious."


For more info see: JPL.NASA.GOV

Monday, March 26, 2007

Massive Diversion Of U.S. Grain To Fuel Cars Is Raising World Food Prices

From the Earth Policy Institute:

"If you think you are spending more each week at the supermarket, you may be right. The escalating share of the U.S. grain harvest going to ethanol distilleries is driving up food prices worldwide," says Lester Brown, President of Earth Policy Institute.

Corn prices have doubled over the last year, wheat futures are trading at their highest level in 10 years, and rice prices are rising too. A Bloomberg analysis notes that the soaring use of corn as the feedstock for fuel ethanol "is creating unintended consequences throughout the global food chain."

The countries initially hit by rising food prices are those where corn is the staple food. In Mexico, one of more than 20 countries with a corn-based diet, the price of tortillas is up by 60 percent. Angry Mexicans have taken to the streets in protest, forcing the government to institute price controls on tortillas.

Food prices are also rising in China, India, and the United States, countries that contain 40 percent of the world's people. Rising grain and soybean prices are driving up meat and egg prices in China. January pork prices were up 20 percent above a year earlier, eggs were up 16 percent. In India, the overall food price index in January 2007 was 10 percent higher than a year earlier. The price of wheat, the staple food in northern India, has jumped 11 percent.

In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that the wholesale price of chicken in 2007 will be 10 percent higher on average than in 2006, the price of a dozen eggs will be up a whopping 21 percent, and milk will be 14 percent higher. And this is only the beginning.

...A rise in auto fuel efficiency standards of 20 percent, phased in over the next decade would save as much oil as converting the entire U.S. grain harvest into ethanol.

One option that is gaining momentum is a shift to plug-in hybrids.

Humboldt Squid Off the Coast of California

From the LATimes:

...It shows up briefly off California every four or five years, spurred by a warm current or some other anomaly, providing a boon for sportfishing businesses.

But amid this latest influx, to points as far north as Bodega Bay, there is a deepening concern among scientists that Humboldt squid are entrenching themselves off California, and may expand northward, eating their way through fisheries as they go. The same thing is happening in the Southern Hemisphere, where squid are being blamed for depleting the hake fishery off Chile.

The first verified capture off Alaska occurred three years ago. A year later, mass strandings made news in British Columbia, where wolves on outer island beaches were seen gnawing on rubbery squid carcasses.

Strandings and the subsequent deaths of squid, such as those along Orange County beaches in March 2005, have historically preceded infestations of local waters. In other words, these peculiar beings, which have a life span of less than two years, seem on their way to establishing residence along the length of the eastern Pacific.

"We really need to mount a research initiative soon," warns William Gilly, a professor at Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station.

The reasons for the phenomenon have not been pinned down, although gradual ocean warming, pollution and over-fishing of large predators are suspected factors.

Nor is it known what the ramifications might be. But there is already proof that the squid are ingesting small rockfish, anchovies, sardines and much smaller market squid, which is the type prized as calamari.

IN fact, very little is known about Humboldt squid because they spend most of their lives at depths of 650 to 3,000 feet.

But when they rise, they can provide some big surprises.

Four divers found that out when they tried to document the squids' behavior in the Sea of Cortez 17 years ago. While a non-diving passenger battled to land a 14-foot thresher shark on rod-and-reel, Alex Kerstitch of Arizona and three friends submerged in the nighttime sea, carrying cameras. The divers settled near the dim fringes of the boat's lights. They could see the weary shark being pulled toward the boat. Below, dozens of squid began flashing iridescently, red-white-red.

The flashing is carried out via millions of chromatophores within the skin, opened to reveal red, closed to reveal white; it is believed by some scientists to be a means of communication.

A five-foot squid flung itself onto the shark and tore an orange-sized chunk from its head....

Gilly has learned that Humboldt squid thrive in this oxygen minimum layer, or OML, generally at great depths. The OML contains tiny lanternfish, on which the squid rely for sustenance.

In addition, Gilly says, "Inhabiting the OML may protect juvenile or smaller Dosidicus gigas from predation" by other fish.

Furthermore, large sharks were becoming scarce because of over-fishing in the Sea of Cortez, and this might have favored the cephalopods.

A squid-fishing industry established at Santa Rosalia on the Baja California coast north of Loreto has flourished in the last decade. Hundreds of skiff fishermen depart nightly during the summer, and use multi-pronged jigs and monofilament lines to haul the beasts up, hand-over-hand.

The fishery processes 100,000 tons of squid annually, most going to Asian markets, although U.S. markets are being explored.

Gilly has estimated that 10 million squid occupy a 25-square-mile area beyond Santa Rosalia....

Planting Zone Changes

Last year the Arbor Day Foundation released the revised planting zone map that the American Horticultural Society created (with a grant from the USDA). The AHS published the map in their magazine, The American Gardener, in 2003 - but the USDA insisted that they withdraw it. That sounds like Bush Administration political nonsense - since the map would be very valuable to farmers and gardeners (and tree and garden nurseries...) - but it is also is more evidence of global warming - which they were denying.

As far as trees and other plants go - it dramatically affects what a person might be able to grow in their area - or the best times to plant. It takes the area that I live in from a zone 5 to a zone 6. Some people changed 2 zones.

At the Arbor Day site - there is an interactive map that shows the differences. Click on the "play" button.

An article from last May:

As climate changes, garden zone map does too

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Taiwan Offers 'Freeway' for Butterflies

Taiwan will cordon off part of a highway to create a safe passage for a massive seasonal butterfly migration in the coming days, an official said Saturday.

The milkweed butterflies - which are indigenous to the island off China and have distinct white dots on purple brown wings - migrate in late March from southern Taiwan to the north, where they lay eggs and die.

The young butterflies then fly south every November to a warm mountain valley near the southern city of Kaohsiung to escape the winter cold in the north.

Conservationists say Taiwan has about 2 million milkweed butterflies.

To protect the migrating butterflies, a 600-yard stretch of highway in southern Taiwan's Yunlin County will be sealed off in the coming days as the migration peaks, said Lee Tai-ming, head of the National Freeway Bureau.

Authorities will set up nets to make the butterflies fly higher and avoid passing cars, Lee said.

He said they will also install ultraviolet lights to guide the insects across a highway overpass.

Taiwan began the laborious task of tracking down the butterflies' 180-mile migration paths in recent years.

Taiwan originally had more types of milkweed butterflies, but the largest became extinct decades ago when they were routinely caught and made into specimens for sale, the newspaper said.

Woodland Wildflower Update

At McCormick's Creek - lots of wildflowers are in bloom or on their way. A lot of white flowers are out - among other things there are Rue Anemone, Bloodroot, Spring Beauty, White Trillium (still - I saw them a week ago). Also many Purple (Prairie) trillium (or perhaps Toadshade)-some with buds. Mayapples on their way - starting to open their leaves, and Trout Lily leaves. Violets - one purple one blooming - a yellow one - almost. I saw one fiddle head.

It seemed early for the amount of flowers that are already blooming or well on their way. But then it's about 20 -25 degrees above average.

I had a tick crawling on my head yesterday. Usually we are free of ticks until after the initial wildflowers come out and we are well into mushroom season - like the middle of April.

Molecular "Scissors"

Scientists in Japan have created what may be the smallest scissors in the world—molecular clippers that are opened and closed with light.

These novel shears could help control genes, proteins and other molecules in the body, researchers said.

The scissors are just three nanometers, or billionths of a meter, long. This makes them more than 100 times smaller than a wavelength of violet light.

Just like real shears, the molecular device that researcher Takuzo Aida at the University of Tokyo and his colleagues have designed consists of a pivot, handles and blades. The team presented their findings today at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in Chicago.

The blades are made of rings of carbon and hydrogen known as phenyl groups.

The pivot is a molecule dubbed chiral ferrocene, which essentially sandwiches a round iron atom between two carbon plates. The carbon plates can rotate freely around the iron atom.

The handles are organic chemical structures dubbed phenylene groups. These are tethered together with azobenzene, a molecule that reacts to light. Shining visible light on the scissors makes the azobenzene expand and drive the handles apart, closing the clipper blades. Shining ultraviolet rays on the shears has the opposite effect.

The researchers say their scissors could help firmly grasp molecules like pincers and manipulate them, say by twisting them back and forth.

"This work is the first example where a molecular machine mechanically manipulates other molecules by light," Aida said in a prepared statement. "This work is an important step for the future development of molecular robotics."

The researchers are now working on larger scissors that researchers can manipulate remotely. Such clippers might find use in the body, operated using near-infrared light that "can reach deep parts of the body," said researcher Kazushi Kinbara at the University of Tokyo.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Class Dismissed"

Interesting documentary by the Media Education Foundation shown on FSTV.

The documentary shows what a job the media has done manipulating opinions about class.

One thing that was striking was how in early television shows - immigrants, such as Norwegian immigrants, were portrayed in a favorable light - nostaligic about their homeland. I don't think you would find the same kind of show today. Most people on television are homogenized. You know little of people who hold onto the heritage of their countries.

Now you are more likely to see the Archie Bunker or Homer Simpson type of working person. You very rarely see working class people shown in a favorable light - as intelligent, thoughtful, etc.

The show also showed clips of how various races, as well as women, have been stereotyped.

Re: The U.S. Attorney Controversy

Some snips from an article by John Dean (of the Nixon White House era) from FindLaw:

"Why Bush Refuses to Allow Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to Testify Before Congress, and What Role New White House Counsel Fred Fielding May Play

At the outset of this column -- which discusses Bush's new White House Counsel, Fred Fielding -- I must acknowledge that I am the person who first hired, and brought Fielding into the government. He served as my deputy in the Nixon White House, and was untouched by Watergate, because I shielded all my staff from that unpleasant business. Fred is an able lawyer, and now finds himself in the hot seat, with President Bush seemingly looking for a fight with Congress. (But that's what makes the job interesting.)

One further disclosure: I have never been an advocate of executive privilege, except as it might relate to the most sensitive national security information. To the contrary, you show me a White House aide who does not want his conversations and advice to the president revealed, and I will show you someone who should not be talking with or advising a president....

In truth, much more is at stake here for both the Congress and the White House than this bare description of the conflict would indicate. These issues strike at the heart of what post-Watergate conservative Republicans seek to create: an all-powerful presidency. Thus, for the same reason that Vice President Cheney went to extreme lengths to block Congress from getting information about the work of his National Energy Task Force, as I discussed in prior columns such as this one, I expect President Bush to take what will appear to be a similar irrational posture. For both Bush and Cheney, virtually any limit on presidential power is too great....

In a piece last year for The New Republic's July issue, legal journalist Jeffery Rosen summed up George W. Bush's outlook on the presidency: "One of the defining principles of the Bush administration has been a belief in unfettered executive power. Indeed, President Bush has taken the principle to such unprecedented extremes that an ironic reversal has taken place: A conservative ideology that had always been devoted to limiting government power has been transformed into the largest expansion of executive power since FDR."

Rosen reported that Bush's perspective is not "mere political opportunism--a cynical rationale devised after September 11 to allow the president to do whatever he likes in the war on terrorism." Rather, Rosen explained, Bush's actions stem from his embrace of the "unitary executive theory." (Of course, Bush may not himself have mastered the fine points of this theory, but it is clear he understands the core idea, and acts accordingly.)...

Eastland's tutorial, set forth in his book, instructed President Bush and his staff to make a big deal out of protecting presidential prerogatives. So, too, does the unitary executive theory, which was developed at the same time that Reagan's Justice Department was doing what Presidents Ford and Carter had been too wary to do: revive Executive Privilege. Neither Ford nor Carter issued guidelines for the executive branch regarding the use of this privilege, for Nixon had given it such a bad name they dared not use it. But the Reagan Administration dared, and did....

Interestingly, however, to the displeasure of many, Reagan's White House Counsel Fred Fielding -- now at the center of the current clash, as Bush's counsel -- did not protect the president's prerogatives as vigorously as Reagan's Attorney General would have preferred.

A leading scholar on Executive Privilege, Mark Rozell, reports that although "President Reagan invoked executive privilege on several occasions, he never fully exercised that power. When confronted by congressional demands for information, Reagan generally followed a pattern of initial resistance followed by accommodation of Congress's request. Reagan never made a concerted effort to defend his prerogative in this area. As a result, he further weakened a constitutional presidential power…."

...This time, it is my belief that Bush -- unlike Reagan before him -- will not blink. He will not let Fielding strike a deal, as Fielding did for Reagan. Rather, Bush feels that he has his manhood on the line. He knows what his conservative constituency wants: a strong president who protects his prerogatives. He believes in the unitary executive theory of protecting those prerogatives, and of strengthening the presidency by defying Congress.

In short, all those who have wanted to see Karl Rove in jail may get their wish, for he will not cave in, either -- and may well be prosecuted for contempt, as Gorsuch was not. Bush's greatest problem here, however, is Harriett Miers. It is dubious he can exert any privilege over a former White House Counsel; I doubt she is ready to go to prison for him; and all who know her say if she is under oath, she will not lie. That could be a problem.


Having a president who invokes "executive privilege" to increase corporate power and defy the interests of the public has been extremely bad for the country, for people from other countries, and for the environment. It was less obvious with the Republican Congress that let the Bush Administration do whatever....

Rat poison found in tainted pet food

Rat poison has been found in pet food blamed for the deaths of at least 16 cats and dogs, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Agriculture and Markets said Friday.

Spokeswoman Jessica Chittenden would not identify the chemical or its source beyond saying it was a rodent poison.

ABC News reported it was aminopterin that may have been on imported wheat used in the pet food. Aminopterin is used to kill rats in some countries but is not registered for that use in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency....


A veteranarian on one board said that the problem is far more widespread than "16 cats and dogs". That many (most?) vets across the country are dealing with this problem with the pets in their practices.

According to an editorial in a local paper - the problem has been out there for about a month - the company was very late in calling for a recall.

UPdate: ALL Wet Food manufactured by Menu has been recalled. That's something like 60 million cans.

At - a list of Pet Food NOT on the recall list.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Trash People"

"...Life size statues made of debris, by artist HA Schult of Germany, at Piazza del Popolo in Rome March 21, 2007"
- Photo by Alessandro Bianchi

Southern Ocean current faces slowdown threat

By Michael Byrnes

HOBART (Reuters) - The impact of global warming on the vast Southern Ocean around Antarctica is starting to pose a threat to ocean currents that distribute heat around the world, Australian scientists say, citing new deep-water data.

Melting ice-sheets and glaciers in Antarctica are releasing fresh water, interfering with the formation of dense "bottom water", which sinks 4-5 kilometers to the ocean floor and helps drive the world's ocean circulation system.

A slowdown in the system known as "overturning circulation" would affect the way the ocean, which absorbs 85 percent of atmospheric heat, carries heat around the globe.

"If the water gets fresh enough ... then it won't matter how much ice we form, we won't be able to make this water cold and salty enough to sink," said Steve Rintoul, a senior scientist at the Australian government-funded CSIRO Marine Science.

"Changes would be felt ... around the globe," said Rintoul, who recently led a multinational team of scientists on an expedition to sample deep-basin water south of Western Australia to the Antarctic.

Water dense enough to sink to the ocean floor is formed in polar regions by surface water freezing, which concentrates salt in very cold water beneath the ice. The dense water then sinks.

Only a few places around Antarctica and in the northern Atlantic create water dense enough to sink to the ocean floor, making Antarctic "bottom water" crucial to global ocean currents.

But the freshening of Antarctic deep water was a sign that the "overturning circulation" system in the world's oceans might be slowing down, Rintoul said, and similar trends are occurring in the North Atlantic.

For the so-called Atlantic Conveyor, the surface warm water current meets the Greenland ice sheet then cools and sinks, heading south again and driving the conveyor belt process.

But researchers fear increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet risks disrupting the conveyor. If it stops, temperatures in northern Europe would plunge.

Rintoul, who has led teams tracking water density around the Antarctic through decades of readings, said his findings add to concerns about a "strangling" of the Southern Ocean by greenhouse gases and global warming.

Australian scientists warned last month that waters surrounding Antarctica were also becoming more acidic as they absorbed more carbon dioxide produced by nations burning fossil fuels.

Acidification of the ocean is affecting the ability of plankton -- microscopic marine plants, animals and bacteria -- to absorb carbon dioxide, reducing the ocean's ability to sink greenhouse gases to the bottom of the sea.

Rintoul said that global warming was also changing wind patterns in the Antarctic region, drawing them south away from the Australian mainland and causing declining rainfall in western and possibly eastern coastal areas.

This was contributing to drought in Australia, one of the world's top agricultural producers, he said.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Marshall Islands declares emergency as water runs out"

MAJURO (AFP) - The government of the Marshall Islands dispatched a ship to supply drinking water to outlying islands Wednesday after declaring a state of emergency amid a prolonged drought.

Many islands in the western Pacific island nation of 60,000 people have had little rain since January and earlier this week the former US territory declared an emergency for six islands and appealed for international help.

The government's patrol vessel left the capital Majuro Monday to provide water tanks and a reverse osmosis water purifier to provide clean drinking water for three outlying atolls.

The reverse osmosis purifiers will convert brackish well water -- the only available supply since earlier this month -- into clean drinking water.

Another ship left Majuro for three other remote outer atolls on Wednesday, carrying water and large tanks to another three atolls, said Bob Jericho, spokesman for President Kessai Note.

Secretary of Health Justina Langidrik said a further two reverse osmosis purifiers would be used in Majuro, where about 30,000 people live.

The water supply in Majuro’s reservoir has fallen to less than six million gallons of water -- less than a five-day supply at current levels of use. The water supply is now turned on just two days a week.

"If we get to five million gallons, then we’ll reduce water hours to one day a week," said Majuro Water and Sewer Company manager Terry Mellan.

Fresh water supplies have dwindled since January with the El Nino weather phenomenon causing an extended drought for a country that depends on rain for about 95 percent of its fresh water.

Reginald White, director of the Majuro Weather Station, said the Marshall Islands was going through a transition from the El Nino weather pattern to La Nina, which could mean little rain until May.

El Nino warms the ocean in the Western Pacific, causing droughts as rain clouds evaporate, while La Nina swings the temperature the other direction, bringing heavy rains.



A Kurdish girl celebrating Newroz - "a new day" - the arrival of Spring.
-Photo by Umit Bektas

Yesterday the Vernal Equinox - with Spring arriving at 8:07 pm.

Our time is all discombobulated with Daylight Savings Time - plus here in Indiana where I am - we are a time zone ahead. By the sun - if we were on Central Standard - that would make the most sense. As it is - the sun is high in the sky closer to 2:00 pm. It rises close to 8 am and sets close to 8 pm. So essentially - we are 2 hours off the sun.

To "celebrate" yesterday - I ordered 340 trees and shrubs from the DNR. Of course they are little trees 1-3 year olds - but thre is quite a variety with the Wildlife Packet and the Outdoor Lab Packet. I am looking forward to planting them. This is the third place we have lived where we have planted trees like this.

I have also ordered over a pound of wildflower seeds - a butterfly/hummingbird mix as well as purple coneflower and various other things (a pound is enough for 2500 sq. feet). The basic thing with the wildflowers is to kill the grass if there is grass - till the soil - perhaps add some other stuff, spread the seeds, walk on them and water occasionally when there isn't rain. This is the time of year to plant them for Southern Indiana - now through April.

So far I have some little iris blooming, some of the daffodils are almost blooming, one of the crocuses is blooming. (Update - that was early in the day - by late afternoon there were 9 crocuses blooming and lots of daffodils in bloom - spurned on by the warm 76 degree day). (2nd update - the crocuses only lasted a day - apparently it was too warm for them to keep blooming and they shriveled up - the daffodils are doing well, though). Some of the lillies I planted last year are coming up - it looks like something - deer? - has been eating the shoots. Hopefully there will be enough other stuff to eat and they will leave them alone now.

In the woods - McCormick's Creek - a week ago - there were white trilliums blooming. I want to get there once a week and watch the progress of the wildflowers in the woods. Today - the purple trillium were sending up leaves. A few "Spring Beauty" were in bloom.

A Solar Prius

Photovoltaic Prius

The solar panel on the roof of this Toyota Prius is a $4,500 aftermarket add-on produced by California-based Solar Electrical Vehicles (SEV). That makes this one of the least expensive cars in the Robb Report special issue.

The roof panel, which boosts fuel economy in the Prius by about 15 miles per gallon, also works on Toyota's popular Highlander Hybrid SUV. On the Highlander, it more than doubles fuel economy, according to SEV.

Installation takes a couple of hours for do-it-yourselfers, the company claims.

Oysters and Mussels

Rising CO2 levels 'put shellfish in danger'

Oysters and mussels, two pearls of France's gastronomic heritage, are in danger of dying out because of rising greenhouse gas levels in seawater, say scientists.

French and Dutch researchers found that rapidly rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in seawater is having potentially devastating effects on the lifecycles of both types of shellfish, slowing down their growth and weakening their shells, leaving them vulnerable to predators.

This is the first time this effect has been shown on shellfish, the researchers say.

The study, conducted by France's CNRS research centre with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, shows that higher carbonic acid levels in the ocean increase acidity, which makes it harder for the molluscs to calcify their shells. All sea life needing calcium carbonate for its shell, including coral, is at risk.

Oceans absorb a third of the atmosphere's carbon dioxide. Levels have risen by 30 per cent since the beginning of the industrial revolution, but could increase by up to four times by the end of the century.

If the amount absorbed only doubles, mussel growth will drop by a quarter and oysters by 10 per cent by 2100. But at higher carbone dioxide concentrations, mussel shells may dissolve completely, the researchers found. Oysters are less affected, as they use another crystalline form of calcium carbonate for their shells.

France produces 200,000 tons of shellfish annually, amounting to £450 million in revenue. The industry employs around 20,000 people.

The image of French oysters suffered last year when authorities banned the sale of them in Arcachon, south-west France, after two suspect deaths. It was later established that there was no link with oyster consumption.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rivers run towards 'crisis point'

Some of the world's major rivers are reaching crisis point because of dams, shipping, pollution and climate change, according to the environment group WWF.

World's Top 10 Rivers at Risk:

Salween - dams
Danube - shipping
La Plata - dams and shipping
Rio Grande - over-extraction
Ganges - over-extraction
Indus - climate change
Nile - climate change
Murray/Darling - invasive species
Mekong - over-fishing
Yangtze - pollution

WWF says governments should see water as an issue of national security.

Its report is issued in advance of World Water Day (22 March)....

Dam-building, over-extraction for drinking, industry and agriculture, invasive species, climate change, pollution and shipping were among the various activities whose impact the group assessed.

The principal threats varied widely. The Salween, which flows from Tibet into China, then south along the border between Burma and Thailand, is one of the longest un-dammed rivers in the world.

But China, Burma and Thailand have all produced plans to build hydropower dams which activists believe would displace local people who depend on the river for their livelihoods, as well as threatening an area which Unesco believes may be the most biologically diverse temperate region on Earth.

Biodiversity in Australia's Murray/Darling basin is already compromised by alien species such as the European Carp, which, a mere 30 years after its introduction, now dominates many stretches of the rivers. Carp create muddy conditions, which blocks photosynthesis.

The main threat to the Indus, meanwhile, is straightforward and linked to climate change. Most of its water comes from Himalayan glaciers; if the glaciers disappear, so will the river...

Reclaiming What Makes Us Human


By Barbara Ehrenreich

Through the ages, the killjoys of governing elites have been threatened by public expressions of collective joy...

Philosophically, too, elites cringe from the spectacle of disorderly public joy. Hierarchy, by its nature, establishes boundaries between people--who can go where, who can approach whom, who is welcome, and who is not. Festivity breaks the boundaries down.

While hierarchy is about exclusion, festivity generates inclusiveness. The music invites everyone to the dance; shared food briefly undermines the privilege of class. As for masks, they may serve symbolic, ritual functions, but, to the extent that they conceal identity, they also dissolve the difference between stranger and neighbor, making the neighbor temporarily strange and the stranger no more foreign than anyone else. No source of human difference or identity is immune to the carnival challenge: cross-dressers defy gender just as those who costume as priests and kings mock power and rank. At the height of the festivity, we step out of our assigned roles and statuses--of gender, ethnicity, tribe and rank--and into a brief utopia defined by egalitarianism, creativity and mutual love. This is how danced rituals and festivities served to bind prehistoric human groups, and this is what still beckons us today.

So civilization, as humans have known it for thousands of years, has this fundamental flaw: It tends to be hierarchical, with some class or group wielding power over the majority, and hierarchy is antagonistic to the festive and ecstatic tradition....

And whatever its shortcomings as a means to social change, protest movements keep reinventing carnival. Almost every demonstration I have been to over the years--antiwar, feminist or for economic justice--has featured some element of the carnivalesque: costumes, music, impromptu dancing, the sharing of food and drink. The media often deride the carnival spirit of such protests, as if it were a self-indulgent distraction from the serious political point. But seasoned organizers know that gratification cannot be deferred until after "the revolution." The Texas populist Jim Hightower, for example, launched a series of "Rolling Thunder" events around the country in the early 2000s, offering music, food, and plenty of conviviality, and with the stated aim of "putting the party back in politics." People must find, in their movement, the immediate joy of solidarity, if only because, in the face of overwhelming state and corporate power, solidarity is their sole source of strength.

Mathematicians solve E8 structure

fter four years of intensive collaboration, 18 top mathematicians and computer scientists from the United States and Europe have successfully mapped E8, one of the largest and most complicated structures in mathematics, scientists said late Sunday.

Jeffrey Adams, project leader and mathematics professor at the University of Maryland said E8 was discovered over a century ago, in 1887, and until now, no one thought the structure could ever be understood.

"This groundbreaking achievement is significant both as an advance in basic knowledge, as well as a major advance in the use of large scale computing to solve complicated mathematical problems," Adams said.

He added that the mapping of E8 may well have unforeseen implications in mathematics and physics which won't be evident for years to come.

E8 belongs to so-called Lie groups that were invented by a 19th century Norwegian mathematician, Sophus Lie, to study symmetry.

The theory holds that underlying any symmetrical object, such as a sphere, is a Lie group.

Balls, cylinders or cones are familiar examples of symmetric three-dimensional objects.

However, mathematicians study symmetries in higher dimensions. In fact, E8 itself is 248-dimensional.

Today string theorists search for a theory of the universe by looking at E8 X E8.

The scientists said the magnitude of the E8 calculation invited comparison with the Human Genome Project.

While the human genome, which contains all the genetic information of a cell, is less than a gigabyte in size, the result of the E8 calculation, which contains all the information about E8, is 60 gigabytes in size, they said.

This is enough to store 45 days of continuous music in MP3-format. If written out on paper, the answer would cover an area the size of Manhattan.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Birds shift north..."

More bird species in the United States are ranging farther north and even staying there for the winter in a possible sign of adaptation to global warming, ornithologists and conservation groups say.

Some indicators come from the recent Great Backyard Bird Count, which found more swallows, orioles and other common birds in uncommon locations.

“We've got Baltimore orioles in 14 states, orchard orioles in five different reports and Scott's oriole in Pennsylvania. They shouldn't be here. They should be way south,” says Paul Green of the National Audubon Society, co-sponsor of the count with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Scientists cannot say yet whether the birds' movements are climate-related or short-term reaction to storms, hot or cold spells, disruption of habitat or food availability. However, the results of the four-day tally performed in February are “a tempting indicator of change, which may turn out to be the early stages of the effects of changing climate on bird distribution,” Green says. “We won't know for certain until we have another 20 years of data.”
Birds may have nature's best advantage against temperature rise: They can fly away. That can make them bellwethers of climate change, says Cornell ornithologist David Winkler. Birds “really are the canary in the coal mine — a very sensitive indicator of what's going on in the environment,” he says. “We will see changes in their distribution long before we see big drops in their abundance.”

Unusual sightings this winter include tree swallows in 22 states, twice as many as a decade ago, and red-bellied woodpeckers in New Brunswick, Canada.

Greg Butcher, Audubon's bird conservation director, says, “We know that things like Carolina wrens, eastern bluebirds, robins, crows and mourning doves are all spending winters farther north, and probably many more.”

The backyard count, started in 1998, and an annual Christmas tally since 1900 provide two sets of data critical to gauging how birds react to warming: sheer numbers of birds and movement of species beyond traditional ranges.


I've seen Baltimore orioles the last couple of years in Indiana (in May) - when I hadn't seen them before.

We've had the red-headed woodpeckers around far earlier this year than in previous years - in the past few days - one seems to be taking birdseed to it's nest and back and forth).

And the bluebirds stayed around this winter - I don't remember seeing so many in previous years. I got a picture of them on the heated water dish I put out during the ice storm we got.

We have a rather large flock of mourning doves that stay over - I don't know if that is unusual for this area or not.

The crows seemed to leave (to Terre Haute?) for a couple months - but they have been back for a month or so.

The Earth

Over at Echidne of the Snakes today is a post about the Earth - what Conservapedia has to say about the Earth, that is.

Conservapedia takes issue with "mainstream scientific journals" that "discriminate" against the point of view that the "Earth was formed in 4004 B.C." despite what they see as "large amounts of evidence" that support their creationist viewpoint. To back up their claim - they cite - a group devoted to creating answers that fit with a 4000+ year old understandings of science as described in the Bible (I'm assuming a lot of the Old Testament was written in app. 2000 BCE).

The Conservapedia also argues that the earth is flat, has four corners and has a fixed position. And has Biblical verses that support those claims - ie. "Thou hast fixed the earth immovable and firm ..." (Psalm 93:1) (For more nuttiness see the Fixed Earth site. Among other things - they claim "The Global Warming Obsession Rests on Acceptance of Billions of Years of Evolutionism" :) ).

Wikipedia may not be perfect (some people like to be critical of the content found there) - but Conservapedia is a joke (and a sad joke at that - since some people take it seriously). For Wikipedia's entry on the Earth, go here.

I wonder what scientifically savvy conservatives think of the creators of the Conservapedia hyjacking the word conservative for their dictionary. The Wackopedia would be more descriptive - and a better take on the word Wikipedia, as well.

Climate Change Hearings

Taking place this morning. The following witnesses are testifying:

Panel I
Mr. Philip Cooney, former Chief of Staff, White House Council on Environmental Quality
Dr. James Hansen, Director, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Mr. George Deutsch, former public affairs officer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Panel II
Mr. James Connaughton, Chairman, White House Council on Environmental Quality

Panel III
Dr. Roy Spencer, University of Alabama in Huntsville


Mr. Cooney justified edits based on the conclusions of the National Academy of Science. I wonder about the National Academy of Science and the people they hire to create and diseminate policy decisions. If that is the organization through which essentially anti-science politicians work - then at least the policy side of the organization may not justify backing up those conclusions.

From the quotes taken from a 2001 National Academy of Science document - it sounded like the report was making claims that people of various persuations could take to heart - and refer to later to back up their claims. Dr. Hansen felt that the report backed up his assertion that global warming was charcterized as being a serious man-induced concern. Someone else (Cooney?) claimed that the document proved that the matter was far from being clear at the time.

One thing that was odd about the questioning - was how the Republicans wanted to portray Dr. Hansen as a partisan Democrat - even though Hansen considers himself to be a Republican. One who is critical of Bush about various issues (esp. global warming denial)- but a Republican, nonetheless. To hear the Republican questioners - they couldn't fathom someone being critical of Bush and being a Republican. sheesh.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Nature runs riot after Europe's warmest winter

PARIS (AFP) - Wheat harvested a month early, markets bursting with prematurely ripened produce, animals migrating too soon or not at all -- Europe's warmest winter on record has made nature run amok, experts across the continent have reported.

With average temperatures in the three winter months of December through February more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in most European countries, the environment's biological clock has been thrown off kilter, they say.

In Italy, emerging from the mildest winter in more than two centuries according to Bologna's Institute for Atmospheric Science and Climate, vegetables not normally seen until later in the season -- green beans, asparagus, peas, artichokes -- are already so abundant that merchants can't sell them.

In The Netherlands, where winter wheat has been harvested a month earlier than normal, scientists worry that unseasonably high temperatures will increase the risk of grain plant viruses caused by aphids.

In neighbouring Germany, half of barley crops in some regions have been hit with a weather-related blight of yellow dwarf disease, carried by fleas that do not normally survive the winter.

The Dutch nature observatory Natuurkalender has reported the "chaotic" disruption of normal butterfly lifecycles, with many species emerging from the cocoon far too early.

Woodpeckers and swallows have likewise arrived a month ahead of schedule, they observed.

In Austria, toads in the region of Styria began their spring migration to summer ponds at least 15 days early, catching environmentalists who last year shepherded thousands of the amphibians across motorways to safety off guard and unprepared.

In Sweden -- where temperatures at midweek stood at 10 C (50 F) compared to -10 C (14 F) at the same time last year -- and elsewhere in Scandinavia, melting snows and pollen in January have heralded an untimely spring.

This flurry of alarmed observations from across Europe arrive amid predictions by climatologists and weather forecasters that record warm weather is likely to continue through the spring, and perhaps into the summer as well....

Also - today ->

Tokyo sees first snow of winter, latest on record

A cold snap brought a sprinkle of snow to Tokyo on Friday morning for the first time this winter, the latest arrival of snow in the capital on record, the official weather agency said.

"Snow fell for a short while from around 7 a.m. (2200 GMT Thursday)," an official with Japan's Meteorological Agency said.
"It was the latest first snowfall since the agency started keeping records in 1876."

Temperatures have dropped below average levels across Japan in mid-March, with heavy snow hitting northern areas at the start of spring following unusually mild weather in the winter months from December to February.

The previous record for late-arriving snow was Feb. 10, set in 1960, the Meteorological Agency official said.

The 'Support our Troops' Myths

by Ira Chernus

...Here I don’t use the word “myth” to mean a lie, but rather the way we use it in my field of study: A myth is a story that is widely believed because it expresses people’s basic worldview and values . People who live by a myth don’t care whether it is factually true or logically consistent, as long as it gives them a way to make sense out of their world and find meaning in their lives.

In an age when it’s hard to believe in heroes, the mythic “GI” of the American media is someone people want to identify with and emulate. When you can imagine yourself as the main character in the myth, that’s when the myth really grabs hold of you.

I suspect that is what’s happening to a lot of people who oppose the war but insist on “supporting our troops.” They see their soldiers as uniquely admirable role models. In the popular imagination, these soldiers are ordinary youngsters (thus easy to identify with) who have extraordinary character. They are “just plain kids” who have the kind of heroic virtues that most kids don’t seem to have anymore -- unless they go into uniform.

The mythic soldier’s virtues are all about caring for others -- buddies, the outfit, the service, the nation -- more than self. After all, no one forces them to serve. They volunteered. (The myth conveniently ignores the economic pressures that drive people into the military.) And the news media give us an endless parade of these uniformed heroes, all looking noble and handsome, telling us that it doesn’t matter whether or not they approve of the war. “I made a commitment. I have an obligation to serve. I have to do my duty,” is their constant refrain.

Identifying with such selfless heroes lets ordinary civilians imagine that they, too, might someday somehow rise to that higher level of virtue. It lets them believe that in a world so saturated with selfishness, selfless devotion to duty is still a possibility.

It also lets them believe that somewhere in this chaotic world, there is at least one institution where order still prevails -- where orders are given and carried out, where someone is in control and everyone knows it, where the concept of authority still means something. To people who feel that their own world is spinning out of control, it can be awfully comforting to have these uniformed, duty-bound heroes to identify with.

To people who feel that their nation is saturated with selfishness and spinning out of control, it can be equally comforting to see noble young people willing to sacrifice themselves for their nation. “Our troops” seem to care more about America than anyone else. So they send a reassuring message that somehow (even if we don’t know quite how) “America” is still worth serving, sacrificing, and even dying for.

Of course that’s the strange thing about this myth: It is most powerful when we identify with heroes who are dead. It is usually displayed (especially in local news media) when a soldier has died. So it asks us to imagine ourselves as dead, too.

Death gets to the heart of the military myth. The absolute finality of death can easily give the myth an aura of absolute significance, making its messages seem like the absolute, final truth. In a predominantly Christian country, the story of a sacrifice of the innocent to save the rest of us (who don’t deserve it) makes the virtuous cause for which they died seem sacred, too.

Indeed, there is one theory that every war is a form of ritual sacrifice: We choose some victims from among us to be sent to their deaths, so that the rest of us can reap the psychological benefits. Just what those benefits are will vary from one society to another (and from one theory to another).

My hunch is that the crucial swing vote—the millions who know the war is wrong but want to keep paying for it—are getting a psychological payoff from all those media reports of heroes, especially the dead ones. By identifying with “our (dead) troops,” the millions can believe that the messages of the myth, which they want so desperately to believe in, are undoubtedly true...

This all dovetails nicely with that other myth: We are so virtuous that we send our troops to Iraq to help save the Iraqis from themselves. According to one recent poll, 77% of Americans want to bring our troops home “if Iraq’s leaders fail to meet promises to reduce violence there” -- as if the Iraqis are creating all the violence; as if they are a bunch of ungrateful natives who could turn off the violence but just won’t; as if U.S. troops have no role in creating and perpetuating the violence.

Here on the homefront, it’s easy to believe such a myth -- and to see the whole war as myth -- because the stories about “our troops” are typically detached from any political context, as if Iraq were merely a stage on which "our troops" continuously perform their mythic deeds. It’s easy to let it all happen in our imaginations, where we can “die” heroically and still be perfectly safe.

Sadly, this explanation can be just as true, or more true, for the millions who know no safety because they have loved ones serving in battle zones. Many cling to the myth to give meaning to their sacrifice of emotional security, which might otherwise be intolerable...


Jared Diamond on Eco-suicide:

"Failed civilizations share five common characteristics, according to Diamond, including environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, shifting trade patterns, and a shortsighted or greedy leadership response to the threat.

Not every collapse has an environmental origin, but an "eco-meltdown"-especially de-forestation- is often the primary culprit, he argues, particularly when combined with societal disregard for the coming disaster.

"The typical pattern starts with population growth, leading to intensified agricultural production and ecological damage," he said. "The agricultural practices become unsustainable, leading to shortages and starvation, wars and civil unrest, and ultimately to collapse."...

"These are societies that have come to success by right thought and action," according to Diamond. "They are sensible stewards of the environment."

What lessons does Diamond want us to draw from these case studies?

First we must take environmental problems seriously. Ecological suicide has replaced nuclear holocaust as the biggest threat to global civilization, according to Diamond. Second, society needs to move beyond the "either-or" mind set of the environment vs. the economy. Saving the environment does not need to be a "luxury". The deferred maintenance on New Orleans' levee system serves as a notorious reminder that fixing environmental problems early on is cheaper than waiting until after a disaster.

Finally, Diamond said he believes that the notion of the collective good must be re-calibrated. The rights of the individual property owner are indeed important, they but can be taken too far. He speculated bemusedly that the owner of the last tree on Easter Island must have been a libertarian.

Here in the United States, he's particularly concerned about the trend in his home city of Los Angeles toward gated communities of private security, bottled water, private schools, private pension plans, and private health insurance. He'd like the residents of the U.S. to be more like those of the Netherlands, where rich and poor alike live below sea level-a situation which creates a shared appreciation of common risks....


The people leading our country - the Republicans and the leaders of the rightwing Christians have been promoting greed, consumption and have an anti-environmental attitude. When some of the evangelicals came out in favor of environmental protections - they were considered to be traitors. It's very important to some Christians (esp. the literal variety) to think that humans have been given divine authority over the planet. Unfortunately they take it so far - that they will be left without a planet that is sustainable to people. If other life is considered then those lives are seen as competitive against humans - whether it's owls taking away jobs, forests taking away opportunities or whathaveyou.

Both the neoconservative Republicans and rightwing Christians like to promote consumption including the idea that "good" people can and should consume more than other people. And both groups are against birth control - which would be important for bringing any kind of solution. That idea seems to go along with the idea that people can and should be considered to be more important than other life forms. That is also taken to the extreme that other life forms and resources are not being given even the consideration people will require so as to sustain ourselves .

I think the neoconservative Republicans and rightwing Christians are living in some kind of Disney-like fantasyland built on greed and a blindness to the needs of interconnected life among plants and animals. I don't think it is at all a coincidence that in response some people have been returning to a worldview based on "Mother Earth", goddess thealogy, and a return to pre-patriarchal ideas.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Thailand - Smog emergency

Thailand may declare an environmental emergency in tourist hotspot Chiang Mai and two other northern provinces after a thick smog blanketed the region, the environment minister said Tuesday.

Kasem Snidwong Na Ayuttaya said air quality in three provinces was double the hazardous level after widespread forest fires and farmers setting blazes to clear land.

The elderly and children were urged to stay inside, with some five million people in eight northern provinces affected by the haze, the health ministry said.

Tourism officials were also worried that holidaymakers would be deterred by images of the smoke and residents wearing surgical masks.

Air quality is measured in micrograms per cubic metre, with 120 considered hazardous. Measurements of 240 and 290 micrograms per cubic metre were recorded in the provinces on Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Lamphun, Kasem said...

The health ministry said it had already distributed 130,000 masks, with another 170,000 being passed out Tuesday.

Kasem said northern army units were working with the forestry department to control the forest fires, which began in late February and have been reported in about 1,340 locations.

The fires in northern Thailand, as well as neighbouring Laos and Myanmar, were caused by farmers trying to clear land and by people burning the forest to make scavenging for wild mushrooms easier, Kasem said.

All flights from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son town were suspended for the second day running Tuesday because of bad visibility.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Peak Oil? or not...

The debate continues...

I figure - it doesn't matter if peak oil is real or not - we still need to reduce consumption and find alternatives because of global warming.

From The Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA's March 5, 2007 newsletter:

Saudi oil production totals for 2006 show a decline of eight percent over 2005 but the steepness of descent, even after factoring in production from a new series of Saudi wells, appears to be -14%, a steep slope, according to the (international) ASPO, that seems to be consistent with the decline of fields elsewhere that, like Saudi Arabia, have used slant drilling to accelerate production, and which have resulted in steep declines after their peak.

From the Fall Church News - The Peak Oil Crisis: Our 4 Storms:

...Last week the focus of oil depletion returned once again to Saudi Arabia where oil production has dropped about 1 million barrels a day during the past year. As this is considerably more than the Saudis OPEC obligation to cut production, people are starting to ask questions about just what is going on.

The key question is whether the production drop is voluntary or whether the kingdom’s decades-old oil fields are starting to play out. The history of oil depletion is replete with examples of production from water-injected fields dropping like a brick. If this is indeed happening in Saudi Arabia, it will make headlines within the year and the world will never be the same.

A more benign interpretation of the decline in Saudi production is that they still have some years to go and are cutting production to drive up prices, save some oil for the grandchildren, or simply can’t unload the heavy, sulfur-laden crude that is becoming an increasing share of their production. If the latter situation is the case, then all should be well for a while as the Saudis are building new refineries to process the heavy crude and can then market the products....


And then there is: "Peak Oil" RIP. Official Obit Frontpaged in the New York Times

The New York Times article: Oil Innovations Pump New Life Into Old Wells

Portland Oregon's Peak Oil Task Force Briefing Book from their office of Sustainable Development.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Cloudy, With a Chance of Climate Change"

Four accounts of changing weather...

In Alaska, Everyone’s Afraid of the Water
...The sky here has lost its hard-earned trust; the weather has always been unpredictable, but who knows anymore, the temperature could plummet or, worse, it could rain. Here in winter we fear water most of all.

It is good that our uncertain “freezeup” — our word for the season that divides summer and water from winter and ice — is behind us, with the ice forming and then rethawing, with that strange rain in October that felt like Oregon weather but with extra darkness, with thin ice in November and temperatures in the teens into December. It was nice too that an early January storm and minus-35 weather had passed. We’ve been spoiled by warm weather, and yet we are worried watching the Arctic melt.

One cold spell and people were already talking about “global cooling.” It turned cold again the first week of February, and has been relentlessly 15 to 30 below since. But not everyone remembers the deep freezes of decades past when inland winters regularly dipped to minus 60, and here on the coast minus 100 wind chill was common. What we are left with now is a suspicion about what the sky will bring, and what new bugs and birds may fly in under it.

Cold matters here; we travel long distances on snow and ice. Think of driving from Washington to New York and wondering the whole way if the road will melt. These days, everyone here knows or is related to someone who has drowned by falling through thin ice...

Losing Bangladesh, by Degrees
....How does such a small place hold so much? You worry that it will burst. But your worry is misplaced. You should worry that it will sink. For as the sea level rises, its waters will flow upward like fingers into a glove, turning the sweet river water into salt. The salt will destroy the crops and kill the fish and raze the forests. At the same time, the Himalayan peaks will melt, and they, too, will flow into the country. The rising sea and the melting mountains will meet on this tiny patch of the world, and the people who strain at its seams will drown with it, or be blown away to distant shores, casualties and refugees by the millions....

According to the United Nations, the temperatures this winter in some parts of Bangladesh were the coldest in 38 years. The last time it was this cold, Bangladesh was called East Pakistan. Looked at another way, however, the mean temperature was only two degrees below the average for January.

Yet in a country so precariously balanced, two degrees meant the difference between life and death. In the districts of Rajshahi, Nilphamari, Srimangal and Gaibandha, people died of the cold because they had no protection against the weather, no walls between them and the elements — not a long sleeve or a sock. Only two degrees, but instead of enjoying their jilapis and weddings and cauliflower, 134 people died. A mere two-degree rise in the global climate will cause large tracts of the delta to disappear, and two degrees after that, the rivers will be wider than the plains, and two degrees after that, the water will have swallowed Bangladesh.

Two degrees either way for this country is not two degrees: it is catastrophe itself, borne on the waves of our warming world.

Memories of a Colder Iceland
WOULD it be possible to go skiing over the weekend? This was her first thought when she pulled the curtains in the morning. Last weekend had been unusual. It shimmered like a beam of light in her memory and sent warmth into every nerve of her body. White ski slopes, sunshine, laughter and joyful shouting. Wasn't it a bit like being a child again?

Such a weekend wouldn't have been unusual at all 30 years ago, but in the vicinity of Reykjavik, the skiing areas had been shut down one by one during the previous winters, and the little snow that actually fell was always blown away. Now she looked at the snow in the trees, vaguely remembering crawling through an upper-story window a long time ago to watch her father dig his way down to the front door. Or was it perhaps only a lapse of memory? After all, she had been a little girl at that time and in memory everything becomes larger than life.

After a mild and rainy fall in 2006 no one in the city expected snow. The rain had poured from the sky and run down the streets, gathering into large puddles, reminding her of lakes....

Although January was cold, the last 10 years in Reykjavik were the warmest on record, at least since records have been kept.

She looked at the glacier through the window. It appeared in full view across the bay in the morning sun and reminded her of an old pyramid. The glacier Snaefellsjokull is supposed to be one of the seven sources of spiritual energy in the world. Many tap into its energy. Once the glacier had an even snow cap on all sides. Now the cap was uneven and here and there rocks were visible through the ice....

When she drew the curtains in the evening it had started to rain.

While Australia Burns
THIS summer, Australia feels like a war zone. Cities and towns across the country are enveloped in a perpetual smoke haze, and the braying of fire sirens is as commonplace as birdsong. Every evening television commentators deliver grim-faced reports from the front lines. Tired farmers look dazedly into the camera. Firemen with soot-smeared clothes and chili-red eyes shake their heads and mumble that they have never known anything like it. As with every modern war report, helicopters make a ubiquitous backdrop. They dip down in front of shrinking reservoirs, then stagger toward the fire front, their water pouches swaying marsupial-like underneath their bellies.

‘‘Why? Why, Kamarrang?” asks a tall, slightly stooped Aboriginal man from western Arnhem Land in the far north of Australia. He is Bardayal Nadjamerrek, an elder of the Mok clan, and he is talking to a grizzled “white fellah” named Peter Cook, an ecological scientist. They are discussing the disappearance of whole groups of animals from the plateau of Mr. Nadjamerrek’s youth...

Collectively, the films will tell how some 50 years ago the Aboriginal people left this vast plateau, the size of Belgium, drawn by the lure of money, tobacco and other novelties offered by distant buffalo camps, mines, stock stations and missions. Today it is a lost world, emptied of people but filled with rock paintings so intricate, ancient and beautiful they take your breath away. He is among the last people to grow up on the plateau, to know its lore and habitat, and to speak its languages.

He has returned to Ankung Djang with his wife, Kalkiwarra, because he has a task. It is to show his own grandchildren, as well as Peter Cook and other scientists, how his people used to look after the country long ago... Since his people left half a century ago, fire — a staple tool of Aboriginal life — has turned into an uncontrollable monster, careering across the landscape, devouring the plateau’s trees, plants, birds, animals and insects (including Mr. Nadjamerrek’s beloved native bees).

Saturday, March 03, 2007

CO2 output from shipping...

(This goes to the problem of resources being shipped across the world to where the labor is cheaper - and then shipped back as products. Buy local.)

From The Guardian:

90% of the world’s goods are carried by sea and world trade is increasing all the time.

Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are double those of aviation and increasing at an alarming rate which will have a serious impact on global warming, according to research by the industry and European academics.

Separate studies suggest that maritime carbon dioxide emissions are not only higher than previously thought, but could rise by as much as 75% in the next 15 to 20 years if world trade continues to grow and no action is taken. The figures from the oil giant BP, which owns 50 tankers, and researchers at the Institute for Physics and Atmosphere in Wessling, Germany reveal that annual emissions from shipping range between 600 and 800m tonnes of carbon dioxide, or up to 5% of the global total. This is nearly double Britain's total emissions and more than all African countries combined.

Carbon dioxide emissions from ships do not come under the Kyoto agreement or any proposed European legislation and few studies have been made of them, even though they are set to increase.
Aviation carbon dioxide emissions, estimated to be about 2% of the global total, have been at the forefront of the climate change debate because of the sharp increase in cheap flights, whereas shipping emissions have risen nearly as fast in the past 20 years but have been ignored by governments and environmental groups. Shipping is responsible for transporting 90% of world trade which has doubled in 25 years.

Donald Gregory, director of environment at BP Marine, said this week that BP estimates that the global fleet of 70,000 ships uses approximately 200m tonnes of fuel a year and this is expected to grow to 350m tonnes a year by 2020. "We estimate carbon dioxide emissions from shipping to be 4% of the global total. Ships are getting bigger and every shipyard in the world has a full order book. There are about 20,000 new ships on order" he said....

An IMO study of greenhouse gas emissions has estimated that emissions from the global fleet would increase dramatically in the next 20 years as globalisation leads to increased demand for bigger, faster ships.... Yesterday the independent Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, which has launched a two-year study into shipping emissions, said the problem needed to be addressed urgently.

"Warm Winters Upset Rhythms of Maple Sugar"

In the New York Times

...Dr. Perkins and Tom Vogelmann, chairman of the plant biology department at the University of Vermont, said that while new sap-tapping technology is helping sugar makers keep up syrup production, for now, at some point the season will become so short that large syrup producers will no longer get enough sap to make it worthwhile.

“It’s within, well, probably my lifetime that you’ll see this happen,” Professor Vogelmann said. “How can you have the state of Vermont and not have maple syrup?”...

“In the ’50s and ’60s, 80 percent of world’s maple syrup came from the U.S., and 20 percent came from Canada,” said Barrett N. Rock, a professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire. “Today it’s exactly the opposite. The climate that we used to have here in New England has moved north to the point where it’s now in Quebec.”

...Still, he said, “I think what we’re experiencing is a tragic, disastrous change.” He added that he tapped too late last year and made only 1,800 gallons of syrup, instead of his usual 2,500. This year, he said, “in the first week of January, heaven sakes, it was 60 degrees in Vermont.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

On Marriage...

From the blog: Radical Goddess Thealogy

“The word ‘marriage’ came from Latin maritare, union under the auspices of the Goddess Aphrodite-Mari.

"Because the Goddess’s patronage was constantly invoked in every aspect of marriage, Christian fathers were opposed to the institution.

"Origen declared, ‘Matrimony is impure and unholy, a means of sexual passion.’

"St. Jerome said the primary purpose of a man of God was to ‘cut down with an ax of Virginity the wood of Marriage.’

"St. Ambrose said marriage was a crime against God, because it changed the state of virginity that God gave every man and women at Birth….”

from Barbara Walker, Woman’s Encyclopedia, p. 585 and quoting from William Fielding, Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage, and Robert Briffault, The Mothers.

From Moondance:

"It wasn't until 1563 that the church declared that legal marriage required a priest's blessing. Thereafter, they refused to recognize common law marriages."


I'm loving this screensaver that updates with current cloud formations and other earth-related info.


Interesting pre-fab housing concept:

SAN FRANCISCO - Ecosphere Technologies, Inc. (OTC Bulletin Board: ESPH), a provider of clean air and water technology solutions that solve business and environmental challenges, today debuted Ecos LifeLink, the first in a series of clean energy solutions from its subsidiary, Ecosphere Energy Solutions (EES). The Ecos LifeLink is a portable, self-contained micro-utility that has been designed to use the power of the sun and an optional wind turbine to provide clean electricity, convert the most contaminated ground water to purified drinking water, and deliver wireless Internet connectivity. The system is ideally suited to support off-grid needs including disaster relief and activity in remote locations. A scale model of the Ecos LifeLink will be unveiled at this week's Cleantech Venture Forum in San Francisco, which brings together more than 600 top investors, companies and thought-leaders for two days of unparalleled networking and cutting edge exchange.

"The debut of our Ecos LifeLink product signals Ecosphere's new strategic initiative to combine its proven water technologies with renewable energy systems to deliver integrated clean technology solutions to the world," said Dennis McGuire, CEO of Ecosphere Technologies. "Spurred by increased attention to environmental challenges including extreme weather patterns and population growth, there is unprecedented and growing demand for innovative water filtration and delivery technologies. Ecosphere is uniquely positioned to address and capitalize on that demand by licensing and selling its clean technologies to a broad market, including Fortune 1000 global companies and government agencies at every level."

Inside the Ecos LifeLink: Designed to meet the growing demand for off-grid water, energy and communications, the Ecos LifeLink solution represents a combination of patent-pending products from EES including the Ecos Power Cube (EPC), a mobile solar generator, and the Ecos Com Cube, a wireless communications platform. Deployed as two 20-foot Power Cubes, the Ecos LifeLink delivers:

* Anytime, Anywhere Power: The foundation of the Ecos LifeLink system is
the Ecos Power Cube (EPC). The EPC has a unique patent pending array of
stacked solar panels, which when deployed on site provide a photovoltaic
surface area of approximately 1000 sq feet. The solar energy system can
provide 16KW of clean electricity to power the water filtration
processes and the satellite communications system components. An
optional wind turbine can also be used to generate additional power.

* Critical Water Supply: The 30 gallons per minute water filtration module
is capable of converting arsenic-, bacteria- and waste-laden ground
water into water suitable for drinking, cleaning, and cooking. The
potable water produced meets the World Health Organization (WHO)
standards for clean drinking water.

* Reliable 24/7 Communication: Centered around the Ecos Com Cube, the
communications control room is equipped with a satellite communications
and electrical power management system that leverages the energy
generated from LifeLink's renewable energy sources to provide
electricity and power a full range of wireless VSAT, VOIP and wireless
communications capable of handling thousands of phone calls and offering
wireless connectivity for a range of up to 30 miles.

"Ecos LifeLink is revolutionary in the fact that it will use only the power of the sun and wind to create and store the energy needed to run water filtration components, pumps, or motors," said Jean Michel Cousteau, Ecosphere spokesperson, ocean pioneer and leading environmentalist. "LifeLink can be used to provide water and electricity for a small village. Multiple systems could be used throughout a village to power its school, water system, buildings, and communications systems."

"Fertile Ground"

From Grist:

"Reviving a much-cited, little-read sustainable-ag masterpiece"

Sir Albert Howard would eventually transform the insights he gained from farmers in Barbados and later colonial India into the founding texts of the modern organic-agriculture movement: An Agricultural Testament, published in 1940, and The Soil And Health, which came out five years later. Inflamed by his readings of Howard, a young American named J.I. Rodale launched his seminal Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in the early 1940s. That publication popularized Howard's ideas in the United States, galvanizing the first generation of organic farmers here....

Howard began his career not long after the triumph of the Industrial Revolution. The rise of mass production had prompted a mass migration from farms to cities, leaving a dearth of rural labor and a surplus of urban mouths to feed. Tasked with the problem of growing more food with less land and labor, scientists in Howard's time worked to apply industrial techniques to agriculture.

By then, science itself had succumbed to industrialism's division-of-labor logic. The study of plant disease had become a specialized branch of plant science, itself a subset of biology. The task of growing food could only be studied as a set of separate processes, each with its own subset of problems and solutions.

Soil specialists working at that time had isolated the key elements in soil that nurture plants: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Known as N, K, and P, respectively, these three elements still dominate modern fertilizer production. By learning to synthesize them, soil specialists had "solved" the "problem" of soil fertility.

The process for synthesizing nitrogen, it turned out, also made effective explosives. The same specialists who had industrialized agriculture also, as tensions among European powers mounted in the early 20th century, began to think about industrializing war. During World War I, munitions factories sprouted throughout England, using those fertilizer-making techniques to mass-produce explosives.

Soon thereafter, weapons technology repaid its debt to agriculture. As Howard puts it, "When peace came, some use had to be found for the huge factories [that had been] set up and it was obvious to turn them over to the manufacture of [fertilizer] for the land. This fertilizer began to flood the market." These technologies made their way over the Atlantic to the United States.

But Howard prophesied that the victories of industrial agriculture, whose beginnings he lived to see, would prove short-lived. In its obsession with compartmentalization, modern science had failed to see that the health of each of the earth's organisms was deeply interconnected. Against the specialists who thought they had "solved" the fertility problem by isolating a few elements, Howard viewed the "whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man as one great subject."

Artificial fertilizer could replace key elements, but it could not replenish the vibrant, healthy topsoil, or humus, required to grow health-giving food. Humus isn't an inert substance composed of separable elements, but rather a complex ecosystem teeming with diverse microorganisms. Only by carefully composting animal and plant waste and returning it to the land, he argued, could topsoil be replaced. For Howard, agriculture wasn't a process sustained by isolated inputs and outputs; rather, it functions as a cycle governed by the "Law of Return": what comes from the soil must be returned to the soil. Farmers who violate the "Law of Return," Howard claimed, are "bandits" stealing soil fertility from future generations...

For Howard, the ideal laboratory for agriculture lay not in some well-appointed university building, but rather in wild landscapes. As he put it in a celebrated passage in An Agricultural Testament, "Mother earth never attempts to farm without livestock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; [and] the processes of growth and the processes of decay balance one another."

Was Howard right? Despite his gloomy pronouncements, industrial agriculture has so far kept many of its promises. Food production has undeniably boomed over the past century.

And yet, the Green Revolution -- the concerted effort, begun at about the time of The Soil and Health's publication, to spread the benefits of industrial agriculture to the global south -- has failed to eradicate world hunger. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 800 million people live in a state of undernourishment. And in the United States, where industrial agriculture arguably won its most complete victory, diet-related maladies are reaching epidemic proportions. Howard's contention that chemical-dependent soil can't produce healthy food may yet be borne out.

And, of course, industrial agriculture's environmental liabilities are piling up, and could still prove its undoing.

Howard's books belong on the shelf with other 20th-century classics like Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities and E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful. These works challenge a scientific/bureaucratic establishment that seeks to solve the problems of mass industrialization with more industrialization. In the words of the great German-Jewish writer Walter Benjamin, a contemporary of Howard, they seek to "make whole what has been smashed" by a zeal for specialization. Much-cited and little-heeded, they may yet point a way out of our mounting environmental and social crises.

"Colombia Drought Suffocates Tons of Fish"

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - An estimated 3 million fish have suffocated in a reservoir in southern Colombia, where a four-month drought has drastically drained water levels, leaving too little oxygen to sustain dozens of hatcheries.

Since Sunday, more than 1,320 tons of tilapia raised inside giant metal cages have gone belly-up and floated to the surface behind the Betania hydroelectric dam, where scorchingly high temperatures have lowered water levels by 82 feet in recent months.

The local fish industry, which exports the tilapia as fillets to the United States and Europe, could lose more than $2 million, said Eliseo Motta, government secretary in Huila state, where the dam is located.

"Every day the reservoir levels just get lower," Motta told The Associated Press by telephone from Betania, where he was supervising work crews burying and incinerating the dead fish.

Colombia's government has temporarily banned the sale of fish produced in Betania's hatcheries to protect consumers from possibly contaminated fillets. Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias also promised $700,000 in federal subsidies and tax credits to help the hatcheries recover.

Colombia also has asked the Spanish power company Endesa SA (ELE) to gradually restore the reservoir's water levels by scaling back production of electricity at the dam.

Meanwhile - Off of the Northeast coast of North America - there has been a collapse of the cod fishing industry:

A rush of cold fresh water from the Arctic contributed to the collapse of the northwest Atlantic cod industry and is fueling a boom of snow crab and shrimp in the waters off New England and eastern Canada, a new study says.

A reversal of wind direction with a record drop in Arctic air pressure pumped the water through the Canadian archipelago in the late 1980s and 1990s, according to a study in today's issue of the journal Science. The cold water helped spoil the cod habitat while improving conditions for snow crab and shrimp....

The cool water comes from a large body called the Beaufort Gyre, which borders the Arctic ice shelf. Clockwise-turning winds build up water from rain and melting ice. About every 10 years, the wind direction reverses, dumping the Beaufort Gyre into the surrounding ocean. Increased rain and melt-off contributed to the record spill.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Concrete balls fail to stem mud flow in Indonesia"

A plan to drop concrete balls into an oozing Indonesian "mud volcano" to slow its disastrous flow may be revised after they slid far deeper than expected.

The balls fell one kilometre into the crater, about twice the depth anticipated, so more may be required to staunch the mudflow, according to the operation's spokesman Rudi Novrianto.

"Based on our monitoring of Monday's operations, we may later decide to add to the number of ball chains, but the decision will only be made once the initial target of 374 chains have been dropped into the mud hole," he said.

Each chain comprises four concrete spheres weighing 400-500 kilograms, five of which have been dropped into the crater.

The plan was to slow the toxic mudflow which has submerged entire villages in East Java province.

Basuki Hadimuljono, the head of the team trying to plug the steaming crater, has suggested that as many as 1,000 balls may be needed.

Exploratory drilling in May last year by local gas company PT Lapindo Brantas, pierced an underground chamber of hydrogen sulphide, forcing hot mud to the surface in East Java's Sidoarjo.

The sea of mud has inundated hundreds of hectares of land and made 15,000 people homeless. It is also threatening to swamp a key railway, which is to be rerouted away from the danger zone.