Monday, December 31, 2007

"Hundreds Stung by Jellyfish in Brazil"

Swarms of jellyfish stung nearly 300 swimmers looking to cool off from a heat wave in a southeastern beach city, Brazilian media reported Sunday.

At least 15 people including children and teenagers were treated in Praia Grande for severe stings, doctor Adriano Bechara told the Tribuna newspaper, though their lives were not in danger.

Fire Capt. Atila Gregorio Ribeiro Pereira said the jellyfish were Portuguese man-of-war, which have long tentacles but are not too dangerous unless the victim has an allergic reaction, according to the Folha online news service.

Many of the injured arrived at medical centers Friday and Saturday crying from the pain of the stings, paramedic Claudio Casadei told Tribuna. Most were treated and released.

Authorities blamed an extreme heat wave over the southeastern region for the swarm in the shallow waters off Praia Grande.
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians flock to the country's beaches every year during the holiday season.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

"2007 a Year of Weather Records in U.S."

When the calendar turned to 2007, the heat went on and the weather just got weirder. January was the warmest first month on record worldwide - 1.53 degrees above normal. It was the first time since record-keeping began in 1880 that the globe's average temperature has been so far above the norm for any month of the year.

And as 2007 drew to a close, it was also shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere.

U.S. weather stations broke or tied 263 all-time high temperature records, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. weather data. England had the warmest April in 348 years of record-keeping there, shattering the record set in 1865 by more than 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

It wasn't just the temperature. There were other oddball weather events. A tornado struck New York City in August, inspiring the tabloid headline: "This ain't Kansas!"

In the Middle East, an equally rare cyclone spun up in June, hitting Oman and Iran. Major U.S. lakes shrank; Atlanta had to worry about its drinking water supply. South Africa got its first significant snowfall in 25 years. And on Reunion Island, 400 miles east of Africa, nearly 155 inches of rain fell in three days - a world record for the most rain in 72 hours.

Individual weather extremes can't be attributed to global warming, scientists always say. However, "it's the run of them and the different locations" that have the mark of man-made climate change, said top European climate expert Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in England.

Worst of all - at least according to climate scientists - the Arctic, which serves as the world's refrigerator, dramatically warmed in 2007, shattering records for the amount of melting ice...

Get used to it, scientists said. As man-made climate change continues, the world will experience more extreme weather, bursts of heat, torrential rain and prolonged drought, they said.

"We're having an increasing trend of odd years," said Michael MacCracken, a former top federal climate scientist, now chief scientist at the Climate Institute in Washington. "Pretty soon odd years are going to become the norm."

US Records

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Juan Cole Re: Huckabee (& Clinton)

Mike Huckabee is a smooth-talking, fanatical country preacher who has learned to make himself likeable on camera but who spews all kinds of hateful nonsense when among like-minded devotees.

The dark side of Huckabee, the anti-science and anti-gay side of Huckabee, and the anti-Palestinian genocidal side of Huckabee, are all more more dangerous than the incompetent fool side of Huckabee, but the latter is pretty dangerous, too.

The incompetent fool side was on full display in his remarks, apparently provoked by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, about the alleged threat of illegal Pakistani immigration into the United States. He actually thundered about 660 persons, claiming that the Pakistanis came right after Latinos in the ranks of illegals. He also seemed to think that building a wall around Mexico would keep out Pakistanis (the illegals among whom likely mostly just overstayed their visas and landed at LaGuardia)...

Huckabee is a narrow-minded, bigotted and ignorant person, and I am quite sure that the American people have had enough of that sort of thing in the White House for a while. On the other hand, I certainly hope that he emerges as the Republican standard-bearer, because I think any Democratic candidate could make mincemeat of him once his bizarre views become public.

You contrast the absolute nonsensical drivel coming out of Huckabee's mouth with the following interview of Hillary Clinton by Wolf Blitzer on CNN's Situation Room on Friday, and Clinton's mature experience and careful, knowledgeable phrasing are like a silk purse to Huckabee's sow's ear...

Hillary Clinton: I don't think the Pakistani government at this time under President Musharraf has any credibility at all. They have disbanded an independent judiciary, they have oppressed a free press. Therefore, I’m calling for a full, independent, international investigation, perhaps along the lines of what the United Nations has been doing with respect to the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri in Lebanon. I think it is critically important that we get answers and really those are due first and foremost to the people of Pakistan, not only those who were supportive of Benazir Bhutto and her party, but every Pakistani because we cannot expect to move toward stability without some reckoning as to who was responsible for this assassination.

Therefore, I call on President Musharraf and the Pakistani government to realize that this is in the interests of Pakistan to understand whether or not it was al Qaeda or some other offshoot extremist group that is attempting to further destabilize and even overthrow the Pakistani government, or whether it came from within, either explicitly or implicitly, the security forces or the military in Pakistan. The thing I’ve not been able to understand, Wolf - I have met with President Musharraf, I obviously knew Benazir Bhutto and admired her leadership – is that President Musharraf, in every meeting I have had with him, the elites in Pakistan who still wield tremendous power plus the leadership of the military act as though they can destabilize Pakistan and retain their positions; their positions of privilege, their positions of authority. That is not the way it will work. I am really calling on them to recognize that the world deserves the answer; the Bhutto family deserves the answer, but this is in the best interest of the Pakistani people and the state of Pakistan...

"New efficient bulb sees the light"

A new type of super-efficient household light bulb is being developed which could spell the end of regular bulbs.
Experts have found a way to make Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) brighter and use less power than energy efficient light bulbs currently on the market.

The technology, used in gadgets such as mobile phones and computers, had previously not been powerful enough to be used for lighting.

But Glasgow University scientists said they had resolved the problem.

The project, being developed along with the Institute of Photonics at the University of Strathclyde, involves making microscopic holes in the surface of LEDs to increase the level of light they give off.

This is a process known as nano-imprint lithography.

Dr Faiz Rahman, who is leading the project, said: "As yet, LEDs have not been introduced as the standard lighting in homes because the process of making the holes is very time consuming and expensive.

"However, we believe we have found a way of imprinting the holes into billions of LEDs at a far greater speed, but at a much lower cost."

He added: "This means the days of the humble light-bulb could soon be over."

"Remember This: 350 Parts Per Million"

From the Washington Post By Bill McKibben

This month may have been the most important yet in the two-decade history of the fight against global warming. Al Gore got his Nobel in Stockholm; international negotiators made real progress on a treaty in Bali; and in Washington, Congress actually worked up the nerve to raise gas mileage standards for cars.

But what may turn out to be the most crucial development went largely unnoticed. It happened at an academic conclave in San Francisco. A NASA scientist named James Hansen offered a simple, straightforward and mind-blowing bottom line for the planet: 350, as in parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's a number that may make what happened in Washington and Bali seem quaint and nearly irrelevant. It's the number that may define our future.

To understand what it means, you need a little background.

Twenty years ago, Hansen kicked off this issue by testifying before Congress that the planet was warming and that people were the cause. At the time, we could only guess how much warming it would take to put us in real danger. Since the pre-Industrial Revolution concentration of carbon in the atmosphere was roughly 275 parts per million, scientists and policymakers focused on what would happen if that number doubled -- 550 was a crude and mythical red line, but politicians and economists set about trying to see if we could stop short of that point. The answer was: not easily, but it could be done.

In the past five years, though, scientists began to worry that the planet was reacting more quickly than they had expected to the relatively small temperature increases we've already seen. The rapid melt of most glacial systems, for instance, convinced many that 450 parts per million was a more prudent target. That's what the European Union and many of the big environmental groups have been proposing in recent years, and the economic modeling makes clear that achieving it is still possible, though the chances diminish with every new coal-fired power plant.

But the data just keep getting worse. The news this fall that Arctic sea ice was melting at an off-the-charts pace and data from Greenland suggesting that its giant ice sheet was starting to slide into the ocean make even 450 look too high. Consider: We're already at 383 parts per million, and it's knocking the planet off kilter in substantial ways. So, what does that mean?

It means, Hansen says, that we've gone too far. "The evidence indicates we've aimed too high -- that the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2is no more than 350 ppm," he said after his presentation. Hansen has reams of paleo-climatic data to support his statements (as do other scientists who presented papers at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this month). The last time the Earth warmed two or three degrees Celsius -- which is what 450 parts per million implies -- sea levels rose by tens of meters, something that would shake the foundations of the human enterprise should it happen again.

And we're already past 350. Does that mean we're doomed? Not quite. Not any more than your doctor telling you that your cholesterol is way too high means the game is over. Much like the way your body will thin its blood if you give up cheese fries, so the Earth naturally gets rid of some of its CO2each year. We just need to stop putting more in and, over time, the number will fall, perhaps fast enough to avert the worst damage.

That "just," of course, hides the biggest political and economic task we've ever faced: weaning ourselves from coal, gas and oil. The difference between 550 and 350 is that the weaning has to happen now, and everywhere. No more passing the buck. The gentle measures bandied about at Bali, themselves way too much for the Bush administration, don't come close. Hansen called for an immediate ban on new coal-fired power plants that don't capture carbon, the phaseout of old coal-fired generators, and a tax on carbon high enough to make sure that we leave tar sands and oil shale in the ground. To use the medical analogy, we're not talking statins to drop your cholesterol; we're talking huge changes in every aspect of your daily life.

Maybe too huge. The problems of global equity alone may be too much -- the Chinese aren't going to stop burning coal unless we give them some other way to pull people out of poverty. And we simply may have waited too long.

But at least we're homing in on the right number. Three hundred and fifty is the number every person needs to know.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"Photos Document Coral Forest Annihilation"

When ancient forests are cut down, there's usually a big public uproar — unless it's a coral forest at the bottom of an ocean. In those cases, hardly anybody sees what's being lost. As a result, it's easy to forget what's gone.

But that's not what has happened to a set of ruined coral reefs found off the coast of Florida, thanks to 70,000 underwater photos taken back in the 1970s and 1980s. For decades these pictures have been sitting in the office of John Reed, a senior scientist of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution. He and the late Robert Avent found and mapped these deep water reefs 30 years ago.

"I was (swimming) at about 300 feet, and the water was grey and blue," Reed said. "And all of a sudden, I saw this giant white structure looming up off the bottom, 60 to 80 feet tall."

It was a ridge made up of several thousand years' worth of white deep-water corals, known to scientists as oculina. At the time, these kinds of ridges stretched for roughly 90 miles through deep waters off the east coast of Florida. Reed says all these ridges were covered with corals that looked like bright white leafless fruit trees. Fish and other sea life buzzed around them like a cloud.

Thrilled by their discovery, Reed and Avent photographed "every square foot" of the deep-water coral forest. Those photos helped convince government officials to ban fishing near a few of the reefs. Unfortunately all the other reefs were vulnerable to shrimp trawlers that dragged giant nets with steel doors on them through the fragile coral forests.

"One pass would destroy several thousand years' worth of growth," said Reed.

By the late 1990s, it was clear that the reefs had been badly damaged by the trawlers. But nobody knew what the damage looked like or what exactly had been lost. Then, in 2001, Reed climbed into a tiny submarine, went back to the spots where he had helped take all those pictures in the '70s and took a second set of photos. Then he hauled the "before" and "after" pictures into his lab...

Reed discovered that the only reefs still standing were the ones that were put under protection in the 1980s. His findings were reported in the Bulletin of Marine Science. Coral reef experts say the findings are depressing, but not surprising. They're aware that trawlers have done huge amounts of damage to deep-water reefs in most of the world's oceans.

What's different here is the fantastic trove of photographs that show how quickly reefs like these can be erased. They also show exactly what gets lost when that happens.

"When you look at the untrawled areas, there are lots of little fish sticking their heads out of the corals," said biologist Margot Stiles of the nonprofit group Oceana. "And there are these cute mini-lobsters that are clicking their claws at the camera.

But in the trawled photos, all you can see are "little bits of coral laying flat on the muddy bottom that stretches out of your field of view into the darkness," she said.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Winter Poem

if in beginning twilight of winter will stand

(over a snowstopped silent world) one
spirit serenely truly himself: and

alone only as greatness is alone--

one (above nevermoving all nowhere)
goldenly whole, prodigiously alive
most mercifully glorying keen star

whom she-and-he-like ifs of am perceive

(but believe scarcely may) certainly while
mute each inch of their murdered planet grows
more and enormously more less: until
her-and-his nonexistence vanishes

with also earth's
---"dying" the ghost of you
whispers "is very pleasant" my ghost to

e.e. cummings

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Plop. Splash! Drip. (In Lapland)

The Arctic Circle this week was warmer and soggier than the British Midlands. Everywhere there was the wrenching noise of snow slipping off roofs, the creak of timber. Global warming is catching up with the Santa business and there is trouble brewing in the grotto.

“I really was expecting more snow,” Terry Peates, a 53-year-old window cleaner from the Forest of Dean, said. Mr Peates remembers a cold British winter in the 1960s when a whole double-decker bus disappeared under a drift. All the Arctic has been able to offer him this Christmas is a few streaks of grey, ageing snow. “Still, it’s the first time that Ben has seen the stuff, so it has got some magic.” He pointed to his eight-year-old grandson. Behind them both was a sign next to the local lake: “Warning: thin ice.”

Rovaniemi, the administrative capital of Lapland, is on the Arctic Circle, at the same latitude as the glaciers of Greenland and grimmest corners of Siberia, where the frost sinks a kilometre into the ground. Last year it had no snow at all: this year you think twice about whether to wear a woolly hat.

“The dogs were the ones to smell global warming first,” the man who calls himself Husky Dundee, in imitation of the fictional, intrepid Australian crocodile hunter, said. The Arctic version breakfasts on a cigarette, wears leather hides, sports a long, sharp hunting knife and has the ruddy wind-chafed face of a man who often sleeps in the open, wrapped in reindeer skins.

“They hate the water, so they refuse to cross the river when it is thinner than 14 centimetres [5½in] of ice. Now we have what? Four, five centimetres maybe.”

...“Sure, the animals have gone into winter sleep but it will be just like 40 winks, a nap. Because the temperature today is – what? – barely freezing and usually at this time of year it is minus 15C [-2F]....

Levi, a resort in the far north of Finland that is becoming a favourite of buy-to-letters because, unlike Austria and Switzerland, it guarantees snow, had to withdraw as a venue for the World Alpine Slalom contest this year. The snow arrived too late. Snow cannon are being used on ski slopes close to Rovaniemi. Snow cannon in the Arctic!

"Academics Try Collaboration"

It is a basic tenet of university research: Economists conduct joint studies, chemists join forces in the laboratory, political scientists share ideas about other cultures — but rarely do the researchers cross disciplinary lines.

Vanessa Escobar leading a discussion on water management at Arizona State. The university set up the Global Institute of Sustainability to encourage joint efforts on climate change issues.

The political landscape of academia, combined with the fight for grant money, has always fostered competition far more than collaboration.

But the threat of global warming may just change all that.

Take what’s happening at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In September the school established the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, aimed at getting students and professors from different disciplines to collaborate in studying the environmental ramifications of production and consumption.

“The academic tradition is to let one discipline dominate new programs,” said Nabil Nasr, the institute’s director. “But the problem of sustainability cuts across economics, social elements, engineering, everything. It simply cannot be solved by one discipline, or even by coupling two disciplines.”

Neil Hawkins, Dow Chemical’s vice president for sustainability, sees it that way, too. Thus, Dow is giving $10 million, spread over five years, to the University of California, Berkeley, to set up a sustainability center.

“Berkeley has one of the strongest chemical engineering schools in the world, but it will be the M.B.A.’s who understand areas like microfinance solutions to drinking water problems,” Mr. Hawkins said.

That realization is spreading throughout academia. So more universities are setting up stand-alone centers that offer neutral ground on which engineering students can work on alternative fuels while business students calculate the economics of those fuels and political science majors figure how to make the fuels palatable to governments in both developing nations and America’s states.

“We give professors a chance to step beyond their usual areas of expertise, and we give students exposure to the worlds of science and business,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the year-old Yale Center for Business and the Environment, a joint effort between the School of Management and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies...

"...Tropical Virus Moves to Italy"

Panic was spreading this August through this tidy village of 2,000 as one person after another fell ill with weeks of high fever, exhaustion and excruciating bone pain, just as most of Italy was enjoying Ferragosto, its most important summer holiday.

“At one point, I simply couldn’t stand up to get out of the car,” said Antonio Ciano, 62, an elegant retiree in a pashmina scarf and trendy blue glasses. “I fell. I thought, O.K., my time is up. I’m going to die. It was really that dramatic.”

By midmonth, more than 100 people had come down with the same malady. Although the worst symptoms dissipated after a couple of weeks, no doctor could figure out what was wrong.

People blamed pollution in the river. They denounced the government. But most of all they blamed recent immigrants from tropical Africa for bringing the pestilence to their sleepy settlement of pastel stucco homes.

“Why immigrants?” asked Rina Ventura, who owns a shop selling shoes and purses. “I kept thinking of these terrible diseases that you see on TV, like malaria. We were terrified. There was no name and no treatment.”

Oddly, the villagers were both right and wrong. After a month of investigation, Italian public health officials discovered that the people of Castiglione di Cervia were, in fact, suffering from a tropical disease, chikungunya, a relative of dengue fever normally found in the Indian Ocean region. But the immigrants spreading the disease were not humans but insects: tiger mosquitoes, who can thrive in a warming Europe.

Aided by global warming and globalization, Castiglione di Cervia has the dubious distinction of playing host to the first outbreak in modern Europe of a disease that had previously been seen only in the tropics...

"African giraffes endangered"

At least six distinct species of giraffe, the world's tallest land animal, may be in existence and some of them are critically endangered, scientists in the United States and Kenya have found.

It had previously been thought that there was only one species of giraffe ranging across Africa's golden savannahs.

"Some of these giraffe populations number only a few hundred individuals and need immediate protection," said the study's lead author, geneticist David Brown of the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

"Lumping all giraffes into one species obscures the reality that some kinds of giraffe are on the very brink."

The most threatened potential species include the reticulated giraffe (currently Giraffa camelopardalis reticulate) in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Its population was estimated at around 27,000 until the 1990s, when poaching and conflicts slashed numbers to just 3,000 individuals.

In west and central Africa, there are thought to be only 160 Nigerian giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis peralta) left.

But all giraffes -- which can grow up to 19ft tall and weigh 4,400lbs (2,000kg) -- were under threat, Brown said in a statement late on Friday, citing an estimated 30 percent drop in numbers over the past decade.

Classifying what are currently called sub-species as fully-fledged species would force governments and experts to re-examine steps to conserve the most at risk animals, he said.

"Introducing the Solar Tree"

The streets of Europe could soon be lit by solar energy due to the fact that a solar tree prototype recently passed a key test phase.

The solar trees went on display for four weeks in October on a busy street — the Ringstrasse — in Vienna, Austria. They were able to provide enough light during the night-time even when the sun did not show for as much as four days in a row.

"The solar cells on the tree were able to store enough electricity in spite of receiving no direct solar light for days at a time because of the clouds. They showed that solar trees really are a practical form of street lighting," Christina Werner from Cultural Project Management (Kulturelles Projektmanagement, Vienna) told

She said that the City of Vienna was now in the process of deciding whether to install more solar trees.

"We hope that not only the city of Vienna but other cities will see the merits of using renewable energy for street lighting to cut emissions," Christina Werner said. "Someday soon solar trees could well be the main form of street lighting in Europe."

Putting solar powered LED light systems on trees would cut down on the carbon emissions and also slash the bills of local authorities, she said.

Street lighting consumed 10 percent of all the electricity used in Europe in 2006 or 2,000 billion KWh, and resulted in carbon emissions of 2,900 million ton.

The use of more energy-efficient lighting in the Austrian city of Graz, with a population of almost 300,000 saved the city 524,000 KWh of electricity and 67,200 euros [US $96,800] in 2005...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star"

From the New York Times
Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.

Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise...

In his lectures at, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off.

He was No. 1 on the most downloaded list at iTunes U for a while, but that lineup constantly evolves. The stars this week included Hubert Dreyfus, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Leonard Susskind, a professor of quantum mechanics at Stanford.

Last week, Yale put some of its most popular undergraduate courses and professors online free. The list includes Controversies in Astrophysics with Charles Bailyn, Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer and Introduction to the Old Testament with Christine Hayes....

The professor, who is from the Netherlands, said that teaching a required course in introductory physics to M.I.T. students made him realize “that what really counts is to make them love physics, to make them love science.”

He said he spent 25 hours preparing each new lecture, choreographing every detail and stripping out every extra sentence.

“Clarity is the word,” he said.

Fun also matters....

Links to lectures:

A Demonstration of Electrostatics

Trajectories of Objects in Freefall

How a Rocket Lifts Off

A Lecture on Pendulums


"Paper, Plastic or "Bioplastic?"

From the Christian Science Monitor - by way of - by Tony Azios

Paper, plastic ... or biodegradable? Yes, get ready to add a third option at the grocery store checkout line as biodegradable plastics enter the mainstream consumer market.

It is hard to imagine that the plastic grocery bag made its debut only 30 years ago. But now, even in Antarctica, scientists regularly find them blowing about.

The problem is that, unlike many other overnight sensations, plastics stick around. It can take roughly 1,000 years for some petroleum-based plastics to disintegrate. And when they do disintegrate, traditional plastics leave behind a messy legacy of fragments and chemical residues that get absorbed into streams and soil. In the meantime, they clog landfills and rivers, or kill whales and sea turtles that mistake them for food. With up to 1 trillion plastic bags manufactured annually and 2.7 million tons of plastic used just to bottle water each year, concern is rising worldwide.

Enter bioplastics, designed to degrade into an ecofriendly mix of water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. While biodegradable plastics have been introduced before in the past 20 years, they have failed to achieve widespread use due to their inferior strength and higher cost. But this is changing, says Steve Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) in New York City....

Currently, both companies' products are primarily made of modified corn feedstock, as opposed to petroleum byproducts. Ultimately, the natural polymers biodegrade as microorganisms consume them. While this source of plastic seems earth friendly, some environmentalists say the footprint of corn cultivation should be considered.

"Corn, overall, is very energy intensive, requiring a considerable amount of fertilizer and gasoline to produce and transport each bushel," says Janet Larsen, research director of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington. "The nitrogen-rich fertilizer then often becomes runoff in streams, rivers, and oceans, creating algal blooms that kill marine life."

Using feedstock for plastic further exacerbates record high corn prices, says Ms. Larsen, adding that corn supplies are already stretched thin by demands for food and ethanol. "This should make society ask, 'Do we really want to be turning food into plastic?'"

..."There is a widespread confusion that all [bioplastics] are made from renewable resources and that all of them are biodegradable," says BPI's Mojo. "Not all plastics made from renewable resources are biodegradable, and not all that are biodegradable are based on natural resources."

Mojo, who works closely with the American Society for Testing and Materials International to develop specifications for products that biodegrade in various environments, says that "the industry is in its infancy" and work is being done to develop more uniformity in composting and recyclability. "We will see more bioplastics in the next five to 10 years as technology advances, and we will see visible improvements in strength, cost, and degradability," he adds.

In the meantime, Larsen of the Earth Policy Institute suggests the environmentally conscious choose a fourth option at the checkout line: "We would do better to bring our own canvas bags shopping or buy reusable water bottles and move away from the throwaway mentality that one-time use products afford us."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Grow more food in cities..."

GENEVA - Asian nations, many at risk from climate change, must invest more in urban and indoor farming to help feed the hundreds of millions of people in their growing cities, the World Meteorological Organisation said on Wednesday.

Of the 10 countries most affected by extreme weather in 2006, seven were Asian -- Afghanistan, China, India, Indonesia, North Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam, said the WMO, the U.N. agency looking at weather, climate and water problems.

Asia needs secure food supplies for its rising population, and "indoor and urban agriculture is receiving special attention to make most efficient use of space using controlled environments," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement after a 3-day meeting in Hanoi on sustainable farming.

Weather problems affecting Asia range from drought in recent years in Afghanistan and other central and southwest Asian countries to floods this year in China and Bangladesh.

The WMO said it was necessary to improve seasonal prediction, early warning systems, and monitoring for regional droughts, to help farmers decide which crops to grow.

Forecasts could also help experts improve their ability to control the spread of pests and diseases.

The agency called on countries to provide the latest information on the impact of climate change on water resources, and assess whether modern or traditional methods of collecting rainwater were best for them.


I would think that all countries (not just "Asian" ones) could do this. In this country - it would be a good use of space for people living in "suburbia" to use some of their yard to grow things - organically.

Yule school to teach Santa's elves

ROVANIEMI, Finland- Customer service, story-telling, nature studies and wilderness survival are essential skills for any elf worthy of the name.

Anyone who aspires to a job as a Santa's helper can acquire them at a new Elf Academy in Rovaniemi, 2,600 km (1,600 miles) from the North Pole, which Finland claims as home to the "real" Santa Claus.

Christmas 2007 is in full swing as tourists seek Santa in the Arctic Circle but after the school opens next April, the 2,000 or so "elves" will be able to raise their game.

The competencies an elf needs are vast, says Esa Sakkinen, project coordinator and teacher at the Lapland Vocational College which will be running the academy.

They do more than pack the gifts that families pick up at the Christmas market outside "Santa's house" or help answer the 750,000 letters that arrive at his local post office each year.

"An elf needs to know how to make a fire in the snow ... also the local nature and animals, because you never know what the clients or kids are going to ask," he said.

The Santa business is vital to the region where unemployment is nearly double the Finnish average, winter temperatures average minus 15 to minus 10 degrees Celsius (5-14 Fahrenheit), and the snow can be more than a meter deep.

The first planeload of tourists visiting Santa landed in Lapland about 20 years ago and today about 500,000 tourists -- mainly from France, Britain and Russia -- visit Rovaniemi and Santa's nearby village each year.

The Christmas season contributed about one-third of the region's 2006 tourist income of 540 million euros ($774.1 million). Many people arrive on a day-trip to visit Santa, learn to drive huskies, taste local delicacies and -- with luck -- glimpse the Northern Lights above pine trees fat with snow.

Despite rival Santa Claus theme parks and Christmas markets in the United States, Canada, Japan, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Germany, the region says visitors to Finnish Lapland are increasing year by year...

The new academy is the answer to a business need and an attempt to provide skills to help the long-term unemployed find out-of-season work. About 500 elves work in Rovaniemi, a town of 60,000 where in 2006 the unemployment rate was 14 percent, compared with a national average of 7.7 percent.

"The companies working in the business asked us whether we could develop the profession of elves and we said 'why not?"' said Sakkinen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

From Alternet - "The Top Ten Best Environment Stories of 2007"

10. The Property Cops: Homeowner Associations Ban Eco-Friendly Practices by Stan Cox, AlterNet

Homeowner association regulations often make environmental responsibility impossible by outlawing clotheslines, solar panels -- even gardens.

9. Do You Live in One of the World's 15 Greenest Cities? by Grist Magazine

Here's the top 15 cities and few runners up who have made the most impressive strides toward eco-friendliness and sustainability.

8. Why Having More No Longer Makes Us Happy by Bill McKibben, Mother Jones

The formula of human well-being used to be simple: Make money, get happy. So why is the old axiom suddenly turning on us?

7. Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water by Tara Lohan, AlterNet

The Bush administration is helping multinationals buy U.S. municipal water systems, putting our most important resource in the hands of corporations with no public accountability.

6. Ice Caps Melting Fast: Say Goodbye to the Big Apple? by Paul Brown, AlterNet

The talk of sea level rise should not be in centuries, it should be decades or perhaps even single years. And coastal regions like New York and Florida are in the front line for devastation.

5. The Great Biofuel Hoax by Eric Holt-Gimenez, Indypendent

Touted by politicians and industry as "green" energy, biofuels come with a high price tag.

4. Top 100 Ways Global Warming Will Change Your Life by Center for American Progress

Say goodbye to French wines, baseball and the Great Barrier Reef. Say hello to massive amounts of mosquitoes, the northwest passage and hurricanes.

3. Ten Ways to Prepare for a Post-Oil Society by James Howard Kunstler,

The best way to feel hopeful about our looming energy crisis is to get active now and prepare for living arrangements in a post-oil society.

2. You Call Yourself a Progressive -- But You Still Eat Meat? by Kathy Freston, AlterNet

Eating a plant-based diet is an easy, cheap way to end animal cruelty and clean up the environment. Why, then, are so many progressives still clinging to their chicken nuggets?

1. What Al Gore Hasn't Told You About Global Warming by David Morris, AlterNet

George Monbiot's new book Heat picks up where Al Gore left off on global warming, offering real solutions without sugar-coating the large personal sacrifices they will require.


Go to LINK for links to the articles...

"Reservoirs Closed After Carcinogen Is Found"

LOS ANGELES — Two reservoirs that supply drinking water to parts of the city have been shut down and will be drained after a rare sunlight and chlorine reaction tainted the water with a cancer-causing chemical, utility officials said Friday.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plans to drain 600 million gallons from the reservoirs, the Elysian and the Silver Lake, early next year, said a water department spokesman, Joseph Ramallo. The reservoirs will be out of use for three to four months amid drought conditions.

High levels of the carcinogen bromate were found in early October by a commercial customer who ran a laboratory test, officials said. The utility confirmed the finding, immediately removed the reservoirs from service and notified the Department of Public Health.

Officials emphasized that the chemical is dangerous only after long-term consumption.

The two reservoirs supply the water for about one-third of 1 percent of the city’s annual consumption, or about the amount the entire city consumes in a day, Mr. Ramallo said.

Some water from the reservoirs may be used for irrigation or firefighting, but none will be used for human consumption. The rest will be dumped into the Los Angeles River, which drains into the Pacific Ocean.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Mercury in mascara? Minn. law bans it"

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The quest for thicker lashes and defined eyes should get safer in Minnesota on Jan. 1, when a state law banning mercury from mascara, eye liners and skin-lightening creams takes effect.

Minnesota apparently is the first state in the nation to ban intentionally added mercury in cosmetics, giving it a tougher standard than the federal government.

Retailers who knowingly sell mercury-containing cosmetics in Minnesota could face fines of as much as $700. Penalties could reach $10,000 for manufacturers who fail to disclose mercury on product labels, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

"Mercury does cause neurological damage to people even in tiny quantities," said Sen. John Marty, the Democrat from Roseville who sponsored the ban. "Every source of mercury adds to it. We wanted to make sure it wasn't here."

Most makeup manufacturers have phased out the use of mercury, but it's still added legally to some eye products as a preservative and germ-killer, said John Bailey, chief scientist with the Personal Care Products Council in Washington. That group doesn't track mercury in beauty products and favors a national approach to regulating cosmetics, instead of laws that vary from state to state...

"Personal care products contain many problematic chemicals," Malkan said. "Many ingredients aren't listed on the labels."

Minnesota's cosmetics provision is part of a larger ban targeting better-known sources of mercury, such as thermostats, barometers, industrial switches and medical devices. The law also covers toiletries, fragrances and over-the-counter drugs such as eye drops, nasal sprays, hemorrhoid treatments and antiseptics...

Mercury fumes can collect inside a jar of skin cream or a tube of mascara, and a person could inhale them when the container is opened, Herbrandson said.

Imported skin-lightening creams and soaps with high levels of mercury have been found in other states; they are illegal under federal law. Herbrandson said skin products with mercury are more dangerous than mercury-containing eye makeup because people apply larger quantities to their bodies.

"In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters"

FUQING, China — Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Fuqing is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.

But that growth is threatened by the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply.

“Our waters here are filthy,” said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

Environmental degradation, in other words, has become a food safety problem, and scientists say the long-term risks of consuming contaminated seafood could lead to higher rates of cancer and liver disease and other afflictions.

No one is more vulnerable to these health risks than the Chinese, because most of the seafood in China stays at home. But foreign importers are also worried. In recent years, the European Union and Japan have imposed temporary bans on Chinese seafood because of illegal drug residues. The United States blocked imports of several types of fish this year after inspectors detected traces of illegal drugs linked to cancer...

"For 50 years,” said Wang Wu, a professor at Shanghai Fisheries University, “we’ve blindly emphasized economic growth. The only pursuit has been G.D.P., and now we can see that the water turns dirty and the seafood gets dangerous. Every year, there are food safety and environmental pollution accidents.”

Environmental problems plaguing seafood would appear to be a bad omen for the industry. But with fish stocks in the oceans steadily declining and global demand for seafood soaring, farmed seafood, or aquaculture, is the future. And no country does more of it than China, which produced about 115 billion pounds of seafood last year.

China produces about 70 percent of the farmed fish in the world, harvested at thousands of giant factory-style farms that extend along the entire eastern seaboard of the country. Farmers mass-produce seafood just offshore, but mostly on land, and in lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs, or in huge rectangular fish ponds dug into the earth.

“They’ll be a major supplier not just to the U.S., but to the world,” said Richard Stavis, the chairman of Stavis Seafoods, an American company that imports Chinese catfish, tilapia and frog legs.

China began emerging as a seafood power in the 1990s as rapid economic growth became the top priority in the country. But environmental experts say that headlong pursuit of higher gross domestic product has devastated Chinese water quality and endangered the country’s food supply. In Guangdong Province in southern China, fish contaminated with toxic chemicals like DDT are already creating health problems...

A possible solution to the water woes is to move aquaculture well out to sea, specialists say, with new technology that allows for deepwater fish cages served by automatic feeding machines.

The United States is already considering such a plan, partly as a way to make it less dependent on imports, which now fill 80 percent of its seafood needs. China is also considering adopting what is now being called “open ocean” aquaculture.

Currently, China’s coastal fish farms face many of the same challenges as those on land. Waters there are heavily polluted by oil, lead, mercury, copper and other harsh substances. Veterinary drugs dropped in shoreline waters may easily spread to neighboring aquaculture farms and affect species outside the cages, and while coastal waters are less polluted than those on land, aquaculture farms, with their intensive production cycles, are prone to be polluters.

Still, said An Taicheng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences: “China has to go to the sea because it’s getting harder and harder to find clean water. Every year there are seafood safety problems. One day, no one will dare to eat fish from dirty water, and what will farmers do?”

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quote from Juniper at Bali...

...Environmentalists accused the U.S. of trying to wreck future talks.

"The United States in particular is behaving like passengers in first class in a jumbo jet, thinking a catastrophe in economy class won't affect them," said Tony Juniper, a spokesman for a coalition of environmentalists at the conference. "If we go down, we go down together, and the United States needs to realize that very quickly."

"Mass deaths of rare croc in India"

At least 21 endangered crocodile-like gharials have been found dead over the past three days in a river in northern India, wildlife officials say.
The reptiles died in the Chambal River, and one official said that cirrhosis of the liver was the cause of the deaths.

Tests are now being carried out on the water for the presence of any liver-damaging toxins.

The gharial, with its long, narrow snout adapted for eating small fish, is critically endangered in South Asia.

The reptiles died in the Chambal River, which runs along the border between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh...

The gharial, also known as the Indian crocodile, is one of the longest of all living crocodilians - an adult male can approach 6m (20ft) in length.

The gharial was on the verge of extinction several decades ago.

In 1986, some 500 reptiles were released into the wild under a project funded by the Indian government, but wildlife officials say only a few of them have survived.

Some experts believe the gharials are unable to cope with the change in their water habitat when they leave the zoo.

Other factors such as fishing and pollution of the river by industrial effluents are thought to have contributed to the decline in the number of the reptiles.

"Climate change blamed as thousands of walruses die in stampedes"

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In what some scientists see as another alarming consequence of global warming, thousands of Pacific walruses above the Arctic Circle were killed in stampedes earlier this year after the disappearance of sea ice caused them to crowd onto the shoreline in extraordinary numbers.

The deaths took place during the late summer and fall on the Russian side of the Bering Strait, which separates Alaska from Russia.

"It was a pretty sobering year — tough on walruses," said Joel Garlach-Miller, a walrus expert for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Unlike seals, walruses cannot swim indefinitely. The giant, tusked mammals typically clamber onto the sea ice to rest, or haul themselves onto land for just a few weeks at a time.

But ice disappeared in the Chukchi Sea this year because of warm summer weather, ocean currents and persistent eastern winds, Garlach-Miller said.

As a result, walruses came ashore earlier and stayed longer, congregating in extremely high numbers, with herds as big as 40,000 at Point Shmidt, a spot that had not been used by walruses as a "haulout" for a century, scientists said.

Walruses are vulnerable to stampedes when they gather in such large numbers. The appearance of a polar bear, a hunter or a low-flying airplane can send them rushing to the water.

Sure enough, scientists received reports of hundreds and hundreds of walruses dead of internal injuries suffered in stampedes. Many of the youngest and weakest animals, mostly calves born in the spring, were crushed.

Biologist Anatoly Kochnev of Russia's Pacific Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography estimated 3,000 to 4,000 walruses out of population of perhaps 200,000 died, or two or three times the usual number on shoreline haulouts.

He said the animals only started appearing on shore for extended periods in the late 1990s, after the sea ice receded.

"The reason is the global warming," Kochnev said...

No large-scale walrus die-offs were seen in Alaska during the same period, apparently because the animals congregated in smaller groups on the American side of the Bering Strait, with the biggest known herd at about 2,500.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Tropical Storm Olga Kills 22 in Caribbean"

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - The death toll from Tropical Storm Olga neared two dozen on Thursday after flash floods killed at least 19 people in the Dominican Republic, where 35,000 people were forced to flee their homes, Dominican officials said.

The rare December tropical storm, which disintegrated into a mass of thunderstorms late on Wednesday, killed two people, a woman and a 3-year-old boy, Haiti, which shares the Caribbean island Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.
Olga's torrential rains also were blamed earlier for mudslides that killed a man in Puerto Rico.

The remnants of the year's 15th tropical storm skirted Jamaica to the north, raced through the Cayman Islands and were expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico between Cuba and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Saturday.

The majority of the Dominican deaths -- at least 17 -- were people drowned when a river burst its banks and flooded parts of Santiago, the Dominican Republic's second-largest city, 110 miles (176 km) north of Santo Domingo, the capital...

Olga formed in the Virgin Islands on Monday, 10 days after the official end of the six-month Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season. Tropical storms feed on warm seas, so December storms are unusual.

It was the 17th named storm to form in the region in the month of December since record-keeping began in 1851, the US National Hurricane Center said.

"Oil spill in Norway stirs fears for Arctic"

Favourable winds were set to keep an oil slick 10km long and 5km wide from reaching the Norwegian shore although rough seas hampered a clean-up operation, the energy group StatoilHydro said on Thursday.

The accident has stirred debate about the risks of opening up new areas of Norwegian waters for oil and gas exploration, especially in the Arctic, where spills would have bigger impact.

Norway's second biggest ever spill of 25 000 barrels of oil occurred on Wednesday during loading onto a tanker at StatoilHydro's Statfjord field. The spillage is about a tenth of the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker disaster off Alaska.

"We are treating the Statfjord spill with the greatest concern," StatoilHydro Chief Executive Helge Lund said in a statement. "Our first priority is to do everything we can to minimise the environmental impact."

...Environmentalists said the spill was a warning against exploration in the far north Norwegian and Barents Seas, where frigid waters and harsh Arctic conditions would make any spill harder to naturally dissolve or to clean up...

"Accusations fly amid Bali climate deadlock"

Negotiators struggled Thursday to overcome their differences at world climate talks in Bali, with fingers pointed at the United States as the main source of the deadlock.

In an atmosphere of pessimism and sourness, some European countries mulled the threat of retaliating against US President George W. Bush's own initiative on tackling the greenhouse-gas peril, delegates said.

"I am very concerned about the pace of things," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is staging the talks.

"At twelve noon tomorrow (0400 GMT), the time is up."

'I am very concerned about the pace of things'
Environment ministers or their stand-ins from more than 180 countries have until Friday to agree to a framework for tackling global warming past 2012, when pledges under the Kyoto Protocol expire.

The Bali talks do not themselves seek to draw up a new climate pact but to set down the parameters for further negotiations toward such a deal.

One of the biggest problems, said de Boer, was the scope of the "ambition" for the future negotiations.

The European Union, supported by developing countries, green groups and small island states, wants a reference by industrialised countries that a cut of 25-40 percent in their emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, will be a guideline for those talks.

It says these figures are essential for showing rich nations are serious about making concessions to fix a problem that they created and have the most resources to address.

'I think those who are suggesting that you can magically find agreement'
The United States is opposed, and its position is shared by Japan, Canada and Russia, delegates say.

Without naming any names, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters "there are several elephants in the room," and said he had asked Chancellor Angela Merkel to make a high-level intervention to phone "one of the elephants."

He also alluded to the possibility that European countries might boycott a meeting in Hawaii next month of a Bush initiative, gathering major carbon polluters.

"Without clear targets, there will be no major emitters meeting in January," said Gabriel.

De Boer earlier spelled out several interlinked issues blocking agreement.

Because of the linkage, "we are, in a way, in a kind of all-or-nothing situation, in that if we don't manage to get the work done in time on the future, then the whole house of cards basically falls to pieces," he said.

The head of WWF International, James Leape, accused "the United States and its minions" of striving to block the deal "in any way that they can."...

Warm Weather

I was able to paint outside on Tuesday. It got up to the 60's, I think. It was quite a foggy, cloudy day - and got rather drizzly - but it was nice to be able to get out in December and paint a little.

I saw a yellow-jacket while I was out and some other bug. It had snowed here a little a few days ago - and then warmed up again.

Anymore - when it's unseasonably warm - esp. for a long time - like this past fall which seemed to go a month late - it's rather bittersweet. You have to wonder how it's freaking out the whole ecosystem.

There has been a cold front/ice storm just north of us all week. The southern air had been successful in keeping it at bay - but now the cold seems to have gotten control of the situation. It's forcast to get down to 26 tonight and snow on Saturday.

"Sea lice killing off wild salmon"

Researchers have new evidence that as the density of salmon farms increases, they can drive nearby wild salmon runs to extinction. The problem is sea lice, a natural parasite that normally attaches to adult salmon with little ill effect and has little contact with vulnerable juvenile salmon. All that changes, however, when fish farms move in.

A study in the journal Science to be published Friday shows that sea lice infestations around salmon farms in British Columbia's Broughton Archipelago have reached a density so high they are killing juvenile wild pink salmon at a rate fast enough to drive local runs to extinction in eight years if nothing is done — and four years have already passed.

"We've seen sea lice infestations on juvenile salmon in Norway, Ireland, Scotland and Canada, but it's been unclear and very contentious what the impact of the sea lice is on the wild salmon population," said Martin Krkosek, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate at the Center for Mathematical Biology at the University of Alberta.

"What's really new and exciting about this paper is this is the first time scientists have had enough detailed data to actually measure the impact of sea lice on wild salmon populations," he said.

Principally funded by the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the peer-reviewed study is the latest in a series by a group of scientists trying to push the Canadian government to place more strict regulations on salmon farms to control sea lice.

Based on government stream surveys, the study used a computer model to analyze pink salmon returns in 64 rivers without exposure to salmon farms and seven rivers where young fish must migrate past at least one salmon farm. The study considered returns before and after sea lice infestations were noticed in wild fish in 2001....

When fish farms move in, hundreds of thousands of adults are raised in floating net pens anchored year-round in the channels where the young fish migrate. The study suggested that the density of fish farms reached a tipping point in 2001 that triggered a killer sea lice infestation.

Alexandra Morton, a co-author and director of the Salmon Coast Field Station in the archipelago, said wild salmon are surviving commercial fishing but not sea lice...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Arctic Warmups

Without its insulating ice cap, Arctic surface waters warm to as much as 5 C above average

A comparison of 2000 and 2007 shows how the ice edge has retreated as the ice cap has shrunk and how surface waters

Record-breaking amounts of ice-free water have deprived the Arctic of more of its natural "sunscreen" than ever in recent summers. The effect is so pronounced that sea surface temperatures rose to 5 C above average in one place this year, a high never before observed, says the oceanographer who has compiled the first-ever look at average sea surface temperatures for the region.

Such superwarming of surface waters can affect how thick ice grows back in the winter, as well as its ability to withstand melting the next summer, according to Michael Steele, an oceanographer with the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory. Indeed, since September, the end of summer in the Arctic, winter freeze-up in some areas is two months later than usual.

The extra ocean warming also might be contributing to some changes on land, such as previously unseen plant growth in the coastal Arctic tundra, if heat coming off the ocean during freeze-up is making its way over land, says Steele, who is speaking Wednesday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

He is lead author of "Arctic Ocean surface warming trends over the past 100 years," accepted for publication in AGU's Geophysical Research Letters. Co-authors are physicist Wendy Ermold and research scientist Jinlun Zhang, both of the UW Applied Physics Laboratory. The work is funded by the National Science Foundation.

"Warming is particularly pronounced since 1995, and especially since 2000," the authors write. The spot where waters were 5 C above average was in the region just north of the Chakchi Sea. The historical average temperature there is -1 C – remember that the salt in ocean water keeps it liquid at temperatures that would cause fresh water to freeze. This year water in that area warmed to 4 C, for a 5-degree change from the average.

That general area, the part of the ocean north of Alaska and Eastern Siberia that includes the Bering Strait and Chukchi Sea, experienced the greatest summer warming. Temperatures for that region were generally 3.5 C warmer than historical averages and 1.5 C warmer than the historical maximum.

Such widespread warming in those areas and elsewhere in the Arctic is probably the result of having increasing amounts of open water in the summer that readily absorb the sun's rays, Steele says. Hard, white ice, on the other hand, can work as a kind of sunscreen for the waters below, reflecting rather than absorbing sunlight. The warming also may be partly caused by increasing amounts of warmer water coming from the Pacific Ocean, something scientists have noted in recent years.

The Arctic was primed for more open water since the early 1990s as the sea-ice cover has thinned, due to a warming atmosphere and more frequent strong winds sweeping ice out of the Arctic Ocean via Fram Strait into the Atlantic Ocean where the ice melts. The wind effect was particularly strong in the summer of 2007.

Now the situation could be self-perpetuating, Steele says. For example, he calculates that having more heat in surface waters in recent years means 23 to 30 inches less ice will grow in the winter than formed in 1965. Since sea ice typically grows about 80 inches in a winter, that is a significant fraction of ice that's going missing, he says.

Then too, higher sea surface temperatures can delay the start of freeze-up because the extra heat must be discharged from the upper ocean before ice can form. "The effect on net winter growth would probably be negligible for a delay of several weeks, but could be substantial for delays of several months," the authors write.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Bio-plastic production coming to Seymour" (IN)

ereplast, a designer and manufacturer of bio-based plastic resin, announced today it will locate what is billed as the world’s largest bio-based plastic resin manufacturing and distribution facility in Seymour, creating up to 200 new jobs.

The Hawthorne, Calif. company designs, manufactures and distributes plastic resin based on plant starches instead of petroleum.

It will initially invest more than $7 million to equip an existing 100,000-square-foot industrial building, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. said in a news release.

"Cereplast is exactly the kind of business that we’re most interested in attracting. A unique company like this that has market-changing possibilities and the potential for rapid growth is a big win for Indiana," said Gov. Mitch Daniels in a statement.

The six-year-old company manufactures two families of plastic resins based on biopolymers and mixtures of plant starches.

Its Cereplast Compostables product line, which has earned certification as biodegradable and compostable in the United States and Europe, replaces 100 percent of the petroleum-based additives found in traditional plastics with renewable, plant-based starches.

Its Cereplast Hybrid Resins replaces half or more of the petroleum-based content in plastic resin with bio-based compounds such as cornstarch or tapioca starch.

The IEDC offered Cereplast up to $665,000 in performance-based tax credits and up to $60,000 in training grants based on the company’s job creation plans.

Indiana will provide Seymour with a grant of up to $200,000 to assist in off-site infrastructure improvements needed to serve the new facility.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Oil Spill Threatens South Korea's West Coast Wetlands"

About 15,000 tons of oil spilled off the west coast on Friday when a barge carrying a crane collided with a tanker lying at anchor, puncturing it in three places. The accident is the largest offshore oil spill ever to take place in South Korea, a police spokesman said.
South Korea's Coast Guard said the amount of oil spilled by the collision with the tanker was lower than originally estimated. The new estimate is that about 10,500 kiloliters - 66,043 barrels or 2.77 million gallons - of crude oil had been spilled into the Yellow Sea, staining the waters black.

The accident occurred around 7:10 am local time when the Samsung Corp. barge struck the 146,000 ton tanker Hebei Spirit in waters off Mallipo beach, about 90 miles southwest of Seoul...

"We are worried about an ecological disaster," said Kim Jong-sik, an official with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. "This is the country's worst oil spill.

Oil spill responders have set up a boom, trying to stop oil from spreading along the coast, but oil sometimes overflows it, depending on the currents, he said. The oil slick now measures 4.6 miles long and 1.2 miles wide, officials said.

"Energy Department Fined $500,000 for Hanford Radioactive Spill"

The Washington State Department of Ecology has issued a $500,000 penalty against the U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, for a release of radioactive hazardous tank waste to the soil at the Hanford Nuclear Site on the Columbia River in central Washington.
The waste endangered workers and brought a halt to cleanup of the leaky underground single-shell tanks.

The spill occurred on July 27, 2007, when contractor CH2M HILL Hanford Group was pumping waste from a tank. Workers tried to unblock a pump by running it in reverse. This resulted in a high-level waste spill to the ground.

"Over 80 gallons of highly radioactive tank waste spilled to the environment," said Jane Hedges, manager of Ecology's Nuclear Waste Program. "Before the spill was discovered, a series of poor decisions put workers in grave danger from exposure to the tank waste and vapors. This accident calls into question the adequacy of the safety culture which is so critical at the tank farms."

Hedges, who leads the state's oversight of the Hanford cleanup, said, "We are troubled by the length of time it took CH2M HILL and the Department of Energy to determine there was a release of radioactive tank waste. There was a delay of more than seven hours from the time the first high radiation readings were discovered. This is completely unacceptable."

...Van Mason said, "The inspection found that too few staff were on the job to manage the incident during the graveyard shift. Inspections determined that lighting was inadequate in the pump pit area, and poor positioning of the S Tank Farm video camera also contributed to the delay in response to the accident."

As a result of this accident, all work related to retrieving the liquids from Tank 241-S-102 has been stopped. Additionally, all tank waste retrieval work throughout the tank farms has been suspended until the contributing factors can be identified and resolved and work can resume safely.

The Department of Energy has already missed several deadlines for retrieval of waste from the 149 single-shell tanks.

"Radioactive tank waste is the greatest human health and environmental risk at Hanford," said Hedges. "Getting the waste out of the aging, leaky Hanford tanks is the state of Washington's top cleanup priority. The mismanagement of the retrieval work that caused this spill has set back the already delayed tank retrieval work even further."

"S.C. nuke landfill to close; 36 states left in lurch"

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Starting next summer, many power plants, hospitals, universities and companies in 36 states will be forced to store low-level radioactive waste on their own property because a South Carolina landfill is closing its doors to them.

The states have known for years that this day would come. But because of political opposition, environmental fears and cost concerns, most of them have done almost nothing to construct new landfills in the meantime.

At issue is the Barnwell County dump site, a 235-acre expanse that opened in 1971 close to the Georgia line. The equivalent of more than 40 tractor-trailers full of radioactive trash from 39 states was buried there each year before South Carolina lawmakers in 2000 ordered the place to scale back because they no longer wanted the state to be the nation’s dumping ground.

As of July 1, the landfill will take waste only from South Carolina and the two states with which it formed a partnership: New Jersey and Connecticut.

State and industry officials say the not-in-my-backyard resistance will ironically lead to “temporary” storage sites in backyards across the nation...

The danger, some officials say, is that storing the waste in potentially hundreds of locations across the country could allow radiation to escape.

While none of the trash could be used to make a nuclear bomb, some experts fear it could be stolen to make “dirty bombs,” which use conventional explosives to scatter radioactive debris.

“As a matter of national security, health and safety, it makes good sense to ultimately dispose of this stuff and not just store it all over the country,” said Rick Jacobi, a nuclear engineer and former general manager of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority.

“There will be hundreds, maybe thousands of them. People won’t want to pay others to store the material. They’ll find a closet or warehouse or a shed out back and stick it in there and see what happens.”

The trash sent to Barnwell includes protective clothing and gloves, tools, cleaning rags, lab equipment, industrial measuring devices and equipment used to treat cancer patients. It does not include spent fuel from nuclear power plants. The waste is stored in steel containers that are put in concrete vaults and then buried in long trenches.

Most waste from hospitals, universities and power plants falls into the lowest-hazard class, which means it decays to nonradioactive levels within 100 years.

The closing of Barnwell will mean roughly 20,000 cubic feet of trash per year, or enough to fill six tractor-trailers, will be turned away.

Only two other landfills now exist nationwide for low-level nuclear waste.

One, in Clive, Utah, takes only the least hazardous trash, such as slightly contaminated clothing. It accepts waste from all states.

The other landfill, in Richland, Wash., receives such material along with hotter waste that decays to non-hazardous levels within 500 years. But it accepts shipments from only 11 states, including Idaho, Nevada and Colorado...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ag Dept. Fights Meatpackers From Testing For Mad Cow

AP - The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease .

The Agriculture Department tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry.

A federal judge ruled in March that such tests must be allowed. U.S. District Judge James Robertson noted that Creekstone sought to use the same test the government relies on and said the government didn't have the authority to restrict it.

The ruling was to take effect June 1, but the Agriculture Department said Tuesday it would appeal effectively delaying the testing until the court challenge plays out.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is linked to more than 150 human deaths worldwide, mostly in Britain.

There have been three cases of mad cow disease in the U.S. The first, in December 2003 in Washington state, was in a cow that had been imported from Canada. The second, in 2005, was in a Texas-born cow. The third was confirmed last year in an Alabama cow.


Scripps scientists develop faster tests on mad cow disease

Scientists at Scripps Florida have made headway in the study and testing of the infectious proteins that cause mad cow disease and a human variant of the disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

The findings open the door to better understanding of the diseases and their diagnoses and are expected to significantly accelerate the pace of research into how the diseases develop within cells.

The advances come in the form of two new tests developed by scientists at the infectious disease laboratory of The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter. One test, called the Standard Scarpie Cell Assay, measures the infectivity levels of the infected protein, or prion. The test takes only two weeks as opposed to the current 150-250 days, according to Sukhvir Mahal, a Scripps scientist and author of a study published this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The second test, called the Cell Panel Assay, enables researchers to quickly distinguish between different strains of prions. The tests enabled scientists to show that four different cell lines exhibit widely different responses to four different strains of the infections proteins...

Friday, December 07, 2007

"'Flying Saucers' Around Saturn Explained"

The formation of strange flying-saucer-shaped moons embedded in Saturn's rings have baffled scientists. New findings suggest they're born largely from clumps of icy particles in the rings themselves, an insight that could shed light on how Earth and other planets coalesced from the disk of matter that once surrounded our newborn sun.

Saturn's rings orbit the planet in a flat disk that corresponds to the planet's equator. Likewise, Earth and the other planets orbit the sun in a fairly flat plane that relates to the sun's equator. The planets, at least the rocky ones, are thought to have formed when bits of material orbiting the newborn sun stuck together, forming larger and larger objects that collided and coalesced.

Observations by NASA's Cassini spacecraft revealed the Saturnian moons Atlas and Pan, each roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) from pole to pole, have massive ridges bulging from their equators some 3.7 to 6.5 miles (6 to 10.5 kilometers) high, giving them the flying-saucer appearance.

In principle, fast rates of spin might have stretched Atlas and Pan out into such unusual shapes, just as tossing a disk of pizza d ough flattens it out. But neither moon whirls very quickly, each taking about 14 hours to complete a rotation. Earth, far bigger, rotates in 24 hours, of course.

Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., and her colleagues suspected these peculiar moons could be formed mostly from Saturn's rings, rather than just from fragments produced in collisions of larger moons, as some have suggested. The location of the ridges lined up precisely with the rings of icy particles in which they were embedded, findings which are detailed in the Dec. 6 issue of the journal Science.

After analyzing the shapes and densities of the moons from data captured by Cassini, Porco's team now finds Pan and Atlas appear to be mostly light, porous, icy bodies, just like the particles making up the rings. Computer simulations suggest one-half to two-thirds of these bizarre moons are made of ring material, piled up on massive, dense fragments of bigger moons that disintegrated billions of years ago after catastrophic collisions with one another.

These findings could shed light on the behavior of "accretion disks"—disks that build up as matter falls toward a gravitational pull.

"Accretion disks are found everywhere in the universe—around black holes, around stars, around Jupiter," said astrophysicist Sebastien Charnoz at University of Paris Diderot in France. He is the lead author of a related new study—also described in the Dec. 6 issue of Science—that shows how the Saturnian ice-clump moons elongated and bulged out into the flying-saucer shapes.

Understanding how the icy particles piled up to make these shapes could shed light on how matter in the protoplanetary disk that accreted around our newborn sun could have clumped together to make planets, Charnoz added.

"Group touts seaweed as warming weapon"

BALI, Indonesia - Slimy, green and unsightly, seaweed and algae are among the humblest plants on earth. A group of scientists at a climate conference in Bali say they could also be a potent weapon against global warming, capable of sucking damaging carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere at rates comparable to the mightiest rain forests.

"The ocean's role is neglected because we can't see the vegetation," said Chung Ik-kyo, a South Korean environmental scientist. "But under the sea, there is a lot of seaweed and sea grass that can take up carbon dioxide."

The seaweed research, backed by scientists in 12 countries, is part of a broad effort to calculate how much carbon is being absorbed from the atmosphere by plants, and figure out ways to increase that through reforestation and other steps.

Such so-called "carbon sinks" are considered essential to controlling greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and are blamed for global warming.

The conference in Bali is aimed at launching two-year negotiations for a new global warming pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012, and using the earth's natural resources to remove carbon from the air is a major topic of discussion.

While the lion's share of attention to carbon sinks has been on forests, the seaweed scientists say the world should look to the sea, where nearly 8 million tons of seaweed and algae are cultivated every year.

That solution is a largely Asian one and it's not without complications.

China is by far the world's largest producer of seaweed, followed by South Korea and Japan. The Asia-Pacific — where seaweed is used in soups, sushi and salads — accounts for 80 percent of global production.

Proponents say seaweed and algae's rapid rate of photosynthesis, the process of turning carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy and oxygen, is a top factor in its effectiveness in carbon absorption.

Some types of seaweed can grow three or four meters (yards) long in only three months. Lee Jae-young, with South Korea's fisheries ministry, said some seaweeds can absorb five times more carbon dioxide than terrestrial plants.

"These are very productive ecosystems, they're drawing down a lot of carbon," said John Beardall, with Australia's Monash University...

Other obstacles remain. Some critics wonder if removing sea water from the seaweed as it's converted to fuel would require a large amount of energy that reduces its environmental benefits, though supporters say sun-drying could be used.

The environmental impact of rapid expansion of seaweed farms has also not been thought out, scientists concede. Huge floating farms could complicate fishing, shipping and other maritime activities.

Chung acknowledged the idea was in its infancy...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Scientists beg for climate action"

For the first time, more than 200 of the world's leading climate scientists, losing their patience, urged government leaders to take radical action to slow global warming because "there is no time to lose."

A petition from at least 215 climate scientists calls for the world to cut in half greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It is directed at a conference of diplomats meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to negotiate the next global warming treaty. The petition, obtained by The Associated Press, is to be announced at a press conference there Wednesday night.

The appeal from scientists follows a petition last week from more than 150 global business leaders also demanding the 50 percent cut in greenhouse gases. That is the estimate that scientists calculate would hold future global warming to a little more than a 3-degree Fahrenheit increase and is in line with what the European Union has adopted.

In the past, many of these scientists have avoided calls for action, leaving that to environmental advocacy groups. That dispassionate stance was taken during the release this year of four separate reports by the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But no more.

"It's a grave crisis, and we need to do something real fast," said petition signer Jeff Severinghaus, a geosciences professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. "I think the stakes are way way too high to be playing around."

The unprecedented petition includes scientists from more than 25 countries and shows that "the climate science community is essentially fed up," said signer Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in Canada. It includes many co-authors of the intergovernmental climate change panel reports, directors of major American and European climate science research institutions, a Nobel winner for atmospheric chemistry and a winner of a MacArthur "genius" award.

"A lot of us scientists think the problem needs a lot more serious attention than it's getting and the remedies have to be a lot more radical," said Richard Seager, a scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory....

What's happening is people are agreeing "that the cost of inaction is on the high side and the cost of action is affordable," said Joseph Romm, a policy analyst at the liberal think-tank Center for American Progress, energy business consultant and trained physicist.

But Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute said "scientists are in no position to intelligently guide public policy on climate change." Scientists can lay out scenarios, but it is up to economists to weigh the costs and benefits and many of them say the costs of cutting emissions are higher than the benefits, he said.

Granger Morgan, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said he sees "a growing realization among a wide variety of players that we've got to stop talking about this and start some action." But, he added, "I'm not going to hold my breath that we're going to get anything."

The declaration:

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Australia ratifies Kyoto Protocol"

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed the instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in his first act after being sworn in this morning.

The ratification will come into force in 90 days.

“This is the first official act of the new Australian government, demonstrating my government’s commitment to tackling climate change,” Mr Rudd said in a statement.

Mr Rudd said the ratification was considered and approved by the first executive council meeting of the government this morning.

“The governor-general has granted his approval for Australia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol at my request,” he said.

Under United Nations guidelines, ratification comes into force 90 days after the instrument of ratification is received by the UN, making Australia a full member of the Kyoto Protocol by the end of March 2008.

“Australia’s official declaration today that we will become a member of the Kyoto Protocol is a significant step forward in our country’s efforts to fight climate change domestically - and with the international community,” Mr Rudd said.

He said the federal government would do everything in its power to help Australia meet its Kyoto obligations, including setting a target to reduce emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by 2050.

It also would establish a national emissions trading scheme by 2010 and set a 20 per cent target for renewable energy by 2020...

"Mummified Dinosaur Unveiled"

Dakota, a 67-million-year-old "dino mummy" unveiled today by a British paleontologist, is seen here in an artist's rendering.

The extraordinarily preserved hadrosaur, or duck-billed dino, still had much of its tissues and bones intact, encased in an envelope of skin.

Research into the dinosaur's remains may further scientists' understanding of how the ancient creatures' skin appeared and how quickly they moved, said team leader Phillip Manning of the University of Manchester, a National Geographic Expeditions Council grantee.

"This specimen exceeds the jackpot," Manning said.

Dakota was about 35 feet (12 meters) long and weighed some 35 tons, but the dinosaur was no slowpoke, according to preliminary studies...

The 67-million-year old "dino mummy," nicknamed Dakota, was discovered in 1999 by then-teenage paleontologist Tyler Lyson on his family's North Dakota property...

Much of Dakota's fossilized skin has maintained its texture, allowing scientists to map it in 3-D and get a better picture of how duck-billed dinosaurs may have appeared..."And there seems to be striping patterns associated with joint areas on the arm," he added...

"Our models confirm this hadrosaur would have had potential to run faster than T. rex," Manning said. Preliminary calculations suggest that the dino could run 28 miles (45 kilometers) an hour, while T. rex topped out at about 20 miles (32 kilometers) an hour.

"Stretch Of China's Yangtze River Caves In"

A 100-metre (330 ft) stretch of the Yangtze river's bank collapsed in eastern China on Saturday, sending some 10 warehouses and several cranes into the river, the official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday.

The landslide happened near the city of Wuhu in Anhui province, which lies roughly 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Nanjing, capital of the relatively prosperous province of Jiangsu on the eastern seaboard.

Wuhu lies hundreds of km (miles) downstream from the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project, which officials have said would help control flooding in downstream areas.

Xinhua cited a local official as saying the collapse could have been caused by a vortex of water. It said others believed construction at a nearby shipyard might have loosened the foundations of a dyke and caused the collapse.

No casualties were reported, but an elderly couple was saved from a barge before it crashed into the water.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"150 Global Firms Seek Mandatory Cuts in Greenhouse Gas Emissions"

A sizable fraction of the international business community launched an effort to press for mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions yesterday, on the eve of a major round of climate negotiations set to begin Monday in Bali.

In an unprecedented show of solidarity, leaders from 150 global companies endorsed the idea of a legally binding framework in a statement published in the Financial Times newspaper.

Some of the world's largest firms -- including Coca-Cola, General Electric, Shell, Nestlé, Nike, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, British Airways and Shanghai Electric -- said that the scientific evidence for climate change is "now overwhelming" and that a legally binding agreement "will provide business with the certainty it needs to scale up global investment in low-carbon technologies."

A separate coalition of environmental groups and U.S. companies, including Honeywell, Shell Oil and Pacific Gas & Electric, helped underwrite a report, released yesterday by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., that analyzes how much it would cost to reduce U.S. emissions significantly by 2030. The report, which examines 250 options, concludes that the United States could cut emissions by 3 billion to 4.5 billion metric tons a year through existing approaches and "high-potential emerging technologies" if the federal government signaled that it was determined to reduce greenhouse gases dramatically. That would represent a 7 percent to 28 percent reduction from the 2005 levels.

"At some point, we need to establish a clear national commitment," said Jack Stephenson, one of the report's authors. "You're probably going to need standards, mandates and financial incentives."

The report suggests that these reductions, which would rely on a significant improvement in energy efficiency, can be achieved at a cost of less than $50 per metric ton. Nearly 40 percent of these efforts would save money over the long term, the study says, and the measures would range from storing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to adopting no-till farming practices.

"Global warming is becoming a core driver for business and the American economy," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the report's sponsors. "McKinsey has drawn up an excellent roadmap. But it's up to Washington to get us out of the driveway. We have a chance to get this right, but the window of opportunity is very short."

In an interview yesterday with Washington Post editorial writers and reporters, James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, said the Bush administration is committed to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, even though it opposes a mandatory, economy-wide carbon cap...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

“We built a 100% eco resort”

A small resort in Bangalore, India, took up the gauntlet to create a near-perfect, eco-friendly outfit.

At the recent Wild Asia 2007 Responsible Tourism Awards & Seminar, Indian resort operator C. B. Ramkumar gave a talk on responsible tourism and social change. He said matter of factly: “We built a 100% eco resort.”

Call it a marketing ploy or a bold claim, but now Ramkumar had everyone sit up and listen.

This genial yet unassuming 44-year-old owns and runs a 24-room resort in a village 40km from Bangalore City in southern India. Called Our Native Village, the resort started operating in September 2006.

Sitting on 4.8 hectares of land, the resort was constructed of bricks made with mud from the building site. The layout of the building allows natural light to filter through, and strategically placed windows create airy and cool spaces, hence the resort did away with air-conditioning.

The Village generates 80% of its electricity through solar panels, a windmill and biogas plant. Sixty percent of its water is harvested from rain and stored in underground tanks or tapped from bore wells. With its zero-waste policy, all food and animal wastes are converted into methane gas and electricity at the biogas plant. Slurry from the biogas plant is used as fertiliser for the resort’s organic farm. Reed waterbeds recycle grey water from sinks and showers for gardening. “Black” water from the toilets is fed into leach pits and later used as manure.

“All my water is used at least twice, if not three times,” says Ramkumar.

“We use soap nut powder and ash for cleaning dishes and the water can be used for watering plants.”

Specially handmade for the resort, the soaps and shampoos are biodegradable. Pretty clay bottles, water jugs and cups are sourced from local potters. Plastics go for recycling in Bangalore where they are made into pellets for paving roads.

A solar water heater and a traditional Gujarat boiler provide hot showers for guests. The resort’s organic farm supplies fresh, chemical-free veggies for guest meals and herb oil extracts for the spa. Guests can also splash about in the chlorine-free swimming pool.

“We use aquatic plants to clean and oxygenate the fully natural pool – a first in India and a rare one in a tropical climate,” says Ramkumar...

Guests get to pick from a smorgasbord of activities. The Village boasts the first resort in the world to issue a bullock cart-driving licence. Or indulge in traditional village games like gilli-danda (similar to cricket), top spinning and kite-flying. Guests can learn the art of rangoli (floor painting with intricate designs) or take short excursions to the Nrityagam dance school or to a 10th century monolithic temple...

innovative operator also revives traditional Indian arts. Murals painted by rural artists adorn the guestrooms and replicas of Hero stones dot the resort landscapes. Unique to Karnataka, the hero stones, or veerakallu, are stone engravings and sculptures of heroic kings and knights of ancient times....

"12 States Sue EPA for Data on Toxins"

ALBANY, N.Y.(AP) —Twelve states sued the Bush administration Wednesday to force greater disclosure of data on toxic chemicals that companies store, use and release into the environment.

The state officials oppose new federal Environmental Protection Agency rules that allow thousands of companies to limit the information they disclose to the public about toxic chemicals, according to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the lead attorney general in the lawsuit.

The change lets 100 polluters off the hook in New York alone, he said.

The EPA, however, said the change improves the Toxics Release Inventory law and eases requirements only on companies that can certify they have no releases of toxins to the environment.

The EPA this year rolled back a regulation on the law signed by President Reagan after the deadly Bhopal toxic chemical catastrophe in India in 1984, according to the states involved in the lawsuit. That law required companies to provide a long, detailed report whenever they store or emit 500 pounds of specific toxins.

The new rule adopted this year requires that long accounting only for companies storing or releasing 5,000 pounds of toxins or more. Companies storing or releasing 500 to 4,999 pounds of toxins would have to file an abbreviated form, said Katherine Kennedy, New York's special deputy attorney general for environmental protection.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York City seeks to invalidate the EPA's revised regulations.

"The EPA's new regulations rob New Yorkers — and people across the country — of their right to know about toxic dangers in their own backyards," Cuomo said. "Along with 11 other states throughout the nation, we will restore the public's right to information about chemical hazards, despite the Bush administration's best attempts to hide it."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the EPA's action cripples a 20-year program that required companies to report the amount of lead, mercury and other toxins they released.

"Polluters can release 10 times more toxins like lead and mercury without telling anyone," he said....

The other states suing the EPA are Arizona, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont.