Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Silk Road Stategy

I saw where someone posted this. As far as I know this has been little talked about in the media.

Congress originally passed legislation on this in 1998/9 and then updated it in 2006.


From the 1998 hearings on it->

STATEMENT OF ROBERT W. GEE, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
Mr. GEE:

"I also appreciate the opportunity to appear before you as you begin consideration of H.R. 2867, the House version of the Silk Road Strategy Act. While the Administration does not yet have a formal position on the bill, the underlying theme of the proposed legislation is consistent with our policy objectives and strategic goals in the region.

To begin, you may ask why is the United States active in the region? The United States has energy security, strategic, and commercial interests in promoting Caspian region energy development. We have an interest in strengthening global energy security through diversification, and the development of these new sources of supply. Caspian export routes would diversify rather than concentrate world energy supplies, while avoiding over-reliance on the Persian Gulf.

We have strategic interests in supporting the independence, sovereignty, and prosperity of the Newly Independent States of the Caspian Basin. We want to assist the development of these States into democratic, sovereign members of the world community of nations, enjoying unfettered access to world markets without pressure or undue influence from regional powers.

We also have an interest in maximizing commercial opportunities for U.S. firms and for U.S. and other foreign investment in the region's energy development. In short, our interests are rooted in achieving multiple objectives. Rapid development of the region's energy resources and trade linkages are critical to the independence, prosperity, democracy, and stability of all of the countries of that region.

Four factors frame our policy. First, promoting multiple export routes. The Administration's policy is centered on rapid development of the region's resources and the transportation and sale of those resources to hard-currency markets to secure the independence of these new countries. Accordingly, our government has promoted the development of multiple pipelines and diversified infrastructure networks to open and integrate these countries into the global market and to foster regional cooperation...

Our support of specific pipelines, such as the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and trans-Caspian oil and gas lines, is not driven by any desire to intervene in private commercial decisions. Rather, it derives from our conclusion that it is not in the commercial interest of companies operating in the Caspian States, nor in the strategic interests of those host States, to rely on a major competitor for transit rights...

The United States supports regional approaches to Caspian energy development. The Eurasian corridor will enhance Turkey's energy security through diversification, and will ensure that Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have reliable and diversified outlets for their resources...

Our policy on Iran is unchanged. The U.S. Government opposes pipelines through Iran. Development of Iran's oil and gas industry and pipelines from the Caspian Basin south through Iran will seriously undercut the development of east-west infrastructure, and give Iran improper leverage over the economies of the Caucasus and Central Asian States. Moreover, from an energy security standpoint, it makes no sense to move yet more energy resources through the Persian Gulf, a potential major hot spot or chokepoint. From an economic standpoint, Iran competes with Turkmenistan for the lucrative Turkish gas market. Turkmenistan could provide the gas to build the pipeline, only to see itself displaced ultimately by Iran's own gas exports....

The U.S. Government's position is that we support multiple pipelines with the exception of the southern pipeline that would transit Iran. The Unocal pipeline is among those pipelines that would receive our support under that policy.
I would caution that while we do support the project, the U.S. Government has not at this point recognized any governing regime of the transit country, one of the transit countries, Afghanistan, through which that pipeline would be routed. But we do support the project....

"Our Standard of Living"

I post various things and I don't always comment on them. I think a lot of things speak for themselves.

But recently, a friend of mine defended the Utah wilderness destruction - since we need oil.

What bothers me is that our country is not doing more - that passive solar homes are not standard/normal - that cars do not all get 50+mpg - that people don't consume less in general, etc. That people in the US are willing to destroy some of our greatest places rather than change consumption habits. That people are willing to send their children to war rather than change and conserve.

Conserving, living smarter and more sustainably is something that various groups in the US have been working against for quite awhile. As if we can just keep tearing down mountains and drilling every square foot to maintain "our standard of living". What a bunch of nonsense.

You would think that "our standard of living" is like "God" or something that must be worshipped and maintained above all other interests.

What will happen with that sort of mentality is that "our standard of living" will be greatly diminshed sooner and more drastically than would have been necessary. And our world will be a far less habitable and wonderful place.

It will be place where much of the land and oceans will have been destroyed and polluted. Many of the wild animals will not be able to survive. The coral reefs will be gone. The Appalachians will be gone. Jellyfish will do alright, probably. Algae and a few other things. The coasts will be decimated. Most of the snow will be gone. Water will be scarce.

There will be wars and destruction. Perhaps there will be more diseases. But it's people who are living now who are making the choice for this to happen and to happen sooner - because of "our standard of living".

Passive Solar Homes

There is an article in the New York Times about "Passive Houses". The article is about houses in Germany - mostly about super-insulated houses. Which have been built for awhile. At least I've known about them for 30-35 years. The difference is the ones featured in the article use:

"an ingenious central ventilation system. The warm air going out passes side by side with clean, cold air coming in, exchanging heat with 90 percent efficiency."

So that sounds good. I knew someone who made a super-insulated 6" thick walled house that needed very little heat (one small log a day) -and they had to turn on a ventilator daily because it was so air tight.

Also - in Germany - it said that the houses only cost 5-7% more to build and you essentially do not need any or very little extra heat.

The technology has been there to make well-insulated houses. Perhaps it just takes the building codes to require it - to get all of the architects and builders on board. There is a certain amount of insulation required, esp. good windows, a good south face - but there is no reason it couldn't be common.

"Mobile homes" - at least those in certain states ought to require better standards in regards to insulation and wall thickness as well. It's nuts for people to continue to spend ridiculous amounts for heat (using up coal, etc.) instead of spending more on the structure of the house to begin with. We noticed it didn't cost any more to heat a large 3000+ sq. foot old house than to heat a 750 sq. foot "mobile home" (that aren't all that mobile and are often left to rot after a certain amount of time).

The article suggests that these designs are for 500 sq. feet of living space per person. But it also said this design is used for schools. The super-insulated house I saw was probably a 2000-2500 sq. foot house. I expect that these could be made no matter what the size - but that it would be best if people did not use up resources on huge houses, anyway.

From the article:

The first passive home was built here in 1991 by Wolfgang Feist, a local physicist, but diffusion of the idea was slowed by language. The courses and literature were mostly in German, and even now the components are mass-produced only in this part of the world.

The industry is thriving in Germany, however — for example, schools in Frankfurt are built with the technique.

Moreover, its popularity is spreading. The European Commission is promoting passive-house building, and the European Parliament has proposed that new buildings meet passive-house standards by 2011...

Ironically, however, when California inspectors were examining the Berkeley home to determine whether it met “green” building codes (it did), he could not get credit for the heat exchanger, a device that is still uncommon in the United States. “When you think about passive-house standards, you start looking at buildings in a different way,” he said...

The air from outside all goes through HEPA filters before entering the rooms. The cement floor of the basement isn’t cold. The walls and the air are basically the same temperature.

Look closer and there are technical differences: When the windows are swung open, you see their layers of glass and gas, as well as the elaborate seals around the edges. A small, grated duct near the ceiling in the living room brings in clean air. In the basement there is no furnace, but instead what looks like a giant Styrofoam cooler, containing the heat exchanger....

But the sophisticated windows and heat-exchange ventilation systems needed to make passive houses work properly are not readily available in the United States. So the construction of passive houses in the United States, at least initially, is likely to entail a higher price differential.

Moreover, the kinds of home construction popular in the United States are more difficult to adapt to the standard: residential buildings tend not to have built-in ventilation systems of any kind, and sliding windows are hard to seal...

Researchers are looking into whether the concept will work in warmer climates — where a heat exchanger could be used in reverse, to keep cool air in and warm air out....

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Tennessee Ash Flood"


Fifteen homes like this one in Harriman, Tenn., were flooded with fly ash sludge on Monday after a storage pond wall broke.


The spill was "5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep."

The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.

A test of river water near the spill showed elevated levels of lead and thallium, which can cause birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders, said John Moulton, a spokesman for the T.V.A., which owns the electrical generating plant, one of the authority’s largest.

Mr. Moulton said on Friday that the levels exceeded safety limits for drinking water, but that both metals were filtered out by water treatment processes.

Understanding the Exponential Function

This is a good review of what's going on with population growth and consumption growth and why our lifestyle is not sustainable.

Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY

Part 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb3JI8F9LQQ&feature=channel

Part 3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFyOw9IgtjY&feature=channel

Part 4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQd-VGYX3-E&feature=related

Part 5

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-X6EpvWWu8&feature=channel

Part 6

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3y7UlHdhAU&feature=channel

Part 7

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyseLQVpJEI&feature=channel

Part 8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoiiVnQadwE&feature=channel


What it means for Utah - is that people want to tear up the wilderness for 7 weeks worth of oil and 5 months of natural gas:

An Analysis of Utah Oil and Gas Production, Leasing, and Future Resources

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Bush Giveaway of America's Redrock Wilderness

By Robert Redford (@ The Huffingtonpost.com)

You can't put a price on silence or solitude. You can't quantify the beauty of wilderness. And yet that's not going to stop the Bush administration from trying to sell off what should be the birthright of future generations.

In three days, this Friday, 110,000 acres of majestic Utah wild lands go on the auction block, to be sold to the highest bidders in the oil and gas industry. It's a last-ditch effort by a corrupt administration to further enrich its friends in the dirty fuels business. If they succeed, they'll leave a wasteland behind them.

Never mind that we the People of the United States just rejected the failed energy policy of "drill, baby, drill!" Never mind that once industrialized, these precious lands will be marred for centuries. Ravaging these places will put cash in the pockets of greedy speculators, even if it won't solve our energy problems.

The miraculous thing about America though, is that we the People have options. And one of those options is to take a corrupt and foolish administration to court.

This morning I stood with my friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) to announce an emergency lawsuit aimed at stopping this wanton destruction of Utah wilderness. Sharon Buccino, the head of NRDC's lands program, has been fighting the Bush administration for eight years, holding the line against an industrial juggernaut. She says it's illegal under federal law for the Bureau of Land Management to just snap its fingers and sell off national treasures. In its rush, BLM just ignored the rules.

Sharon's case will be among the last lawsuits NRDC ever files against the Bush administration. Most of those lawsuits have been successful. I don't know the odds on this one, but my fingers are crossed. It could be our last chance to protect these irreplaceable lands.

Bush may be a lame duck president, but he can still quack.

UK - Gov't Attempts to Overturn Pesticide Ruling

By Louise Gray From the telegraph.co.uk

A landmark High Court ruling, that found pesticides are harming rural communities, could be overturned by the Government on the grounds that proposals to control use of chemicals could cripple the farming industry.

Last month environment campaigner Georgina Downs managed to prove that residents across the UK have suffered harm to their heath from crop spraying close to their homes.

The High Court ruled that the Government failed to comply with a European Directive to protect people from the possible harmful effects of exposure to toxic chemicals.

But the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs claim that it is impossible to rule out all "possible harmful effects". Instead ministers are proposing stricter controls on use of chemicals.

A spokesman said: "This decision would make it impossible to authorise pesticides governed by the [European] Directive for use in the UK, which would have a very serious impact on farming and food production and would put the UK out of line with the rest of Europe. Defra will be asking the Court of Appeal to overturn this ruling. The protection of the health of those who live, work or visit the countryside remains our highest priority. We will want to look again at the advantages and disadvantages of additional measures, irrespective of the outcome of the case."

Ms Downs, 35, who has been named as a British Erin Brockovich, said the decision was "completely irresponsible".

She said: "The Government's decision to appeal this ruling continues to demonstrate the Government's absolute contempt for rural residents and communities and is a disgrace. Heads should be rolling, following such a landmark High Court Judgment, but instead it's business as usual with the Government's relentless attempts to protect the industry as opposed to the health of its citizens abundantly clear."

Ms Downs, 35, who suffered from pesticide poisoning as a child and now runs the UK Pesticides Campaign, fought for seven years to prove pesticides can cause health problems from rashes and sore throats to "chronic" illnesses including cancers, asthma and neurological conditions.

"The Government's decision to appeal against the High Court ruling is just adding insult to injury to all those residents whose health and lives have been affected as a result of the Government's flawed and unlawful policy and the sheer arrogance of it all is beyond belief," she added.

Japan Leads with No-waste Lifestyle


By Amelia Newcomb From The Christian Science Monitor

KAMIKATSU, JAPAN ...This is a town singularly focused on banishing waste – all waste – by 2020. The 2,000 people of Kamikatsu have dispensed with public trash bins. They set up a Zero Waste Academy to act as a monitor. The town dump has become a sort of outdoor filing cabinet, embracing 34 categories of trash – from batteries to fluorescent lights to bottle caps.

Kamikatsu has probably pushed the recycling ethic as far as any community in the world. But it's just one small indicator of a national drive by Japan to position itself as a leader in the world's urgent quest to live greener.

The momentum cuts across a broad base – from individual recycling to factory efficiency to trading in electronic trash.

Just four decades ago, this small island nation had become an environmental cautionary tale, some of its cities synonymous with the high health costs of rapid postwar industrialization.

But the strengths that propelled Japan toward economic superpowerdom – efficient manufacturing and technological refinement among them – have also helped lay the foundation for a more energy efficient and less polluting society.

Last July, Japanese hosted the G-8 summit and gave it an environmental cast, touting how their manufacturers sustained a drive for energy stinginess long after the oil shocks of the 1970s gave way to the cheap fuel and SUVs of the '90s.

More recently, recycling efforts have burgeoned, as has progress in reducing waste in everything from cars to copy machines. And with cellphones and computers becoming obsolete at fiber optic speeds, Japan is emerging as a top competitor in what is known as urban mining – safely extracting valuable metals for industrial reuse.

"Japan has generally been better than [the US] internationally on a number of issues, including reducing electronic waste, recycling, and energy-efficiency," says Daniel Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy in New Haven, Conn. "The region sees Japan as technological leaders, and as we move more toward understanding the technological role in making environmental progress, there's a sense that Japan has a lot to share."

At Toyota's Tsutsumi assembly plant in Nagoya, Japan's answer to Detroit, evidence of a more environmentally sensitive car industry is on display before you even walk through a door. What was once a vast, gray expanse of industrial might has come to life – literally.

Large trees – 50,000 were planted in May – dot the visitor parking lot to offer a soothing greeting, says the plant's "sustainable initiative" manager. Insulating vines wend their way up the outside of an employee locker building. Some 22,000 square meters of ex-terior walls are coated with photocatalytic paint that, Toyota says, mirrors the ability of 2,000 poplars to absorb nitrous oxide and process oxygen.

The roof of the visitor center is a mat of grass, designed to reduce waves of heat by 3 degrees C. Solar lights dot the streets and 800-kilowatt solar panels blanket the tops of buildings. Even the red roadside flowers were genetically engineered to absorb noxious emissions and help evaporate water.

Behind Tsutsumi's face lift lies one of the globe's most visible bids to lighten the automobile's carbon footprint: the Prius. Hundreds roll off gleaming Line No. 2 here every day.

With the hybrid vehicle an Earth-friendly icon from Tokyo to Hollywood, Toyota decided it was important to have its backstory match up.

"Cars are a burden to the environment, but the hybrid helps," says Osamu Terada, leader of the sustainable plant initiative. "The plant is also important – we don't want manufacturing to cause a further burden."

Like the Prius, the Tsutsumi factory now relies on hybrid power, drawing 50 percent of its electricity from solar panels and 50 percent from capturing waste heat generated within the plant. The facility has reduced its carbon-dioxide emissions to half what they were in 1990, despite an increase in production. It eliminated production of landfill waste in 1999 and dispensed with incinerated waste in March....

It's an approach that has long characterized Japanese business. "Japanese companies have been coming from a real hatred of waste," says John Elkington, founder of SustainAbility, a global corporate consultancy. "And that has gone deeply into their manufacturing philosophy."


At Dowa Eco-System Recycling Co., in Honjo, Japan, Yoshihiko Maeda thrusts his hand into an enormous, waist-high plastic bag and rifles through hundreds of used cellphones. To him, it's opportunity time.

Usually one phone, which weighs 100-130 grams (.22 to .3 lbs.), gives .04 grams of gold, according to Dowa officials. It's a small amount, but it's valuable to manufacturers in growing competition for resources and to recyclers, who can extract and refine it to the same purity as mined gold.

Recovering the contents of everything from air conditioners to circuit boards has taken on increasing global urgency as manufacturing has moved from developed to developing countries, which often lack proper recycling facilities. But extracting the materials is highly lucrative, meaning that businesses vie to snap up the waste. Because it often is hard to automate, unsafe practices can expose workers – including children in some parts of the world – to dangerous materials.

After 2005, says Yasuhiko Hotta, a waste management expert at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Kanagawa, Japan, the government shifted its focus to international efforts. It's taking steps to prevent illegal trade in recyclables, including e-waste, and to develop the capacity for proper treatment of recyclables and waste in developing countries.

Japan's own aggressive efforts on what it has labeled the 3Rs – reuse, recycle, and reduce – have opened up numerous opportunities to support similar strategies in Thailand, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia. They target improved recycling locally, although more effort is under way to bring waste back to Japan that demands highly refined processes...

As he watches a worker take molten recovered gold and press it into a brick worth some 7 million yen, or about $76,000, Mr. Maeda says that the amount of gold and silver he sees has skyrocketed. And that's a good thing.

"Mines dig deep holes, and that produces waste," he says. A ton of earth, for example, typically yields five grams of gold. A ton of cellphones, meanwhile, contains 400 grams of gold, along with 500 grams of silver and 4 grams of palladium, according to Dowa.

Starting next year, the Japanese government will require telecommunications carriers to recycle all cellphones. "We used to think our resources were limitless 40 years ago, but now we can feel the limitation, so we recycle everything," says Maeda...

The town now has an 80-percent recycling rate, up from 55 percent 10 years ago. (The US national recycling rate is an average of about 34 percent, with some cities considerably higher.) The local hotel – where tourists arrive by the bus load to dip into baths fed by mountain hot springs – is heated with biomass burners, saving 7 million yen annually, or about $76,000, and reducing its CO2 emissions...

(Kikue Nii's) practices, which she pushes her grandchildren to emulate, are not just impelled by the new environmental push. Her generation often invoke a long-standing Japanese ethic that has informed samurai and artisans alike: mottainai, or waste not.

"Each person has to do something," Mrs. Nii says, "so their children and grandchildren can have a more peaceful life."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Jellyfish on the menu..."


"...as edible fish stocks become extinct"

From the telegraph.co.uk

Fish stocks around Britain have been reduced to 10 per cent of what they were 100 years ago due to overfishing. Common skate and angel fish are already extinct while favourites like cod are in danger of being wiped out.

The European Union has been trying to help fish stocks recover by introducing quotas for every country under the Common Fisheries Policy.

However scientists have said that unless the system is completely overhauled fish stocks will continue to deplete to the point of extinction by 2048, leaving consumers little option but to eat jellyfish or the small bony species left behind at the bottom of the ocean.

New fishing quotas are to be set this week by Europe.

Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York, said the system is failing to work because ministers haev not heeded the advice of scientists. He said that quotas are consistently around a quarter higher than scientists advise, meaning fish stocks are unable to recover.

"It's a waste of taxpayers' money to develop fisheries advice and science across Europe and then ignore it at the decision-making stage," he said.

Prof Roberts said that in the 1970s three-quarters of Europe's fish were in a healthy or slightly at risk state, but today more than half the EU's stocks were in danger. Another reason the quota system is not working is the problem of discard. An estimated one million tons of fish is dumped in the North Sea every year because it is over quota, the wrong species or too small.

He said that unless the system is improved, fish stocks in UK waters could dwindle to the point of extinction within decades.
"If we do not change our ways we will have less and less to catch... so jelly fish could end up on the menu as opposed to cod in our fish and chips," he said...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jellyfish - Gone Wild

(A combination of news articles based on the NSF “Jellyfish Gone Wild!!“ report. Of course - this is nothing new to Universal Jellyfish. But it's interesting to see articles about it. It sounds like concern is ramping up -> "suspicion is growing that population explosions of jellyfish are being generated by human activities").


A jellyfish swarm in the Gulf of Mexico

Massive swarms of jellyfish are a growing threat to swimmers, the fishing industry, and even the nuclear power industry, a new report argues, and it’s high time for scientists to begin researching the causes of the population boom and how to reverse the trend. The new report from the National Science Foundation may tend towards sensationalism (the report is titled “Jellyfish Gone Wild!!“), but the problem is very real.

Huge swarms of stinging jellyfish and similar slimy animals are ruining beaches in Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, Australia and elsewhere, U.S. researchers report.

Their report says 150 million people are exposed to jellyfish globally every year, with 500,000 people stung in the Chesapeake Bay, off the U.S. Atlantic Coast, alone.

Another 200,000 are stung every year in Florida, and 10,000 are stung in Australia by the deadly Portuguese man-of-war, according to the report, a broad review of jellyfish research.

The report, available on the Internet at http://www.nsf.gov/news/special-reports/jellyfish/index.jsp, says the Black Sea's fishing and tourism industries have lost $350 million because of a proliferation of comb jelly fish.

The report says more than 1,000 fist-sized comb jellies can be found in a cubic yard of Black Sea water during a bloom.
They eat the eggs of fish and compete with them for food, wiping out the livelihoods of fishermen, according to the report.
And it says a third of the total weight of all life in California's Monterey Bay is made up of jellyfish.

Human activities that could be making things nice for jellyfish include pollution, climate change, introductions of non-native species, overfishing and building artificial structures such as oil and gas rigs.

Creatures called salps cover up to 38,600 square miles of the North Atlantic in a regular phenomenon called the New York Bight, but researchers quoted in the report said this one may be a natural cycle.

"There is clear, clean evidence that certain types of human-caused environmental stresses are triggering jellyfish swarms in some locations," William Hamner of the University of California Los Angeles says in the report.

These include pollution-induced "dead zones", higher water temperatures and the spread of alien jellyfish species by shipping.

From the NSF - Enviromental Change and Jellyfish Blooms

1. 1/3 of the total weight of all life in Monterey Bay is from gelatinous animals.

2. 3 minutes after a person is stung by a deadly box jellyfish, s/he may be dead.

3. 8 years after fast-reproducing comb jellies invaded in the Black Sea, they dominated it.

4. 20 to 40 people are killed annually from box jellyfish stings in the Philippines alone.

5. 100 foot-long tentacles may dangle from the Lion’s Mane Jelly.

6. 400 vast Dead Zones in world oceans are too polluted for almost all life except jellyfish.

7. 1,000+ fist-sized comb jellies filled each cubic meter of water in Black Sea jelly blooms.

8. 45,000 eggs may be released daily by a single jellyfish.

9. 500,000 people are stung by jellyfish in the Chesapeake Bay annually.

10. 500 million refrigerator-sized jellyfish float into the Sea of Japan daily during blooms.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Obama Selects Top Environmental Advisers

From the New York Times


President-elect Barack Obama has selected his top energy and environmental advisers, including a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, presidential transition officials said Wednesday.

Collectively, they will have the task of carrying out Mr. Obama’s stated intent to curb global warming emissions drastically while fashioning a more efficient national energy system. And they will be able to work with strong allies in Congress who are interested in developing climate-change legislation, despite fierce economic headwinds that will amplify objections from manufacturers and energy producers.

The officials said Mr. Obama would name Steven Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his energy secretary, and Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Mr. Obama also appears ready to name Carol M. Browner, the E.P.A. administrator under President Bill Clinton, as the top White House official on climate and energy policy and Lisa P. Jackson, who until recently was New Jersey’s commissioner of environmental protection, as the head of the E.P.A.

Aides cautioned that while Mr. Obama appeared to favor Ms. Browner for the new White House post, there were still issues to be resolved before the appointment was formalized. Mr. Obama plans to name the environmental team next week in Chicago, aides said.

If named to the White House climate post, Ms. Browner, an acolyte of former Vice President Al Gore, will have forceful support in the new Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, who will be the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who is returning as chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Opposing their efforts will be many Republicans and some Democrats, as well as manufacturers, utilities, oil companies and coal producers who will bear the brunt of the costs of any steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the main culprit in global warming.

In the coming months, the administration will also have to devise a strategy for dealing with global talks to address climate change, which are already under way.

In addition, both Ms. Browner and Ms. Jackson, who have strong reputations for regulating industry, will be under pressure to revisit and overturn many of the clean-air rules and other regulations imposed during the Bush administration over the objections of environmentalists.

Mr. Obama has promised to spend liberally to finance infrastructure projects and support so-called green technologies that will create jobs while benefiting the environment. These officials will work with Mr. Obama’s economic advisers to try to find — and finance — projects that accomplish these goals...

Dr. Chu will be taking on one of the most challenging jobs in government at the Department of Energy. He will be responsible for the maintenance and development of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, as well as for modernizing the nation’s electrical power delivery system.

He will also play a central role in directing the research and development of alternative energy sources needed to replace fossil fuels in a era of constrained carbon emissions. Mr. Chu shared a Nobel Prize in physics in 1997 for work on supercooled atoms.

At the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, he has sponsored research into biofuels and solar energy and has been a strong advocate of controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group, said he was pleased that Dr. Chu had the technical expertise to realistically assess future energy technologies.

“His experience seems to dovetail perfectly with the president-elect’s commitment to bringing new energy technology to market in a timely fashion,” Mr. Segal said. “An understanding of the art of the possible in energy technology will be critical to the development of a cost-effective climate change policy.”

...Ms. Browner, a lawyer, is well known in Washington and around the country as a forceful environmental advocate and experienced capital player.

...Ms. Jackson had been the head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection since 2006...She has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton and spent 16 years at the federal E.P.A. as a top enforcement officer in Washington and New York.

...Ms. Sutley, who will direct the Council on Environmental Quality, is now the top environmental adviser to the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio R. Villaraigosa. She has years of experience in managing water supplies and water quality in California and has also worked on energy-saving construction rules for the City of Los Angeles.

She was a special assistant to Ms. Browner at the E.P.A.

"Environmental Fugitives Accused of Assaulting Nature"

At first - it sounded like a good thing - the EPA trying to catch people who are "Accused of Assaulting Nature". But then there is the question of 'why now?' At the end of the Bush Administration - when they've been letting god knows who get away with god knows what.

So I go to the list that the article links to EPA Fugitives - and what do you know - the lists starts out with a couple of people from Syria and continues on with a bunch of other people mostly from/living overseas.

What about all of the people in this country? Big corporations and all of that. Most of the people on the list did one time - relatively small things compared to what some of the big corporations do.

I suppose they wanted an environmental headline- so this is what they came up with?

Arctic- Point of No Return?

By Volker Mrasek - www.spiegel

...A new study completed by a team of US, Norwegian and German researchers may now provide some clues. Published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters in November, the study posits that a dramatic change in atmospheric circulation patterns has taken place since the beginning of the decade, with centers of high pressure in winter shifting toward the north-east. The new pattern of sudden climate change is characterized by "poleward atmospheric and oceanic heat transport," the authors write in the study, a transport which drives temperature increases in the Arctic. The discovery was made using specialized filters that allow one to follow changes to high pressure centers over time.

..."In the case of Arctic Sea ice, we have already reached the point of no return," says the prominent American climate researcher James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA.

The waters around the North Pole are heavily influenced by the currents coursing through the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Those currents are driven by conflicting pressure systems in each ocean: in the Pacific, the low pressure zone located near the Aleutian Islands extending west from Alaska is doing battle with a subtropical high pressure zone further south; in the Atlantic the currents are determined by the Azores High and the Icelandic Low.

Winter in the Arctic has long been determined by what researchers refer to as a "tri-polar" pattern. The interaction among the Icelandic Low, the Azores High and the subtropical high in the Pacific led to primarily east-west winds, a pattern which effectively blocked warmer air from moving northward into the Arctic region.

But since the beginning of the decade, the patterns have changed. Now, a "dipolar" (bipolar) pattern has developed in which a high pressure system over Canada and a low pressure system over Siberia have the say. The result has been that Artic winds now blow north-south, meaning that warmer air from the south has no problem making its way into the Arctic region. "It's like a short-circuit," says RĂ¼diger Gerdes, a scientist at the Alfred Webener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and one of the five authors of the study.

The influx of warm air from the south was especially intense during the winter of 2005-2006, the study says. During that period, 90 terawatts of energy flowed into the Artic Ocean from the North Pacific -- an amount that far exceeds the needs of the entire industrial world. Gerdes has no doubt that the ice will "quickly disappear if the new pressure patterns stay the way they are." He says that the Arctic Ocean would still freeze during the winter, but the ice pack would be too small to survive the warmer summer months.

...The series of warm winters experienced in the Arctic this decade, it should be noted, is not the first time in recent history the region has been visited by mild weather. In the 1930s, there was a similar "dipolar" pattern that pushed warm air into the Arctic, as researchers now know. Back then, though, it was air from the North Atlantic and not from the North Pacific. Furthermore, says Gerdes, the warm air did not penetrate beyond 75 degrees north latitude, which roughly marks the previous limits of the ice cap. Today, the heat spreads through the entire Arctic.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"A Summer Crack-up In The Antarctic..."

From satnews.com

In late February 2008, a large part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula disintegrated. Since then, what remained of the southern part of the shelf has been held precariously in place by a thin ice bridge connecting Charcot Island in the north to Latady Island in the south. Initially, the ice bridge was about 6 kilometers wide, but further break up during Antarctic fall and winter reduced the bridge to just 2.7 kilometers.

As Southern Hemisphere summer approached, imagery from the European Space Agency’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar revealed that new cracks were continuously forming in the seaward edge of the ice shelf. This image from November 26, 2008, shows the location of numerous cracks and the dates on which they formed. It seemed likely the new cracks would dislodge the fragile ice bridge, which could destabilize the remains of the ice shelf that are wedged between Latady Island (lower left) and the Antarctic coastline (toward the right). The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced more warming in the past two decades than the rest of the continent. The rocky spine of land extends out of the Antarctic Circle into the Southern Ocean, and rising ocean temperatures have been implicated in the collapse or retreat of multiple ice shelves in the area. The Wilkins Ice Shelf is nearly 300 kilometers closer to the South Pole than the Larsen B, which rapidly disintegrated in 2002.

"Feds Set to Eliminate Water Regulations for Toxin"

From wiredscience

Among the Bush administration's final environmental legacies will be a decision to exempt perchlorate, a known toxin found at unsafe levels in the drinking water of millions of Americans, from federal regulation.

The ruling, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in October, was supposed to be formalized on Monday. That deadline passed, but the agency expects to announce its decision by the year's end, before president-elect Barack Obama takes office. It could take years to reverse.

Critics accuse the EPA of ignoring expert advice and basing their decision on an abstract model of perchlorate exposure, rather than existing human data.

"We know that breast milk is widely contaminated with perchlorate, and we know that young children are especially vulnerable. We have really good human data. So why are they putting a model front-and-center?" said Anila Jacobs at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. "And they used a model that hasn't yet gone through the peer-review process."

The ruling is one of dozens planned for the final days of the Bush administration. Others include a relaxing of air pollution standards for aging power plants, and a reduction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's traditional role in evaluating the impact of federal projects on endangered species.

These have received more attention than the status of perchlorate, a chemical found mostly in jet rocket fuel and detected in 35 states and 153 water public water systems. It is known to lower thyroid hormone levels in women; it poses a particular threat to pregnant women and breast-feeding children, whose long-term neurological development can be stunted by youthful hormone imbalances.

As many as 40 million Americans may now be exposed to unsafe levels of perchlorate, and the EPA's own analysis puts the number at 16 million. The most comprehensive human exposure study, which measured unexpectedly high perchlorate levels and correlated them with thyroid hormone drops, was concluded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007.

Environmental health advocates saw the study as supporting tightened restrictions on perchlorate levels in drinking water — something the EPA had been loath to do under the Bush administration. The study was not considered in the anticipated ruling, which could effectively end federal monitoring of perchlorate in drinking water.

"If you used the human studies from the CDC, then you would be forced to regulate it, because we know there are health effects at current levels of exposure," said Jacobs.

Benjamin Blount, co-author of the CDC's study, would not comment on the EPA's decision, but said that infants — who consume, proportional to their body weight, about six times more water than adults — "are thought to have a higher dose than at any other life stage."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Dumping Mountain Tops

From the New York Times

The White House on Tuesday approved a final rule that will make it easier for coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys.

The rule is one of the most contentious of all the regulations emerging from the White House in President Bush’s last weeks in office.

James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, confirmed in an interview that the rule had been approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget. That clears the way for publication in the Federal Register, the last stage in the rule-making process.

Stephen L. Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, concurred in the rule, first proposed nearly five years ago by the Interior Department, which regulates coal mining.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, dated Tuesday, Mr. Johnson said the rule had been revised to protect fish, wildlife and streams.

Mining activities must comply with water quality standards established by the federal government and the states, Mr. Johnson said.

But a coalition of environmental groups said the rule would accelerate “the destruction of mountains, forests and streams throughout Appalachia.”

Edward C. Hopkins, a policy analyst at the Sierra Club, said: “The E.P.A.’s own scientists have concluded that dumping mining waste into streams devastates downstream water quality. By signing off on this rule, the agency has abdicated its responsibility.”

Mr. Bush has boasted of his efforts to cooperate with President-elect Barack Obama to ensure a smooth transition, but the administration is rushing to complete work on regulations to which Mr. Obama and his advisers object. The rules deal with air pollution, auto safety, abortion and workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals, among other issues...

“This is unmistakably a fire sale of epic size for coal and the entire fossil fuel industry, with flagrant disregard for human health, the environment or the rule of law,” said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to finish work on a rule that would make it easier for utilities to put coal-fired generating stations near national parks. It is working on another rule that would allow utility companies to modify coal-fired power plants and increase their emissions without installing new pollution-control equipment.

Joan M. Mulhern, a lawyer at Earthjustice, an environmental group, denounced the mining regulation.

“With less than two months left in power,” Ms. Mulhern said, “the Bush administration is determined to cement its legacy as having the worst environmental record in history.”...

The rule gives coal companies a legal right to do what, in the past, they could do only in exceptional circumstances, with special permission from the government....

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Rush to Enact a [Toxic] Rule Obama Opposes"

The original headline has the word "Safety" where I put in "Toxic". It made it sound like the Bush Administrations wanted to do something to INCREASE safety - that Obama opposed. I thought - this can't be right... and of course - it wasn't.

From the New York Times:

The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

The rule, which has strong support from business groups, says that in assessing the risk from a particular substance, federal agencies should gather and analyze “industry-by-industry evidence” of employees’ exposure to it during their working lives. The proposal would, in many cases, add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers’ health.

Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses.

With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.

The Labor Department proposal is one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks. The rules deal with issues as diverse as abortion, auto safety and the environment.

One rule would make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Another would reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species.

Mr. Obama and his advisers have already signaled their wariness of last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to embed its policies into the Code of Federal Regulations, a collection of rules having the force of law. The advisers have also said that Mr. Obama plans to look at a number of executive orders issued by Mr. Bush.

A new president can unilaterally reverse executive orders issued by his predecessors, as Mr. Bush and President Bill Clinton did in selected cases. But it is much more difficult for a new president to revoke or alter final regulations put in place by a predecessor. A new administration must solicit public comment and supply “a reasoned analysis” for such changes, as if it were issuing a new rule, the Supreme Court has said....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Oceans Ten Times More Acidic Than Thought"

National Geographic News


Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may make Earth's oceans more acidic faster than previously thought—unbalancing ecosystems in the process, a new study says.

Since 2000, scientists have measured the acidity of seawater around Tatoosh Island off the coast of Washington state. The acidity increased ten times quicker than climate models predicted.

"The increase in acidity we saw during our study was about the same magnitude as we expect over the course of the next century," said study co-author Timothy Wootton, a marine biologist from the University of Chicago.

"This raises a warning flag that the oceans may be changing faster than people think," he said.

Increased carbon dioxide emissions from human activities have led to a 30 percent rise in ocean acidity in the past 200 years.

When atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in the oceans it forms carbonic acid, which in turn has a negative impact on marine life.

Laboratory studies show that as seawater acidity increases, the calcium carbonate shells and skeletons of many marine species, such as hard corals, sea urchins, and stony seaweeds, begin to corrode....

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Solar panels on graves give power to Spanish town"


MADRID, Spain – A new kind of silent hero has joined the fight against climate change.

Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a gritty, working-class town outside Barcelona, has placed a sea of solar panels atop mausoleums at its cemetery, transforming a place of perpetual rest into one buzzing with renewable energy.

Flat, open and sun-drenched land is so scarce in Santa Coloma that the graveyard was just about the only viable spot to move ahead with its solar energy program.

The power the 462 panels produces — equivalent to the yearly use by 60 homes — flows into the local energy grid for normal consumption and is one community's odd nod to the fight against global warming.

"The best tribute we can pay to our ancestors, whatever your religion may be, is to generate clean energy for new generations. That is our leitmotif," said Esteve Serret, director Conste-Live Energy, a Spanish company that runs the cemetery in Santa Coloma and also works in renewable energy.

In row after row of gleaming, blue-gray, the panels rest on mausoleums holding five layers of coffins, many of them marked with bouquets of fake flowers. The panels face almost due south, which is good for soaking up sunshine, and started working on Wednesday — the culmination of a project that began three years ago.

...town hall and cemetery officials waged a public-awareness campaign to explain the worthiness of the project, and the painstaking care with which it would be carried out. Eventually it worked, Fogue said.

The panels were erected at a low angle so as to be as unobtrusive as possible.

"There has not been any problem whatsoever because people who go to the cemetery see that nothing has changed," Fogue said. "This installation is compatible with respect for the deceased and for the families of the deceased."

The cemetery hold the remains of about 57,000 people and the solar panels cover less than 5 percent of the total surface area. They cost 720,000 euros ($900,000) to install and each year will keep about 62 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, Serret said....

Friday, November 14, 2008

"U.N. Reports Pollution Threat in Asia"


BEIJING — A noxious cocktail of soot, smog and toxic chemicals is blotting out the sun, fouling the lungs of millions of people and altering weather patterns in large parts of Asia, according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations.

The byproduct of automobiles, slash-and-burn agriculture, cooking on dung or wood fires and coal-fired power plants, these plumes rise over southern Africa, the Amazon basin and North America. But they are most pronounced in Asia, where so-called atmospheric brown clouds are dramatically reducing sunlight in many Chinese cities and leading to decreased crop yields in swaths of rural India, say a team of more than a dozen scientists who have been studying the problem since 2002.

“The imperative to act has never been clearer,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, in Beijing, which the report identified as one of the world’s most polluted cities, and where the report was released.

The brownish haze, sometimes in a layer more than a mile thick and clearly visible from airplanes, stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. In the spring, it sweeps past North and South Korea and Japan. Sometimes the cloud drifts as far east as California.

The report identified 13 cities as brown-cloud hot spots, among them Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, Tehran and Seoul, South Korea.

It was issued on a day when Beijing’s own famously polluted skies were unusually clear. On Wednesday, by contrast, the capital was shrouded in a thick, throat-stinging haze that is the byproduct of heavy industry, coal-burning home heaters and the 3.5 million cars that clog the city’s roads.

Last month, the government reintroduced some of the traffic restrictions that were imposed on Beijing during the Olympics; the rules forced private cars to stay off the road one day a week and sidelined 30 percent of government vehicles on any given day. Over all, officials say the new measures have removed 800,000 cars from the roads.

According to the United Nations report, smog blocks from 10 percent to 25 percent of the sunlight that should be reaching the city’s streets. The report also singled out the southern city of Guangzhou, where soot and dust have dimmed natural light by 20 percent since the 1970s.

In fact, the scientists who worked on the report said the blanket of haze might be temporarily offsetting some warming from the simultaneous buildup of greenhouse gases by reflecting solar energy away from the earth. Greenhouse gases, by contrast, tend to trap the warmth of the sun and lead to a rise in ocean temperatures.

Climate scientists say that similar plumes from industrialization of wealthy countries after World War II probably blunted global warming through the 1970s. Pollution laws largely removed that pall.

Rain can cleanse the skies, but some of the black grime that falls to earth ends up on the surface of the Himalayan glaciers that are the source of water for billions of people in China, India and Pakistan. As a result, the glaciers that feed into the Yangtze, Ganges, Indus and Yellow Rivers are absorbing more sunlight and melting more rapidly, researchers say....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A New Era Begins - Obama Wins




Joy, hope, some sort of nameless deep satisfaction.

There is finally reason for optimism.

*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Wall Street Bailout/Swindle

Paulson's Swindle Revealed by WILLIAM GREIDER

The swindle of American taxpayers is proceeding more or less in broad daylight, as the unwitting voters are preoccupied with the national election. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson agreed to invest $125 billion in the nine largest banks, including $10 billion for Goldman Sachs, his old firm. But, if you look more closely at Paulson's transaction, the taxpayers were taken for a ride--a very expensive ride. They paid $125 billion for bank stock that a private investor could purchase for $62.5 billion. That means half of the public's money was a straight-out gift to Wall Street, for which taxpayers got nothing in return......


The Bailout: Bush's Final Pillage by NAOMI KLEIN

In the final days of the election, many Republicans seem to have given up the fight for power. But that doesn't mean they are relaxing. If you want to see real Republican elbow grease, check out the energy going into chucking great chunks of the $700 billion bailout out the door. At a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing, Republican Senator Bob Corker was fixated on this task, and with a clear deadline in mind: inauguration. "How much of it do you think may be actually spent by January 20 or so? Corker asked Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old former banker in charge of the bailout.

When European colonialists realized that they had no choice but to hand over power to the indigenous citizens, they would often turn their attention to stripping the local treasury of its gold and grabbing valuable livestock. If they were really nasty, like the Portuguese in Mozambique in the mid-1970s, they poured concrete down the elevator shafts.

The Bush gang prefers bureaucratic instruments: "distressed asset" auctions and the "equity purchase program." But make no mistake: the goal is the same as it was for the defeated Portuguese--a final frantic looting of the public wealth before they hand over the keys to the safe.

How else to make sense of the bizarre decisions that have governed the allocation of the bailout money? When the Bush administration announced it would be injecting $250 billion into America's banks in exchange for equity, the plan was widely referred to as "partial nationalization"--a radical measure required to get the banks lending again. In fact, there has been no nationalization, partial or otherwise. Taxpayers have gained no meaningful control, which is why the banks can spend their windfall as they wish (on bonuses, mergers, savings...) and the government is reduced to pleading that they use a portion of it for loans.

What, then, is the real purpose of the bailout? I fear it is something much more ambitious than a one-off gift to big business--that this bailout has been designed to keep pillaging the Treasury for years to come. Remember, the main concern among big market players, particularly banks, is not the lack of credit but their battered share prices. Investors have lost confidence in the banks' honesty, and with good reason. This is where Treasury's equity pays off big time.

By purchasing stakes in these institutions, Treasury is sending a signal to the market that they are a safe bet. Why safe?

Because the government won't be able to afford to let them fail. If these companies get themselves into trouble, investors can assume that the government will keep finding more cash, since allowing them to go down would mean losing its initial equity investments (just look at AIG). That tethering of the public interest to private companies is the real purpose of the bailout plan: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is handing all the companies that are admitted to the program--a number potentially in the thousands--an implicit Treasury Department guarantee. To skittish investors looking for safe places to park their money, these equity deals will be even more comforting than a Triple-A rating from Moody's.

Insurance like that is priceless. But for the banks, the best part is that the government is paying them--in some cases billions of dollars--to accept its seal of approval. For taxpayers, on the other hand, this entire plan is extremely risky, and may well cost significantly more than Paulson's original idea of buying up $700 billion in toxic debts. Now taxpayers aren't just on the hook for the debts but, arguably, for the fate of every corporation that sells them equity....

"Climate Change Refugees to Arrive in Bougainville"

The original title was that these were the "first" refugees. Maybe it's just the "refugee" title that the Carterets Islanders for some reason have. They are not the first to move....

In 2005, "....inhabitants in the Lateu settlement on Tegua island in Vanuatu started dismantling their wooden homes in August and moved about 600 yards (meters) inland....The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement that the Lateu settlement "has become one of, if not the first, to be formally moved out of harm's way as a result of climate change."


BUKA, Papua New Guinea, Oct 31 Asia Pulse - Bougainville expects the first 40 families of Carterets Island to move into their new mainland location by March next year, Administrator Raymond Masono said yesterday., reports Post Courier.

They are still negotiating with landowners of Baniu Plantation for the piece of land which they would resettle on as their permanent home under the major climate change resettlement exercise.

Mr Masono, however, said that the exercise would cost the Autonomous Bougainville and PNG Government millions, starting next year through to 2014.

Carterets Islanders have become the world's first climate change refugees according to a recent United Nations Report.

The 1500 residents of Carterets Island, an atoll of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, are fast becoming the world's first climate change refugees as officially stated.

A third of the population had refused to leave their island because they claimed they had spent all their lives there and would not move or claimed they would sink and vanish with the island.

Sea levels around the atoll have risen 10 centimetres in the past 20 years, inundating plantations. The situation is deteriorating, islanders told officials. They said they urgently needed assistance to be relocated to higher ground.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"One-third of world fish catch used for animal feed"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One-third of the world's ocean fish catch is ground up for animal feed, a potential problem for marine ecosystems and a waste of a resource that could directly nourish humans, scientists said on Wednesday.

The fish being used to feed pigs, chickens and farm-raised fish are often thought of as bait, including anchovies, sardines, menhaden and other small- to medium-sized species, researchers wrote in a study to be published in November in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources.

These so-called forage fish account for 37 percent, or 31.5 million tons, of all fish taken from the world's oceans each year, the study said. Ninety percent of that catch is turned into fish meal or fish oil, most of which is used as agricultural and aquacultural feed.

Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science and a professor at Stony Brook University in New York, called these numbers "staggering."

"The reason I find that so alarming is that it's an enormous percentage of the world fish catch," Pikitch said by telephone. "And fish are fundamentally important to the health of the ocean overall."

Forage fish are near the base of the marine food web, nourishing larger fish, ocean-dwelling marine mammals and sea birds, especially puffins and gulls, the study said.

ECOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES

Unlike such dinner-plate fish as tuna, swordfish and cod, the extraction of forage fish is largely unregulated, Pikitch said. Excessive removal of these small fish from the ocean environment could hurt the species that feed on them.

Aside from the potential ecological consequences, the taking of these large numbers of forage fish interferes with food security for humans, she said.

On average, it takes three to five pounds (1.36 to 2.27 kg) of fishmeal to produce one pound (0.45 kg) of farm-raised fish, Pikitch said.

"If you're creating protein for humans to consume, does it make sense to take three to five pounds of perfectly good food and convert it into only one pound of food?" she said.

Most forage fish are high in omega 3 fatty acids associated with heart health, she said, adding that it makes sense for humans to consume these fish directly rather than to feed them to livestock and farmed fish.

But human consumption of these fish needs to be monitored, said Joshua Reichert of the Pew Environment Group.

"Whatever people take out of the sea needs to be carefully calibrated to ensure that sufficient fish are left to sustain populations of other fish, seabirds and marine mammals, which all play a major role in the healthy functioning of the world's oceans," Reichert said in a statement...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

'Maude Barlow: The Al Gore of H2O"

by Erin Anderssen

OTTAWA -- 'What does it take to frighten people?" Maude Barlow wonders.

She rattles off a grim list of worries, barely pausing for breath: water supplies in Africa guarded by dogs and chain-link fences while families go thirsty, the vital Murray-Darling Basin in southeast Australia crumbling into desert, the mighty Colorado River in the United States drying up to a trickle.

"The water crisis is deepening everywhere," sighs the 61-year-old activist and head of the Council of Canadians, who has tasted tear gas and faced down stun guns in defence of universal access to clean water. What scares her most is that the problem will not get fixed for her grandchildren.

This week, Ms. Barlow was named senior adviser to the United Nations on water issues - a new position created by General Assembly president Miguel d'Escoto, who raised the subject of water as a human right in his first UN speech in September. Ms. Barlow, who has been meeting with Mr. d'Escoto unofficially since August, agreed to take the position without pay.

"With my heart and soul, I believe it is the single most important environmental and human-rights threat of our time, and it's the one hitting now," she says on the telephone from Winnipeg, where she was attending a conference. "There is nothing 'in the future' about this [issue]."...

In India, Ms. Hauter recalls, Ms. Barlow sat for two days in a small village with mothers who were holding a silent vigil to protest against a Coca-Cola plant that was siphoning off their water to bottle it. She was tear-gassed during an anti-globalization rally at the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong in 2005.

In Johannesburg, water services have been privatized, prepaid meters have been installed by the French company Suez, and the supply cut off to those who can't afford to pay. When local townships formed a protest march, Ms. Barlow and her staff moved to the front of the line, hoping to deter the police from using stun guns. A few days later in the Orange Farm township, she confronted some visiting Suez executives, who eventually hopped back on their bus and left without taking their tour.

This is the same doggedness that Ms. Barlow now vows to bring to her new post at the United Nations, where her main focus will be developing a new convention that sees water not as "a commodity to be sold on the open market like running shoes," but as a public resource held in trust by the government and provided as a human right to its citizens.

She says issues around water cover all the areas she feels most passionately about: gender, poverty, the environment, social justice. She describes returning from a trip in which she visited Nairobi's huge Kibera slum, where people use "flying toilets" (you defecate into a plastic bag and throw it in the street), and counting up her faucets and water lines in her Ottawa home. "I could turn them all on and run them for days, and nobody would say a word. We just take it for granted."

When she began studying the politics of water, she had to unlearn much of what she had been taught about the resource - beginning with the idea that it is infinitely renewable and that Canada is overflowing with it.

"We are a planet running out of clean water," she says. "We all learned that couldn't happen back in Grade 6. But it is happening."

And she notes that many Canadians still believe that their country has 20 per cent of the world's water supply and is therefore safe from shortages. (In fact, scientists now say Canada holds closer to 7 per cent of the planet's fresh water, and much of that is too far north to be accessible.)

Consider the ready examples that belie our myth of abundance, she says: The Great Lakes are becoming increasingly polluted as their water levels fall, many aboriginal communities have limited access to drinking water and the oil-sands expansion continues to damage the ecosystem of northern Alberta.

***

In deep water

1.1 billion people have no access to clean drinking water.

The World Health Organization has found that contaminated water contributes to 80 per cent of all sickness and disease worldwide. Half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by people with an easily preventable waterborne disease.

In China, 80 per cent of major rivers are so polluted that they no longer support aquatic life.

By 2050, based on a population growth of three billion people, humans will need an 80-per-cent increase in water supplies to feed themselves.

For the price of one bottle of Evian, the average North American could buy roughly 4,000 litres of tap water.

Less than 5 per cent of plastic bottles around the world are recycled.

Source: Blue Covenant: the Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water, by Maude Barlow

"Scientists confirm oceans acidifying at unprecedented speed"

From unesco.org

The acidification of the world’s oceans, caused by the absorption of huge volumes of carbon dioxide, is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, threatening marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of tens of millions of people, concluded scientists attending the Second International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World held in Monaco from 6-9 October.

The meeting, attended by 250 marine scientists from 32 countries, was organized by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP), with the support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and several other partners.

“Our oceans are sick. We don’t quite know how sick, but there is enough evidence now for us to say that ocean chemistry in changing, that as a result some marine organisms will be affected, and that decision makers need to sit up and take notice,” said James Orr of the IAEA and Chairman of the meeting.

Acidification results from the ocean’s capacity to absorb vast quantities of carbon dioxide, about one-third of what we emit to the atmosphere from combustion of fossil fuels. Currently, the ocean absorbs about eight billion tonnes of CO2 annually that would otherwise stay in the atmosphere. It thus plays an important role in mitigating global warming. But at what price?

“Since the industrial revolution, the acidity of ocean surface waters has increased by 30 percent. This change is greater and happening about 100 times faster than for previous acidification events experienced in many millions of years,” said Dr. Orr.

“Published research indicates that by 2030, the Southern Ocean will start to become corrosive to the shells of some marine snails that swim in surface waters. These snails provide a major source of food for Pacific Salmon. If they decline or disappear in some regions, such as the North Pacific, what will happen to the salmon – and the salmon fishing industry? And what will happen as ocean acidification increasingly affects coral reefs, which are home to one-quarter of the world’s fish during at least part of their lifetime, and which support a multi-billion dollar tourist industry?” he continued.

“Previous acidification events provide a clue,” said Carole Turley from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (U.K). “The evidence indicates mass extermination of shell bearing organisms for example. This bears out with studies of the ocean floor around existing natural CO2 vents today, where the sea water is already highly acidified, and which show a steep decline in biodiversity and the appearance of invasive species.”

Methane and Nitrogen Trifluoride on the Rise

WASHINGTON – Carbon dioxide isn't the only greenhouse gas that worries climate scientists. Airborne levels of two other potent gases — one from ancient plants, the other from flat-panel screen technology — are on the rise, too. And that's got scientists concerned about accelerated global warming.

The gases are methane and nitrogen trifluoride. Both pale in comparison to the global warming effects of carbon dioxide, produced by the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. In the past couple of years, however, these other two gases have been on the rise, according to two new studies. The increase is not accounted for in predictions for future global warming and comes as a nasty surprise to climate watchers.

Methane is by far the bigger worry. It is considered the No. 2 greenhouse gas based on the amount of warming it causes and the amount in the atmosphere. The total effect of methane on global warming is about one-third that of man-made carbon dioxide.

Methane comes from landfills, natural gas, coal mining, animal waste, and decaying plants. But it's the decaying plants that worry scientists most. That's because thousands of years ago billions of tons of methane were created by decaying Arctic plants. It lies frozen in permafrost wetlands and trapped in the ocean floor. As the Arctic warms, the concern is this methane will be freed and worsen warming. Scientists have been trying to figure out how they would know if this process is starting.
It's still early and the data are far from conclusive, but scientists say they are concerned that what they are seeing could be the start of the release of the Arctic methane.

After almost eight years of stability, atmospheric methane levels — measured every 40 minutes by monitors near remote coastal cliffs — suddenly started rising in 2006. The amount of methane in the air has jumped by nearly 28 million tons from June 2006 to October 2007. There is now more than 5.6 billion tons of methane in the air.

"If it's sustained, it's bad news," said MIT atmospheric scientist Ron Prinn, lead author of the methane study, which will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters Oct. 31. "This is a heads up. We're seeing smoke. It remains to be seen whether this is the fire we're really worried about.

"Whenever methane increases, you are accelerating climate change," he said.

By contrast, nitrogen trifluoride has been considered such a small problem that it's generally been ignored. The gas is used as a cleaning agent during the manufacture of liquid crystal display television and computer monitors and for thin-film solar panels.

Earlier efforts to determine how much nitrogen trifluoride is in the air dramatically underestimated the amounts, said Ray Weiss, a geochemistry professor with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and lead author on a nitrogen trifluoride paper. It is set to be published in Geophysical Letters in November.

Nitrogen trifluoride levels in the air — measured in parts per trillion — have quadrupled in the last decade and increased 30-fold since 1978, according to Weiss, who is also a co-author of the methane paper.

It contributes only 0.04 percent of the total global warming effect that man-made carbon dioxide does from the burning of fossil fuels.

But nitrogen trifluoride is one of the more potent gases, thousands of times stronger at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a per molecule basis. Carbon dioxide remains the most important gas because of its huge levels and rapid growth.

Still, methane and the potential of future increases is a worry, Weiss and others say.

Its recent increase coincides with anecdotal evidence of more methane being released in the shallow parts of the Arctic Ocean. A scientific survey in late summer found methane levels in the east Siberian Sea up to 10,000 times higher than normal, said Orjan Gustafsson, an environmental scientist at Stockholm University who has just returned from the six-week survey.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

EPA weakens new lead rule (Bush Admin)

WASHINGTON — After the White House intervened, the Environmental Protection Agency last week weakened a rule on airborne lead standards at the last minute so that fewer known polluters would have their emissions monitored.

The EPA on Oct. 16 announced that it would dramatically reduce the highest acceptable amount of airborne lead from 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter to 0.15 micrograms. It was the first revision of the standard since EPA set it 30 years ago.

However, a close look at documents publicly available, including e-mails from the EPA to the White House Office of Management and Budget , reveal that the OMB objected to the way the EPA had determined which lead-emitting battery recycling plants and other facilities would have to be monitored.

EPA documents show that until the afternoon of Oct. 15 , a court-imposed deadline for issuing the revised standard, the EPA proposed to require a monitor for any facility that emitted half a ton of lead or more a year.

The e-mails indicate that the White House objected, and in the early evening of Oct. 15 the EPA set the level at 1 ton a year instead.

According to EPA documents, 346 sites have emissions of half a ton a year or more. Raising the threshold to a ton reduced the number of monitored sites by 211, or more than 60 percent.

The EPA also required states to place monitors in areas with populations of 500,000 or more. But the Natural Resources Defense Council , an environmental group that pushed for tougher lead standards to protect public health, said that a single monitor in a large city was different from a monitor placed near a plant.

"We don't expect the urban monitors to be effective to get the hot spots that the site-specific monitors can get," said Gina Solomon , an NRDC scientist and a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco . "The monitoring network has a lot of gaps in it."

Airborne lead can be inhaled, but the main way people are exposed is when they ingest it from contaminated soil — for example, when children play in a contaminated area and put dirty hands to their mouths.

The EPA originally estimated that at the half-ton annual emissions cutoff, it would need from 150 to 600 monitors, said EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn.

Under the final rule with the 1-ton cutoff, the requirement will be 135 site-specific monitors and 101 urban monitors in areas of 500,000 or more people, she said. There are 133 monitors now....

The Battery Council International , a trade group that represents U.S. lead battery makers and recyclers, told the EPA in public comments in August that the proposed half-ton threshold was "unjustifiably low."

...Lead in the air was greatly reduced three decades ago when the government ordered it removed from gasoline, but it is still emitted by lead smelters, cement plants and steel mills.

Scientific studies have found that lead is dangerous at much lower levels in the human body than previously thought. The studies show that children's nervous systems are especially vulnerable, and that lead exposure can result in IQ loss and damage to many internal systems.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Forgotten Experiment May Explain Origins of Life"

Originally considered a dud, an old volcano-in-a-bottle experiment designed to mimic conditions that may have brewed the components of life might have been right on target.

After reanalyzing the results of unpublished research conducted by Stanley Miller in 1953, chemists realized that his experiment had actually produced a wealth of amino acids — the protein foundation of life.

Miller is famed for the results of experiments on amino acid formation in a jar filled with methane, hydrogen and ammonia — his version of the primordial soup. However, his estimates of atmospheric composition were eventually considered inaccurate. The experiment became regarded as a general rather than useful example of how the first organic molecules may have assembled.

But the latest results, derived from samples found in an old box by one of Miller's former graduate students, come from a device that mimicked volcanic conditions now believed to have existed three billion years ago. The findings suggest that amino acids could have formed when lightning struck pools of gas on the flanks of volcanoes, and are a fitting coda for the late father of prebiotic chemistry.

"What's amazing is that he did it," said study co-author Jeffrey Bada, a Scripps Institute of Oceanography biochemist and Miller's former student. "All I did is have access to his extracts."

Bada stumbled across the original experiment by accident when a colleague of Miller's mentioned having seen a box of experimental samples in Miller's office. Bada, who inherited Miller's scientific possessions after his death in 2007, found the box — literally labeled "1953-1954 experiments" — in his own office.

Inside it were samples taken by Miller from a device that spewed a concentrated stream of primordial gases over an electrical spark. It was a high-powered variation on the steady-steam apparatus that earned him fame — but unlike that device, it appeared to have produced few amino acids, and was unmentioned in his landmark 1953 Science study, "A Production of Amino Acids Under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions."

But Miller didn't have access to high-performance liquid chromatography, which lets chemists break down and classify samples with once-unthinkable levels of precision. And when Bada's team reanalyzed the disregarded samples, they found no fewer than 22 amino acids, several of which were never seen by Miller in a lifetime of primordial modeling.

Perhaps amino acids first formed when the gases in Miller's device accumulated around active volcanoes, said Bada. "Instead of having global synthesis of organic molecules, you had a lot of little localized factories in the form of these volcanic islands," he said.

"The amino acid precursors formed in a plume and concentrated along tidal shores. They settled in the water, underwent further reactions there, and as they washed along the shore, became concentrated and underwent further polymerization events," explained Indiana University biochemist Adam Johnson, a co-author of the study. "And lightning" — the final catalyst in the equation — "tends to be extremely common with volcanic eruptions."

"These findings add to a growing body of literature suggesting that areas near volcanoes could have been hotspots of organic chemistry on early Earth," he said.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Chinese Company Unveils Solar-Powered Car"


www.gasgoo.com

One of China's first group of solar-powered cars went on display last Friday at the 29th Zhejiang International Bicycles and Electric-powered Cars Exhibition in Hangzhou, eastern China's Zhejiang Province, Hangzhou.com.cn reported.

The mini car produced by Zhejiang's 001 Group was designed to target the increasingly serious energy crisis. The group has so far produced over 10 such cars and each of them will sell for 38,000 yuan (US$5,560).

Sheng Gangxiang, an engineer at the Zhejiang 001 Group, told reporters that the vehicles have solar panels on their roofs that turn the sun's rays into energy to get them going. The car can absorb 95 percent of the solar energy it takes in, however, it can only transform 14 to 17 percent of that into electricity, roughly the same as solar cars manufactured elsewhere.

The solar-driven car can travel 150 kilometers after 30 hours of solar charging. But an only one-hour charge will get the car going for only five kilometers.

At present, solar energy is mostly used in water heaters in China.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Juan Cole Re: The Great Reagan Pyramid Scheme...

The Republican Party that Nixon invented melded the moneyed classes of the Northeast with the white evangelicals of the South. This odd couple went on to simultaneously steal from and oppress the rest of us. The moneyed classes were happy to let the New Puritans impose their stringent morality, since they could always just buy any licentiousness they wanted, regardless of the law. And the New Puritans were so consumed with cultural issues such as homosexuality, abortion, school prayer and (yes) fighting school desegregation that they were happy to let the northeastern Money Men waltz off with a lion's share of the country's resources, consigning most Americans to stagnant wages and increasing debt. The Reagan revolution consolidated this alliance and brought some conservative Catholic workers into it.

These domestic policies at home were complemented by wars and belligerence abroad, which further took the eye of the public off the epochal bank robbery being conducted by the American neo-Medicis, and which were a useful way of throwing billions in government tax revenue to the military-industrial complex, which in turn funded the think tanks and reelection campaigns of the right wing politicians. The Reagan fascination with private armies and funding anti-communist death squads contributed mightily to the creation of al-Qaeda, blowback from which fuelled even bigger Pentagon budgets, spiralling upward and feeding on itself. Terrorism is much better than Communism as a bogey man, since you can just intimate that there are a handful of dangerous people out there somewhere, and force the public to pay over $1 trillion to combat them. In fact, of course, less US interventionism abroad would create less blowback, and genuine threats are better addressed through good police work by multilingual FBI agents than by a $700 billion Pentagon budget.

As a result of the Second Gilded Age and its serf-like subservience to big capital, most corporations in the US don't pay any income taxes, despite doing $2.5 trillion annually in business.

The Reagan Revolution included the stupid idea that you can cut taxes, starve government, abolish regulation of securities, banks, & etc., and still grow the economy. The irony is that capitalist markets need to be regulated to avoid periodically becoming chaotic (as in 'chaos theory,') but the people who most benefit from regulation are most zealous in attempting to abolish or blunt it.

What those policies did was create the preconditions for a long-term bubble or set of bubbles that benefited (for a while) the wealthiest 3 million Americans and harmed everyone else.

The average wage of the average worker is lower now than in 1973 and has been lower or flat for the past 35 years. That's the condition of the 300 million or so Americans.

In the meantime, the top 1 percent has multiplied its wealth many times over and now takes home 20% of the national income, owning some 45 percent of the privately held wealth in the US.

The Right keeps promising us growth, but it turns out that "growth" is mainly for them, i.e. for the 3 million (and indeed mainly for about 100,000 within the 3 million).

Those 3 million are a new aristocracy, lords of the economy, who reward each other with tens of millions in bonuses for ceremonial reasons that have nothing to do with the jobs they actually perform. Bush has been trying to make them a hereditary aristocracy by getting rid of the estate tax....

The enormous wealth of a thin sliver or people at the top of US society allows them to buy members of congress and to write the legislation that regulates their industries.

Congress capitulates to this 'regulatory capture' because its members have to buy hugely expensive television ads to remain competitive in elections. So they fundraise from the rich, and the rich have expectations (as Keating did of McCain).

These problems could be fixed with a graduated income tax and a closing of tax loopholes...; by legislation criminalizing regulatory capture; by requiring mass media to run political ads for free as a public service...); and by much shortening the election season (please)...

"A 'Green New Deal' can save the world's economy, says UN"

From the Independent/UK

Top economists and United Nations leaders are working on a "Green New Deal" to create millions of jobs, revive the world economy, slash poverty and avert environmental disaster, as the financial markets plunge into their deepest crisis since the Great Depression.

The ambitious plan... will call on world leaders, including the new US President, to promote a massive redirection of investment away from the speculation that has caused the bursting “financial and housing bubbles” and into job-creating programmes to restore the natural systems that underpin the world economy.

It aims to convince them that, far from restricting growth, healing the global environment will be a desperately -needed driving force behind it.

The Green Economy Initiative - which will be spearheaded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), headquartered here, and is already being backed by governments – draws its inspiration from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which ended the 1930s depression and helped set up the world economy for the unprecedented growth of the second half of the 20th century.

It, too, envisages basing recovery on providing work for the poor, as well as reform of financial practices, after a crash brought on by unregulated excesses of the free market and the banking system.

The new multimillion dollar initiative – which is being already funded by the German and Norwegian Governments and the European Commission – arises out of a study commissioned by world leaders at the 2006 G8 summit into the economic value of ecosystems. It argues that the world is caught up in not one, but three interlinked crises, with the food and fuel crunches accompanying and intensifying the financial one.

Soaring prices of grain and oil, it stresses, have stemmed from outdated economic priorities that have concentrated on short term exploitation of the world's resources, without considering how they can be used to sustain prosperity in the long term. Over the last quarter of a century, says UNEP, world growth has doubled, but 60 per cent of the natural resources that provide food, water, energy and clean air have been seriously degraded.

Achim Steiner, UNEP's Executive Director, adds that new research shows that every year, for example the felling of forests deprives the world of over $2.5 trillion worth of such services in supplying water, generating rainfall, stopping soil erosion, cleaning the air and reducing global warming . By comparison, he points out, the global financial crisis is so far estimated to have cost the world the smaller one-off sum of $1.5 trillion.

“We are pushing, if not pushing past, the limits of what the planet can sustain,” he says. “If we go on as we are today’s crisis will seem mild indeed compared to the crises of tomorrow”.

Switching direction and concentrating on 'green growth', he says, will not only prevent such catastrophes, but rescue the world's finances. “The new, green economy would provide a new engine of growth, putting the world on the road to prosperity again. This is about growing the world economy in a more intelligent, sustainable way.

“The 20th century economy, now in such crisis, was driven by financial capital. The 21st century one is going to have to be based on developing the world's natural capital to provide the lasting jobs and wealth that are needed, particularly for the poorest people on the planet”

He says for example, that it makes more sense to invest in preserving forests, peatlands and soils, which naturally absorb carbon dioxide, than destroying them and then developing expensive technology to do the job.

He points out that the world market for environmental goods and service already stands at $1.3 trillion and is expected to double over the next 12 years even on present trends, and adds. “There is an enormous opportunity to ride on this increasing global demand for environmental improvement and turn it into the driver of economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction that is now so desperately needed. And in some places it is already beginning to happen.”...