Monday, May 28, 2007

"Do trees make it OK to drive an SUV?"

"If you plant some trees, is it OK to drive an Escalade? The question isn't as silly as it sounds. People worried about global warming increasingly are trying to "offset" the carbon dioxide — the leading greenhouse gas — they spew into the atmosphere when they drive, fly or flick on a light. One idea popular with the eco-conscious is to have trees planted for them. You get to keep driving and flying, but those trees are supposed to suck in your trail of carbon..."

Well - while it's nice to plant trees (I've planted 100's of trees) - that isn't a reason to think it's OK to be ridiculous - ie. wasteful.

I noticed this line in an article on Hummer mileage:

"Gas mileage figures are not posted on Hummer window stickers because the car weighs so much it is exempt from mileage-reporting requirements."

It also quoted someone as saying, "I need a car that no matter what happens in this town earthquake, civil unrest, fire, flood -- I can get through it, under it or over it."

So that is some people's reaction to the state of the world. It's also like buying temporary immortality - the same with extreme medical care. 100 years ago - people would have been more likely to think that "things happen" or "/God/prayer will see me through it".

What worries me is that it seems that the more people feel that they are removed from nature - from the natural cycles of life and death (and such things as the speed at which animals normally travel), with less of a sense of being a part of nature and connected to it - that people don't feel the need to protect nature - even as they desire to protect themselves.

So plant trees. Plant wildflowers. Drive the most economical vehicle that makes sense for you (reduce and/or avoid driving when possible) and don't be wasteful. And if you want to protect yourself - help protect the world.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Desert pupfish in hot water"

Only 42 left: Creature whose plight led to the Endangered Species Act is on the brink -- researchers don't know why...

Death Valley National Park -- The last place anyone would expect to find fish is Devil's Hole, a chasm in the middle of the Mojave Desert where a 100-degree day is mild and the only thing bigger than the rocky expanse of desert is the sky above it.

But nature is nothing if not amazing -- as good an explanation as any of how the Devil's Hole pupfish has survived in the bottomless geothermal pool that gave the fish its name. It is tiny, just an inch long, yet few species loom so large in the history of American environmentalism.

The Devil's Hole pupfish is one of the rarest animals in the world. The seemingly endless effort to save it laid the foundation for the Endangered Species Act and shaped Western water policy a generation ago with a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
But after 20,000 years in the desert, the fish teeters on the edge of extinction. No more than 42 remain in Devil's Hole.

The Devil's Hole pupfish has been the beneficiary of one of the most aggressive campaigns ever to preserve a species, an effort every bit as intense as those to save the bald eagle and California condor. The Endangered Species Act requires nothing less. But saving the pupfish is more than a legal obligation for the biologists and bureaucrats involved.
It's a moral one.

"This fish is the species that made us take note of our need for conservation," said Mike Bower, a National Park Service fish biologist. "It made us realize that our actions have an impact beyond us. We have a responsibility to look after this fish."
No one knows why they are vanishing. No one knows what it might say about the health of the desert. And no one knows whether they can be saved.

More than the loss of a species is at stake at Devil's Hole. A deeper question has been posed in the desert outside Las Vegas, where scientists have spent the better part of 60 years trying to keep the pupfish alive: Should we even bother? Or are we only delaying the inevitable?

evil's Hole is just that -- a hole on the side of a hill overlooking an oasis called Ash Meadows. It's about the size of a mineshaft and looks about as interesting.

But beneath the surface lies a limestone labyrinth filled with crystal-clear water that fell as rain eons ago. A diver once descended to 450 feet, and researchers once sent a camera 100 feet beyond that. It keeps going from there. How far is anyone's guess.

Yet the pupfish spend most of their time foraging and spawning on a rock shelf just below the surface of the water. They live in almost complete isolation in alkaline, 93-degree water that contains very little oxygen. They feed on algae, snails and other tiny invertebrates in what is one of the world's smallest ecosystems...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Spanish Rains Bring Evacuations, Transport Chaos

MADRID - Heavy rain flooded Spanish towns on Thursday, stranding thousands as roads and railways were submerged and washing away olive trees and vineyards.

Hail and rain destroyed hundreds of millions of euros worth of crops. Farmers in Extremadura near the border with Portugal said fruit harvests like early cherries had been ruined.

Over 400 people fled their homes in the town of Alcazar de San Juan as a dike came close to bursting in the normally parched province of Ciudad Real, south of Madrid.

Thunderstorms were set to keep pounding the central grain and wine producing region of Castilla La Mancha until the weekend.

A wetter-than-normal spring had helped to alleviate drought conditions in central and southern Spain. However, as much rain has fallen on the central region's rolling plains in the last few days as in the whole of 2005.

Train services, including links between Madrid and major Mediterranean coast cities, were suspended on Thursday as tracks disappeared under water.

"We can't say when they will restart because it's still raining," a spokesman for the state railway operator Renfe said.

Farm union Asaja reported extensive damage.

"Overflowing rivers have dragged away centuries old olive trees and destroyed hillsides," it said on its Web page...

The meteorological institute predicted more heavy rains and storms on Friday, easing gradually over the weekend.

"Fetuses, Babies Said at High Risk From Pollutants"

OSLO - Fetuses and babies are more vulnerable than previously thought to chemical pollutants that can cause disease or disability, even in tiny doses that do not harm adults, about 200 scientists said on Thursday.

The researchers urged tighter controls on toxic chemicals, some of them used in making plastics or pesticides, saying that there was a risk of disruptions at key stages of growth that could lead to brain damage, malformation or cancers.
"Fetal life and early infancy are periods of remarkable susceptibility to environmental hazards," toxicologists, biologists, paediatricians and other experts from around the world said after talks in the North Atlantic Faroe Islands.

"Toxic exposures to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in infants, children, and across the entire span of adult life," they said in a final statement after a May 20-24 meeting.

In some cases, damage to genes "may also be passed on to subsequent generations," the scientists said at the talks, partly sponsored by the UN's World Health Organization...

He said that scientists have long known that smoking while pregnant or exposure to lead, for instance, can damage a fetus and that recent research is broadening the list of hazards.

"Some of the these effects may appear subtle -- a few IQ point losses. But if you add several exposures and several such effects then it can be very serious for the individual and so for society," he said.

The statement said, for instance, that "low-level developmental exposure to a plastics ingredient, Bisphenol A, can result in increased susceptibility to breast cancer or prostate cancer."

"Prenatal exposure to vinclozoline, a common fungicide, also promotes later development of cancer," it said. Among other hazards, it listed the banned pesticide DDT which is still in use in some African nations to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Governments in rich nations, including the United States and the European Union, say Bisphenol A is safe in low levels used in plastics. And EU farm ministers last year, for instance, approved use of vinclozoline under tight conditions.

The scientists noted that 16th century Swiss medical expert Paracelsus said that any substance -- ranging from water to fruit -- can be toxic in large doses and came up with the medical saying that "the dose makes the poison".

"For exposures sustained during early development, the most important issue is that 'the timing makes the poison'," the scientists said.

They urged tighter restrictions to protect the very young, even when the evidence was not conclusive.

Phthalates & Bisphenol A

I noticed the Indianapolis station, WISH-TV, doing a segment on Bisphenol A. On their website - they also have a segment on Phthalates.

It's nice to see the issue getting into the mainstream consciousness. They seemed to be supporting the "Kids Safety Chemical Act" which is nice. It seems peculiar that people have to focus on the safety of children instead of everyone - but whatever (see next article on infants and exposure... my idea is that while "yes" it is worse for infants - it seems odd that some people can't be concerned unless there are infants at stake - as if adults are able to avoid all exposures by virtue of being an adult. It seems pretty clear that Phthalates & Bisphenol A are so pervasive that without government intervention nothing willl be done to lessen environmental levels. Some may avoid more than others - but it's still out there in far too many things) ...

Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of California plans to reintroduce the Kids Safety Chemical Act, which died in the last Congress.

"This law would try to recognize that our children are more vulnerable to chemicals that can cause harm, toxic chemicals," said Waxman.

Other clips from the articles:

Part 1: Phthalates Are Harmful To Our Health, But What Are They?

Nearly every American is exposed to these chemicals. It is especially troubling for millions of women of child-bearing age and their children. Phthalates are everywhere and they are harmful to our health. So why have most of us never heard of them?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that make plastics flexible, lotions and lipsticks creamy and dollies' skin feel soft and real.

"It's scary, really scary. Her playroom's full of them, I'm sure," said mother Annie Fisher.

One kind of phthalate is known to cause cancer, kidney and liver damage and reproductive problems. Others interfere with hormones and can cause obesity, diabetes, allergies and asthma.

But it seems impossible to avoid phthalates. They are in hairspray, shampoo and nail polish. They are in our homes and can leach out from vinyl floors, PVC pipes, even shower curtains and clear plastic wrap when used in the microwave and from plastic water bottles left in a hot car....

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission asked companies, including Mattel and Playskool, to voluntarily remove phthalates from teethers, bath toys and squeeze toys. But even one year later, toy companies chose not to comply, removing phthalates only from teethers.

"Sounds like somebody needs to lobby Congress," Fisher said...

Part 2: Bisphenol A is in Many Canned Foods, But What Is It?

Brand new studies find a harmful chemical in some of your favorite canned foods and in clear plastic baby bottles. Nearly every American is exposed to bisphenol A also called BPA. The hidden hazard leaches from the plastic lining of metal food and drink cans and from plastic baby bottles into the food and the infant formula.

An environmental health watchdog says many canned foods contain BPA, but it is not listed as an ingredient. That is particularly troubling when the FDA estimates that canned foods comprise 17 percent of our diet. And families with young children and more on the way, rely on the convenience of canned food...

BPA is linked to breast and prostate cancer, to infertility and recurrent miscarriages and a wide range of birth defects. But while most chemicals are considered harmful at high doses, studies show that BPA is toxic at low doses...

The Environmental Working Group tested nearly 100 cans of food including canned fruits and vegetables, tuna and even infant formula and found BPA in more than half the cans. Of all foods tested, chicken soup, ravioli and infant formula had the highest BPA levels.

Just one to three servings of foods with these concentrations expose a woman or child to BPA levels that harmed lab animals. In some cases a single serving exposed a woman or infant to BPA levels more than 200 times what the government says is safe...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Homegrown: Scarborough man plants seeds for more backyard gardens

By Clarke Canfield at The Bangor Daily News

During World War II, the government urged Americans to plant "victory gardens," backyard plots of fruits and vegetables that were supposed to ease reliance on the war-strained public food supply.

Today, Roger Doiron of Scarborough is repeating that call, this time to ease the strain of industrial agriculture on the environment and help people take control of what they eat.

"In a way, I’d say I’m trying to reinvent the suburbs and put food back on the suburban landscape," says Doiron, a freelance writer and consultant who grows vegetables, blueberries, strawberries, apples, cranberries and herbs on his third-of-an-acre lot.

Around the country, people from Maine to California are spreading the word about the benefits of gardens in what some are calling a "grass-roots gardening movement."

Doiron’s Web site, Kitchen Gardeners International, extols the virtues of taking control of your food while reducing the distance it travels from the farm to the fork, which some estimates put at an average of 1,500 miles.

Once common to backyards, kitchen gardens have become a "why bother" sort of thing for most Americans.

But now some say the pendulum may be swinging back. Between E. coli scares, global warming, the "buy local" movement, aging baby boomers with more time to spare and a desire to enjoy the freshest of fresh, a new wave of grow-your-own has begun.

Heather Flores started a "Food Not Lawns" campaign in Oregon several years ago, and last year she wrote a book by the same name. There now are about 10 "Food Not Lawns" chapters in the United States and Canada.

Flores, who lives in Coburg, Ore., hears from people all over who have been inspired to plant their own gardens, with reasons ranging from environmental concerns to simply wanting to get their hands dirty.

"There’s something about self-healing and self-worth that people feel with getting out in the home garden," she says...

An interesting interactive site that illustrates the emission situation worldwide by country.

"Kenya: Biodiversity fades as coral bleaches"


Synonymous with big game and rolling savannahs, Kenya has also garnered fame for a part of its natural heritage that is found off shore, in the form of coral reefs. But, officials warn that higher sea temperatures -- ascribed to climate change -- are taking a toll on these reefs, as well as the diverse marine life they play host to.

"Climate change may not have sunk in with the common man or woman, but everyone realises the transformation that is taking place in the water. Fish are disappearing. Coral reefs, which are like the rainforest of the sea, have been seriously affected," said Ali Mohammed, deputy director of Coastal and Marine Programmes at the National Environment Management Authority.

"It is the industrialised world that needs to minimise its emission of greenhouse gases. Africa's contribution to climate change is insignificant, yet it is greatly affected (by this change)," he told IPS, in reference to gases such as carbon dioxide and methane which enter the atmosphere partly through the burning of fossil fuels.

These emissions absorb and trap the sun's energy. Many scientists argue that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases are prompting a rise in the earth's temperature -- which in turn is leading to climate change.

Under normal circumstances, reefs are sustained by the algae they contain: these miniscule creatures use sunlight and carbon dioxide from coral to produce substances rich in energy that feed the coral and other marine life forms.

But, higher sea temperatures disrupt this symbiosis. They cause the algae, which also give reefs colour, to be expelled -- leading to bleached coral that cannot produce energy, and which often starves as a result.

The destructive potential of widespread algae loss was illustrated in 1998, when a severe instance of the El Niño weather pattern caused 80 percent of Kenya's reefs to be affected by bleaching, according to Mohammed.

The name El Niño -- Spanish for "Christ child" -- was given to the pattern because it tends to occur near Christmas. El Niño are linked to changing temperatures in the waters of the Pacific that acutely affect the climate in other parts of the world, such as increasing the temperature of Kenyan waters to some of their highest levels ever. While there are indications that El Niño have been taking place for many years, scientists are said to be investigating whether global warming has sparked an increased incidence or intensity of this phenomenon.

Over 90 percent of reefs in certain Kenyan waters died in the 1998 El Niño, prompting knock-on casualties amongst various species of fish as their environment became compromised.

This loss of biological diversity was ultimately felt by Kenyans when the reduced number of fish translated into lower catches for coastal communities -- some 70 percent of which rely extensively on fishing for their livelihood, says the U.S-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

As Mohammed describes it, these communities didn't have the resources to escape their changed circumstances: "The Kenyan marine fisheries are dominated by small scale (fishermen) with limited capacity to fish. They have no means to go beyond the mangroves and corals, and cannot venture into the open seas where there are more fish."

He claims the losses sustained by fisheries were significant, but could not give figures in this regard. Remarks by Tanzanian fisherman Rajab Mohammed Sosele indicate that coastal communities in East Africa continue to feel the brunt of rising sea temperatures.

"The reduction in fish catch has seriously affected my business. While…supply is going down, the price of fish goes up. The people I usually sell fish to cannot afford these high prices, so these circumstances are making it increasingly difficult for me to make a living," he is quoted as saying, in a 2006 publication of the WorldWide Fund for Nature that highlights how people in East Africa are experiencing climate change.

The destruction of reefs is also a threat to marine-based tourism in Kenya, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the sector as a whole, according to government figures. "Most of the tourists come because of the beauty and diversity of our marine life," said Mohammed.

Tourism is Kenya's second-largest foreign income earner after agriculture. The effects of climate change on biodiversity will be coming to the fore Tuesday during the International Day for Biological Diversity, which is focusing on this issue...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tom Coburn Blocked Bill to Honor Rachal Carson

By David A. Fahrenthold at The Washington Post

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn has effectively blocked a resolution to honor environmental author Rachel Carson on the 100th anniversary of her birth, saying that her warnings about environmental damage have put a stigma on potentially lifesaving pesticides, congressional staffers said yesterday.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) had intended to submit a resolution celebrating Carson, author of the 1962 book "Silent Spring," for her "legacy of scientific rigor coupled with poetic sensibility." Carson, a longtime resident of Silver Spring who died in 1964, would have turned 100 this Sunday.

But Cardin has delayed the legislation, a spokeswoman said, because Coburn (R) has signaled that he will use Senate rules to halt it...

In a statement on his Web site yesterday, Coburn (R) confirmed that he is holding up the bill. In the statement, he blames Carson for using "junk science" to turn public opinion against chemicals, including DDT, that could prevent the spread of insect-borne diseases such as malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes...

Carson's book, which begins with a scene of a town in which all of nature is silenced by pollution, examines the effects that industrial-age chemicals were having on human and animal health. She focuses particularly on the effects that DDT, a pesticide used to kill mosquitoes and other insects, appeared to be having on the reproduction of birds.

Her book is credited with inspiring the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and the banning of most uses of DDT in the United States in 1972. Since her death from cancer, she has come to be celebrated as a hero by the environmental movement and as the inspiration for the modern, aggressive strain of advocacy for nature...

Algal bloom leaves towns high and dry in Australia

by Leo Shanahan at (Australia)

A toxic algal bloom has forced authorities to cut normal water supplies to towns along Victoria's Great Ocean Road, leaving locals reliant on daily deliveries by water trucks.

The latest outbreak comes as the head of a major regional water operator said he expected an increase in the number of blue-green algal blooms and follows an outbreak at Werribee South last month that affected farmers using recycled water to grow their crops.

At a cost of about $3000 a day to regional water supplier Barwon Water, 20 trucks a day are delivering water from Anglesea Reservoir to about 1400 Aireys Inlet and Fairhaven residents.

The algae, which has made the water unsafe to drink, was detected last Wednesday and has forced Barwon Water to shut down all supply from the Pan Reservoir that supplied the towns.

If consumed, blue-green algae can cause skin irritations, allergic reactions and nausea.

Barwon Water chairman Stephen Vaughan told the bloom was caused by a combination of warmer temperatures, prolonged drought and recent rain.

"It's mostly related to temperature and the unseasonably warm May," he said.

"It also occurs when reservoir levels are lower rather than fuller, and the third thing is the little bit of rain we had two weeks ago probably washed nutrients from the into the reservoir and then you get phosphorus and nitrogen ... that's enough to kick it off."

...Mr Vaughan said that while such outbreaks were likely to happen once every four to five years he warned that with warmer temperatures and drought, such algal blooms would be more common in all water supplies...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Butterflies in Britain - 7 Weeks Early

By Caroline Davies at The Telegraph(uk)

Britain's butterflies are emerging earlier than ever with at least 14 species so far breaking all known records - some of them by astonishing margins - due to climate change.

Lepidopterists have been delighting in early shows due to a warm spring, but conservationists warn the effect on Britain's food chain is as yet unknown and must be monitored.

There are fears the birds and animals that feed on them may be knocked out of synchronisation.

The Lulworth skipper, which normally does not emerge until the 3rd week in June, was this year sighted on April 28 in Dorset - a record-breaking seven weeks early. The speckled wood was also seven weeks premature, usually emerging at the end of March, but this year was seen in Cornwall as early as January 16.

The wall brown, chalkhill blue and green hairstreak, have all been spotted six weeks earlier than usual. The Glanville fritillary, meanwhile, emerged five weeks before it would normally appear during the 3rd week of May.

Those appearing a month early include the large skipper, the small blue and the meadow brown.

But, said Dr Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation, the warmer spring months are doing little to combat the decline of butterflies, with 70 percent of our 59 resident and regular migrant species suffering from loss of habitat.

"It is quite extraordinary how many species are coming out early, some of them at their earliest ever sighting," he said. "I spotted the Lulworth skipper myself and took a photograph just in case no-one believed me."

"I think what it means is yet more confirmation that climate change is having a big impact on wildlife in Britain.

"Insects are a good indicator because they rely on temperature for their activity. And three-quarters of our species are insects. If butterflies are doing things much earlier then it shows that climate change is really having a big impact on the whole life cycle...

Monday, May 21, 2007

"U.S. bids to stop G8 push for climate deal"

By Jeremy Lovell (Reuters)

LONDON - The United States is battling to stop next month's Group of Eight summit in Germany from pushing for urgent talks on a new deal to fight global warming after the Kyoto Protocol lapses in 2012.

In a draft of the final communique for the June 6-8 summit seen by Reuters, Washington wants references taken out to the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for a U.N. conference in Bali in December to open talks on a new global deal.

According to the draft, the United States supports the deletion of the following paragraphs: "We firmly agree that resolute and concerted international action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and sustain our common basis of living."

"To this end we will, in the face of the U.N. Climate Change Conference at the end of this year, send a clear message on the further development of the international regime to combat climate change."

Environment ministers are due to meet on the Indonesian island of Bali on December 3-14. Britain and Germany are pushing for an agreement to kick-start talks on a successor treaty to Kyoto, extending and expanding its scope and membership.

Instead, the United States wants the final G8 statement to say: "Addressing climate change is a long-term issue that will require global participation and a diversity of approaches to take into account differing circumstances."

The deletions are part of a concerted effort by the United States, which rejected Kyoto in 2001 and has ever since tried to undermine it, to water down the tone and content of the G8 summit declaration.

Most references in the draft, dated April, 2007, to targets and timetables to cut climate warming carbon emissions have met with objections from Washington.

It objects to efforts by G8 president Germany to get rich nations to agree to cut energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 and raise energy efficiency in transport and power generation by the same amount over the same period.

It also objects to a call for actions to limit the rise in global temperatures to two degree Celsius this century and to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050...

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Carvings may rewrite history of Chinese characters"

Chinese archaeologists say they have found more than 2,000 pictographs dating back 7,000 to 8,000 years, about 3,000 years before other texts that are believed to be the origin of modern Chinese characters.

The pictographs are on the rock carvings in Damaidi, at Beishan Mountain in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which covers about 450 square kilometers with more than 10,000 prehistoric rock carvings.

Paleographers claim that the pictographs may take the history of Chinese characters back to 7,000 to 8,000 years ago.

Previously, scholars believed the earliest Chinese characters included 3,000-year-old inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells, known as the Oracle Bones, and 4,500-year-old pottery-born inscriptions, both found in central Henan Province, one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization.

"We have found some symbols shaped like both pictures and characters," said Li Xiangshi, a cliff carving expert at the North University of Nationalities based in Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia.

"The pictographs are similar to the ancient hieroglyphs of Chinese characters and many can be identified as ancient characters," said Li.

The Damaidi carvings, first discovered in the late 1980s, cover15 square kilometers with 3,172 cliff carvings, featuring 8,453 individual figures such as the sun, moon, stars, gods and scenes of hunting or grazing.

"Through arduous research, we have found that some pictographs are commonly seen in up to hundreds of pictures in the carvings," said Liu Jingyun, an expert on ancient Oracle Bone characters.

"The size, shape and meanings of the pictographs in different carvings are the same," Liu said.

Liu believed the meanings of all the pictographs could be deciphered on the basis of certain classifications such as gender.

Oxygen supplies for India police

Police stations across the Indian city of Calcutta have been equipped with oxygen devices to enable police to offset the effects of pollution.

The extra air is for the benefit of hundreds of traffic policemen in the city who have to brave some of the worst pollution in the world.

The move follows a recent report which said that some 70% of people in the city suffer from respiratory disorders.

It said that traffic police were among the worst hit by poor air quality.

Ailments include lung cancer, breathing difficulties and asthma, the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI) study said.

The CNCI is one of India's foremost research bodies, and its investigation - published earlier this month - took six years to complete.

One of its key findings was a direct link between air pollution among the 18 million people of Calcutta and the high incidence of lung cancer.

Calcutta tops all Indian cities when it comes to lung cancer - at 18.4 cases per 100,000 people - far ahead of Delhi at 13.34 cases per 100,000.

But now the city's 11 traffic offices, where policemen report for duty, have been equipped with oxygen concentrators that are normally used for patients in hospitals.

Calcutta's traffic police chief, Javed Shamim, says his men have the facilities to take oxygen for at least 20 minutes after doing an eight hour shift amid the dust and smoke of the city.

(Auto rickshaws are one of the worst pollution offenders)

However doctors caution that taking in oxygen may not help the policemen because many of the pollutants are too deeply lodged in their lungs.

Only 10% of Calcutta's 1.5m vehicles have converted to green fuels - and only 20% of those have taken an emission test in the last two years.

Environmentalist Subhas Dutta filed a public interest litigation in the Calcutta High Court in March this year, alleging that the West Bengal government was doing nothing to control air pollution levels.

The court ordered the government to reduce vehicle emissions.

"This is a killer but the government is doing nothing to check it," alleged Mr Dutta.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Arctic islands invite tourists to see climate woes

LONGYEARBYEN - A remote chain of Arctic islands is advertising itself as a showcase of bad things to come from global warming.

Visitors to Svalbard can see reindeer, seals or polar bears in the Arctic, where U.N. scientists say warming is happening twice as fast as on the rest of the planet in what may be a portent of changes further south.

Local authorities said such visits are less environmentally harmful than Russian-led tours on nuclear ice-breakers or sky-diving trips over the North Pole.

"This is one of the few ecosystems we have in the world that is functioning, with the polar bear as the top predator," said Rune Bergstrom, environmental expert at the governor's office.

"Svalbard is probably the best place to see change, and the easiest place to reach in the high Arctic," he said.

Glaciers have been retreating in parts of the Norwegian-run archipelago, Europe's largest wilderness. Last summer, some previously unknown islands were found after a glacier shrank...

"Svalbard is an important meeting place...You clearly see the melting of the ice, problems for polar bears, for birds, which are damaged by global warming and environmental pollutants," Norwegian Environment Minister Helen Bjoernoy told Reuters.

Antarctic News

NASA finds evidence of widespread Antarctic melting

Rising temperatures two years ago led to widespread melting of snow cover in west Antarctica, according to scientists examining the impact of global warming on the icy continent.

The melting of snow cover in regions in January 2005 was the most significant Antarctic melting seen since satellites began observing the continent three decades ago, NASA said Tuesday.

NASA's QuikScat satellite detected extensive areas of snowmelt, shown in yellow and red, in west Antarctica in January 2005.
It was also the first major melting detected using NASA's QuikScat satellite, which can measure both accumulated snowfall and temperatures in various regions.

The team of scientists found evidence of melting in regions not normally affected: up to 900 kilometres inland from the open ocean, farther than 85 degrees south (within 500 kilometres of the South Pole) and higher than 2,000 metres above sea level.

Deep Antarctic waters reveal hundreds of new species

Researchers have found more than 700 previously unknown creatures including carnivorous sponges, free-swimming worms, crustaceans and molluscs in the cold, dark water around Antarctica.

The Weddell Sea has long been thought of as a featureless abyss, devoid of life. But Angelika Brandt, of the zoological institute at the University of Hamburg, who led the expedition aboard the research vessel Polarstern, said the area could potentially be "the cradle of life of the global marine species". She said: "Our research results challenge suggestions that the deep sea diversity in the Southern Ocean is poor. We now have a better understanding in the evolution of the marine species and how they can adapt to changes in climate and environments."

Katrin Linse, of the British Antarctic Survey, who also took part in the expedition, said: "It was a big surprise to discover so many new species because many of us on that expedition had already worked for years in the Antarctic shallow waters.
"The general pattern is that life decreases if you go to the deep sea because you have less food and less light. Actually we have found the opposite pattern."

She said that the most significant result of the trawls, made between 700 metres and 6.5km below the surface, had been the discovery of hundreds of new species of isopods - crustaceans distantly related to woodlice. "We had 371 species known from the Antarctic before the expedition from the trawls taken in shallow waters. From the 50 trawls taken in the deep water, we added another 585 new species."

Other highlights of the three Polarstern expeditions, published today in Nature, included sea spiders that were the size of dinner plates and a 40cm deep-sea octopus. "When you looked at it, it looked back at you, so it was interacting. Octopuses are quite intelligent animals," said Dr Linse.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Birds Dropping From Sky"

Birds Dropping From Sky, Flying Into Buildings After Exposure To Smoke

Vets: Toxins In Smoke Are Poisonous To Birds

Hundreds of birds from as far south as Miami are falling from the sky or flying head-first into buildings and dying after being exposed to smoke from wildfires blanketing parts of Florida, according to a report.

Veterinarians said the birds have very sensitive lungs and the toxins in the smoke are poison to them, Local 6 reported Monday.

Video showed birds slamming head-first into buildings and glass in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

"I hear them (hitting glass) all day long," a business owner said. "It is horrible."

Residents in the counties have called wildlife centers to report the dead birds, the report said.

The birds are dying from either the impact of the crash or suffering from head and neck injuries.

Wildfires started about a month ago in southeast Georgia and have spread into Florida. More than 300,000 acres have burned in both states.

The wildfire that raced through the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia and into Florida was started by lightning more than a week ago.

By Sunday night, it had burned 102,500 acres in Florida and was 30 percent contained. Georgia reported 41 wildfires in the state covering 267,136 acres.

Officials were also fighting a series of other, smaller fires throughout the state.

The fire burning in southeast Georgia and Florida started May 5 in the middle of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It took just six days to grow larger than another wildfire that has burned nearly 121,000 acres of Georgia forest and swampland over more than three weeks. The smaller fire was started by a tree falling on a power line.

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Georgia's Steven C. Foster State Park inside it remained closed.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Birds 'starve' at S Korea wetland

From the BBC:

Tens of thousands of migratory birds are facing starvation in South Korea, the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says.

The group says a land reclamation project has destroyed key wetlands used by the birds on their way from Asia to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Without the food at the Saemangeum wetlands, on the east coast, many of the birds will not survive the journey.

Two endangered species of wading bird face extinction because of the changes.

There are believed to be fewer than 1,000 mature spoonbilled sandpipers and Nordmann's greenshanks left in the wild.

The RSPB and other wildlife and conservation groups are highlighting the environmental problems at Saemangeum to mark World Migratory Birds Day.

Saemangeum was once an estuarine tidal flat on South Korea's Yellow Sea coast.

It was an important feeding ground for about 400,000 migrating birds making their way on a 24,000km round-trip between Asia and Alaska and Russia.

But 15 years ago, the government revealed plans for the world's biggest land reclamation project in order to drain the estuary and create fertile paddy fields.

After a succession of legal challenges from conservationists, the 33km sea wall was finally closed a year ago.

Since then, according to the RSPB, the vast wetlands have been replaced by parched earth, shellfish beds and plants have been destroyed, and thousands of birds are starving as a result.

"What we've lost here is one of the jewels in the crown of wetland habitats," Sarah Dawkins, who is monitoring the impact of the sea wall on birds, told the BBC.

"The Yellow Sea is an amazingly important stopover point for birds travelling up from places like New Zealand and Australia to their breeding grounds in the Arctic."

"And Saemangeum was one of the most important areas in the Yellow Sea."

Ms Dawkins said the birds relied on the tidal flats at Saemangeum as somewhere where they could land and "refuel" after a nine-day flight from New Zealand.

"It's a bit like losing a motorway service station and then your car running out of petrol," she explained.

Despite the damage, Ms Dawkins said there was still hope for the wetlands if the two sluice gates built into the sea wall were opened.

"That would restore a few thousand hectares of estuary system within Saemangeum and that would be at least something to help the birds," she said.

"The birds are still here. They're still coming."

"I think we really do need to still try to save some of their habitat."

Ms Dawkins also said it was critically important to mount a global effort to safeguard other estuaries around Saemangeum, one of which the government is planning to reclaim.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Acidic Oceans

From the Daily Green:

Carbon dioxide emissions could shake “the biological underpinnings of civilization” as increasingly acidic water undermines the oceanic food web, according to fresh research from the Pacific Ocean off Alaska.

The research shows that increasingly acidic Pacific water will affect king crabs and a snail that is a favorite food of Pacific salmon. How disruptions in the ocean food web could ultimately harm these and other popular food species is still uncertain.

The Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard will hear testimony today on the acidification of oceans from private, government and environmental group scientists.

Oceans had until recently been viewed as a great savior of the climate, because they have absorbed about one third of the carbon humans have emitted, buffering what would otherwise have been a greater warming of the atmosphere. But scientists have in recent years begun studying the consequences of oceanic carbon storage - a 25 percent increase in acidity since pre-industrial times.

The scientific endeavor is still young, with many unanswered questions. But results have shifted from showing that the ocean has grown more acidic to showing how that acidification is affecting ocean life, including species important for human food.

“We’re starting to see now a real connection to fisheries,” said Christopher Sabine, a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration scientist involved in the North American Carbon Project’s effort to understand the role of carbon in the oceans...

Also from the Associated Press:

An algae bloom in Southern California coastal waters has produced record levels of a toxic acid, scientists reported Wednesday. The chemical has been blamed in the deaths of numerous marine mammals and seabirds in recent months.

Measurements from four coastal stations last month found the highest domoic acid concentrations at 27 micrograms per liter, said David Caron of the University of Southern California.

"I have never seen these kind of numbers before," Caron said.
Last year, the highest levels stood at 12 micrograms per liter.

Recent measurements taken this month found the toxin levels had substantially declined, suggesting the seasonal algae bloom may have peaked, Caron said.

--- The article goes on to suggest that the toxic acid is "natural" - as if pollution and all of the CO2 that the oceans are absorbing is "natural". But then the article continues:

"NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that oversees ocean fishing, has deemed the recent deaths of common dolphins and whales in California an "unusual mortality event." This would allow the agency to pour resources into determining what was causing the die-off.

"Sowing the Substance of Life"

An editorial from New York Times:

Living where we do, it can be hard to tell how ordinary our Sun is, shining dimly in our ordinary galaxy. Then comes something to remind us. This time it is a colossal supernova, called SN 2006gy, the brightest ever recorded. A supernova is an exploding star. This one, first observed last September, lies about 240 million light-years from us in the constellation Perseus. The explosion was perhaps 100 times more powerful than an ordinary supernova, and the star that exploded may have been 150 times the Sun’s mass, “freakishly massive,” as one astronomer put it. A photograph of SN 2006gy shows that it vastly outshines the entire galaxy in which it is located. This takes some imagining.

But so does the nature of the explosion itself, which puzzled observers at first. The usual explanations could not account for a supernova on this scale, nor was this the predictable demise of such a massive star. Instead, this anomalous explosion seems to offer a glimpse into one of the essential conditions for the universe we observe — the dispersal of heavy elements like carbon and iron. What we are witnessing in SN 2006gy may be the making of the very atomic stuff out of which we ourselves are made. We are used to the notion that looking at the stars means looking back in time. Looking at SN 2006gy may mean looking at one of the fundamental processes in a much earlier universe.

Astronomers point to an analogous star in our own galaxy, Eta Carinae, about 7,500 light-years away. It is similar in size, and similar in instability, to the star that turned, dying, into SN 2006gy. There is a possibility that Eta Carinae may itself die a similar, extraordinary death. It is perhaps unwise to hope for grand celestial events in one’s lifetime. Stunning discoveries from the past should be enough. But it is tempting to wonder what such a nearby supernova, on such a scale, would be like, how it would be to live under such an altered sky.

"Scientists compile 'book of life'"

From the BBC:

The Encyclopedia of Life project aims to detail all 1.8 million known plant and animal species in a net archive.

Individual species pages will include photographs, video, sound and maps, collected and written by experts.

The archive, to be built over 10 years, could help conservation efforts as well as being a useful tool for education.

"The Encyclopedia of Life will provide valuable biodiversity and conservation information to anyone, anywhere, at any time," said Dr James Edwards, executive director of the $100m (£50m) project.

"[It] will ultimately make high-quality, well-organized information available on an unprecedented level."

The vast database will initially concentrate on animals, plants and fungi with microbes to follow. Fossil species may eventually be added.

To begin with, information will be harvested from existing databases, such as FishBase which already contains details of 29,900 species....

It could eventually fill with many more species than the original 1.8 million known today. Biologists estimate that there could be anywhere between five and 100 million species on the planet.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Melting glaciers: Flood of troubles"

From the Times of India:

It's not just the Gangotri glacier that is receding. Actually, thousands of Himalayan glaciers are shrivelling up in varying degrees. The Pindari glacier is receding by 23 metres a year, Bara Shigri by 36 metres a year, Dokriani by 18 metres, Meola by 35 metres, Sonapani by 17 metres, Milam by 13 metres, Zemu by 28 metres - to name just a few.

Cumulatively, this melt could change the way we know our world. If global warming isn't arrested, rivers will first flood and then dry up; seas will rise and fertile lands will turn barren.

Until recently, such talk seemed the prattle of doomsayers. No longer. The devastating impact of melting snows, rising seas and drying rivers is virtually upon us. Within the lifetime of many of us, the Ganga could be a pale shadow of its current glory; shoreline cities and towns, including Mumbai, could be compelled to build dykes to keep out the invading seas; agricultural yield in the fecund Gangetic plains could become insufficient to feed our billion-plus population. That is, unless we act now.

Here's how the disaster scenario could pan out. As temperatures rise, glaciers will melt faster and receive less snowfall. Snowfall in the upper reaches of the glacier adds weight on top, and the pace of melt at its mouth creates a delicate balance, keeping the ice mass in place. When this balance is upset, the glacier either recedes or comes forward dramatically or simply bursts. Any which way, it's a calamity.

At one level, accelerated glacial melt will initially cause excess discharge of water in the rivers. A study has been done on the behaviour of 100 Himalayan rivers. As an illustration, let's take the Ganga. At Uttarkashi, the river level is expected to rise 20-30% within the first two decades and then gradually recede to 50% of its original level over the next decade, signaling that the river is drying up.

Glaciers cover nearly 38,000 sq km of the Himalayan mountains which, in turn, accounts for 800 cubic km of water flow annually. This nurtures the great Indian civilisation as we know it.

Rapid melt of this snow mass is expected to cause floods initially. But within two decades - by 2030, to be precise - when glaciers would have significantly melted, the situation is expected to reverse and several rivers will become a mere trickle.

The impact of this on agriculture is apparent - the lack of water will reduce arable land and that, in turn, will have an adverse affect on our food security.

"Toyota Says Hybrid Cost Premium to Disappear"

by Chang-Ran Kim

Toyota Motor Corp. expects to cut costs for hybrid cars enough to be able to make as much money on them as it does on conventional gasoline cars by around 2010, a top executive said on Thursday.

Japan's top automaker has been keen to see the fuel-saving powertrain enter the mainstream since launching the Prius, the world's first hybrid car, in 1997, but sales have come at the expense of profitability given their high production costs.
But Masatami Takimoto, executive vice president in charge of powertrain development, said cost-cutting efforts on the system's motor, battery and inverter were bearing fruit, and the cost structure would improve drastically by the time Toyota reaches its sales goal of one million hybrids annually in 2010 or soon after.

"By then, we expect margins to be equal to gasoline cars," he told Reuters in an interview at Toyota's headquarters in Toyota City, central Japan.

If it succeeds, Toyota, on its way to becoming the world's biggest carmaker, will be removing the main hurdle to cost-competitiveness for the hybrid -- the expense of the powertrain, which twins a conventional engine with an electric motor. It will also likely widen its sales lead as more consumers seek better mileage amid rising fuel costs.

Data this week showed US gasoline prices at an all-time high above US$3 a gallon, and Takimoto said he expected energy prices to continue rising.

Toyota likely achieved cumulative hybrid sales of one million units this month, having moved 998,900 by the end of April. By 2020, Takimoto said he expected hybrids to become the standard drivetrain and account for "100 percent" of Toyota's vehicles.

In 2006, it sold 313,000 units, accounting for the majority of the world's hybrid cars, and aims to lift that to 430,000 units this year with ramped-up production of the popular Prius...

In other efforts to improve fuel economy, Toyota is trying to reduce the weight of vehicles through increased use of high-tensile steel and resin products, Takimoto said. Aluminium, at one-third the weight of steel, was once an attractive alternative, but he said its use was unlikely to expand for cars due to high and volatile prices.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Top 25 Censored news stories of 2007

From (Most are stories reported in 2005 and 2006).
For more info on each story - see link.

#1 Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media

#2 Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran

#3 Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger

#4 Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US

#5 High-Tech Genocide in Congo

#6 Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy

# 7 US Operatives Torture Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq

#8 Pentagon Exempt from Freedom of Information Act

#9 The World Bank Funds Israel-Palestine Wall

#10 Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians

#11 Dangers of Genetically Modified Food Confirmed

#12 Pentagon Plans to Build New Landmines

#13 New Evidence Establishes Dangers of Roundup

#14 Homeland Security Contracts KBR to Build Detention Centers in the US

#15 Chemical Industry is EPA’s Primary Research Partner

#16 Ecuador and Mexico Defy US on International Criminal Court

#17 Iraq Invasion Promotes OPEC Agenda

#18 Physicist Challenges Official 9-11 Story

#19 Destruction of Rainforests Worst Ever

#20 Bottled Water: A Global Environmental Problem

#21 Gold Mining Threatens Ancient Andean Glaciers

#22 $Billions in Homeland Security Spending Undisclosed

#23 US Oil Targets Kyoto in Europe

#24 Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3000 Percent Last Year

#25 US Military in Paraguay Threatens Region

Monday, May 07, 2007

Japan - $100M in grants - $2B in loans

KYOTO, Japan - Japan pledged up to $2.1 billion in aid Sunday to the Asian Development Bank to combat global climate change and promote greener investment in the region.

The money is part of a new initiative rolled out by Tokyo to support development amid increasing concern that Asia’s breakneck economic growth is leaving the environment in tatters. It comes just days after a breakthrough agreement in Thailand set the world’s first roadmap for fighting global warming.

Under Japan’s push, Tokyo will grant $100 million to set up two special funds aimed at environmental friendly economic development and investment. It will also provide up to $2 billion in loans to the Asian Development Bank over the next five years to further promote regional investment.

"Climate change is an imminent challenge," Japanese Finance Minister Koji Omi said while announcing the plan at the ADB’s annual meeting in Kyoto. "Each country should recognize the issue as their own challenge."

Tackling environmental problems is emerging as a top priority at the ADB, which was chartered four decades ago to fight poverty through economic growth. The ADB is working to counter a mentality that poor nations must sacrifice the environment to the march of progress, amid criticism that the bank funds such rampant development.

Over the last three decades, Asia’s energy consumption has grown by 230 percent, and it is expected to double again by 2030, ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said Sunday. The region already accounts for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions _ a leading cause of global warming.

Japan, which has the second-highest voting power in the ADB after the United States, will channel up to $100 million into two new funds - the Asian Clean Energy Fund and the Investment Climate Facilitation Fund.

The funds are envisioned as promoting renewable energy resources, such as solar power, and encouraging nations to build environmentally friendly infrastructure. They also aim to attracting greener investment.

"I expect this initiative will help ensure sustainable development in the region," Omi said...

"I think for quite some time, Asia has made the assumption that you grow first and worry about the environment later," Nag said. "I think we have overcome a main stumbling block, more or less, that was in the mind. That the environment is something you don’t need to worry about today."

In Kyoto, some 3,000 delegates from the ADB’s 67 member governments will debate plans to make the bank more responsive to environmental woes. The bank currently spends $1 billion a year on clean energy.

But activists assail the bank for continuing to fund coal projects, which are vilified as fanning global warming. The bank has no immediate plans to phase out funding coal, saying it’s more economical for poor countries...

The report, a summary of a study by a U.N. network of 2,000 scientists, said the world has to make significant cuts in gas emissions through increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and vehicles, shifting from fossil fuels to renewable fuels, and reforming both the forestry and farming sectors.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Malaysia plans forest recovery to conserve orangutan

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysian authorities have proposed a multi-million dollar scheme to regenerate a heavily logged forest in a bid to save its orangutan population, a report said Sunday.

A fund of 200 million ringgit (59 million dollars) will be used to replant trees to restore the Ulu Segama-Malua forest in eastern Sabah state on Borneo island.

The most important objective will be the conservation of the region's 3,000 orangutan population, Sam Mannan, a director with the local forestry department, told the Sunday Star newspaper.

He said the Ulu Segama-Malua ecological zone was among Sabah's "crown jewels" as it also contains a diverse array of plants.

The work will cover 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of logged forests as well as replanting 1,000 hectares of degraded forests.

Scientists recently claimed that Borneo island's orangutans were under threat of extinction because of disappearing habitat.

A study completed in September of orangutans and other animals along the Kinabatangan river, in central Sabah province, said the apes could face extinction in less than 50 years unless immediate conservation was undertaken.

Chunks of forest in Malaysia's Borneo, where orangutans live, have been carved away by private land ownership, mainly plantations, used to grow crops.

South Pacific to stop bottom trawling

A quarter of the world's oceans will be protected from fishing boats which drag heavy nets across the sea floor, South Pacific nations have agreed.

The landmark deal will restrict bottom trawling, which experts say destroys coral reefs and stirs up clouds of sediment that suffocate marine life.

Observers and monitoring systems will ensure vessels remain five nautical miles from marine ecosystems at risk.

The South Pacific contains the last pristine deep-sea marine environment.

It extends from the Equator to the Antarctic and from Australia to the western coast of South America.

The high seas encompass all areas not included in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a country.

The agreement reached in the coastal town of Renaca in Chile will come into force on 30 September.

It will close to bottom trawling areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems are known or are likely to exist, unless a prior assessment is undertaken and highly precautionary protective measures are implemented.

"Because of the cost implications of the necessary research and assessment and observer requirements, it may even have the effect of putting an end to bottom trawling," it said.

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, an alliance of leading environmental and conservation groups, welcomed the agreement...

In addition to the weighted nets and rollers which crush coral reefs, bottom trawling targets slow-growing species of fish, such as orange roughy, which take decades to reach breeding age.

Such species are especially vulnerable to overfishing because the population replenishes itself very slowly.

Last month, leading scientists warned there would be no sea fish left in 50 years if current practices continued.

Bangladesh - Water Problems

By Laurie Goering of the Chicago Tribune

ANTARPARA, Bangladesh -- Muhammad Ali, a wiry 65-year-old, has never driven a car, run an air conditioner or done much of anything that produces greenhouse gases. But on a warming planet, he is on the verge of becoming a climate refugee. In the past 10 years the farmer has had to tear down and move his tin-and-bamboo house five times to escape the encroaching waters of the huge Jamuna River, swollen by severe monsoons that scientists believe are caused by global warming and greater glacier melt in the Himalayas. Now the last of his land is gone, and Ali squats on a precarious piece of government-owned riverbank -- the only ground available -- knowing the river probably will take that as well once the monsoons start this month."Where we are standing, in five days it will be gone," he predicts. "Our future thinking is that if this problem is not taken care of, we will be swept away."

Bangladesh, which has 140 million people packed into an area a little smaller than Illinois, is one of the most vulnerable places to climate change. As the sea level slowly rises, this nation that is little more than a series of low-lying delta islands amid some of Asia's mightiest rivers -- the Ganges, Jamuna-Brahmaputra and Meghna -- is seeing saltwater creep into its coastal soils and drinking water. Farmers near the Bay of Bengal who once grew rice now are raising shrimp. Notorious for its deadly cyclones, Bangladesh is likely to face increasingly violent storms as the weather warms and see surging seas carry saltwater farther and farther up the country's rivers, ruining soils, according to scientists.

On Bangladesh's southern coast, erosion driven in part by accelerating glacier melt and unusually intense rains already has scoured away half of Bhola Island, which once covered an area nearly 20 times the size of Chicago. Land disputes, many driven by erosion, now account for 77 percent of Bangladesh's legal suits. In the dry northwest of the country, droughts are getting more severe. And if sea level rises by 3 feet by the turn of the century, as some scientists predict, a fifth of the country will disappear.

"Bangladesh is nature's laboratory on disaster management," said Ainun Nishat, Bangladesh representative of the World Conservation Union and a government adviser on climate change. As temperatures rise and more severe weather takes hold worldwide, "this is one of the countries that is going to face the music most," he said. Bangladesh is hardly the only low-lying nation facing tough times as the world warms. But scientists say it in many ways represents climate change's "perfect storm" of challenges because it is extremely poor, extremely populated and extremely susceptible. "One island here has more people than all of the small island states put together," said Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies and a top national climate change expert.


Bangladesh's capital today is home to a growing sea of landless rural migrants like Jaha Nura Begum, 35, who lives in a rickety bamboo hut perched on stilts over a fetid backwater of the Turag River. Her family and 20 others fled Bhola Island three years ago when "the river took all our land, and there was nothing," she said. Now her husband breaks bricks as a day laborer at a nearby kiln and "we only eat if we can find work." With climate migrants accounting for at least a third and perhaps as many as two-thirds of rural dwellers flooding to Dhaka, even that work is hard to get. "As more and more come, it is more chaotic here," Begum said.

Bangladesh's government is doing what it can to prepare for coming hard times. With the help of non-profit organizations, it is testing new salt-resistant crops, building thousands of raised shelters to protect those in the path of cyclones and trying to elevate roads and bridges above rising rivers. Leaders who once insisted that the West created the problem and should clean it up "now accept we should prepare," Nishat said. The alternative could be ugly: insufficient food, a destabilized government, internal strife that could spread past the country's borders, a massive exodus of climate refugees and more extremism, Rahman said.


Meanwhile - Drought hits northern Bangladesh

Dhaka - At least 33 people died in northern Bangladesh at the weekend due to the effects of a rainless summer that has struck the country's rice growing hinterlands, officials and media reports said Sunday.

Health Department officials in the worst affected northern regions of Rangpur and Dinajpur said hundreds of people infected by a diarrheal epidemic were treated in government-run hospitals, while the daily Ittefaq quoted health officials as saying the 33 deaths were due to intestinal diseases.

A severe shortage of safe drinking water was caused by a drought which swept the countryside, drying up deep wells and other reservoirs.

Medical officers at the international Cholera Hospital in the capital Dhaka reported an unusual increase of patients registering for dehydration treatment.

Nearly 350 people were admitted daily in the past one week, hospital sources said.

The Met Office said a low in the Bay of Bengal developed into a deep depression on Saturday affecting the summer heat.

Temperatures soared to 39 degree Celsius in the northern region with a high level of humidity, said senior weather officer Samarendra Karmakar.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


From an article on The New York Times - seen on Visualize Whirled Peas:

An interesting artist was featured in today’s New York Times. Christopher Goodwin is a junk truck driver who scavenges for interesting pieces of trash, packages them in round plastic balls, and fills gumball dispenses with them. People buy these mementos for fifty cents a apiece. According to the NYT:

"Though some admirers see Trashball as a critique of America’s wasteful ways, Mr. Goodwin views it as archeology, a divination of who people are from what they leave behind, even if it is just because they are too lazy to toss it in a wastebasket."


"Feed the Hummer; forget the hunger"

...To put things in perspective, a 25-gallon SUV tank filled with pure ethanol uses over 450 pounds of corn. This amount of corn would meet the entire caloric needs of one person for an entire year.

"Feeling Warmth, Subtropical Plants Move North"

ATLANTA — Like a true belle, this city flounces into bloom when the weather turns, its redbuds, azaleas and forsythia emerging like so much lace on a bodice.

But in recent years, plants that thrive in even warmer weather have begun crashing the ball. At the Habersham Gardens nursery, where well-heeled homeowners choose their spring seedlings, a spiky-leafed, sultry coastal oleander has been thriving in a giant urn.

“We never expected it to come back every year,” said Cheryl Aldrich, the assistant manager, guiding a visitor on a tour of plants that would once have needed coddling to survive here: eucalyptus, angel trumpets, the Froot Loop-hued Miss Huff lantana. “We’ve been able to overwinter plants you didn’t have a prayer with before.”

Forget the jokes about beachfront property. If global warming has any upside, it would seem to be for gardeners, who make up three-quarters of the population and spend $34 billion a year, according to the National Gardening Association. Many experts agree that climate change, which by some estimates has already nudged up large swaths of the country by one or more plant-hardiness zones, has meant a longer growing season and a more robust selection. There are palm trees in Knoxville and subtropical camellias in Pennsylvania.

But horticulturists warn that it is shortsighted to view this as good news. Warmer temperatures help pests as well as plants, and studies have shown that weeds and invasive species receive a greater boost from higher levels of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, than desirable plants do. Poison ivy becomes more toxic, ragweed dumps more pollen, and kudzu, the fast-growing vine that has swallowed whole woodlands in the South, is creeping northward.

Already, some states are facing the possibility that the cherished local flora that has helped define their identities — the Ohio buckeye, the Kansas sunflower or the Mississippi magnolia — may begin to disappear within their borders and move north.

By the end of the century, the climate will no longer be favorable for the official state tree or flower in 28 states, according to “The Gardener’s Guide to Global Warming,” a report released last month by the National Wildlife Federation.

By the time of the annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival last month, the pale dogwood blooms had come and gone. Tara Dillard, a landscape designer and garden writer, said she now steers clients away from longtime favorites. “I’m writing a column about rhododendrons right now,” Ms. Dillard said. “And I think my conclusion is going to have to be not to plant rhododendrons. We have heated out of the rhododendron zone.”

...Some experts said global warming was affecting gardeners in another way, by raising awareness. In the Atlanta area, where in recent years watering has been restricted, nurseries and landscapers note a growing interest in drought-resistant plants and xeriscaping — landscaping that requires minimal water.

Nationally, the use of products like organic fertilizer, which requires less energy to produce than conventional fertilizer — and thus results in fewer emissions of heat-trapping gases — is ballooning, with some manufacturers reporting a doubling in demand each year.

Gardening and do-it-yourself magazines have begun to popularize rain gardens, which collect rainwater in barrels or shallow basins that are part of the landscaping. And mainstream publications like Martha Stewart Living and Better Homes and Gardens have advocated cutting back on gasoline-powered lawnmowers and blowers in favor of greener machines like rechargeable or push mowers, which come in sleek new lightweight designs.

Environmentally gentle gardening choices go hand in hand with hybrid cars, compact fluorescent bulbs and “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Oscar-winning documentary with Al Gore, said Mary Pat Matheson, the executive director of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “Only in the last year has it even been accepted that it’s really happening,” Ms. Matheson said. “Awareness is starting to turn into action.”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Colony Collapse Disorder

Excerpts of a post by Peter Dearman @ GNN

...Sharon Labchuk is a longtime environmental activist and part-time organic beekeeper from Prince Edward Island. She has twice run for a seat in Ottawa’s House of Commons, making strong showings around 5% for Canada’s fledgling Green Party. She is also leader of the provincial wing of her party.

In a widely circulated email, she wrote:
"I’m on an organic beekeeping list of about 1,000 people, mostly Americans, and no one in the organic beekeeping world, including commercial beekeepers, is reporting colony collapse on this list. The problem with the big commercial guys is that they put pesticides in their hives to fumigate for varroa mites, and they feed antibiotics to the bees. They also haul the hives by truck all over the place to make more money with pollination services, which stresses the colonies."

Her email recommends a visit to the Bush Bees Web site at

Here, Michael Bush felt compelled to put a message to the beekeeping world right on the top page:
"Most of us beekeepers are fighting with the Varroa mites. I’m happy to say my biggest problems are things like trying to get nucs through the winter and coming up with hives that won’t hurt my back from lifting or better ways to feed the bees.

This change from fighting the mites is mostly because I’ve gone to natural sized cells. In case you weren’t aware, and I wasn’t for a long time, the foundation in common usage results in much larger bees than what you would find in a natural hive. I’ve measured sections of natural worker brood comb that are 4.6mm in diameter. …What most people use for worker brood is foundation that is 5.4mm in diameter. If you translate that into three dimensions instead of one, it produces a bee that is about half as large again as is natural. By letting the bees build natural sized cells, I have virtually eliminated my Varroa and Tracheal mite problems. One cause of this is shorter capping times by one day, and shorter post-capping times by one day. This means less Varroa get into the cells, and less Varroa reproduce in the cells."

Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. And, have we here a solution to the vanishing bee problem? Is it one that the CCD Working Group, or indeed, the scientific world at large, will support? Will media coverage affect government action in dealing with this issue?

These are important questions to ask. It is not an uncommonly held opinion that, although this new pattern of bee colony collapse seems to have struck from out of the blue (which suggests a triggering agent), it is likely that some biological limit in the bees has been crossed. There is no shortage of evidence that we have been fast approaching this limit for some time.

“We’ve been pushing them too hard,” Dr. Peter Kevan, an associate professor of environmental biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, told the CBC. “And we’re starving them out by feeding them artificially and moving them great distances.” Given the stress commercial bees are under, Kevan suggests CCD might be caused by parasitic mites, or long cold winters, or long wet springs, or pesticides, or genetically modified crops. Maybe it’s all of the above.

This conclusion is not surprising, considering how the practice of beekeeping has been made ultra-efficient in a competitive world run by free market forces. Unlike many crops, honey is not given subsidy protection in the United States despite the huge importance of the bee industry to food production. The FDA has hardly moved at all to protect American producers from “honey pretenders” – products containing little or no honey that are imported and sold with misleading packaging. Rare is the beekeeper that does not need pesticide treatments and other techniques falling under the rubric of ‘factory farming.’

You might be justifiably stunned to know how little money is being thrown at this problem. A January 29, 2007 Penn State press release (just before CCD hit the big networks) stated: “The beekeeping industry has been quick to respond to the crisis. The National Honey Board has pledged $13,000 of emergency funding to the CCD working group. Other organizations, such as the Florida State Beekeepers Association, are working with their membership to commit additional funds.” A quick look at will tell you that that $13,000 buys about 4 seconds of war at the going rate. Remember, these same scientists had presented the world with a similar threat level two years ago. Apparently they were ignored.

...Not surprisingly, the use of one or more new pesticides was, and likely remains, on the short list of likely causes of CCD. But more than pesticides could potentially be harming bees. Some scientists suspect global warming. Temperature plays an integral part in determining mass behavior of bees. To mention just one temperature response, each bee acts as a drone thermostat, helping cool or warm the hive whenever it isn’t engaged in some other routine.

...Surprise — it’s an ecosystem thing. As with honeybees and CCD, the root of the bumblebee problem lies in our modern rationalist drive toward endlessly ordering the world around us. The long-term solution is a return to a more natural ecological order. This interpretation needs to be conveyed when mainstream media tell the CCD story.

Of course, with all the parasites, pathogens, pesticides and transit to stress out our hardworking honey bees, they are in peril. Even if some silver bullet saves us from CCD, it is more than obvious that we need to pay more respect to bees, and to nature.


Collapsing Colony Disorder Impacts N.D.

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota now is among about a dozen states where beekeepers report some of their bees are buzzing away from hives for good.

Judy Carlson, the apiary inspector for the state Agriculture Department, said North Dakota beekeepers are returning to the state after using their bees elsewhere to pollinate cucumbers and almond and orange trees.

The phenomenon, known as collapsing colony disorder, affects crops that depend on bees for pollination.

A survey of 15 out of the 179 beekeepers in the state found about half had poor or disappearing hives, she said.

"Some are reporting that they are losing 50 to 80 percent of their hives," Carlson said.

North Dakota, with an estimated 382,500 hives, led the country in honey production last year.

"This is a really big deal for the honey industry here," state Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said. "It's a real mystery because bees have an enormously strong homing instinct, but in this case, they are flying away and never coming back and nobody knows where they went."

Randy Verhoek of Bismarck said he lost half his 13,000 hives this year, costing him about $400,000.

"We'd go out one day and find full boxes, and a week later they would just be gone," he said.

Verhoek said he lost money because he did not have his normal hive count for pollination in California almond orchards. He said he had to send weakened hives to Texas for rebuilding.

Verhoek and Gackle beekeeper John Miller, with 10,000 hives, say the phenomenon of collapsing colonies may have many causes, including drought, disease and insecticides...


Another POV: Requiem for the Honeybee

Neonicotinoid insecticides are harmful to the honeybee

There has been a great deal of concern over the decline of the honeybee across the US, Europe and Australia [1] (The Mystery of Disappearing Honeybees, this series). The United States National Research Council (USNRC) Committee of the Status of Pollinators in North America report [2] focused on the impact of parasites, fungi, bacteria and viruses, but did not pay much attention on the impact of pesticides and genetically modified (GM) crops, which may have lethal or sub-lethal effects on the bee’s behaviour or resistance to infection. There have been strong responses to the report on that account. On the other hand, any suggestion that GM crops and pesticides may be causing the decline of honeybees is met with heated denial from the proponents.

Certainly, honeybees are declining both in areas where GM crops are widely grown, and in other areas where GM crops are released in small test plots. Is there a common thread that links both areas? Yes there is, the universal use of systemic pesticide seed dressing in GM crops and conventional crops; in particular, the widespread application of a relatively new class of systemic insecticides - the neonicotinoids - that are highly toxic to insects including bees at very low concentrations. Systemic pesticide seed dressings protect the newly sprouted seed at a vulnerable time in the plant’s development. Seed dressings include systemic insecticides and fungicides, which often act synergistically in controlling early seedling pests.

The neonicotinoid insecticides include imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and several others. Imidacloprid is used extensively in seed dressing for field and horticultural crops, and particularly for maize, sunflower and rapeseed (canola). Imidacloprid was detected in soils, plant tissues and pollen using HPLC coupled to a mass spectrometer. The levels of the insecticide found in pollen suggested probable delirious effects on honeybees [3]. For several years since 2000, French and Italian beekeepers have been noticing that imidacloprid is lethal to bees, and the insecticide is suspected to be causing the decline of hive populations by affecting the bee’s orientation and ability to return to the hive....

Monbiot on Current Global Warming Policy

From the Guardian

The rich world's policy on greenhouse gas now seems clear: millions will die

Our governments have set the wrong targets to tackle climate change using outdated science, and they know it

Rich nations seeking to cut climate change have this in common: they lie. You won't find this statement in the draft of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was leaked to the Guardian last week. But as soon as you understand the numbers, the words form before your eyes. The governments making genuine efforts to tackle global warming are using figures they know to be false.

The British government, the European Union and the United Nations all claim to be trying to prevent "dangerous" climate change. Any level of climate change is dangerous for someone, but there is a broad consensus about what this word means: two degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels. It is dangerous because of its direct impacts on people and places (it could, for example, trigger the irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the collapse of the Amazon rainforest) and because it is likely to stimulate further warming, as it encourages the world's natural systems to start releasing greenhouse gases.

The aim of preventing more than 2C of warming has been adopted overtly by the UN and the European Union, and implicitly by the British, German and Swedish governments. All of them say they are hoping to confine the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a level that would prevent such a rise. And all of them know that they have set the wrong targets, based on outdated science. Fearful of the political implications, they have failed to adjust to the levels the new research demands...

The average global temperature is affected by the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This concentration is usually expressed as "carbon dioxide equivalent". It is not an exact science - you cannot say that a certain concentration of gases will lead to a precise increase in temperature - but scientists discuss the relationship in terms of probability. A paper published last year by the climatologist Malte Meinshausen suggests that if greenhouse gases reach a concentration of 550 parts per million, carbon dioxide equivalent, there is a 63-99% chance (with an average value of 82%) that global warming will exceed two degrees. At 475 parts per million (ppm) the average likelihood is 64%. Only if concentrations are stabilised at 400 parts or below is there a low chance (an average of 28%) that temperatures will rise by more than two degrees.

The IPCC's draft report contains similar figures. A concentration of 510ppm gives us a 33% chance of preventing more than two degrees of warming. A concentration of 590ppm gives us a 10% chance. You begin to understand the scale of the challenge when you discover that the current level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (using the IPCC's formula) is 459ppm. We have already exceeded the safe level. To give ourselves a high chance of preventing dangerous climate change, we will need a programme so drastic that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere end up below the current concentrations. The sooner this happens, the greater the chance of preventing two degrees of warming.

But no government has set itself this task. The European Union and the Swedish government have established the world's most stringent target. It is 550ppm, which gives us a near certainty of an extra 2C. The British government makes use of a clever conjuring trick. Its target is also "550 parts per million", but 550 parts of carbon dioxide alone. When you include the other greenhouse gases, this translates into 666ppm, carbon dioxide equivalent (a fitting figure). According to last autumn's Stern report on the economics of climate change, at 650ppm there is a 60-95% chance of 3C of warming. The government's target, in other words, commits us to a very dangerous level of climate change.

The British government has been aware that it has set the wrong target for at least four years. In 2003 the environment department found that "with an atmospheric CO2 stabilisation concentration of 550ppm, temperatures are expected to rise by between 2C and 5C". In March last year it admitted that "a limit closer to 450ppm or even lower, might be more appropriate to meet a 2C stabilisation limit". Yet the target has not changed. Last October I challenged the environment secretary, David Miliband, over this issue on Channel 4 News. He responded as if he had never come across it before.

The European Union is also aware that it is using the wrong figures. In 2005 it found that "to have a reasonable chance to limit global warming to no more than 2C, stabilisation of concentrations well below 550ppm CO2 equivalent may be needed". But its target hasn't changed either...

In my book Heat, I estimate that to avoid two degrees of warming we require a global emissions cut of 60% per capita between now and 2030. This translates into an 87% cut in the United Kingdom. This is a much stiffer target than the British government's - which requires a 60% cut in the UK's emissions by 2050. But my figure now appears to have been an underestimate. A recent paper in the journal Climatic Change emphasises that the sensitivity of global temperatures to greenhouse gas concentrations remains uncertain. But if we use the average figure, to obtain a 50% chance of preventing more than 2C of warming requires a global cut of 80% by 2050.

This is a cut in total emissions, not in emissions per head. If the population were to rise from 6 billion to 9 billion between now and then, we would need an 87% cut in global emissions per person. If carbon emissions are to be distributed equally, the greater cut must be made by the biggest polluters: rich nations like us. The UK's emissions per capita would need to fall by 91%...

We must open immediate negotiations with China, which threatens to become the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases by next November, partly because it manufactures many of the products we use. We must work out how much it would cost to decarbonise its growing economy, and help to pay. We need a major diplomatic offensive - far more pressing than it has been so far - to persuade the United States to do what it did in 1941, and turn the economy around on a dime. But above all we need to show that we remain serious about fighting climate change, by setting the targets the science demands.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Seeing Red: Eating Locally..."

By Barbara Kingsolver - excerpts from MotherJones

I've kept a journal for most of the years I've been gardening. I'm a habitual scribbler, jotting down the triumphs and flops of each season that I always feel pretty sure I'd remember anyway: that the Collective Farm Woman melons were surprisingly prissy; that the Dolly Partons produced such whopping tomatoes the plants fell over. Who could forget any of that? Me, as it turns out. Come winter when it's time to order seeds again, I always need to go back and check the record.

Over years, trends show up. One is that however jaded I may have become, winter knocks down the hollow stem of worldliness and I start each summer again with expectations as simple as a child's. The first tomato of the season brings me to my knees. Its vital stats are recorded in my journal with the care of a birth announcement: It's an Early Girl! Four ounces! June 16! Over the next few weeks I note the number, size, and quality of the different tomato varieties as they begin to come in: two Green Zebras, four gorgeous Jaune Flammés, one single half-pound Russian Black. I note that the latter wins our summer's first comparative taste test—a good balance of tart and sweet, with strong spicy notes... (big snip)

in high summer of 2005, about the time I was seeing red in my kitchen, the same thing was happening to some of our county's tomato farmers. They had learned organic methods, put away the chemicals, and done everything right to grow a product consumers claimed to want. They'd waited the three years and paid for certification. They'd watered, weeded, and picked, they'd sorted the round from the misshapen, producing the perfect organic tomatoes ordered by grocery chains. And then suddenly, when the farmers were finally bringing in these tomatoes by the truckload and hoping for a decent payout, some grocery buyers backtracked. "Not this week," one store offered without warning, and then another. Not the next week either, nor the next. A tomato is not a thing that can be put on hold. Mountains of ripe fruits piled up behind the packinghouse and turned to orange sludge, swarming with clouds of fruit flies.

These tomatoes were perfect, and buyers were hungry. Agreements had been made. But pallets of organic tomatoes from California had begun coming in just a few dollars cheaper. It's hard to believe, given the amount of truck fuel involved, but transportation is tax-deductible for the corporations, so we taxpayers paid for that shipping. The California growers needed only the economics of scale on their side, a cheap army of pickers, and customers who would reliably opt for the lower price.

As simply as that, a year of planning and family labor turned to red mush.

Our growers had been warned that this could happen—market buyers will almost never sign a binding contract. So the farmers took a risk, and took a loss. Some of them will try again, though they will likely hedge their bets with Delicata squash and peas as well. Courage, practicality, and making the best of a bad situation are much of what farming is about. Before the tomatoes all rotted away, Appalachian Harvest found a way to donate and distribute the enormous excess. The poor of our county were rich in tomatoes that summer.

"We were glad we could give it away," one of the farmers told me. "That's who we are. But a lot of us are barely making ends meet ourselves. It seems like it's always the people that have the least who end up giving the most. Why is that?"

In Charlottesville, Asheville, Roanoke, and Knoxville, supermarket shoppers had no way of knowing how much heartache and betrayal was wrapped up in those cellophane two-packs of California tomatoes. Maybe they noticed the other tomatoes were missing that week, the ones with the "Healthy Farms, Close to Home" label. Or maybe they just saw "organic tomatoes," and dropped them into their carts on top of the cereal boxes and paper towels. Eaters must understand, how we eat determines how the world is used. They either will or they won't. And the happy grocery store music plays on.

"Gone" - Animal Extinction - the greatest threat to mankind

By Julia Whitty - with excerpts from MotherJones

...In the final stages of dehydration the body shrinks, robbing youth from the young as the skin puckers, eyes recede into orbits, and the tongue swells and cracks. Brain cells shrivel and muscles seize. The kidneys shut down. Blood volume drops, triggering hypovolemic shock, with its attendant respiratory and cardiac failures. These combined assaults disrupt the chemical and electrical pathways of the body until all systems cascade toward death.

Such is also the path of a dying species. Beyond a critical point, the collective body of a unique kind of mammal or bird or amphibian or tree cannot be salvaged, no matter the first aid rendered. Too few individuals spread too far apart, or too genetically weakened, are susceptible to even small natural disasters: a passing thunderstorm; an unexpected freeze; drought. At fewer than 50 members, populations experience increasingly random fluctuations until a kind of fatal arrhythmia takes hold. Eventually, an entire genetic legacy, born in the beginnings of life on earth, is removed from the future.

Scientists recognise that species continually disappear at a background extinction rate estimated at about one species per million per year, with new species replacing the lost in a sustainable fashion. Occasional mass extinctions convulse this orderly norm, followed by excruciatingly slow recoveries as new species emerge from the remaining gene-pool, until the world is once again repopulated by a different catalogue of flora and fauna.

From what we understand so far, five great extinction events have reshaped earth in cataclysmic ways in the past 439 million years, each one wiping out between 50 and 95 per cent of the life of the day, including the dominant life forms; the most recent event killing off the non-avian dinosaurs. Speciations followed, but an analysis published in Nature showed that it takes 10 million years before biological diversity even begins to approach what existed before a die-off.

Today we're living through the sixth great extinction, sometimes known as the Holocene extinction event. We carried its seeds with us 50,000 years ago as we migrated beyond Africa with Stone Age blades, darts, and harpoons, entering pristine Ice Age ecosystems and changing them forever by wiping out at least some of the unique megafauna of the times, including, perhaps, the sabre-toothed cats and woolly mammoths. When the ice retreated, we terminated the long and biologically rich epoch sometimes called the Edenic period with assaults from our newest weapons: hoes, scythes, cattle, goats, and pigs.

But, as harmful as our forebears may have been, nothing compares to what's under way today. Throughout the 20th century the causes of extinction - habitat degradation, overexploitation, agricultural monocultures, human-borne invasive species, human-induced climate-change - increased exponentially, until now in the 21st century the rate is nothing short of explosive. The World Conservation Union's Red List - a database measuring the global status of Earth's 1.5 million scientifically named species - tells a haunting tale of unchecked, unaddressed, and accelerating biocide.

When we hear of extinction, most of us think of the plight of the rhino, tiger, panda or blue whale. But these sad sagas are only small pieces of the extinction puzzle. The overall numbers are terrifying. Of the 40,168 species that the 10,000 scientists in the World Conservation Union have assessed, one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one in three amphibians, one in three conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction. The peril faced by other classes of organisms is less thoroughly analysed, but fully 40 per cent of the examined species of planet earth are in danger, including perhaps 51 per cent of reptiles, 52 per cent of insects, and 73 per cent of flowering plants.

By the most conservative measure - based on the last century's recorded extinctions - the current rate of extinction is 100 times the background rate. But the eminent Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, and other scientists, estimate that the true rate is more like 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate. The actual annual sum is only an educated guess, because no scientist believes that the tally of life ends at the 1.5 million species already discovered; estimates range as high as 100 million species on earth, with 10 million as the median guess. Bracketed between best- and worst-case scenarios, then, somewhere between 2.7 and 270 species are erased from existence every day. Including today.

We now understand that the majority of life on Earth has never been - and will never be - known to us. In a staggering forecast, Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by 2100.

You probably had no idea. Few do. A poll by the American Museum of Natural History finds that seven in 10 biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, a more serious environmental problem than even its contributor, global warming; and that the dangers of mass extinction are woefully underestimated by almost everyone outside science. In the 200 years since French naturalist Georges Cuvier first floated the concept of extinction, after examining fossil bones and concluding "the existence of a world previous to ours, destroyed by some sort of catastrophe", we have only slowly recognised and attempted to correct our own catastrophic behaviour....

These life-forms and their life strategies compose what we might think of as the "body" of the desert, with some species the lungs and others the liver, the blood, the skin. The trend in scientific investigation in recent decades has been toward understanding the interconnectedness of the bodily components, i.e. the effect one species has on the others. The loss of even one species irrevocably changes the desert (or the tundra, rainforest, prairie, coastal estuary, coral reef, and so on) as we know it, just as the loss of each human being changes his or her family forever.

Nowhere is this better proven than in a 12-year study conducted in the Chihuahuan desert by James H Brown and Edward Heske of the University of New Mexico. When a kangaroo-rat guild composed of three closely related species was removed, shrublands quickly converted to grasslands, which supported fewer annual plants, which in turn supported fewer birds. Even humble players mediate stability. So when you and I hear of this year's extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin, and think, "how sad", we're not calculating the deepest cost: that extinctions lead to co-extinctions because most living things on Earth support a few symbionts, while keystone species influence and support myriad plants and animals. Army ants, for example, are known to support 100 known species, from beetles to birds. A European study finds steep declines in honeybee diversity in the past 25 years but also significant attendant declines in plants that depend on bees for pollination - a job estimated to be worth £50bn worldwide. Meanwhile, beekeepers in 24 American states report that perhaps 70 per cent of their colonies have recently died off, threatening £7bn in US agriculture. And bees are only a small part of the pollinator crisis.

One of the most alarming developments is the rapid decline not just of species but of higher taxa, such as the class Amphibia, the 300-million-year-old group of frogs, salamanders, newts and toads hardy enough to have preceded and then outlived most dinosaurs. Biologists first noticed die-offs two decades ago, and, since then, have watched as seemingly robust amphibian species vanished in as little as six months. The causes cover the spectrum of human environmental assaults, including rising ultraviolet radiation from a thinning ozone layer, increases in pollutants and pesticides, habitat loss from agriculture and urbanisation, invasions of exotic species, the wildlife trade, light pollution, and fungal diseases. Sometimes stressors merge to form an unwholesome synergy; an African frog brought to the West in the 1950s for use in human pregnancy tests likely introduced a fungus deadly to native frogs. Meanwhile, a recent analysis in Nature estimated that, in the past 20 years, at least 70 species of South American frogs had gone extinct as a result of climate change...

Vacariu is the western director of the Wildlands Project, the conservation group spearheading the drive to rewild North America—to reconnect remaining wildernesses (parks, refuges, national forests, and local land trust holdings) through corridors, on a continentwide scale. The idea came into being 15 years ago, a hybridization between activism and science, when Earth First founder Dave Foreman teamed with Michael Soulé, professor emeritus at the University of California-Santa Cruz and one of the founding fathers of conservation biology.

Rewilding is bigger, broader, and bolder than humans have thought before. Many conservation biologists believe it's our best hope for arresting the sixth great extinction. E.O. Wilson calls it "mainstream conservation writ large for future generations."

To save Earth's living membrane, we must put its shattered pieces back together. Only "megapreserves" modelled on a deep scientific understanding of continent-wide ecosystem needs hold that promise. "What I have been preparing to say is this," wrote Thoreau more than 150 years ago. "In wildness is the preservation of the world." This, science finally understands...

The Wildlands Project has also identified the five most critically endangered wildlife linkages along the spine, each associated with a keystone species. Grizzlies already pinched at Crowsnest Pass on Highway Three, between Alberta and British Columbia, will be entirely cut off from the bigger gene pool to the north if a larger road is built. Greater sage grouse, Canada lynx, black bears and jaguars face their own lethal obstacles further south...

The truth is that wilderness is more dangerous to us caged than free - and has far more value to us wild than consumed. Wilson suggests the time has come to rename the "environmentalist view" the "real-world view", and to replace the gross national product with the more comprehensive "genuine progress indicator", which estimates the true environmental costs of farming, fishing, grazing, mining, smelting, driving, flying, building, paving, computing, medicating and so on. Until then, it's like keeping a ledger recording income but not expenses. Like us, the Earth has a finite budget.